13 Questions With... Jon Remedios
Hailing from the fertile northern game development land of Toronto, Jon Remedios and the minimalist multiplayer madness that is sync quickly became crowd favourites at GAR (our weekly local multiplayer night). After an uncomfortable amount of Twitter stalking and narcissistic t-shirt fanboyism, we finally sat down for a proper chat about his background, sync's success, and what's in store for us as his new project SSMP takes flight.
GoPlayThat: You mention in your blog that you were laid off (along with everyone else) from your old job and that’s when you took matters into your own hands with regards to game making. How difficult was it to make that leap into the unknown and start working on your own stuff? Would you go back to studio work?
Jon Remedios: So it seems that I need to take a long deep look at my ability to express myself through writing, because I was never actually laid off. Well, I was laid off once from an electronics store like six years ago, but you couldn’t have known that. (If you know that, consider me terrified).
What actually happened was the small studio I worked, which was a part of a larger entity, was dissolved and everyone was laid off except for me. I was absorbed into the company to finish and support old projects. I continue to work there to this day.
So to answer your question, I haven’t made the leap, so it’s about as difficult as looking at a diving board. That’s not to say that I wasn’t affected. It took me roughly two years to muster up the energy and confidence to start working on my own stuff on the side, and before I prototyped sync I was dangerously close to just giving up on game development all together. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty glad that I didn’t throw in the towel.
GPT: sync seems to be one of those ideas that seems simple once it’s done, but that no-one else had thought of it. What inspired the idea?
JR: sync was prototyped over the course of a weekend during Global Game Jam in January of this year. On the Friday when the theme, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”, was announced I had absolutely no idea what to do. However, I knew a couple things walking into the jam:
- I was going to do everything myself
- I cannot draw / animate
- If I wasn’t proud of the game I (probably) would stop trying to make my own games
So I wouldn’t say that sync was “inspired” per se, but of a product of its constraints. The game is local multiplayer because I didn’t want to spend the time writing AI code, or designing content. The visual style was chosen because I dig minimalism, and struggle with drawing.
As for the “core mechanic” or whatever you want to call it, that was just a process of iteration trying to jam that crazy theme into the game. Originally players were supposed to create clones of themselves and the other players would be trying to find the “real” opponents, but that design ended up having too many holes in it so I reduced it as much as I could. In the prototype everyone looked the same, which satisfied the theme in my mind. At first I was just going to have them shoot simultaneously, but when I pitched that to my friend Damian Sommer his response was, “Eh. It’s been done”, and walked away. So I guess the only reason the players thrust simultaneously is because I want my friends to love me.
GPT: sync is free to download, but has a ‘pay what you want’ option. Can you give us any insight into how many people who download actually pay for the game?
JR: Heck yeah I can. About 6% of people who download the game, decide to donate. I have no idea if that’s good or bad, but for a two week game I think it’s pretty incredible. I’m really interested in the sustainability of donationware in games. Currently feeling: cautiously optimistic.
GPT: Would you ever be tempted to turn to crowdfunding as a way of paying for the production of your games? It seems to be the fashionable thing to do…
JR:Maybe? For where I am right now, I’d be uncomfortable taking people’s money to make this game. Realistically, the budget for this game is not going to be huge, and I wouldn’t want it to be. But if people (like real people who work hard for their money) wanted to fund the game, I feel like it would raise the bar too high for me to deliver on. There’s a certain degree of freedom that obscurity grants you, and I’d rather just spend my time splashing around in that. The freedom pool. Just soaking in all that freedom. Yeah.
GPT: Can you give us some background on the whole ‘Jon Remedios is a Narcissist’ thing? As slogans go, it’s an odd one!
JR: When I was releasing sync, I figured I needed some sort of splash screen thing or else no one would take me seriously (obviously). I’ve always struggled with enjoying creative activities, and actually showing that stuff to other people. I acted a lot in high school, and gigged with bands in Toronto since I was 16, but still to this day feel uncomfortable on a stage in front of people. The same goes for games, so the thought of putting just my name, or something shitty like “a game by Jon Remedios” seemed disingenuous to me. I do, however, love jokes.
I was talking to my BFF (and favourite playable character) Jason P. Kaplan about the splash screen and made a joke about how hilarious it would be if it just said I was a narcissist. We both agreed that this was top shelf humour, so I threw it in.
GPT: Despite increasing internet speeds and processing power small local multiplayer gaming seems to be on the rise. Why do you think sofa games are back in vogue?
JR: Well, from my perspective they never really went anywhere. Playing games has always been a largely social activity for me. Whether it’s local co-op, versus, or hot seating through a single player campaign I never really stopped playing local multiplayer games. While I might be an exception, I find that hard to believe. I think it’s a model that just needed to prove itself in today’s gaming ecosystem. I don’t know how many developers will continue to make these sorts of games, but what I can say is I think that local multiplayer games have carved out a nice little place for themselves on both PC and console, and that’s pretty rad.
GPT: What’s the indie scene like in Toronto? There seem to be some impressive games and devs coming out of that city lately… Who should we be looking out for?
JR: Toronto’s a weird place, and it’s hard to differentiate between the “indie scene” and the “video game scene” here (which I think is a good thing). We have such an amazing diverse group of people making games here, from single person projects to Ubisoft Toronto, I feel bad just pointing out a handful of peeps. A small subset of games that I’m personally excited for though (in no particular order) are:
- Alone With You - Benjamin Rivers
- Knight and Damsel - MK Ultra
- The Highwayman - Will O’Neill
- Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime - Asteroid Base
- N++ - Metanet
- Below - Capy
This could fill a whole article in and of itself so I’ll keep it at five. Five is a good number.
GPT: What can we look forward to in the new games in SSMP?
JR: It’s still too early to really say what each game will ultimately end up being. What I can tell you for sure is that I’m really trying to apply the guiding principles of sync to every other game. What I find interesting about sync isn’t so much the mechanic itself, but the resulting interaction between players. I had a bunch of designs that I approached by coming up with the mechanic(s) first, but ultimately ended up throwing them all out because they didn’t really feel right. Now I’m more interested in thinking about the ways that people interact with each other day to day and trying to abstract that in order to come up with mechanics that are (hopefully) as interesting to me as sync is.
Also there will be multiple arenas you can select from, so that should be cool I guess.
GPT: Ryan Roth (The Yawhg, Electronic Super Joy) is helping out with audio duties on SSMP. What are the pros and cons of working with friends?
JR: The main benefit I see is being able to talk honestly, and easily, about what’s best for the game. Friends, unlike random co-workers, already have trust and respect for one another (ideally) so I think it’s a lot easier to get to the meat of the work. I don’t know if I can really think of cons to working with friends, other than you have to actually treat them like human beings (which you should probably be doing anyway). I mean, I guess if things turned sour it would be a pretty big bummer. Though, I think if you’re actually friends you can address those issues before they balloon into something that’s unmanageable.
GPT: What’s your game of choice when you and your buddies get together for a multiplayer session?
JR:It depends on the friends, but Super Mario Strikers for the Gamecube is probably one of my favourite local multiplayer game ever, as long as you turn off Super Strikes (they break the flow of the game) and Bowser Attacks (they’re just dumb). I recently switched from DK to Waluigi in case you were wondering, on account of him being “number one”.
GPT: You’ve got a bit of a background in mobile games. Would you ever return to developing something for the mobile platforms?
JR:As a personal project? Maybe. I don’t know, I’ve been inundated with mobile development for so long that I kind of want to get as far away from that as possible. If it was the right game probably, but it would have to be something that really made sense on a phone or tablet.
GPT: I personally play sync like a buffoon, but many of our regular guests have special brains that allow them to understand it on a higher level. Any tips for getting better at the game?
JR: I think the biggest threat in sync right now are the walls, so if you make avoiding hitting them your number one priority you’re probably ahead of most people. Once you can reliably navigate the space safely, shooting preemptively so players run into bullets can be pretty successful. If you can pull it off, shooting when two other players are facing one another is probably the most satisfying move in the game.
GPT: Finally, are all the games in SSMP going to feature ridiculously named characters?
JR:The names are going to be a big part of SSMP. There will probably be even more new names, but I’m thinking they’ll be available in every game. All these games take place in the same universe. I don’t want to break canon.
Super mega thanks to Mr. Remedios for taking the time to talk to us.