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Interview with Indie Game Designer Cactus

Every once in a while the Next Level Blog welcomes international guests. After interviews with Pippin Barr and Jakub Dvorsky, today we present you the third interview in a series by art critic Mathias Jansson who contributes to the blog by interviewing the finest Indie Game developers from all over the world.

Today Cactus alias Jonatan Söderström talks about his engagement with the art form and the expressive medium of the video game. One of his recent and most famous projects is the disturbing racing game »Hot Throttle« [Play] in which a man in his mid-life crisis thinks he is a car and considers surgery to eventually become an automobile-man hybrid. On Cactus' Website you can find a lot more to play and explore.

Be sure to have a look at Mathias’ past series of interviews he published at gamescenes edited by Matteo Bittanti: »Game Art Worlds: The Early Years« and »Game Art Worlds: Contemporary Practitioners«.

Interview with Cactus alias Jonatan Söderström

Cactus is a Swedish independent game developer whose games could be described as experimental and artistic. His small characteristic games are often created in a short period of time. »Life is a Race« [Download] from 2008 took only 2 hours to complete, »Stench Mechanics« [Download] and »Lovecraft Game« [Download] – also from 2008 – took a day to finish.  Cactus describes his games on his blog as: »I've been making small freeware games since 2004. My aim is to create interesting things, whether it be through visuals or gameplay mechanics. A lot of the games on my site are just small experiments dressed up as games.«

Mathias: When did you start to make your own games? And where do you find inspiration for your games?

Cactus: I started making games when I was eighteen, I think. I just wanted to do something creative and didn't really feel like I got the response I wanted when I attempted to make music or draw comics. I didn't think that you could make games on your own if you didn't have some form of education in programming, so I was happy to find tools that let me do games without any real programming. It really felt nice being able to design your own little worlds, so I kept doing it for a while without really showing anyone what I was making. Then I found communities on the web where people were really supportive and appreciative of what I was doing.

I found the games, that people were making that felt differently from what you normally see in mainstream games, were the ones that appealed the most to me and they also felt fairly simple to create, so I kept doing odd small sized projects for a while, without really thinking about the purpose and meaning they had. Then I started getting into weird movies and was overwhelmed by how interesting it was to experience things that generally felt alien and strange; that people can make things that I don't understand at all but somehow make sense in their own weird way. David Lynch and Jodorowsky were big influences, and I also really enjoyed reading manga by authors like Junji Ito, Shintaro Kago and a bunch of others that targetted a more mature audience. So I figured that was something I wanted to do as well.

Mathias: Game developers can spend months and years to make a game, but your games are often created in only a couple of hours or a day or two. Is there a conscious choice that you are working so fast?

Cactus: There are many reasons to work as fast as I do. I have a short attention span and easily get bored of the projects I'm working on. All I ideas I have aren't suitable for longer projects either, and if you release more games you get more attention. If you only make big games you have to sacrifice a lot of cool ideas that you simply don't get the time to explore.

Mathias: How do you see the possibilities to distribute Indie Games today?

Cactus: There's basically only downloadable content from Steam, XBLA or PSN that seems viable right now. If you have a fanbase big enough you can try to sell games on your own site, but it's a lot harder. You can also sell your soul and use ads, or do online games with subscriptions I guess, but I doubt I'll ever do that.

Mathias: Can  you tell me about the game Norrland which was created for an exhibition in Sweden 2010?

Cactus: It's based around prejudice that exists around the people who live up north. Basically I just wanted to piss people off, but at the same time make a game that had a dark and serious subtone. I've also been saying that games don't have to be fun to be good, and I think Norrland is a good example of that.

[The Trailer for Norrland is embedded in this posting]

Mathias: Would  you describe your games as art?

Cactus: Well, yes. I'm not a pretentious person but I don't think that what I'm doing is nothing more than entertainment. I want to do interesting things for interesting people, but I rarely try to emphasize on the »art« aspect in my games, it's just a part of some projects that I want to use to create a feeling of depth that may or may not be there.

Mathias Jansson

Interview series with the finest Indie Game Designers by Mathias Jansson on the Next Level Blog:

Part 1: Interview with Pippin Barr – »The Artist Is Present«

Part 2: Interview with Jakub Dvorsky – Creator of Samorost and Machinarium