Interzioq #6: Jacob Buczynski interview – Revenge of the Sunfish

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Jacob Buczynski (aka Jinxtengu) is an indie video game developer from Melbourne, mainly known for his very original, strange (sometimes weird) and personal video game “Revenge of the Sunfish”. He was kind enough to reply to this interview with lots of interesting and detailed replies: thanks Jacob 🙂 !

Could you tell us what is your oldest memory about video games or the first game you played?
The first video games I played were on the Atari 2600. They were: River raid, Frogger, space invaders, Berzerk, Cross force, Combat, Kung fu and Pitfall. The Atari belonged to my older brother. River raid was one of my favorite games at the time, I still find it sortof fun. It uses procedural generation to generate the terrain and it was programmed by a woman (Carol Shaw). Later on my family acquired a dos based ibm pc, and I got into dos games. I also had a commodore Amiga an Atari lynx and finally a play-station one (for a short period).

What’s the game you’ve got the more fond memories about?
I have fond memories of playing “Slime world” and “Gates of zendocon” on the lynx, both were coded by a guy called Peter Engelbrite. I don’t think much of his more modern “christian themed” games but his early games were very ahead of their time. Slime world was multiplayer compatible for up to 8 players and has an expansive game world with an automap, way before Metroid did. Gates of zendocon had quite distinctive enemy behaviors and was also somewhat non-linear. Both games are kind of clunky by today’s standards, but they were great at the time. I also have fond memories for alot of Amiga games (Flashback, Another world, Turrican, Adams family, Apidya, Harlequin, Elite, Moonstone, Paradroid 90, Llamatron, Populous, Shadow of the beast, Syndicate) And a few dos games (Cosmos cosmic adventure, Commander Keen series, Chopper command).

How and why did you start making video games?
I’ve always been creatively inclined. I loved drawing and painting from an early age. Before i had access to computers I used to make interactive postcards that would fold out or have slots to remove pieces of paper or characters, choose your own adventures, comics and paper mache costumes and masks. When I was in primary school, a few students had designed some games on the schools mac computers. Their games were in black and white and were inspired by a combination of Earthworm jim, stick death and southpark. I have no idea how they made them and I’m not sure if their games were lost, but they amazed me, they were fantastic (this was in Tasmania, i don’t know the names of the students unfortunately). When my family finally got a computer with an os (windows 3.1) I started experimenting with gif animations. Those gif animations were probably the first step towards game design. The first pc “game” that I made was done in powerpoint, it was called “larry the mouse” It featured horror shock screens, collision detection, levels, and a game over screen. It was quite a hit around the school, unfortunately I don’t have a copy of it now. A few years later I got into “Click and Play” because my highschool had it installed on the school computers. At the time i had an IT class. Instead of doing classwork me and my friends used to design games. My school was pretty rough (on a school field trip a student threatened the class with a loaded shotgun, a Chinese student got bashed with a crowbar) designing games was better than getting into fights, and generally better than what the school had to offer. After a short time i moved onto using “the games factory” instead of the extremely limited “click and play”. Game design became more of a weekend activity, were i would meetup with friends and we would make games. Most of our early games are lost unfortunately, especially some games by a friend of mine. Later on I became friends online with Kimberly Kubus and he got me involved with mark overmars “Game maker” (which is really better than “the games factory”) From there I’ve continued to design games, it become part of my life, part of how i express myself. Now I need to keep doing it to survive.

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How the idea of “Revenge of the Sunfish” started in your mind?
I like games that contain distinctive sub games, for example “Tondemo Crisis” on the playstation one, also games like that are quite rare.
In 2005 I started working on a game with a friend that was to contain many distinctive levels connected by a weird story, but we never started coding it. It started off with the player running away from a lion and then getting trapped in a box that was sinking in the ocean. Thats all I remember, but i think that was the seed for Revenge of the sunfish. The idea of non-linear games has also interested me, (I mentioned gates of zendocon and choose your own adventure books). Non linear structures are great because they increase replay value, but I think it’s harder to design games like that. Just before I made Revenge of the sunfish I had released a bunch of my early games in the WTF series. I was thinking, what if I made some custom levels similar to the WTF series but linked them with a plot and a non linear structure. Then I just sort of got into a nice work groove. Obviously it should be about sunfish, because they are weird and awesome. Also originally revenge of the sunfish was going to be longer but it used up the maximum memory capacity of my very old and lame computer.

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You’re now working on the sequel “Revenge of the Sunfish 2” : how the project is going?
I feel like it’s not going too well. I showed the demo at a game festival 2 years ago and promised to release it in 6 months. It was very well received at the festival, but I feel like it was a wasted opportunity, since i didn’t finish the game. The truth is I’ve been struggling with finances and housing for years. At the time of the festival in the UK (Rezzed) I was living in a garden shed, probably made out of asbestos. There were spiders in my bed and holes in the wall through to the outside (probably how the spiders got in!) I’m not living there anymore but my work environment still isn’t very good. People just expect that I should be able to work under any conditions, i don’t know where people get such an idea. I’m a sensitive person. I find noise and high temperatures very distracting ( I’m living next to a construction site now) I also have some health problems. The issue I’m having isn’t with the game, (I’m making progress albeit slowly) the problem is that I’ve been in living situations which are essentially bad working environments. I could finish ROTSF2 in a few months If I somehow miraculously procured a suitable-place to live and work. Indecently, would anyone like to donate me a house 🙂 ?

What tools do you use to make video games today?
Mental tools such as meditation are essential for my work. Without the ability to meditate and also breathing exercises, I would be overwhelmed. In terms of computer programs, I use Ms paint, Paint shop pro 7, bero tracker, Audacity, Game maker, Multimedia fusion, z game editor, Blender, also some programs that I’ve written in Game maker mostly for compositing animations and also drawing animations. I wrote a program in Game maker to actually animate inbetween frames between 2 key frames using vector lines. It works but doesn’t look natural so I don’t use it. I try out alot of new programs but I’m often disappointed with the results. I’m probably going to start using unity 3d at some point.

What inspires you?
The idea of creating a new culture, showing an alternative world view within a game, even if it’s tangential. I mostly prefer the world in my games to the real world and i like to escape into my work. I don’t feel comfortable with the current status quo in western society particularly here in Australia. The prevalence of bigotry and the widespread apathy towards it disgusts me. Social inequality grows and kills off creative people who aren’t investing all their time and energy into making money. Money is vulgar. People with money should not be placed on a pedestal as they currently are by the media, nor should celebrities. A life goal aimed only towards making money is an empty calling, yet many people can’t move past this primitive cultural level. I’m worried about the trend towards materialism, consumerism, anti-intellectualism and fascism that seems to be spreading across the globe. It inspires me when people play one of my games and then email me to say they would like to design games themselves because of it. That means to me that I’ve succeeded in passing on some of my creative spirit. A creatively awakened mind is safeguarded against some of the madness inflicted by society, since creativity expands peoples perspectives and awareness. I want to inspire people so they can actualize their dormant creativity (which is within everyone).

Any piece of advice for someone who’d like to try making video games?
I would advise them to just jump in and try it. Download Game maker studio, or unity and just try. You might find you like it.

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Except your own, any game (indie or not) we should try?
I’d recommend Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou. If you can get it to work, it’s brilliant. I came across a dos game called Ecstatica recently, and I would recommend that. Also “Papers please” if you haven’t already seen that.

Any good book, movie or album to recommend?
I’d recommend the movie Stalker by Tarkovsky, the book Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world by Haruki murakami, and the album unknown pleasures by Joy division.

Feel free to share some links to your work here:
Thanks for the interview! Check out my site at: http://www.revengeofthesunfish.com/

Interview by izioq.

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