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Author Topic: Jakub Dvorsky needs no "Mercedes"  (Read 10705 times)
space invader
Posts: 109

« on: October 07, 2010, 12:04:24 pm »

Old interview of JD by Russian game company Snowball Studios
original version in Russian here: http://www.snowball.ru/machinarium/?page=creators

Prague is good as local people are no snobs at all. Nobody cares if some designer chose big red armchairs for a restaurant – people come to eat and drink with friends, not to show off. In the morning I came to grocery to buy raspberry. A guy in sport trousers, proceeding to smoke cigarette and talking on the mobile, gave cash back and nodded smiling. Americans are known to be irritated by such “absence of service culture”. They also don’t like the fact that employees in Czech Republic are not willing to come to work on weekends for extra money. At that, list of good games created in Czech Republic is rather impressive; it means that a bit lazy attitude to life does not prevent making a normal product.

Jakub Dvorsky has been making games for 15 years already, starting from graduation school. The first project, adventure, became the first game produced in CR in new for that time format CD-ROM. The second project, role-dungeon, was the first game in the world with Czech sound. Much time has gone since these projects. Jakub had graduated animation film faculty of Prague Academy of Art and after that he independently produced two projects in “Samorost” series. For the last two years he’s been working on “Machinarium” – adventure (or quest, it depends on how to view it) about robot that resists mafia (which also consists of robots).

Before the meeting I asked Jakub if I can bring him anything from Moscow. He asked for “Sublustrum”, and in cafe, when received the box in his hands, he explained why this game excited his interest and what he’s going to explore in it at first - and during the previous meeting Jakub, me and my colleague Sasha Suslov were professionally discussing ‘Full Pipe” (which was played by Jakub in previous year) and art of Makssimov on the whole (that Jakub respects much). Of course, you may think that Russian game industry is so insignificant worldwide that every proper designer starts day with study of Russian projects – and you may also ask yourself if mentality of ordinary Russian game developer is bounded by discussion of degradation and dreams of moving to San-Francisco (or Frankfurt, to be underlined) and if it is cool to remain intellectual even when Trade system index is crushing down.

Sergey: Hi Jakub! I got three pages of questions here; can we start answering them just without introduction? In short phrases please, to keep the conversational style.

Jakub: Hi! OK, I’m ready.

Sergey: Are you happy to work on “Machinarium”?

Jakub: No doubt.

Sergey: And how is it important for you to be happy when making something new and good?

Jakub: It’s of vital importance. I cannot develop something if in no mood, I stuck at once.

Sergey: How do you find, is it possible to develop “by order”?

Jakub: Mmm... I think, yes.

Sergey: Could you do that yourself?

Jakub: I could. If it was really needed. For example, after war, to feed the wife and child, and the only variant is to be hired by Ubisoft.

Sergey: Well, after war you have to be the last villain not to join Ubisoft for the sake of wife and child, and what about case when it is not necessary? Imagine that after New Year a headhunter from Ubisoft comes up to you and says: “Monsieur Dvorsky, we have awesome French le property, we want to offer you a position of le designer and five-fold salary”. Will you agree, then?

Jakub: I would refuse. If there is a choice, of course.

Sergey: It reminds me a quotation from book which I have read today, the main character there is listening to BBC report on cricket match and says that cricket might be an interesting game, but he had never been at cricket and if it is not needed – he would never go.

Jakub: Yes. I agree here. Ubisoft may be an interesting company, but I would like to keep my freedom of choice. And yet I feel comfortable with my own projects.

Sergey: You mean that you are no capitalist at all? Not many Russian developers would support you. We lack indie people at last times, and I even don’t know whether it is good or bad. Speaking about freedom of choice – how do you develop “Machinarium”, upon plan or “till it’s ready”?

Jakub: Till it is ready.

Sergey: Publishing part of my brain is afraid of that. Despite your games are brilliant and there is a theory that it is the only right approach to do something respectable. But do you anyhow apply commercial planning?

Jakub: In general. You don’t need to think of me as anarchist: I’m not against such planning. But if it is absent, I see no problem here.

Sergey: Did you plan any terms for “Machinarium”?

Jakub: I planned. All of them are passed.

Sergey: You needed more time?

Jakub: No, just the project is growing like after rain (dreamful smile).

Sergey: What are you smiling, then? You should cry. At least we were taught so, in country of strict terms and rules. How long have you been developing the game?

Jakub: Two years.

Sergey: And how much time it will take, three-four years?

Jakub: I hope no (smiles gently and orders beer). I’d like to finish somewhat at the end of the next summer.

Sergey: This can be easily checked, because the game is put in publishing plan for September 2009. And for history, for further generations, can you say – now in October, are you sure that it will be ready till summer?

Jakub: I’m quite sure. But it is harder to talk about “Machinarium” comparing to previous games.

Sergey: Why?

Jakub: Before that, everything depended on me – now the team is working. And I can put efforts on my part, and still the result depends on group. Not just by how we work ourselves, but also by how we work together.

Sergey: So you have lost part of control when you enlarged the team?

Jakub: Well, I would not formulate in that way. We have no disputes in working process yet, we do not hinder each other, we complement.

Sergey: And could you lose control for something? For example, other French men come to you – oh, I love those nice companies - Atari or InfoGrames, I don’t remember which brand is used now by Gardner more often. So, they come and say: we like your new idea, but you don’t know exactly how to make not-Czech game and we need international game, you see? And we, French, are great specialists here, we will finance you a lot, but with finance support you will get Pierre-Louis. You don’t pay attention to his broken English, he is a good specialist of international games: he worked, for example, on “Matrix Online”, and on “Little horse of Olivier Prudon”. Are you ready to conclude le contract with us?” What will you say this time?

Jakub: You know, financing and money in general are different matters. For money I’m not ready to allow somebody telling me what to do, I’m not that greedy. But when I think of our next project, of how we want to make it – like “Samorost” or “Machinarium” or even bigger, and if we want it bigger then we need financing certainly. External financing. By some third party, producer or publisher. And then we will have to transfer part of control over project to this third party. It is not for money. It is to have possibility to make a big game, development of which I cannot otherwise organize.

Sergey: Thanks for explanation – I see that you are a realist. I was about to include you in list of eternal dreamers. And other topic: I recently communicated to one talented designer, to be true, script writer from Moldova, and he is nearly burst by ideas. And I have such feeling that ideas are born in his head instantly, he is just empowered and that’s all, like “BOOM!” I thought that later he will be awfully lazy to realize all that, wasting two years on project, as it is absolutely different way – however I know designers who work by small portions, as if polishing furniture or cleaning shoes, and they also do well, they are not drunkards, they present good projects. How is your process done, do you have instant ideas or is it a detailed search? Is time your ally or enemy?

Jakub: Differently. I think time helps for some ideas – it is an advantage, a chance for ideas to mature.

Sergey: And when does it prevent?

Jakub: When the development begins. When the process has already started, it’s a fuck-up, time is working against you. We’ve been working on “Machinarium” for two - two and a half years already. The next year, I think, we will sustain another half-year, and then we stop: project will be boring, and it will be hard to finish it in such condition. I mean, time can win.

Sergey: What is more important for a game – concept or realization? Can we speak of success of project if there is a good designer and design plan is made professionally, but there is still no team?

Jakub: Concept is important as well as team which can realize it. Especially for big projects. If I were a publisher, I would first look through team (at big projects), and then the idea itself.

Sergey: You’re right. We call it due diligence — when technical producer together with propagandist come as guests to studio with which we plan to work, and sniff out. Then, usually, they send a very short summary by post – either “Holy shit!” or “Good guys”. OK, the next question: about conservatism of publishers and players. The last week I was in Germany, showing the publishers some Russian projects. Also I showed for several times “Samorost” and “Machinarium” as an example of Eastern Europe miracle, and they spoke about these projects the same: excellent games, very emotional, unique, true art, it will be pleasure for all hardcore and indie people. But for shops we cannot take that, no guys, it won’t be sold here. Simpleton does not understand this, he ignores art. How do you think, the publishers are so conservative or the players themselves don’t wasn’t any experiments?

Jakub: I think publishers are more conservative then players.

Sergey: Why?

Jakub: Because they don’t want to lose money.

Sergey: And players?

Jakub: Players don’t resist trying something new, experimenting.

Sergey: Then why don’t publishers make a concession?

Jakub: Cause much of the new will not please players at the first glance. Much of the new is made not for players but for oneself, or for some theory of stupid designer who wants to prove something, for example he finds that it is so cool, and in fact it is very boring and second-hand.
Sergey: So what can be done?

Jakub: Well, it might depend on publisher. Every time you want to earn money, when you’re not satisfied by the existing model, you undertake risks. The world is made in such way.

Sergey: Why should I bear risk as publisher – for thirty per cent annually instead of twelve?

Jakub: Not only for that, and not for that sums. You have to risk if you need to create new IP, it is the only way. You just told me about sales in Germany...

Sergey: Yes, there were published one successful quest, and the last two years everybody tries to occupy this space. And even within this space there are “traditional” adventures and some experimental, with crazy characters, for example “Edna and Harvey” – it is something hardly translated, and I don’t think that it is understandable outside Germany. They were told “guys, you do everything wrong, nobody will like such a game: and then they published it and – look – what sales according to GfK!

Jakub: That is the example. Players are not so conservative as publishers, just publisher don’t like to bear risks, they prefer safe way of gold-mining.

Sergey: Speaking of gold: I’m reading now a book by Murakami, about how he began running and writing, it may be named memoires, and he speaks of his ambitions very simply: he wants every book to overcome that standard that he defined for it. An artistic standard. Sales, public reaction – this all is secondary. If a book corresponds to the expectations of author, then it is the only evaluation. Can you comment this?

Jakub: Books and games are alike here. But for development of game you also need a budget, contrary to book.

Sergey: You mean financing that shall return by way of sales?

Jakub: Да. You know, games, books, movies – this all is media, not more than a mean to express some artistic impulse. And in each sphere there is it’s own division into commercial projects and arthouse, books for “soul” and for market, festival movies and movies for American cinema. Just as with games. There are games which were initially made for sales, and games which are more close to art, which at first base on the idea.

Sergey: So, is it possible to make a good game and have no single sale, but to name it proudly as arthouse?

Jakub: I don’t think that good game will not have a single sale. Look at “Samorost”. It is hardly a commercial idea, right? But it is sold quite well, now we are developing “Machinarium” with that money. I believe that good game will be sold well, despite it is an arthouse or not.

Sergey: And if the game is sold badly – is something wrong with it?

Jakub: Yes, I suppose. A good game won’t be sold hardly. You know, often there is a problem with graphics...

Sergey: Is graphics important for a game?

Jakub: Utmost.

Sergey: Why?

Jakub: Because the first at what player looks – it is, for example, screenshots on site and trailer on YouTube, and it is very important that he wished to examine the project further.

Sergey: Even if it has jamming gameplay?

Jakub: Yes, despite the gameplay – if the game looks bad, I won’t play it for sure. Graphics for me is a very touchy aspect. Sometimes I play some flash game and think “a beautiful design!” But I won’t buy it, because it is ugly.

Sergey: So what?

Jakub: I mean, I need graphics to allow me as player to believe in the world of this game. Case it is an illusion, fairytale. Ant to believe in this tale, I need good graphics which will assure me, carry me over.

Sergey: I see. Let’s move back, to the definition of successful game. Sales are not important for you because the quality of game is on top?

Jakub: Yes.

Sergey: And you believe that good game will be sold well?

Jakub: Right.

Sergey: And where is players’ opinion located on this scheme? And opinion of mass-media?

Jakub: Players’ opinion is very important for me.

Sergey: As an evaluation?

Jakub: As proof of the fact that I chose the right way, that the game is made as it should be. Reviews and comments are the best indicator.

Sergey: Let me make an objection. Some 8 or more years ago there was published an awesome Slovak game, turn-base strategy Spellcross. Dave Durcek was designer and programmer, it seems. It is one of the best TBS worldwide!! Battle Isle eats shit. But in Europe game was published by British people from SCi, they positioned it wrong, the first reviews were English – and this nation seems not to understand what strategy is – and these reviews gave the game 60-65%, as result of what there was decided not to publish game in other territories. Not speaking of many good game moments, it is genre classics!
space invader
Posts: 109

« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2010, 12:05:08 pm »

Jakub: If the game is that good, then how was it criticized in reviews?

Sergey: The graphics, to tell the truth. Soldiers are small and dark and so on.

Jakub: Well, there was a reason, then.

Sergey: Yeah, it was. We must acquaint you with the Russian mass-media. You will speak in other way… Look, about player’s opinion, do you receive emails often? For example, dear “Samorost” developers, my name is Jack, I live in New Zealand and fuck goats every evening, please make some more games”.

Jakub: I don’t receive emails often – it is a conscious choice, I hided the address well on site. As I already receive many emails. And the comments is another thing, it is a perfect way to trace reaction of players.

Sergey: What for?

Jakub: For perspectives. To remain realist.

Sergey: Do you show games to friends?

Jakub: Yes.

Sergey: For a look or allow to play also?

Jakub: Usually I give a new version and sit aside watching how they play. I have several good friends whose opinion is very valuable for me, who are not shy to criticize, it is very important.

Sergey: Who is the main critic, your girlfriend?

Jakub: My mother.

Sergey: You’re lucky. My mother, for example, still does not believe that games may be a work. She is still waiting that one day I will recollect and will begin working as lawyer. Let’s continue: so, how many people are working on “Machinarium”?

Jakub: Seven.

Sergey: Is it a lot?

Jakub: For “Machinarium” it is just perfect. Eight might be better…. Yeas, eight might be an optimum number.

Sergey: Do you believe that you can develop game in big team and still remain an effective studio? There is a theory that seven is a maximum number of co-workers, and then horizontal connection is broken.

Jakub: I wouldn’t say so. I think twenty, thirty persons can easily work together and be fully involved in process, and still there will be nice atmosphere in studio, people will be glad to come there every day.

Sergey: And when can everything be ruined?

Jakub: I suppose when there are hundred – hundred and fifty persons. Because it is already a structure, structure need managers, and it is not good when in studio there begin work people not involved in process, in game, who just manage for the sake of management.

Sergey: So managers spoil everything, or not only they?

Jakub: Not only, manager is an easiest example of person for who game is not something special. Yesterday he leaded a factory, today – game studio, and tomorrow he will enter radio station. It may be an advantage for somebody, but I am against that. I think the studio loses it’s art atmosphere when there appear people for who it is just a “work”. Not hobby, not artistic ambition, not emotional connection with colleagues and idea, but just work for salary.

Sergey: I want to give another example, just to learnt your point. Chris Taylor, who I respect much as professional first, on exhibitions always show his project himself, without press-managers. Did you ever think of hiring a press- manager?

Jakub: No.

Sergey: Is much time spent on different interviews?

Jakub: Yes. Interviews and participation in festival programs take plenty of time; it is hard, really hard.

Sergey: Why do you need it, then?

Jakub: Emotional effect. When material is published, I see the reaction through comments, forums – for me it is a very good motivation. And a promotion for project, which is also important. To make the project known you have either to pay for advertisement or communicate; we have no money for advertisement – so I communicate.

Sergey: Do you remember making you first game?

Jakub: For sure!

Sergey: Did you have any certain moment when, for example, you opened magazine or came to a shop? When we made our first game, PIKE — in 1996 — I remember myself running fast to “Soyuzpechat” kiosk to buy “Computerra” with the first in our life material about our project. It was the inexpressible feeling.

Jakub: I happened to me as well, when I came to a shop and saw my game standing in case. Then I was just a schoolboy. I think every author comes through such euphoria. It is an important moment.

Sergey: What did you buy on the first money earned by games? I remember buying some unbelievable number of fantasy books, that time in our country translations were rare, and you could buy, for example, collected edition of Roger Zelazny in ten volumes…

Jakub: Nothing. Me and friends did not receive money for our first games.

Sergey: The sales were so poor?

Jakub: No, the sales were normal, the people were bad.

Sergey: Who?

Jakub: That person whom we gave games for publishing in Czech Republic is bad. It is such a type of Czech businessman, in negative meaning, who sees and accounts nothing except his own profit.
Sergey: And where is he now?

Jakub: He is working now as director of the biggest game company in CR, it is an American corporation with a large branch. Perhaps the most powerful person in our game industry.

Sergey: So he cheated?

Jakub: Yes. Just think of it, we were only 18 years old, we had just made our first games, brought them to local publisher and gave into his hands by our own… and did not receive a CZK. That’s why I’m saying – he might be a good businessman but he is a bad person, I will never deal with him, and I think he does much bad to people working in that company that he is leading now. Money is not the most important; you shouldn’t waive some personal and moral principles for your own profit.

Sergey: I just remembered a talk that we had with German partner, about businessmen in game industry and businessmen on the whole, like “you shall not hire a trainer who wants to sell more popcorn during a break, and players for him are nobody”. Are you somehow sick and tired of triumph of “business” over games, do you miss old good times when you could send fax to developer in Epic Megagames and you receive by Tom standard contract, easy and clear?

Jakub: I miss it. I am not against business in general, it is just not for me, I do not associate myself with people who sell Deer Hunter, for example, their industry is different, not for me.

Sergey: Money earning industry.

Jakub: Yeah.

Sergey: Good sales do not justify project, if the project is shit?

Jakub: Good sales of shit project means only that this shit happened to be in right place. For me it is important that the game remained a game, that it had an idea, it were a story, tale that I could immerse in.

Sergey: Look, yesterday I examined box offices of movies in Russia, and any leader you take, it is bullshit. These movies are commercially successful, dozens of millions of dollars, but I don’t think that twenty years later somebody will watch ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3” as classics of movie industry. They might watch movies by Carvai, Iosseliani, Zvyagintsev, but they will not watch “9 rota” by Bondarchuk despite it was watched by mister Putin with our Defense Minister, and they both liked it...

Jakub: There is really nothing good in Top 10, I guess. Most of commercially successful movies and games is rubbish. But there are exceptions to any rule.

Sergey: So you believe in possibility of commercial success for good movie or game?

Jakub: I do. I know enough good works which were a brilliant example of art as well as successful project for producers.

Sergey: Is game industry changing?

Jakub: Yes.

Sergey: Let’s begin from positive – what do you like?

Jakub: I like how indie crowd is growing the last time, Underground. It reminds me much of shareware times, when games were done by young friendly people. Such people may be not so necessary, but as a rule all of them are very honest, I like them more than “businessmen”.

Sergey: What about the rest market? Some ten years ago we could find plenty of new teams and interesting projects at Е3. Now we have ЕА with billion turnover and ambitions to make EA Sport a competitive brand for Adidas and Nike, and their director was selling ice-cream before, now he deals with games... There is such a viewpoint that by increasing game market we dig a grave for ourselves. Because if the games are played by 20 000 Germans who love table games, you receive an upsurge of base strategies. And if the games are played by 200 000 fat-ass American morons with guns and five grades of education, you receive simulator of deer hunting. Market is oriented at what is maximum popular. The bigger the auditory – the more morons there is, the lower the average IQ and the higher the pressure of publishers on developers to make games “more simple”, “easy” and “comprehensive”. Market condition begins to define it’s future, and that is the result – racing is not Death Track, but super-licensed NFS with official cars, official tracks, official game play...

Jakub: It is right that market grew worse in general. Game demands base on expectations, expectations – on auditory… I don’t like the direction of this market, but it seems that we are not able to change something here. It is in hands of big corporations which can by their decisions to influence this movement. Game evolution in that sense is alike to movie evolution. Today nearly all people watch movies, to be true – everybody, some at cinema, other at home. And most of movies today is trash, it is a kind of some stupid shit. Nevertheless, there continue to exist the whole movie schools, national schools, traditions, there are great Russian movies, there is Polish school, Czech cinematograph school, French. Every year excellent new movies are shot, which are not so many but they still exist. Among overall stupidity such structures, cultural entities are depend partly from state, partly from producers, directors. I think that the last time it appeared many games which are not games exactly, for example FIFA series” it is not a game for me, it is something narrow, functional but limited, as if drama movies on life of football players would turn into television report about game of Brasilia team, having lost the plot but acquired special focus accuracy. What can be done here? It is an irreversible process. I think we should just not pay attention to it and trace new interesting projects which continue to appear. We define ourselves what is our “industry” and what is “games” for us.

Sergey: Do you see a place for yourself and your team in such industry?

Jakub: I do.

Sergey: Do you find that this space can turn out to be very small, that there are some financial restrictions on payback of interesting projects?

Jakub: I don’t think so. We understand clearly that we are not mainstream. We create not for mass market, and we have quite reasonable expectations therefore. We don’t need a «Mercedes», it would be enough to have money for continuation of work. We love developing games very much, we like it, we also like living quietly in our city, drinking beer with friends, dating girls, we are normal people.

Sergey: You live in Brno now, right?

Jakub: Yes.

Sergey: Is it cool there?

Jakub: It is perfect.

Sergey: And in Prague?

Jakub: Prague is also good. But Brno is better.

Sergey: Why?

Jakub: Brno is more suitable for pleasant life.

Sergey: Jakub, thank you much for your time and answers. In Russia we still have people who understand what is what, so I hope that Russian sales of “Samorost” and “Machinarium” will not disappoint you.

Jakub: I also hope so!

Sergey Klimov, general producer, Snowball Studios —
Jakub Dvorsky, Amanita Design
«Indigo» cafe, Prague, October 25, 2008
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