Defrost Games CEO, Niklas Hansson has been a fixture of the Swedish games industry scene for almost two decades. He sheds some light on his background, the formation of Defrost Games as well as their development of Project Temporality. This is their profile.
Who are Defrost and how was the company founded?
Defrost was founded out of the idea that with the new digital world it would be possible to go back to game development ideology of old where a smaller team with a good team spirit could move mountains. We wanted to get away from the current 100+ teams on modern AAA titles and get back to something a bit more manageable like the 10-20 person teams from the mid-nineties where you not only knew but was a friend with everyone on your team and you wanted to make games together.
We originally started out as a family company with just me (Niklas) and my wife (Carolina) in the fall of 2010 working on a smaller project to get it off the ground. However, due to the fantastic feedback we received (even placing in the Dream Build Play competition with an early demo) , we realized we had something special and raised our ambitions so we opted to branch and bring in more people to be able to create the game we really wanted to. In trying to keep the team balanced we have worked with both old friends from my Massive days, but also fresh faces recruited out of The Game Assembly, a vocational game education located in Malmö.
What is your background and how did you get into the games industry?
I started in the industry back 1997 when Massive was founded, I had been dabbling in the demo scene for a year and so and was studying software engineering at BTH at the time so it was a case of being at the right place at the right time. This was a wonderful time to be in the industry. Teams were small and we were on the verge of a revolution with 3D accelerators moving into the main stream and the Internet making its first unstable steps in gaming. That feeling is what we at Defrost want to return to. I stayed there for over 11 years working as Lead Software Engineer on booth Ground Control 2 and World in Conflict. At this time I helped start up The Game Assembly (TGA) in Malmö – a unique education where industry and school truly work together. A main reason for this is that most of the teachers have industry experience. After a while the lure of making games and memories of those early days pulled me back and Defrost was founded.
How many folks make up the core team?
The Core team For Project Temporality consisted of 7 people at its peak, but at the moment it consists of 4 people, me (Niklas) doing the programming and management parts of the project, we have Alexandra Löwendahl and Anders Sandberg two Ex TGA students handling the graphics part and Daniel Bernhoff (formerly of Massive, Planeto etc) doing writing and puzzle design. Outside of that we have Tobias Carlsson making the music, Markus Hansson making the sound FX and Carolina handling Web/press material etc.
What was the inspiration for Project Temporarity and how has the development process been so far?
The basics of Project Temporality has many inspirations it started as a small project to get a feel our production pipelines and get a small game out in the market but it grew quickly. I guess it started a long time ago when I played Cursor 10 a fascinating but in my view slightly flawed flash game where you had a certain amount of characters and every character lived for a certain time and they had to work together to solve puzzles. The flaw for me was that all characters start from the same beginning so it had a lot of repetitive work and no margin of error. For a flash game this wasn’t much of an issue. However, it got us thinking about the concept of Single player cooperation and what you can do with it. So we started digging deeper into the game play to find out what we can do with it.
As for the development itself it has been quite a bumpy ride with highs like when we placed in Dream build Play to the low ones when we entered again with a polished version and last minute fixes which featured an error that made the game crash on the 360 after about 20 minutes if the player pressed the left or right D-pad. Development is always a rough ride however so it should have been expected also working with a decentralized team was tough and that incident was a major reason for us to get a real office.
Have you faced any particular challenges and if so what are they?
I would raise marketing as the biggest challenge, I think this is true for everyone in that it doesn’t matter how good the game is if no one knows about it and in todays crowded space standing out is as much down to being at the right place at the right time. We realize that this is partially due to our lengthy development process which has allowed games with similar looking game play and ideas appear after our first trailer was released and in retrospect it might have been a better idea to release the game earlier with worse graphics.
Another big issue is the conundrum of communicating a game that mostly happens in the players head? A trailer can never show the process a player goes through meta-morphing his thought from considering time as a linear resource into thinking about it as an ever branching tree. We can never show the kick when a player sits down and thinks for 2 minutes about a puzzle and then get a eureka moment. While portal had those fancy portals as a visual aid that gives interest the time-line concept doesn’t lend itself so well to the visual part. This is simply a lesson we take with us onto our next game, you need to be able to show why the game is fun because most people won’t sit down and test it.
Finally who is/are the developers in Sweden that inspire and have inspired you and why?
This is a tough one, not because there are few amazing developers in Sweden it’s rather the other way around there are too many and each could be admired for different parts. I would have to say Notch’s marketing genius is inspiring to see. Sure now everyone listens to every word he says, but it’s the lead up to that position and what he did to keep people enthralled that was amazing and a true inspiration.
What Johan Andersson did with the Frostbite engine at DICE is also inspiring it’s looking great. And of course what my friends back at Massive are doing with The Division is blowing me away. Then we have all the amazing indie developers like Might & Delight, Dennaton and so on who are all an inspiration for doing what they believe in and succeeding with it. It is truly another golden age for games right now.
For more on Niklas and his team visit Defrost Games!
They are also on Twitter!