Tell us about yourself – Who are you? What do you do? My name is Jan Willem Nijman, I’m a game designer, co-founded indie studio Vlambeer, and recently also helped make Minit together with Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio & Dominik Johann.
If I’ve never played your games before, what’s the first one I should try?
That’s a tricky question! I love designing very different games for each new project, so depending on the type of games someone likes I’d give very different recommendations. If you like exploring interesting worlds and going on a tiny cute adventure, I’d recommend Minit. For hardcore people into super difficult but dense and rewarding roguelikes, I’d say Nuclear Throne. If you love more casual games and like playing stuff on Mobile, Ridiculous Fishing is the one to go with!
What games are you playing most right now? I recently made my way through Far Cry: New Dawn, that series will always be a guilty pleasure of mine. Besides that, I like to play loads of smaller experimental games on itch.io & I’ve been playing Michael Brough’s excellent P1 Select.
What are your all-time favorite games? My absolute favorite game is probably Samurai Gunn. I really love local multiplayer games, you can’t beat sitting on the couch and having a good time with friends.
What draws you to make games? Being able to give players a new experience is something awesome. The fact that anyone around the world is able to play these strange little worlds we build is something I’m still amazed by, and super grateful for.
How did you get started making games? Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product? When I was 11 I was reading a children’s magazine called CompuKids, and in it was a short blurb about a tool called Game Maker. I thought that sounded cool, and decided to give it a shot. To be quite honest, I’ve never looked back. Nuclear Throne, Minit, etc. are all still made in Game Maker.
Regarding process: it all starts with doodles on paper. I’m not great at writing design documents, so I just try to get my thoughts sketched down as quick as possible. After that it’s important to just jump in and get started, especially making sure the game is playable right away. If you can’t play it, it’s not a game yet, and I don’t trust myself to make something without being able to test & see people having fun. From there on it’s just a slow uphill ride to the end!
What game-related or game business-related media do you consume on a regular basis? My twitter timeline is filled with amazing artists, designers, creators, journalists, PR people. That’s a great way for me to dive in and find cool new projects happening.
How do you market your games? Marketing is a super difficult skill, and there are people who are much better at it than I. Collaborating with those who understand this is key: games need marketing or no one is going to see them.
What are some tools/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without? Pen & paper, my trusty Game Maker, and notepad. I need something low key to write down notes.
What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest? How do you find playtesters? Ideally I’d playtest as much and as often/early as possible. It’s usually less painful to find out what’s wrong with your game early on, when you can still make easy changes. It gets tricky when you make a game like Minit, that’s very spoiler heavy. We had to be very careful not to playtest too often, because we’d run out of un-spoiled people.
For playtesters, I prefer people from all walks of life. It’s sometimes much more useful to have someone with little gaming experience make loads of mistakes, than to see a seasoned gamer avoid every issue with ease. I think it’s important to look your games flaws in the eye, and make it as accessible as possible!
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them? Making games is always hard, but luckily I’ve had the fortune to work with loads of awesome team members and collaborators. I think by working together you can motivate, inspire, and learn so much.
How do you handle life/family/work balance? It’s important! Work is fun, but I need life to be creative. I do much better work either way when I can live a full life on the side, so I just make sure to always stay on the safe side. I’d rather be happy and slightly less productive, than burnt out and extremely unproductive.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers? If you can: make as many games as possible! Just get started, whether it’s on pen & paper or using simple tools such as Twine & Bitsy! Finishing games is the hardest part, so making (and completing) smaller projects is gonna get your more experience at first. A lot of my first games were little 3-hour jams.
What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received? Be kind to people but don’t worry too much about what they think!
(Meta question: What question did I miss that I should have asked?) I’m glad you asked: my favorite food is lasagne.
If you’re interested in how tabletop games are made as well, check out out tabletop Game Dev interviews at AndHeGames