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Interviewing Jens Nilsson from Frictional Games: It is not about technology

Amnesia The Dark Descent Amnesia The Dark Descent

Frictional Games is a small game developer located in the South of Sweden. We had the chance to ask Jens Nilsson, one of the members, about Macgaming in general and why he thinks it is not much more as a niché yet. Though Frictional Games supported Macs from the beginning with their Penumbra-Series and they had reasons to. Jens speaks freely on them and tells us as well about Frictional Games’ upcoming project “Unknown” which is to be released in 2nd Qt 2010.

Alexander Trust

If it was not for the iPhone, Macgaming would still be some kind of a niché. Do you have any explanation, why Mac and Gaming seem to be different pairs of shoes?


Jens Nilsson

For starters there is no mention at all about gaming when you go to apple.com or look at a Mac in a store. It’s almost as they are ashamed of using a computer for playing, as if you are naughty if you do. You have to magically know that /games is a good page on the apple.com site for game info. No, when using a Mac you are clearly meant to be artsy fartsy and create music, videos and take pictures. Go creativity go! Gaming is for geeks. I think the problem revolves around this issue, it’s hard to find places where you as a developer or publisher can reach the gamer. Not many magazines or sites for Mac gaming and definitely not many places to sell the games, this in combination with illusions of Mac people not gaming, Macs not for gaming and similar lowers the chances of larger companies wanting to make an effort and take some risks. Maybe if there was an actual large effort made to make the Mac a gaming platform something would happen, and by effort I’m thinking of something more than saying you are going to do it during a keynote and then release three games as the big effort. But it all comes down to if there is money to be made by making the Mac a gaming platform? The answer is most likely no, so that is why the Mac is not a place for games. The decision was made long ago to make the Mac a life style computer, something do be creative with and do many cool & productive things with. Which it does really really well, so the effort was made and is made and maybe that has been on the expense of gaming.


You guys from Frictional Games supported Macintosh and even Linux from the very beginning. What was your reason?


As a small developer we figured it was less of an effort to make ports of the game than to do many games for the same platform. So the choice was made to use cross-platform technologies to ease the porting and to ensure that our sources of income would be more rather than fewer and it turned out to be a life save several times over. On the PC side we had publisher problems and if we had not also had Mac/Linux versions of the games then we would not have survived. Not saying that the Mac/Linux versions have been huge success, but enough to keep us floating during harsh times. Personally I have also worked on many Mac games, the first game I ever participated on creating was a Mac game, so I nagged a bit about the support for my own amusement. I currently have my old G4 that is used to do all the sound creations for our games, including all the Penumbra games.


Do you have any explanation why Macgaming did not benefit from Apples wedding with Intel within the last years? At least not as much as one could have thought of.


I think it is a general matter of the Computer gaming shrinking, or at least for the majority of the Publishers to see it as shrinking. This in combination with that there are few places to sell your mac games and even fewer places to let people know about your mac games. There are hardly any mac gaming dedicated sites around any longer that are of a size that makes them a good place to reach many users and general gaming sites hardly ever include details of mac releases, at best a small notice or a Mac listed in the supported platforms. This with the combination that when you get a Mac you really don’t have any good place to start looking for games, you can’t go to the general game store and you don’t know where to go online. For the experience user sure, you can go to Mac Game Store or Mac Games Arcade for online purchases, but for the novice where to start?


Is there any chance that the support of OpenCL with the next version of OSX will bring a major impulse for Macgaming?


Not sure, maybe a bit in the same way that the move to Intel CPU’s have widened (not necessarily resulted in more games) the options available to bring more games to the Mac. But I’m fairly certain that the technology is not the reason for a staggering mac gaming market, at the moment you can use various cross-platform libraries (as we do) or you can use technologies such as Cider to smooth the process of bringing PC games to the Mac, vice versa or simultaneous releases. The most needed impulse for Macgaming would probably be more places to get your games out to the users, to make it a viable place where you think you have an opportunity to get your investment back.


As the App Store raises, developing for the iPhone seems to be like a trend. A lot of independent developers sprang up like mushrooms in a field of startups. Will there be any games for the cocoa-driven handheld plattforms from Frictional Games sometime?


You never know! But at the moment no. We have found a niche that we are very happy with and have experience with, so currently going into a new market, with brand new development tools and a very hot and eager competition is not something that we have an interest in. But of course all sorts of online, almost direct developer to end-user methods, are very interesting so we are looking into and keeping contacts for possibilities to do some sort of developing later on.


And of course what term do you think fits most to describe the iPhone? Is it a mobile or a handheld?


Hard to say as I have never used one! But from what I can tell it is a handheld that works better as a mobilephone than mobilephones do, for starters making a call is simple…


You recently published news on a new project of yours, named “Unknown”. It started entering into full production lately and you scheduled release for Q2 2010. You’re putting a lot of ressources into this, are you not?


Well, everyone is working on it so yeah. We started on the project in early 2008, doing concept, design and engine development. As the year progressed we soon began working full-time on it, much thanks for receiving a grant from the Nordic Game Program that allowed us to fund the prototyping of the game. Currently we are working away on the first part of the actual game, so quite exiting as content is created that is actually going to be part of the final release.


A first trailer of yours shows a different setting to “Unknown” as it was in Penumbra Series. What can you tell us on differences or similarities on this title?


It’s a new horror game, with a concentration on the mood, exploring and vulnerability of the characters. To sneak and avoid the dangers while using your brain to solve puzzles and learn about the place. So far that description works just as well on Penumbra, so that is what makes them similar but it really ends there. Unknown is a completely new game, set in the 17th century and having the player explore a castle with roots from the 12-13th centuries, the game is a bit faster paced and in smaller “chunks”, we want to further develop the idea of games being more of an experience than a challenge. On the technical side the game engine is new and using some of the latest techniques that are very useful to have for this type of game, such as the ability to almost have endless amounts of light sources.


Will there be other games from Frictional Games in the meantime?


No, we are only four people in the company, even with external contractors making one game is quite an undertaking as it is!


Thanks a lot to Jens Nilsson.


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