We’re not so different, you and I
Hastily thrown together home offices, impromptu indoor gardens and baby sidekicks – here a few indie developers share snapshots of what life is like working under lockdown. I asked a selection of devs to send pics of their home-working desk, then asked them a few questions about it and what they draw on for inspiration. The diverse set-ups they revealed were fascinating, with everything from Donkey Kong to Marlon Brando making an appearance.
Before we crack on though, an apology about the glaring lack of female developers in the following list, this was by accident rather than design, as unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from the female devs I e-mailed. Hopefully, we can do a follow-up article with some fairer gender representation!
Gregorios Kythreotis, Shedworks
Greg is the co-founder of London studio Shedworks and is working on the upcoming Sable, which was revealed to great acclaim at E3 2018. Shedworks was originally based in an actual shed at the bottom of Greg’s parents’ garden, but Greg reveals he has since moved indoors…
Ah, so it looks like the shed is out of commission during lockdown – is this your flat then?
The shed is out of commission now completely, we actually moved out just before the lockdown to a small studio space as we needed to bring another person on board with the project, and we just didn’t have the physical space anymore. Since then, my parents have reclaimed the shed so I don’t think we can go back either, which is definitely a bittersweet feeling after five years of having it there for us. We would not have been able to make Sable without it, no doubt.
In the meantime, this is my living room/office. I’ve had to take over the corner of it as my partner is also working from home and we don’t have much space. I don’t usually have any of the set-up in the photo at home, it’s normally at the studio, and it was a bit of a scramble to get stuff like the chair and monitor home, but I managed to get it done just before the lockdown.
I like the chair garden – does nature help to inspire you? I’m thinking also of the spiders in your shed/office…
It’s just nice to have some plants to look at whilst I’m trying to solve some problem or having a tea break. They definitely make me feel happier; I always try to set up a couple wherever we work. We have some smaller potted plants that are actually vegetables, so they’ll be put in a bigger planter soon, but I don’t take responsibility for that. I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb or anything, but my mum is a florist, so I’m sure I’ve been influenced by that.
Do you find yourself thumbing through the books on the bookshelf while working? Are there any particular ones you’re drawn to?
I always try to keep reference books near me when I’m working on stuff. Even if they aren’t 100% relevant, it can still be inspiring and motivating. I grabbed a couple of books to take with me from the studio, but I am definitely missing some of the ones I left there, and I am really missing the desk space to be able to have them spread out whilst I work. The one I always have on my desk is the Proto Anime Cut Archive, but most of the books on our shelves at the moment aren’t necessarily relevant to what I’m working on. My partner is a book designer, so we have quite a few design books.
What’s the view out of the window like? Has the view worked its way into your subconscious – will we be seeing suburban architecture in Sable?
The view from the window is firstly a view of a small Acer [maple] tree I inherited off someone and some other foliage in the front garden, and then it opens up to a view of Sainsbury’s and a pub on the high road. When the weather is good, it’s quite nice to sit and watch people strolling past, just to get a glimpse of humanity. As for the city of London entering my subconscious and influencing Sable? Well, it’s always been a presence for us as we’ve made the game, I’m sure you’ll see bits of that if you keep an eye out, but I don’t want to give anything away.
Tell us about how Sable is coming on – what have you been working on recently, and do you have any ideas on a release date yet?
Sable is progressing well, it’s at a crucial stage where the real shape of the project is starting to appear, which is really exciting and extremely nerve-wracking, especially when you can’t work in the same space together. We’re lucky that we’ve been less affected than others by the lockdown, but I think it will naturally slow things down a little. As for a release date, nothing to announce yet!
Joe is behind some excellently funny point-and-click adventures made entirely from Renaissance artwork, namely Four Last Things and its recently released sequel The Procession to Calvary. His home-office arrangements in London have just been interrupted by the arrival of a new co-worker.
I see you’ve roped your newborn in to act as your assistant – how’s that going?
Absolutely terribly! He is the worst assistant ever. Today I asked him to compile a list of potential console publishers for The Procession to Calvary, and he shat his pants then pissed in my face when I tried to clean him.
I’m trying to work out your set-up here – is that laptop your music player? Do you always listen to music while you work? What’s your music of choice?
That was the idea, but I never actually use it. I do listen to music when working. Usually something instrumental to aid focus. At the start of developing The Procession to Calvary I was listening to a lot of classical music to get me in the right mood, but generally, it will be something electronic. Aphex Twin or Four Tet, then whatever Spotify suggests for the next four hours.
What’s that postcard on the left of your desk? I can’t quite make it out…
It’s The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by Jusepe de Ribera. My partner brought it back from a trip to Dulwich Picture Gallery. She says she selected it because it was ‘particularly gruesome’.
I see you have the Wireframe issue with The Procession to Calvary on the cover in pride of place – how important was that for the game?
Haha, yeah, how did that get there?! I’m not sure how important it was for the game. I’m not someone who follows stats or wishlist conversions or whatever it is the pros look at, so I never know how much of an impact these things have. I suspect not very much. It did, however, give me a fleeting wisp of relief from my imposter syndrome.
What has the reception to The Procession to Calvary been like? And what are you working on right now?
The reception has been great! Surprisingly so. I had a few moments of existential despair when working on it, and by the end, I had lost all sense of perspective. So it was a relief to see people enjoying it.
I’m supposed to be working on a mobile build and finishing off some Kickstarter rewards, but the young lad is taking 100% of my focus at the moment…
Lucas Mattos, Long Hat House
Lucas is a co-founder of Long Hat House in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the studio behind the wonderfully topsy-turvy Metroidvania game Dandara, which was released in 2018 and got a free update this year with the Trials of Fear DLC. Since the pandemic swept in, Lucas has had to hastily throw together a home office.
Is that a photo of Marlon Brando in Rebel Without a Cause? Is he a big inspiration?
Yes, it’s him! But I actually don’t know where the magnet came from, it’s been forever since I watched that movie! The magnet appeared when I was moving, and I just liked it there. I wouldn’t say I have it as an inspiration though, I’d need to re-watch it first!
And I think I can see a photo of Tabor in the Czech Republic, too (I’ve been there, such a lovely town). What’s the story behind that?
Tabor is indeed a lovely place! The story behind it may be too long, but I’ll try to make it short. In [recent] years, I had a really strong connection with the Czech Republic. For over two years I was dating a girl, Anna, who is Czech and lives in Prague. During this time, I spent almost six months in total in the Czech Republic, and she did the same in Brazil. We’re not dating anymore, but naturally, I have great memories from there. It’s awesome how much of Prague and the countryside I have seen and all the people I have met! And if there’s one thing constant around Czechia is how lovely all the places are!
As a curiosity, Anna Bobreková is a scriptwriter and helped us immensely with the Trials of Fear Edition. I’d say some of the best characters and lines in the expansion are written by her!
What about the other photos? Are these of your family?
A lot of what you can see was improvised, which includes the magnet board behind my computer. Before I moved my workspace from the office to my room at home, this board had only magnets that I got from trips or that I got as a gift from others. There wasn’t much, but I didn’t spend much time in my room, so I kinda neglected it.
When I moved my workspace, I decided to add more of my personal life. Unfortunately, since the digital era, I haven’t printed many pictures, so I used some old ones that I had as a placeholder (hahaha I’m a programmer after all). Four of those pictures are just me: I know, very self-centred! I still really need to add more of my loved ones, but I like how these at least remind me of very different moments of my life, mainly as a kid; I do have my childhood as an inspiration.
There’s, of course, a picture of my parents and sisters, and there are some tiny really old pictures that I love from when I was a baby, together with all my cousins from my father’s side. It’s a big family! (Still gotta add the ones from my mothers’ side!)
The webcam and Zoom app have become this year’s must-have accessories – how are you adjusting to life under lockdown?
We have always used a lot of conference apps, even though part of Dandara’s team worked locally in a shared office in Belo Horizonte, we always had to communicate with our musician Thommaz Kauffmann who lives in São Paulo, and we keep in touch with our publisher Raw Fury, which is spread all around the world! Also, we always have freelancers working with us. So those calls were already part of our daily life.
For me, at least, the biggest trouble with the quarantine is about keeping a healthy schedule, I have been most productive after midnight, and I had days when I worked until the sun was up! I don’t mind sleeping late, but when the schedule is not very clear, the unproductive time is not really used as free time, and I end up having none, so I’m always trying to get back on track with time.
You may notice Zoom is not the only app, we like to experiment! We have used Jitsi, Slack, Discord, Facebook, etc. We like to give a choice to whomever we’re talking to.
That’s a lovely bit of Dandara artwork on your desktop – how are things going with the game? You’ve just released a big update, right?
That wallpaper art is a fan-art made by a Brazilian for an Xbox contest! It’s been my wallpaper since the day I saw it. My phone’s wallpapers are also fan-arts, I just can’t express how awesome it is to see these arts!
Yes, we just released a huge content update, the Trials of Fear Edition, and it’s for free for everyone who has the game, it just comes as part of the experience. The game is going well, of course not as much as the first year, but it’s surprising for me how long the life of an indie single-player (and not sandbox) game can be. I believe we should credit Raw Fury for their big role in this!
What are you working on right now?
I’m not sure how specific I can be about what we’re doing now, but I’m mostly working on getting things ready for that physical release of Dandara that Super Rare Games announced in February 😉
We also had a long time of support and maintaining the game after the update’s release. It’s very stable on our end, but there are still some patches in the oven, and QA, getting ported for consoles, etc.
Mikael Forslind, Elden Pixels
Mikael is the head of Elden Pixels in Gothenburg, Sweden, and he previously worked at Image & Form and Zoink. Elden Pixels released the NES-inspired adventure game Alwa’s Awakening in 2017, and is just about to release a sequel, Alwa’s Legacy.
That is one extremely tidy desk! Are you sure you haven’t tidied up especially for this photo, or is it always like that?
To be honest, this photo was taken a while back, but yes! I always keep my desk tidy and with a minimalistic approach. In today’s society, I think we need to keep our distractions to a minimum so we can focus on what’s important. And also, I think a clean desk looks great!
Do you find keeping things tidy helps you to concentrate? Can you work if things are out of place?
I’m a bit of a neat freak but yes, I can work even if there’s stuff on my desk. I just make a note in my head that it’s something that should be taken care of eventually. As a lead designer for a game as well as a CEO, I find keeping my distractions to a minimum really helps me concentrate better.
The Donkey Kong mural is brilliant, and I notice you have a NES Zapper on your desktop – how much of an influence has Nintendo been on your work?
Nintendo has inspired me in so many ways. Just like many others, I grew up playing Nintendo, but I never dreamt of making games myself. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I went for a career change and applied for a job at Nintendo (without any experience at all), and I didn’t get it. I was so disappointed that I decided to attend business school for two years. This led to an internship; fast-forward a couple of years and I now run my own company together with a bunch of other creative people. Now we make and release games on the Nintendo Switch, so it has come full circle!
The lonely Fallout figurine is about the only thing on your desk, so does that mean it’s especially important to you? Are you a huge Fallout fan?
Yeah, I absolutely loved Fallout 3, and I remember getting every single achievement in that game. It was also the game that opened up a whole new genre of music for me. Even now, 10 years later or so, I still listen to old country music from the fifties, and every time I do it brings me right back to how I felt the first time I explored the wastelands in the Fallout world. Unfortunately, these days I don’t spend much time playing video games, so I didn’t finish Fallout 4. I would love to go back someday and finish it though.
Tell me about what you’re working on at the moment, and has it been affected by being stuck at home? (Or not, in the case of Sweden’s relatively laissez-faire quarantine)
We’re about to wrap up production on Alwa’s Legacy, which is the latest game from our studio Elden Pixels. We call it a modern retro game, and it’s a platformer where you explore a world filled with magic, fun characters and dangerous foes. It’s a standalone sequel to our first game Alwa’s Awakening that came out in 2017. We’re just a few weeks away from finishing it, and it feels amazing. It turned out beautiful!