First off, Norsfell is a company located in Montreal, QC. His fancy title means that he's responsible for all matter of vision, design and business for the company. Their game Winterforts is definitely something to watch out for.
Me: Kick it, Jules!
Julian: We're currently part of the Execution Labs, a unique platform helping independent game developers produce the games they want to make and bringing those games to market, and currently working on Winterforts, a mobile war strategy game coming in August 2014. Oh, and I’ve just launched a gaming clothing line as well called RE5ET Co. And I’m originally from Brussels, Belgium. Hi Belgium!
Me: Nice. I don't think I have the cojones to give a shout out to the entirety of a country.
Julian: I grew up in Brussels, Belgium. A city of about 1 million people clouded by grey rain. I had a great childhood! (no, really!) I received my first video game console when I was 5, it was a Sega Genesis (or Megadrive as we call it in Europe) with Sonic The Hedgehog. It was a revelation for me, and being an only child, I quickly grew very fond of the system and games in general.
Growing up with consoles (PC came much later into our house), I’ve always had an attraction for pick-up & play games where the control of an avatar and the feel associated to it are of the utmost importance. Now I tend to try a bit of everything on nearly every platform possible.
Me: What lead to your jump into the gaming scene?
Julian: My teammates and I always wanted to work on our own stuff, to create our games, to be the masters of our own vision. So naturally, even while working for other companies, we started building games on the side in addition to our full time jobs.
I started as a game designer in the industry because I wanted to craft new interactive experiences for the players. I LOVE writing game design documents! I love to put my hands right into it and design every low level systems possible. I’m a very design focus person at the core.
Now that we have our own company, I also do the PR and business side of things, which is also fun. The part I find most exciting during the creation of a project is the beta phase, when everything is roughly set up and polish comes in. First playable is always the toughest.
Me: Being so entrenched in the Industry, as you are, what type of Idol worship do you do?
Julian: As for persons of inspiration go ... I can clearly name a few: Miyamoto, Bleszinski and Suda 51 are my favorite creators because they each have their own style and because I’ve learned so much game design by playing their games. On the business side, Gabe Newell (Valve), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Alex Thabet (Ludia) and more recently Rami Ismail (Vlambeer, I met him last week) have been really good sources of inspiration.
Me: Hmm. For extra points, what time period you would choose to live over our current time period? Go!
Julian: Ah! Good question! Probably during the great expeditions to the new world. I find it fascinating to think of those men jumping on rudimentary ships to sail to the unknown in hopes of finding a better future. It’s a bit sad that we know about every piece of land on Earth today, it kills the mystery (let’s go to spaaaace instead!).
Me: What type of crazy shenanigans do you get into during your down time?
Julian: I love hanging out with friends. And partying.
Me: Sweet. I love being invited to parties with new friends. I'm just throwing out there. We'll table that for later. Tell me how to pick up Magic Man Julian. What's the secret to know? For Science!
Julian: I’m a big eighties fan!
Me: Cue picture of an over-sized fan built in the 1980's. God, that joke made me feel old some how. I'm not going to link anything now.
Where were we? If you had stayed in the position you were at before jumping into game design, would you still be creating games today?
Julian: I could be. Before switching to game design, I was programmed to be a marketing specialist of some kind. Even then I wanted to work in the game industry, but at one point I asked myself: do I really want to be on this side of the fence? The answer was clear and I moved to Montreal to study game design at the Ubisoft Campus. The rest is history.
Me: That's a Cinderella story right there. I can just end the interview now and we can all go home. Actually, I have a few more questions. So...
Coming off of Pixel Molotov's FromPulse's great release (Which was awesome. I played the hell out of it on my 360. *humblebrag), creating Norsfell, and going into such a beautiful build as Winterforts, do you feel you've hit a stride into your own Indie success story?
Julian: We haven’t encountered any big successes yet, so I wouldn’t say we’ve succeeded already, but we’re moving forward. I think one of our most important strengths is that we are a bunch of friends that know each other very well. Rami Ismail would disagree with that being a strength (lol), but I believe it does make a difference. It’s also that all four of us are really complementary: we have one artist who is also an integrator, one front-end dev that is also a back-end dev, one producer who is also a front-end dev, and one designer (myself) who is also a marketer. This helps a lot in defining the roles of each one of us in the company. It also helps that we’ve worked for several years in the industry before making the big jump.
Me: After a hard days grind, what do you do to relax?
Julian: I tend to relativize a lot, so I don’t often feel too stressed. Also, I absolutely love to take hot baths, I couldn’t live without them! They give me the opportunity to take a break, think things through and decide what steps to take next with Norsfell and RE5ET Co.
Me: At what point in your life did you decide to get into the gaming business?
Julian: I’d say when I was a teen, but I have to admit that I started doubting I’d be able to make it at one point. Thing is, the video game industry is not really developed in Belgium. So I had to look abroad. When I found an opportunity in Montreal I decided to try my luck and left friends and family to start a new life. I don’t regret it at all. The lesson here is: if you want something badly, believe in yourself and you’ll have it!
Julian: I believe indie games are here to stay thanks to the democratization of technology and Internet. Creating a game 10 years ago was a tough endeavor. You needed to purchase expensive tools, strike deals with publishers, get your game printed on physical supports. All of this has changed now resulting in an entry barrier that has never been so low.
Some indie games might strike deals with bigger corporations but they’ll always be replaced by newer ones. As long as those affordable tools and open digital platforms exist, the indie scene will keep flourishing and it will flourish through innovation.
I’d say Unity has a lot more to do with it nowadays. Almost every indie developer I meet uses this technology. The same goes for us. And since it’s so versatile, it’s easy to see why.
Me: It's becoming so much easier, as stated earlier, to build games since the advent of the cross-platform game development application, Unity, do you think this technology will bridge the gap between the corporate developer and the indie developer levels?
Julian: That’s an interesting question. We already see this happening every now and then among big corporations like Ubisoft trying something different with games like Blood Dragon or Child Of Light, taking the bet that developing smaller games with smaller teams and smaller budgets can still be a lucrative process, but those examples are rare. Indies are about the people, where as corporations are about the branding. That still makes a big difference.
Me: Shifting gears a little bit, tell us your stance on the issue of Piracy?
Julian: I believe that if your game is engaging and that your company respects its players, those players will always be eager to give you money back. From what we see today, piracy will probably lessen in the upcoming years with the advent of always online games. It’s already happening a lot in the mobile game space. It’s been happening for years on PC. It will happen soon on the new generation of consoles.
Me: How do you feel about the design shifts, as of later years, from cooperative play to compatetive play in games?
Julian: It is true that competition is more often used in game design than cooperation. Hell, even cooperative games like Castle Crashers have elements of competition (sometimes called “co-opetition”). I think the reason for this is very human and psychological. People like to compare themselves to others, and the easiest way to do so is through competition. It is also sad to note that split screen multiplayer is an endangered species. Some of my most fond memories are from playing games on a couch with friends.
Me: Do you have a Favorite Developer?
Julian: Not one but several. Valve, Nintendo, Rockstar, Sega, and Grasshopper Manufacture are among my favorites. No favorite mobile developer at the moment, though. I’ll wait for the market to mature to decide on that.
Me: Can you give us any insight into the process of your currently in-development project?
Julian: Being a mobile developer now, we try to have short development cycles of about 6 months, then ship the game to a few countries to see how it does. Then we tweak and then launch globally three months later. So we try to stay in the 9 months time frame (like giving birth to a child!)
Me: Do you feel you have secured yourself as an Indie Developer rooted in the Indie Scene? What advice would you give an up-and-comer trying to break into a stable role, or just trying to get a product out on the wire?
Julian: Not yet. From what I can see, this usually happens when you’ve released a popular game or when you get exposure through talks at conferences. Start by interacting with people, go to events, show what you’re working on, don’t be afraid. It’s a very natural process.
Me: Plug your game for us before you go.
Julian: Norsfell is currently developing Winterforts, a mobile online war strategy game set to release at the end of this summer. You take control of a lone castle set in a cold and icy magical realm.
Life is tough out there. Your role as the King of the House is to rebuild this castle and expand to forge new alliances and claim the top thrones! The game revolves around 2 aspects:
A management mode, where you erect constructions, upgrade buildings, produce military troops and prepare defenses to protect yourself against other players much like in a tower defense game. We have a pretty cool block system allowing you to easily create a maze of corridors to try lose the enemy. That part is all about set-up, since you’ll never actually defend live against an attack. These can only happen while you’re not playing the game.
Then there is the attack mode, where you actually enter a battle with your troops in PvE and PvP missions. There, you come crashing with your armies at the gates of other players or NPC's to steal their precious resources and speed up the growth of your own castle. It also allows you to grind for epic loot and to climb in the leaderboards. In battle, each troop has its own behavior, strengths and weaknesses, providing a unique strategic experience.
Me: I'll have links put up.
Julian: As for the clothing line, RE5ET Co. aims to bring all the coolness of the eighties back to offer fresh and colorful apparels inspired by a west coast cocktail of palm trees, arcades, tigers, neon and disco. Put your power gloves on, and head over to RE5ET (dot) com for more info!
Me: I'm sure I'll have that up as well.
Julian: It’s a fun project I had in mind for quite a while, and I’m very happy to see it come true. #SunsetOfPlay
Me: Is that a hashtag we need to start trending? I'll throw it in some tweets. We'll make it happen.
Time is growing ever long. I'm going to have to make this a two-parter ... which will totally go all "Hobbit" into a three-parter if I don't watch out.
I like to end my interviews with the same up-beat gaming question every time. Like to hear it? Here it goes! If you could have worked on any project, new or old, what would it be and why?
Julian: I would have loved to work on all those Sega games during the Dreamcast era. This remains one of the golden age of the industry from my standpoint.
Me: Well, sir, I think we'll stop this block of interrogation and save the rest for next week. Til then, talk to you later.