Fast Five – Chris Johnson

In the lead up to this year’s festival, we’ve asked some of our speakers a set of Fast Five questions about their work and their thoughts on games in Australia. Today we have independent game designer Chris Johnson. Chris is currently developing Expand, and he will be both playing and speaking about his games as part of the Online Festival.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on Expand. Readers might have seen an earlier version of the game at the Freeplay Arcade back in 2012 or maybe at PAX Australia last year. Expand is a game where you move through this ever shifting circular labyrinth. The game feels like you’re doing a sudoku puzzle and meditating at the same time. We’re currently in the trenches creating more content for the game. For Expand, content creation is the most time consuming and draining part of the development process. It’s also very rewarding seeing the game get closer and closer to being finished.

What do you wish you worked on? Why?

I wish I made a solid PuzzleScript game when that was new. I’ve taught a few people how to make games with PuzzleScript but haven’t made anything myself. I think the process of making something would help develop my skills in level design. Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough about this but I feel as though a lot of the simpler variations of PuzzleScript games have been made. So it’s now a process of being more creative since I really wouldn’t want to make a riff on someone else’s idea.

What’s an Australian game, old or new, digital or physical, that you find interesting?

I found Turnover to be a really interesting game. In the game there are four players which all have gravity acting on them in different directions(up, down, left and right). The goal is to grab and hold onto a ball that bounces around the arena. Watching other players move under the different gravity fields is so visually interesting. I found that when playing you don’t have enough attention to devote to fully process the movements of other players and so most of the time you are seeing all this semi-unpredictable, almost alien like movement in your peripheral vision.

The game is also projected onto the floor and after a while the arena will start to twirl around, requiring either the players to move or to shift their frame of reference. This twirling makes you feel as though you’re riding a roller coaster while playing the game. It’s such a clever addition.

What, for you, has been the biggest shift in games in Australia in the past ten years?

I haven’t really been involved in the larger games industry in Australia and can only speak about the shifts I’ve seen in South Australia. I think the biggest shift has been developers becoming more independent. In late 2005 Ratbag games in Adelaide was closed by Midway. Following Ratbag there was Krome studios which closed down about five years ago. Now however there a smaller rising scene of independent creators who are slowly becoming economically sustainable. Developers here are no longer at the mercy of larger publishers and have more control in steering their destiny.

What do you see yourself doing in another ten years?

I’m not sure. I’d like to continue making games but I’m not interested in making commercial games after Expand. Over the last few years I’ve felt inspired by works that are really provocative and sometimes political. That kind of work isn’t easy to make when you have to follow a fantasy of the what the market wants.