Couch Gaming and Game Boy Jams: An Interview with EendHoorn Games

A look at an upcoming Steam game that's great to play with a group of friends.

The days of playing a game on the couch with your buddies are looking farther and farther away. Many of us here at GameSkinny are mourning the loss of one of gaming’s proudest traditions, and praising studios that continue to provide great games to play with friends.  

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That’s why I sat down with Martino Wullems, the lead developer at EendHoorn Games, to talk about indie development, the upcoming Steam release of his fabulous competitive game SpiritSphere, and the death of couch competitive gaming.

GameSkinny: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and the start of your career as an indie developer?

Martino: I’m from the Netherlands, as you can hear from my horrible Dutch accent (laughs). I live in a city called Haarlem, it’s next to Amsterdam, like, fifteen minutes, and that’s where I studied in college.  I studied Communication and Multimedia Design, which has nothing to do with games, but that is how I got my first introduction to programming, and from there on I kinda practiced more on my own time, and now I’m making games.

 GS: Are you part of a team, or is it just you making games?

Martino: Just me. I do all the art and the programming, and I have a friend who helps me out with the marketing, handling the emails and stuff, so that’s nice.

GS: Can you tell me a bit about some of the other games you’ve developed?

Martino: Before I went indie, I worked at a company called Flavour in Amsterdam, and they made mostly flash games. So nothing big, but it was nice practice to just get into game development, and make small games. Finishing games, mostly, cause the programmer’s curse is that you can never finish any games (laughs).

After that, I got some problems with my health. I couldn’t use a computer anymore, so the company had to let me go… I joined a friend’s indie company, cause they worked form home, so the times were a lot more flexible. Whenever my arm hurt to much, I could stop, take, a rest, and finish the next day. Last year, I decided I would prefer to just make my own games, since, you know, you only live once.

GS: Can you tell me a little about what inspired SpiritSphere?

Martino: There was a game jam, called the Game Boy Jam, and the goal was to make a game based off Game Boy limitations.  So, limited color palettes, only four colors per sprite, and low resolution.  I was playing Link’s Awakening at the time, so I thought “oh, this is a cool game jam, I’ll make a little top-down action RPG.”

So, I made that, and when the game jam was finished, I went to an arcade with some friends, and they had air hockey.  And I was like “whoa, this is the perfect little game to play in a short session”.  And then the two things — the Game Boy Jam and the air hockey — just came together, and that’s when I decided I’ll make an air hockey game based in and RPG world.

GS: Can you tell us a little about how the game evolved over the course of development?

Martino:  It started out, I just grabbed the Game Boy Jam, and just started experimenting… One big thing I was struggling with was the resolution, because monitors today are wide screen.  My instinct was to make the game horizontally, but you lost the air hockey field, because the air hockey field is long, and I didn’t want to rotate it sideways.  That’s how I decided I would just make it vertical, and I’d fill out the sides of the screen with the audience to make it interesting, because two black bars wouldn’t be interesting.

[When I] added the audience, I started thinking about the setting of the game, thinking “there should be a setting, why are these two characters playing air hockey?” So there’s a story to it, that these characters are fighting over the SpiritSphere, and there’s actually a spirit inside the sphere, and whenever they strike the sphere, they’re showing the spirit their power, and will recognize their power and grant them a wish.

GS: So, you could say a lot of the ideas that came up in the later phases of the game were from working with the limitations of the Game Boy?

Martino: Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely true.  The art style is based off the Game Boy limitations, so there are only four colors for sprite.  With that in mind, you have to consider that you can’t make too detailed sprites.  The blue dog came to be, like, he has to be blue, there aren’t any more colors available.  So yeah, you’re kinda getting pushed in a certain direction for the characters.

GS: One last question:  what do you think about competitive gaming, and the way triple A publishers have neglected that section of gaming?

Martino: I don’t play a lot of triple A games anymore, but I know that there was a big controversy over Halo 5, like, it didn’t have splitscreen multiplayer.  I remember reading that and being like “what? that’s the funnest part of the game.” Sitting on the couch, with your friends, it just has a charm to it… For example, in SpiritSphere, you could make an amazing goal, but you couldn’t see the reaction from your opponent at all, and that’s the most fun part of the game, in my opinion.  So that’s also why I chose not to include any online multiplayer.

I’d like to thank Martino Wullems for taking the time to chat with me. If you want to play a really fun game with some friends, be sure to check out SpiritSphere, which comes out on Steam on July 27th.  

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