Hey guys. I’ve been a slacker on here for a good 6 months! I’m sorry for that, I suck. BUT, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth – really, I’m here!
I got interviewed last month by Ian Schiffman from Ludic Ubiquity and thought I’d share it with you guys.
With no previous programming experience, Chris Jeff started learning Flash and Actionscript on his own in 2007 while he was in college. Motivated by his love for games, specifically online Flash titles, he worked up a few examples in his own free time looking to the internet for advice and help. He eventually released his first game which received a few million plays. Working as a full time game developer, he has produced, both on his own and with artists, a number of online Flash titles with each one becoming more popular than the last as he has matured as a developer. Yet, by far, his most popular title is the one-button platformer Space is Key and its sequels which have been ported over to Android and iOS. Now, he has established a reliable brand with Chris Jeff Games working with sponsors like Armor Games, BigFishGames, Kongregate and Addicting Games. Ludic Ubiquity caught up with him during the development of his latest mobile titles.
Here is the PDF version of the interview:
Chris Jeff Interview
Ludic Ubiquity: What got you started in programming and video game development?
Chris Jeff: I’ve always had a strong love for video games. And, all throughout school and college, I’d play a lot of Flash games and was pretty active on Newgrounds. After trawling the forums a little bit, I came to understand that these games weren’t made by the bigger companies you’re used to with consoles. These are literally one-man teams making insanely fun games and Adobe (Macromedia at the time) Flash was on the radar the whole time!
I decided to give it a shot and started to learn Flash when I was in college (UK college, so I was like 16) during my free time and made some little games for my classmates to play. People in the computer suite actually ended up playing them quite a bit and seemed really addicted to them. And from then on I just kept at it. Kept learning and kept making little games. I’m completely self-taught and used forums when I had issues and tutorials to mess around with and get a good understanding of Flash. So realistically I learned to program purely in order to be able to develop and design games.
LU: What was your first game?
CJ: You can find my first release game here. To give a bit of the back story to the game, this was during my Newgrounds days I believe. It was when “scary mouse mazes” were a big thing. The games themselves were generally fun but ultimately you got scared and the whole point of the game was to scare you – not to have fun! So I played around and made one which ended up getting a few million plays, this really shocked me that there where that many people out there that would play something I’ve made.
LU: How would you gauge the overall response to your games?
CJ: At first it’s pretty scary that you can put a game out there on the web and within days millions of people will have played it and commented whether or not they loved it, hated it or whether they really just hate you. I was in the Flash scene pretty early – since like 2007 (again I was 16!). So, I think I didn’t get hit as hard with the shock as some others will be as I kinda just got accustomed to it all. But to date, for sure, I still am shocked at how you can throw something out there and get so many eyes on it. I also think being in the Flash industry has prepared me for the bigger challenges of mobile & console development in terms of being able to engage with fans. This is where I can say I love Flash, right?
I’d like to think my games have been received well. I’ve been blessed with insane fan responses to games I’ve developed which has allowed me to keep going at it really. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing sponsors and amazing collaborators in the industry too which has really allowed me to put games out there that I loved to do but couldn’t do on my own. Seriously, I can’t draw at all. I think I can draw a pig pretty well, but that’s all I can do.
LU: What’s your most popular game?
CJ: When it comes to any of my games popularity, I think it’s pretty obvious that, out of all of them, Space is Key dives out. This is literally a game that I had a little idea for one night and started prototyping at like 3:00 am. I honestly never thought it’d end up having the reception it did. And now it’s definitely at the top of my most successful games for sure. Scary how I’ve worked on games with artists and put in two to three months work, yet a little prototype with my own artwork in a night ends up outshining them all. Oh internet.
LU: Have you ever been to game festivals?
CJ: In 2013, I actually got to have Space is Key showcased at PAX Prime from a friend’s booth. He was hosting a booth in order to promote his social platform for Flash games and I got the chance to send Space is Key along. I actually didn’t get to go myself but I tuned in a few times via live chat with people playing the game and it was pretty insane to see people react to the game live. Apart from that, I’ve actually never been physically at an event with my game, but I definitely want to in the future: it looks so fun to do!
LU: What is your development process like?
CJ: I think my game development process is pretty straight forward. Nowadays I’ll actually get all my ideas down in a game design document at the same time as prototyping. I try and build the prototype into something fun and something I can really play with more. From that, I’ll start to buff the idea out and start making it into an actual game instead of a prototype, i.e. level design, art, sounds, etc.
Yet, the development process can change depending on the idea. Like for Space is Key, I had the idea of jumping over blocks: a really super simplistic idea. But it wasn’t until the end of making the game I felt like, if I polished up the place holder art I’d drawn – a bunch of squares really -, that the style could really compliment the game. Yet, it was one hundred percent about the gameplay and not how the game actually looked. Sometimes games just evolve from a little engine or prototype for another game I’ve made also; so, it really depends, but generally my process is the same.
LU: How do you go about creating the art for your games?
CJ: As I shared before, sadly I don’t draw. I’d literally love to! But I really can’t. So a lot of the time I collaborate with an artist, which in itself is amazing. Being able to bounce ideas off them and vice versa but, also, just to have someone else there on the project chipping in their ideas is completely invaluable and I love it. But sometimes if it’s an idea I think is simple enough, I enjoy running with it just by myself (like Space is Key). So usually my process for that is the same as any other game, I’ll fill the game with place holder art so I can get everything working and sometimes that art work just ends up sticking. I think with game art, if you’re not going for a fancy style, just having something super simplistic that really compliments the game can be just as effective.
LU: Besides artists, you’ve also worked with musicians. How do you go about working with them?
CJ: I love getting the chance to work with other people on projects. When I’m in a decent position in development and have the feel of the game down, it’s usually a great time to get a musician on-board. I think a good majority of my games have custom sound tracks actually. Audio is an often overlooked part of game development and really can solidify your game and achieve the feeling you want. I usually have a pretty simplistic approach with audio and for the most part I’ll talk to a musician who thinks of what style will really match the game I’m working with. I’ll show them the game and let them play it. I think letting them have hands-on time with the game lets them nail the feel of the game too. I always let them go wild with their creativity and try not to push them too much in a certain direction apart from some pointers or ideas for the track I’ve had.
LU: How has developing games changed your perspective and opinion of games you have played, if at all?
CJ: I’d say I have a pretty open love for games nowadays. I really do play a lot of different genres. However, I’ve noticed I do have a pretty short attention span when playing a game. It really has to hold me and I think that does actually shows in my games. I gravitate towards short, sharp styles. However, I’m a really competitive person naturally. Thus the likes of Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive got their hooks in me and I play those often with friends. I think developing games definitely does give you a different perspective on games. I don’t think it really changes my opinion as I don’t play them as a developer: I’m playing them as me. But I’ve noticed that, if I don’t generally like a game, I can still respect it for what it is or what has went in to it a lot more than when I didn’t know a lot about what actually went in to a game.
LU: You started mostly with Flash games. How did you go about porting Space is Key to the mobile platform?
CJ: So the current Space is Key iOS/Android app is actually in Adobe AIR. It’s using Flash which for me is a technology that is right at home with the current workflow. And for Space is Key it runs perfectly without the need to worry an awful lot about optimisation like you would with much larger games due to vector art. Before the AIR version, it was actually in Cocos2D for just iOS for a year or so before I moved it over to AIR. This was completely different: it was a bit of a struggle and I had some help getting that out there. Right now for mobile games (which is my current focus) I’m using Adobe AIR for some & Unity for the others. I didn’t really choose the game for the platform initially. It’s just what I prototyped the game in and has kinda just stayed that way in using that technology.
LU: As a developer of browser-based games, what do you think the future holds for them?
CJ: I honestly think browser-based games will stay around for longer than a lot of people give them credit for. It comes down to ease of access. Just being able to load up a web page and play a game is a great thing. And, as there are developers still creating enjoyable and creative content, you’ll always see people playing games in their browser. Also, browser-based games have had insanely high quality games and have allowed developers to make that step to mobile/downloadable games too. Just being able to throw a game out there and reach a huge audience is unmatched.
LU: Last question: What’s next for ChrisJeff Games?
CJ: What am I not working on?! I’m actually working on three to four mobile projects still. They’re still in the early days apart from one which is leading the pack. I haven’t revealed what they are publicly nor shown pictures so sadly I can’t show anything. But I can say that one is an arcade/action/reaction game in the sense that Space is Key is and the prototyping has been great with it. It’s rather fun! The focus for ChrisJeff Games currently is mobile games. I’m feeling super excited working on these games on tablets & mobile.
I think my simplistic design approach generally compliments the mobile platform. So, it’s been a fairly nice transition but I can’t wait to get more content out there. As far as web games are concerned, I’ve had a game I’m ninety percent done with from, easily, over a year ago that I need to finish off and get out there. It’s called Beard Quest and you can see it here! It’s very typical of me to work on way too many things at once which sadly slows the development of a lot of them but when I do have stuff to show I generally blog or tweet about them pretty fast.
But yeah, hope you liked that and found something you can take out of it. If you have any questions, I’m happy to talk!
I’ve got a few blog updates planned to share what I’m doing at the moment as sadly I can’t actually share a lot of it yet – and I’m busting at the seams to tell you guys what I’m working on.
You also can view the interview over on his site at: http://sett.com/ludicubiquity/chris-jeff-interview