Special articles, columns and features exclusive to the MDb.
The MDb Interviews Joakim Sandberg!
by Infinity's End
Joakim Sandberg, aka Konjak, a 24-year-old Swedish independent game designer, has agreed to an exclusive interview with the Metroid Database. He has recently released a free playable demo of a new game he has been working on, titled The Iconoclasts. The reason we got in touch with him is because The Iconoclasts represents a new and fresh take on the Metroidvania formula, and we feel it's excellent enough to be a game every fan of the genre should play. Joakim has been single-handedly designing games almost his entire life, and as demonstrated in his games such as Noitu Love 2 (an intense action title in the same vein as Gunstar Heroes) and The Legend of Princess (a platforming homage to the Zelda series), it's clear this one man band can produce some fantastic work.
Game Design/Industry Questions
Give us a run down of your game design history and professional industry experience.
I've been working on game concepts and ideas almost as long as I can remember, like back in kindergarten when I made TVs out of cardboard boxes and drew my games on them. I started actually making little crude things that could be "played" about 11 or 12 years ago, when I wasn't very old. Since then I've done the same thing, worked on concept after concept just to learn the intricacies of game design and satisfying gameplay. My process has evolved since then on a steady line that has become almost invisible to me. My first involvement in the professional industry came when I won a competition to animate Shantae dancing, and WayForward hired me as an occasional freelancer from that. I still do most of my pixel work for them. I've also made a half-attempt at selling my own game Noitu Love 2, but it lacked in a bit of exposure much thanks to my own confidence!
What attracts you to pixel-based art as you continue to incorporate it into your games?
Nothing, other than it's easy to do. Nostalgia is always nice but I don't want to just work from that. Pixel art is the single most time-efficient method. That's not saying it lacks merit to other practices, I adore the look of pixel art.
Have you ever considered learning 3D or is that something you're not interested in?
It's not that I have an exclusive passion toward pixel art more than it is a very fast and easy to do format for me, and I am a very imaptient man when it comes to seeing results. I feel I should've learned 3D - I feel I should've learned lots of things - and I embrace every dimension just as much. What I place my tastes in is different kinds of art direction.
As time goes on, pixel-driven, sprite-based games are becoming more and more rare, or just seem to be changed into a marketing technique and written off as "retro." What do you think the industry should do to preserve this type of art, or get newer gamers to appreciate the style?
I don't think the market should have to tell people what to like. Some people like the look of pixel art and some don't. People who didn't grow up with it might never understand the point, or might love the "abstract" (to them) look of it. There are many ways to make something beautiful. I am always against removing options and deeming another "better", so I want pixel art to stay as an option to all developers. It's more a matter of having the consumer not always ask for the hardest thing to make, in all forms of assets. Not sure if we'd ever get there though.
What would you say are your top 5 all-time favorite games?
I don't do these lists because I don't favor any single game the MOST (or movie or song for that matter) because I am very much about diversity and I think most genres and styles have possibilities, and I think each game I love have many faults. Games do stick out in my mind every time though, like "Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask", "Metroid Fusion" and "Yoshi's Island". I like plenty of non-Nintendo games too, but these are always the ones that come first when I'm asked for some reason. I seem to have a propensity toward whenever Nintendo takes a chance with a series, which they extremely rarely do and it's an awful shame.
What games have you really enjoyed that have been developed/released in the last decade?
I've enjoyed many games in the last ten years, it's a young industry, not sure what else to say. Some examples from more recent years, but not exclusively favorite, would be "Super Mario Galaxy", "Metal Gear Solid 3 & 4", "Resident Evil 4 & 5", "Left 4 Dead 1 & 2" and "Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia".
What do you think makes a good game? What types of things do you try to accomplish or incorporate into your own game designs?
When I make a game I don't think hard about what it is I want from its core gameplay since I make the game on my own, it becomes what I create. It is my personal expression of what I feel games should be, to the extent of my programming and visual abilities of course. I highly regard fast but controllable gameplay with satisfying action and effects. I put a lot of time into the feedback I expect to give players from every action in their movement. I want them to feel satisfied playing my games from a gameplay design stand-point.
We know you've made a few games in Multimedia Fusion and Scirra's Construct engine. Do you prefer one over the other?
Well, I prefer Construct. It's similar to MMF but endlessly more to my tastes. Waiting for Construct 2 now.
Do you ever find these engines limiting your creativity, and if yes, how do you usually overcome that? Or: what features or tools do you wish these engines offered to developers that they don't currently have?
Only thing I feel I want from them is multiplatform ability, and not at the expense of performance. Construct 2 seems to be a very good program, but it's in its alpha stages still.
What are your feelings on using the internet as a way to distribute your games? Do you find the publishing rules on consoles' online services too restrictive?
The internet is a great way to distribute games. Console versions of downloadable services are of course gonna be more restrictive since it's a dedicated platform. You could argue all day how fairly they run the services, and for independent developers, removing middle-men and/or not having to create physical media is better to ensure some profits for smaller productions.
Do you find being an independent developer more enticing and desirable than working for a big-name developer? If so, why?
There's always restrictions to your work when you're playing with someone else's money. The obvious upside to independent development is freedom, there's no one else holding the lifeline telling you what they think is a better idea.
Do you see yourself working to complete The Iconoclasts? I know a great deal many people who would be fully willing to pay for something like this.
Of course I want to finish it, I always stated as such. I'll do what I realistically can.
What are you feelings on "2.5D" (games that are 3D but are played in a 2D perspective) and how it seems to be extremely popular right now in modern gaming?
As mentioned, I don't like the idea of replacing an old idea with a new. In that sense, people should never forget that games that play on a 2D plane is literally a whole different dimension of established genres compared to 3D. An action game in 2D is a completely different type of game to an action game in 3D (in terms of depth of movement). It's ridiculous to claim one is the natural replacement for the other. I want both.
What kinds of hurdles do you think need to be overcome to keep games/the game industry from going stale?
Freedom of creativity. That'll always be a utopian dream though if the budgets start growing for a project. I wish we didn't keep asking for more power. With more power comes more cost.
You're clearly a Metroid fan. Have you played all the games in the series?
I've certainly played all main-line (including Prime, if some readers exclude those, but not the DS one) games. I haven't finished them all though, at least not the first two.
My favorites are Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M. It has been clear to me for a long time that I like Metroid for reasons most others don't. I'm not 100% on what those reasons are, but big factors are certainly the setting, action and atmosphere, not the non-linearity of some entries. I find complete lack of guidance incredibly frustrating and archaic. I prefer being told where to go to trying to bomb every wall. Even as a more patient child I did.
What do you think makes a Metroid game unique? How do you think this translates into your own approach to game design?
To me, Metroid is just simply unique because it has its own setting and lore, just like Castlevania does. I'm a fan of the genre and want to see many different games within it, but it's a very sparse genre, the action/adventure genre (especially sidescroller). To someone else, it would certainly be its sense of being alone on a planet and exploring it all, but I'm just a fan of the genre overall. Metroid has its own unique items and controls though that nobody has recreated the same way, and I love a lot of parts of that.
How do you feel about Samus as a video game character and what she represents?
As a child without much prejudice, I don't think I ever reacted to Samus being a woman much. I love strong female leads, but even so I have to say I don't like a person who speaks who is also void of emotion. It seems what a large group of fans have a problem with is Samus acting anything but like a robot or badass, unrealistic killing-machine. I always felt the atmosphere of the games have asked for her to be a real person.
Any thoughts on Nintendo's latest Metroid title, Metroid: Other M?
Now, I mentioned loving Other M, but that's because of its unique take on Fusion's controls in 3D, and I loved it. The story was not good. Samus wasn't written well at all, but Sakamoto tried to do what I wanted and make Samus "real", but he didn't do a very good job of it. I would never like to imagine Samus as a person who would say one-liners or act resentful to all men. That's an extreme "strong woman" stereotype that people seem to expect from Samus.
As a kid I always imagined her as a very tactful, intelligent and confident woman who chose words wisely and knew what she believed in, which could often make her stubborn. I didn't imagine her like Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies being full of estrogen-powered 'tude, or overly emotional and second-guessing herself like in Other M. But I never, ever imagined her being unable to love another human being, which to my confusion seems to be what people hated most about Other M.
The Iconoclasts is clearly inspired by Metroid or is a Metroidvania-type game, but it also has a great deal of innovation which makes it stand on its own as a worthwhile title. What about this gameplay/design approach attracts you to it?
I'm attracted to the genre because it's a setting where you tell a story with gameplay like an action game. It's not an RPG or a graphic adventure, it marries fast and player-controlled action with an interesting setting and/or plot. There's nothing else as immersive or entertaining to me. I've always wanted to make a game like this, even if it seemingly destroys me! If I did though, I wouldn't let myself do a straight rip of a game I love without intending to do so, so I try hard to give my own identity and new ideas to the game.
How do you think Metroid could be improved? What kinds of things would you like Nintendo to add to the series?
I am not a fan of having controls taken away for too long or too often. That's of course a challenge when you're trying to tell a story. Metroid Fusion and Other M take away controls far too often, and doesn't even let you skip them if they're uninteresting or incidental. People keep asking for another Super Metroid. I think I've made clear already that I think the game has improved a lot since then, so if I created a new Metroid game I'd personally want to improve the formula I like, but that's not the popular opinion, so maybe try something fresh with the series. I love it when Nintendo does something fresh with an entry too, so I'd love to see them do that again.
Any final thoughts on Metroid/game design/gaming in general? Or just closing comments?
Took me long enough to answer all these, I probably shouldn't set aside time to think hard about an inspiring message right now too! :)
On behalf of the staff of the Metroid Database I would like to greatly thank Mr. Sandberg for his time to answer these questions and we wish him the best of luck with designing video games! Let's hope he finishes The Iconoclasts someday. In the mean time, go play this most excellent free demo or purchase Noitu Love 2 while you're at it! Your support allows this guy to keep designing these incredible games!