1: Hello who are you and what are you known for?
I’m Jona, technical artist at KJ Interactive with a shader and automation focus; from (literally translated) the frozen village of “Seabass Swamp” in the north of Sweden.
By now, at least on the internet, I’m probably better known as the guy making that weird ugly naked babies game Eco Tales : My Item Shop (at this point I feel a need to mention that they are not babies and that clothes are on the way) or my tutorial channel which has been growing steadily.
2: How did you get your break into games?
My first break into games was in 2009ish with some class mates during my time at Gotland University, we managed to get Exhaust, an indie live title out quite early; and while the commercial success could be debated it was a great experience to have around 6000 people buy our game.
Post Uni the first really big game I worked on was named Legends of Aethereus, at the time, definitely the most (read as too) ambitious project made in Unity, this was back in 3.5 and 4.0 mind you! Even to this day, gameplay notwithstanding, I’m amazed at what our small team managed to create.
3: How did you find the transition from games, moving into education and back? Are there any tips you might have for those looking for a change in field?
I never really transitioned from games; I was picked up during my second year at Uni to work as a teacher’s aide, then naturally transitioned into holding lectures and workshops of my own while also working on research projects for the lectors [sic] and games with my fellow students.
After I quit full-time University work and moved to China, I always worked with games, giving lectures on anything from a weekly to an annual basis, now I make sure that any future employer won’t try to stop me from teaching the next generation of developers.
With that said, tip one, be hungry for knowledge, I believe teaching taught me more than one might normally do “just” taking classes.
On the subject of knowledge, you often hear that “those who can’t do teach” but if you want to teach game development, that just won’t do. In games more than any other field, a new software could become standard overnight, so staying up to date the way you would do inside of the industry is still a must!
A more hands on becoming an educator tip comes from a recent experience, one where I was tasked with finding a replacement for myself. The assets in applicant A’s portfolio were all very well executed, well beyond what any of the other applicants had produced, strangely they were all a part of the blinn-phong paradigm with the diffuse and specular textures we all used to… love.
After a quick interview it was made clear that the acronym PBR was an unknown to applicant A and as this wasn’t an art history class, another applicant got the job. In other words, stay up to date, oh, and Game Jam!
4: For those who might be looking to Sweden, can you highlight the dev scene and how feasible it might be to move around within the country?
While the majority of the huge development studios are situated in Stockholm, there are medium to large size studios all around the country. It would be an understatement to call it a thriving business as Swedish games are one of the country’s largest exports and close to 4000 people are currently working within the industry.
For anyone interested in working in Sweden, I can definitely recommend it, you may be in for a shock when you see your first tax report but the fresh air, even in the bigger cities, more than makes up for that!
5: When starting out a project, do you plan to hit as many platforms as possible or how do you narrow it down?
I could write an essay on this topic and let’s just say that, with experience comes wisdom. I’ll get deeper into the why in question eight but for now let me walk through the thoughts for Eco Tales : My Item Shop.
Eco Tales started out as a two-person project in Unity, due to the experience gained while working on Legends of Aethereus, we decided to support Windows and Mac.
The platform choice was based around the art style I wanted (one much too GPU heavy for mobile) and around the fact that I wanted the game to be a, pay once own forever deal; something the target audience (again, non-mobile) for the most part prefer over anything else.
It is now a solo developer project and I’ve moved into the Unreal Engine; finally I’d also like to see it on consoles of course, but that is too far into the future to really consider.
6: Micro transactions or other ways of getting money, what’s been the biggest bust or success?
Biggest bust by far has been Legends of Aethereus, a game over three years in the making which after a successful Kickstarter and a few days on the Steam front page didn’t earn enough to pay a single month’s salary to the people involved.
7: What has been your most interesting art asset design?
I’ve been focused on the technical side of art creation so this part may be underwhelming for you dear reader, but I think my character creator demonstrated below by “Lech” from Eco Tales is the most interesting one.
So far people either really like or dislike him and when you see a screenshot from Eco Tales, you won’t have seen a project that looks like it, so love or hate? At least you will remember.
In the image above, furthest to the right is a Lech which has through Substance Designer been completely generated from a low and a high poly, no human interaction required!
8: What has been the biggest zinger of a problem when working on a multiplatform title?
This again brings me back to Legends of Aethereus, this time to the custom, fake PBR shaders (this was long before Unity 5.0) I wrote, specifically making these work on Mac and Linux.
It took a few days to figure out what wasn’t working on the Macs mainly because the tests had to be done off-site, not having access to the proper hardware is a huge zinger all by itself.
Worst of all by far though were the Linux builds with their home-made graphics drivers; I ended up spending three weeks of development time on new Linux specific shader LODs!
9: Best influences in your art/design that’s non-game related?
Nothing to me beats the written word; since I bought my kindle 2 years ago I’ve ploughed through dozens of books, really keeps the juices flowing!
I also get a lot of inspiration from Facebook groups where artists of every level post their ideas and paintings, other than that, the real world, most specifically I am enamoured with deep sea creatures.
A small tip is to always carry a small notebook so that you can write/sketch down ideas and thoughts, I’ve considered a whiteboard pen in the shower but you’ve gotta rest sometime, right?
10: Finally……Any advice for your last boss?
Six more months and an open dev blog on the first GDC version; released at $5 and things would’ve probably looked very different today.
Thanks Jona, for a great insight to being a tech artist as well as the game dev scene in Sweden!
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