This week’s interesting interview comes from Tobias Bilgeri of Black Pants Game Studio, creator of one of our favorite puzzle games About Love, Hate and the Other Ones. We were enchanted by the cuteness of the characters, the simple yet somehow frustrating levels and above all, the hard work that went into producing the game. When researching more into the developer, we learned that the game was, in fact, inspired by a handful of short movies that Tobias created. You can check it out Tobias website. Be sure to Like Black Pants Game Studio on Facebook and Follow the studio on Twitter. You can watch his short video that inspired the hit game after the interview. Be sure to check out our other interesting interviews!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi there. I’m Tobias Bilgeri an animation filmmaker and game designer. I’m currently working together with four other guys at the Black Pants Gamestudio which is located in Kassel and Berlin.
What inspired you to create the world of About Love, Hate and the other ones?
Actually, the idea of “Love, Hate and the other ones” came up during my animation studies in Kassel. During the production of my 8min short film “You are my hero,” I came up with the idea to simplify characters and plots to get a message transported in let’s say 1min or less. The result of this abstract idea was “About Love, Hate and the other ones.”
Can you tell us how The Black Pants Game Studio got started?
Black Pants started as a fun-project during our studies in Kassel. In Kassel you can’t study game design, but we have an animation and an illustration class at our art school. There is also the possibility to study software engineering in Kassel. Both departments (software engineering and the art school) are usually not connected to each other. The students, however, thought that it would be a good idea to mix up with the other sections of the university in order to make some games. The artist needed people who really know how to write code and the engineers needed people who really know something about making art design and telling a story. Black Pants is a result of this synergy.
What inspired you to jump into the gaming/ film industry?
I have been making animation films for about 10 years now. It’s hard to say what really brought me there but I think one thing which motivates me to make films and games is the possibility to make something which has not been made before. Basically I want to create stuff I myself would like to watch or play.
What inspired you to get into making short films?
A friend of mine had an 8mm camera with the ability to shoot frame by frame. We made a small 30sec stop animation clip with it just for fun. At those times I did not have a computer with a film editing program or knew anything about animation. We did this animated clip as an experiment, but when we saw the result this was kind of a magic moment. The objects we animated came to life, the things we figured out worked! I think this was the starting point for me as an animation filmmaker. To see that you can do some magic and give life to things which were lifeless before.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the gaming industry?
Make games, publish them and be a part of it. Since it has become easier to make games nowadays due to the lowered technical borders there is now a wide range of game engines and tools everybody can afford. I guess everybody who likes to make games can do so. Also the possibilities to publish your game on online platforms, even if you are not a big game company, have become more accessible.
What do you go to school for at Kassel?
I studied in the animation class at the art school. During my studies I worked on several short films. At the production of those films I was always responsible for the whole production process: Screenplay, designing, financing, animation recruiting a team and so on. I really enjoyed it, because I learned everything by working on concrete projects. I enjoyed the freedom to do what ever I wanted and learned to be responsible for the projects I did.
Did your magnificent work with About Love, Hate and the other ones help you graduate?
In fact it was part of my graduation work at the art school though the focus was more on the short films than on the game. But the time I had to develop my graduation work gave me the time to further think about the story world of “About Love, Hate and the other ones” and now helps me to extend the game to fit into this story world.
What inspires you when making a game?
It’s mostly an abstract idea or a keyword from which I start to evolve a game. For example “love and hate” or “destruction”. When I have this keyword I’m trying to find a mechanism which fits into this topic. Next comes the story and the characters and so forth.
Can you tell us a bit about, About Love, Hate and the other ones and its creation? How long did it take, thought process behind it, funny stories, etc.?
It’s hard to say how long it actually took to make this game, especially because the creation of the characters has a long story. Even the development of the app and the game itself was not done in a few month. It started with a flash game I programmed myself just for fun. It got some attention at the IGF(honorable mention in the student showcase) which was a great honor for me. From there the idea to further develop the game evolved. This was about 2 years ago. At this time Stephan and Lennert appeared at the art school and offered to make a iOS Version of the game. We teamed up and even the first prototype of the game achieved a great response in Germany because we won the German Games Award for best newcomer concept. This gave us enough confidence to finish the project. As far as I can say, the project is not finished yet, we released some level updates and we are still planning to make some kind of add-on with extra content and new “other ones.” Hopefully, I can find the time for this since there is a lot of room for new level elements and there are a bunch of other ones I want to introduce to the gamers.
What was the most challenging part of making About Love, Hate and the other ones?
To keep the basic gameplay simple and intuitive and to achieve complexity and challenging levels with some very basic rules.
How does it feel when people you know are playing your games?
It’s a bit like when people watch your movie at festivals for example. You watch for every reaction, you are happy when they get the ideas and laugh at the right times. It’s always exciting to see how they play and it’s great when you see that they continue playing and don’t want to stop.
Can you explain your process of making a game?
I think I don’t have one single way to make a game. Every game is different and so is the process of making it. As I mentioned before in the case of “About Love, Hate and the other ones” it all started with a short film. The mechanic for the gameplay actually was in this short film : “you have two characters and the environment reacts differently on each of them”. That’s basically how the game works. After making some artwork for the environments and doing some animation tests we straight went into production. We did not have to experiment a lot because the gameplay itself is straight forward. So the main focus for me was to design worlds and to invent new other ones.
How hard is it to submit a game for approval in the iOS app store?
I have to confess I don’t really know because the programmers of our team took care of this process. But as far as I know it was not a big deal.
How do you feel about the iOS app store?
On the one hand it’s a great opportunity to bring out your stuff and show it to the public. On the other hand, when I look at it now, there are so many games that are only there to place advertising banners and in-app purchases into it. I often can’t see any other vision behind them than making money. But I also have to say that it becomes extremely hard to publish a game for let’s say 79 cent and to pay the rent and buy the food for all team members. Especially when you take the time you need to make an interesting game with some good characters and polished artwork.
Would you ever put your short movies on iTunes?
Haven’t thought about it yet.
Any thoughts on the evolution of tablet/ phone gaming and its effects on the larger game industry?
The interesting thing about phone and tablet gaming is that there are new people who play games. There are not just hardcore gamers who are mainly playing on their high end desktop pc or on their next gen game console. There appears a new group of gamers which expect something different from games. For example some of them just want games to spent their time when they wait for the bus or when they are sitting in a bar. They often don’t want to learn complex controls or don’t take the time to get into a complex story world. So the community of people who play computer games grows and so does the variety of games.
What was the first app you can remember playing that just wowed you?
I guess it was EDGE. It has a very good art style brought to the point, very good level design and a solid soundtrack.
How do you feel about in-app purchases & Freemium gaming?
As long as it is clearly communicated what you have to pay for and of course if the stuff you pay for will not affect the gaming experience it seems to be okay. I think if you pay for an add-on which includes new levels for example, I would consider this as fair. The main problem of in-app purchases is that there are some games which give you the feeling of being in a shop rather than playing a game.
What apps do you enjoy playing?
30sec Life (not really a game but I like the idea behind it) .
What else do you play/ do for fun when not making a game?
I enjoy watching endless TV series, reading epic comic novels, drawing into my sketchbook and of course have a beer or two with my friends and discuss new game ideas.
What video game companies do you look to as an example?
Hard to say. When we are talking about game companies who make games which I think are well done and are somehow appealing, are more those small teams or companies like “Team Meat” or “Play Dead”. When we are talking about bigger companies than I guess Valve is an interesting example.
What is your dream type of game to make someday?
There is no specific type or genre of game I would like to make. I don’t want to make one single big game one day and say :”Well that’s it!”. I want to make an endless amount of different games with different art styles, stories gameplay elements. My focus at the moment is not to become lazy and not to start just copying my own ideas or ideas from other games.
What gadgets can’t you live without?
I would say my sketchbook. When i sitt around in a bar or have to wait somewhere for something, I enjoy making small sketches of ideas or writing down todo lists for my current projects.
What new gadget are you most excited about?
The upcoming OCULUS-VR system. I always wanted to have something where I could completely dive into a game and not be distracted by the environment around my screen.
What were your thoughts and feelings after you started reading over the first batches of user and web reviews after it was released?
It was amazing! I did not expect so much response, because there are so many games in the App Store and I thought,” Well hopefully we won’t get lost and somebody will find our game and play it.” But when we released the game I watched at the comments nearly every day and was highly motivated by the great amount of positive feedback to further work on “About Love, Hate and the other ones”. When people like what you are doing that’s the best thing that can happen and it’s something that really helps you to continue working on your stuff.
What is your favorite advice you have been given?
The best way to learn stuff is by doing it yourself.
Can you tell us a little more about what else we can be expecting from you?
The next project I will be involved in as a game designer will be a game for PC and Mac. We are currently in the process of prototyping and designing the game world.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
If you make something in an specific medium don’t look for inspiration in your own medium. Take a look at other art-forms to keep the medium alive!