App Weekly: Game developer Bart Bonte talks about creativity and the joys of game development

Yellow is a game that is so cleverly designed that we decided to have a conversation with the maker, Bart Bonte. Here's what he had to say

By Anusha Sinha

In an earlier App Weekly, we wrote about Yellow, a simple and addictive puzzle game. It was so cleverly designed that we decided to have a conversation with the maker, Bart Bonte.

Bart is a Belgian game developer and in this interview, he reveals everything, from what inspires him (hint: It’s an Oscar winning movie) to the tools he uses and a lot more.

What do you do and why do you do it?

I'm a Belgian independent game designer making browser and mobile games. I've made over 50 games, mostly puzzle type games, which means about 5 games a year on average.

Yellow app game 720

I'm making games because for me, it is the perfect medium to combine all my graphical and musical trials and creations.

My latest game Yellow is a free mobile puzzle game on Android and iOS where you try to make the screen completely yellow in 50 different ways.

Factory Balls is another game of mine where you must produce all kinds of balls starting from a white ball using different tools and logic.

What was your favorite game when you were growing up?

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I grew up with a Commodore Amiga computer and the one game that immediately comes to mind when thinking back on that period is Lucas Arts' The Secret of Monkey Island, an adorable point-and-click game where the young protagonist dreams of becoming a pirate and explores fictional islands while solving puzzles.

I remember playing it together with friends for hours trying to figure out how to get further since we didn't have internet or walkthrough guides, and calling each other late at night whenever we made a little progress.

Which are the ones you've enjoyed playing this year?

Beglitched by Jenny Jiao Hsia and AP Thomson is definitely one of my favourites of this year. In the game you try to hack your way through mysterious files in a cute pastel cyberworld unraveling the clever underlying mechanisms.

I love games that don't take you by the hand but drop you in at the deep end and Beglitched definitely does this.

That is also the reason why I loved the game Raster Prime by Punk Labs, a puzzle game where you have to decipher mysterious holographic glyphs with zero instructions which is all very cryptic but so compelling.

And to throw in a lighter game of this year, I enjoyed the silly and dry humor of Hap Inc's hidden my game by mom 2. Mom doesn't like that you're playing your portable video game so she hides it and it's up to you to find it back in each level of this quirky Japanese game.

When did you know you wanted to be a game developer?

Since I was young I have always enjoyed creating things on a computer, whether those things were drawings, animations or pieces of music.

When I realized I could throw all these things together to make games I knew that was what I wanted to do.

How did you get started with developing games?

I created my first game in 2005. I wanted to make an 'escape the room' game because I enjoyed playing those little browser games where you are locked inside a room and must try to escape by exploring the room and solving puzzles.

I was a daytime java developer at that time but I had no experience in Flash (the tool that was used to create all of these games) so I decided to learn Flash.

There wasn't much of a publishing strategy behind my first games, I made them in my spare time and I just wanted people to enjoy them.

Only later I figured out I could make a living out of game making.

How do you come up with games? What is your creative process?

Most of the times the initial idea I have for a game isn't a game mechanic or a storyline but purely a visual image or an abstract idea.

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I can see an interesting image in a magazine, get inspired by a music video or even dream about something.

I keep track of these initial ideas in a notebook and start looking for gameplay possibilities.

Restricting myself to use a limited number of elements for one particular game is very helpful to drive creativity and to stay focused.

Also I tend to work quite impulsively. When working on a bigger game, a great idea for something smaller might pop up. Well, usually then I start creating the smaller game first, leaving some time for reflection on the bigger game.

What are your inspirations? What inspires you outside of gaming?

Books, movies, music. I think I started working on my last game 'Yellow' the day after I saw the movie 'Birdman'. I started working on a drum track and opening titles appearing on the screen synced to a beat, inspired by the movies' opening sequence, although the game itself has nothing to do with the movie.

The game developed further when I changed the color of the titles to yellow and challenged myself to make a game that is almost entirely yellow.

Which game development tools do you use?

The most important tool I use is still the same (although a newer version) I used for my first games: Flash.

Adobe Flash logo

I tried others, but there is no other tool that lets me build a prototype starting from a blank canvas to test if an idea is going to be fun as quickly as Flash.

For the music creation part I use Ableton Live.

What would you like to tell aspiring game developers about perfecting the craft?

Participate in game jams! A game jam forces you to finish a game in a given amount of time around a certain theme. Those restrictions on time and theme will result in things you would never have tried otherwise. It really drives creativity. The deadline forces you to make design decisions more quickly compared to when you have a sea of time.

Also don't waste your time on making clones of existing games, go for something unique and don't follow conventions. Don't do something in a way because most others game do it that way but question your design decisions. Don't let other games inspire you, instead try to let the outside world inspire you.

And finally, something that works very well for me: Don't put the whole thing down on paper or have the complete game in your head before you start working. Just start working and let the game grow into what it wants to be in the end.

Which platform do you like making games for?

My favourite platform is mobile.

It’s true the platform is swamped with endless variations of the same games that are hyperfocused on a single type of gameplay all with that endless carrot-on-a-stick approach to progression.

But that just makes it easier to create a game that stands out from all standard mobile game conventions. It is possible if you can just look again at that touchscreen interface as the small wonder it really is!

How do you market your games?

I try to get people that already know and like one of my game interested in my other games, by letting them subscribe to my mailing list, visit my blog or follow me on social media. Word of mouth by someone who loves one of my games is the best form of marketing.

The Google Play store also has a fantastic suggestion system that suggests games that might interest you based on your playing history, which brings many new players to my games.

The Apple App Store is still missing this.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about?

Well, anyone who wants to follow the news and progress on my games, make sure to follow my twitter @bartbonte and find out what game I'm working on right now!

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