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[Interview] A Prickly Situation for Cactus: Going Casual

Posted under Interviews by Chris Benson on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 -

Jonatan Söderström, better known as Cactus, the prolific experimental indie game designer, just released his latest game. It’s called Ping Pong, and it’s a game about ping-pong. No tricks, no LSD-inspired visuals, just two lo-fi dudes playing some ping-pong. It’s a departure from his usual work, to say the least. We caught up with Jonatan after his latest project wrapped up, and he filled us in on his work’s new, more mainstream direction, and why he thinks it’s necessary.

GD: Tell our readers a bit about yourself. Who are you? What’s your background in-game development? How did you get started?

Cactus: I’m Jonatan Söderström, a 23-year-old Swedish game developer better known as cactus. I’ve been making freeware games for five years, I think, and have released over forty games to date. I started out making very small games just for fun, and didn’t even intend to share them online, but after a while I got more interested in-game development communities and managed to make a name for myself by cranking out weird experimental games. From there on I’ve become popular enough to get games featured in magazines, game and art festivals, and gaming sites in various places around the world.

GD: How was Ping Pong’s reception compared to your other games? Were you happy with the way it turned out?

Cactus: I thought the game turned out pretty cool, and I learned that sports games don’t seem to go as well as more experimental games with the indie crowd.

GD: Yes, it’s definitely a departure from your normal work. There are no “mind games” or psychedelic elements. What led you to develop it? Are you just a big ping-pong fan?

Cactus: Well, I’ve played some ping-pong with friends and family when I was younger, but I never got really into it. And I’m no ping pong fan either, so that wasn’t a deciding factor. I just wanted to create a multiplayer game for a change, really. Ideally I would’ve liked to do a fighting game (I just love character select screens), but I didn’t feel like drawing all the graphics necessary for such a game. So I decided to go for some other one on one game, and the first thing that came to mind was ping-pong. Initially I wanted to make it really exaggerated, with tons of flashy effects, but as I started making the game it seemed reasonable to go for a more “realistic” approach.

GD: So this is more of an experiment with more mundane subject matter, and less an indicator of where your work is headed?

Cactus: Yeah, pretty much. Although I’m trying to learn flash right now, so I can make more casual games in the future.

GD: Why are you switching to Flash?

Cactus: Because I need money. I’d rather stick to making freeware games, but it’s hard to make a living from it. Flash is a pretty cool tool for reaching out to a bigger audience as well. So it seems like a good thing to do.

GD: And that’s why you’re going to be making more casual, possibly non-mind-bending games? To appeal to a wider audience?

Cactus: Pretty much. Maybe they will still be a bit mind bending, but I probably need to lower the difficulty bar significantly. I’ll have to play it safe until my economic situation is looking better.

GD: If I’m not prying, what is your situation? Last I heard you were in college studying Japanese.

Cactus: Well, I’m getting some money from Lo-Fi Minds right now, which I’m trying to live off of. But it’s been going a bit slow the last few months, I had a really tough winter with my life collapsing a bit, so I haven’t been working as much as I should’ve.

GD: How does Lo-Fi Minds make you money? Are you selling any games?

Cactus: We’ve done two flash games, working on a few more, and I also get paid for developing BDTUW.

GD: And how’s Brain-Damaged Toon Underworld coming along?

Cactus: I’m trying to figure out how to tie it all together right now. What we’ve got so far is pretty cool, but I’m not sure how I want to present it anymore.

GD: BDTUW seems to be a larger project than your usual, and I know you’re not a big fan of them, because you tend to get bored or tired of them before they’re finished. Is that the case here?

Cactus: Not really, I still feel like working on it, but other projects and life problems have gotten in the way the last few months. I’ve invested too much time and work in developing it to let it go at this point anyway.

GD: You’ve only released games for PC thus far. What other consoles or distribution methods would you like to develop for?

Cactus: Well, I’m interested in pretty much anything at this point. I’d love to do a console game eventually. Right now iPhone also seems like a really interesting platform.

GD: So, what’s next for you? What are your goals for after your current ones are met?

Cactus: To get rich, greedy and generally obnoxious.

Well probably not, I’d love to do some more story-oriented games. I’ve come up with some really good plot concepts lately. Now I need to figure out a way to actually do something with them.

GD: Thanks for talking with me today. Good luck with your current situation.

Cactus: No problem. Thanks.

GD: Oh, one more question. A very important, serious question: What kind of zombie is Jonatan Söderström?

Cactus: A goofy one with a cool mustache.

If you’ve never played a Cactus game before, this collection is a good place to start.

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