[Featurama] Making a First-Person Shooter in Seven Days: An Interview With Jan Willem Nijman

Super Crate Box, by Vlambeer

A week-long event is being held starting June 9th called 7DFPS, and the object is simply to make a first-person shooter (FPS) in seven days. For an idea as equally insane and awe-inspiring as this, it would be easy to write obtusely about the event, including what it could mean for games as well as where it could lead independent developers. However, one look at the ideas alone proves that it’s not hyperbole to say that this could truly change how people view modern FPS titles.

This year’s E3 has seen its share of gore and violence, and the backlash can be heard rattling through the internet. Have we had enough shooters, or are we just hearing the impressions of an omnipresent, vocal minority?

7DFPS aims to change that entire perception of first-person shooters. After getting some rough ideas down, I got my interview answers e-mailed back from the event’s coordinator Jan Willem Nijman. He provided such thoughtful, detailed answers (replete with links) that anything I would’ve added would have only been a disservice.

How did you get the idea for 7DFPS?
First-person shooters are pretty much the “pinnacle” of AAA games at the moment, and it seems like the whole indie scene is avoiding them because of that. A while ago we (Vlambeer, the indie studio I co-founded to make Super Crate Box, Radical Fishing, etc.) were working on a game called GUN GODZ, a gangster rap-inspired, old-school first-person shooter made as a present to people backing the Venus Patrol Kickstarter.  It was an amazing experience, and  it felt fresh to work on this genre and bring it back to basics. Working from there allowed us to come at it with pretty fresh gameplay, kind of like Wolfenstein 3D on speed. That’s one half of the story: wanting to get indies on this genre and see how many fresh ideas they can bring in just a week.

The other half is that every year I hear about the 7-day roguelike challenge AFTER it is done. Every year people set out to create a roguelike in just a week (like the amazing Zaga-33) and somehow I miss out. I decided I’d love to see this for first person shooters, and try to make sure anyone who wanted to participate actually heard about it.

What do you think is missing from modern FPS games?

Everything! People keep doing the same few things over and over again. There are so many great things to explore if people just go back to the roots of the genre and ignore everything that has been made. People are so quickly influenced by predecessors, ignoring all the other routes to take with designs. I believe 7DFPS can — and will — bring more new ideas to the genre than the last 10 years of AAA shooters have.

Jan Willem Nijman, pondering pixels

In a perfect world, would you really want bigger publishers like Activision iterating on ideas from 7DFPS, or do you feel that the intention would get lost in translation?
In a perfect world they’d join us! I think there is still room for different types of shooters by big publishers. There are a few that are doing things different. A few years ago we had Gears of War, which started the whole “cover craze” with its well-combined mechanics. Then there was Portal – and the Serious Sam games also have their own pretty solid direction. Those games felt so fresh, and I’d love to see more of that. It’s not even about taking risks: It’s simply about not blindly following whatever everybody else is doing and thinking for yourself for a minute.

Are you going to be able to make a game, or is the organization going to take most of your time?

Haha, I hope to be able to get something done, even if I can only spend 7 hours on it. We hope organization will handle itself. I’ve been practicing this thing called “delegating” to avoid stress and burnouts lately. It seems to be working, and I have the amazing Sos Sosowski and Sven Bergström to help me. Those guys are both bursting with energy. We’re also trying to set up things so the community can hopefully run things themselves. Fingers crossed!

Do you think the success of Super Crate Box has afforded you the resources to make 7DFPS happen, or would it have happened anyways?
I guess the success of Vlambeer put me in touch with a lot of people and allowed me to travel the world and meet them. If I would have never met Sos or Sven in real life, and I wouldn’t be able to work with them as comfortably. Being known in the scene also gives me the advantage that people will read my tweets & spread the word. I know how to work hard as well, spending nights answering e-mails and thinking of stupid little ideas for 7DFPS. Being a perfectionist helps too.
Other than that, anyone could have organized this! It’s not about resources as much as practice. Before this I organized a lot of three-hour game jams over at the Poppenkast. (P.S. Go organize your own events right now! I would definitely join something like 7dspacesim.)

A successful 7DFPS idea could spill into the iOS realm. Regarding the iOS App Store and the $0.99 price point: Do you feel like it has made people, in general, more receptive to trying out new games or do you feel it has unfairly changed what people are expecting to pay for quality titles? Do you worry that someone wouldn’t buy a game for $5?
I don’t worry about it anymore because it’s a fact! You see reviews that say, “…only played for a few hours, wasn’t worth the money,” for $0.99 apps! That’s crazy. It seems like the “low price equals more sales” thing is reaching its end with the whole free-to-play model. Soon people will only play free apps and the only ones who can compete with that are either the big-ass companies or super high-quality and well-marketed indie games. The cool thing is that indies seem able to actually make those super high-quality, well-marketed things nowadays.

While all that is happening you also see full price apps are actually returning; people who are certain about their product charging proper money for it (like with Endless Space). I don’t know where things will go. The industry might go all-digital soon and I have no clue what that will do to prices of AAA games.

Endless Space -- it's endless!

Does it piss you off when EA (or any larger publisher) talks about “indie,” or do you think it’s helping expose the idea of independent development and smaller, niche titles to more people?

I don’t know about that. It’s somewhat messed up if you see the word “indie” as some unchangeable ideal to live and develop by. I guess all the people who were indie four years ago are post-indie now.

There have been a TON of amazing ideas already proliferating on Twitter (including my personal favourite) — are there any that you are particularly excited about seeing made?

The ideas are amazing and awe-inspiring! My favourite is either George Buckenham wanting to do an underwater, scuba-diver-harpoon-deathmatch game with bubbles rising up from everyone, or something I heard about involving a simultaneous, turn-based FPS where players plan their moves first, watching what happens when all the players move together simultaneously afterwards. We’re going to see so many amazing games.

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If your interest is sufficiently piqued, be sure to check Twitter often starting June 9th, and also the 7DFPS website.

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