Interview: Tommy Palm on game development camp Stugan

The Resolution Games CEO on how Andy Warhol inspired him to conceive a place in the woods for rising dev stars
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Last week Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games and former King exec pivotal to the Candy Crush Saga success, revealed that high-profile mentors from Mojang Specifications, Rovio, King, Avalanche and others would be joining him to support a clique of aspiring developers signing up to his Stugan initiative.

But what is Stugan, and what do Palm and his contemporaries hope the developers involved will gain from disappearing into a cabin in the Swedish forests? We asked the man himself.

What inspired the idea of the Stugan concept?
I had been thinking about something like Stugan for quite some time. I have a summerhouse out in the middle of Sweden. It's beautiful and very isolated and by a lake. It's the kind of place where you could walk in any direction for a very long time without hitting a house. I thought it would be very fun just to bring developers to a place like that.

There are already some really great initiatives of this kind, such as Project Horseshoe in Texas. That is an invite-only workshop for game developers, so it's more of a closed event. But I've been there and I was very impressed with it.

And I've always been fascinated by The Factory. It was Andy Warhol's place in New York. He had a house or building there and he let people just come and be creative. He had Bob Dylan there, who wrote famous songs. That was a very cross-discipline place too; they were also shooting movies there and so on. I was looking at a couple of those initiatives, and thought it would be so cool to do.

There's also something for indies in Sweden called No More Sweden. That's been very popular. It's a small gathering of indies for the weekend. I've not been to it, but I know that has been very successful.

How did that inspiration come to be a concrete idea?
I was having those thoughts for a while, and then an industry friend of mine told me about his idea of a summer camp. I just lit up; it was so close to my idea, so we started discussing it. I said I'd put some money towards it so it could happen.

We agreed that we would give it a shot last year, and since we've been trying to set it up. Originally I was less involved and just funding it. But since then I'm now doing a lot for it in my spare time.



Going back to your own summerhouse, has that been a place of productive escapism for you? Somewhere to go and work?
I go there every now and then, and it is very inspiring to change scenery. I really like that. And in Sweden we have great infrastructure. We have fiber in the middle of the forests. And a lot of big cities don't have a proper internet connection when you travel around.

It just felt like those things came together for Stugan.

What kind of help and support will the developers that become part of the Stugan project get?
I think one of the very important thing is they will get a lot of attention towards their project from us. We're going to be very open and transparent about what is going to happen, so if they have a cool game idea, they are going to get input. And also, it should help get them early followers, which can be really important.

One of the bigger Swedish games success is obviously Minecraft, and that started out being developed in conjunction with a community of people. Jens, the lead programmer on Minecraft, is coming out to Stugan to mentor, so that should really help people.

And studios can still apply?
Yes. We have gone out and said we have extended the application process to April 15th. And if you manage to apply before the beginning of April, you will actually get feedback on your application too.

Now the Stugan is nearing, how have you decided the initiative will actually work. How long does it last, for example?
So it's going to be for two months this first year, and 20 people. Originally we were thinking 30 people, but we thought we would keep it down a little bit for this first time so we can learn the organisation of it. It's easier to make sure it's properly organised when it's fewer people.

And they will be working on their own projects?
Yes; their own projects.

So you may have groups and individuals devoted to different projects?
Yes. And we're going to try and have a couple of hackathons while we are there too, so people can brainstorm on ideas together, and get to know each other properly.

Are you encouraging people to make complete, release-ready games by the end of this inaugural Stugan?
We're open to people at all different parts of the process. Whether they want prototypes coming out of it, or if they want to finish a game they are working on, we are open.

And it's very easy because we don't take any part of the game. The only thing that we want to make sure of is that people actually work and produce, because we want them to get some results out of it.

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As a game designer I feel the times I learn most are the times when I take a step away and let somebody try my game.

Tommy Palm, Resolution Games

What do you yourself hope to get out of it then?
We want to give back a little bit to other people in the industry, and make people aware of how incredibly satisfying the type of work is. We'd like to get more people knowledgeable about making games, and what is involved in the process.

And you've opened the doors of Stugan to developers across the world?
Yes; we have people from all over the world. There's people coming from Brazil, the US and Russia already.

So you have people applying, and places filling?
Yes. But we don't have a lot of people applying from Asia yet. It's been mainly from the West, perhaps because there's been a lot of international news about this, but mainly in English.

And continuing in the theme of openness, people can apply if they are making any kind of video games; not just mobile titles, for example?
That's right. The only thing is that people have to bring their own hardware. We may be able to provide something, but we don't have everything needed.

The plan is to continue this in following years. Is that right?
Yes. We have talked about growing to 30 people, which is the number we talked about originally. We are thinking of this as an annual project.

What of your own skills will you offer?
I think I can give advice on starting businesses; that's something I have a lot of experience in. And I'll help a little on game design and programming, and the creative process. They are the kind of areas I have been working with a lot myself over the last 16 years.

Sometimes though in games, it is most important and inspiring to get outside feedback on what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

As a game designer I feel the times I learn most are the times when I take a step away and let somebody try my game, while I silently observe what is going on when they are playing it. They will always get stuck where I didn't anticipate.

There are often very simple things you can do about things like that. The flow of your game might be that people need to press a button to continue. But they might not see that button. So you may need to shake that button after a few seconds to draw attention to it in the peripheral vision. Small things like that can make a big difference to a consumer that downloads something and doesn't know anything about it. If they download it and they can't get through it, they may never open it again.

Hopefully we can help with those kinds of things.

www.stugan.com/apply.html

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