Interview #020: Jonas Byrresen - Bedtime Digital Games
There's nothing more special than playing a game and really immersing yourself in the world. Jonas Byrresen, creative Director and co-founder of Bedtime Digital Games is someone who understands that all too well! Reflected in the studio's titles, the themes of exploration, narrative storytelling, and adventure all work in tangent to create a memorable experience. Come learn more about Jonas and Bedtime Digital Games.
Download Figment from the Nintendo eShop here.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jonas Byrresen and I am the creative Director and one of the co-founders for Bedtime Digital Games. I am in charge of the overall creative direction in the company, trying to be the spider in the middle bringing all the threads together into a game.
I started out studying mostly game design at university, but in smaller companies you often wear more than one hat. So, besides the game design, I also keep the teams on track for shorter milestones, help with level design, write the story in concert with others and communicate the vision of the game.
What was the first console and game you remember playing?
Hmmm! It's a hard time remembering what was specifically the first one, but my best bet is that it was the NES, playing at a friends house, playing Mario. We got a SNES later on and played a lot of different games, such as the flight sim game Pilot Wings.
What is your fondest childhood video game memory?
Most definitely playing Final Fantasy with my brother at our grandparents' house on the weekends. I was not that good at video games early on, as it demanded too much timing and persistence for me. However, I fell in love with the Final Fantasy games, as it allowed me to travel into a world with depth, characters and stories, all the while providing a challenge that did not require quick reflexes. I fondly remember playing Final Fantasy 7, 8 or 9 while sitting wrapped in blankets in front of the TV, while sipping cocoa and enjoying grannies homemade food.
Bedtime Digital Games, a Denmark-based game development studio, may have officially formed in 2013, but truly began in 2011. Could you describe the origins of the company and how it all began with Back to Bed?
Yeah, the first steps towards what would become Bedtime Digital Games was taken in 2011, when we were part of a the DADIU program. This is a program that creates teams of students from different schools and universities, and then allow them to spend a semester getting taught in working together and making a game. It was here that we created the first version of our game Back to Bed, and was overwhelmed by the feedback from it. Both our professors and the press liked it, so we decided to keep working on it over the weekends to give us some more experience and release an full game.
The success also gave us invitations to game shows and conventions around the world, nominated as a student team. This gave us the chance to show off the game to more people and get some awards for the student version, which in turn got the attention of investors that wanted to know if we wanted to go professional and had more games planed. This was the chance we needed, so by the end of 2013 we found the people from the original student team that we needed to start a small studio and founded the company.
During the past couple of years, your studio has released three incredible artistic and truly unique titles. These include Back to Bed, Chronology, and Figment. Figment we will get to in a bit, but what was it about this art style and puzzle genre that spoke to you when creating the first two games?
Both games have a very simple, yet strong core idea in them. Back to Bed was about saving a sleepwalker like in old cartoons, and Chronology was about undoing problems with time travel; concept that spawn all manner of ideas for situations and puzzles.
From there is was about combining solid puzzle mechanics with beautiful hand-crafted aesthetics that utilized our artist’s experience, knowledge and abilities with analog artwork. Looking at the screen as a canvas to create something unique you wanna put into a frame, plus making some creative puzzles with a interesting little story on top. For both games it was about allowing the player to play around in a piece of art.
Common for both were also the core idea of making games that would work on many different platforms, so more people could enjoy them. A sentiment we try to keep in all our productions.
Where do you draw inspiration from when developing your games?
From a lot of places. Other games are of course always one of the main inspirations for doing new games - it is only natural. But other media such as comics, board games, movies, classical art and even real life.
I feel that a game is best when it takes inspirations from a lot of sources, since games at their core is an amalgamation of a lot of different medias coming together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. A game needs both gameplay, sound and visuals to work, so it is natural for us to get inspiration from many sources as well. Not just the common nerdy sources, but also such places as classical art and underground music, since it helps create something unique when combined.
We always have a strong core idea, like mentioned above with our two first games, but inspirations on how to achieve that idea and empower it can come from anywhere. It is all about keeping your eyes open. But playing other games do also help, so we never forget that as well :)
Figment was released on PC , Mac, and Linux in 2017 and made the "switch" to the Nintendo Switch this past June 2018. For those who had not yet experienced the world of Figment, they were in for a HUGE treat. Let's start with the art and gameplay. For Figment, your studio went with a hand-drawn style in conjunction with a full soundtrack, puzzles, and adventure elements. How did Figment come to be and how long was the game in development?
The first nugget of inspiration was from how players had reacted to Back to Bed. They loved the game world we had created and they really wanted to explore that surreal dreamlike setting even more. It's better to spend more time there and walk off the beaten path. So, we decided early on that we wanted to create a game that allowed for more exploration of the game world. To craft a setting that contains depth, reacts to the player and feels persistent, even when the player is not there.
To create this unique gameworld for the player to explore, we decided to go deeper than Back to Bed’s dream-like world and go deep inside the mind where dreams are made. So the world of Figment is our interpretation of what the subconscious mind could be like, if it was a place filled with characters and locations.
We looked into a lot of theories on the mind and dreams to create elements that the player would feel they recognized, be it with characters, areas or situations, and used classical fears as our enemies. A setting where players would see a bit of themselves in it while playing. And to make it stand out more, we really worked on making art and audio work together, so the world felt more living and vivid that would remain with people afterwards. A process we feel has become part of us as a company, creating setting that really stands out.
For the gameplay, we felt it should be a mix of puzzles, explorations and action. The first two would provide chances to interact with the game world and setting up humorous situations with wonky dream logics, and the action would add to the stakes and help change the pace once in a while.
From start to finish, it was roughly four years for me as the game director, coming up with the initial idea to shipping, but closer to three in actual production. So some ideas changed along the way, but the core of deep diving into a world inside the mind was kept at all times.
Winner and finalist for numerous awards, including Best Narrative (Big Festival Sao Paul 2017) and Best Art (Casual Connect Indie Prize Berlin 2017), Figment has really resonated with critics and fans alike. What has the feeling been back at the studio as your game received these awards and just validation from the video game community?
It is a huge pat on the back, validating a lot of your hard work and man hours placed into the game. You can test and test during production, but is not until the final product that you really know that the original crazy idea held up. You can gather a lot of knowledge before starting production, but you will always need to take some chances. Getting awarded by your peers is such a huge relief and most often empower you to do more game, especially when you did spend years on the game.
What was it about the Nintendo Switch that led to Figment releasing on this console first aside from the other major two?
We fell in love with the experience the Switch represented. It is not like the other consoles and it places a lot of focus on aesthetics over fidelity, and we felt it was close to what we are aiming for as well. Plus the frame of the handheld screen fit perfectly with our visual style, that made it feel like you are playing an adventure inside a picture frame.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about Figment before moving on?
I would like to underline that Figment's story is multi-layered and can therefore be enjoyed for different reasons and different age groups. We have experienced many gamers with young children wanting a game they can player together, without going nuts in childish stories. Figment can be that game. A younger player can just enjoy the antics, the humor and the gameplay, while a more experienced player will be able to read between the lines in the story, find a lot of depth, and a story about how we as people deal with fear.
One question that seems to come up whenever a new digital title releases is if a physical is on the horizon. Is there one planned for Figment?
We are looking into making a physical copy, but setting that up does take some time and working with partners, since we ourselves mostly specialize the digital versions. But we will keep people posted about updates to it.
Are you able to tease Bedtime Digital Games' next project and will it be making a debut on the Switch?
Our focus is still on getting Figment out into new platforms and into different markets. The world is a big place and we want as many people as possible to have access to our game. That said, we are working on future projects. We cannot tell about them yet, as elements might still change, and they might be a bit different from Figment. But we will keep our focus on crafting great setting with outstanding depth, sound and aesthetics.
Cannot say yet if the Switch is gonna be a debut platform, but our plan is definitely to have the Switch as one of our primary platforms in the future, developing with it in mind from the start.
What game(s) are you currently playing and what are you looking forward to?
Just started playing the new Pathfinder Kingmaker game that was released. It is based on the Pen & Paper role-play of the same name, and as a long time player of the pen & paper version, I'm excited to see how well they nailed the feeling of the analog version that I know and love. Hoping some of my experience will help me not fail horribly.
The next game on my radar have to be Fallout 76. I have loved wandering and exploring the wasteland many times, and trying it with friends is gonna be a different experience. It probably will not be the same as the other games, but still enjoyable. Hope to build a Wasteland grill featuring all manner of irradiated foods for other players to barter for, while of course hiding a shotgun under the counter.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us today?
If people wanna follow us and keep track on our future products, you are more than welcome to follow us on social media and our discord server. We hope to focus more on looping more players in the production for our future games, and getting player feedback during the production stage.
Download Figment from the Nintendo eShop here.
Follow Bedtime Digital Games