Balder Orik interview: The impossible success is the most entertaining

Danish game developer InventorsOf recently made their debut on App Store with the two-player strategy game Blocker. However, the studio head, 45-year-old Balder Olrik, is not your typical game designer.

At the age of 16, he was accepted into The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as the youngest person ever in a 100 years and had a successful career as an artist, both nationally and internationally. He pioneered internet-based art with the piece called The Incident (http://www.netsummary.dk/incident/) and made an early splash in viral marketing with his company Goviral which he sold a few years ago.

MCV sat down with Balder Olrik to hear his views on game design and the games industry.

MCV: Why start designing games?

BO: Some time ago I got a job offer in the games industry as a business developer and met this big international organization and their AAA titles. It was clear to me that their mindset was very bound by tradition and how things are usually done. Something I felt that I, as an outsider, could not change, and so I declined the job. But it made me want to try out some of my own ideas and thoughts.

MCV: And what where those thoughts?

BO: One of the things that I learned from my former company Goviral is that when two people interact for real, not on Internet boards but from person to person, an explosive force is released. To my mind that is something the games industry has not realized – the people I met came from all over the world, and yet they all seemed to think in ‘man vs. machine’ game mechanics.

Even looking at App Store, I could not find many of these two-player games, and that was interesting to me. Here is an area of gaming that is wide open. Why are there not 5,000 or 10,000 games utilizing the fact that phones are meant to talk together?

MCV: Where did the gameplay design in Blocker originate from?

BO: It is inspired by a game I saw on a computer at my dad’s place of work when I was a kid – he worked for the Danish Space Institute. I was not able to find any information about the game from back then and instead reconstructed it from memory.

It was just one of many game ideas, but we kept coming back to it, as the game has a lot of strategic depth. The problem is of course that the gameplay is unknown, and there are probably some easier fruits for us to pick. But we decided to go for what we believed in.

MCV: A game like Blocker takes some effort to learn, did that worry you?

BO: We can definitely see a lot of complications in teaching players to play Blocker, but we can also see that once players get the hang of the game, they keep playing. It would seem that it takes about five games to grasp the mechanics. The problem with introducing new gameplay mechanics today is that players have gotten used to not having to think too much. But players are different, and if you only follow the majority everything is going to end up looking the same

MCV: So you are looking for originality?

BO: That is actually one of the things that struck me when I entered this world. I come from the world of

art where originality is something everybody strives for. The games industry seems a bit indifferent about originality. That is peculiar to me. It is not even taboo to rip off an existing game mechanic. So I thought it might be funny to do something original or at least to utilize game mechanics that are not seen all the time.

MCV: You went completely away from a design with cute characters and the like?

BO: We actually had such design at one point but with Blocker being a strategy game, the design with small cute sheep on an island did not work. We would rather return to the original gameplay, and we thought that it would be interesting to work with another type of aesthetics. Something that is not part of the usual gamer aesthetics. The games industry might have this perception of what looks cool – a codex that everything exists within. But what if a codex exists outside of this perception that makes it possible to do things in a different way that speaks to another kind of audience who wants a game that they are not embarrassed to play on the bus?

MCV: Have you been surprised by anything on a more technical level when doing game design for iOS?

BO: I was surprised by how hard it has been to find people with iOS programming experience. There is a serious lack of skilled people in Denmark, and the ones that know Objective C (the iOS programming language) are all employed elsewhere at high salaries. But in a few years, when the education system catches up, there is probably no work to be found.

MCV: Can you turn developing games into sound business?

BO: Making games is a high-risk business. I am usually very good at making a business out of something that seems impossible. But this time might be the one where I fail. But getting the impossible to succeed is what drives me. I think it is entertaining.

MCV: When is Blocker a success to you?

BO: To me it was a success from day one. Finding a gap in a business and diving into it is very exciting. I have pinched myself in disbelief many times at how the games industry is so secluded on its own island. I feel like Doctor Livingstone entering the African jungle. I get on my bike every morning and continue the expedition.

MCV: How many games are in the future for InventorsOf?

BO: We hope to publish four games this year. And we realize that some of those will not succeed. That is a part of the business. But you learn from it all.

Blocker is out now, and anyone interested can find more information at blockergame.com.