Talk to Boyu:Imagination, Reality and Exploring New Lands

Author: Bankler
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Lin Boyu is an indie developer in China. Before To the Absurd Life, an ambitious survival project in the style of Don’t Starve with a biopunk theme, he and his team developed puzzle games for iOS, which often successfully won Apple recommendations. For example, Summer Channel, which is like a combination of 7x7 and Triple Town. You can tell the  unique style of To the Absurd Life from its presskit in indienova even though it was canceled after months of work.

He also wrote a book on Game Design in Douban Book.

Victor is the interviewer this time, who is a Game Design student from Sweden currently doing a field study of China’s indie game community.

The interview was held on 25th Jan, 2018. The text has been transcribed from chat format to a more readable format. Small changes have been made for the sake of readability.


What are you up to at the moment?

I have been working on some indie apps the last couple of days. There has been no game development since my last project, To the Absurd Life, which was cancelled six months ago. I needed some breathing space.

Do you find game development exhausting?

At that time, yes. I felt confused about it. Especially on designing.

Interesting, I want to get back to that, but first I want to know about these apps you have been working on.

It is a long story. Two weeks ago I was reading Cal Newport’s book on deep work, and found it very practical. It mentioned something about time management. I decided to give it a try. I needed an app for time calculating, but I was not quite happy with the apps I found at App store. So I thought I should make one of my own.

And when developing games, do you also make games you wish existed? Has such needs been a common source of inspiration to you?

Both of them are some kind of abstraction of the real world. They do have that in common. When I develop an app, however, I focus on function. When it comes to games, it always need more imagination.

Is that why designing games has been exhausting?

The hard-rock part of game development/design is the attempt to combine imagination and reality. 

Imagination itself won’t give you so much trouble. But you always need a solid math model to support your imagination. Take To the Absurd Life for example. It imagined a no-man’s land far away from Earth, but I failed to describe that situation. 

You always need to design your own “physics” in a game. This so called physics is very hard to imagine, and that frustrated me sometimes.

It is great that you can use your creativity for something else at times then. Is this freedom in creativity the greatest benefit of keeping it indie?

I think the essential difference between indie and non-indie is that indie developers always sail their boat into deep sea, and traditional developers tries very hard to keep their boats near the continent. The greatest benefit of keeping it indie, thus, I think is the opportunity of discovering a new island. The freedom of creativity make this hope more clear. 

The most tremendous moment is always like “look, it’s the new land!”, when you get the freedom of sailing anywhere. You may think: “sooner or later, that moment will come!”

To stick with your analogy, exploring new lands would require indie boats. Do you feel that indie has a unique purpose in the development of media?

Yes, I do. Indie is not only cool, but also practical and useful. The whole industry need both indie and non-indie styes I think.

So what is the non-indies purpose?

Back in the 15th century, when the European adventurers wanted to explore new land in the deep sea, the first thing they did was to ask for money from different kinds of investors who earned their money from more stable businesses. So I think the biggest importance is money.

You have been a small-scale developer since before indie was a common term. How has the conditions for small-scale developers changed since you started out?

One may not agree but in my opinion, it has become better and better here in China. Big companies start to pay attention to indie groups, and the number of local players, for example local Steam users, grow every day.

We started this interview with asking about the present, so let’s end it with the future: do you know what you will do next? Will you get back to game development?

I do know. Actually I never left. I will be back to game development very soon. I love sailing!

So when you get back to making games, will you get back to smaller projects like the ones before To the Absurd Life?

If everything goes well, a new project will start in late February this year, after Spring Festival. I am trying to go with designing and prototyping first, and once this step is confirmed, I got all the opportunities to cooperate with my former colleagues again or work with other indie developers.

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