As a former student project turned into a serious indie game developer team - what made you choose to move to Berlin, what are the advantages and what are the obstacles you have encountered here?
The first concept for our climate crisis simulation was actually developed in our student days, more than ten years ago. I studied art and design at the HBK in Braunschweig at that time and with such an "education" the call of the capital couldn't be overheard for long. Luckily that's exactly why there were so many old friends and acquaintances waiting, when I came here a decade late. The nice thing about Berlin is that there are so-called art or game scenes at all. Of course it‘s somehow challenging to find your place on these wide and busy fields. But when you've been doing your thing in the province for years, you hunger for exchange and impulses. So while I find the breeding ground for my creative chaos here, my buddy Martin has stayed and enjoys the orderly conditions of a medium-sized German city from where he is programming, structuring and holding the project together.
How did the idea of Imagine Earth come to life? What inspired you to create a strategy and city building game with a strong focus on climate change, natural and industrial disasters?
We wanted to make a game that deals with the disastrous connection between capitalism or our growth- and profit-driven society and global warming. So on the one hand, it simply had to become a solid build-up and economic strategy game. In the deregulated markets of our newly discovered worlds, up to seven corporations drive each other into a spiral of growth and profit maximization and at some point must find their way to a sustainable economic form of coexistence.
Imagine Earth does not confine itself in mentioning or moralizing climate change and the worldwide destruction of the environment. It was meant to make the most fateful problem of mankind its core gameplay mechanic and thus ultimately playable and experienceable. Melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and a rapid increase in natural disasters are ruining the foundations for the economic success of all competing corporations on a planet. Because everything happens so quickly in our game, the player feels the consequences of a neglected research and development strategy within one or two hours. Sometimes it doesn't take any longer to seal the fate of a planetary ecosystem and its global civilization. Meanwhile, a lot can be experienced, built, crafted, traded and the colony has to be protected against all kinds of natural disasters, space pirates and alien investors.
You are a part of Saftladen, a coworking space for games. What made you join the space and in what ways has this affected your own work process?
The Saftladen prefers to consider itself a collective, as we have a conspiratorial and cooperative agenda in mind. It‘s about exchanging stories as well as know-how in order to push one another. As far as the plan goes, in everyday life of course everyone is very absorbed in tinkering with their own game worlds. It also wasn't easy for me to give up my cosy place in Level3.berlin, a place I warmly recommend to everyone who wants to arrive in the game scene Kreuzkölln.
What have your experiences in the indie developer scene in Berlin been like so far?
Much is available, you will find financial support and networking structures, as well as socializing events and meetups. Just as you encounter all sorts of gamers, you meet all kinds of developer souls and when you play the games, you notice the characteristic fingerprints of their makers. I have the feeling that people have a certain mentality of endurance and devotion that unites them across all those individualities. After all, games are the most complex cultural products I know, but it takes a lot to unfold their still unforeseen potential.
After ten years of working on Imagine Earth, and it being in early access for the last five of them, how are your expectations for the upcoming release in just a few months now? Are there already ideas for the next project in the pipeline?
We're rounding off our Climate Survival Thriller in many ways. The AI has to get smarter, online multiplayer would be great and the demand is high. For the release we still want to collect money for PR / marketing and hope for government support to leave nothing to chance after all this time, while still looking forward to selfpublishing Imagine Earth.
Of course there was enough time to think about what comes afterwards. I’ve always been working on interactive art installations like virtual materialism alongside and would love to intensify that again. But there is also already an advanced game concept in the drawer. Instead of dealing with the whole world, it may be about one single individual next time. The idea is an adventure game about a robot that gets lost in the shallows of an asteroid belt to develop a consciousness and thus its own philosophy and a surprising perspective on life. Might become an interactive thought experiment.
Thank you, Jens!