Interview

How KIDS dev Playables thrives in the intersection between animation and games

How KIDS dev Playables thrives in the intersection between animation and games

With discoverability in the mobile gaming market becoming ever harder, we've decided to shine the spotlight on the amazing and interesting indie developers out there.

So welcome to the Indie Spotlight, where each week a developer tells us about their life and work, and the challenges facing indie developers in the modern mobile market.

The latest in our series puts Swiss-based independent developer Playables under the microscope, after the studio launched the mobile and PC short interactive animation and art installation, KIDS.

This is the second collaboration between filmmaker and KIDS director Michael Frei and game designer Mario von Rickenbach, after the pair met in Zurich.

“It all started when I wanted to turn my animated short film Plug and Play into something interactive,” says Frei

“Two years after completing the project, myself and Mario collaborated with one another to release the game in 2015.”

Rickenbach added: "I studied game design at the Zurich University of the Arts. Before Michael and I began on KIDS, I worked on a couple of projects with Swiss developer Etter Studio while coordinating some of my own projects when I had free time.”

Peculiar and interactive experiences

When not staring in front of their monitors, the duo’s day can consist of “taking double shots of expresso” or “playing table tennis”, though they both lament about the daily challenges faced when operating in game development.

“It’s hard to work on projects over several years,” says Rickenbach.

“Even small projects tend to get really large, because your expectations change after so much time invested. It’s challenging to find the right balance between improving something and simply getting it done.”

It’s challenging to find the right balance between improving something and simply getting it done.
Mario Von Rickenbach

“Trying to not go mental is one of my main objectives,” adds Frei.

“It helps to give your day some structure. Remind yourself that what you are doing is insignificant from time to time. Hug someone you love and go on.”

Trying to set themselves apart from the hundreds of studios across the globe, the studio concentrates on making what they call peculiar and interactive experiences.

“We’re somewhere in-between animation and games,” says Rickenbach.

“We produce our own projects such as KIDS as well as helping to publishing other artists work,” Frei adds.

“The first one is a project by Japanese animator Atsushi Wada called My Exercise. It’s a game about making sit-ups as a chubby boy. It will be released later this year.”

Alongside this, the firm also experiments with small web-based projects such as Coin, Keys or Review Reader. Playables' breakout success however has come from KIDS after it was started being shown at film festivals and art installations around the globe.

Plug and Play was the first project that Rickenbach and Frei collaborated on, launching the game on Steam in March 2015

Published by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine, the game has gone on to pick up numerous awards and nods from festivals around the globe.

Though the experience can be beaten in under half an hour, this hasn’t stop KIDS from making it to the final of the Independent Games Festival, as well as being officially selected at Now Play This 2018 and the sixth annual Day of the Devs.

We are still naive enough to believe that if you create something good, it will find an audience.
Mario von Rickenbach

“KIDS explores different facets of group dynamics through an arrangement of linear vignettes,” says Rickenbach.

“The characters are purely defined by how they relate to one other – without showing any distinguishable features. The crowds of KIDS behave much like matter: They attract and repel, lead and follow, grow and shrink, align and separate.”

Interestingly, the pair don’t follow much of mobile games market and try to stay away from trends, helping them to carve out more of a niche portion of the audience. However, they do believe the mobile games market is in an unusual place at the moment.

“As always, it’s hard to get noticed,” says Rickenbach.

“There’s great stuff next to garbage. Like in most big stores. We are still naive enough to believe that if you create something good, it will find an audience.”

Frei adds: The market changes faster than my opinion about it. We just try to make stuff we like and hope other people like it too.

Still for those looking to achieve similar approval and for those looking to ‘make it’ in the mobile industry, they both believe one element is vitally important to survival – especially in today’s climate.

“If you work in a less commercially-oriented manner like us, I’d say finding and exploring your niche is crucial,” says Richenbach.

“Hard work also helps, but don’t overdo it. Living in a place with an existing arts/culture funding system makes everything much easier. KIDS wouldn’t exist in the current form without that.”

Frei, on the other hand, signs off with a more stern but realistic reply: "Don't give up, if you can. If you can’t, give up."

Find out more about KIDS via its website

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is a freelance writer from Yorkshire, who's work has been published for Tech Radar, Nintendo Life, Kotaku UK and more. He regularly attends Smash Bros. tournaments, while trying to keep up-to-date on everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999.

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