I've had a soft spot for the Netherlands since I spent the summer of '76 in Gelderland and earned a pot of money in Rotterdam two years later, at least party by scrabbling through crocodile shit for small change. So when Vlambeer surfaced on the blogosphere this morning I checked out their story. The core of Vlambeer is two guys, JW Nijman and Rami Ismail, from Utrecht, who dropped out of a game-design course at university because regular courses were holding them back, rather than helping them on. They set up a business together to tap a fumarole called JW Nijman who was channeling some white hot ideas from the core of Planet Zorg. He has a similar look-and-feel to Dau.II's bloke who comes from the same planet but brings its material to earth in the form of songs and lyrics. Vlambeer started out in 2010 and have launched a couple of handfuls of games in the ensuing tuthree years. If I'd had that Finish, I'd have been a full professor ten years ago. This is not to say that Ismail brings nothing creative to the table, by one account they have robust relationship arguing about design, game-play and efficiency of coding. By their own account they spend a LOT of time creating a "fiction" for each of their games. This is the backstory, the foundation on which the game itself is built. They endeavour to make the fiction internally consistent, so that when decisions need to be made, they emerge more naturally. This infrastructual investment satisfies their sense of how things should be done - they must be done right. The pay-off for all the time spent on peripheral issues is a) that writing the game is easier b) the game is much more satisfying to play. This is one of the skills we don't explicitly teach in CoderDojo.
But it's been difficult. One of their early projects was a flash game called Radical Fishing check it out. It is daft and simple and can get pretty addictive. So they thought they should develop the basic idea for the big world of Apple iOS. Gamenauts, another games development company were also inspired by Vlambeer's fishin' flash game and developed their own iOS version with such long pockets and such single minded determination that they launched Ninja Fishing months before Vlambeer had their iOS version ready.
Dang! Scooped! And what made the episode Double-dang!! was that Ninja Fishing became tremendously successful. Somehow copyright doesn't impinge on this sort of creative "souveniring". Although Gamenauts admitted to being inspired by Radical Fishing, they weren't about to assess the value of that inspiration in a hat-tip, a grateful thanks or a check to Vlambeer. Part of the reason why Vlambeer missed the boat was that they weren't able to turn out something that is all facade and no substance, whose 'fiction' wasn't properly developed.
The intransigence of Gamenauts, the indignation of Vlambeer and the indifference of the world knocked the stuffing out of JW and Rami. They had long discussions about what to do - I daresay shanking, chain-sawing or shot-gunning Stanley Adrianus the CEO at Gamenauts featured in the discussions, and maybe there were jokes about the unfortunate last two syllables of their rival's name. They gamely moved on to other projects when they couldn't agree about whether and for how much to fund further work on Fishin' games. But even their work on other stuff was tainted by the shoulder-slumping malaise that permeated their souls. "It turns out that creativity is not a solid something. It's pretty fragile."
Then a couple of years later they emerged from the Slough of Despond and could bear to go fishin' again . They found a bit of a curate's egg - parts were indeed excellent, but others needed a good shake and parts were so poorly conceived that they needed to be dumped. "...a lot of stuff was okay, but 'okay' wasn't what we were aiming for, so we threw out 90 percent of what we'd done.". They stripped R* Fishing down to the core of its being, and re-launched the concept as an iOS App Ridiculous Fishing in March 2013.
That's why I say "those boys have bottle". It takes an interior compass and a very well-honed crap-detector to see your own errors. The months off the project must have helped them to see the whole thing with a more non-attached view. They weren't (unduly) afraid of being seen as the clone, partly because they knew that their product was now "better than okay". And lots of people agreed with them because last month they won an Apple Design Award which recognize apps that raise the bar in design, technology, and innovation.