From London, we take our gaming roadtrip up and across to Finland next, to interview Joonas Turner. He is part of the team behind Nuclear Throne, Badlands and other smash hit games and is known in the indie scene, as the man who gives life through sound to, video games.
Cliqist: We like to kick start interviews with the most important question of all, so please tell us who you are and what you do.
Joonas Turner: Hello to you all, I am Joonas Turner and I am a Sound Designer, Voice Actor, Composer and Game Designer! To keep it short, from a early age I’ve been interested in sounds and music and indeed, video games. I first started out playing in bands and creating my own music and from there progressed to live mix shows and from there got involved with music studio work. After a while my game creating hobby kicked off and I started to participate in game jams, from where after being very persistent and generally curious, making games became a career for me.
Do you think that there are enough roles out there in the gaming industry, given the high influx of talented game creators emerging every year?
How I see it is, for each and every new person with a new game idea, it opens new paths and opportunities for anyone who seeks them. The thing is to be observant and keep an open mind, to be ready. So yeah, in that respect I think there are (and are not enough) roles. I like how people are evolving games in various directions and trying new things, which surely will open doors for new roles.
What were your biggest highs of 2017?
My biggest high for 2017 was releasing Tormentor X Punisher, a game that I worked as the game designer. It began life as a prototype/test that I wrote in my undies a few years ago! The fact that I got to employ and work with my friends on the game and got to meet and work with new friends, is what makes me happy and makes it a definite high for 2017 and 2016.
Are there any important routines you think those specializing in your field should go through, as they begin their journey into the gaming industry?
Yes, although I do believe everyone has their own path and ways to make things happen. To me it was going to a lot of game jams both on location and online, just learning routines and how to interact with people on tight schedules. Games are a collaborative art-form and I believe game jams can teach you more on that if you’re willing to talk and plan with people!
Going to events for me personally was another huge step, just meeting people and hearing their stories inspired me a lot. If you’re willing to listen and understand, you will surely learn!
I have to say, I tried making a portfolio but that took me nowhere, I am not saying it’s a bad idea in any way, but to me it was all trial by fire with game jams and lots of learning. Just playing games and watching movies, analyzing what works and why! Luckily my time making my own small games or game jams, brought me to where I am now.
Nuclear Throne has been consistently praised ever since it’s inception. How did you get involved in that project?
I knew JW and Rami (who then formed Vlambeer) from game forums that I hung out in “back in the day” and my neighbor was Jukio Kallio who had worked with them in the past.
I got asked by Jukio to join them on a game jam called Mojam by Mojang and we made this jam game called Wasteland Kings that then turned into Nuclear Throne later on. I am forever grateful for that opportunity, it was truly a fun project to work on and something from which I learnt a lot.
State of Play
Do you believe that Steam has helped or hindered the indie scene in the last few years, with the backlash regarding lower quality games getting onto various trading platforms?
To be a bit cheeky, I guess AAA-games are doing OK despite having a lot of broken games being let through! In all honesty, the great thing about modern state of games is, I don’t consider AAA or Indie to be different games, they are just funded differently.
I’ve played high budget games that I have not liked, I’ve played small budget games that I’ve liked, money doesn’t necessarily equal fun.
Steam has been both very great and also a very scary thing for games in general. Great in the sense that now we have a diverse cast of games all in the same market space, I can get a fun small game or I can get the multi thousand hour campaign from the same store!
Scary in the sense that it’s a definitive monopoly, sure there are other stores but nothing is like Steam and if you think about it, that’s actually a scary thing.
You are dependent on getting visibility via one single store that everybody shares or by sheer luck becoming a viral hit in discussion forums. Instead of having multiple market places that might elevate your game just because they dig it we are all following the rules of one place, what if Steam would cease to exist or simply wouldn’t want to host your game for any reason at all?
For anyone working in the gaming industry who hits a block and feels demotivated, have you any advice for them?
If you’re not feeling the games industry, do something else and find perspective!
I personally do a lot of different activities to keep the old brain active and I’ve found a lot of interesting games or ideas that have come from outside of the more “standard” games bubble.
Seriously, the games industry is just like any other industry is just what various people have set it out to be, you can always decide to go “fuck it” and do your own thing and try to find a way to make that work!
Attempt to find the parts that you enjoy and break it down to chunks: “what do I enjoy in this?” “how can I make these other parts more enjoyable?” “do I need to take a break and do something else for a while that I’d enjoy to do now?” Oh and one thing that I’ve noticed that helps me a lot is planning. If you can’t write it down you probably can’t make it and weeding out those parts is a great thing to help you learn and find things that you’ll be able to achieve, that list will grow.
Do you feel that Finland has made its mark on the gaming scene?
To me personally it sure has. The Finnish game industry was at its peak in the 90’s with its various free, shareware and indie DOS games, and they still hold a great space in my heart most probably for the rest of my life. Not sure if you could call it a industry quite back then, but Finland has had and still has it’s fair share of huge AAA-games and Indie games, but somewhere where it roams like no other, is mobile gaming.
I used to be super excited about mobile gaming and I still am except the current mainstream direction does not excite me as player or artist at all with the various payment schemes and such. But it is something that I guess has to be done to get rent paid.
I just hope that the government would make art more viable in Finland (and everywhere else too). Having a basic income for everyone would be nice so that people could just let themselves create rather than just burn themselves but I don’t know if the world really works like that, have we ever even properly tried that? I don’t know, I’d just like to see more fun stuff.
Are there any platforms that you think excel in helping to promote a game?
Every social platform is an opportunity. Online reaches more people, but offline can be more personal as a experience. But I’m honestly not an expert in this field, I don’t seem to be able to sell my super niche game Tormentor X Punisher ,so I guess I’m the wrong person to listen to here. I’m all for honesty and somewhat transparency for a degree, I guess that separates me from “creator” – “promoter” if a line has to be drawn!
I feel pretty uncomfortable selling a product, I’d rather let people just pick it up if they feel like it! I do want to learn about this stuff, I’ve tried but I’ve yet to find a way that makes me fully comfortable, maybe this will be my next venture.
Sound of the Future
Badland was a really enjoyable game. At what point did you realise you were going to carry on with that series?
Thank you, I agree it was a really enjoyable game and I am again, forever grateful I got to work on it. Badland was essentially the game that kicked off my professional game making career into reality.
Not long after the release of Badland, I was asked to work on the sequel for it, so I guess that’s when I realized it’s happening. I am still ever amazed that I get to work on games, and the fact that now after 50 commercial games I still find myself excited when a new project starts!
Making games can be a really fun adventure if you treat work as work and art as art, people as people and realize that they can all co-exist without destroying each other. I think that’s something that should catch on.
Are there any exciting secrets you can share about what you have planned in 2018?
I’m working on a fun game called Bleak Sword as a sound designer this year alongside a few other games that I don’t think I can talk about just yet! I also helped out on a game called Planetoid Pioneers that is coming out very soon I think.
I think I will try to dedicate this summer mostly for skateboarding so I’m looking into reversing work/holiday balance to celebrate 20 years of skateboarding and hopefully film a skate flick! Also planning on touring more with my band From Grotto and hopefully writing a second album! Same with my other band, Linnani Vaanija although not sure where will I find all this time from.
Are you hoping to do more voice over work?
Yes and luckily there’s a bunch of vocal work on Bleak Sword as the game features a lot of vocal produced sound effects oddly enough!
Ok now for a tricky question – what have been your most recent favorite games?
I really enjoyed Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild although I don’t understand all the post-story collecting/prolonging business, they kinda ruin these experiences for me.
I really enjoyed playing Butcher both on the PC and the Switch, that’s a great game that I recommend picking up!
Looks like there’s more than a few awesome games and plans in the works from Mr Turner. If you fancy listening to Joonas and his band, he has songs on Bandcamp. As always stay tuned as we continue our UK and European roadtrip. If you’re part of the indie scene in the UK or Europe, drop us a line if you want to chat about what you do and what you love or loathe within the crazy gaming universe.