Spotlight Interview: Tan Kang Soon from Joysteak Studios

It is always exciting to see a new local studio join the game industry with bold ideas and fresh passion. This month’s interview is with a company that revealed their debut game in 2017 with positive reception! Here to give his bright perspective is Tan Kang Soon from Joysteak Studios! Comprising of a small team of about 6 developers – mostly from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) Game Lab’s Game Innovation Programme, Joysteak Studios seeks to make heartfelt and soulful games for all to enjoy. Let us give them a warm welcome!

Check out their site – https://joysteak.com/

 

Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself and your company. What is your role? What is your company about? What is your “origin” story?

My name is Tan Kang Soon. I am the producer and artist of Joysteak Studios. Our company’s vision is to create heartfelt storytelling experiences through video games, and we are doing that through “Songbird Symphony” – a musical adventure game that aims to emulate a Disneyesque storytelling experience.

The current team is made up of friends I have met in school – Muhammad Hanif was my classmate in Temasek Junior College 10 years ago, and Eu Yong Xue was my classmate during our undergraduate time in NUS Computer Science. All of us attended SUTD Game Lab’s Game Innovation Programme on the summer of 2015 and had a splendid time there. We decided to make indie game development our career of choice ever since.

 

Q: What challenges have you and your company faced since it first started? How does it feel to start a game business?

Being less than a year old, it feels very intimidating sometimes when we are showcasing our game alongside industry veterans whom we admire (i.e. Gattai Games, The Gentlebros and etc). “Imposter Syndrome” would creep in, but it got better as we made friends with our peers in the industry. Receiving warm responses from our players, having them cheering us on and exclaiming how much they look forward to the completed game, really encouraged us too!

Starting a game business feels exhilarating at first, as it was the first step to achieving our dream of being a full-time indie developer. However, it was also filled with uncertainties as we made the very difficult decision to turn down interview offers from companies such as Ubisoft and Facebook. The lack of a stable income and a proper working venue (we were working on the dining table of my living room) made my parents seriously question my career choice. But they remained supportive, as they watched us pressed our noses against the laptop screens and took constant peeks at what we are working on. I guess they probably missed us when we moved from the living room to our new office at PIXEL Studios.

The team of Joysteak Studios exhibiting their game at Gamestart 2017. 

Q: Most people are content with just playing games for fun. And the horror stories of game development are abundant in the industry. What qualities do you think is needed to start a game company in your country?

Being friendly and genuine to everyone we meet in the industry is a really important quality, because I believe it would help us build a strong network of friends and mentors. We are really fortunate to have met supportive members of the industry, who would share with us their deep insights on game design and business, introduce us to invaluable industry contacts, or just have splendid fun together when we go for conventions and showcases.

Our mentors (Paul and Kim from Landshark Games, and Chor Guan from IGDA Singapore) are also a huge source of assurance whenever we face doubts or difficult challenges. This kind of support really helps us continue down this difficult path with hope and confidence, and I want to pass these positive feelings around to our peers in the industry.

Passion is also really important, as players can see it from the quality of the work. I believe players appreciate it when they see a lot of heart being put into a game, and they would love the game as much as the developers.

Look at all the pretty pixel colors of Songbird Symphony.

Q: Looking forward, what is your ambition?

I hope our games can be food that invigorates the soul; I hope our games can inspire and uplift our players, and help them find hope in difficult times.

I also hope that our success can bring the games industry in Singapore forward and encourage more people to pursue their dream of indie game development. Just as how Paul, Kim and Chor Guan have mentored us and given us incredible help and assurance, I will like to do the same for our juniors in the industry next time.

 

Q: What are your favorite games or examples of entertainment media?

Personally, I really love indie metroidvanias such as Cave Story, Hollow Knight, Guacamelee, or any games that combine the wonder of exploration with beautiful storytelling.

I also love animated films that emphasize on good inspiring stories, with scenes that contain lovely fantastical settings and emotive characters with lots of dynamic movement. These films usually come from Disney, Pixar or Studio Ghibli.

Quickly! Mash those buttons!

Q: Who do you look up to as an inspiration for work or life?

Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is a very strong inspiration to me as a creative in the media industry. Although he and his work has little to do with video games, I admire how he always attempt to push the artistic medium he was working with and tries to instill a magical quality in his work, as resonated in the last panel: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes old buddy… let’s go exploring!” This ‘thirst for adventure’ is the kind of feeling I would like to instill in our players as they play our games.

 

Q: There is constant buzz in the indie community about arrogant or delusional developers who have difficulty taking criticism and seeing their flaws. Tales of asset-flips and anti-consumer practices are rampant. What is your opinion on such topics?

I feel that unethical consumer practices are very serious problems in the AAA industry, but I seldom hear these problems happening among prominent indie developers. And it gives me a huge sigh of relief that every prominent player in the indie space that I could think of is very ethical and inspiring. They love their players and it really shows in their work!

I feel we can show more understanding and patience towards indie developers who face difficulties in taking criticisms. As long as they are ethical in their practices, I will not be quick to call them ‘arrogant’ or ‘delusional’ as I am sure criticisms are hard to swallow for any of us, when these criticisms are directed at projects they have spent much time and effort toiling over. Instead, I feel that the gaming community should learn to be kinder in their criticisms, providing constructive feedback with the mind of bringing the best out of these very earnest and passionate indie developers.

Somewhere, someone is rating this great performance 1 out of 5 starts for two much glitter.

Q. How would you respond to people who say that game development is the best job in the world since it is always fun? Conversely, how would you respond to people who say that game development is not a “real” job?

To the people who say that game development is the best job in the world because it is ‘always fun’, I will strongly encourage them to give it a try! They might be misguided, but it still shows that they have a strong passion for games development and passion is what the industry needs. Even I would not agree that game development is ‘always fun’, but I am sure there would be other aspects of game development that would fulfill them once they give it a try.

And also, I will never respond to toxic comments. I will let my games and their players do the talking for me instead.

Memes are always better in games.

Q: If you could go back one year in time, what would you say to your past self?  This is assuming of course that a time paradox does not occur.

Learn to filter good comments from toxic ones, and let nobody dampen your confidence!

 

Q: If you have anything more that you would like to talk about, feel free to add them here.

Let’s be friends! We like to communicate and help one another in the industry. You can join us on Songbird Symphony’s Discord server here: discord.gg/cBqRT6C. We would show our latest progress with the game, or share exclusive demo builds with our Discord members.

See you guys around!

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