We first had the pleasure of meeting Ole Toubro back at Rezzed 2018, when he was part of the team at Danish developer Mighty Moth, working on the aviation exploration title Above. He’s since moved on to form an even smaller team, with his new studio Not-Disclosed Games. We caught up with him to discuss games, the industry, lockdowns, Pilsners, the connotations of the word "tolerate" and last, but by no means least, hot tubs.
So, tell us about your new company, Not-Disclosed Games.
We are currently two people working with coding and design. We have been working together for quite a while and we do some contract work together as well. We also have half a guy doing sound and we are actually looking for an artist with the right finesse and skillset.
Your first game is twin-stick horror/sci-fi shooter Universe Apart. Can you tell us about the game, and what led you to combining these genres?
We both really like twin-stick shooters and my buddy had made a tiny playable one so we just built from that - adding everything around it. Trying out different art, ways to make it tile-based and random, have long-term gameplay etc. etc. After we got the shadows working we knew we had to make some horror elements - that gameplay and implementation is ahead of us: So if people have suggestions they should hit us up on Discord :)
What impact has COVID-19 had on the development stage?
Well I guess indie game developers have a pretty clear advantage in this - most of us were already used to working from home. I actually think this might have been a benefit for indie games, I mean just look at this February Steam Festival - the line-up is pretty fucking awesome.
What is it like to be such a small team in such a humongous ocean of development companies? How big a risk is it to release a game in the current climate?
Yeah the talent out there is quite amazing isn't it. I actually don't mind being a tiny fish swimming among all these different companies. Be they huge or small, multicoloured or grey, quirky or mainstream, hypers or truthers. I think the medium has far from matured - perhaps it never will - and it is just quite wonderful to be a part of. Our game is still in an early stage, but we like what we are creating - so we are pretty sure others will too.
We discussed the process of creating, and releasing, games/music/art last night; how strongly we both feel about actually getting stuff out there and provoking a reaction - good or bad. Could you elaborate on that?
Yeah that was quite a good chat wasn't it :) I mean to really piss people off you can't be charging them as well, can you? Or is that exactly what the giants excel at with various broken products, stupid release schedules, in-game purchases or advertisements. I don't know. I just think many people outside games see every little hiccup as a catastrophe, they take it personally and some even want the drama. And the marketing teams behind the large games fuel this: There is no such thing as bad press! Fact is very few people know how stupidly hard it is to make a good game - and to make art, as we were discussing last night, you have to infuse that tremendously hard process with message and meaning, dare I even say soul. Some teams are at the right place and time to do that, and some even get hyped and reach a broad audience - to the benefit of everybody involved. Let me sail on my own tiny little hype train or boat or whatever: Universe Apart will have existential dilemmas and abusive elements - they are just not in the demo yet - or are they? :)
"Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines."
Where do you see the future of gaming? Is it VR? Streaming services? Traditional consoles/PCs?
All of those… and implants and AR and huge simulations and tiny interfaces and stuff that game us. I actually think game theory integrated with everyday stuff is the next big thing - you already see it to some degree in software like TikTok, Instagram etc. Whole processes we interact with are currently being designed for our conscious and unconscious selves to interact with - and that is pretty much games.
Coronavirus has put the pause button on life, allowing many people to assess where they are, and what they actually want to do with their time/for work. With that in mind, what advice would you give to someone looking to get started in the gaming industry?
Ha yeah - I don't know if I am the right person to ask that - but here goes: Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines. Listen to old songs you liked, games you played and loved, movies you adored - none of them are perfect. If caught in the right sardonic mood you could tear each one of them apart and paint them in the worst light possible... So: Do your best, believe in yourself and release!
What game(s) have had the biggest impact on your life?
I am quite fond of simple ones from my childhood that set a mood and let you live there for a while: Lotus, Wolfenstein, Lemmings or Commander Keen - and I could go on :)
In terms of real impact there was this aesthetic little game where you can only move right and you get older as you move, find a dog and another person to love and take with you, then the hair greys and the dog and other person are left behind as tombstones and you also end as a tombstone - that game made me cry. I can't remember it's name, or find it online, it might have been a flash game - that we the human race moved right and left behind…
I also thought quite a lot about the profound idea in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail where this guy hosts simmed VR hells for several other races. Consider that: Hell or gods does not exist, but if you violate certain religious laws your sentence is to be uploaded to a virtual hell! WTF? I love how that sets one's mind going about mortality, souls and life itself.
Final question... You're stranded on an island that happens to be blessed with power. Which console/gaming machine do you take and why?
Being stranded on an island sounds like a lot of hard work. I think I would bring a switch so I could play a twin-stick shooter, while being busy on the latrine :)
Thanks to Ole for taking the time to chat to us. Click here for more information on Universe Apart.