a bontegames interview with ... ROBIN VENCEL

Welcome to the third episode in the series of interviews with game designers, answering questions from bontegames readers.
Robin is famous for his 'Monkey GO Happy' series and lots of other Pencilkids games. I'm very thankful Robin took some time to answer your questions, so let's hear it for Robin Vencel!

What inspired you to start designing games Robin?

Iíve always loved games. My brother (Ninjadoodle) and I got our first computer, a c64 when my family left the communist Czech Republic and lived in a refugee camp in Germany. The German refugee camp was great, we lived in the Bavarian Alps for a year and all we did was eat and play games. Then we immigrated to New Zealand.
When I grew up I focused more on illustration/animation which I studied. I tried to work freelance but found it difficult to get work and struggled for a long time. About 6 years ago I lost my job and had nowhere to go, so I decided to make an online business. My dream was to work from home.
I tried making a small game called Alex the Adventurer for my online magazine (pencilkids.com) When I saw the way that spread on the net I took a month to make Bowja the Ninja. That was even more popular and so I sold my old car and lived off my savings for the first 6 months without really making much money. I started focusing solely on games. Today pencilkids.com is my full time business but with the net deciding that flash is no longer the future and Mochi closing itís becoming harder and harder.

Did schooling affect your ability to create art/games or are you self taught?

From the time I was a kid I loved drawing. I was born in Czech Republic and I grew up on a comic called Ctyrlistek (Four Leaf Clover), it was about four characters and their adventures. One of the coolest releases I remember was two stories in one book. Loupez Stoleti(theft of the century) and the Circus Pepi. This book was one of the only possessions I took from Czech Republic as a little boy when we left Czech Republic.
Circus Pepi was about four characters trying to save the circus animals with the help of a little monkey. I must have read this book about a hundred times. This was probably the biggest inspiration for me drawing all the time.
I always lived more inside my own head creating stories and imagining characters. So I would say Iím mostly self taught. The coding side completely, while the animation I studied for a couple of years, but to be honest the fees were hardly worth it. I believe if you are passionate and keep improving and keep doing it for the love of it you eventually develop your own style rather than learning someone elseís. This is then far more interesting and unique. The only thing I don't create is the music in my games (I purchase a license), although I do play the guitar and sing, an example of a song is here.

If you had to name one of your games you're most proud of, which one would it be and why?

It would have to be the Monkey GO Happy series as a whole, itís something that Iíve stuck with for so long and tried to improve and develop and grew with myself. I also love the Bowja the Ninja series but with Monkey GO Happy games I feel there is no limits to ideas.

Do you have a certain audience in mind when making games?

When I started I didnít really have an audience, I just hoped anyone would play but now I realise that a lot of young children just love the Monkey GO Happy series so I have to be very careful with what I put in my games. Itís difficult sometimes because what I grew up with is completely different to whatís acceptable these days.

Lately you have been striving for one new game each month. Do you do all of the work yourself and how do you come up with the ideas for that many games? Does designing games in a certain time frame help to drive creativity?

At the end of 2013 I really noticed how things are changing online and how quickly mobile is the way to go. I decided to up my game and be even more productive and begin making games for mobile myself. I told myself I need to create at least one game a month no matter what while looking into mobile, maintaining the site and so on. I find chunking it into the monthly installments just gives me a more regular reward to see people enjoying the games. If I spend too long on a game I find I get nervous as Iím not getting any feedback and I'm not sure how it will do. I create everything myself. I usually play a few flash games for inspiration, watch a couple of movies, look on the net, basically look for anything that inspires me. Then I try to write the whole game in a couple of days. After that I go into production where I draw all the backgrounds, do all the animations and code everything myself. Then comes the bug testing, the release of the game, the emailing, the site maintenance and so on. And just when you think you got a handle on things your site goes down, someone steals your game and releases it as their own on the App Store or Mochi closes down and breaks half your games completely. So you have to go into fixing mode and send everyone new working copies :)

Lately you've been making almost exclusively Monkey GO Happy games. Are you planning to revisit some of your older game series for sequels?

There were times when I wanted to do something else, but after a few days of playing around with something new I always seem to return to Monkey GO Happy games. Itís really cool having something you can build on. With Monkey GO Happy I love the idea of creating something mini legendary (at least online for now), rather than a one off which disappears never to return. Iíd love to do another Bowja but at this stage Iíd have to know that people will actually play it and love it as much as Monkey GO Happy. Itís a huge risk putting so much time into a game and then not having the success.

Do you own a real monkey?

I wish I had a monkey that would maintain my site, do my taxes and do all the stuff I donít want to do. But the monkeys Iíve hired in the past just bashed away at the keyboard aimlessly and pooped on my computer. Then they just cry all the time and I have to run around the office trying to cheer them up. Itís just a hassle :)

What pieces of advice would you like to pass on to others interested in making games?

Just do it! If youíre passionate about it then that's the main thing. Keep releasing games and keep improving. If you find something that people want, do more of it and make it better. But always remember to make games that youíre happy and passionate about, rather than making games just to please others.

Are you playing a lot of games yourself (web/console/mobile)? What recent games did you enjoy?

Every Christmas I get a couple of PC games and all I do for a few days is sit and play, thatís great. Usually though I just donít have enough time to play games and Iím too busy making them. The last game I played was Broken Age which I enjoyed. I really also like Zeebarf's games. And Amnita Design games, Carmelgames, and the simplicity of Bontegames is great.
I guess my ultimate inspiration comes from the games I grew up with, such as The Last Ninja, Police Quest, Day of the Tentacle and so on.
As for mobile, I really havenít got into it that much as I work from home and never really have time to pickup a device. The only time I do is for testing purposes these days.

What can we expect from you in the (near) future?

Well hopefully many more Monkey GO Happy games! I'm planning a Monkey GO Happy game for mobile that is much more than just a coffee break game. Iím sure youíll see some progress on that soon. So please when you do, make sure to follow me on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. Download my mobile games and review and rate them :) It really helps a lot and it lets us developers know weíre on the right track. I read all the comments I can find to learn from them. Itís my reward to know people are loving the games :)

Thanks for the interview Robin!

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