If you make video games, make one only you can make: Ben Johnson - Technical.ly Brooklyn

Oct. 7, 2013 12:00 pm

If you make video games, make one only you can make: Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson wants to make a video game that only he can make, and the independent gaming community of Brooklyn might be the right place to do it.
Ben Johnson at the Crown Inn in Crown Heights

Ben Johnson at the Crown Inn in Crown Heights

Photo by Brady Dale, 10/2/2013

Ben Johnson wants to make a video game that only he can make, and the independent gaming community of Brooklyn might be the right place to do it.

Johnson is part of the Babycastles gaming arts collective that was looking for a Museum Curator earlier this year. By day, he’s now working for a brand new educational games startup in Manhattan that doesn’t even have a name yet. He’s also working on a game now for the PS Vita with two other developers, called Crystallon. It was a semifinalist in the Indiecade Game Jam, sponsored by Sony.

He met up with Technically Brooklyn at the Crown Inn on Franklin Ave, explaining to us why he came to Brooklyn, what Babycastles is all about and what it means to make games.

In 2009, Babycastles launched out of this sense that game developers were making independent games and sharing them among each other on internet forums, but even professors at universities who were teaching students game development didn’t know about the independent scene.

They had space for about nine months at a now defunct music venue along Kent Ave, where they would curate a different set of indie games on old computers, changing them out ever month or so. Babycastles was also asked to do games for outside organizations. So, for example, they built a game for the National History Museum for play on their planetarium, called Space Cruiser.

His first job out of college was with Electronic Arts. There, he worked on a variety of games, including taking primary responsibility for Chapter 10 of the original Dead Space. 

Johnson likes variety, in the games he plays and the games he makes. “I like to do something different than the last thing I did — that’s not a great way to make money.” He started as a game designer, because when he was at EA he saw that the programmers had more passion for programming than he did.

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Once he got to New York, he started organizing game jams. Finding himself on teams where he had the most experience programming, he began to take the lead on the programming side. “That was cathartic for me, he said. I’d done it. It was playable.” He organizes a New York site for Global Game Jam.

When Crystallon is done, it’s not clear what he’ll do next. He’s not devoted to a genre, but he has a lot of thoughts about the question of what game a game maker should make.

“I think if you’re going to make games you owe it to yourself to figure out a game that only you can make,” he said. “The things I think are interesting about games are not expressions of genre, they are expressions of self.”

He told us about a book that captured for him much of what he thought about game making. The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna AnthropyBabycastles held a release party for the book featuring a set of games she curated. The page also links to an autobiographical game about Anthropy’s experience with hormone therapy, dy4ia.

The party photos seem to show folks playing a game with controllers built into bras.

Harpy Diem party by BabycastlesJohnson moved to Brooklyn in 2009, at 29 years old. He decided to move here the first day he visited, and every year he believes it’s the year he’s going to leave. But then he doesn’t.

He told us that New York City is really special in terms of independent game development, but it’s much harder to find actual work in, as a game developer because the teams are often small.

The indie scene is very supportive, though, he says, “Because there’s not enough money here to stab anyone else in the back over.”

People: Ben Johnson
Projects: Babycastles
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