Tom Kail & Jon Tree

Tom Kail & Jon Tree are the guys behind Biome, a gorgeous game that is receiving a lot of well-deserved press and player’s attention (Biome is really something, and it’s painfully beautiful.) And now they answer our questions!

Biome devs!

Tom Kail and Jon Tree by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

Tom: I started making games seriously as soon when I discovered the indie scene in my first year of University. I’ve only recently graduated, so I guess that means just over 4 years. Me and Jon have been working together for nearly a year now.

Jon: Not long at all! I’ve been making small things in Flash for a few years but nothing major.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

Tom: I tend to be inspired by sound and visuals rather than gameplay. While we feel that gameplay is often the most important part of a game, because a good game design is gestalt by nature it can be hard to borrow ideas without just ruining or ripping off the design, which isn’t what we’re about. By taking inspiration from a visual side, you can work out the gameplay afterwards. It doesn’t always work, but it sure as hell leads to some good looking games; and when it works, what you end up with often plays in a totally unique way. It’s probably the reason so many of our projects end up as toys, rather than games.

Jon: I think it’s different every time. Currently I’ve been looking at the natural world, specifically animals. I try to go hiking fairly often and my favourite spot is frequented by a herd of wild goats. I guess just watching things and thinking about them, running through all the ‘what ifs’.

3. Before starting Biome development you were working on Vectagon. Why did you decide to put it on hold? Are you going to resume working on it? (We love infinite runners, and wow, Vectagon looks really cool).

Love that you asked this. We’re currently taking a short break from Biome to remake Vectagon from scratch. It’s going to be so much cooler. We’re really hoping that we can use it to raise the funds for Biome, but we’ll see how that goes. It’s so much more fun to release things for free.

4. You describe Biome as “a minimalist digital zen garden for everyone”. Where did its idea come from?

It actually started a lot more bloated and ‘gamey’ than it is now. We took the art style and instinctively started piling on things like goals and win states, but they all felt really forced. A long design conversation helped us find Biome’s core. It’s a relaxing experience about exploration designed for everyone, regardless of interest or skill with games or technology. To that end, we’re keeping interactions simple, tactile and intuitive. It’s those features that make a great toy.

5. Biome art direction is really impressive. (Low poly world? We’ve said it before and we’ll do it again: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!). Why low poly? Any low poly favourite artist or game out there?

Thanks! We’ve found that working with procedurally generated geometry (as we do in both Vectagon and Biome) allows us non-artists to create some really pretty games. Which is great, because we both really like pretty games. Tom actually has a blog dedicated to them. Timothy Reynolds is the king of low poly. Biome first originated as Tom’s attempt to imitate him using code! As for games, Skipping Stones looks beautiful.

6. We’ve been playing Biome development version and we are already hyped! It looks really amazing. What can we expect on the final version of the game? Any scoop you can share with us?

Jon: Wild goats.

Tom: Evil deer.

7. Biome has been shown at 3 festivals to date (love those tips on your tumblr devlog). Do you think festivals are important? Why? Any favourite anecdote on one of these festivals you attended?

From a developer point of view, they are the single most important thing for networking, improving and marketing your game. We’re trying to do as many as we possibly can. You get some great stories too – we had a player who really enjoyed our demo, but had to leave because his daughter caught chicken pox. We sent him a build so he could play from home, and he sent us back a photo of them both playing it. That was really sweet!

8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

Tom: Man, that’s hard. Koop Mode make some unique beautiful stuff. I like Aliceffekt’s work too, although I don’t claim to understand much of it. I’d like to see Phil Fish start developing again too, he’s a great graphic designer.

Jon: Yeah that’s a tough one. Hideo Kojima is a must. I keep coming back to the Metal Gear games and they always have something new to show me. Ed Key would make my list as well. I really dig the way he thinks about games. Lastly, @takorii. Every one of his games is filled with absurd amounts of character and charm. I’m huge fans of all of these people and their work and thoughts inspire me daily.

9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

Tom: I wish! Between my job and personal work I don’t get much time to play games. That said, I’ve been playing a tonne of Minecraft with my girlfriend lately.

Jon: Far from it. I used to, but development is taking up a pretty big chunk of my time. If I get a spare moment I’ll pick something nice from Warpdoor and see what it has to offer.

10. One last random question. If you could change any movie ending, which one would it be and why?

Jon: Okay, it took me ages to think of one but I’ve finally got it. The Matrix! The ending was fucking terrible!

Tom: I would probably have changed Apocalypse Now so that it never ended. I could watch that movie forever.

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