What happens when you leave four aspiring video game developers in a room for four hours?
Somebody stands up and proposes, "What if we had this game where everyone is, like, a knight and they shoot lasers or something at each other?”
“Yeah, let’s make that game!,” everyone cheers, and the rest is history.
Thus begun the saga of LAZA KNITEZ!!, the award-winning brainchild of Joon Van Hove, Mads Johansen Lassen, Jonas Maaløe and Tommy Rousse. It was developed through a game design class at ITU Copenhagen.
Rousse, 26, is currently studying Media, Technology and Society in Northwestern’s graduate school. But this past Friday night, he was found in a black WNUR t-shirt, juggling between eager students and hardware wires to reset games at Indie Game Night. Rousse and Medill senior Jordan Minor were the masterminds behind Indie Game Night held in the Norris Game Room, which hosted his own LAZA KNITEZ!! as well Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Samurai Gunn, Nidhogg, Slapfest, Divekick and Towerfall. The event provided the opportunity for Northwstern students to interact with these award-winning video games, while providing the developers with the opportunity to receive feedback and spread the fruits of their labor to a university gaming audience.
He was eager to retell the epic story of LAZA KNITEZ!!, described as a “minimalist game with a whacky all-caps aesthetic."
Rousse and the other founders first developed it by alpha testing – they kept uploading new versions after getting feedback from players for a week. After dropping hundreds at Ikea, the four ventured to one of their dad’s garages in the remote Danish countryside. There, they labored for six hours to build their own cocktail arcade installation for an event called “Nordic Indie Night," where LAZA KNITEZZ!! took home the Nordic Sensation Award in 2012.
The booming success of LAZA KNITEZZ!! soon became an addition to the Distortion Festival in Copenhagen and Game Developer’s Conference. Its exclusivity was signed by the Ouya platform for 6 months, where the team hired a pixel artist to refine its 80s style graphics.
“We were so shocked that people liked it,” Rousse said. “It’s a visceral audience reaction when you see people play a game that you created.”
The player’s objective of LAZA KNITEZZ!! is to “gallop through space on their trusty space horses” by jousting and shooting lasers, according to Rousse. The game speeds up as players reel in the kills.
John Murphy, another game developer, showcased his level designs at Indie Game Night. Octodad: Dadliest Catch, is a multiplayer slapstick comedy game about an octopus in a suit whose human family does not realize his true form. Indeed, hilarity ensued as students tried in vain to help the nebulous figure grocery shop, one person controlling each tentacle at a time.
“If you get through all the levels, and get to the end of the game you win,” Murphy, 29, said. “It’s actually kind of a sad story—mostly uplifting—but I won’t ruin the ending for you.”
According to Rousse, multiplayer games like Samurai Gunn and Nidhogg are kindling a huge renaissance. He believes that it is important to give undergraduates an outlet to have this kind of important cultural movement.
Rousse defines the indie game movement as the explosion after the 7-8 year period where there were no console updates to hardware after the Xbox, PS4 and the Wii. Steam, deemed by Rousse the “elephant in the room," is a company that distributes games and media online, whether they are independent or larger software houses.
“It created a new way for games to be distributed digitally, which drastically reduced costs of making video games,” Rousse said.
The rise of mobile, along with blossoming independent game festivals and indie arcades gave “indies” a lot more visibility. According to Rousse, this overthrew capital-intensive “triple-A” games—a term often coined for the very best—that normally take high budgets and crowds to make.
“This allowed for a larger market for smaller players,” Rousse said. “People who did bedroom programming could sell.”
Rousse’s future prospects might include creating a sequel for LAZA KNITEZZ!!, but he said "don’t hold your breath.”
“I loved going to Copenhagen and getting a taste of the independent gaming scene,” Rousse said. “I really want to bring that to Northwestern and the rest of Chicago, which is booming with talented game developers.”