Ludopium is an independent game studio based in Cologne, Germany that specializes in
music games and ludic audiovisual installations. The team consists of an international group
of highly inventive game developers with backgrounds in different areas of media production.
Ludopium aims to build artistic experiences that invite players to listen, play, and interact
while keeping fun and accessibility at the forefront of development.
Starting with the single focus areas of the CGL Bachelor program, how would you describe Game Programming, Game Design, Game Arts and, additionally, Sound Design?
UTZ: Game Programming to me is taking all the concepts and ideas you have, putting them together and creating systems that work when users get their hands on it. Besides fixing bugs, it is also coming up with solutions for how to realize ideas and how to translate them into something the hardware device can actually work with. It also helps to speak the same language as the other departments because the other people from your team might not be able to translate their ideas into actual running code. In a way, your job is to mediate between the computer and your team. It’s a people’s job.
GEORGE: Similarly, I would describe Game Design also as ‘problem-solving’, but it’s more conceptual. As a Game Designer, you need to be able to imagine how the game is going to function when someone plays your game. You need to be able to empathize with types of players you don’t necessarily identify with. Game Designers need to be excited about things other people find cool because players don’t want to play something made by somebody who was not excited about the thing he was doing. When you put everything together, you need to ask yourself what happens moment to moment and then what happens in the bigger picture and so on. So in the end, it’s about trying to make all the concepts work with each other.
JUAN: For me, game development is similar to building a house: Game Design for me would be the layout of the house, the blueprints, and the purpose of each room. Programming would then be the actual structures and systems like electricity and plumbing. And then Game Arts would be the layer that you see while living in there. You see painted walls, well-chosen furniture, and thoughtful details all over the house. The house would not be there without the other departments, but there are still some ingredients missing to allow this house to become a “home” – that is where Game Audio enters. Sound design and music are like the spirit of how these rooms are resonating with each other. It’s that last element in this combination of sensorial architecture that connects you with this piece of software and ultimately fills the house with life.
Looking back at your studies at CGL, what did you do and learn in your study program?
UTZ: A lot of theoretical knowledge and foundational work was a major part of what I took out of the whole study program. I think Media and Game Studies is that one subject that stayed with me the most because it just puts ideas and concepts in your head that really helps you to make decisions later on in game development because you can base those decisions on solid foundations of research. The best part for me at CGL was that you had this first half of the semester with seminars where you gain knowledge and other skills that you applied in the second half of the semester where you do your collaborative projects. That’s where you really learned about how to work in a team, what kind of people you can work with, your skills and yourself.
JUAN: The classes are not only about learning different software, but also developing a mentality, a problem-solving mentality, and a media-related mentality. For me, the human aspect is the most important part of the CGL. It’s more than just making friends, it’s also important to get to know all the different types of professions and personalities and how those relate to each other in this context of making games.
The concept of Vectronom was developed during your first semesters at CGL. How did its development start?
JUAN: It started at the end of our second semester: that was the weekend of the Ludum Dare Game Jam 35 with the theme ‘Shapeshift’. After we finished the game jam we just let the game go. We didn’t think much about it, it was a small fun game and all we wanted was to have a fun weekend. It wasn’t until we were having a mentoring meeting with our art professors for the next semester project – the MIDI Multiplayer Madness – where we also showed them Vectronom (then Isometric Epilepsy). There we were encouraged to apply for SpielFabrique, an accelerator program created by Odile Limpach. In a way, we didn’t decide to do this because of the game, but because of the team. We knew that we could work together and we had enough energy to go for it. After doing a cool prototype the game got picked up by a publisher.
In the development of Vectronom, what were important experiences you learned from, and what would you do differently on your next project?
UTZ: Especially organizational aspects like project management. It’s so important and we just didn’t realize that until very late in development. When we now do budgeting for new projects, a project management position is definitely in there. It’s one of the most important positions and as important as everyone else because you need to have that structure and if you have to take care of that structure while doing something else, it would just take away resources. Marketing is also important! What a lot of people say and I can totally relate to is that marketing is not something that you put on top in the end when your game is done. It has to be something that you think about in the very moment you have the idea for your game.
JUAN: Communication is key. Organization is key. Personally, I learned a big lesson about hierarchies and leadership. There always needs to be some sort of guidance and this is important to make things work. You cannot do everything alone, and if you can, I’m pretty sure you’re gonna have a better time when you do it with other people.
For aspiring game makers, what can you recommend to people looking to break into the game industry?
JUAN: You should not be afraid of breaking boundaries and being extremely creative. You can take advantage of how flexible the game-medium is and really push harder with your ideas, go crazy, and then, when you’re at the crazy point, listen to the more realistic aspect. Think about scopes and try to finish your projects.
What would you recommend to people looking to apply to CGL?
UTZ: Think about why you want to apply and why you want to make games. If the only reason you want to make games is because you play games, it’s probably not for you. It’s not uncreative, it just makes it harder for you. If you don’t have any other passions, besides games, it will also limit you in your creative thought process. At Ludopium, for instance, music is something that connects. If you have that extra interest and if there’s something special that you like to do, try to bring that into your application. Make the application about that and not about you liking games. You want to stand out with your application.
What are other important aspects you would like to tell people who are interested in studying at CGL?
UTZ: Honestly, applying to CGL was one of the best decisions of my life. And to all the applicants: the CGL only does as much for you as you actually ask for. You have to bring initiative. You have to ask people for their feedback. No one will just put knowledge or skills in your brain.You have to work for your project. You have to really make sure that it has a high quality standard. Nothing is just given to you and that’s important to know.
JUAN: You have to see the study program more as a macro frame than an apprenticeship. You should study on your own and then come to the classes with the questions that you can’t answer online. If you want to have connections and more creative, academic, or business insights, you have to approach the professors and talk to them from a place of curiosity and true interest. You have to try to know what you want and work extra hard for it. We love CGL. Talking about it right now feels nostalgic. It connects back to why we like making games and to the real primal moments where we had the first interactions as a team.