Bart Bonte on his history of creating puzzle games

Bart Bonte is an indie developer living in Belgium who has been making puzzle games for a very, very long time. I have been aware of his games for years, through my work in licensing for web-based portals, where his games always did well by combining a simplistic look with amazing, well-designed puzzles.

“You might know me from my early Flash browser games like SUGAR, SUGAR, a game where you must lead hundreds of sugar crystals to coffee cups by drawing on the screen, or FACTORY BALLS, a game in which you have to produce balls by combining all kinds of tools. My most popular games up until now are undoubtedly my mobile color games (there are already 6: YELLOW, RED, BLACK, BLUE, GREEN and PINK), in each of those you have to figure out how to make the screen turn into the titular color in many ways. They won me a Google Play Indie award and a Webby award.”

How did you first start out in the games industry?

I’m a kid of eighties, I grew up playing around with the Commodore 64 and Amiga computer, so I played the occasional video game, but from the start I was always more interested in creating things with those machines instead of playing games. With a couple of friends I was active in the demo scene creating audiovisual demos, all fairly amateurish, but it did teach me how to program. After my studies I started making little browser games in my spare time with Flash and game portal sites allowed me to present these quirky creations to a large and eager audience. I fell in love with puzzle game creation and decided to try and make it my full time occupation.

As you have created so many different games in your time as a developer, what inspires you to create so many different puzzle games?

The number one advantage of being an indie developer is the freedom to be able to create games about literally anything you want. In my design process I rarely start from a game mechanic. Most of the time I start with something visual, a visual element or with an abstract concept, and I try to turn that into a puzzle. In addition to that abstraction I always try to get some heart and soul in the game by introducing between the lines something quirky or humorous to be discovered. I always force myself to use a limited number of elements for one particular game, it helps to keep the projects rather small and to stay focused. These limitations really help my creative process. Having well-defined constraints drives creativity. That is how I come up with the ideas for most of my games.

When it comes to consistently releasing games, you are able to always have a game coming out or that you’re improving. How do you manage your time as you release so many games?

I manage my game development time like a nine to five job, switching between days working on the next game, keeping the old games up to date and jamming on new stuff. You could say I treat every game project as a personal game jam, but with a very loose timeframe. I start with a visual idea or a concept, I set my constraints and I’ve grown the habit to turn that idea into a puzzle game after lots of iterations.

In the same vein, how important do you think it is to stop making the puzzles more complex so that the game can be released?

My design process has evolved over the years and now it is never about how difficult I can make the puzzles. My focus is always on one thing: how can I inject into the player a feeling of accomplishment? How can I make the players feel really good about themselves for having completed the game? Finishing a game and deciding to let it go is something that grows more naturally each time. It helps if you have a restlessness or a constant urge to start working on something new like I have 🙂

I know that you have released many of your games on mobile, on platforms like Steam for a set price, and demos through licensing. Do you find more success on Mobile, on Steam or licensing your game?

Most of my income comes from the advertising in my free mobile games. Also right now I find the mobile games market the most interesting place to be. On PC and console the bar is set so high that it’s almost impossible to break through with something that looks graphically simple. Most of the games in the mobile market are driven by money-making mechanics to make as much profit as possible. I don’t think that’s the only way to be successful and that there’s lots of space there to do more interesting things, especially for a solo developer. On mobile people are craving for unique experiences, personal little games.  Seeing your own personal creation come to life on a smartphone, there’s something really magical about that!

Bart Bonte has so many games currently on the go! You can check out his website to see a collection of them.

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