Interviewed by Marco van Haren
Rene’s first and fondest game memory is losing all the time to his five years younger nephew when playing River Raid on his aunt and uncle’s MSX. Over the years Rene developed a love for indie gaming and Japan, something that influenced his way of thinking about games, and the way he designs them.
Where did it go from your aunt and uncle’s MSX?
My parent never allowed me to have a console, because we had a PC in the house. When the Nintendo64 was announced, I secretly started saving up all my money so I could buy one at release. Of course, my dad found out the day before release and my plan failed. My crying impressed my mom and she realized how much I really wanted it, so she went with me to buy my first console.
You bought Super Mario 64 along with it I guess?
Yeah, that game changed my life. That game made me realize that I wanted to do something with games for a living. I quit my job at the local supermarket and I started stalking the personnel at the local game shop. I think I visited every day for at least a month begging for a job. In the end, they gave me one and I was put to work cleaning the place and stocking the shelves. I was in heaven! Best of all, I was allowed to buy my games with a discount. Not much of the money I earned there actually left the store as I spent most of it on games at the end of every month. Especially once I bought my PlayStation.
So you changed from being a Nintendo fan into a PlayStation Fanboy?
The PlayStation just offered such new cool experiences for me. I loved playing Tekken, Metal Gear Solid, and most dear to me; Final Fantasy VII. The scene where Aeris dies just hit me like a hammer. I had never been so emotionally invested in a game before, and I was upset about it. I quit the game and restarted it to find a way to avoid the moment, but alas.
How did this gaming hobby develop over time?
I think my obsession with games never diminished. Even during my study of business economics gaming was a big part of life. I lived in a college dorm with over 30 guys, and my room was the gaming party room. I had my PlayStation 2 and my other consoles and every day when I returned from college the room was packed with other people playing my games. Good times.
Still no little voice in your head that you belonged in the game industry?
That little voice had been screaming for as long as I can remember. Even in elementary school where I had to give a talk in front of the class about what I wanted to become when I grew up, I talked about becoming a game designer. It just felt like something that happened on another planet. When I finished my study and I saw all my friends go corporate, I decided to follow my heart. I sent out over a hundred job applications to game companies all over the world, hoping I could end up with a company like Konami or Capcom. Zero response. Having played many games does not make for a compelling resume.
But you didn’t give up, right?
I actually almost did. However, just when I was ready to start wearing a suit, I read about a new master at the School of the Arts. The subject matter was a bit out there, but it allowed me to study management of game development processes. I learned about scrum and I started experimenting with GameMaker. Not long after I got the amazing opportunity to join a postgraduate program that allowed me to learn Japanese and intern in Japan for 6 months.
So in the end you did end up at Konami or Capcom?
No, I ended up working at Sony as the first intern they had ever had. It took a while to find my place in the team, but the whole experience turned out to be amazing. I absolutely love the culture, but after 6 months, I was happy to return home. It was a typical Japanese experience to live in a small room, travel a crowded metro to work and sit in my cubicle every day. I was really missing my personal space and my bike in Amsterdam. I do go back though as often as I can to enjoy it as a holiday destination.
What did you do after your Japan adventure?
The 6 months in Japan made me feel confident enough to start looking for a job in the industry again. I applied for a job as producer at Vanguard Games, and got hired. I worked on both Greed Corp and Gatling Gears before shifting to a design role for one of the studio’s upcoming projects. In my spare time, I spend less time on big budget releases and more on games released through the indie gaming scene. The amount of design innovation that I experience in these games is a constant motivation to keep my own designs fresh and interesting.