Behind the Scenes: Interviewing Joakim Sandberg (Iconoclasts)

Sometime in 2017, I started stumbling over several articles discussing a Metroidvania video game called "Iconoclasts". I was intrigued because apparently, it was being developed already for seven years: by one person. Who was this person? What kind of drive does it need to create a game on your own, and then to keep that motivation for such a long time?

As some of you know by now, these sort of developers fascinate me. I see them as contemporary storytellers - but where authors, painters or composers intentionally limit themselves in the media they use to convey their message, sole authors in videogame development commit themselves to using a huge, potentially infinite arsenal of media.

For Iconoclasts, the person in charge is Joakim "Konjak" Sandberg (Twitter). Now when I found myself in Stockholm for a week this winter (for details about how this happened, scroll down to this post's verrry end), I realized that Joakim actually wasn't too far away: he lived in his hometown Jönköping, a four-hour train ride from Stockholm. 

We got in touch, had a Discord call and wrote a bit about my interview questions (On Doubt interviewees receive a ridiculously long questionnaire upfront).

Iconoclasts, in-game footage
Iconoclasts, in-game footage

Meeting Joakim meant meeting someone who worked 24/7 on one project for seven years - it meant meeting someone who continuously decided against work-life-balance in order to finish his Big Project. At the time of the interview, in November 2017, Joakim was in a unique limbo: his game was finished (it was entirely feature-complete, with all bugs fixed), but not yet released - because another developer (Mathias Kærlev of Copenhagen-based studio MP2 Games) worked hard on porting Iconoclasts to all sorts of platforms, including PS4 and Vita: the game would be released on all platforms at the same time.

This meant that Joakim didn't feel good about starting a new project yet - after all, the previous one wasn't even properly out the door. But also, it wasn't obvious whether marketing the game would make sense right at this point - it was just a tiny bit too early. So he mostly spent the days drawing, and trying to get his life back. At one point in the interview, Joakim voiced his frustration with developers being so excited about the game they're making, that they lose all balance: working 7-day-weeks, stepping away from all social life. He was of course talking about himself. 

Developing a project for seven years is a crazy amount of time, but Joakim might have needed even longer if he'd worked five-day-weeks. Who knows. His specific limbo of course also meant that for all the work he poured into this labor of love, it was entirely unclear how it would perform economically. Joakim was humble here as well: he mostly would like to continue developing his own games full-time. He isn't interested in expanding the studio size - he loves to do it all on his own.

I'm planning on releasing the full interview in podcast-form, but it will take a while to get this done. The recording wasn't intended for this - yet it would let you hear way more of Joakim's movement of thoughts than is possible in the ten-minute-video edit above.

Stay tuned!

Getting to know Joakim Sandberg

Also, do check out this self-produced video showing how Konjak actually develops his games.

Background Info: How this interview came to be

Patrick Wagner of Black Heart Press (also: Twitter) and me are long-term friends. Several years ago, his unique printmaking expertise and passion for passing on his knowledge got him the job of running the lithography workshop at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Apart from being an inspirational individual, he's also known professionally for his long-standing focus on collaborative work practices. Because of this, we collaborated several times over the years (there's even this verry long interview with him, which I published some years ago. Check it out, it contains LOADS of his works).

This autumn, Patrick hired me to co-host a student workshop about the amazing Polargraph - a wall-mounted DIY-plotter invented by Edinburg-based industrial designer Sandy Noble. Patrick and me have each been using the Polargaph in our artistic practices for some years. Patrick was interested in teaching his students printing practices that didn't necessarily involve the hugely expensive infrastructures of a print shop - so he envisioned the "Rise of the Machines" Polargraph workshop.

Polargraph, installed in my studio (Vienna)
Two Polargraph-based works by Christian Bazant-Hegemark (top: oil colors; bottom: ink)
Skeleton Etching by Patrick Wagner
Patrick Wagner with a Skeleton Polagraph print

It was because of this workshop that I happened to be in Stockholm at all, and it was there that I realized that Joakim didn't live too far away. So if it wouldn't have been for Patrick, this video wouldn't have happened - because upon asking, he kindly agreed to let me visit Joakim Sandberg for a day, meaning one day less attendance at the workshop - for which he actually flew me in.

I'm not sure Patrick knows how grateful I am for his support, which is why I'm writing about it here.

In addition, this leads nicely to three more #ondoubt collaborations that happened, but haven't been published yet: of course I also interviewed Patrick for this project. A little later I found myself in Edinburg to interview Cara Ellison (a well-established videogame critic and developer; Wikipedia) - once there, I realized that this was also where Polargraph's Sandy Noble lived - so I met him as well, and got insights about the process that led to him developing the Polargraph. 

It's all connected =)

Sandy Noble (inventor of the Polargraph), in Edinburgh
Cara Ellison, whom I also interviewed when in Edinburgh
Share Full Article to...