GamerFitNation interview’s Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment.
Klei Entertainment is an award-winning game development studio based in beautiful Yaletown, Vancouver, BC. Starting from our humble beginnings as a garage operation, we are now a collection of world-class developers responsible for Shank, as well as the cult-classic Eets and Eets: Chowdown.
GFN- Where did you get the idea for the name of your company?
JC- It’s more like “How did I finally find a name that I could find the domain name for that wasn’t taken?” Originally, we wanted to use “Clay Entertainment,” to represent the molding of creativity into something solid, but we couldn’t get the rights to that name. So we stuffed the name into Babel Fish and started translating it into other languages. Klei is pronounced almost the same way, and is Dutch for clay.
GFN- Klei has been around for a little over 5 years now. When it comes to building a game, what has changed and what has stayed the same? Are there things that have gotten easier or difficult?
JC- There’s very little that has stayed the same. Everything from the number of people on a project, to the base technologies that are available, to even the best practices have been evolving rapidly.
It’s very hard to point to specific things that are easier or more difficult, because type and scale of games we’re making now is so different, but I can easily say that things are easier now. It used to be just 3 dudes in a basement, and everything was fast, nimble, but also extremely haphazard. Today we still have a lot of speed as a small studio, but we also have a much better process, a breadth of expertise, and people we love to work with.
GFN- As far as conceptualizing a game goes, do the character sketches come before the storyline, or is it the other way around?
JC- The usually come in tandem, and one affects the other. Recently, I had a conversation with Marianne (or writer), and she mentioned how the concepts of characters would spark inspiration for the story, and conversely as the story evolves, a character would be created in the mind and would then be translated as a sketch.
GFN- In regards to Eets, many reviewers have found it reminiscent of Lemmings and The Incredible Machine. Did you have these games in mind during development, or did the similarities between yours and those other games just arrive on their own?
JC- The Incredible Machine was definitely in the forefront of our minds when creating Eets — we thought of it as a way to interact with your contraption after you’ve built the masterpiece. My memory is slightly hazy, but I believe the Lemmings analogy came later as people would consistently use that reference when playtesting the game.
GFN- A long time ago, Klei had a little hand in making possibly one of the most downloaded Xbox Live Arcade games of all time. For what, exactly, were you guys responsible during your time with N+?
JC- N+ had just two developers throughout development, with Metanet, the original creators of N, building levels. One developer was Nick Waanders, who runs Slick Entertainment, and the other is Chris Costa, who is a fantastic coder at Klei. We did a co-production between Klei and Slick, and Nick led the project. Confusing, I know.
GFN- Is there any noticeable difference between developing games for PC, XBLA, and the Playstation Network? Or is every game built with the same frame of mind?
JC- There’s always a large amount of platform specific work that needs to go into each, and we are mindful of the different experiences that each gives. For example, between the PSN and XBLA, we swapped the positioning of the shoulder buttons due to the natural tendency of players on the respective systems.
So the short answer is yes — there’s a noticeable difference, but from a larger, bird’s eye view we keep things pretty consistent across platforms.