Man of the world

Vlam­beer’s well-trav­elled Rami Is­mail on break­ing bar­ri­ers and broad­en­ing gam­ing’s cul­tural range

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Ahead of his De­velop key­note, we talk to Vlam­beer’s Rami Is­mail

Rami Is­mail bids us “good morn­ing” in a voice that be­trays his jet­lagged state. It’s lit­tle won­der he’s tired: three weeks ear­lier, he left his stu­dio in Utrecht, fly­ing to Chicago to take part in a game jam dur­ing the 52-hour train jour­ney from the Windy City to GDC in San Fran­cisco. From there, he vis­ited Bos­ton for PAX, be­fore head­ing to the UK for Rezzed. “My body has no idea what hap­pened to it,” he says. “It’s the phys­i­cal re­cov­ery of do­ing three con­fer­ences back to back, the men­tal syn­chro­ni­sa­tion [of ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to] a time zone you’ve only been in for five days, and the emo­tional read­just­ment from be­ing among peo­ple in the in­dus­try you love to be­ing pretty much alone at home. It’ll take a few days, but I’ve done this be­fore.”

So reg­u­larly is he away from home, in fact, that he’s set up a web­site – www. is­rami­inthenether­lands.com – which tracks his trips or de­tails how many days he’s been back home. Why does he travel so fre­quently? “It is many rea­sons, and it is one rea­son,” he says. “The short an­swer is that I love be­ing part of this in­dus­try. I’m al­ways in­spired by the peo­ple I meet and the peo­ple I know who make games. The longer an­swer is more com­plex, be­cause it varies be­tween show­cas­ing our games at events for mar­ket­ing [pur­poses] or go­ing to events where we can fur­ther the goals of Vlam­beer as a com­pany, from a busi­ness per­spec­tive.”

There’s a more al­tru­is­tic rea­son, too. Is­mail likes to help other de­vel­op­ers when he can, and of­ten that takes him to parts of the world that few other in­dus­try fig­ures have even con­sid­ered vis­it­ing, such as South Amer­ica, Africa and the Mid­dle East, as well as smaller dev com­mu­ni­ties in the con­ti­nen­tal United States or Europe.

To sup­port them, he’s re­cently set up a new project with voiceover artist Sarah El­maleh. Gamedev. world will be a care­fully cu­rated repos­i­tory of con­tent trans­lated into sev­eral lan­guages. “I’ve seen the ef­fects of the lan­guage bar­rier on peo­ple’s abil­ity to be cre­ative and to [earn] a living from mak­ing videogames and I was taken aback by that,” Is­mail ex­plains. “Now, some prob­lems are so big that as a hu­man you don’t dare to have the ar­ro­gance to think you can solve them. And solv­ing the lan­guage bar­rier is not some­thing you can do. But you don’t have to. What you need to do is make sure that the in­for­ma­tion and con­tacts peo­ple need are avail­able in their lan­guage.”

It’s a sim­i­lar deal with two other projects. Presskit() was con­ceived as a way of keep­ing the press ap­praised of Vlam­beer games. Yet con­ver­sa­tions with other indie de­vel­op­ers in­spired Is­mail to re­lease it for free. Soon af­ter­wards came Dis­trib­ute(), an ac­ces­si­ble way for smaller stu­dios to send pre­view code to ver­i­fied me­dia con­tacts.

He’s non­cha­lant about the idea of be­com­ing bet­ter known for th­ese ideas than for Vlam­beer, though he thinks that’s un­likely. “I very much have the at­ti­tude if no­body’s mak­ing some­thing that should ex­ist, then I will make it,” he says. “And to the best of my abil­ity, I’ll make it in such a way that my in­volve­ment with it be­comes re­dun­dant as soon as pos­si­ble. That’s the ul­ti­mate achieve­ment: build­ing some­thing that can sus­tain it­self.”

Is­mail may have only just left the UK, but it’s not long be­fore he’s due back to de­liver a key­note at De­velop in Brighton. Though his speech is likely to touch upon a va­ri­ety of top­ics, he’s keen to dis­cuss the idea of de­vel­op­ers sup­port­ing one an­other to make for a stronger and more wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for new­com­ers. “I think a lot of peo­ple kind of know this,” he says. “But some of the hard­est talks I’ve given have been things that every­body knows but no­body says.”

For Is­mail, De­velop is a more spe­cialised event than the all-things-to-all-peo­ple ap­proach of, say, GDC. “What De­velop does re­ally well is to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that is very safe, very familiar and talks about the things that are rel­e­vant at that point to that par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity. The value a de­vel­oper from Europe or the Bri­tish Isles can get out of De­velop is so much higher than a lot of other events.”

He ad­mits that many over­seas de­vel­op­ers look en­vi­ously upon events such as De­velop, not least thanks to the level of sup­port for the in­dus­try in the UK. He’s im­pressed by its indie scene, too. “The most ex­cit­ing indie game world­wide [ No Man’s Sky] comes from just out­side of Lon­don. Some of the best games of the last few years come from de­vel­op­ers that live some­where in the Bri­tish Isles, like Terry Ca­vanagh’s Su­per Hexagon. And events like the BAF­TAs are amaz­ing: the UK is the coun­try that’s fur­thest ahead in terms of ac­cept­ing games as a very real part of cul­tural ex­pres­sion.”

Be­tween now and De­velop in July there will, of course, be more events, more flights, more up­dates to his web­site. Yet he’s in­sis­tent that the jet­lag is worth it, and that Vlam­beer won’t be ne­glected. “One thing you should know about me,” he laughs, “is that I am an ide­al­ist with a reck­less dis­re­gard for time.”

“The UK is the fur­thest ahead in terms of ac­cept­ing games as a real part of cul­tural ex­pres­sion”

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