In the days before MineCraft, another Swedish MMO (loosely defined) ruled the roost: Love. Constructed by one man, Love is a watercolour world of base-building, co-operation and conflict, all presided over by an alarmingly sophisticated AI. What takes entire teams of developers days to create can be knocked up by Love maker Eskil Steenberg effortlessly, thanks to an arsenal of powerful, home-grown, time-saving developer tools. As an example of what one man can achieve, Love is awe-inspiring.
But while Minecraft exploded, Eskil Steenberg and Love shrank away from the public eye. He has been beavering quietly for more then six months making what he considers a third expansion. He refined, he stabilised, he added tutorials, and now Love is back and Eskil Steenberg wants to shout about it.
Eurogamer: Love has changed in four years. Have you?
Eskil Steenberg: My game has gone a lot further than anyone else has in terms of really building a simulated environment. Look at Halo and you have really interesting environments and guns and physics. Put a bunch of players in and weird stuff will just happen by chance. But there's no sort of intelligence. The physics engine doesn't just give a light breeze so the Warthog can float over here and then explode. It has to come from the players and the physics.
I've built a system where you give the players the ability to control it and also have a secret hand that makes everything better. I wanted to build something where you don't know what's going to happen, nobody knows. The game is being designed while you play it. I've got a lot further than anyone else has because I've built this intelligence into it. But it's incredibly hard to do it.
I give my game a B- in a genre no one else has gotten a D in. But there are other genres where people have got A+s. Take a look at Super Mario Galaxy, that's an A+ game in my mind. What I'm doing is way beyond that in difficulty, but difficulty doesn't mean you succeed.
The players of my game have gotten to a point the general public will get to: they'll play a game like mine - maybe mine - and they'll go back and play something scripted and say, "Oh my god this is so archaic." It's like if you play Dragon's Lair today - I'm not controlling it, it's all fake.
Eurogamer: Is Love in the same genre as World of Warcraft?
Eskil Steenberg: No not at all. I'm in a completely different genre. I'm trying to do something completely different. What they're doing is limiting what you do. You follow, you grind upwards. They're going for a psychological...
Eurogamer: ...Hook? Is it intended?
Eskil Steenberg: I talk to them and they say they don't. But I'm not sure I believe them. There's got to be a point at Blizzard where they create some achievement for collecting a million things and somebody in the room says, 'This is f***ing moronic!' And then someone else will say, 'Yep, but they'll eat it up!' and then in it goes. They are smart enough to know that. Blizzard knows what they're doing. They're trying to do that but they're also trying to be nice about it and do a good experience. Zynga is only trying to do that. But they're trying to make an addictive game; they're talking to psychologists about how to manipulate people, of course they are.
[Character progression was] something we talked about and I actually implemented some stuff. And I just didn't like it. It's something you should do if you want to make money because you get that hook. But I was never interested in making my players addicts.
I feel a lot of game companies, that's their main goal. I've never wanted that. I want to make a casual-hardcore game not a hardcore-casual game. I wanted to make a game you can play hardcore for 20 minutes, rather than make the kind of Zynga games that are super simple but people play a hardcore amount of time with.
Eurogamer: Love launched after a long beta last March. Have you had success?
Eskil Steenberg: In terms of project, yes, it's been a huge success, because it was never intended to make me rich. The goal was I wanted to do something I loved, and that's how the name came. I could have gotten a job anywhere pretty much, but I wasn't interested - I didn't think anyone did anything interesting. After four years I can say I have done something really interesting. I don't really care that much what other people think about it. I'm super happy I have some happy players and get feedback. If you make money that's really the icing, but that's not what it's about. It's about making something you feel good about. It's really about the work.
You don't have to like games to be a great game developer, you have to love making games. If you want to be an astronaut you have to love training to be an astronaut - you have to love science, because chances are you'll never go to space. And if you go to space you'll have 10 years of training for 10 days in space. You have to love the actual act of doing what you do. If you get to go to the White House and shake the President's hand - nice bonus. But it can't be about that. If that's what it's all about, there are other ways.
Eurogamer: How many people play Love?
Eskil Steenberg: I don't know, but there's usually at least... There are hundreds of people on right now.
Eurogamer: And how many people pay?
Eskil Steenberg: Right now it's somewhere around there - a few hundred.
More is always better, but I don't think in terms of projections. There are two important things: I want people to experience it because I built it, and I want it to pay for the servers so I can keep running it for the people who want to play it. That's my main concern.
I've worked seven days a week for the last four years. I live in a tiny apartment that's really cheap. I don't want a penthouse, I don't have a driver's licence so there's not going to be any Ferraris. I really don't have any interest in money. If you're a programmer and you have a screen a computer and a keyboard, you can make whatever you want. You can't buy anything that makes you a better programmer. It doesn't matter.
It's an amazing community. When you get a new player in, you don't want to kill a player, you want to help him get more tokens - you want to teach him, be nice to him, because the better player he is, the more stuff you get. That means the community is incredibly nice and friendly. The community is pretty amazing that way. But it is my design I have to say.
Eurogamer: How long can Love go on for?
Eskil Steenberg: It can go on forever. I make enough money off of it to live off of it.
Eurogamer: And are you happy, creatively, working on one project?
Eskil Steenberg: No. Not at all.
Eurogamer: Are you making anything else?
Eskil Steenberg: Yes and no. I'm probably going to start a new project and it's probably going to be an RTS game.
Eurogamer: Will it be radically different to Love?
Eskil Steenberg: Yeah it will be. The thing about Love is it's so expansive it's very hard to think of games I can't do in Love. It's a shooter, it's an adventure game, it's a building game...
Eurogamer: Is there an element you'd like to take further?
Eskil Steenberg: Actually no. Here's how Love is going to develop: the idea right now is not to make it larger but to make it finer and add small things, details, polish. There are so many systems in the game already it's enough for sure.
Eurogamer: Will Love ever be complete?
Eskil Steenberg: That's tricky. In some ways it is complete now. In other ways it's never going to be complete. There's always another stage, there's always more you can do. I'm pretty happy where it is right now.
There are some things that make me sad about the game. The saddest part about the game is I don't know how to make a new game. I've done something so complicated, I've gone to the bleeding edge of what is possible, and I can't think of a way to do it better. If you build an aeroplane and you try to make it go faster, eventually you're going to realise that propellers just won't do it, because propellers break when the tips go faster than the speed of sound. And then you have to go to a jet. I've reached the end of the propeller and I don't know what the jet is. In order to go to the moon you need to go to the jet to the rocket and then to the moon.
There's a good bit of propeller left so I don't need to throw it out yet. Somewhere out there, there may be a jet. It may not be there, but if it's not there than that's a really scary thought. I'm scared because I don't see anyone else following me. Blizzard isn't doing the game that is going to make Love look like ancient technology or crap. I don't see anyone else doing it. I look at all the games out there and they're not pushing the envelope further. That's kind of sad.
Eurogamer: At what point in your career do you think people will call you a genius?
Eskil Steenberg: I think they've already done that, unfortunately.
Eurogamer: Do you think you are?
Eskil Steenberg: I don't know. I don't believe in that. I don't think it works like that.
I don't understand IQ, because whoever thought that the entire brain could be summed up by a number - that person shouldn't want there to be a way to measure intelligence. I don't like that term about anybody. Somehow it feels like simplifying the world a little bit.