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Eskil Steenberg: Love Maker

"I am an entire team! I've had to be an entire team."

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...

Welcome to Love's impressionist style world.
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.

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Robert Purchese

Associate Editor

Bertie is a synonym for Eurogamer. Writes, podcasts, looks after the Supporter Programme. Talks a lot.