INTERVIEW: Rami Ismail Discusses Meditations (Part One)

Monday, January 14th, 2019

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Meditations | Logo

This is Part One of a Three Part Interview.

You can read Part Two here and Part Three here

Rami Ismail is the co-founder (along with Jan Willem “JW” Nijman) of Vlambeer, a Dutch indie studio that erupted onto the indie development scene in 2010. Since that time, he has not only helped created games such as Super Crate BoxRidiculous Fishing, and (most recently) Nuclear Throne, but he won the GDC 2018 Ambassador Award for his work in supporting independent game development.

On New Year’s Day 2019, he announced on Twitter a new video game project called Meditations. He explained that every day for a year, a new game would appear in the Meditations launcher that would take just a few minutes to complete and would only be available for that day. Once that day passed, a new game by a different creator would take its place in the Meditations launcher.

I reached out to Rami just after the project went live to set up an interview with him, and he agreed to delay the interview for a few days so I could experience several of the different Meditations games available. This interview occurred on January 10, 2019 – or, in other words, after the first ten Meditations games were made available to play. During our time together, we spoke about the origins of Meditations and how he envisioned it to be, the controversy that arose about how the developers were being credited and his reactions to it, if there will be a February 29th game for when Meditations repeats over again next year, and more.

In Part One, we talk about the origins of the Meditations project, what it was like working with so many different developers to bring the project to life, and the aesthetic choices he made for the project.

You can check out Rami Ismail at both his and Vlambeer‘s official websites. You can tweet him on Twitter, follow him on Facebook, and subscribe to him on Twitch.

You can download the Meditations launcher for Windows and OSX platforms for free on Meditations’ official website. The official Twitter hashtag for Meditations is #meditationgames.


This interview has been edited for clarity and content.

Operation Rainfall: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?

Rami Ismail: Yeah, of course. I am Rami Ismail, a Dutch-Egyptian game developer based in the Netherlands. I am one-half of a Dutch independent game studio called Vlambeer. We are the creators of games such as Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers, and Nuclear Throne. [What] all of those games have in common [is] that they are pretty minimalist, arcade-y games that always try [to] do something that no game has done before. So we try to find a new spin or a new way of looking at a genre or even try to create a [new] genre of its own.

Besides that, I am a world traveler and a developer advocate. I travel the world, going to places that most people don’t think of when they think of game development. I try and see what kind of game development exists there, and how we can support it as an industry. And beyond that, I create tools for independent developers that they can use for free. Most of the stuff I work on is entirely free- and that includes tools such as presskit(),which is a free tool for developers to help them build press kits, [as it is] something that is rather difficult [to do] if you’re just starting out. I [also] distribute some upcoming projects that aren’t announced yet.

But I try to balance my work as a game creator and my work as somebody who wants other people to create games. And that’s kind of what my life has been for the past decade.

OR: What [are] Meditations games?

RI: So Meditations is a launcher. It is a file that you can download from the internet, and basically what it will do is [that] it will serve you a different, small, maximum five-minute game without text in it that is created by a unique creator. So every day has a different creator. It’s inspired by that particular day. And the launcher will only ever give you the game for the day that it currently is. So if you boot the launcher – if you launch the launcher today- you’ll get a different game than if you launch it tomorrow. And there is no way to play tomorrow’s game, there is no way to play yesterday’s game. It is very much about today and what today means to somebody and the world.

So if you boot it up today, you get a game by Cullen Dwyer about his dog that passed away on January 10th.  And it’s a very cute little game about throwing a ball, and a ghost dog that slowly disappears. So you throw the ball, the dog – you as the dog- brings it back to the hand, and both the hand and the dog slowly disappearing. You can just throw the ball until they’re both gone, and I guess the memory fades a little. And I just – it’s a very poignant little game. It’s not a big triple-A production, it’s not super difficult platformers.

They’re thoughts, right? They’re thoughts translated into games.

And some creators are more mechanical, which means they’ll create mechanical games. And some developers are more experiential, which means [they’ll] make more experiential games. Some games are very personal, some are less so. Some are very clearly inspired by the day, some are less so. So it’s very varied palate of games [that] you’ll get each day, and you’ll never know what feeling, what thought, it’ll leave you with. But that’s kind of what Meditations is.


“Obviously, of course, diversity– in all its forms- is a huge part of what I believe in. So it was definitely a consideration to try and not have just have three-hundred-and-sixty-five similar developers making games [for Meditations].”


OR: So how did this project originate? Where did it come from, when did you start developing it?

RI: So it originated in 2017. I was browsing this website called itch.io – it’s a game store that love[s] more experimental game development. It’s similar to Steam or Epic Games store in that you can go there and buy games, but it’s very different in that everybody can upload their games to itch.io, and they can do it both for free or for a fee. So a lot of the smaller, experimental stuff that people don’t necessarily feel they should charge for, or people who just want to not deal with money, or people who feel that ‘pay what you want’ scheme is more fair, put their games up on itch.io. And one of the things I always really liked about them was that they have this function called the ‘Randomizer’, which serves you random games. So every few weeks or so, I’ll go to itch.io and download all the stuff that’s high in the charts [and] play all of that. And then [I’ll] just click through the Randomizer for like an hour or two, just to see what’s happening in this more experimental part of the games industry- just to a) stay up to date, b) maybe find some interesting developers whose work I’ll follow, or c) if there is anything I can do to help developers that have games that have a lot of potential. And [also to] just do something fun. Those games are always super interesting and inspiring and an incredible use of our medium.

So, one of these days in late 2017, I played a little game called TEMPRES, which was a tiny [and] little puzzle game. Very minimalist. Very clever. And the premise of the game was to slow the player down. So you had to click ten times, but between each click, there had to be more time [that passed]. So it slowed you down. You have to go slower and slower and slooooower. I played that somewhere in the morning in December 2017, and I just – it had such an effect on my day. I was thinking about this game all day because it was so clever, and because it slowed me down at the start of my day. Normally, my day starts very active, right? What is the news, what should I do, how is social media, how is work, when’s my first meeting, do I have flights today – that’s my normal day. And this day just started with ‘How do I solve this? What is the solution? What if I try this? Oh, I need to slow down.’ And it was such a different start. I just ended up kind of thinking ‘What if this little game by Tak– what if I had a game like this for every day? A game that changes the color of the day?’

So I thought about that for a few weeks, and eventually this idea came up- that I can actually do that. It’s not impossible – it’s ridiculous. Why would it be impossible? I have a large network in the game industry and a lot of interesting developers. If I can convince 365 developers to make a small little game, then it should be possible.

So I started working on that, and the first e-mail I sent for Meditations  was on January 6, 2018 to Tak, the developer of TEMPRES, [asking] if I could use their game as a January 1st game. And that’s where it started.

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This was the January 1 game for Meditations, titled TEMPRES and developed by Tak. In order to complete the game, the player had to wait just a little bit longer in between each successive click. The bars in the second and third image show how long of a delay there was (or wasn’t) between clicks.

OR: At GDC 2018, you led the #1reasontobe panel, and you talked about how you attempted to bring a speaker from each non-Western territory in the world to speak at the panel. [You did this] by providing a visa invitation letter, room and board, and ensuring that the speaker felt safe and comfortable speaking.

RI: Yes.

OR: At your panel’s opening, you talked about how eleven speakers were ultimately invited, and five of those visa applications were ultimately rejected.

RI: Yep.

OR: In just the first ten days of Meditations, we’ve experienced titles from developers from all around the world. For example, Egor Dorichev from Russia did January 4th’s Meditations game, Ludipe from Spain did January 5th’s title, Kirsten Naidoo from South Africa created January 9th’s selection, and Adriel Wallick in the Netherlands developed the [one] for January 2nd.

Was this international array of developers purposeful for Meditations, like it for your GDC 2018 panel?

RI: So, part of that is absolutely purposeful. The other part is just that I find that if you look for experimental developers more than the more triple-A developers, that you [will] find them all over the world anyway. They’re not – so larger projects, developers tend to be clustered around places that facilitate large development, right? Countries that have triple-A presence. For a lot of independent developers, the same goes. Even if we like to think of independent development as an international thing, especially without how competitive it’s been getting, economically – you find that the main countries [for independent developers are ones] that have good social support or that have good structure for independent development to grow [in] or [that] have existing structures [for independent developers] to attach to. For experimental game development, you find that everywhere on the planet. People just making games because they want to say something interesting, they want to do something interesting. And you see a lot of attempts to change that into commercial industry, but those are not always successful, just because of the limitations not being the structural part of independent games.

So yes, part of that is intentional. Part of it that just also happened because we weren’t looking necessarily for people who make games making money, we were looking for people who we believed could do interesting work. Some of those people that haven’t released a game yet, they’re in development of their first game. And we just said ‘What if you made a small game for us, six hours of work, no more? Make something small, make something interesting. And release that with us, and then you’ll have finished a thing, and that’ll be cool.’

So yeah, it kind of varies. Obviously, of course, diversity– in all its forms- is a huge part of what I believe in. So it was definitely a consideration to try and not have just have three-hundred-and-sixty-five similar developers making games [for Meditations].

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January 6th’s Meditation was by Bertine van Hövell tot Westerflier. In order to play Meditations game, the player must move the puzzle pieces around (they do not need to be rotated) to fill the frame correctly as the time on the phone’s clock continues to move forward. Once the puzzle is completed, the player must wait for the timer on the clock circulating around to hit a particular unknown time. At that point, fireworks will go off with people cheering “Woo Hoo!” in the background.

Read on more about Meditations and the conversations Rami Ismail had with the Developers on Page Two —>

About Quentin H.

Likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And video games. Cannot forget those video games. Anime too. Should not forget that either.


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