Interview by Nicholas “SmugeeBear” McDonald
There have been a slew of titles for the Gameboy recently in development, two examples are being published by Incube8 games. They have been previously previewed by myself they were Infinity and The Machine, the latter being developed by Ben Jelter. The Machine which started development in 2020 is now available for pre order and there is a demo version of the game available for download at https://www.themachinegame.com/. But also I was able to talk to Mr. Jelter about the game itself and some other topics which actually provided some insight into the development process, also I would like to disclose that while I was previewing the press build of The Machine I helped regarding some bugs I came across.
NM – Nicholas “SmugeeBear” McDonald
BJ – Ben Jelter
NM: I would like to Introduce you to Mr. Ben Jelter, who is an illustrator based in San Francisco California. Who has self published three graphic novels and is a fan of science, science fiction and
surreal and sequential art and illustration and currently teaches illustration at a college level.
NM: Ben what made you get into game design? Because I see you have titles on benjelter.itch.io,
also what tools did you use which you first started out?
BJ: I mainly got into it because I like games a lot, and I finally figured I might be able to pull it off after discovering some easier to use game engines. They were GB Studio and GDevelop. GB Studio I learned in a day and made a game it’s really much easier than other stuff I’ve tried! GDevelop I discovered after GB Studio when I was looking for something similar for non-Game Boy games.
I tried to make games on my graphing calculator but I only ever managed to edit games. I drew some pictures on it though. At that time I never in a million years imagined that I’d be able to make games some day. I’d draw fantasy games on paper though, I remember wanting to make a Sonic game. Where all of the characters had to help each other reach places with tails flying, Sonic going fast, and Knuckles climbing etc.
NM: Sonic Heroes? Ha-ha.
BJ: No way they stole my idea? Ha-ha, Knuckles Chaotix was a pretty similar game too. Ha-ha.
NM: But what inspired you to create THE MACHINE?
BJ: I guess I actually had the idea before discovering GB Studio, I conceived of it as a GBA game. I just thought it would be cool to have a game that takes place entirely inside of this giant vehicle, and I wanted to show all of the inner workings.
NM: I was going to say THE MACHINE and it’s inner workings does have a bio mechanical feel that’s slightly Giger-esque. But also the sociopolitical atmosphere of the world of the machine feels a bit like the science fiction novel and film Metropolis, were they any inspiration? Or was it a
BJ: I definitely like body horror/biomechanical stuff a lot. You’ll see it in much of my work. I have a lot of different inspiration. Mutants in cartoons from the 90s, Dali, Giger etc. I actually have not seen Metropolis. I’m a fan of books that have a similar vibe though. The penultimate truth is a really interesting one. But actually the dystopia is primarily inspired by reality. There’s a myth that if a person had just made different choices they would be better off or that if you were in power you could make a difference… So in the machine I wanted to show how the system itself is the problem by allowing you to try to change things from all of these different positions. THE MACHINE is the system which is the real antagonist.
NM: I was going to say during my play-through of THE MACHINE, there was a different ways to
effect the outcome of the story of the protagonist. Where certain parts of it did actually strike a
chord with some parts of my life that happened to me. But it seems like there’s a series of systems in THE MACHINE that’s antagonistic. I was going to say how the game has differences in how the story pans out, does seem to play into the myth that you’ve mentioned?
BJ: Yeah I think that most games are a sort of wish fulfilment but the way in which they feel totally unrealistic is that your decisions completely control the outcome. You are like a God, so since the world never acts without your input in a video game it doesn’t feel like a real world. It feels like a game. Which were the parts that you could relate to most?
NM: I could definitely relate to the main character Girt when got booted out into the reality of working and I felt lost for a time. I ended up working for a parcel delivery company sorting boxes ironically, where the communications worker union was trying to get a union in that company for years. A bit in the play-through where Girt wanted to be an artist struck a cord also because I used to do art, ceramics and graphics design in school but ended up failing a few of them. So I just ended up reminiscing on the “What if?” things were different but also I have met a few Jerks like the character Terp in my life too ha-ha.
BJ: It’s funny I think lots of people can relate to struggling to survive, wanting to make art and having bad bosses but to literally have the experience of sorting boxes is a whole other level! But in our world there are a LOT of boxes to be sorted. We have so many amazon fulfilment centres here in the USA and they are brutal body/soul crushing places, Oddworld was also a big inspiration.
NM: There’s the political aspect of THE MACHINE because the game also takes place during an election between the MAWA and VOLF parties, and the people and institutions that support and fund them behind the scenes.
BJ: Yeah I wanted that to be a cool part of the game, where it can be in the background or central to your story depending on your role.
NM: That does seem cool and adds variety compared to other games where the story is just set in one way or the choices seem somewhat artificial.
NM: What inspired the music of THE MACHINE and the collaboration with Lunchz? Also how did Incube8 Games get involved, being that the machine is getting a physical release? Because I know they are involved with another game boy game called Infinity and a few other titles. Especially with the recently surge and interest in new titles on older platforms.
BJ: Well I have collaborated with him many times before. He has just the required skills to make GB music. Good with music and programming. Incube8 games are publishing the game. We also have a partnership with Spacebot Interactive too. They help with everything from manufacturing to promotion. Yeah the amount of interest in and modding old Game boys is very popular now too! Along with handheld devices that emulate Game Boy are also exploding in popularity.
NM: What are your favourite Game Boy/GBC games?
BJ: Donkey Kong ’94, Mole Mania, Tetris, Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, Samurai Kid, All 3 Zelda games, and Mr. Driller. I’m impressed that they managed to get Mr. Driller working on GBC! It has so many moving pieces, I think Metal Gear really showed off what the system was capable of but sadly they stopped making GBC games after that.
NM: The GBC is an interesting little machine
BJ: To be honest I didn’t like it as much as my Game boy pocket at the time. The GBP had such a nice high contrast screen. But playing the games now with a backlight is awesome.
NM: To be honest I’ve been very surprised by THE MACHINE and I really enjoyed the preview of the game and I really do hope a wider audience gets to enjoy it.
BJ: You mean as in people who do not play Game Boy games?
NM: I would say people who might have not been around when the Game Boy was a thing so it could be seen as an interesting gateway. But also people who might not necessarily buy newly developed titles for older systems because they might be more interested in retro titles, if that makes sense.
BJ: Oh no it does make sense definitely. I know it’s a niche but I am also a small relatively unknown developer so I am hoping to be able to get more attention within the niche. I’m also trying not to bite off more than i can chew because I know a lot of game devs do that and spin their wheels forever.
NM: That’s understandable. I’ve seen that happen a few times, where they’ve went to Kickstarter and it just went wrong where people ended up stung.
BJ: Oh yeah I never do a Kickstarter until I’m basically done with something. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I couldn’t fulfil it or refund the money. I am not used to working with a publisher and I’ve made the mistake of posting something on twitter before they wanted to reveal it so I have to check with them before I tell you certain things I think or else I might screw up the promo. As you can tell I am pretty new to all this.
NM: Kind of ties into with part of THE MACHINE where the character seems beholden to the rules and whims of others in some instances.
BJ: Ha-ha yeah true! Told you its based on reality- but I think Incube8 is a good partner. They really understand the themes of THE MACHINE.
NM: That’s nice you have a publisher that understands the themes of the game and I hope the partnership goes well. I really enjoyed talking to you Ben and I really enjoyed what I played and I do wish all the best for THE MACHINE.
If you would like to see more of Ben Jelter’s work, you can see his illustrations and sketchbook and other projects at https://www.benjelter.com. For his gaming related works take a look at https://benjelter.itch.io/. Finally if you’re interested in THE MACHINE then take a look at https://incube8games.com.