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1283 interviews since 2009

A picture of Joost van Dongen

Joost van Dongen

Game developer, cello player, co-founder (Ronimo Games)

in developer, game, musician, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Joost van Dongen, a Dutch game developer. I am co-founder of Ronimo Games, the indie studio behind the award-winning downloadable games Swords & Soldiers and Awesomenauts. We released these games on all kinds of platforms, like Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. I am the lead programmer at Ronimo and lead a team of, currently, five programmers.

In my spare time I also make games, but more experimental ones. I made the abstract racing game Proun and am currently working on Cello Fortress, a weird combination of a computer game and a live cello performance, with which I am already doing live gigs at the moment.

I am also an amateur cellist. I currently play in the Kunstorkest, a baroque orchestra. I also like to visit jamsessions to improvise and rock on my cello.

Finally, I write weekly about game development on my blog: "Joost's Dev Blog". I try to write in-depth articles about all sides of game development there, from programming to art to music to game design and even marketing and creative philosophy. To my surprise, people really seem to like the diversity and depth of the articles, which is nice, because that is what I like to write about most!

What hardware do you use?

My most important tool is just two normal Windows 7 PCs, one at home and one at work. There is not all that much to say about these, except that the videocard is important. At Ronimo I have a rather old and crappy videocard, so that I am constantly slapped in the face by low performance if our games don't run well enough. At home I have a very fast videocard, since I also like to play videogames there, and since I do the more advanced graphics programming for my hobby projects I need a videocard with all the latest features. I also have a Zepto laptop with Windows XP, which I use when performing with Cello Fortress.

My other important tool is my cello. It is just a normal factory cello, I think from South Korea, but it is also My Cello (tm). I chose it from a bunch of cellos in my early teens, and I have been in love with its sound ever since. Since it isn't a very expensive cello, I suppose others will not be greatly impressed by it, but I wouldn't be willing to swap it for another for all the gold in the world. A musician has found his right instrument if he has a bonding with it, and I definitely have with mine! My cello has a really deep, warm sound, even for a cello, since it is apparently built slightly oddly with the sound post slightly in the wrong position.

To capture the sound of my cello for recording, for live effects or to control Cello Fortress, I have two microphones. If I know there will be a lot of noise around (like a drummer sitting next to me) I use a piezo element. I think it is from the brand Shadow, but I have been using it for over ten years now and can't really remember. It sounds horribly flat, but it hardly picks up anything except for my cello, so it can go really loud in live situations.

If I need high quality sound, I use a Samson C01U USB microphone. It is not a studio quality microphone, but for my needs it is good enough and I am very happy with how well it captures the warm sound of my cello.

My other important tool is my little blue A5 notebook. It is just a little book with several hundred white pages. I fill it with tiny scribblings on any ideas I might have. I have filled a bunch of these throughout the years and there are so many ideas in them, that I could easily spend the next ten years making the cool stuff described in there. Somehow inspiration and ideas are never the problem, but time to execute them always is!

I also have an M-Audio Oxygen 49 MIDI keyboard. Being a cellist only, I can't really play anything complex on the keyboard, but it is great for quickly trying out melodies and instruments. I hope to learn to actually play it well at some point, but it is already great as a quick little tool while writing music.

Finally, a very special kind of device that few people have access to: devkits. At Ronimo we make console games, and developing for consoles requires special hardware that is only available to licensed developers. I have worked with Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 devkits, and more. It is the dream of most game programmers to work with these, since it feels so much like the Real Deal when working for the big consoles, and since access to them is relatively limited. By now it has gotten kind of normal for me, but I remember how incredibly awesome the first weeks with the Wii devkit were...

And what software?

I do most of my programming in C++ in Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and 2010. There are some extensions to these tools to make them work with console devkits, so I can use them for almost everything.

When I do art, I use a combination of 3D Studio MAX and Adobe Photoshop. I have also developed a number of plugins for 3D Studio MAX to turn it into a level editor for my games. I usually use VRay for lighting.

For simple text editing, I use either Context or Notepad++. I also use that to write shaders, which probably is kind of dumb: there are much better tools around for quickly trying your shaders and stuff like that, but for some reason I keep doing this oldschool in a simple text editor.

Finally, for composing and recording music I use Steinberg Cubase LE AI Elements 6. This is a great tool, but it doesn't really come to life until loads of plugins have been added for specific instruments and sound effects. A particular favourite of mine is Tapeworm, which emulates the sound of a Mellotron. A Mellotron is a strange type of keyboard that was mostly used in the seventies for prog-rock. These devices break down a lot and need constant cleaning, so with this plugin I can get a nice sound and don't need to worry about hardware breaking down!

What would be your dream setup?

I am pretty happy with what I have right now! The only thing I really miss right now is good speakers. I use my old Philips hifi stereo set now, and it distorts the sound quite a bit. It sounds good, but it makes everything so much warmer that I always doubt whether what I made would sound good on anything else. Also, it tends to freak out on certain frequencies, which isn't good either.

Another thing that could improve a lot is my set of instrument plugins for Cubase. This is more of a skill-thing than a setup-thing, though: I still have a lot to learn about audio production and finding the right plugins is part of that process.