Meet the Expedition Team: Jens

Hey there, fellow adventurers! I am Jens, living in Kiel in northern Germany. I founded Off The Beaten Track a while back with the clear goal of creating games that tell their own stories and building an awesome and safe place to work for all our team members.

Firewatch

Favorite Game

I have been tinkering with video games for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first design document for my own Tomb Raider game in fourth grade and programmed my first game when I was 11 years old. The game that first made me realize the narrative potential of the medium was Heavy Rain on the PS3. It’s not a perfect game at all, but it showed that we can tell emotional stories and don’t have to rely on action-y mechanics.

I’d also like to use this space to express my deep love for Hamilton.

Background

I worked on my first commercial games during high school. Back then, Flash was still cool and I programmed some online multiplayer games (pool and tic tac toe) for a Lebanese social media platform called SEELebanon that no longer exists. I also programmed games like Pirate Pub Pool, which was the first game to use the Nuggeta multiplayer technology, which also no longer exists. Then I briefly worked as a Flash game programmer for beefjack.com. Back then they had their own Flash game portal which, you guessed it, no longer exists. Eventually I started studying Computer Science at the University of Kiel and most of these endeavors went to sleep.

Until some day I was contacted by Roland Ariens, a game designer from the Netherlands with whom I worked with at beefjack. We started working on a “simple 2D sidescroller” that we wanted to finish in two weeks over the Christmas holidays.

Fast forward four years, the project had grown into a monstrosity of feature-creep, level-editors, and partial ports to platforms like the OUYA, Playstation Mobile, and others. Titled “Armor Kings”, it was my primary learning experience through most of my computer science Bachelor’s studies. We programmed a custom game engine, complete with node-based AI editors etc, and I learned so much! It was grand, I learned more than at the University. But eventually it had to end, or we would still be working on it, adding new feature after feature.

https://twitter.com/influjensbahr/status/1250819893068476419

At the time I already knew that I wanted to start my own studio. When I finished my Master’s degree in Computer Science, I looked for local artists to form a new studio. We founded Storyyeller Games and came up with Clockworld, a team and gamedev-project that is still going but I left in 2016.

Back then it felt like we were the only game developers in our state of Schleswig-Holstein. A belief that couldn’t be farther from the truth – there are a ton of super-awesome people here who are working on cool games! We just didn’t know each other. This is why I co-founded IFgameSH, an initiative that organizes meetups and gamejams in our local area. In 2018 I also joined the game association, which I since serve as one of three regional representatives for Schleswig-Holstein.

One of our IFgameSH gamejams. You can spot Ines and Felix here before they joined OTBT!

Eventually, I founded Off The Beaten Track, where I worked on my own for a while. I had a small job at the university as the programmer of the RuneS-project, which paid the bills. But I knew: if I wanted to get anywhere with my game development endeavors, I would need a team. Thanks to a funding program in Germany that started in 2019 I was able to scale the team up from one to four, enabling Ines, Felix, and Patrick to join. I had met Ines, Felix, and later Jannik through our IFgameSH-events, which is another great argument for joining or organizing local gamedev networks!

What I do

As the founder of the company, there is a lot of stuff I do that doesn’t immediately influence the game. Stuff like bookkeeping and filing our taxes is important, but that’s not what you came here for.

So my main job in The Cost of Recovery is bringing the world and characters to life. I do a lot of work on animating our characters (I am also the one wearing the motion capture suit) and programming systems like our facial animation system which works procedurally and might be subject of another post on this blog. So when you see Abigail blinking and Liam smiling, that’s because I programmed them to do so.

I am also the one who came up with the idea and story, is writing all the dialogue, designs most of the gameplay sequences, assembles and chooses all the concepts and who reviews everything before it goes into the game. All that has the goal of creating a game that follows a succinct and consistent vision. That sounds like a very fun job, and I love it, but it also means a lot of work, many many meetings and saying “no” to more cool ideas than I’d like to. Because as much as I’d love to add more cool features to the game, I also have to remember the lessons I learned in the past and make sure that this project will be finished at some point and not turn into another “Armor Kings”.

Maybe most importantly though I am the one who leads this company. I want this to be a safe, creative space for all our team members and coming up with principles and systems how we can achieve that is important to me. My teammates might sometimes curse me for my wild ideas like “let’s define our five core team values!”-workshops, but I believe that things like that are important to keep everyone together and to create an environment where everyone feels at home and where everyone’s voice counts.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain

If you’re interested, feel free to follow me on Twitter as @influjensbahr or reach out some other way if you have questions! 🙂

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