At age four Dominic Obojkovits played his first video game, Spyro the Dragon. Now, a mere 16 years later he is the co-founder of games studio Giant Box Games and designer of Pixel Boy, a game that was recently released on Mac, Linux and Windows and will be available on Nintendo and PlayStation consuls in future.
Dominic’s been averaging four hours of sleep per night for the last few weeks. The reason: Pixel Boy has to be flawless. Dominic and his Canadian business partner, David Nickerson, want to find and fix all bugs before introducing it to the world. They have been at it for more than two years. He’s quick to remark though that this most recent stretch of sleep deprivation is nothing compared to the Fellowship Selection Camp where two hours of sleep per night were the norm.
If it took such a short time for Dominic to get to this point of being a successful games designer one wonders what the journey was like and what the next 16 years of that journey might hold. Born in Vienna to parents Karen and Günter, he grew up on a farm in Limpopo. With fine artists for parents Dominic was exposed to creativity and knew he wanted to make things from the time he was in diapers; he recalls playing Legos amidst paint brushes and canvasses.
Artistry, in his view, forms the backbone of many great tech companies. What makes them great, in his opinion, “is not competent programmers … it’s competent designers; I’m giving all the credit to the artists.” It comes as no surprise then that he draws constant parallels between games design and something as artistic as cinematography. He takes Film subjects in addition to his Computer Games Design subjects at the University of Cape Town. Dominic envisions future games being made in the same way that films are made – with a group of creatives. He explains, “In five or ten years I hope to see myself running one of South Africa’s primary game studios … as the director of the studio I’d employ programmers, artists and musicians and then storyboard the idea together and … assemble it there.”
While he has great appreciation for the arts and depends greatly on it to inform his design thinking, Dominic is thankful to have discovered soon enough that his talent lay with computer programming and not the more artsy film directing or comedy writing (avenues he considered seriously for quite a while). That he would end up in a more behind-the-scenes career was evident from the way he played games or watched others play. He recalls, “I’d watch my cousin play … and enjoyed watching how he would interact with the world and then I wanted to create my own world and get that interaction from other people ‘cause I got more joy out of watching people play than I got out of playing myself.”
These early, somewhat removed interactions with games influenced his design of Pixel Boy. His plan was “to create a wold; how you experience it is entirely up to you … with games we actively encourage people to draw different interpretations from the work.” One of the game’s unique features is allowing players to create their own combinations of powerups (one of 94 million), which in gaming terminology means collecting bonuses that gives the player (or, more accurately, the computer character) more strength or firepower. “We gave the creativity of powerup generation to the player … I still see players regularly creating things I’ve never witnessed before.”
What the Foundation calls Personal Initiative – the quality of making things happen and celebrating the satisfaction of bringing new things into being; being independent, proactive and self-starting – is something Dominic Obojkovits has plenty of. Of his association with the Foundation Dominic says, “The Foundation has helped me solidify how I want to move forward ethically and … helped me understand what my purpose is. I know part of that purpose is furthering South Africa.”
Only after he points out that the gaming industry is the most profitable entertainment industry in the world (for example, Grand Theft Auto 5 made $ 800 million on the first day), I understand the significance of his wanting to do business ethically. He explains, “when I create a game it’s because I want to communicate with people … a game allows me to communicate a concept to millions.” He wants to speak out against drug addiction and racism but with this caveat: he won’t slap these messages in someone’s face, like a pop-up ad appears in a browser; no, he’ll weave it in subtly so that those who want to ‘read’ his messages will. For the rest it will simply be a game of elves and orcs.
Written by Alexa Anthonie.