Kyon Edelenbosch, Mark Lohmann, Matteo Karkazis and Mark Benis are not your typical game developers. They call themselves Bonte Avond, ‘a game studio of 4 musicians who make bizarre, funny and heartfelt games’.
The name of their studio is based on a typically Dutch custom. ‘Bonte Avond’ is the last night of (summer)camp where guests perform humorous plays or songs for each other. Nothing too serious, it’s all for a laugh. It’s basically a variety show and listening to the podcasts or playing their latest game Once Upon a Jester, you appreciate just how well chosen the name for this remarkable collective is.
Once Upon a Jester came out a couple of months ago on PC and Switch and tells the story of Jester and his best friend Sok who want to steal the Royal Diamond. To get their hands on it however, they must first get close to it. So they come up with a devious plan. In order to get invited to the Royal Theatrical Spectacle in the Palace, where the king keeps his precious gem, they start an improv theatre show and tour the country.
The feeling of performing
The duo performs every night and fill their show with jokes and music. The same jokes and music that the 4 friends of Bonte Avond recorded earlier. “We are always looking for that feeling of performing”, says Mark Lohmann. “We’re often taking turns to improvise dialogue lines and try to use mostly the first takes when we are recording. With this game we wanted to give players that same feeling by letting them do their own theatre show. When we’re thinking of the story we just go with our gut and see what makes us laugh or feel something. We try not to overthink it and go with simple ideas.”
The team of Bonte Avond think of themselves as musicians first and so many ideas emerge from jam sessions. “A lot of the time new game-, story- or character ideas come from us playing music and randomly singing about stuff”, says Lohmann. “We’ve been streaming on Twitch and our Discord for a while now. Once we have a steady game idea going we go back and forth between creating the game and the music. By then the music inspires the game, and the game inspires the songs.”
Very in sync
Mixing the spontaneous acting and singing with the endearing visuals gives the Bonte Avond games a seemingly effortless sense of style. Lohmann: “We’ve been working in this style since Tower Guy but it has evolved throughout the games. It wasn’t a decision to go for this style because it fits the music and humor though. I think it just goes together so well because we all work super closely together and our vision is very in sync. What also helps is that we don’t have super specific isolated roles, we tend to do a bit of everything.”
During development of Once Upon a Jester the team faced an issue with the colors and contrast of the game. “We were working on screens that made the colors more saturated and brighter than they actually were. So when our publisher brought it up, we were shocked by how grey and dull the game looked! It was a lot of work to fix this since we already made so many assets. Trust me, this is something we are consciously doing better in our current new project.”
The game was released simultaneously on PC and Switch. “We never dared to dream that our game would be a part of Nintendo Indie World. Or that we would be working together with other artists and creators that we admire like Corpse Husband, Karl Jacobs, Foolish Gamers and Jon Matteson”, says Lohmann. “The Switch release is definitely doing better, because most of our marketing went towards the Nintendo Switch release. It was a shadow drop so we couldn’t really talk about the release date.”
So what’s next for Bonte Avond? Lohmann: “We’re working on our next game and thus new music! We are super excited to show more of that soon. Besides that, we’re also doing weekly Twitch streams where we improvise songs and talk about everything from game development to mental health.” And then, in a hushed voice: “…and secretly we hope to one day have an animated tv show with Bonte Avond characters. But we’ll get there when we get there.”