ANIMAL’s feature Game Plan asks game developers to share a bit about their process and some working images from the creation of a recent game. This week, we spoke with Colton Spross and AJ Kolenc of Atlanta studio The Stork Burnt Down about Höme Improvisåtion, a very short game that’s way better than it sounds.
There are some things in life you want to do as infrequently as possible: going to the dentist, looking for a new job, putting your dog to sleep, to name a few. Building Ikea furniture is one of them, but it turns out it makes a pretty great video game.
The fact that something that sucks in real life can be fun in a game isn’t surprising. I do lots of things in virtual space that I wouldn’t want to actually do, like killing people and jumping out of planes and fucking dudes. But unlike sex, skydiving and murder, cobbling together poorly made Swedish furniture is not exciting. And yet here I am, jamming virtual legs into a digital tabletop and loving it. The developers at The Stork Burnt Down have somehow taken a task that’s both arduous and boring and made it into something enjoyable and hilarious. Höme Improvisåtion is, against all odds, fun.
“There have been a few articles that have been saying things like, ‘Ikea should hire these guys!'” the game’s lead programmer, AJ Kolenc, told ANIMAL. “I am in support of that, in case Ikea ever decides to contact us. But so far nothing.”
Höme Improvisåtion was created mainly by three people over just 48 hours during the 2015 Global Game Jam in January. Its developers describe it officially as “The world’s most fun & accurate cooperative furniture assembly experience!” (exclamation theirs, of course).
The game features only three pieces of furniture, which just like in real life fall out of the box in chunks. But in Höme Improvisåtion Ikea’s signature illustrated instruction manuals are missing, and you have to build from memory based on the images that were visible on the front of the boxes before you opened them. The first, a simple table, is very easy to create—just slot the legs into the holes. The second, a standing lamp, is harder, especially if you didn’t look too hard at the picture. This is when most players will realize how wrong things can go. The third, a more complex table, is essentially impossible to get right, the developers confessed.
“I can’t imagine anyone could figure it out,” Kolenc said.
But that’s OK. In fact, it’s amazing. Once all the furniture is assembled, right or wrong — and more likely wrong — you can arrange it around the room while more boxes drop in. That’s when you can start combining different pieces into glorious works of modern art, or horrible Franken-lamp abominations, or something in between. After a while I was dying of laughter, even playing by myself.
It gets chaotic when multiple people join in simultaneously. When I described Höme Improvisåtion to a friend recently, he responded, “Oh, so you help each other build the furniture?” But it’s hard enough to get these right by yourself; you run into all the same problems you would in real life, from believing sincerely that there are parts missing to knowing for certain that some of them don’t actually match up. “No, you definitely don’t help one another,” I replied.
This strange type of obstructive cooperation—where you’re technically working together but really more screwing with one another—is rare in games, and it’s not the only way in which Höme Improvisåtion is unique.
“I built a bed recently from Ikea, and it had pneumatic components, and we accidentally put them on backward, so it was basically a catapult,” said Colton Spross, another of the game’s creators. “We felt pretty good about the concept [of the game]. It was something that we were pretty enthusiastic about making. We hadn’t tried anything like that before, and the scope was achievable…It was a room with furniture in it, and we felt like we could do a really good job of making a polished and fun version of that.”
It’s kind of obvious, but bears confirming: Höme Improvisåtion is not actually associated with Ikea. It’s been framed in media coverage as a game in which you build Ikea furniture, but the developers tried to avoid actually using the word “Ikea” wherever possible so as to avoid potential legal troubles. The pieces are based on real stuff from the Swedish company’s catalogs, but slightly different and with made-up names.
The developers do plan to keep moving forward with the concept, though, because the feedback from anyone who’s played it has been so positive. They’re not sure exactly what form it will ultimately take, but for now they’re adding more content to the free web version, and asking for help naming a new chair on Twitter.
The theme of the game development event during which Höme Improvisåtion was created was “What do we do now?” Spross said that’s what he winds up saying to himself every time he tries to build Ikea furniture in real life, and it was that realization that sparked the idea. They ran with it from there.
“We found in past game jams that it’s best to just do the craziest idea you come up with, because when else are you going to do it?” Spross said. “I’m not opposed to mainstream games. I enjoy them. But they’ve already done it—you know what I mean? Like, how many different combat systems have been designed? If I’m making a game about Ikea furniture, my main competition is myself, you know? Just make something that’s different enough that there’s somewhere to be explored, instead of just trying to make another Zelda.”
Höme Improvisåtion is available for free.