Sea Sniffers: Sniffing Out Future Opportunities [Award Winner Documentary #8]

GYAAR Studio Indie Game Contest
12 min readMay 10, 2024

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■Richard Lems

Richard Lems develops indie games while working part time as a web developer and artist at a software company in the Netherlands. Founded Blastmode in 2019.

What’s at the end of the fishing rod isn’t a hook, but a seal. The girl hurls it into the ocean with a whip of her fishing rod and it begins its underwater adventure!

Richard Lems of the Dutch indie game studio Blastmode is behind the creative idea that led to the conception of Sea Sniffers. He has created several games that feature animals as the protagonist, such as Mighty Goose, where geese engage in shootouts, and Road Warriors, where birds ride in mecha cars. We sat down with Richard to hear about his inspirations, why he chooses to spotlight animals in his work, his work-life balance between his day job and developing indie games, as well as the state of indie games in the Netherlands.

■An introverted boy continues to create indie games as he grows up in pursuit of his dreams

―― Hello, it’s nice to meet you. First, please tell us about your current development structure.

🔸Lems: Hello, my name is Richard Lems and I work on Sea Sniffers at Blastmode. I currently work on indie games while also working as a web developer.

―― How many people work on this game?

🔸Lems: There’s two of us at Blastmode, and we commission a freelance artist for the music, so that makes three total. I do find myself wanting to expand the team, but then we face a decrease in creative freedom when there are more opinions, and I want to avoid having to spend time on managing people. With that in mind, I think the structure we have now is good.

―― You’re right, this seems to be a dilemma many indie developers find themselves in. Could you tell us about your starting point with video games?

🔸Lems: I was about ten years old when I played my first video game — a Sonic game on the MegaDrive. My mother explained that it was a cartoon that you could control. I had never seen anything like it before and was unbelievably impressed by how the character moved when I pressed a button, by the bright, vivid colors and the beautiful graphics.

―― Did you continue to play video games since then?

🔸Lems: I never stopped playing video games. Even when I was a student, I brought my PSP with me everywhere I went. If possible, I want to play all the games there are to play.

―― What pushed you to make your first game?

🔸Lems: I think it was around when I was 14 years old, I was on the computer and discovered software like RPG Maker*. I realized that I could make games without learning to program, and it further sparked my interest in game development.

*RPG Maker

A program that allows users to create role-playing games without learning programming. Initially released in 1990, it has built a strong fanbase worldwide since.

―― Did you have anyone play the games you made?

🔸Lems: No, I didn’t. I was pretty shy and kept my game development hobby hidden. When I was in art school, I made a game called Bunny Mage, which features a rabbit with a wizard hat in a Metroidvania-like world. That was the first game that I showed to other people.

―― What motivated you to show it to people when you had kept your creations to yourself up until then?

🔸Lems: It was because I was around like-minded people. It was valuable to be able to get their feedback and they shared my enthusiasm for the project.

―― Being with like-minded people helped you step outside your comfort zone. Did you find a job in the video game industry after that?

🔸Lems: Unfortunately, no. I had always hoped to make a living from game development but couldn’t find any job openings in the industry at the time, so I worked as a mail courier right out of art school. A year later, I joined a web development company because it was one step closer to game development.

―― Did you continue to work on games?

🔸Lems: Yes, I had opportunities to join more game jams and released some of them on itch.io, such as Bob & Dob*, which one could say was the first rendition of Sea Sniffers, and Scuba Bear. These games were in Gameboy-style, reminiscent of the summer holidays when I would play Pokémon or Dragon Quest Monsters. Thanks to these releases, I became more confident that game development could go beyond a hobby for me; that it could be something that I do for a living. That’s when I made it my goal to become an indie game developer and founded Blastmode a few years later.

*Bob & Dob

A game that Lems published on itch.io in his early days of game development. The player throws a seal into the water with a fishing rod and has it explore the sea. Lems himself has said on his Patreon that it inspired Sea Sniffers.

https://rilem.itch.io/bobdob

https://www.patreon.com/posts/adventures-await-82992106

――Your world changed when you took the step to turn your hobby of making games into a profession. What are some challenges you face when trying to balance your job in web development and making indie games?

🔸Lems: Balancing the two is one of the most difficult things in my life right now. It’s a bit more complicated than simply working the hours the web development company schedules me for. They respect my wishes to work on my games and are flexible if I need more time, so when they need me to work more, I want to do my best to accommodate them as well. This balance is very difficult. Another issue I face is in managing my energy levels, which has become more challenging as I grow older. In my 20s, I seemingly had infinite energy and could just work non-stop, but being in my 30s now, I’m noticing that I just can’t do that anymore. There’s also the problem of income, which is why I’m not sure if I would leave my web development job anytime soon. The trick, if there is one, is to make a successful game, then perhaps you won’t need to worry about any of this anymore.

―― Indeed, it does seem especially tricky to find a balance because the company is so understanding.

■A love for animals and nature elevated into an open world fishing game

―― Please tell us more about Sea Sniffers and its appeal.

🔸Lems: Sea Sniffers is best described as an open world fishing game where you sail around the world with a girl and her seal companion. Differing from a traditional fishing game, you control the seal attached to the fishing rod and explore the depths of the ocean. The game provides a cozy experience where you help island inhabitants out and even do science stuff like doing research and collecting fish and plant samples.

―― Usually, the player character themselves dive into the sea in ocean-themed games, but is there a reason you chose to have the seal do the exploring? You had animal characters in your other titles such as Bob & Dob, Road Warriors, as well as Mighty Goose. What’s the inspiration behind featuring animals in your work?

🔸Lems: I can’t remember exactly why I chose to have the seal attached to the fishing rod in Bob & Dob and Sea Sniffers, but it must have something to do with my love for animals. Animals are more suited to expressing the humor and silliness of certain actions. Also, when looking at all the games being developed around the world, it’s important to have something that makes my work stand out, and I think using animal characters helps me do that as well. The seal is cute as well and can be a sort of mascot or image character too.

―― Another game that I found on your itch.io, called Scuba Bear, also has animals diving into the sea. Do you have a special connection to animals and the ocean?

🔸Lems: To be honest, I don’t really know. The three games — Scuba Bear, Bob & Dob, and Sea Sniffers — are all created together with my wife, Diane. She plays a big part in the way these games look and the locations they take place in. We’re both nature lovers and feel energized when we’re in nature, whereas we tend to feel quite drained when we’re in the city. That’s part of why we prefer games that take place in nature as a way to experience it while we’re in the hustle and bustle of the city; to still enjoy that bit of relaxation.

―― On the other hand, we’ve seen some marvelous and cool games like Road Warriors, Mighty Goose, and KUNAI. If you were to choose between nature and mecha, which would you pick?

🔸Lems: That’s not a fair question! (laughs) There are different aspects I like about each of them, and they evoke completely different emotions for me. If I really had to pick, I’d probably say nature, but then mechas are cool too. I don’t know… Both!

―― Picking just one or the other is really tough after all! What are some challenges you currently face when working on Sea Sniffers?

🔸Lems: One way that Sea Sniffers differs from Mighty Goose is that it’s a lot more complex due to its open-ended gameplay, whereas Mighty Goose is a more linear process that mainly consists of making levels. There are various complexities that we are dealing with right now, such as the way that NPC locations or dialogues might change depending on what the player does.

―― What are some of the most rewarding moments in developing a game?

🔸Lems: I can’t say yet for Sea Sniffers because it’s not released yet. For Mighty Goose, we have seen some awesome messages from people, like a father who played the game with his child, saying that they were both having a great time. I enjoy the sense of fulfilment that brings me, that it’s not just my own silly hobby, but that what I’m doing is actually making people happy.

―― I see that you also look to the reactions from players to help fuel your motivation.

Taking every opportunity to continue making games

―― Please tell us why you decided to apply to this contest, which was hosted by a Japanese company, from the Netherlands.

🔸Lems: The main reason is that we wanted to take every chance we can get to make our games a reality. We also had a very good impression of Japanese companies from our experience working with a Japanese publisher for Mighty Goose.

―― Did you have any difficulties when applying to this contest?

🔸Lems: Our main struggle was that we heard about the contest pretty close to the deadline, when someone posted about it in a Slack group for indie game developers in the Netherlands. We had to drop everything else and basically do a game jam to create the demo.

―― I see, you have a lot of experience making games in a short period of time through past game jams and in creating this demo. Could you tell us about the benefits of creating games in this way?

🔸Lems: You create pressure for yourself to finish making the game by setting a deadline. I think the most beneficial aspect of it is that you can experience the entire process of developing a game up until its release, especially the most difficult part, which is actually reaching the finish line. By the way, the game jam for Bob & Dob was one week, and we created the demo for Sea Sniffers in two weeks.

―― We usually think of deadlines as something we dread, but I see now that having a deadline also helps you reach your goal. How did you feel when you found out that you were one of the award winners?

🔸Lems: We couldn’t believe it, since we felt that our demo was so unfinished!

―― How are you using the prize money from the contest?

🔸Lems: We have put it towards living expenses because I currently only work two days a week and spend the other days working on the game. We also use it to commission the freelance artist for music.

―― Out of the various types of support provided by GYAAR Studio, what would you say is the most significant for you?

🔸Lems: The demo sessions are the most valuable for us because usually, an indie developer would have to pay a company if they wanted someone to playtest their game. It has been very beneficial to be able to share our game regularly with fellow award winners and get their feedback as part of the support package. I am glad I can participate remotely from the Netherlands, and I could see myself working at GYAAR Studio Base often if I lived in Japan.

―― How do you feel about joining these demo sessions remotely?

🔸Lems: Due to the language barrier and time zone differences, I actually haven’t been able to communicate with the Japanese award winners much. However, I have been able to chat with Pol from Binary Phoenix, who is working on Forgotten Fragments, since we are in the same time zone. There is a certain energy from in-person events where you can see the enthusiasm in the other person, and I do kind of miss that.

―― What do you usually talk about with fellow indie game developers?

🔸Lems: I like hearing about what goes on behind the scenes, such as what art style they’re working on, or what they might be doing on their off time. I feel like seeing these unrefined parts or works-in-progress inspire me more than the polished parts that they show the rest of the world. That is where the real and raw emotions are, where you can see the other person pondering on whether something will work and their anxiety around it and seeing that trial-and-error process makes me want to root for them.

―― That’s the value in hearing the inside stories. Is there a thriving indie game scene in the Netherlands?

🔸Lems: It’s quite a small community where everyone kind of knows each other.

―― As a creator, you probably see some negative feedback on your work from time to time. How do you process opinions or comments that you get on social media or from players?

🔸Lems: If it’s something constructive, I will engage with them and try to address it. If it’s just hateful comments, I usually ignore them since there’s no point in trying to consider their opinion. What helps me is that there are more positive comments than negative ones, so I am able to focus on just the positives.

―― You can make a firm distinction between constructive feedback and haters and find ways to improve. What would you say is important to reach the finish line in creating a game?

🔸Lems: I would say to find an external person to hold you accountable and keep you on track, or you will keep dragging on. We are working with GYAAR Studio who has given us milestone and regular progress reports, so that puts just the right amount of pressure on me to keep working. My advice would be to get someone, a friend or family member, to light that fire under you and make sure you’re progressing ahead.

―― The results from the second contest were announced recently. Do you feel any pressure from that?

🔸Lems: Yes, of course. It made me feel like I need to work a little harder. I want to take that in a positive manner and let it be part of my motivation to make more progress on Sea Sniffers.

―― Please keep pushing on! Last but not least, could we have a message from you to your fellow indie game developers around the world?

🔸Lems: We are currently living in an age where game development tools are more accessible than ever. It’s exciting to see that small teams with passionate individuals can now make truly stunning game experiences. Your next favorite game may have been created by someone in their home, in an improvised office, all while working another job to pay the bills. Making games as a hobby can even turn into a livelihood. It always makes me happy to see an indie developer achieve success and become truly independent. I, and maybe you, are also chasing that dream. Let’s make some awesome games. I wish us all the best of luck on our indie journey!

―― Thank you very much!

▼Sea Sniffers
It looks like a peaceful fishing game at first glance, but the seals are throwing punches…?!
Traverse the ocean floor and scavenge for treasure with your fellow animal companions in this adventure RPG!

Explore, discover, and collect relics by diving into the great depths of the ocean with captivating graphics and sounds.
Upgrade your animal companions and equipment, and travel further into the unseen world along the ocean floor…
Sit back, relax, and enjoy your very own unique ocean adventure!

https://indie.bandainamcostudios.com/titles/1

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