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It’s Vlambeer’s 10-year anniversary, and the studio’s breaking up

Ultrabugs is still coming

A green blob fighting a duck (?) with a red bandanna Image: Vlambeer
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Dutch indie game studio Vlambeer is breaking up — on its 10th anniversary. The studio, which developed games like Ridiculous Fishing and Nuclear Throne, is a product of developers Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman, who started working together in 2010 after dropping out of their game development university classes.

Vlambeer’s first official game, Super Crate Box, was released in 2010 shortly after the studio’s founding. With a focus on classic-but-quirky arcade-style games, Vlambeer released more than a dozen games with different teams of developers, the last of which is Ultrabugs for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch. But the duo’s not waiting for development to complete before dissolving the studio. Ismail told Polygon the studio’s closure was particularly fitting.

“[The 10-year anniversary ending] was right,” Ismail said. “But it’s also so Vlambeer. It’s a little overdramatic. Nobody does it.”

Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman
Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman in 2012
Image: Vlambeer via YouTube

Nijman continued: “We’re pretty good at taking big jumps. This feels like one of those moments, like, ‘Hey, should we shut down the studio?’ ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And then, here we are a few weeks later shutting down the studio, pretty much.”

It wasn’t the original plan to keep the studio going for so long. Ismail said the goal was to keep the studio running “as long enough as we need together to have a chance in the games industry and do our thing.” After all, Ismail and Nijman said they were never really friends. “Even though I respect [Nijman] a lot, I don’t go to his birthday party or something,” Ismail said. “We’re not really friends, in that sense of the word.”

“We had a really good, unique dynamic,” Nijman added during a Skype call with Ismail and Polygon last week. “And we realized you don’t need to be friends to work together in that way.” In fact, that space between them ended up being a productive way of working, each working alone on the things they wanted to, trusting each other to make decisions — Nijman on the design side and Ismail doing business and implementation.

But Vlambeer became much more than a small project between people who aren’t really friends, they said. “We accidentally ended up [here,]” Ismail said. “We never meant Vlambeer to be what it is now” — a studio that makes multiplatform games, stuff bigger and more complex than the simpler, weird games they started out making.

Ultrabugs is kind of a return to smaller games with a clear, arcade focus. And so it’s fitting it’s the game Vlambeer is ending things on. (There is no release date set just yet, just that it’s close to being ready.)

To celebrate the 10-year run and the studio’s closure — both Ismail and Nijman were clear this is not sad news — Vlambeer is running a Steam sale called Vlambeer and Friends. Because throughout development, it’s actually been a lot more than just Ismail and Nijman. Each of their games was a collaboration between each other, but other developers and artists were major parts of that.

“The people we’ve worked with have been excellent,” Ismail said. “They’ve ranged from, like, a kid that sent a fan drawing that we hired, to people JW knew from forums years before.”

For now, both Ismail and Nijman will continue to do work similar to what they’re doing now, just separately. Nijman said he’s excited to make more small games with small groups of developers — projects like Minit, which was co-created by Nijman alongside Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Domink Johann. Ismail said he’ll focus on advocacy in games diversity, whether that’s with, the global game developer conference, or free online consultancy for indies. A lot is up in the air right now, as Vlambeer ramps down. But one thing is for certain, they joked: They still won’t go to each other’s birthday parties.