.

I have a special method for situations when I get stuck. I work a lot concentrating on the problem, and do it until I am quite exhausted, and then, late at night I go to bed. In most cases, I wake up knowing the way to solve the problem.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

I am 34 and I live In Vilnius, Lithuania. 

I started making money from web design when I was still in senior high school, back in 1995. I worked in web design business until 2006. 

I had a dream at that time to get a FWA or such like award. Then I would get clients from abroad, I thought. 

Funny thing is – I have got the award now but I no longer make websites. In 2006, I moved onto data visualization tools – I made amCharts (http://amcharts.com) and amMap (http://ammap.com) that are now well known worldwide.  This is still my primary revenue earner. 

I produced The Howler (the project I’ve got FWA for) just for fun. I wanted to do something different from my day-to-day job. I hope this game is different.


What do you do for inspiration?

I don’t do anything extraordinary. I just live my life. The ideas come to my head when I spend some time thinking about the thing I am doing also while working, I think this is the natural process. I enjoy long bike trips, I also do some sailing – these things clear your mind, which is sometimes necessary to free some space in your head. However, it is not in the course of these activities that I get my ideas - I do not think about my job or any project at that time. 

Because I am no longer in web design business, and I don’t need to generate a certain number of beautiful designs in a short period of time, I stopped browsing the web with an intention to see something nice and borrow ideas from what I have seen. I do it simply for fun.


Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

If the favourite are those I visit most, then it’s:

1) Google analytics: google.com/analytics – I love watching stats of my projects, especially “Real time” section of The Howler. It’s a lot of fun watching countries changing colors depending on the number of users. It is kind of a race, and many countries are in it.

2) My RSS reader

3) Facebook


What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

I think my greatest achievement is that my data visualization tools, amcharts and ammap, became one of the most popular in the world. I made them completely on my own and I still have only one employee; more like a partner, even. 

Our competitors have large teams, however, we can still compete with them. One day I figured that I have sold licenses of my tools to around 25% from global 500 biggest companies list. 

Maybe, if my game, The Howler, reaches top 10 of games in iTunes store, it will be an even bigger achievement.


How many hours do you work each week?

Usually I spend 5-8 hours in front of a computer every day, but as I am boss to myself, sometimes I spend a lot less and sometimes a lot more. However when you work intensively on a project, you do not stop working when you get up from your chair. Sometimes I wake up at night with a very clear idea of what I will do. So I guess sometimes I work when I am asleep.

How do you relax or unwind?

As I said, I like long bike trips. I have just came back from an 8 days trip along the western coast of France, I and my friends did 700 kilometers there. After my first long trip, I figured I should give up web design – I travelled on Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim’s route in Spain back in 2006. 

While biking, you do not think much, you care about the road and that’s it. A clear head brings you good decisions (as it later emerged).


If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?

I’d like to go to the North Pole and live with bears there. Make a picture of them playing ice hockey and send it to National Geographic.

What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

As my main thing is programming, my favorite part is when you make your first working prototype. When you can test your ideas live and get a feeling whether it will work or not. 

For me, the most challenging phase of the project is the polishing and finishing it. I think it is the most difficult part for all developers - usually you are already tired of the project and when you think it is almost finished, you still have to do 30% of the work, and it is not the most interesting part. The Howler was completed by two people only, except music. People who make games can imagine what this means. I think many good projects fail because developers get tired and release unfinished products. 

I have a special method for situations when I get stuck. I work a lot concentrating on the problem, and do it until I am quite exhausted, and then, late at night I go to bed. In most cases, I wake up knowing the way to solve the problem. 

This won’t work if you just try to solve it for some time – you have to be tired.


What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?

Once I worked on a project with a very strict deadline, so last three days I stayed in my office taking a nap for 2-3 hours only. On a last day I realized that I won’t make it and I had a panic attack. So I called them and told that I can’t finish it on time. They waited for a couple more days.

Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?

I can name only one which I follow constantly, since I started my own web designer career – it’s a Russian design company, artlebedev.com. They started as web design company but now they do a lot of cool things – they design stuff, objects for cities, even traffic signs. They use design to solve problems. I think every design company should have an aim like this. 

As my main business is data visualization, I must also mention Edward Tufte  - it’s a man who made a big impact on data visualization. And even if you are not in this business, I think every web designer should read his books.

What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?

It was “Antanas Marcelionis homepage” on Geocities. With a bunch of animated gifs, visitor counter and all other de rigueur attributes of 1994. It has been offline for a long time now, thank God. It could have been worse, I could have hosted it on Angelfire!

At that time there were like ten or twenty personal homepages (and some similar number of other web sites) in Lithuania. One day I received this e-mail from a guy in Sweden. He said he wanted to visit his long lost relatives in Lithuania and he needed a translator to communicate with them. 

As he liked my page most, he decided to write to me. He hired me as a translator and a guide for him (I was 16) for a couple of days. At the end of the last day, he took me to a computer store, gave me $100 (it was a lot at that time – probably more, than an average person made in a month) and said I can buy what I want. 

That shop was quite expensive and you could get things for a lot less, so I kept the money and spent it partying with my friends for two weeks. Later, this inspired me to run a small business – I used to help finding lost relatives in Lithuania. While learning in school, the money were good enough.

What was the toughest thing you ever did with Flash? How long did you spend on it? Is it still online?

Back in 2003 my web design company produced an educational game for kids, called The Springlet. It was made with Flash and published in CD. We even were one of the winners of Europrix award (http://www.europrix.org/) and went to Austria. 

This was a very difficult project, mainly because it was me who was programming it! I was a poor programmer at that time. However, it’s a game which could simply be published as an iOS game even now and could compete with other kid’s games. Unfortunately, we had sold all the rights. 


Do you think Flash is here to stay?

Well, Flash on the web is dead – it is plain to see. 

I was quite cross with Apple for making their choices, as my charts and maps were made with flash. So I had to rewrite everything with JavaScript, and still had to handle all the different browser behavior issues. 

I now used Flash for making The Howler game. The Starling library resolved a performance problem that was the main reason why developers tend to develop apps with native languages. Now I can write the code with Actionscript and publish it for both iOS and Android. I hope Windows phone will support Adobe Air one day too. 

If Adobe do not abandon this niche, I think Flash can still have many years of life in it. 

What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

Sure, I think that you can do almost anything without learning it at school first. Of course, I would not like to be operated on by a surgeon who had learnt his craft by trial and error, without the benefit of a medical school, but in design or programming you have all the chances to be better than those who went to school studying these subjects. My major at University was physics (but I did not finish my studies) and I think I am a decent programmer and also a designer too. It all depends on a person and his wish to achieve something.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

Hiring people was always the most difficult part of the job for me. Well, maybe firing them was even worse.

That was one of the reasons I quit web design and set up my own business that I can handle with one employee only. I avoid expansion, even if this means that sometimes I must do some of the boring things myself. 

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

A bicycle. It is the best vehicle for me, and in our days traffic it’s one of the fastest one. I would only wish I could pack it into my pocket.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

I am very proud of Lithuania as an innovative country. 

We have one of the fastest internet connection in the world (by some stats, only South Korea is faster). We have a very advanced e-banking and e-government systems. I can do almost anything without leaving my chair. Some time ago I had to declare my residential address with the authorities - it took 5 minutes to do it! 

Then I went to order a new passport – they took photo and fingerprints ant the same desk and I had my passport on the next day, it was really amazing. When I travel to Europe, the Western countries, and expect something similar there I constantly get disappointed – I think we are far ahead in the terms of innovation.  


There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

The Howler game is a project I dreamed of doing. I am very proud of it. I think this game is good as a whole. The artwork is great, the navigation is intuitive, the plot is captivating. In the beginning, I thought that the main feature of the game would be the voice control feature, but in the end this was left merely as one of the features, which I happen to emphasize for marketing purposes (a fresh aspect is always a good idea). However, I am sure the game would be just as good without this feature too.

What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?

I bought sunglasses for biking for $100.

[Editor's note: Some extra insights...]

question Where did the idea for The Howler come from?

I created a prototype of this game – a voice-controlled dirigible back in 2006. That game was online ever since, so anyone could use this idea. Every now and then, I would recall it and thought I should improve it and started working on it in spring 2012 when I met my creative collaborator, Rene Petruliene, to whom all the graphic design is credited. 

All the graphics were drawn by hand, on paper, in an old-fashioned classically-trained way. In terms of its visuals, this game is so far ahead of the competition, it is like showing a modern HDTV screen to someone from 1940s: the quality differential compared to the expectations would be so huge that it would be hard to quantify.

The prototype of the game was called The Shouter. I changed it to The Howler as it has a connection to my city, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. 

There is a legend about Grand Duke Gediminas camping overnight after a hunt where Vilnius now is and having a dream of an iron wolf howling on a hill like there was no tomorrow. The duke consulted his staff dream interpreter and was advised he needed to set up a city which would be as unconquerable as the iron beast and as famous as its soul-piercing howl. The wolf is now the most recognizable figure in the game.


question Can you tell us a bit about the game’s artwork?

Rene Petruliene, the graphic artist of The Howler, was decorating walls (not just your old roller-and-brush painting; she is a real artist) in my office. We were drinking wine after she finished her work and she told me that she can draw anything. 

I said – could you draw a computer game? - and she said yes. 

The fact is that she never played a game before and uses computers only for e-mail. She is 63 years old but she has the energy that would make most young people hang their heads in shame. 

The start was not easy – the first sketches she made were completely unusable. I even thought that this things was not going to fly. However, she kept trying, and in the end we found a style which is very aesthetically pleasing and can be used for a game like this. 

Rene made a big pile of drawings – so many, in fact, that I now have enough material for another game. One day, I want to stage an exhibition of the artwork - people will be able to see the process, early sketches and drawings that have not been used in the game. 

question Why did you decide to give the game a steampunk theme?

It is another coincidence, really. Just after we started making the game, Andrius Tapinas, a well-known journalist and TV host in Lithuania, posted on Facebook that he embarked upon a steampunk novel, set in imaginary Vilnius of 1905. 
“Zeppelins above churches of Vilnius,” he wrote in his post. 

I already had a dirigible and views of Vilnius on paper, drawn by Rene. I have known Andrius for a long time, and we agreed to work together. Subsequently, I replaced a zeppelin with a balloon because of some mechanical considerations, and Andrius wrote a balloon into his book and added some other details too. 

The storyline of the game is interlinked with the plot of the book. This book has already been published in Lithuania; it is a bestseller. This summer, an English version will be on sale worldwide as an e-book. 

I am sure the game and the book will form a synergy made in heaven – or in the skies over Vilnius, as the case may be. 

Links

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Me on my last bike trip, in Paris.
Me on my last bike trip, in Paris.

Game play of The Howler, voice mode.

A game review by OfficialStuffPlus

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