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Ole's online game finds instant success

By Amy Lohmann '14
October 21, 2011

Jon Sandness '14 displays his Symphonic Tower Defense game, which has earned rave reviews and countless plays. Photo by Thomas Dunning '15.
The Internet is full of distractions: blogs, videos, photos.

None, however, seem to consume as much time as the online games that keep players promising they'll only play one more level.

Yet Jon Sandness '14 knows that a far greater amount of focus and time goes into the creation of these games. Sandness, with the help of co-creator and artist Matt Ackerman, recently released a new game titled Symphonic Tower Defense that has exploded on the Internet with rave reviews and countless plays.

Joystiq, an online news site about the video gaming industry, noted in its review (including a link to the game) that "Symphonic Tower Defense is the number one game on Newgrounds right now. [The game] is so wonderfully addictive, we can't stop putting our fermatas in formation today."

The instant success took Sandness by surprise. "The reviews absolutely floored me," he says. "When you work on a game for a year or so and only show it to 20–30 people for testing purposes, then release it to the world and realize that everyone loves it, that's a really good feeling."

The initial idea for the game came pretty quickly to Sandness and Ackerman, as both enjoy the tower defense and rhythm styles of game play and knew they could combine them into something people would find intriguing.

"What ended up happening is that we remade the game from scratch a total of three times because we weren't happy with where it was going," says Sandness. "The final idea was to keep game play short but fast-paced, and I'm happy with what we ended up with."

Sandness says the entire process took about a year from inception to its sponsorship and release.
A screenshot of Symphonic Tower Defense, the game Jon Sandness '14 created.
Luckily for those who are now itching to try out the game, it can be played free of charge. "The game is free and will remain free," says Sandness. "It's difficult to charge users to play a flash game because it's online, and everyone expects entertainment online to be free." The creators do make a bit of a profit by way of sponsorship and pre-game ads.

Sandness has been dabbling in computer science since he began programming at the age of 14, during a high school course. There he learned the fundamentals and basics of data structures and algorithms. "I have done a lot of programming on my own because I just enjoy it," says Sandness. "The hard part about programming a game is managing the complexity. There are always so many things going on that you have to think hard about how to scale the overall structure or else things get messy fast."

Yet even successful games like Symphonic Tower Defense take trial and error to complete. "There were times when I wanted to pick up my computer and throw it against the wall because I was so sure that my code was supposed to work, but it wasn't," says Sandness. "But it's not fun when things just work without any effort."

Sandness is currently working with the Association for Computing Machinery club on campus on a new platform-style game. Although he is busy with school, he simply couldn't pass up participating. "We'll be working on it for the next couple months and hope to have something done by Christmas," says Sandness.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or