When his R-KAID-R (an elegant retro-futuristic portable arcade system) was mentioned on NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, eternal glory and huge sales glimmered on the horizon. Priceless publicity, indeed, for Love Hultén, were it not that the show’s host forgot to mention the designer’s name. So nothing came of it. “It’s a great clip to have on my website, though. And I was not ready for mass production then anyway.” Which, at the time of writing, is poised to happen.
The 32-year-old Swedish designer with a sweet first name is certainly an expert in turning his innocent hobbies into a proper job. Love Hultén, who like most of his generation grew up with games, tells us how it all began: “My much older brother played the Commodore- 64 games, and as a toddler I sat and watched.” He graduated as a graphic designer and afterwards studied design and learned to work with wood. “I just came up with this game-related stuff as a school project. It was an instant success. I’ve always been fascinated by games and electronics, and all of a sudden it became possible to combine this with my new passion of working with wood. I received really great feedback from this first series, which motivated me to continue instead of going back to graphic design.”
Hultén’s handmade work is a magnificent mix of technology, craft, and design. His devices are made of precious materials like walnut and brass, and are mainly game related. On R- KAID-R, you can play retro games like Atari and Super Nintendo. These games are elegantly designed, with many references to the 1930s, 60s, and 80s. But to call his work ‘nostalgic’ would be a misinterpretation. “There is a lot of nostalgia in my approach, but it’s not my main focus. Certainly, my pieces are a sort of tribute to my youth and to how games were created in the 1980s and early 90s. There were fewer possibilities then, which had a creative effect on the games; they became very magical. And that’s the whole thing: I work with design and craft references from the entire 20th century, when material qualities were very important. This kind of design happens to go very well with my concept of quality in craft.” So it’s not down to nostalgia but rather a desire for quality. Moreover, Hultén’s design is also a reaction to recent developments like touchscreens: “I’m not against touchscreens; they work very well for certain purposes, but they’re used for everything now. I want to go back to a more physical approach, and to more control: I want you to get instant feedback on your interaction.”
Gaming, which is much more popular today than when Hultén was sitting in awe next to his brother, has developed into a moneymaking machine. Parents, governments, and scientists alike tend to worry about the influence of violent games on kids and consequently on society. “I agree that the large commercial gaming scene is horrible – it’s the new Hollywood. And I have to admit that I am a part of it as well – I don’t go as far as to play Call of Duty or realistic war games, but I sometimes still play games that involve shooting and killing.” But Hultén is optimistic about the evolution: “There’s a huge indie industry going on too! This scene is increasingly expanding, with various genres and aficionados all over the world. It is a revolution so big that the established industry has to adapt. As a result, nowadays there are many games that are about everything except killing and shooting. Many are very experimental. And many are about human relationships, personal development, and psychology. The trend is heading more towards humanism. But of course, new developments and technologies are always going to be scary for an older generation. That’s human nature!”
Jimmy Fallon of the Tonight Show chuckled as he pronounced that such craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap (the R-KAID-R model seen on the Tonight Show costs $2700). Thus it is no surprise that his clients are mainly art and design collectors. But as Hultén has said, he wants to reach out to a slightly broader pool of clients – he’s currently on the brink of transforming his one-person studio into a collaborative unit that produces more than precious one-offs. A couple of months ago, Hultén launched Pixel Vision – Handheld Emulator System: “A pocket-sized emulator for the dedicated gamer, handmade from solid walnut. A true gaming jewel!” (€429 for a limited edition of 500). “So far, I have been working alone. I’m a perfectionist and want to control every stage, but now I’m going to need help. I’m therefore about to engage several skilled people.” And he has more plans for the future. “I love to work with game-related concepts, but I feel I shouldn’t get stuck in that field. I want to go more into making musical instruments.” That makes sense, since he’s a musician himself, playing in both a death metal band and a punk band. His modular, handcrafted wooden music devices inspired by LEGO already indicate the direction he would like to take. Let’s see what happens!