Norwegian Studio Grimnir Media is working on the Point- & Click-Adventure 'The Frostrune', coming this year for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. We talked with Grimnir's John Sætrang to find out more about the Studio and their game.
Adventure Corner (AC): About a year ago you founded Grimnir. Who had the idea to team up?
John Sætrang: I initated the process, but with me I had Audun Refsahl who also is co-owner of Grimnir. We developed a story together, then we approached Nils Anderssen, who is an experienced game designer, and asked if he would collaborate and make it into a game. This evolved into 'The Frostrune', which is now in development.
AC: Please describe your first year - what was positive, what was negative?
John Sætrang: It was great fun to work with the first ideas and concepts for the game, and of course we were thrilled to win two grants that enabled us to really get the project off the ground. It’s also been lovely to get to know the game developer community, it’s a great bunch of people. Especially the small indie devs are very happy to help each other in any way they can. The high point so far was attending GDC, the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where we got to show some teasers and received a lot of great feedback from all kinds of people.
We haven’t had any major negative experiences. There are always bumps in a project of this size and complexity, and we’ve hit some of those. Things take longer than planned, and that has impacts on finances. That’s a classic, I imagine all new companies run into that one. All in all our major challenge has been getting the team together and deciding who to collaborate with. Now we have good artists in place, so things are running smoothly in that department. The only loose thread now is getting the music done. After that it’s just a matter of crunching to get the game done and released. It already feels like a long haul, we’ve worked for over a year now, though not full time all the time. So we’re getting very anxious to get it over and done with.
AC: When did you first come in contact with games and how?
John Sætrang: My dad bought a Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1983, he splashed out and got the one with 48 Kb RAM. We kids quickly took possession and started programming games on it using BASIC. But before that we had played 'Space Invaders' and other arcade games on the ferry from Norway to the UK. Game arcades didn’t excist in our town, so every time we went on that ferry, my brother and I used to cram in as much Space Invaders as possible during the crossing. Imagine our joy when we discovered we could actually play games in our own home!
"There is a settlement there that looks recently abandoned,
the people seem to have fled from some danger."
AC: What can you tell us about the story of 'The Frostrune'?
John Sætrang: We can’t reveal too much of the story, of course. True to the genre, you’re (seemingly) alone in a strange place and need to discover what has happened. There is a settlement there that looks recently abandoned, the people seem to have fled from some danger. As you explore the area, you gradually learn more about what has really happened. Who are these people, what drove them away, and why are some places covered in frost? Reality and mythology starts to blend into each other, and you must explore some dark places to uncover the truth.
AC: Which are the main features of 'The Frostrune'?
John Sætrang: The art is a feature that we’re getting very good feedback on. All environments are hand painted by München based artist René Aigner, and they give the game a great atmosphere. Bleak, Nordic realism with a touch of the mysterious. We have tried to create puzzles that are not too much of a rip-off from other games, so hopefully we’ll have puzzles that are unusual, or at least very thoughtfully made. Music and sounds are a really important part of the experience, and we’re hoping to be able to have an original score and top notch sound design. This is work in progress, but we’re really going to work hard to make music/sound a great feature in the game. The fact that environments and objects are carefully made to be historically accurate is also a great feature. This doesn’t automatically translate into a good game experience, but we think it’s an important part in building immersion and making you believe in the story.
"We wanted to tell a story from this time period
that felt fresh and authentic."
AC: How would you describe your vision for the game?
John Sætrang: We wanted to tell a story from this time period that felt fresh and authentic. To give people a new perspective on the Vikings, a look into their way of thinking, especially their myths and beliefs. There are so many clichees connected with the Vikings, most of them have no basis in reality at all. We wanted to bypass all of that and see what lies at the source.
As for gameplay, we just want to make a top quality adventure game. That means great environments to explore and interesting puzzles. We have also added some mechanics that are not so common in the genre, just to lift the experience an extra notch.
AC: What makes this game unique?
John Sætrang: The authentic Nordic atmosphere, along with the way we’ve designed the puzzles will probably stand out as different. In addition comes the story, which certainly can be described as unique. I think everyone should play it just to experience this magical, northern, ancient world we have created!
AC: Obviously Nordic folklore is a very important part of the game. What do you like about Nordic folklore and which tales inspired you to do this game?
John Sætrang: We’re particularly inspired by the poems and stories collected in the Poetic 'Edda'. If you read these you get a small glimpse into the world that has inspired Tolkien and the whole range of Fantasy stories after him. It’s very refreshing to go to the source of all this and try to build a story universe that is true to the original.
What we like about them is a bit hard to define. These stories are very powerful, very dramatic and visionary. But still they’re told in a very efficient and subtle way, with short concentrated sentences. An economic use of language. Much is implied and left to the listener to interpret for himself, and so we’re left with mysterious texts that no longer can be fully understood. It’s very intriguing to read those texts and to try to piece the meaning together. You can never get fully to the bottom of it!
"Firstly we didn’t want the style to be a typical Fantasy style."
AC: So far the art design looks like paintings come alive - what’s your inspiration? Is that just the art design or will the whole game actually look like this?
John Sætrang: Like paintings come alive, that actually sounds very good! We certainly hope the finished game also can be described in this way. The art we have made public so far are mostly finished pieces, so the impression should be accurate. We’ve spent a long time looking for an artist, and even trying out some different artists. Eight artist have been involved in total, to do test drawings or work on parts of the project. So you could say we’ve spent some time discussing art styles, probably a lot more than we should and what is normally done in mobile games. Now we have settled on René Aigner from München as the artist responsible for all art in the game. From the feedback we’re getting, it looks like we’ve found the right guy!
Art is important to us, as you might have guessed. You’ll have to ask René where he gets the inspiration for his style, but I can tell you what we were looking for. Firstly we didn’t want the style to be a typical Fantasy style. Go on Deviant Art or do a google search for Fantasy art, and you’ll quickly see that most of the art looks very similar in style. This takes away realism from the story, you feel like you’ve seen it before and it just feels less authentic.
Secondly we needed to find the right level of realism. We certainly didn’t want it to be cartoony, but we didn’t want full photo realism either. René has this realistic but painterly style that we liked from the first time we saw it. A serious and authentic style, but with a fairytale feel to it.
AC: How do you like working with Unity?
John Sætrang: We love Unity! Things are working very well so far. Ask us again after release!
AC: 'The Frostrune' is a point and click adventure. Why was this genre the right match for the story you want to tell?
John Sætrang: Well, exploration is a central aspect of the adventure game genre, so this fits very well with the authentic and detailed environments we wanted to create. This all started with our knowledge about the Viking world, maybe especially about their material culture. Adventure games are also about finding cool items lying about, and using them to solve tasks. And we know of a lot of interesting objects from the period that we’d like to use in the game.
"The puzzle itself also is a part of the story
and that you have a clear motivation to solve it."
AC: From your point of view what makes a good puzzle?
John Sætrang: Ah, that’s a hard question to give a short answer to. But puzzle design is something we have given a great deal of thought to during development. I think probably the most important thing is that the puzzle feels like something you need to solve in order to understand the mystery. That the puzzle itself also is a part of the story and that you have a clear motivation to solve it. Too many puzzles in adventure games are just obstacles you have to pass to get to the end. You’re not really interested in the puzzles themselves, they just happen to be blocking your path. A really good puzzle is interesting to explore and helps tell the story.
AC: Speaking of puzzles, what sorts of puzzles can we expect in 'The Frostrune'? Can you give us an example?
John Sætrang: I can’t give any detailed examples quite yet. We hope to release a gameplay trailer in the not to distant future, and there we’ll show a puzzle or two. But the above question does give some clues as to what we think a good puzzle should be like. Since we’re experimenting and trying to create puzzles that are a bit unusual, we’ll also need a bit of playtesting to see if they really work or if they’re just insanely difficult. And with adventure games, it’s all about the polish and the details, so we can’t playtest too early in the process.
I can mention that we’re doing some puzzles that are sound based. In a pre-industrial world there are limitations to how technical puzzles can be. Sound is a way to work around that. So people will need their headphones for this.
AC: You decided to develop 'The Frostrune' for mobile devices first. Why?
John Sætrang: As we go into below, we think touch devices are a good place for adventure games. But the main reason is probably that publishing is so easy there. It’s also a platform that we are very comfortable with, more so than the PC. We just play a lot more on mobile than we do on PC, so we feel very at home there.
AC: These days more and more adventures are developed primarily for mobile devices. What is the reason? Are these devices maybe more compatible with the needs of the genre than the PC?
John Sætrang: We think adventure games fit really well on touch devices! Instead of using your mouse, you can touch things directly with your hands; drag levers, turn knobs, drag objects, etc. It’s just a more direct way to explore than on a PC. And you can cuddle up in the sofa and play together with the kids, lie in bed and play, things like that. All the things you normally do with a good book, you can now do with an adventure game. The threshold for playing is much lower on a touch device than on a PC, it’s so easy to pick up your device and play for a few minutes when you get the chance. Just as important is the fact that there’s a whole new crowd of people playing games these days, after touch devices came. People of all ages play, and if you’re new to gaming, an adventure game is a good place to start! You understand instantly how to play and it kind of resembles a book, so it feels familiar. I think these new “gamers” are in part responsible for the rise in popularity of adventure games.
AC: 'The Frostrune' is supposed to be released late summer for mobile devices. When can we expect a PC release?
John Sætrang: Too early to say! We’d like to gather feedback from the mobile release and evaluate that before we proceed to make a version for PC. Maybe we want to put in some extra stuff in the PC version, rather than just make a straight port.
AC: Thank you for this interview