Pure PlayStation was recently enraptured by the skillfully animated indie game that has made its way over to PS4 from PC; Jotun: Valhalla Edition. (Check out our review here). We were so enchanted by the art style, mythology, and punishing bosses, that we sought out the comments of the Creative Director of developer Thunder Lotus Games, Will Dube. Over a traditional Canadian breakfast of Pancakes, Maple Syrup, and Bacon, we managed to get some interesting info from the mind behind the game. Join us below and impress the gods with your literacy skills:
PP: Bon Soire Monsieur Dubé, we’ve just exhausted our knowledge of French, so hopefully you won’t mind if we conduct the interview in English. To kick us off, and for our readers who may not yet be aware of your studio; can you tell us a little bit about Thunder Lotus Games?
WD: Well, we started off in the mobile market, making free to play mobile games. When we had the idea for Jotun, we took it to Kickstarter, and before we knew it we had raised $64,000 – which was pretty amazing as we had only set a $50,000 target!
PP: That’s impressive, what stage of development was Jotun in when the Kickstarter launched?
WD: We were very early in terms of development. Having said that, the idea was fully formed, so we had a concept and of course the art that we could ‘show off’ to people.
PP: So what made you decide to use Kickstarter to fund the game, and how did you find the experience?
WD: It seemed like the most accessible funding platform for an idea like Jotun and it’s also a way of ‘validating’ your game, so to speak, as the feedback and investment you get shows you whether an audience exists for the title. Having a successful Kickstarter campaign also helped with attracting the right team members to actually deliver the game, as you have a proven product as well as a clear picture of the direction you are heading. It wasn’t all easy though; there’s a lot of preparation involved of course, audience engagement, promotion, and so forth. The whole campaign really was a marathon month.
PP: Was there a feeling that, due to the unique nature of the game, it might be a ‘difficult sell’ to a traditional publisher?
WD: Not really no, we actually had interest from a couple of publishers around that time and we spoke to them. Ultimately, though, with the funding from Kickstarter and some additional help from the Canadian government, we felt we would be able to adequately finance the project that way without sacrificing any creative control. It worked out for the best too; the feedback we got was absolutely key to building the game, through that and the closed Alpha and Beta testing.
PP: Interesting, can you give us an example of something in the game that came out of the feedback?
WD: One thing we found through feedback from level testing was that people found some of the larger areas, in the rune hunting sections of the game, felt a bit empty. So from that we added in ideas you see in the final version like the serpent Jormungandr in the Ice lake, or the Dwarves who worship the cave Jotun and attack you when you trespass in his realm.
PP: Let’s talk about the art style; it’s fantastic, but what made you decide to use the presumably painstaking process of creating hand drawn images for everything in the game?
WD: Fortunately we already knew some great 2D artists from our mobile games background, and we had some great relationships in that area, so we were able to take advantage of that. We really wanted to create almost a fairy tale scene and their work is really reminiscent, in a good way, of the Disney renaissance of the 80’s and 90’s.
PP: The way the animations bring these drawings to life is something that really impressed us when playing Jotun, how difficult was it to bring the drawn concepts to a playable state? How similar was this process to, say, animating a TV cartoon?
WD: It’s not too dissimilar I suppose, except that you’re doing it all from multiple angles due to the interactive nature of the game. There’s a lot of work involved, we had two animators and some of the work had to be drawn literally frame by frame. We had some puppet animations as well, but we’re talking about 5 angles for your character, 2 for bosses – which is then mirrored to give you 4, and then other elements as well like the vines that pop up and attack in the first area. Add to that the fact that we’re talking about 5-6 hours of animation [runtime of the game], as opposed to the standard 1-2 you would find in an animated movie, and you can see how big a job we’re talking about.
PP: Two animators! That’s pretty amazing work then, they must have had some serious wrist cramp by the time you were done?
WD: (Laughs) I hope not, we try to avoid personal injury wherever possible!
PP: Speaking of animation, some of the best examples of this are the boss fights against the Jotun themselves. These fights are also quite challenging from a gameplay perspective (at least we found them a challenge!). Was this a conscious decision?
WD: Absolutely, a lot of the ‘content’ of the game is in the boss fights so we wanted to make these feel like a sizable experience. Shadow of the Colossus was a big influence; though you’re not climbing all over the Jotun, there are all these extra elements, animations and environmental aspects going on.
PP: So would you say you wanted players to feel like they had achieved something after defeating a boss?