Interview with Will Dubé Creator of Jotun

While browsing Kickstarter to see what amazing projects were on the cusp of possibility, I came across Jotun. Very much a work-in-progress, the concept, the grain, the seed of the fantastic was undeniably there. In a world where so many shout and trumpet in order to sell themselves, Jotun stands in stark contrast as it is modest and restrained (which I believe it inherits from its creator, Will Dubé). I wouldn't be surprised if every member of Thunder Lotus, his team, shared his same level of focus and dedication.

How did Thunder Lotus get started?

Thunder Lotus was started to create, develop and publish indie games. When I quit my job, I knew I had to put something on Kickstarter, because it would be the ultimate validation for our project.

Tell me about the people in your team.

Full-time, I'm lucky enough to be working with really amazing people. Alexandre Boyer is a super talented animator who enables our 2D style. I cannot announce who our programmer is for contractual reasons, but I'll have an announcement in a few weeks! The rest of our team is made up of extremely talented part-time group including Max LL, who is writing Jotun's score.

What made you (collectively) choose games?

Games are simply what we do. We love games, have experience making games and love playing them. We couldn't see ourselves trying to build the next social network.

A Dark and Stormy... Existence

How about a little background for Jotun?

Jotun is an action-exploration game set in Norse mythology.

In Jotun, you play Thora, a Norse warrior who has died an inglorious death and must face the challenges of Viking purgatory to prove herself to the Gods and enter Valhalla.

Jotun's core loop revolves around collecting Runes to summon and fight the Jotun, gigantic Norse elementals. The game focuses on the balance between atmospheric exploration and ferocious combat. Imagine the mysterious romantic mood of Journey mixed with the scale of the boss fights in Shadow of the Colossus in top-down 2D.

What is it about Norse mythology that grabbed your attention?

I've always loved mythology and centuries-old stories. The more I read about Norse myths and legends, the more I knew this relatively unexplored universe would make a perfect backdrop for Thora's story.

Aside from games like The Legend of Zelda serving as inspiration for game play, what resource(s) are you using to inform your story and characters? I can only imagine how difficult it would be to find a consistent and educated collection of information on Norse mythology outside of places like academia.

It's obviously very important for us to stay as true as we can to the mythology. Most of our knowledge comes from books

Official Jotun Research.

Official Jotun Research.

How do you interpret these characters?

We are trying to stay as true to the mythology as we can. One of the main reasons people gravitated to Jotun was the desire to be immersed in Norse mythology. It would be foolish to try and change that.

I believe most games would attempt to appropriate these characters and put them in a modern context and identify them using broad-strokes. You seem to be going in a less interpretive direction.

Absolutely. We want to stay true to the ancient texts as much as possible. I think that's where the appeal of the game truly is.

When do we get to learn more about Thora?! Or, would this be giving away just a little too much?

We won't be revealing spoilers any time soon :)

You seem to have a solid triad of mechanics you want to do right: exploration, combat, puzzle solving. At this stage, how well balanced do you anticipate these to be?

Pacing is such an important aspect of Jotun. Finding the correct balance between action and exploration moments is huge. We're working hard to make sure the complete experience flows extremely well.

A common refrain is to try to make games "simple but deep". You've gone on the record that much of the game will be fairly straightforward. How you do plan on handling exposition? Will a single play through reveal the whole story? Are players rewarded with more as they explore?

There are several ways we want the player to experience the story. The whole of purgatory is seeped in Norse mythology. We want players to really feel like their living the myths, without making things too wordy or educational. Storytelling in Jotun is very organic and players who venture to ends of purgatory will definitely be happy they made the journey.

Selling Yourselves

Recently off of the Kickstarter train, how are you feeling?

Exhausted, happy, proud, thankful, relieved, humble, stressed at the fact we now have to make an actual game.

What are the next steps you will take in the development process?

The next steps for us is to do a mini pre-production/game jam to test out a bunch of ideas and see the game in action. We have a combat prototype, but how do the boss fights fit in the world? Why is exploration fun? We have a bunch of these types of questions that must be answered before 2015.

How did you come to decide on crowd-funding to make this project a reality?

From the start, I knew crowd funding was the only way we could validate the idea for the game. I could have gotten a loan or maybe even some equity investors, but I think the greatest danger for game developers is to work on something you don't people will want to play. Kickstarter gave us the guarantee that Jotun has found an audience.

Do you feel pressure to fulfill the expectations of those thinking of funding you?

The pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves and the inherent pressure of satisfying our backers' trust. Kickstarter is an extremely risky proposition for consumers. There are horror stories out there. I think it's really amazing that people were able to put there trust into our team and we will do everything we can to reward them for their trust.

In one of my previous interviews, feedback was a decidedly important facet of KS. Is there a point at which you feel you might compromise your vision if you try to change the game to gain more backers?

You cannot build a game without getting feedback. No project exists in a vacuum and can survive without it. That said, strong creative direction is absolutely necessary as well. The main thing is setting a strong direction and understanding that there are many different ways of getting there.

Raking It In

Now that you are focusing on actual development and have some time to reflect, how was the crowdfunding process? Anything you would do differently if there is a next time?

We are so grateful to our Kickstarter backers and to everyone who made this game a reality - be it the press who ran articles and interviews, fans who tweeted, shares on Facebook, our friends and families, everyone! Kickstarter is a really intense emotional experience. Looking back there are a few things I would do differently (Stretch goals, more gameplay), but I have no regrets.

Humble has done a tremendous job in the Indie game space by facilitating sales and reaching a new audience, how have they treated you?

Humble are fantastic. From helping us set up widgets to sell the game outside the Kickstarter campaign to digitally distributing backer rewards, they are absolutely amazing in their support.

While watching your KS updates, I see that you might be making the habit of polling funders on a regular basis. 

1) How much of your funders contribute in meaningful discussion?

It's hard to give an exact number, but we are continually surprised at our funders' knowledge of Norse mythology and insight into game design.

2) How do you walk the line between incorporating good feedback and continuing to make your game?

Feedback from our backers and our fans is paramount to Jotun's success. I cannot stress the importance of player feedback enough. Kickstarter has allowed us to be able to iterate much faster than traditional game development. Ultimately, we want to make a game people love to play. Our creative vision is set: action exploration in Norse mythology. This destination will not change, but there are many ways to get there.

3) Have any responses/ideas given you an, "Oh-my-god, I-can't-believe-we-didn't-think-of-that" moment?

Not exactly, but our last survey really surprised me and went against what I was expecting. You'll have to follow our next Kickstarter update to know what it is though :)

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And, of course, check out other Here Are Words interviews.