Jotun is a game far more inspired by Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus than it is by the soaring wave of popularity surrounding Thor. The game’s lead is a Norse woman for one and the fact that her name is ‘Thora’ in a time when Marvel have decided to make Thor’s comics counterpart a woman (also named Thor) is a happy coincidence I’m told, but in all honesty, the similarities end there. Thora wields a mahoosize blade from the get-go and gameplay is a mix between death-defying feats of wit, bravery and willpower against giants (those would be the ‘Jotun‘ then) and puzzles that see you embrace runes, shrines and the gods of Norse mythology as Thora fights her way out of Purgatory and into Valhalla. So with that enough to whet my axe-wielding appetite I decided to talk to the game’s designer, Will Dubé, to find out more.
There’ll be a good chunk of boss battles to test your mettle in the game and the developer has shown these off somewhat, explaining that they’re throwing out stats and upgrades and such in favour of enemies that have definitive movements, defences and lethal attacks that are going to take a more than a few button presses, dodge-and-rolls and a well placed bladed swipe to thwart. In the best interests of staying honest to potential backers, developer Thunder Lotus isn’t claiming that every boss battle in the game is complete but they have showed off one hell of a beast and how the game’s camera will pan out to accommodate the expanses of Jotun’s battlefield.
Ah yes, it’s one of ‘those’ Kickstarter games. But! Before you run off with your coin-purse clutched to your bosom like one of Jotun’s great, hulking giants is after your lunch money, respect the fact that it’s already well on its way to a fairly moderate $50,000 goal (moderate in comparison to some other crowdfund hopefuls anyway) and that Kickstarter themselves have recommended that its users back it, recently featuring Jotun as their ‘pick of the day’.
We also have an incredibly detailed roadmap of how Thunder Lotus would spend that 50k (there’s a breakdown that lists office space, salaries and even the cost of all the legal gubbins – music licenses and such) that’s effectively the best way to know that they’re taking our contributions seriously and it’s one of the reasons why I’m so confident in saying that Jotun could be one of the most intelligently and lovingly crafted games in its genre. That’s backed up by valuable updates on art for the game and calls for direct feedback, in case you were still wary about how determined Thunder Lotus are about their project.
Without much ado then, onwards to our interview with Will Dubé, the designer behind Jotun and its treacherous but beautiful world.
Interview: Jotun Designer, Will Dubé
J Station X: From some humongous boss battles to Thora, the suitably badass lead, Jotun appears to have a lot to love so can you give readers a quick pitch about how the game can win them over?
Jotun is an action-exploration game for PC and Mac that takes you on an epic journey through Viking purgatory. 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 combines the mysterious and romantic mood of Journey with the scale of Shadow of the Colossus in beautiful top-down 2D.
JSX: The hand-drawn art style is absolutely one of the draws but with a limited budget and the need to fit that art into a procedurally generated world, is there a concern that that will stretch the team and put even more pressure on yourselves?
With the artists we have and the art style we’ve developed, it’s actually pretty fast for us to produce assets. The amount of work is comparable to highly detailed pixel art and much faster than creating 3D assets. That said, we believe one of Jotun’s strengths is its art style, so we’re putting a lot of effort into it. More details will come on just how the world is generated in a future Kickstarter update!
JSX: Thora, too, is a character that a lot of people seem to have taken to so far and the timing of Thor now being female (in the Marvel comics) is a spot of good timing, I suppose! Was the decision to make your protagonist female a case of ‘oh hey, why doesn’t a woman get a chance to absolutely obliterate these behemoths like a total badass when it’s usually the men who get all the fun’ or was it not even a conscious decision?
Marvel’s announcement is good timing for us, I guess! The decision to have a female protagonist was probably a subconscious reaction to all the talk going on in the industry right now. I don’t think we sat down and said “let’s make her a girl”, but once we started going in that direction, it just kind of made sense. The reaction so far has been great and we’re proud to able to contribute to the gaming landscape this way.
JSX: Speaking of those behemoths, you mention that the epic boss fights are tactical and are inspired by Shadow of the Colossus. Are fights also a little like Dark Souls in that the focus is on the player’s wits and that half the fun is in the difficulty?
For combat we’ve cited many influences: the scale of Shadow of the Colossus, the “classicness” of The Legend of Zelda, the difficulty of Dark Souls and the fluidity of Super Smash Bros. In the end, we’re taking a bit from all these influences and creating an experience where you dodge, flee, position yourself and attack the mighty jotun. Each jotun has several different attacks and defenses so you have to be alert and adjust your tactics. More details will come in Kickstarter updates!
JSX: Meanwhile, you also plan on having a whole host of puzzles and rune collecting in Jotun‘s full release. What will the balance between boss battles and puzzles be like?
For release, there are five big boss fights planned, though that could change depending on stretch goals. The whole point of having a game with both beautiful exploration and epic boss battles is to create the pacing and tension necessary to making a balanced experience. The calmness and beauty of the exploration serves as a counterpoint to the ferociousness of the boss fights.
JSX: I think people are most going to be surprised by Jotun‘s soundtrack, which is the best I’ve heard in a game for a while, let alone one that’s not completed! What other tidbits and parts of the game do people have to look forward to that you have yet to mention much?
Thank you so much for the kind words, I’ll pass them on to Max [LL, who’s in charge of Jotun’s music] ! I think a lot of the magic in games resides in discovering them yourself. I don’t want to spoil too much! What I can say though is that games often think about music last, when everything else is done. For us this is so backwards. Music and sound is an essential part of creating the Jotun experience. We are planning on including sound and music in a special way – in a way that will significantly improve your immersion in the game.
JSX: The Kickstarter page also mentions that Jotun will have “An overarching story to discover for both Thora and Purgatory itself” and people might already know a bit but how far into that lore and history is the team planning to go?
We definitely want to explain the creation of Purgatory and of the world, the battles of the gods versus the jotun and Thora’s previous life. We want the game to be a gateway into the Norse myths and we want the player to discover just how awesome the mythology is.
JSX: And finally, Jotun will be on PC and Mac upon release but it strikes be as the sort of game that would do well on consoles. Are there any plans to bring the game to PS4 or Xbox One once the desktop release is complete?
You’ll have to wait on the Kickstarter stretch goals for those details!
Thank you Will for the interview!
Jotun will be released in September 2015 on Mac and PCs. Click here to back the game on Kickstarter.