I remember when I first learned about Freja And The False Prophecy ; stumbled upon, more exactly. I was scouring my twitter feed, same ol’ same ol’, and suddenly came this beautiful art.
It was different, splendid but not show off, and just glancing at it promised adventures in a cold, unforgiving land filled of mysteries.
Now, a few months after my discovery, Romy and Lasse, founders of Unsigned Double studio, are ready to show Freja in all her glory:
a demo, available on their just launched Kickstarter campaign, and at the Playtopia Festival, the very first indie games and interactive arts convention in South Africa where our adorable couple live with their even more adorable dog.
Hi Romy and Lasse, and welcome to our Coffee Break!
So Freja’s on Kickstarter now, what a step!
What are the origins of Freja? How did it all began?
Lasse: We actually tried to make another game called Beard-The-Face a few years ago. A comedy game where a viking loses his beard and is forced on an adventure to regain his beard, only to find that he didn’t need the beard after all to be awesome.
That project didn’t work out unfortunately, but I think the story of Freja and The False Prophecy started there and we slowly evolved from it.
We also wanted a character that was female and didn’t conform to feminine tropes. More reading on exactly what we tried to avoid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropes_vs._Women_in_Video_Games
Romy: The personal motivation also comes from us wanting to work on something cool and fun together, where we have creative freedom and can make something people will enjoy! We both do a lot of work in the advertising world, which taught me a lot and I do enjoy it, but it isn’t always rewarding. “Oh look, I finished another commercial that no one really wants to see” is something I felt too often.
So, while working on Freja can be stressful, it’s also really exciting and rewarding.
Lasse, I know you’ve fallen in love with Norway through trips you took together, and that you aim to tell a story that stays true to the Norse Mythology.
How do you achieve that ? With plenty of research?
L: Yeah, we’re doing loads and loads of research. We’ve also joined some groups on reddit and we’re in contact with Asatru members who are collaborating and advising us about Norse mythology.
It’s challenging though because Norse Mythology and the stories are not always consistent or very specific, so quite a bit of it is up to interpretation. However, we feel pretty confident that we can stay true to Norse Legends and still have a cool and fun spin in it.
Romy, that ain’t gonna be a surprise — you know I love your art.
Were there a lot of iterations before you settled on Freja’s looks?
R: Thank you! The look of the game did take a long time to find. The first few versions of Freja were awful. I peaked at them again as I was answering this! Looking back I’m happy with where we landed with the style and color palette of the game, I think it compliments the story and other aspects nicely. The style also allows me to make assets pretty quickly which is important for us.
Can you tell us about your graphic workflow? What do you use for motion?
And did your experience in the animation industry helped you, or on the contrary you’ve found yourself falling back to professional habits and constraints?
R: My experience in the animation industry definitely helped! One thing I’ve found really interesting is the difference in composition and scene layout for games. In animation, I’m in control of where the camera goes and exactly what gets seen and when. In games that’s a different story, things need to look good from everywhere, no matter where/when the player decides to run or jump, the shot needs to have good composition/layout. That was challenging for me in the beginning but I’ve gotten better at laying things out. At least a 2d game has a somewhat limited point of view :P
I do a lot of rough sketching and then once I’m happy with that I jump into Photoshop to do the final thing. I paint a lot with textural brushes and try have a limited color palette for each asset. I have also tried to limit myself to 5–6 Photoshop brushes for all the assets in the game, I think it’s helped me to keep everything looking cohesive. And then, for the characters at least, I split them up into the necessary parts and our animator takes them into Spine to start making them move.
I’m also using Ferr2d Terrain Tool in Unity a lot, it’s been really useful!
So, your first game is an action-platformer with a big emphasis on its universe and narrative.
That’s really ambitious! You didn’t really choose the easiest game to make!
What has been so far the most complicated thing to implement?
L: Haha yeah I guess we f***k*d up a bit! Jokes, I dunno I just feel confident (although sometimes I feel incredibly stupid too). I know everyone says start small but you know, I’ve been working in the development industry for a while now and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I guess I’m not afraid of shifting out of my comfort zone, making mistakes and, hopefully at least, learning from them and overcoming challenges.
From a technical and conceptual side, yeah there are definitely loads of new things to face everyday but we live in an age and time (luckily) that there is an abundance of resources online that can help you get through it. My advice to anyone is just to not give up and keep going. Even if you fail in the end, you’ll still learn a hell of a lot and be a better person for it.
The hardest part, without getting too technical, is the feel of the game. What does combat, exploration and the mechanics of the game feel like to the player? Is it responsive, is it alive, how do I make everything work together to create a memorable and rewarding experience? I think this challenge applies to any genre, coding stuff is easy (kinda lol) but making it feel great is what you’re aiming for.
Creating a game with a big emphasis on universe and narrative was the natural progression for me. I love fantasy novels, I love writing and I love storytelling. Programming is just a side-hobby :-P
R: Yup. Sometimes I think of all the things that need to get done for the game to be finished. And then I panic. And then I remind myself that we have a couple years to do all that and we just have to do everything step by step, one thing at a time! I actually love that we have this vast world to create, it’s really motivating.
Which games inspired you, gameplay-wise? And what do you think Freja has that’s different from the others?
L: Some games that inspired me or that feel awesome to play: Dark Souls, Ori And the Blind Forest, Hollow Knight, King’s Quest.
R: Divinity Original Sin, Limbo, Ori And and Blind Forest (prettiest game ever), Stardew Valley.
I think what we have that stands out is how the sum of our parts combine to create a great experience:
An epic story, awesome and satisfying combat and a strong, independent (although vulnerable in many ways), non-stereotypical female protagonist all thrust into this amazing world of Norse Mythology.
At least, this is our goal. To take a lot of cool concepts and bundle them together.
Apart from the funding, what do you expect this Kickstarter experience will bring you?
L: A lot of stress!! Jokes. I guess you just learn so much on the business side and hopefully we’ll gain a lot of new fans and people who believe in our project. Even if we don’t hit our target.
R: Having a Kickstarter and going to Playtopia round the same time pushed us into making our demo which was great! We learnt so much making it and now have a very solid workflow. We’ll be really happy if it gets the game some publicity and gains us a community that we can get feedback from in the future.
How do you manage your worktime on Freja? Is it even more difficult doing it as a couple?
L: Its tough. We work and work and work. We’re always like: “Ok once we finish the XYZ we can chill a bit” but the truth is we’re so devoted now that for the next 2 years we’re going to have to sacrifice a lot. But we try keep things balanced and live healthy lives too. Wherever we can, we take trips to the countryside or just veg out in front of the couch. But yeah, the workload is tough.
R: We’ve been together for 8 years now, so we’re pretty stable. But yeah, sometimes an argument or disagreement in the work space can bleed into our personal lives. This is probably the worst part but luckily it doesn’t happen too often and we try to avoid it as much as we can.
I’ve seen more and more indie devs coming from South Africa, and they don’t seem afraid to bring something different on the table. This dynamic, is it something you’re feeling?
L: For sure!! We’re so proud of our homegrown here making a statement to the world and we hope we can do the same too.
We’re in our incubation stage and now more than ever we need support internationally to keep our scene vibrant and progressing.
For us, this is just the start of the journey. We’d like to make many more games and we already have some awesome ideas for our next project.
So, post-Kickstarter, what’s next!
What’s the next big milestone for you?
L: Honestly… Just a couple of days break. Running a kickstarter is intense and so much more work than you expect.
After the Kickstarter I’d like to just put on some nice music and work on the game solidly for a few months. Make some super solid progress on the actual game.
After that, who knows.
R: Once it’s all over and we’ve had a little break, I’m really looking forward to mapping out the whole game in detail, planning all the little interactions Freja’s going to have with other characters, doing all the other characters’ designs and figuring out the finer details of the story. That’s going to be lots of fun.
Our Coffee Break’s coming to an end, and I wish you great success on your Kickstarter campaign!
Bonus question: Coffee, tea, or beer? ☕🍵🍺?
L: I’m a programmer so definitely: Coffee!!
Freja and the False Prophecy is now on Kickstarter:
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