From mechanics to story
Trollskogen was originally pitched as “a calm exploration in the woods” because in the beginning, I was basing the game entirely on the mechanics alone. There was no story, no real cohesion between several of the levels, and no text. Each level was a small puzzle that players solved using a newly introduced mechanic each time. It didn’t feel as rewarding as it did frustrating, because more time was spent figuring out how to solve it rather than enjoying the feeling of completing it. Each level was also over very quickly, with minimal amount of cutscenes, camera zooms or sounds. Players wondered if there was a story or underlying meaning to the game, so I had to work on improving the story-telling through mechanics. It was a very fun challenge, and I also ended up adding written story texts in between each level to tie it all together. The story is loosely based on “The Changeling”, so I was able to adapt it to my own story which turned out to be pretty personal.
Today I describe it as an interactive fairy tale, because it just does that: tells a short story through interaction. It’s meant as a way for a child and their parent or older sibling to collaborate and enjoy a calm moment together, as they would with a written fairy tale. It’s inspired by the moments I myself had as a child, when my mother would read me fairy tales about the Nordic woods or sing me lullabies about the trolls that lived there.
Trollskogen has gone from a paper concept I sketched soon five years ago, to a small tech demo I created two years ago, to a complete game today. I’m excited for it to be up for pre-order now on the iOS Appstore, and within a few days it will be available for the world. I’m super proud of myself, it’s such an achievement for me to have created this personal project that has been part of my own journey in finding myself again. Thank you all that have supported me throughout this process, it’s been intense emotionally, but oh so rewarding ❤
If you have an iOS device and want to pre-order Trollskogen, you can find it on the AppStore 🙂
My goals for Trollskogen at Stugan
I applied to Stugan with the goal of creating a vertical slice that I can show to publishers and potential investors. I believe there are many people who want to enjoy a calm experience with pleasant aesthetics. I also think that many people would enjoy learning more about Nordic folklore and quirky traditions that we normally don’t hear about. Sure, vikings are cool and all, but there is so much more to tell stories about 🙂 Most people have never even heard about the Midsummer traditions that we have, and how big these are here.
Stugan is located in an area with the type of environment I’m creating in Trollskogen, so I want to soak in that inspiration while I’m surrounded by it for these 2 months. There is something very serene about the Nordic woods, lakes and fields. Even just taking the train from Copenhagen up to Stockholm, or from Stockholm over to Oslo is mesmerising. I always choose the window seat and become completely drawn in by the nature that passes by, and love the transitions from seaside to fields, to woods and lakes and the various villages. I’m creating new environment art and basing a lot of it on the surroundings here at Stugan.
There are puzzle elements in each level, and they mainly consist of exploring the environment and interacting with it. By doing this, players will figure out how to solve each puzzle in order to progress forward. A thing that is missing right now and that I’m adding while I’m here is making more objects in each scene interactable in some way, even if they don’t help progress the game forward. It’s so rewarding for the player to get a response, and encourages them to interact and explore more.
I’m expanding the first level I ever designed – the whole reason Trollskogen came to be -and tying it together with the story-telling. I’m adding more trolls, more expressive animations, and some hints of the story by revealing the Troll Princess to the player for the first time.
While I’ve been here, I’ve also been adding a few more things to the project in order to help teach the player some mechanics that are not very common in most mobile games. I want to make sure that the players do not accidentally solve the puzzles without knowing what they did, so each mechanic needs to be crystal clear. I’m taking the current levels and getting them into a shape where they can be played independently either at a showcase or through test flight. Thanks to my amazing Stugan mates, I’ve brainstormed how to deal with certain game design issues, and I’m adding more ways of communicating with the player. Here at Stugan I’ve also had my youngest play tester so far – she’s 15 and was incredible at the game, solving every puzzle without hesitation.
I’ve started adding more details to certain scenes, such as plants, mushrooms and berries that are commonly found in these woods. I asked amongst my friends who grew up in the Nordics about some of their common memories from their childhood, and received some amazing responses that just fills me up with nostalgia. Because of these heart-warming responses, I’ve decided to add a new feature: an in-game handbook containing fauna and flora that you discover and unlock in the game as you go along. This handbook will also contain the mystical creatures you encounter, such as ‘mosekonen’, ‘vittror’ and ‘lyktemann’. This is just a nice complement to the rest of the story for those interested in the folklore parts.
We’ve now been here a bit over a week and I just want to express how grateful I am to have been chosen to participate in this program. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and I am already feeling how I’m growing in terms of my confidence, creativity and ways of thinking. The other persons chosen to be part of this program are absolutely incredible. The biggest shoutout goes to Jana – she is one of the founders of Stugan and also runs the program, and does an amazing job. On top of that she’s just a fantastic human being, I love going on hikes with her or chatting about absolutely any topic. I don’t have a photo with everyone in it but here is part of the Stugan family:
Thanks for reading in on my first blog post here at Stugan, there will certainly be more 🙂
Trollskogen selected for Stugan 2018
A very exciting thing that will take place this summer is being part of the Stugan 2018 accelerator program. In just one week, 21 game devs from around the world will travel to the middle of Sweden and live in cabins in the Nordic woods for 2 months. Here we will be working on our games, receiving mentorship from industry professionals and taking in inspiration from the environment around us – including each other.
It is an amazing opportunity to have been selected for the program, and this will certainly enable me to take Trollskogen through its next steps. Creating a game about exploring the Nordic woods while living in the actual Nordic woods just couldn’t be more perfect. I’m very much looking forward to being in an environment together with other creatives, and I have a strong feeling that I will grow as a game developer there.
The other projects that are part of this years program are looking fantastic, have a look at the trailer:
There have been many amazing games being created at Stugan in the last 3 years that the program has been running, including Semblance, Gonner, Dandara, Tunic, Tick Tock, Intergalactic Space Princess, Mosh Pit Simulator….the list goes on! No pressure…
I’m looking into setting up some streaming time as well as creating small vlogs during the time I’m there, and Stugan has its official YouTube channel where there will be video posts of the teams and projects throughout these months. I’m aiming to record the streaming sessions to show parts of the development of Trollskogen, but more on that later!
This was my video application for Stugan 2018, it gives an introduction to Trollskogen 🙂
Next time I’ll be writing from the woods in Sweden, so excited!
Thanks for stopping by!
From concept to implementation
It’s always fun to go back and look at original sketches of an idea and then see if what you imagined in your head ended up like. Me being a visual person thought it’d be fun to share some of these. I mean I am, after all, making a narrative game that uses no text to tell a story 😛 Here are a few before and afters from Trollskogen. Most of these have been tweaked further, so the videos are not completely up to date, but that’s game development for ya 😀
Mors lilla Olle
Hope you enjoyed this post! Check out all the videos on our Vimeo channel and you can always see early snippets and screenshots on our Instagram account 🙂
As mentioned in the previous blogpost, a small prototype was created during Global Game Jam 2015 called Slottstaden. Part of this is now being recreated in Trollskogen, and it’s a nice trip down memory lane to see how these parts have changed.
The original line art version of the castle has taken on a ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ colour palette.
Playthrough of Slottstaden:
Hoping to wrap up the new version of the castle chapter very soon, perhaps rewatching some Wes Anderson films will inspire more of the atmosphere.
Thanks for reading, hope to see you here again soon!
An introduction to Trollskogen
The concept of Trollskogen came to be when designing a level in 2014 where the way the player uses the mobile device as input is not limited to tap and swipe. In this initial level, the player has to turn the device upside down in order to solve the puzzle and proceed to the next level. Making the use of tilt, rotate, shake and multitouch are fun ways to interact with a game, and this is something mobile devices enable. This type of interaction with a game was something to be explored further.
The project is an interactive visual novel/fairy tale, where each level is a chapter of the book and contains a small puzzle to be solved and hidden objects to be found. In each chapter, the player will unveil a hidden animal that will guide the main character on her path. As the story progresses, the animals are not always going to be guiding the main character, so she has to figure out which other elements in her environment that will help guide her further. This could be the moon lighting up a path, the stars lighting up an area or her reflection in the water unblocking barriers. The end goal is to escape the woods completely. ‘Trollskogen’ (or ‘Troldeskoven’) are the mystical woods found in Nordic fairy tales, and in them live the forest people (‘Skogsväsen’ or ‘Skovvæsner’).
A big inspiration is Simogo’s game ‘YearWalk’ on iOS, as the game does exactly this: tells a story through puzzles and interacting with the environment with minimal use of text narration. In order to solve certain puzzles in the game, the player has to make use of tilting or rotating the device, multi touch as well as dragging the environment beyond the borders of the screen. Another inspiration is ‘The Room’ series which ties narration to puzzles and hidden-object gameplay.
During Global Game Jam 2015, a project called ‘Slottstaden’ was created which was a first iteration of an interactive book. The project contained 5 levels/chapters where the player could interact and enter floating books, erase clouds and put together broken pieces of a castle similar to a jigsaw puzzle. The art was all hand drawn in ink and scanned so it would have more of a paper/book impact.
The development of Trollskogen started during spare time in October 2016 in order to demo a small prototype for attendees at Game Developer Conference 2017. The initial reactions were positive, and the project is now being worked on full time since September 2017.
50% of the levels have been developed into a playable prototype, and testing is continously being done on iOS devices. Polish of the input has been the highest priority and will continue being tweaked. Focus has shifted over to giving the player feedback during interaction, which ties the input with the design of the puzzles in order to guide the players. Research on puzzle design and interacting with the environment is being done and games such as ‘Gorogoa’ are highly inspirational.
Another big focus is making interactable elements in each chapter more distinguished from the background and static objects in the environment. As Trollskogen is a 2D game with a flat environment it can be difficult for the player to immediately know what to interact with. Inspiration will be drawn from other 2D games with a flat world, such as ‘Cuphead’.
The theme being Nordic fairy tales makes younger children a suitable audience due to the nature of the stories, but as fantasy and Norse mythology has made its way into other mediums for all age groups, it can also be enjoyed by older children and adults. A surprising result when testing the prototype on adults 20+ was the positive reactions from persons who typically do not play games. They were very taken with the art style and calm atmosphere the game presented.
Playtesting has also shown that players are curious about the story and want more of the narrative. Players have so far been interpreting the story themselves and are finding metaphors in some of the chapters. This was a great finding as the story can take Trollskogen beyond being simply a puzzle game, and more emphasis is being put on the narration. Nordic fairy tales are generally dark in nature, and the conclusion of Trollskogen wrapped up by the final chapters will hopefully leave the player with the same feeling as when reading a fairy tale.
Thank you for reading this first introduction to Trollskogen, and I will be updating the blog with more news on the progress and sneak peaks 🙂 You can also check out screenshots and videos on our Instagram and Facebook page.
Hope to see you here again!