This is the transcript of our podcast with Pineleaf Studio about their indie game dwarfheim which first appeared on the site March 23, 2018. It has been edited a bit for easier reading. If you’d like to see the original post including the podcast you can find it here:
In this interview we are joined by Alban “Albz” Berisha, community manager
and Håvard “Wolferey” Skjærvik, Art Director at Pineleaf Studio.
Brian from Behind The Indies conducted the interview and his questions are denoted by ‘BTI’
With that, let’s hear about Dwarfheim!
BTI: Do you guys want to start by just telling me a little bit about what you guys are doing at Pineleaf Studio?
Alban: As stated earlier I am the community manager what that entails is that I will oversee our community, oversee and direct our social media manager and write a lot of emails, a lot of newsletters and occasionally I talk in a podcast
Håvard: The art director is what my work is. I do the 3d modeling and just keeping up with just making sure that all the people in our art team are doing all their stuff it’s a lot of communication figuring out how things should look, how things should work, getting all the eggs in the basket so it looks right and feels good.
BTI: You guys just released the Berserker model for the game. How many people did you have working on that model?
Håvard: I think total we have 4 people working on that model right now. So it started with the concept art figuring out how the character should look and working with our story and game designer to figure out what that class should be, how it should work in the game and then we have a character modeler who takes care of most of the modeling of the model and then we’ll give it over to our animator who will make sure it moves and can be posed properly and everything like that.
BTI: I’m probably jumping ahead a little here talking about characters without really giving people any background on the game. I’ve been kinda following it for a while, but its a doing something a little different dealing with cooperation between the players. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Alban: Absolutely, I can give you the standard elevator pitch I always give when people ask me what Dwarfheim is. What Dwarfheim is, is it’s a new and fresh take on the real time strategy genre whereas in a classic RTS, like, say, Age of Empires or Starcraft, you manage your entire civilization, on your own. You construct your base, you gather resources, you can even control your armies. All that is controlled by one player. Now what’s really interesting about Dwarfheim is that we take all that and we separate it into four roles. So you have one player doing resource management, one building the base, one controlling the military, and the last one is the diplomat. Yeah, so that’s the basic gist of it.
BTI: How do you feel about cooperation versus competition in general? I mean are you trying to bring cooperation into the game as any type of social commentary or do you just think it’s going to be good for game play?
Alban: Personally I think it’s more the game play mechanics of it. It’s a.. like we find it to be a very interesting game play concept, but it’s also gonna be a challenge the social aspects of it as well, cause, yeah, online communities tend to be a bit toxic at times and… we’re no strangers to that, I feel. It’s going to be interesting how teams will deal with that aspect of the game.
BTI: You guys have definitely done some community outreach and stuff. At the end of last year you finished your first alpha. Obviously you guys got some feedback from that. How did that go? Did it change any directions in the game?
Alban: We got a lot of good feedback on it…We basically have the same idea and the same direction but using the feedback after the closed alpha we’ve kind of set ourselves a new and improved course and, personally, I think the state of the game is better than ever.
Håvard: I think a lot of what we found out during the alpha was the core game play is good but there’s a lot of networking stuff interfacing with all the different roles because you have to sync everything up and make sure that when someone builds something, everyone else sees that building and all that kind of core stuff.
Alban: And the technology we used before that proved to be kind of unstable.
Håvard: We had testers complain about these things where one person has a building but the other three people can’t see that building and, of course, we wanted to make some units out of that building. Suddenly you’re having armies coming out of a nonexistent building and you start an attack and that unit shouldn’t exist and stuff crashes.
Alban: Yeah we had terrible problems with the game being quite unstable in the pre alpha.
Håvard: A lot of our alpha testing was really great to just confirm we were on the right way…the right track for the game play.
BTI: Is there a estimated date on when another testing might come out? Or a beta for other people to take a look at?
Alban: Not as of right now. I don’t believe so at least.
Håvard: We have internal goals that we’re trying to reach, but there’s a lot of like groundwork still that still has to be done for it to work together. Right now we’re focusing a lot on instability like getting all the networking stuff working pretty great, but you’ll have, well, have to kind of reintegrate the previous gaming to our new networking engine and all that. So hopefully once then we’ll have some new alpha testing going out.
Alban: We do have some plans as to when we will be able to have a new round of alpha testing but nothing conclusive yet nothing we can share with our community, yet.
BTI: When dealing with some of these issues especially social issues online, having to have everybody sync up it got me thinking about the roles within the game and the characters. We started off talking about the Berserker. Are those characters gonna be locked into different roles or can different characters take on different roles?
Alban: The Berserker unit you talked about earlier is going to be a unit exclusively for the warrior role in the game which is the role that takes care of the military, if that answers your question.
BTI: How many characters are you planning? Or do you have a plan yet for how many characters?
Alban: Its kind of hard to say cause we’re…
Håvard: The different roles have different characters and that amount varies.
Håvard: For the warrior it’s kind of like hard to…I think we have a total of… what is it now? Eighteen or Nineteen units or something.
Alban: Yeah, something like that.
Håvard: Because a lot of what the warrior does, if you’ve ever played something like world of warcraft or any RPG really you’ll often find that you can swap equipment and armor and stuff on the units, so this is like part of the game design of making all the roles feel kind of unique, since we are splitting out all the responsibilities of a normal RTS into different roles. So the way we’re handling the warrior is you’ll have the ability to change the equipment on a base warrior unit so if you have no armor and perhaps axes you’ll make a Berserker, but if you have light armor and axes then you’ll have a light axe warrior.
Alban: Exactly so the Berserker unit we shared earlier isn’t a locked unit but more of a variant of the base warrior unit.
Håvard: The biggest reason why we revealed the Berserker first was mostly because that’s the first unit we had that had all the base modeling and the weapons ready. And that’s part of what we’ve been working on lately now, is just making all the other weapons and all the other like the light medium and heavy armor for the warriors.
BTI: Was there a reason the Berserker was done first? Was that a favorite of somebody’s?
Håvard: Yeah, kind of. A lot of it is that since we have it split up into warrior, miner, builder, the diplomat, we’re trying to find kind of what. the, not exactly the hero unit… but more like the iconic unit for each type. And Berserker was our, like in the stories and in the art and everything, the Berserker was our take on the main character, the main hero unit for the warrior.
BTI: You were just talking about stories. Norway is pretty rich in mythology have you guys been drawing on that for your game?
Alban: Initially we kind of planned on having a very Nordic inspired theme to our game. There’s still some of that. It’s a bit looser now, but earlier in our development, we really wanted to be very focused on Nordic culture and folklore and stuff. Just because it would be easier for us to get grants and scholarships and such from the Norwegian government cause we’re furthering Norwegian culture in a way… We’re still Nordic inspired, but it’s a bit looser as of right now.
BTI: You recently had some really great success in crowdfunding and other types of funding. Am i right you reached your goal in four days on crowdfunding?
Alban: 3 days under 72 hours.
BTI: 3 days that’s amazing.
Håvard: We were pretty happy then.
Alban: Yeah absolutely it went above all expectations. I can tell you a bit about that whole process if you want.
BTI: Yeah, I would love to hear a little about that.
Alban: Basically we started using a new crowdfunding platform that was started here in our home city of Trondheim called Folkeinvest, which means The Peoples Invest and we kind of set ourselves a relatively conservative goal of maybe reaching 350,000- Norwegian Kroner. I’m not sure how much that is in dollars, but let’s say around 40,000 us dollars. I think around that neighborhood. What ended up happening was that we surpassed that goal in 24 hours just about. And then we were like wondering, “Wow, how far can this go?” And we managed to reach our maximum goal in, like we said earlier, 3 days. And that, kind of, led us to believe…. led us to consider that maybe we’d been a bit unambitious in that, but it just went. Yeah, I don’t even know what to say about it. It came as a huge surprise to all of us. So we reached our goal of 900,000 Norwegian Kroner about 116,000 U.S. dollars in 72 hours which was amazing.
BTI: Was there any one thing you think you did that helped set you up for that, or was it a bunch of things, or just everything coming together at the right time?
Alban: Umn I’m not entirely sure. I do think it’s a combination of things and everything just came together very nicely.
Håvard: I also think we had some earlier kind of prototype and after the alpha testing period we had some days at our local …where we have offices, it’s a place called Work Work, and downstairs there’s a bar that’s open for everyone. So we used that as a testing area, set up a couple of computers and just let people come in for a day and just test our prototypes and give us very early feedback. And I definitely think stuff like that helped us get more noticed in our like local developer communities and everyone. That’s kind of how the tech, the Norwegian tech scene definitely noticed us doing that very early.
Alban: It also bears to mention that the closed alpha we had we kind of planned it so that the closed alpha would be just before this whole crowdfunding campaign. So we moved into it with a lot of momentum and on the kickoff event at Work Work we actually had a small exhibition match where the alpha testers played against the developers. And they beat us quite badly. Yeah, you know it’s always a good sign when the players are better than the developers at the game, I feel.
BTI: It also sounds like it helped you guys, like you said, get momentum and get a buzz going before you launched that. I think I’ve seen that with a lot of other indie game studios in kind of getting ahead of themselves with a good idea and starting to do a crowdfunding without really having that momentum and having it not work.
Håvard: That’s definitely been a big reason why we were focusing on communities early. If there’s nobody there to enjoy the game then starting any kind of anything, any kind of release or a crowdfunding campaign or anything like that… you’re gonna have a tough time without the community.
BTI: Absolutely, so obviously, you guys have been doing some pretty serious work to get to that point. But… you know, in some of your videos and pictures it looks like you guys have a lot of fun.
Alban: Oh, definitely, we definitely have loads of fun. It’s kind of how this whole thing started. It started off as something fun and we all always had that idea that we wanted to develop a game and release it to the public but initially it was just fun and now its so much more.
BTI: There’s just a quick little video on YouTube of the camera peeking over the desk and seeing a dwarf on the other side it’s hilarious. It’s awesome!
Alban: Yeah Marius, that’s another one of our animators. But since we’re promoting it, especially early on when we had the more Nordic theme behind it, we often tried to figure out how we could like gather dress and do anything like photo shoots or anything like that kind of stuff in the office with just all kinds of weird wacky helmets and beards and just everything like that.
(***Correction*** The video I’m talking about isn’t on youtube it’s on instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZOwaj3B1rq/)
BTI: Okay, so that’s not really what he looks like?
Alban: No, it’s kind of close. He does have a quite awesome beard, but not that awesome.
Håvard: He always wears the helmet though. That’s like his staple.
BTI: And I see you have some four legged friends around the office also.
Håvard: That’s Rufus our audio lead’s dog
Alban: I cannot deal with Rufus. Everytime Rufus comes into the office i just revert to an amoeba!
Håvard: Production just stops everyone gathers around.
BTI: I was going to ask if they’ve been helping, but now i know its the other way around.
Håvard: Sure, that dog is an excellent programmer, though.
Alban: Yeah, excellent programmer.
BTI: So this is going to be a little bit of a non sequitur here, but also in checking you guys out on twitter, Håvard, it says that you’re into rocket science.
Håvard: Yeah, um, kind of a long story, but when I started going from elementary school to high school, I started looking at paths to get me into game development. And a lot of that was you have to do a lot of business and administration and stuff just to have a very general education to get into university. And i just hated that kind of path, so instead, I took vocational studies with electronics and eventually that led me into space technology and rocket science; which was like the last year of my high school. I have kind of a weird path to university to study game development.
BTI: How do you feel about cars in space?
Håvard: Oh, can’t wait for more!
Alban: We definitely need more cars in space!
Håvard: I’m a huge fan of any kind of rocket launch, though. I have NASA and Space X on Twitter, just following whenever they’re launching a rocket I’m there to watch.
BTI: I mean it’s pretty amazing having a rocket come back to earth i think that’s pretty fantastic.
Håvard: Its an incredible feat of engineering. I can just imagine all that math and just seeing it happen, and its working that must be the best feeling in the world!
Alban: Yeah, like when I saw the video of the rocket landing I’m like this is science fiction man. This isn’t real. It’s just so beautiful to just see it. Yeah, just land down back again very nice.
Håvard: Hitting almost the bullseye on the landing pad it’s so great!
BTI: How long has everyone been working on the game for? Do you have any plans on expanding your team?
Alban: Our team is always like expanding and people come and people go. And right now we’re… me and Håvard had a little conversation about it early… I think we’re 23 active members at the time. At this point in time, we have some people on small sabbaticals, doing small student trips and what not and…
Håvard: A lot of people have master’s degrees they are trying to finish, so they can get back to work on the game.
BTI: Gotchya, but still that’s pretty sizable for an indie studio.
Håvard: Yeah, I think right now we’re the third of fourth largest studio in Norway.
Håvard: Well, it’s a huge game…the whole idea is basically taking a bunch of games like Age of Empires and Starcraft and, uh, Dungeon Keeper and everything like that, and just focusing it down to one game. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done. So to do just our good environment, not having one programmer that’s gonna work almost 20 hours a day just stressing out over it. It’s important for us to just have a good environment to work in and that requires more people than a smaller project would.
And, definitely, like the crowdfunding campaign, that’s the kind of stuff that’s helped us immensely with taking all, not just finding some new people, but also the people we have right now, making sure they could quit their day store or job from sales travel, whatever they had to keep some income going and hiring them on full-time. That definitely helped us ramp up for production.
Alban: Yeah, the crowdfunding campaign really helped us work actively on the project, so it’s no longer just a hobby project for people. People are actually able to work full-time with it and to get a career in game development.
BTI: Is there anything that I missed that you would like folks to know?
Alban: I guess if anyone wants to know more about Dwarfheim just sign up for our newsletter and follow our Twitter and Facebook.
BTI: Do you have any advice for any indie devs out there trying to make a game?
Alban: I have so many advice when it comes to that. Basically put yourself out there go to conventions, talk to people, take interviews, have fun with it, but remember that game development is a business. You know, unless you’re working on your own, completely on your spare time, you do have to treat it as a business. Cause no matter how fun it is to actually develop a game, once the money ran out the fun also ends quickly.
Håvard: Definitely for anyone wanting to get in the industry, just get out there network. Focus on something. Have a plan,especially with artists. There’s a lot of artists who want to just… let’s say they want to be a character designer or something like that. They’ll start drawing, but they don’t have a plan on how to become a character designer or something like that. So they just draw randomly whatever they’re just trying to get drawing in, but they’re not having any plans or goals to reach and get better at it. And that’s definitely something that will set you out once you start getting into indie development or I mean like its just learning to and setting those goals to eventually become that person that studio needs.
You can find and follow Pineleaf Studio and Dwarfheim using the links below:
You can check out THE DWARVEN DIGEST
Find the game on facebook here: DwarfHeim
Get their tweets @DwarfHeim
or Instagrams @dwarfheim
IF YOU WANT TO GET IT ALL IN ONE PLACE THEN BOOKMARK PINELEAF STUDIO