Pode is the feel good game of the year. Who knew the relationship between a rock and a star could be so heartwarming? I wish there was a way to accurately describe the rich, colorful landscape but you kind of have to see it for yourself. Norwegian Culture weaves its way through your adventure. Smiles are irresistible as you engage with the characters in this world. Well, at least until you get stumped by one of the game’s challenging riddles or puzzles, but that will only be temporary.
Without a doubt Pode’s overwhelming success makes us happy as well. It’s the little independent game dev studio making giant splashes in and out out of the indie community that makes what we do worthwhile!
Tonight we hear from Yngvill, the co-founder and CEO of Henchman and Goon, about how riding the wave of Pode’s success makes her feel and what it’s like to be a woman in the gaming community.
Let’s turn it over to Yngvill and Kimberly:
What is Pode, the game, about?
Y: On the surface, Pode is the story of a little rock helping a fallen star find its way home. But on a deeper level it’s very much about coming/ finding home. It’s about friendship and cooperation, and finding beauty in unlikely places.
What inspired the unlikely relationship between a star and a rock?
Y: This is as simple as wanting gameplay based on combining the abilities of a light creature and magnetic creature. Star and rock were just the natural choices based on this mechanic, and the story kind of evolved from there.
Can you describe the special abilities that each character possesses?
Y: The two characters both have abilities that are connected with their physical nature.
Bulder (the rock), whose name means rumbling in Norwegian, can use magnetism to manipulate mechanical structures and make beautiful crystals grow around the mountain, weight to push buttons, sink in water, lower certain platforms etc, and carry/throw objects.
Glo (the star), whose name means ember in Norwegian, can glow to light up crystals and murals as well as make plants grow, place out the light where it’s mostly needed or to teleport either alone or with Bulder. Glo’s light weight gives it the ability to float on air streams and water.
How would you rate the difficulty of the puzzles and riddles the player encounters?
Y: Some puzzles are fairly easy, but others can be quite hard. These puzzles can be pretty challenging even for adults and makes the game too challenging for the smaller children to play by themselves, but with the possibility for asymmetrical difficulty while playing co-op, by swapping characters, it’s a perfect game to spend time in with even the smallest child, as long as they can use a controller.
How is Norwegian Culture evident in your game?
Y: Norwegian culture pretty much permeates the entire game, although in a very stylized and personalized manner. It’s definitely most evident in the visual design and music, which are both heavily inspired by Norwegian national romantic art with rose painting and the hardanger fiddle as main themes. In addition all areas of the game is inspired by different parts of Norwegian nature.
How long have you been working on this project?
Y: We started early summer 2015, so we’re close on 3 years now. Most of it full time for all of our employees.
What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your game?
Y: For me it’s the accessibility due to the asymmetrical difficulty in co-op mode. This has been very important to me personally as I wanted more games to play with my young son. I also see that people seem to respond to this very positively, and no matter what favourite genre people have, they see Pode as a game they can share with someone they care about.
Henchman and Goon sounds like a two person dev team, but there are four of you! Can you tell us where the studio name comes from and give us some details about your team?
Y: Actually there are 7 of us now. We started out with 3 people on the game, but that has steadily grown throughout development, and since November we’ve been 7 with the addition of an artist and our marketing manager.
The name was a pretty lengthy process, I think we must have had more than 100 suggestions at a point. But our main idea was the we were going to take over the world and since anyone trying to take over the world are evil people, we were looking in the direction of “big evil-corp-something”. So with 11 partners (when we started) and a very flat structure we were figured that if we were a big evil-corp-something it wouldn’t have a head of operations, but it would be very democratically run by the henchmen and the goons (we are Norwegian after all). And thus, Henchman & Goon was made.
Out of the 7 people on the team today, 4 of us are of the original founders, while we have one new partner and 2 employees. 5 of us are artists, 3 are programmers, and 2 are in biz dev. so a lot of overlapping of tasks. As a small team everybody has to be able to adapt to the tasks at hand, and I’m very proud of the team and their ability to be self sufficient and take charge where needed.
How did you all meet and form your studio?
Y: Most of us met through our studies. And we had a few freelancers who joined us as well. We all wanted jobs in the games industry without having to move abroad, which was our main motivation to start the company.
Did you go to school for what you’re doing and/or how did you learn to do what you do?
Y: We actually met at Noroff, a norwegian school offering a class in game design, and from there we went on to Teesside University in England to get our degrees.
Being fresh out of school doesn’t at all mean you have the skill of know-how to be a successful game developer though, so we have definitely learned a lot by doing through the near 6 years since we started.
How does Yngvill, who is the co-founder and CEO of Henchman and Goon, feel about the prospect of being a role model for young girls interested in taking lead roles in the gaming world?
Y: It both frightens and encourages me. I think one of the most important things we can do in life is to be a good role model for our children and youth. And this has become even more important to me after I had a child of my own. I think it’s very easy to talk about what’s right and wrong, and what we think people should or shouldn’t do, but in the end kids and young people will rarely listen to you if you don’t show you follow your own advice. I think knowing that I might be or become a person young girls and women might look up to encourages me to always try to make decisions I fully believe in, and stay true to the values I find important and would like to see in others as well. At the same time I’m only human, and fallible, and that’s the scary part I guess.
Who has influenced you personally and/or professionally?
Y: I have been incredibly lucky to meet so many skilled and inspiring people through the years, both before and after I got into the games industry, the list would be too long. But I’ve always been very grateful to my family who has supported me and pushed me to follow my dreams, and especially my grandfather, Johannes, who was my first and maybe most important art mentor. Also my mother, Anne, who raised me to believe in myself and be confident in my work.
On a professional level I really just want to bring up Rand Miller, who created the Myst series, which was pivotal in my decision to want to work with games. I have the utmost respect for his work and he is still a big inspiration for me today. I was lucky enough to get to meet him a few weeks ago, and that was pretty huge for me.
What has been the biggest challenge in developing your game so far? How have you dealt with it?
Y: The biggest challenge, which I think is true for a lot of indies, is funding. We’ve managed through a good mix of hard work, relentless perseverance and a bit of luck. We’ve been doing just enough commission work to keep the company floating, and being in Norway we have had access to some really great government grants that kept us funded just enough to make it to 2018 when we got investors on board.
What methods are you using to evaluate progress during the development phases of your game?
Y: We have weekly meetings going through every aspect of the game and checking the progress against our milestone plans. If we fall behind we either identify steps that can bring us back on track or we make cuts. In a few cases we’ve expanded our deadlines if absolutely necessary. Trying to find a balance between creating the game we want within a reasonable timeline has been a challenge, especially since we’re still very much learning things along the way.
What kind of feedback have you received and how have you applied it?
Y: For the most part we’ve just received a lot of great feedback from people who love the game, which is very encouraging. And every one in a while there’s a person who really just doesn’t like it, but hey, you can’t please everyone.
If there is more specific feedback regarding playability/readability etc we always try to look at it and see if there are better ways of making the experience smooth for the player. If we can make something better we always do, but sometimes a change will make something else worse and it ends up being a matter of priority.
What was the application process like for the handful of grants Pode has received?
Y: Usually it’s a written application, and if you pass that you do an interview with the panel. For the grants we’ve received for Pode the process has been the same for all of them as they’re all government grants and they all have the same requirements. I think we’ve done it enough times to feel confident about it now and it’s not usually something we spend too much time on.
How did your partnership with Altered Ventures come about?
Y: I met Mario Valle Reyes who is the managing partner of Altered Ventures at Gamescom 2017. We had a booth space with Unity and Mario was doing rounds looking for games of interest. He really liked Pode and for us this was just perfect timing to start talking to investors. Like I said, a bit of luck is always welcome. It was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
How will this extra funding be applied to finishing Pode?
Y: Most of the funds are going directly into development. It’s given us the safety to fully focus on finishing up Pode, and we’ve been able to get some amazing artists to help us put the final touches on the game. We’ve had Qvisten Animation do our intro and outro cinematics and Austin Wintory is making the music. However, a significant part of the funds are also going into publishing and marketing, which means we’ve been able to hire an in-house marketing and publishing manager, as well as partner up with Plan of Attack for PR, both of which are already showing great results.
When can we expect Pode to be released?
Y: Very soon! We are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s right now, and as soon as we’ve polished it up we’re shipping it off. I can’t give you a definite date yet and I hate to make promises I can’t keep, so you’ll have to do with “very soon” for now 😉
What Dev to Dev advice do you have for other indie game developers?
Y: I always find this to be a difficult question. I think it’s different from company to company and team to team what works. But if there’s one advice… I think it’s – Never pass on an opportunity, none is too small, and you never know what will pay off.
Is there any Behind the Scenes information we missed that you’d like to add?
Y: I would really just like to say how much I appreciate the efforts of my team. Henrik, Lars, Morten, Steffen, Markus and Linn. They are all superheroes <3
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