INTERVIEW / Jotun’s Creative Director William Dubé

 

According to Norse mythology, the Jötnar are a race of giants banished to Jötunheimr, one of the nine worlds of Norse cosmology, by the Æsir (AKA the gods of the Vikings). So that means, contrary to their recent portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they aren’t a race of evil Elsa’s à la Disney’s Frozen. But they are giants and they are pissed. This is how you find them in Jotun, the hand-drawn action-exploration game from developer Thunder Lotus Games.

 

In Jotun, you play Thora, a Norse warrior who has died an inglorious death and must prove herself to the gods in order to enter Valhalla. Whether she achieves this feat depends on you, but Creative Director William Dubé – who formed Thunder Lotus Games after quitting his job in January 2014 – has already proven himself, raising over $64,000 from 2,299 backers on Kickstarter to bring Jotun to life. As a prelude to our upcoming review of Jotun, we got to talk with William about the inspiration behind, and challenges of, making a game fit for the gods.

 

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TVGB: You quit your job to devote yourself to Jotun, building a team, founding a studio and raising money on Kickstarter to bring it to life. What was is about this game that inspired you to take such a massive leap of faith?

William Dubé: Actually, the game came after I chose to quit my job. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and, being in games already, I knew I had the connections and know-how to make an indie PC game happen.

 

Why did you focus on Norse mythology? How much of the game is sourced from real legends and stories?

The game is entirely based on Norse mythology. Of course, we took some creative liberties here and there, but the great majority is sourced from the Prose and Poetic Eddas [an unnamed collection of Old Norse poems consisting primarily of the Codex Regius, arguably the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends].

 

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It’s easy to identify Jotun’s modern inspirations – the scale of Shadow of the Colossus, the atmosphere of Journey, the lushness of Banner Saga – but there’s something decidedly old school about the gameplay. What were your classic video game inspirations?

Thanks! Our goal was to make a game that was simple to pick up, yet challenging, like old Nintendo games. The biggest classic we took inspiration from was The Legend of Zelda.

 

The artwork is absolutely stunning. What made you choose a hand-drawn art style? What were the challenges and the rewards of using frame-by-frame animation? 

Thank you! The art-style comes down to the strength of our amazing artists. We were inspired by Disney and Studio Ghibli. The biggest challenge is definitely time. It takes a lot of frames to draw a battle-ready jotun.

 

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Thora’s voice over, with all those rolling consonants and guttural vowels, sounds beautiful. Is it Old Norse or Modern Icelandic? How important is her voice – the actually sound of the words, not just their meaning – in establishing her character? In establishing the game world?

We wanted to make Jotun as immersive as possible, to really make you feel like you were living a Norse myth. The voice-acting is modern Icelandic, the closest living language to Old Norse.

 

Jotun, a self-described “action adventure” game, has a shockingly sharp contrast between the action and the adventure – you’re either soaking in the peaceful scenery or being repeatedly beaten to death by elemental giants. Was this stark difference in gameplay intentional? 

A more accurate description would be “action-exploration”, though Steam does not have an “exploration” tag. The difference in pacing was intentional. It really helps build up the boss fights.

 

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Freyja, Loki, Hel, Freyr, Heimdallr, Thor, Frigg, Odin. You really crammed a bunch of gods into this game, but were there any other gods that almost made the cut?

Baldr [the God of light, purity, joy and innocence], Bragi [the Norse God of poetry, wisdom, bards and the power of speech], Tyr [the brave and courageous God of law and heroic glory] and Njörd [an ancient God of the Vanir, father of Freyja and Frejr. He is God of the wind, of the sea and of wealth] unfortunately did not make it into the game.

 

In your research, what did you learn about Vikings, their history and their culture, that surprised you? 

Just how crazy their mythological stories are and how cruel the Gods can be.

 

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We’re all out of giants to slay, so what kind of feat would it take to impress the gods now? What is your modern-day jotun?

Building an indie studio from scratch and releasing a well-received video game within 18 months :P


Jotun is available on Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux.

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