The Wii U eShop brought us plenty of memorable games, and one example was Stick it to The Man by Zoink Games. The Swedish studio earned plenty of fans with its unique art style and comedic storytelling, giving Switch owners good news when Flipping Death was confirmed for the system. While that seems very much like a spiritual successor to Stick it to the Man, EA-published Fe is something else entirely from the studio, but no less eyecatching for it.
With development continuing on both games, we caught up with the studio's marketing manager Mikael Forslind to talk about both games and the studio's approach to working on such diverse projects.
Your two upcoming Nintendo Switch titles are Flipping Death and Fe; they're very distinct from each other, but is there anything that links them in terms of your work as a studio?
I’d say both come from the same idea that we wanted to create something unique and something that hasn’t been done before. Even though the games look very different, they have a common idea of wanting to express a specific art style and to create an unique world that the player has never seen before. We’re a very story-driven company and our games are very much driven by narrative, and both Flipping Death and Fe share that.
How is the team split between working on the two projects?
We’re split into two teams with around 14 people in each, where some people jump between the different projects depending on what’s needed at the moment. For Fe we also have teams at EA (our publisher) that works with QA, game testing and publishing.
Since the tone of the two games are so different I’d say the team making Fe is more quiet whilst the team making Flipping Death is more noisy. I mean, there could be a game design meeting for Flipping Death where the goal is to come up with a puzzle involving chainsaws, mermaids and a dead submarine captain. That kind of crazy story and puzzle design leads to a lot of laughter. Fe on the other hand is about connecting with nature and doesn’t at all lead to laughs in the same way Flipping Death does.
What was the initial concept for Fe?
Fe has been a game we’ve been wanting to do for quite a few years now. We made a prototype a few years ago but we ended up working on other titles instead. It was only after we released Zombie Vikings in 2015 we picked up on development for both Fe and Flipping Death.
The original idea came from an experience one of our creative directors had when seeing a deer in his backyard. He decided he wanted to try to pet it and by slowly approaching it he got so close he could almost touch it. But just that second, the deer saw him and quickly jumped away. This led to interesting discussions at the office about connecting with the forest, animals and how we interact with the forest. This eventually led to what we now know as Fe.
Could you explain how that emphasis on nature affects the aesthetic or gameplay?
Aesthetically we are inspired by the nature and more specifically the feeling of being in the forest when we were kids. We’re trying to portray the world with a fantastical and mystical feeling rather than trying to aim for a realistic depiction of the forest. However, in the world of Fe you’ll find many different animals and plants that the player can interact with which helps the player move forward in the game.
Would you say there's a degree of experimentation in Fe, as well as exploration?
It's mainly about exploration even if there are things that the player can learn through observation, which can be fun to play around with. However, the emphasis is on exploring and moving around in the world.
Was there a particular focus regarding mechanics during the initial stages of development or has everything balanced out organically?
We've been working with Fe for quite some time now and trying different approaches. We initially had the idea of making Fe a stealth game and there is still some of that in there, but we went on testing different ideas until we decided to make it more about exploration and communicating with the forest. So, I guess you can say that it balanced out organically but over time.
How does the use of music affect the gameplay?
In Fe you can communicate with plants and animals through song. This you can use to have bears fight for you, let plants grow berries you need and have animals guide you around the forest. By communicating you are able to reach further into the forest and open up new areas that you can visit.
It could be said that Fe is a thematic departure from previous Zoink titles - would you say Fe is more narrative focused than your other games?
Zoink has always made story-heavy games. Both in Stick it To The Man and Zombie Vikings there are so many characters and things going on, and I think for Zombie Vikings alone there’s over 90 minutes of animated cutscenes. It’s almost like we made an entire film and put it inside the game!
Fe also has a narrative but since Fe is an almost completely wordless experience the narrative isn’t told to the player in a traditional sense using cutscenes and dialogue, but instead it’s up to the players themselves to discover and to draw their own conclusions about the story.
It’s challenging trying to tell a story without using words but when you play the game you realize it works really well. We can’t wait to get the game out there and see what the players make of the story.
There seems to be a unique illustrative style linking Zoink games, but Fe takes a different approach. How much of a conscious choice was this?
With Stick It to The Man and Zombie Vikings we went with a 2D look that really tied into the gameplay and the comedic tone of these games, which worked very well for that purpose. In Fe we wanted to tell a different story and with a different tone. Besides we wanted to make a game of exploration so we knew we wanted to make it in full 3D and needed to come up with an artstyle that would be better suited for that. I would say it was a conscious choice, however, when making games, the type of game you make always dictate the style to a certain degree.
With Fe and Flipping Death coming up, It must be exciting to have developed a strong relationship with Nintendo and work on the Switch?
Yeah, we were at Gamescom a few weeks back and just as I was biting into what must’ve been my 20th sausage since I got there I stopped and I looked around at the 40 or so people that were attending the ‘Nindie’ dinner and thought to myself - “Yesterday we announced Fe for the Nintendo Switch and now we’re attending a dinner with Nintendo and talking about Flipping Death on Switch. This is all pretty cool.”
When we made Zombie Vikings a few years back we were a smaller team and not many eyes were on us. But things have changed dramatically this year since we’re working on not just one game, but two really good games. Now it feels like people are lining up to talk to and visit us which feels amazing. We’re really heading towards some exciting times!
What was your interest or knowledge when it was known as the NX?
I try to keep up with all the gaming news as much as possible. It’s my job to keep track of the market and what people are talking about, so I read everything about the NX before it was announced and it seemed like a pretty cool console. A few people from Zoink (not me) were invited down to Nintendo early on before the announce to see the console and although everything was under NDA and I didn’t get any exciting information at all, I understood the ones that saw NX were very impressed. That’s when I realized we’re about to witness a really successful launch. And it turns out that was exactly what happened.
When did the development of Fe and Flipping Death on Switch start?
We use Unity for all our games and by using that game engine we're free to develop for several platforms simultaneously. With Flipping Death we knew we wanted to release it on Switch from the start so we have had that focus almost since the beginning of production. With Fe we decided quite recently to announce the Switch version but since we use the tools we use, it isn't too much extra work. Developing for the Switch works really well for us and it feels really cool to get both games out on that console.
Any unique features for the Switch versions?
For Flipping Death we’re implementing HD Rumble but for Fe we’re still trying different things but nothing is decided yet.
Are there any features you are interested in using in future projects?
Adding support for amiibo in a project would be really cool. I think the characters we create lend themselves really well to being made into an amiibo. There is a lot of work creating an amiibo though, so it’s not something we’re looking into at this time. Now we’re just focusing on making the best games we can on all platforms.
What were your favorite Nintendo games growing up?
Legend of Zelda for the NES comes to mind. I remember playing it with a friend back when I was a kid and we didn’t speak English so we always had a dictionary with us when playing. Although that game wasn’t a dialogue heavy game I learned so many words from that. On the SNES I played so much SimCity I dreamt about it at nights. I still love that game to death. I remember we tried leaving the game on overnight so we could get a lot of money but there was always some stupid plane crash so when we woke up the whole town had been destroyed. My best childhood memories came from the SNES era with games like A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country and Secret of Mana.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I love talking about video games.
We'd like to thank Mikael Forslind for his time. Both Fe And Flipping Death come out in early 2018 on Switch.