Thursday, 30 March 2017

Videogames - too fun for their own good?

As a medium videogames have been kidnapped by their easily achieved engagement. Simple gameplay is so fun on its own, that storytelling has never been needed in order do draw an audience. Compared to films, the element of storytelling is seldom elevated in videogames. Is it time for a walk down the unknown path, leading to better narratives in videogames?

When the first films appeared 120 years ago, they were shown under amusement park-like conditions. By peeping into a Kinetoscope, the audience (one by one) were able to get a short experience of moving pictures. For instance, as in Fred Ott's Sneeze, by W. K. L. Dickson (1894), anyone willing to pay could watch an engineer sneezing.



As you can imagine, these clips felt pretty boring quite quickly, which led to an immense pressure on making moving pictures more interesting. The first step was to find something more fascinating to film than a sneezing engineer. In the late 19th century, a steam engine arriving at the train station fell into this category, as the Lumière brothers proved in L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895).


But there's a limit to how many moving objects people are interested in seeing on film, as well as in ways to top previous experiences. There was a need for something that caught the attention of the audience, something that would make them come back for more. Enter - narration!

The first attempts to tell the audience a story built upon filming theatre plays. At the same time, film developed into its own medium, and filmmakers started creating new tricks apt for film, which increased the audience engagement in the story. This is when a lot of interesting things started happening. For instance, filmmakers realized that not every part of the plot had to be filmed. By simply implying actions and events, the audience would still keep up with the story. Film editing became a crucial part in tinkering with the narrative, and storytelling in film evolved greatly.

Let's compare this to how games work. This is what one of the very first video games (Pong, 1972) looked like:


Contrary to the first attempts at film, this game is still quite fun to play. In fact, there are still new games, based on the Pong gameplay, being made.

Flag N Frag, by EDEVOX

Obviously this version has a lot of new features and graphical solutions, but it still relies on the same concept as the original game. This differs widely from the evolution of films. No one would consider making a film based on the same concept as Fred Ott's Sneeze. There is just something inherently fun about interaction that makes an old game like Pong still worth playing. This is not just true of the very first games and films; if you compare works like Pac-Man (1980) and The Birth of a Nation (1915), the former stacks up far better.

Dealing with video games it was pretty clear from day one what the interesting thing was - playing is simply fun! The medium itself presented new ways of making gaming even more fun, which were being used in all possible ways. Compare this to a scenario where a similar evolution took place in film production. The film equivalent would be movies still being all about watching small clips [1] and most effort during the last 120 years would had been on extending this aspect. In the games industry, this is the progress that basically took place.

Before I continue this post I need to clear up a term. When I talk about "the fun of interaction" I mean a very specific case of gameplay where you have a core mechanic that you base the whole experience around. Examples of this are: shooting spaceship, jumping over chasms, avoiding incoming hazards, leveling your rpg character and so forth. This is the type of gameplay where the aim is to make it feel as "fun" as possible. Even if the graphics are just made up of simplistic shapes, this sort of gameplay remains very engaging. I will henceforth refer to this as "classical gameplay" in order to differentiate it from other forms of gameplay (eg exploration, anticipation of monsters, dialog, etc). I also need to make it very clear that I think the future of the videogame medium lies in interaction and play, and we should not strive to remove this - quite the contrary. With that said, let's continue.

From a pure classical gameplay perspective there is nothing wrong with focusing on the fun part of gaming. Most of what we currently see in the videogame world is there thanks to this focus. However, it has had a huge set back on videogames as a storytelling medium. In movies, it's crucial to get the storytelling aspect right as you really don't have anything else to fall back on. Sure, there's always blockbuster movies that can make the audience overlook so-so storytelling by offering a visual spectacle. However, these are the rare cases. The vast majority of films relies foremost upon having good storytelling, and it's even needed in order to make spectacle work. The narrative, however corny, still has to be front and center. Not so for video games; as long as you get the core gameplay working, the audience will be happy.

Storytelling added as a sort of extra spice, has long been the standard in videogames. In fact, most attempts of storytelling often feel like they get in the way of the classical gameplay. Not only is storytelling something that is not really needed; it can even worsen the experience by acting as an impediment for the classical gameplay. From this perspective, it's no wonder storytelling has had a tough time to progress in videogames. For a long time, it hasn't really felt needed and more as a hindrance than an opportunity.

This sort of thinking still permeates game development. "Make sure your core [classical] gameplay gets done first" is one of the most basic advice given to any aspiring game developer. And once you get that basic classical gameplay working, you should try and make your story fit into it - if you need a story at all, that is. It is important to note that classical gameplay-wise this makes a lot of sense and is a fundamentally good thing. Aiming at making your games as fun as possible to play, getting your gameplay loop working first is a wise move. It also makes sense from a commercial perspective, since classical gameplay is the easiest way to get the audience's attention. Narrative-wise though, this is far from an optimal strategy.

Historically there have been especially two game genres that have resisted this trend: adventure games and horror games.

Adventure games share the same angle as movies: it's core gameplay is not all that fun. The players basically (through text or using a mouse-based interface) give commands that a character might carry out for them. And unless there's some sort of greater context involved, this gets boring quite quickly. One way of fixing this is by putting more effort into the storytelling. When the character you are indirectly controlling is part of an engaging narrative, it becomes a lot more fun to control them.

Despite this, storytelling-wise, adventure games stopped evolving quite quickly [2]. There is a bunch of reasons for this, some of which I outlined here. Another, especially important reason, is that almost all adventure games revolve around puzzle solving. They haven't really given up on their game legacy. The player can always go into "I am just doing this for the puzzles"-mode, and thereby avoiding much of the game's storytelling attempts.. So we are back at the intial problem - classical gameplay standing in the way of narrative progression.

Horror games takes on this issue from a different angle. This is one of the few (possibly only) bigger genres where classical gameplay turns into a nuisance. The most basic example of this is: if monsters are too fun to encounter, they stop being scary. So horror games have been forced to tone down on one of the core engagements that has been a cornerstone of all other videogames. By giving up on the most fun part of the medium, the genre had to turn to something else in order to keep up the engagement level - storytelling. Many horror games, Silent Hill is a great example, feature clunky combat, and much of the time it is more stressful than fun to encounter enemies. But by offering a story that ties into the player's actions, you can take something that is not so fun on it's own and turn it into an very engaging experience.

To convey horror emotions by purely system-based means is hard, and therefore a narrative is crucial in order to provide the right experience. However, crafting these sorts of experiences is hard, especially if the storytelling is supposed to carry the heaviest burden. As a way of making up for this, instead of putting more focus on the narrative aspects, horror games have always added all sorts of other systems to provide a basic engagement loop. In the end, this is what made the golden age of the PS2-era horror games come to an end. When the genre started to stagnate, Resident Evil 4 came about, putting all focus on gameplay and becoming a huge success.

Resident Evil 4 is an amazing game on its own, but it really did a disservice to the horror genre as a whole. Just like we have seen in the past with classical gameplay being the cornerstone to fall back on, the horror genre ended up doing the same. And with it much of its narrative-based ambitions never got a chance to properly evolve.

What this all leads me to is the following: When it comes to storytelling, games are inherently just too fun for their own good. I think the problem comes down to being stuck at a local maximum.


What I mean with this is that as you are developing a game, you will come across a bunch of ideas that you can choose to follow. There will always be a lot of tension between getting the game's gameplay and storytelling to work. Scouting the territory of the possible design choices, the ones where the gameplay wins are the ones that will almost always come out victorious. Following the path of narrative-focus will almost always decrease the perceived engagement. Think of these gameplay-focused solutions as going upwards towards a peak, and the story-focused ones as going downhill into a valley.


But that doesn't mean that focusing on gameplay is optimal in the long run. It just means that given the solutions at hand, most of the time, the best one will seem to be the ones with gameplay-focus. There could be another, much higher, peak further away, but the only way to reach it is through tough terrain and deep valleys. By this I mean that a method will not show its value until you let it evolve to a certain amount. But in video games the classic play is so interesting on its own, that is unlikely anyone would want to make this journey.

I think that a lot of features of modern film have been sitting on a distant peak, but because the simple joy of the medium wore out so quickly, people have been forced to take this treacherous path. Video games have never been forced to do this, and this is likely why we, narrative-wise, haven't been able to evolve to the extent I think this medium is capable of.

Traveling down this path is not easy, and just walking it blindly will not generate anything useful. You will just end up lost but not found.

Heavy Rain (2010)
One way of approaching this problem is to take another medium as a springboard and to use all of its core engagement as a foundation to build upon. The best example of this is interactive movies, which use film as their base and then build a game on top of that. This works fine at first, but you will run into similar problems as with normal games; you get stuck with a local maxima. These games rely on the language of films to provide the core engagement, and this is bound to break once you step too far away from the foundational aspects. And just as in games, every nearby path in solution space will give you a worse result.

Dear Esther (2012)

I think a much more fruitful approach is to break down games into their basic elements, and then start building from there - now with the core goal of achieving better storytelling. Games like Dear Esther have been great pioneers in this regard, and have shown how building engaging experiences without a lot of features, thought to be crucial, is possible. Sure, these sort of experiences are far from perfect and not everybody's cup of tea. But to dismiss them would be very foolish indeed. We are now starting to gather knowledge on what makes games tick in a way never seen before. Now it's time to figure out where to go next.

It is my belief that in order to make more progress, we need to start analyzing what makes games special and, instead of just applying these findings in classical ways, figure out new ways by which they can increase our sense of interactive storytelling. The path ahead will be harsh, unfamiliar, and filled with challenges, but at the end we shall reach a peak greater than what we have ever seen before.

Footnotes:
[1]: I guess one could argue that we are back to the good old days of Fred Ott's Sneeze with Youtube and gifs, but I don't think that is true. When people watched Fred Ott's Sneeze, they watched it for the "cinematic" experience that it provided, for seeing things recreated on a screen. But when we watch a clip of something silly happening, we are watching it for the sake of the event itself. People played the original Pong because it was fun to interact, and the same reason is still valid.

[2]: I am sure that people will disagree with me on this, but to me adventure games reached a peak, storytelling-wise, with games like Full Throttle, Broken Sword and it has not really improved much since.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Traversal and the Problem With Walking Simulators

To keep the player focused on the game's world is crucial to every game creator. During times of traversal this is even more important, at the same time as it's harder to achieve. So how do you keep your game interesting and avoid turning it into a walking simulator?

The Wizard of Oz. Dir. Victor Fleming. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. USA.1939.

This blog post is based on a conversation that I had with Brian Upton at GDC a few weeks back. Most of the basic stuff here comes from the discussion with Brian, then I have added my own ideas on top of them.

Our basic problem was stated as the following: What is the fun of simply going from place to place?

This is a problem that is very unique to games. In a movie we rarely see a character actually going places. Instead we witness the intention of going to another place, possibly see the mode of transportation, and then we are at the destination. Unless narrative-related hardships happen along the way, we never see the character actually traveling. Why? Because it simply is not very interesting.

Games work differently. In games we have to show every single step that the player takes. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first one, and the most obvious, is that it is very hard to know what the player's intent is. When you enter a car in GTA, the game cannot possibly know where you are supposed to be going. You have to express your will by actually driving your car where you want it to go, every inch of the way. When a game features cuts, like in fast travel systems, it is all based upon the players first expressing their will to go to a certain place.

In games we want the player to take on the role of a certain person. If a game simply decides where the players will go when they enter a car or start walking along, that aspect is violated. There are a few games that do it, e.g Thirty Flights of Loving, but these games are usually short and made in a way where this phenomenon becomes a part of the gaming experience, or they simply contain very little player agency overall (e.g. interactive games like Heavy Rain). In this perspective traversal is more than simply "empty travel time", it is a crucial expression of the player's agency, cementing their role as the protagonist.

The second reason is a bit more subtle. As mentioned, part of what makes games interesting is the expression of will. To achieve this, the player must know what they are able to do within the game's universe. In a movie, a character can reach for an object not seen before, or exclaim "I saw that shop on my way over!" despite the viewers never seeing it. This is not possible in a game. In order for a player to know a game's space, both in spatial terms and in terms of what actions are possible to make, they need to get intimate with it. The player has to go through the boring process of walking about in order to make a mental picture of the surroundings. If they don't, they cannot possibly know what the realm of their possibilities are.

However, this activity is not very interesting at its core. Sure, it is fun to look at fancy environments for a bit, but after a while it gets tiresome. Most games solve this by introducing some sort of activity to the player at this point.


Sonic: Lost World (2013)
In a platformer the player always have some sort of obstacles to get past. For instance, pits to jump across or objects to avoid, During moments of traversal (when the game is not meant to pose a direct challenge) these are not very hard to get past. Still, they do require some attention. So when you are going from A to B and not really accomplishing much, you are still involved in a basic muscle task that relates directly to the game's world. This means that part of your brain is actively engaged in the activity at hand.

Think of how you sometimes can zone out when you do some activity at a certain level of difficulty. For instance; driving, knitting, or just walking rugged terrain in the woods. This is the same thing - you are engaged just enough not to get bored by the traversal.

Metro 2033 (2010)
Another way of doing this is by utilizing our sense of anticipation. This is how stealth, tactical combat and horror games work. When walking towards a door you are not simply engaged in the activity of walking. You are also constantly thinking about what might lie ahead. "I need to make sure to not make too many sounds", "What might attack me from behind that door", "When I get to the door I need to make sure to sweep the room for hostiles", and so forth. So when walking, you are also engaged in the activity of planning ahead. You are still in the game's world.


Virginia (2016)
However, a walking simulator lacks this sort of engagement. Walking forward is just a matter of pressing down a key or stick. And unless you are my dad playing a game, this doesn't pose any sort of challenge at all. Your brain is basically unoccupied and the chance of your mind starting to drift is very high. Instead of being immersed in the game's world you might start thinking of what to cook for dinner or something else that is totally unrelated to the experience the game wants you to have.

I know there are some people who argue that "walking simulator" is not a fair name, but because of this issue I actually think it is quite appropriate. What happens during traversal is quite closely linked to the core of the game. In a 3D platformer your activity during traversal is still about platforming, in a horror game you are on the look out for dangers, and in a walking simulator - well, you are simply walking.

This doesn't pose as a problem to everyone who play walking simulators, and I think the "trick" is to put yourself in a sort of meditative state where you simply block out any intruding thoughts and just focus on the essence of being in the game. One way of achieving this mindset is through stuff like music. It's one of the reasons why The Chinese Room's titles have been so successful. Their amazing music often becomes front and center during these moments of just walking, and by doing so keeps the player in the world.

Still, I think this poses a problem and it is something that anyone making a narrative-heavy game needs to ponder. It's similar to how scenes are constructed in movies. If a scene simply starts and ends on the same note, then it falls flat and gets boring. Just like some walking simulators can get away with just walking, some movies can get away with this for parts of the audience. But that doesn't mean it is the best way to approach the problem. In the same way as film scenes thrive on there being dramatic motion, so should games try to find an interesting activity to tie together all of the traversal.

If you are making a game that uses a classical game mechanic, then this does not pose a huge problem. But it's when you want to go off the beaten path and try something different that, especially when the focus is on storytelling, this becomes crucial. You need to consider: When the player is simply walking around, what keeps their mind in the game's world?

In one of our upcoming super secret games, we want to explore new ways of telling a story through gameplay. This makes the issue of traversal really high on the list of things we need to make work. A key component for us in solving this has been to focus on what sort of fantasy it is that we want our players to partake in. The trick is then to make sure that our players focus on this fantasy at every single moment. We want to make sure that the players are preoccupied with things that relate to this fantasy, and that these actions require their attention.

The way we intend to do this is by packing the environment with narrative- and gameplay-important information. The more of this information the players have, the easier it is for them to create plans for overcoming upcoming obstacles. On top of that, the information changes over time, so players need to keep up this mental exercise even when entering previously visited locations. The crucial bit is to avoid making this procedure too difficult, as it would otherwise be exhausting in the long run. It should lie at the sweet-spot where it becomes barely conscious, coming into full focus only when important, when new information is discovered. On top of this, the information needs to be interesting in itself, not simply dull collectibles or similar. As I mentioned earlier, it is important that this task reinforces the player's fantasy.

I know this sounds a bit fuzzy, but going into greater details would be too spoilerish at this point. It is also worth pointing out that this is still in an early state, and we haven't had time to see how well it works when put in practice.

So, this is by far a solved issue. But by simply recognizing it and gathering modes of attack, it feels like we have taken some nice steps towards a solution.




Friday, 24 February 2017

People of Frictional: Meet Fredrik, our executive producer!

Although it’s been awfully silent here for a while, all of the Frictional Games’ team is working hard on new things. Unfortunately, we can’t share anything with you at the moment, but yes - there’s two projects in the pipeline, and we are very excited about both of them

In 2015 SOMA was published after years of hard work, followed by the release of both SOMA and Amnesia: Collection on Playstation 4.

But everyone who’s ever worked on, and shipped a project, knows there’s a deep void that will present itself as soon as the confetti has landed and the champagne bottles are emptied.

This is when you need some magic in order to kickstart the team again. It’s time to start generating ideas, work on concepts and make sure everyone finds his or her place in the project. If you happen to have not only a producer, but an executive producer on board, this is the perfect time to make the most of it. And here’s where Frictional Games is lucky, because since late 2015, there is such a person on the team, and it’s about time to get to know Fredrik Olsson a little bit better.
















So, who are you, really?

Well, I guess I like to think of myself as a fun-loving and easy-going guy who strives towards creativity on an exceptional level. Over the course of my career I’ve learnt, about myself, that I am not truly happy unless I am involved in something that sets out to break boundaries and creates something truly unique. Games have been one of my main interests ever since my father brought our first gaming console, an Intellivision (yes I am getting old!), into our lives already in my pre-teens. I immediately fell in love with games as a concept and it stuck with me and developed further through basically all of the upcoming technology generations (Commodore 64, Atari ST, PC, Atari Lynx, Playstation, PSP, PS2, XBOX 360 and now eventually PS4). I guess I didn’t see it at that time, but clear signs that I was destined for the gaming industry was already there in my early teens. In addition to the late nights playing games, I spent a tremendous amount of time learning the first version of 3D Studio (without access to a handbook or tutorials) and creating 3D art and animations.

At the age of 17 I started realizing that the gaming industry was where I needed to be and I started looking for the next step to realizing that dream. At that time however, educations focusing on game development was basically nonexistent, and my personal development went on a slight detour. Having spent 4,5 years at the University studying “System Science”, I got a job at the Swedish branch of Toyota’s forklift business where I quickly got the position of International Project Manager. My role focused on the implementation of system support for the order, sales and marketing processes of the European sales-subsidiaries of the company. Even though the experiences I had at Toyota was very challenging and rewarding it was eventually the high amount of travelling that made me leave. Travelling basically every week was taking its toll on me and more regional positions within that company didn’t seem as interesting to me as the more international ones. Feeling forced to look for new challenges elsewhere I quit Toyota and became a team manager and business consultant at a medium sized IT consultancy company in Stockholm.

It was after little more than one and a half year in the IT consultancy business that it happened. One of my old bosses and friends at Toyota got tired of hearing me talk about this idea for a game that I had carried with me from my teens, and he started pushing me into doing something about it. He probed me on the idea and business model and together we fleshed out a business case for it. We eventually reached a point where our technical knowledge wasn’t sufficient and in order to assess the idea from a technical perspective we brought it to one of my brother’s oldest friends and he, quite surprisingly, displayed a very strong interest in the project. Before I knew it, in the year of 2007, I had quit my well paid job in the IT consultancy business and, together with my brother’s friend, set out to pursue the strongest of all my childhood dreams. Together, with financial backup from my father’s small company and with the facilitation of offshore outsourcing in Ukraine, we created an online multiplayer turn-based football game (!) called Footballidentity based on the vision of being able to play the role of a football player in a realistic football world fully populated by other users. The project has been a hell of a ride and a character-defining experience, for me personally. It’s a truly unique concept and when we started out we had no idea of how it would be received by the world. But now 7 years after the initial release the thing I cherish the most is all the love and dedication we’ve seen from the community (even if it never grew into any huge numbers). It’s been amazing to see how something that was originally an idea for a game that I had dreamt of playing myself, managed to create some extremely strong and long lasting sensations for all those that gave this unusual 11vs11 player experience a shot.

In 2014 Footballidentity had turned quite out-of-date. The user-base had started deteriorating and we didn’t have the resources needed to continue develop and modernize it. Several investors were showing interest in what we had created. They were especially impressed by the very long lifespan of active users (many users are still playing since 2009-2010) and the size of the sharks (multiple users spent as much as 1000 EUR on additional features even though the game was free to play). In the end the uniqueness and lack of similar games resulted in none of the investors having the guts to invest in us and we had to face the music and realize that the game wouldn’t be going to the next level. So me and my co-founder decided to pursue new challenges (while maintaining the football game on our spare-time), and in May 2014 I took a job as a producer at Tarsier Studios in Malmö. This was an extremely interesting time as I, for little more than one and a half year, got to work with an extremely talented bunch of people, as co-producer (together with Media Molecule) on the Tearaway Unfolded project and later also a short period on, the soon to be released, Little Nightmares title.



In 2015 however, the opportunity to take on the role of Executive Producer here at Frictional arose and it was an opportunity I just had to pursue. The role and the character of the company felt like a perfect match for me. An environment where my personality and experience would come to be of best use and Frictional Game has been my home since the 1st of December 2015.

So, from having dreamt of working with games as a youngster, my career took a somewhat unusual detour before eventually landing me back in the environment where I’ve always felt I belong. You might ask if I ever feel that the 7-year detour was a waste of time, but I can honestly say that I feel the absolute opposite. Working in more traditional and mature industries (forklifts and IT-consultancy), in differently sized companies (from 8000 to 60 to 2 employees) and having started my own small studio have given me experience that I cherish an awful lot in my everyday work. I think it has played a big part in forming me into the person, employee and coworker that I am and a more “straight” career within the still very immature gaming industry would have made it a lot more difficult to build up the backbone mentality and frame of reference that fuels my way of work and way of thinking, every day.

That’s my life story right there! I guess I could add to that by mentioning a few cornerstones that seems to always guide the way I approach work. The most distinct ones I’d say would be professionalism, creativity and humour. Professionalism; always try to do the very best you can and approach people with helpfulness in every situation, even if it might not always seem to be your responsibility to help out. Creativity; not only strive for creating something unique but also try and approach problem solving and opportunities with creativity and openness to taking new paths. Humour; I believe that a workplace where humour, joking and lightheartedness is regarded as unnecessary or even obstructive, is never going to reach its full potential. In my mind those aspects (without them going overboard of course) are key to establishing prosperous working-relations and good communication within a team, something that in turn leads to efficiency and quality in the long-run.

Tell us - what was your first impression when you started working at Frictional Games?

The same day as I started working at Frictional, the co-founder and creative director at the company, Thomas Grip, was going to give a talk about game design at an event here in Malmö. It was a perfect opportunity to get to know him a bit better so I decided to attend that talk. A few days after that I remember saying to someone that I felt I had learnt more about, and had gotten a much more interesting perspective on, game design during my first day at Frictional, than I had gotten in all those years running up to that. I’d say that’s quite an awesome (but rare) first impression when kicking off a new job! Those feelings have only continued growing from there, and that’s not only thanks to Thomas but also thanks to the brilliant, dedicated and often exceptionally strange minds of the rest of the team. I am not exaggerating when I say that I get amazed almost every day about the quality, creativity and efficiency that the team displays, whether it’s in concepting, environment art, design, writing or sound.

Another thing that struck me early on was the fact that the team seemed so in sync even though the whole team was distributed all over Sweden and Europe. Not only with regards to the daily routines and communication on Slack but also when it came down to the creative ambitions and mutual understanding of tasks and goals. From those perspectives it all felt a lot more like a well-oiled machinery than I had expected to find before starting. I felt that the only thing missing was a bit more structure, some clearer processes and a tad more transparency, especially when keeping in mind where the company is heading and the challenges that lies ahead.

Fredrik in the front, with parts of the well-oiled machinery of Frictional Games.

What can you say about the future of Frictional Games?

Frictional is going through a really interesting phase right now. The company is becoming a “two-project studio” with two projects always running simultaneously and seamlessly alternating between pre-production and production. Apart from having to grow the team slightly, something that has taken (and is still taking) a lot of our focus, there’s also a strong demand for a change in team structure. Instead of having one person master-minding basically everything from high level design down to specific level-design we are putting in place a structure with a dedicated leads-team (for high level design, story and art direction) and something we call task-forces (for level-design, scripting- and art-implementation). Responsibility and influence over the game is being distributed out to every part of the team (even though the leads team always have the final say) and we like to look at it as utilizing the collective brainpower of the whole team instead of only that of a few individuals. All of this might sound easy on paper but it does in fact create a lot of new requirements when it comes to processes, communication, transparency and knowledge sharing, and they all need to be fulfilled without smothering the awesome creativity that already resides within the team. It is safe to say that this is a challenge that’s not to be taken lightly, but one that will generate tremendous value if managed successfully. Being able to run two projects in parallel of course carries a strong financial value in itself, but more shared responsibility, multiplied creativity and a higher degree of communication and collaboration, is bound to result in an improved output both in quality and productivity. Not to mention that less dependency on specific individuals will make the studio less fragile.

What would you say has been the best thing that happened since you became a part of Frictional Games?

Well, many good things have happened since I started here ;) but if I had to pick one I’d probably say it’s related to some progress we’ve made when it comes to defining the company and what we want to become. A challenge we’ve been facing is the fact that the studio has been suffering a bit from a minor identity crisis. Even though some (hidden) guiding principles have been feeding the work of the studio for some time now, those have not been distilled, clearly defined and communicated as a vision. This has resulted in a certain degree of hybridism in our creations, something that has not only complicated development but also made it difficult to package and market the games. SOMA is the most clearly shining example of this as it sits as a mixture of horror and philosophy. The game has gotten it’s strongest appraisal not from the horror aspects of the game, but from the strong philosophical design, story and narrative. Perhaps the game would have been better off with a clearer focus on the philosophical theme. One might even assume that some people, who would have otherwise appreciated the philosophical theme, will never get to experience it due to them being discouraged by the horror stamp that the game has gotten. I’m happy to say that we’ve made some truly promising progress in this area lately. We’ve recently managed to nail down a clear vision (for the studio) that goes in line with where the studio has been heading and that vision is already fueling (and to some degree dictating) the direction of our ongoing development.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Hiring: Gameplay Programmer / Designer

At Frictional Games we love to make stuff that stands out from the rest of the crowd. Penumbra was a unique combination of horror, physics and adventure gaming. With Amnesia we redefined what horror games can be and helped to kickstart the Let’s Play phenomenon. In SOMA we explored deep subjects in new, unsettling ways. We aim to continue this trend and we’re now looking for another Gameplay Programmer / Level Designer to join our ranks. This is full-time employment, working from home or from our soon-to-be-established hub-office in Malmö. Applicants must be living in Europe and be prepared to move to Sweden in the near future (if you are not already here).


Working with us, your core duty will be to collaborate with artists and other team members in order to design and craft immersive worlds and experiences. At Frictional we do not simply rely on the core mechanics to carry most of the game. What makes or breaks our experiences is the care giving to the all specific level elements. Making sure these are top notch, both in design and implementation, will be your main duty. This includes everything from level layout and pacing to designing and implementing puzzles and smaller events.

Here is a rundown of some of a few more specific tasks you will find yourself doing:
  • Design the layout of a level based on a high level summary.
  • Come up with ways to convey certain story moments in the most efficient manner.
  • Design and implement puzzles so they fit with gameplay, world and story.
  • Script background events that sets the tone for a level.
  • Implement gameplay systems, such as an inventory.
  • Tweak AI to make it behave like you want.
These are far from the only things you’ll be doing when working with us. We’re quite a small team, and we like to see people dabbling with things outside of their expertise and constantly learning new things. The more areas of our development you’re able to take part in, the better.

Of great importance is that fact that you must be able to work from home. Frictional Games currently does not have an office; however, we are planning to set one up in Malmö, hopefully sometime during 2017. You will however decide for yourself how much you’d want to make use of the office, so it’s crucial that you are able to plan your day, take full initiative and work without strict guidance. Because of this, we allow a flexibility that you’ll rarely find in an office environment. 

The most basic requirements are the following:
  • You must live in Europe and be prepared to move to Sweden in the near future.
  • You are fluent in English.
  • You have played a major role in the development and completion of at least one game.
  • You have worked on a game that uses 3D environments.
  • You are well-versed in C++, C#, Java or similar.
  • You have a fast and stable internet connection.
  • You have a Windows PC you can use for work capable of playing recent games (SOMA is a good test case!)
  • You strive for structure, efficiency and clarity.
  • You are extremely self-driven.
  • You like working with varying tasks.
  • Familiar with working in issue-tracking software (such as JIRA) or prepared to learn. 
Additional (non-essential) requirements:
  • You live in or near Malmö or are prepared to move here.
  • You have an interest in narrative games.
  • You are good at writing, drawing or both
  • You have an interest in horror and sci-fi.

If this sounds like the job for you, send your CV and Cover Letter to apply@frictionalgames.com now!


Friday, 16 December 2016

Hiring: 3D Artist

At Frictional Games we love to make stuff that stands out from the rest of the crowd. Penumbra was a unique combination of horror, physics and adventure gaming. With Amnesia we redefined what horror games can be and helped to kickstart the Let’s Play phenomenon. In SOMA we explored deep subjects in new, unsettling ways. We aim to continue this trend and we’re now looking for a 3D Artist to join our ranks. This is a full-time employment, working from home or from our soon-to-be-established hub-office in Malmö. Applicants must be living in Europe and be prepared to move to Sweden in a near future (if you are not already here).


Working closely with our Gameplay Programmers / Designers and putting your modelling, texturing and prop-making skills to use, your main responsibility will be to create breathtaking gameplay environments and player experiences for our upcoming games.

Here is a rundown of some of a few more specific tasks:
  • Make the basic models that make up our levels (walls, floor, etc).Work with designers to design the layout of our levels. Both from a gameplay and artistic perspective.
  • Build whole levels from whitebox to the finished polished product.
  • Model props of various complexity, both with and without the use of previously drawn concept art, often having to take certain gameplay aspects into account.
  • Construct particle systems, both by drawing textures and setting up parameters in our editor.
  • Recreate various effects such as flowing water, fires, etc. by making best use of the tools at your disposal.
  • Collaborate with designers/scripters and come up with the best player experience possible for a particular scene. 
These are far from the only things you’ll be doing when working with us. We’re quite a small team, and we like to see people dabbling with things outside of their expertise and constantly learning new things. The more areas of our development you’re able to take part in, the better.

Of great importance is that fact that you must be able to work from home. Frictional Games currently does not have an office; however, we are planning to set one up in Malmö, hopefully sometime during 2017. You will however decide for yourself how much you’d want to make use of the office, so it’s crucial that you are able to plan your day, take full initiative and work without strict guidance. Because of this, we allow a flexibility that you’ll rarely find in an office environment. 

The most basic requirements are the following:
  • You must live in Europe and be prepared to move to Sweden in the near future.
  • You are fluent in English.
  • You have a fast and stable internet connection and high performance PC.
  • You strive for structure, efficiency and clarity.
  • You are extremely self-driven.
  • You like working with varying tasks.
  • Excellent skills in Maya, 3D Studio Max, Modo or similar software.
  • Know how to use Modo or prepared to learn.
  • Excellent skills in Photoshop or similar software.
  • Familiar with working in issue-tracking software (such as JIRA) or prepared to learn. 
Additional (non-essential) requirements:
  • You live in or near Malmö or are prepared to move here.
  • You love horror, sci-fi and narrative games.
  • You have played a major role in completing at least one game.
  • You have good knowledge of both prop and character animations.
  • You have great free drawing skills.
  • You have experience in level design.
  • You have strong design skills.
If this sounds like the job for you, send your cover letter and CV to apply@frictionalgames.com now!


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Hiring: PR Coordinator / Community Manager

At Frictional Games we love to make stuff that stands out from the rest of the crowd. Penumbra was a unique combination of horror, physics and adventure gaming. With Amnesia we redefined what horror games can be and helped to kickstart the Let’s Play phenomenon. In SOMA we explored deep subjects in new, unsettling ways. We aim to continue this trend. But as we create innovative narrative-focused experiences, and explore how to use the potential of videogames to the fullest, we face an increased need to focus on PR and Community management. We realize that the nature of our creations has a depth that can’t be explained in a few sentences or pictures and that the cores of our upcoming games need to be communicated in a more strategic way. We also realize that we’ve been neglecting our existing community for some time now and we want to be a lot more vocal in all the channels where our fans are listening.

This is why we’re now looking for a PR Coordinator and Community Manager to join our ranks, focus on getting our message across, and also to help us out on our ongoing development in a few other ways. This is a half-time or full-time employment (depending a bit on the applying candidate), working from home or from our soon-to-be-established hub-office in Malmö, Sweden.


Working with us, your main responsibility will be to ensure that Frictional always has a voice and that there’s a continuous flow of communication through the different channels (such as forums, social media, Steam community, PS Live Area etc.). We’d be turning to you to initiate, create and communicate messages of interest from our daily work, meaning you’d need to be fully up to date with what the rest of the team is doing at all times. We’d also rely on you to plan and coordinate everything related to important PR events such as announcements and releases but also everything related to special events (such as mod competitions etc.).

Here is a rundown of some of a few more specific tasks:
  • Working out (together with management) marketing plans for upcoming game projects. 
  • Staying up to date with the rest of the team by listening in on (and contributing to) meetings. 
  • Maintaining continuous communication flow on our forums, social media channels, Steam community and PS Live Area etc. 
  • Coming up with ideas and suggestions for messages to communicate or events to hold through our different channels. Then writing/creating graphics for these - from our existing assets - and coordinating and executing them. 
  • Planning, coordinating and executing trailer creation (with a creator or editor if you don’t have those skills yourself). 
  • Planning, coordinating and contributing to PR statement generation and sendout alongside our PR firm. 
  • Planning and coordinating demo creation with the team. 
  • Planning, coordinating, creating and submitting details to platform stores such as Steam, PS Store etc. 
These are far from the only things you’ll be doing when working with us. We’re a small team, and we like to see people dabbling with things outside of their expertise and constantly learning new stuff. The more areas of our development you’re able to take part in, the better.

Of great importance is that fact that you must be able to work from home. Frictional Games currently does not have an office; however, we are planning to set one up in Malmö, hopefully sometime next year. You will however decide for yourself how much you’d want to make use of the office, so it’s crucial that you are able to plan your day, take full initiative and work without strict guidance. Because of this, we allow a flexibility that you’ll rarely find in an office environment. 

The most basic requirements are the following:
  • You live in Malmö or are prepared to move here. 
  • You are fluent in English and a strong communicator. 
  • You are able to create basic work in Adobe Photoshop. 
  • You love horror, sci-fi and narrative games. 
  • You have an understanding of social media and other game-related communication channels. 
  • You like coming up with new initiatives and running with them. 
  • You have experience of planning and coordinating from previous roles. 
  • You strive for structure, efficiency and clarity. 
  • You are extremely self-driven. 
  • You like working with varying tasks and participating in the different areas of a business. 
Additional (non-essential) requirements:
  • You have a basic understanding of the process of creating a video game. 
  • You have video editing skills and experience. 
  • You have a Windows PC you can use for work capable of playing recent games (SOMA is a good test case!) 
If this sounds like the job for you, send your CV to apply@frictionalgames.com now!