Interview with Norsfell – winners of the Ubisoft indie Series 2017

Ubisoft Entrepreneurs launched the Indie Series in 2017. This annual competition for independent video game studios in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, offers financing, mentorship, creative and marketing tools, and financial advice to help studios and their games reach new heights. The initiative takes place in partnership with National Bank. Norsfell, the studio that won the first Indie Series competition, is launching an open beta of its game Tribes of Midgard today. We took this opportunity to chat with Julian Maroda, the CEO of this great studio.

You’ve come a long way since you won the Ubisoft Indie Series presented by National Bank! What were the key moments in the development of Tribes of Midgard?

There were so many! I’m thinking in particular of the version we prepared for the King of Belgium during his state visit in the winter of 2018, but also an important step that took place at the GDC in 2019. During the event, all the key game mechanics had been implemented and were working smoothly for the first time. That’s when we really realized that we had succeeded in creating a new game genre that had massive potential. Tribes is complex in terms of creative management, technical aspects, and network architecture, and we had to work a lot on the procedural generation side and multiplayer mode before we got conclusive results.

Today, you’re launching an open beta of the game. What can players expect?

Players will discover content-rich worlds that they can explore. They’ll have to visit several 16-km2 islands to find resources, enemy camps, ruins, traps, teleporters, rivers and waterfalls in order to bring as many materials as possible back to the village. These elements will be used to make the equipment they need and reinforce the village. This protection is crucial because at nightfall, creatures from Helheim appear around the village to attack the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, the last defence separating the world of men from the world of the gods. At the same time, the Giants of Jötunheim roam the plains of Midgard with the same goal and get dangerously close to the village. It will take strategy and cooperation to overcome all these threats and survive as long as possible. The game can be played by one to ten players at the same time.

Do you have any funny production anecdotes to share with us?

We had a bug that took us a lot of time to fix. Some of the trees would randomly run across the map to hit players for no reason. For a long time, we thought the Giants were running into the trees and setting them off, but then we found out it was a problem with the physics when downloading the scenes. It became such a distinctive part of the game that our community created a meme and asked us to bring back the old mechanic, or at least make a reference to it in the story. We’ll see what we can do 😉

The aesthetics of the game are amazing. What were your sources of inspiration during the game’s design phase?

Thank you! We spent a huge amount of time trying to create unique graphics, somewhere in between cel shading and comics (as you can see from the hatched shadows). Very often, survival games tend to use dark and gloomy environments, like Don’t Starve (and after all, your character is trying not to die!) It was very important for us to create a new genre, acooperative survival game that was more colourful and accessible. You play as Vikings who are facing Ragnarök (the Viking apocalypse). They’re resilient, happy even, to face the challenge ahead of them. They see it as an opportunity to die bravely in battle! It’s this enthusiasm in the face of adversity that we wanted to translate into the aesthetics.

How did Ubisoft’s financial support and expertise help you with your game?

Financial support is always appreciated, but Ubisoft’s expertise is what helped us the most. Meeting with procedural generation experts allowed us to confirm our hypotheses and make the necessary adjustments early in the project. Talking with Assassin’s Creed brand managers was very useful too, so we could better position the game from a marketing point of view. Lastly, numerous meetings with Lionel Raynaud (Executive VP, Creative) allowed us to settle debates and make major leaps forward in terms of design. That, and the validation. Being able to say that Tribes was voted number one out of 20 projects in a competition and that it has Ubisoft’s support is very helpful during negotiations with future partners.

In your opinion, what are the key elements in ensuring the success of an Indie game?

It’s difficult to isolate specific elements, but I really think you need to work hard on every single aspect. Whether it’s the vision, execution, or how to stand out in the market and build a community before the game is even launched. It’s overwhelming and exciting at the same time, and there are a lot of parameters to take into account. Only a strong, multi-disciplinary, objective-oriented team can expect to achieve critical and commercial success.

Have you got any advice for ManaVoid, who won the Ubisoft Indie Series presented by National Bank this year?

Well done, ManaVoid! I don’t think I’m in a position to give them production advice, but more generally, they shouldn’t hesitate to maintain close ties to Ubisoft. We are so grateful for all the help we’ve received over the last several months. The Indie Series is more than just a contest, it’s also a human adventure full of great encounters.

What does the future hold for Norsfell?

We’re going to continue bringing people together with new game genres and keep updating Tribes of Midgard for free for years to come. The project is really a solid platform that we can use to build all sorts of new mechanics and constantly enrich our community’s experience. Winter is not coming anytime soon, I can guarantee you that!