Almost exactly two years ago I screamed as an email titled “Frictional Games: Job Offer” dropped in my inbox. I continued screaming as I called my mother to tell her the news. Half an hour later she sent me a follow-up text.
“I looked at the website you sent me. Are you sure it’s a real company? I’m worried.”
Since that day, my life has never known peace.
Once I infiltrated the company, one of the first big questions I dared shoot at Thomas and Fredrik (after “Hey, is Catherine Chun a lesbian?” (the response: she is if you want her to be)) was “Hey, can we please do something about the website?” They said yes. In my foolishness I posted the first blog in 3 years, stating we were still alive – expecting to hype people up for an imminent release of a new website.
The release wasn’t imminent. Instead we were met with… well, let’s call it a Series of Time-Consuming False Starts.
As 2020 grew closer, some passive superstition started gnawing at me. This time the screaming was internal, and kept me awake at night at the thought of entering the new decade with an old website (a perfectly normal reaction, right?). Our fans making fun of the site didn’t help either, dealing further damage to a project I now considered the measure of my pride.
Fuck it. I’ll make it myself.
And I did. You’re looking at it! The monument to my mediocre design skills, superior patience, love for colour orange, and some help from the rest of the team (as well as our IT partner Vessinge).
So, what’s new?
The main new thing is that I’m nuking the concept of posting content on separate platforms. All future news and blog posts (previously on our Blogspot) will be posted here and here only. I have gone through all (376) past blogs and news articles, as well as posts on our forum and mysterious third-party platforms, and hunted down the images and videos, fixed or removed all broken links.
Other new things, in no particular order, include:
Frictional Games is a distant and cryptic game developer, quietly tinkering with unspeakable horrors in the darkest depths of Europe. Yet over the past while we have been chipping away at that image, exposing a softer core. And now we’re ready for the final nail in the coffin of mystery: an official Frictional Games Discord server, where you can talk directly to us, or to other fans!
We hope that having a fluid, shared space like this will help casual and hardcore fans alike connect over topics that interest them, from lore conversations to sharing the cutest K8 plushie sewing patterns, from best uses of AddUseItemCallback to fanfiction tips. And, of course, anything and everything Frictional Games.
Aside from community-centered involvement, we hope to bring us developers closer to you with events like Ask Me Anything threads, and an occasional casual chat. Who knows what else the future will bring?
Upon launch the server includes channels for:
– Frictional’s news, sales and patch notes, – Discussions about SOMA, Amnesia games, Penumbra games and Frictional Games in general, – Showcasing your mods and other fan creations like art, cosplay and videos, – Connecting with peers and discussing modding, creating fanart, or how to avoid overheating when wearing a Grunt suit, – Social media feeds, – Buying our games directly from Discord.
To celebrate the launch, all our games are heavily discounted at the Discord store pages.
So, you have decided to apply for a job here at Frictional Games? Great, we would love to hear from you!
…But before you hit that “send” button, you want to make sure that you are showing yourself and your talent in the best light possible. We have already written a blog post on how the recruitment process works, so you can mentally prepare for that.
In this blog we will help you construct a good application, consisting of a CV, a cover letter and the portfolio, and even get down the nitty-gritty of the email. While we hope you apply for our positions, you are obviously welcome to use the tips when applying for other jobs too.
Just remember the most important thing: Always customise your application for the position you’re applying to.
A job application is like a love letter. You have to show interest in the recipient, and tell them why the two of you could be a good match specifically. You can write a letter about how great you are and send the same version to different recipients, but be warned – that’s pretty transparent, and will not likely land you a (business) relationship, no matter how good you are.
In this economic situation it might be tempting to say fuck it and cast a net as wide as possible (yes, we have moved on to fishing metaphors now). But the best fish will slip through the loose holes of a haphazardly set net. Instead, try finding one good spot and throwing in a hook with a juicy bait – the juicy bait being your best application. If you are good enough, a fish will definitely bite, and a love letter recipient will definitely swoon.
Frictional is a small company with little turnover. We’re not looking to burn through talent, but to find the right applicants who will stay with us for a long time. That’s why we want the applicants to be interested in and motivated to work with us specifically.
Do you love us? We love you too! Now let’s go write that application!
1. Read the job posting
This might sound obvious, but start by reading the job posting. Then read it again.
If you’re exactly what the posting is looking for, then great. You can use your previous work as examples of why you’re a good match. Are you a generalist? Pick your strong points that you would use in this job.
(But be realistic about it. If your skillset is wildly different from what the job would be, you might want to wait for another opening. Otherwise you are mostly wasting your own time.)
Now compare your skills to the job’s requirements and get ready to use those points in the next steps.
The CV is all about you, dearest. It’s your dating profile where you can show your best angles, or that really big fish you caught once.
When the perfect job comes along, you don’t want to spend hours digging out when exactly you interned at that one place. Keep a meta-CV of all your experience, skills and achievements. This can be a document, or it can be a website or LinkedIn page you can link in the CV. An accessible online CV especially good if you have gaps in your relevant experience because you were helping out at your cousin’s ice cream business or similar.
Remember the previous step where we looked at the job requirements? You can now cherrypick the most relevant points from your meta-CV and put them in your tailored CV. Quality over quantity and all that. Start from the most recent relevant one.
A good CV is 1–2 pages long. If you only picked the most relevant experience, you should be able to keep it tight. But do write in detail about the relevant experience. If you only gloss over your experience in big strokes, the employer will not be able to tell what you have actually done and achieved. Share specific tasks and examples, list your best achievements.
If you have skills outside your field, such as multiple languages or software, you can list those too. Just keep them tight. But, despite being your so-called dating profile, listing hobbies might not be very relevant. But if you’ve done game jams or similar, go ahead! They are relevant and they count.
Keep a meta-CV.
Always customise your CV based on the position.
Start with the latest relevant experience.
Write in detail about your relevant experience.
Send the same CV to every position.
List every job you’ve ever held.
Start your CV with the first job you ever had.
Start with education instead of work experience (unless you’re a recent graduate).
3. Cover Letter
If the CV was your dating profile, the cover letter is your love letter. And a love letter cannot just be a glorified dating profile.
Picking relevant experience for the CV already shows that you put thought into your application. But the cover letter gives you an opportunity to show that you truly care about the company, their games and the position – or at least have knowledge about them. It’s incredibly easy to spot if someone sends the same cover letter to everyone, because they only talk about themselves. You can reuse lines you’ve written for similar positions, but make sure to keep them relevant.
The cover letter is also a great opportunity to talk more about why the skills you have acquired would translate well into the position advertised – especially if your experience is moreso from hobby projects. Convince the company why you would be a good match for them.
It’s easy to get lost in profound expressions of love, but a good cover letter is half a page to 1 page long. Being concise is also a skill.
If the job posting mentions expected salary, this is a good place to mention it.
Talk about why you want to work with this company specifically.
Talk about your skills in relation to the job’s requirements.
Tell the company why they should hire you. Be bold.
Send the same cover letter to every company. It’s easy to spot.
Only change the name of the company in the letter. Generic wording is also easy to spot.
Only talk about yourself with no relevance to the company or the position.
For better or worse, looks are important. In this case your dating profile pictures are your portfolio. The portfolio is a way to back up the claim that you’re as good as you say you are, for both artists, programmers and other folks.
While a good portfolio looks different depending on whether you’re an artist, a designer or perhaps a communications person, there are still good general practices when it comes to putting one together. In this segment we will use artists as an example, but you can use your imagination to apply the tips to other fields.
Just like with a CV, keep a master portfolio. For artists it can be sites like Artstation or Behance, or perhaps your own site. Pick the pieces you are most proud of, but are varied enough to show off your versatility.
From the master portfolio, you should again pick the pieces most relevant to the position and create a tailored portfolio. If the company is looking for a props and environment artist, those are the things you should be concentrating on. Also look at the stuff the company has previously done. Have they only done high-poly? Their next product will probably not be low-poly.
There is no rule to how long the portfolio should be. The key is making it easy for the recruitment team to immediately see if you are a good or potential match. For an open position you can choose some pieces relevant to the position and put them in a PDF, or link them from the master portfolio. For an open job query, pick a few pieces that are most in line with what the company is doing.
It is also a good practice to mention what you actually did for your works. Here at Frictional we wear all of the hats. The artists do everything from whiteboxing to textures. We need to know if you know how to do those and didn’t just make others’ textures and assets look good.
Keep a master portfolio of all your work.
Send a portfolio or links to a few relevant pieces.
Mention what you worked on for the pieces.
Send the same top picks to every company and every position.
Send all the portfolio pieces as separate files (links are ok).
Chances are, there are also other jobs you have or will apply for. It’s good practice to have a professional email account for official business. Something with a neutral email handle and your real name as the sender. It makes it easier to find your application later. Having a signature with your contact information and links to your master CV and portfolio is also handy.
Some email platforms will show your profile picture, so make sure you at least know what it is. You might want to think twice before using a topless beach pic or a dank meme. The recruiter will probably have a chuckle, but might not be left with the best impression.
Make sure you include some sort of cover text in the email. It can be pretty generic, informing of your interest in the position and the attachments you have provided. This is also a good place to mention your master CV and master portfolio. Even better if you get a short elevator pitch in.
Use your real name in the email.
Have a signature with contact info and links.
Write a short cover text, like an elevator pitch for your application.
Have a shirtless profile picture. No, seriously.
6. Personal Information
Getting a feel of a person is important, but not all information you provide will help us with that. There are some things the employer is not even allowed to ask (family relations, religion…), and being upfront about them puts the potential employer in an uncomfortable position. Emphasis on the potential part. If you get hired, we will ask you for the details we need.
What a potential employer DOES need to know:
Country of residence
Links to your master portfolio and CV
Phone number (we don’t need it but most companies do)
What a potential employer DOES NOT need to know:
Marital status and/or children
Ethnicity or nationality, gender, religion. disabilities or similar
7. Think of the recruiter
The recruitment team might get hundreds of applications every day. Sometimes the recruitment team is just one human being, who also does other things.
Just like with life in general, the key word is empathy. So send the kind of application that you would like to receive.
Make sure the application easy to go through, and that the attachments are easily accessible and in proper file formats. Be sure the relevant links are easy to find, and that they work. If you want to make a recruiter happy, include your own name in the attachment names (so it doesn’t become CV(69).pdf on the recruiter’s computer).
Save your CV, cover letter and any other files in PDF format
Make everything easy to find
Save your text files as doc/x, rtf or txt, or especially png or jpg.
Send your portfolio pieces as multiple separate files.
There is no sure-fire way to make the perfect application. But the more tailored your application is, the better your chances are.
And lastly: even in an application, feel free to let your personality show. If the company doesn’t like your genuine application, you wouldn’t be happy working with them anyway. If they do… they will remember you.
Hi. My name is Miguel Nogueira and I am a concept artist and designer at Frictional Games. My job is to create art for concepts that we might or might not add to the game. The point of concept art and design is planting creative seeds in others through the means of art, to spark debate on the suggestions, and to bring the concepts to life from sketch to product.
I love horror and fiction, so when the opportunity to join Frictional as a freelancer game in August of 2017, I was too flattered to say anything but yes. And in October of 2018, I joined the company as a full member.
As a video games maker, I naturally played a lot of games when I was younger – almost to an unhealthy point. As a 7-year-old kid, this box that I could play on without going outside, or without touching physical toys, was like black magic or voodoo to me. The first game I played was the very first Wolfenstein 3D, released back in 1992.
I wanted to reverse engineer the game. While trying to do so, I broke the computer and got grounded so many times that it wasn’t even funny. Fixing a computer or operating system error was not only hard in the early 90’s, it was also expensive… But I was fascinated by it. The 7-year-old me had a plan to one day master video games.
Besides that, like any true 90’s kid, I owned many cheap consoles that ran Super Mario, Bomberman, Duck Hunt and all that other fun stuff. But they weren’t that inspirational – I thought of them as merely a hobby or a fun way to pass time. It was only when I got back into computer games that the immersion really kicked in. Eventually, I got the desire to be a part of the vanguardist front of the current game making age.
While in college, I was still playing a lot of games. I was studying graphic design and multimedia arts, so video games actually inspired me to come up with shapes, colors and designs. Around that time Dark Messiah and the Metal Gear Solid series were what glued me to the screen. There was something about Dark Messiah specifically, its environments, ambience and designs, that was so magical, but at the same time so haunting. It really drew me into the tales of primordial myth – the ones that make you ask what if?
I got into horror way late. I was just looking for ways to relax with films or, so didn’t get the hype of media that would scare me or stress me out instead. But later on, I realized that there was also good horror out there, like there is in any other genre, full of mystery that unveils slowly. And then there’s, you know, the cheap stuff.
Getting into concept art
Ever since I was that 7-year-old, a part of me had subconsciously wanted to break into the creative field of concept art. I first found out about it when I was 15, and it was thanks to DeviantArt. Back then, around 2005, the site was at its prime, and the only good place to discover and share art. All the art there was mind-blowing, but there was something about concept art that I really loved.
Then in and after college I experimented a lot with fine art, graphic design, graffiti, typography, and other design fields. But it wasn’t until I saw some robot designs by Darren Bartley and Nivanh Chanthara that I stopped and thought: “This is what I want. These people look like they’re having a lot of fun doing those. I want in.”
College itself was tricky for me. When people ask me if it helped me to get a career in games, I’m still on the fence. There was a love-hate relationship going on. On one hand, college provided me with inspirations that I will keep my whole life. It taught me about the European vanguardist artists and how their approach changed the art world, about the importance of the industrial revolution in arts and crafts. I learned about how public installation artists draw attention to their work, and so on. There were classes on graffiti and expression, typography, fine art… and those lessons are priceless. They were a nudge in the right direction. Without someone to teach me about them, I would not have found out about these topics for years.
On the other hand, to get any jobs, I had to lock myself in a room and put hours upon hours into practicing art. It’s something you just have to do to get to the next level of art, and it’s something college just doesn’t quite nurture.
So I cannot give a definitive answer on college. I was either fascinated by the subjects presented at classes or hated myself for being there instead of sitting at home and practicing drawing.
After college, I took a year off to work on and perfect my craft: drawing, painting, designing… After that I took on whatever freelance job I could find, then found work at indie studios, and gradually ended up at more known studios. This was a turning point in my career, because I realized I was playing in the big league now. One day you’re someone’s groupie and the next day you’re working with them.
Every time I connect with a studio or professional I’ve respected for a long time, my energy meter is filled for a long time. I feel the burst of stamina and will to work out of nowhere, like an energy blast. It’s my muse, really. It is the reason I’m fortunate to say that every day may turn out better than yesterday.
And then one day Frictional contacted me because of an email I had sent a long time ago, saying they wanted me for a work test. I passed, and so the journey in Secret Project #1 began. I didn’t know it yet, but it was about to be a wild ride!
My life at Frictional
I started at Frictional as a full-time concept artist. All the briefings were cool, interesting and creatively demanding. Working full-time meant I could work on what I liked all day. There was never a day where I thought gee, I wish I could work on something else instead. Soon I was working on props for pretty much all the levels on the project, then moved to characters, then environments – and now I do pretty much anything that comes my way.
When it comes to my work, I try to bring my sense of graphic design into the aesthetics and my experiences into storytelling. I also like to think in analogies, metaphors and jokes, which I like to sneak into the designs. I feel like every concept has capacity to be something more than just itself or what it looks like at first glance. So I try to add some substance, work on aspects of what the concepts stand for, and make sure they’re not too literal or easy.
Besides that, I love studying and getting all into different subjects, as there is more chance of finding valuable things the deeper you dive. I draw diagrams, study anomalies of human DNA that can be used in monster designs, consume culture and subculture, capture accidents to use in a different context, experiment and drift, love my experiments as I would an ugly child, delay criticism and judgement.
I do a lot of work where I’m focused on details and injecting story elements into the props, environments and other bits of the world. While working, I have recalled some of my memories related to Dark Messiah. In the game there was a statue in a haunted necropolis that you could choose to interact with. It read something like: “Here likes cursed so and so. For his crimes against the king, let his torment be eternal.” It is a really trivial detail and I am probably among the 1% of players that noticed it, but it just added a lot of believability to the world.
A lot of these romantic ideas and memories I have about games are blurry at best and inaccurate at worst. But they are something I gravitate towards when making my art. I study what other games have done well, find out why these things work, then adapt the formula to my own work.
I could go on about my favorite comics, films and games. But to be honest, every time I pick up a new book, game or film, there is a possibility that it will leave me with a long-lasting memory. And for me, that is very exciting.
Like most people at Frictional, I work from home – and in my case it happens to be the sunny Porto in Portugal. Here I have my work sanctuary, aka my office, where all the art making process happens.
My desk and setup are something I’m proud of. It’s just tech, but because I built it myself, there’s another level of affection I have for the tools. It must be a nerdy thing. Besides the obvious hardware my setup sometimes has a book or a magazine on graphic design, a ball or a fidget spinner to play with while I’m analyzing references or trying to focus mid-brainstorming. Simply reading a couple of paragraphs between drawings or throwing the ball at a wall for a few minutes is enough to get all the parts of my brain working again.
Which leads me to my last point: I want to close this with advice to aspiring video game artists. Sometimes us industry people are too serious and forget to have fun. We forget we’re making games. A lot of times artists tend to copy what is popular in the industry, which is fine, but there is also a whole world out there to get influence from. Following in line with the entertainment industry will only get you so far. I find that the art that I actually stop to look at for more than three seconds is the kind of art where the artist is communicating something unique to them, something only they can say – not a copy of a copy of a copy.
The bandwidth of the world is much broader than what you can get through your internet connection or TV set. Get some inspiration from unlikely places: graffiti, typography, furniture design and fashion, nature, travel… Everything has the power to amplify what knowledge you already have and show you entirely new avenues of exploration.
That’s it! Thanks for reading!
If you’re interested in following my work, you can find me here:
Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.
Wha- huh? What’s this? Someone was supposed to update the website? We’ve been too hard at work on our two new games, and kind of forgot there was this thing to upkeep.
Look, we know the site looks like it hasn’t been updated in about 10 years… and that’s because it probably hasn’t. But now we have a person who has time for that, so hopefully it will look nicer soon! Shouldn’t take another decade. But you never know.
In the meantime we are active on several social media platforms that you can follow us on: Twitter Facebook Instagram Tumblr for fan works And our Dev blog, obviously!
As always, tech support can be found on our Forum, and we’re slowly adding new stuff, like a Careers page (pretty empty for now). Keep checking back, and maybe you’ll be met with a shiny new site some day!
Hi there! I’m Gregor and I’m a designer and programmer at Frictional, which means I’m responsible for all the fun events in our levels. Okay, maybe they’re fun just for us.
I’m a more recent recruit, having joined around September 2016. My job description, gameplay programmer / designer, is purposefully vague. While I mainly work on level scripting, I also spend time on AI, gameplay systems and level design. I also worked on our collaboration with the Tobii Eye Tracker, which I will talk about later. The great part about this is that my work never gets stale and almost none of my days feel the same.
I’m originally from a little known country called Slovenia, but I’ve recently moved to the land of the vikings to become one myself. Or, in other words: I moved to Malmö around two months ago and now work from our fairly new office.
I absolutely adore our office and go there pretty much every day to socialize with and get inspired by my co-workers. I’m also the one who nags everyone with occasional movie and gaming nights, where we usually grab some snacks, relax and watch a horror movie (obviously), or games like FIFA and Jackbox Party Pack!
I can’t really remember the time when I first started playing games. I do know that around the late 90s my dad brought home an Intel 80186 PC one day, thinking he would use it for work. He was wrong. After he showed me a couple of MS-DOS games and I realized I could make things move by pressing buttons, I became glued to that PC. My parents didn’t manage to pry me from it, so I’ve been playing games ever since. Not on the same machine, obviously.
I played a lot of games, but didn’t touch the horror genre for the longest time. I still remember having vivid nightmares and being unable to sleep whenever I saw something remotely scary on television. When I was older, however, a friend of mine bought me Amnesia as a “gift”. It was a dare, of course, but because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, I played through it. It was just as scary as everyone was telling me, perhaps even more so.
But while I was playing it I also realized that it was about more than just scaring the living hell out of me. It managed to fully immerse me in its world and story, which I had not experienced to this degree before. This is how I got introduced to the horror genre, and to Frictional, which would later impact my life more than I could have possibly imagined.
Making games has been my dream ever since I can remember. Given how much fun I had playing them, I thought it would be great if I could make my own – which is why I always liked messing around with settings, seeing what I could do with cheat codes, and figuring out damage formulas so I could get an advantage. It wasn’t until I got sucked into a game called Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, however, that I actually made my first array into creating my own content. I made lightsaber hilts, maps, and even modified some scripts to make the game play like I wanted to.
Unfortunately, growing up in Slovenia there was no real game dev scene there, so I forgot about my dream. It simply never occured to me that I could make games for a living. However, since I was already using my computer so much, I thought it would be fun to work in IT. So I learned some basic C++ programming in high school, then went to a computer science university where I learned a lot more about programming and software in general.
For a long time I resigned myself to becoming a web developer, taking some summer jobs and part-time work in that field. The job became more and more mundane and boring, until I finally realized that I couldn’t do it long term, and that I had to find something more fulfilling. That is when I remembered my dream of making games, how much fun they brought me and how great it would be to be able to help someone else have the same experience. I already had a lot of programming experience, so I became determined to join the games industry.
I immediately quit my part-time job and started working on my first small game. I wanted to do everything on my own so that I would learn all the intricacies of game development. A year or so of studying and work amounted to Welkin Road, a little puzzle platformer with grappling hooks.
While I was in the process of finishing Welkin Road, I started looking at potential studios I could join. That’s when I saw a tweet from Frictional, mentioning that they were looking for a designer / programmer. I didn’t think I was ready, but I figured this was my only chance to work with the company, so I sent my resume in anyway.
To my big surprise they offered me a work test, to see whether I was suitable for the role. I gave it my best, but after I sent in my project I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable let-down. Instead I got a positive reply and an invitation to an interview. The final decision came a couple of weeks later.
Spoiler alert: I got the job.
Given that I was a big fan of Amnesia and SOMA, the decision to accept was a no-brainer. However, it took me quite a while to properly register that I had fulfilled my lifelong dream. A year and a half later I realize how lucky I am to be one of the few people who can wake up on Mondays with a smile on their face.
After joining, I immediately started working on my introductory tasks aimed at learning the new tools. I joined at the same time as Max, so we bonded over struggling to understand all the new stuff. When those tasks were done, I started working on my first real project: designing and implementing eye tracking features in SOMA, which I will talk about in more detail in the next section.
A while after I was brought on, the company started looking to set up a studio in Malmö. I already knew that if I wanted to make games, I would most likely have to move, so the decision to move to Malmö didn’t take me long to make. Finding a place to stay took a while, but I eventually managed to find a nice apartment and settle in, in no small part thanks to my incredibly kind and welcoming co-workers.
FIRING LASERS (more commonly known as Eye Tracking)
As promised, I will now spend some time talking about my adventures in eye tracking. After receiving a unit from Tobii, I first tested it with a bunch of games that already had eye tracking support. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a particularly useful use case study, since it had a robust implementation and used the eye tracker in interesting ways. I was initially very surprised at how well the eye tracker worked in that game, and how seamless and intuitive it was to use without putting any strain on my eyes. This gave me the confidence that we could use this to enhance SOMA.
Once I got a feel for what the technology was capable of, I read through Tobii’s SDK documentation and code samples to figure out how it all worked. In simple terms, the Tobii eye tracker provides a continuous data stream of screen coordinates that represent the location on the screen the user is looking at. Think of it as firing 60+ laser beams per second from your eyes to your monitor. Bring it on, Cyclops!
After I was done feeling like a superhero, I looked into how we could use this in our own engine, HPL3. Since Tobii’s SDK was easy to use, integrating it into HPL3 wasn’t too difficult, especially with the help of our engine programmer Peter.
With the technical aspects more or less dealt with, I started thinking about the design of our eye tracking features, and how we could best make use of this technology to enhance the game. This included brainstorming sessions, quick prototyping and a lot of feedback from the rest of the team.
It quickly became clear that while controlling and moving stuff around on the screen with your eyes is fun, it becomes tiring and uncomfortable really fast. For a good experience, the player must never be actively thinking about using their eyes. Instead, the game should react to the player’s natural eye movements and try to enhance the experience. A negative side effect of this design principle is that unfortunately quite a lot of features become very subtle and hard for the player to notice consciously, despite having an overall positive effect.
Another interesting aspect of designing these features was how eye tracking could be used in a very immersive first person horror game. Horror games often rely on where the player is looking to trigger certain events, which always means a certain level of uncertainty about whether the player actually registered what was happening on the screen or not. With eye tracking, this uncertainty became very minimal, which meant that the timing of a lot of the events in SOMA naturally improved.
In the end, we ended up with a number of eye tracking features we were happy with. The most noticeable ones are extended view, which makes the viewport pan towards where the player is looking, and the ability to control the flashlight with your eyes. A number of enemies also react to the player’s gaze, such as the flesher monster becoming aggressive when looked at and teleporting when the player blinks, or the deep sea diver stopping when the player maintains eye contact.
Other features are much more subtle and designed to enhance immersion and mood. For example, staring at creepy and gory scenes zooms the screen slightly, giving the impression that Simon is in a trance or shock-like state and can’t look away. When the player looks at enemies, the screen distortion effect intensifies to further discourage players from looking at them.
Additionally there are some really secret ones, such as Ross’ distorted computer messages appearing exactly when the player blinks, to further reinforce how Ross is inside Simon’s head. My personal favorite, however, is a subtle reaction from K8, the incredibly friendly and helpful swimbot, which gives the player a small opportunity to communicate with it.
In summary, working on eye tracking has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience both because of the challenge, knowledge gained and the creative freedom. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy firing lasers with their eyes? The end result hopefully enhances the SOMA experience, even if just a tiny little bit. So if you have the PC version on Windows and a Tobii eye tracker, consider giving an even more immersive version of SOMA a go!
Eye tracking is just a small part of my work at Frictional though, as I’m currently working on one of our next projects. I’m already really proud of what we’re creating and I’m happier than ever with my choice to follow my dream of making games. We’re all really excited to be able to share more of what we’re doing, but until then we’ll just keep doing our best. This also reminds me it is time for another gaming night, to keep our spirits up!
Hi, my name is Alex and I am one of those people on this planet who make games for a living. I joined Frictional Games almost a year ago as a gameplay programmer & designer, and I am currently working on [REDACTED].
Despite my warm Sicilian blood, I ended up living in this beautiful yet terribly cold place called Sweden, where I obviously work from.
I got exposed to videogames as a kid, watching my dad playing Lucas adventures (that Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis intro sequence will forever be impressed in my memory) and – like most people these days – I just spent a lot of my free time playing games.
I remember that when I was really really young I would draw labyrinths on paper and let my best friend play them as I was adding moving traps and enemies on the go. It was a complete nonsense but I think it’s the earliest somewhat-interactive thing I’ve ever made. It was pretty fun.
During my teenage years it was really clear to me that I wanted to work with games, so I started doing game journalism and with two friends of mine I would spend nights playing games but also making terrible prototypes, studying some programming in our spare time. My first playable game was obviously an extremely generic shoot-em-up with horrible graphics and some keygen music slapped on top.
I eventually decided to move to the Netherlands to study and get my bachelor’s degree in Game Design and Production. Living there was a great fun and allowed me to be part of an active gamedev community. I went to gamedev events, met many developers, expanded my network and opened my one-man-company called Kalopsia (hi Josh Homme!). I also joined a lot of game jams, one of which landed me an internship at Guerrilla Cambridge doing some level design on RIGS: Mechanized Combat League for PSVR (at the time the Morpheus prototype was just a bunch of lenses and cables put together with tape).
I ultimately started my own small but very personal project called Memoir En Code: Reissue, which I eventually released on Steam/Humble/GOG (totally not a plug). I worked solo on that project for quite some time, and after the release I felt the need to change gears and work in a team again. A friend of mine told me there was an opening at Frictional Games, and how could I not apply to the company that made SOMA?
Fun fact: after I submitted the work test I travelled to San Francisco for GDC17, and Thomas and Fredrik were there as well. We did not meet in person though, and I ended up spending most of the conference thinking about the test; it was actually a bit stressful and distracting! I found a partner for a new solo project that I was planning to make in case stuff didn’t work out, but I got a positive response from Frictional and I obviously agreed to join the team.
I’m not crazy after all.
What I do
During the first weeks at Frictional I spent my time learning the tools and the overall work pipeline. This resulted in me creating a short psychedelic game where you put out fires by peeing on them, while Slayer music plays in the background. It’s probably the best thing I have made to this date.
At the beginning there was a lot of stuff to learn and take in. But to be honest that was the entire point why I pushed myself into a new environment; you can’t really become a better developer if you don’t expose yourself to new stuff.
After I was done with the intro tasks I quickly jumped into production, working with Aaron (we are officially called the A-Team). He works from the UK, but we have a very clear line of communication; we are fairly independent, but we are always in sync, which is working out very well for us.
I spend most of my days scripting events, moving a door 0.25 units to the left to improve visibility and making that sound play with 0.5s delay because it just feels a bit better. The rest of the day is spent drinking tea with my desk-buddy Max and mostly hoping that nothing breaks. I have also spent some time making small changes to the debug tools we use, just to make the pipeline a bit smoother or a bit more comfortable. I juggle between working from the office and from home, depending on the amount of isolation my brain needs. Being able to do that is a big privilege that has a very positive creative impact on me.
Stuff that I like
Since designing games is a complete dream-job, I try to keep myself busy by doing other creative things on the side. I spend quite some time doing photography, which I enjoy quite a lot. When I travel I always bring my a7ii with me, practicing and slowly improving over time. Aside from that, I also very much enjoy making music. Some months ago I got a Teenage Engineering OP-1 which I am having tons of fun with, and I am now playing a bit of ukulele.
I guess I won’t be happy if I don’t mention my biggest love. I have a deep (and almost unhealthy) love for anything Kojima makes. Over the years my love for his games went a bit overboard (I am the person behind the Metal Gear Timeline which you should totally check out if you are new to the saga) and now I ended up with a corner of my apartment being completely dedicated to his work. I keep adding stuff to the cabinet and now I probably need a new one after I got some new loot from my recent trip to Hong Kong. I fill my existential void with Metal Gear stuff, I need a doctor.
I’m Max, and I do gameplay programming and design. I joined Frictional about a year and a half ago, and I’ve been working on one of our super secret projects since.
For the first nine months or so I, like everyone else, worked from home. Last summer we got an office set up in the heart of Malmö. Since then the amount of days I spend working from home has reduced greatly, though I still do it from time to time.
These are my two workspaces, the first one in the office and the other one at home (which is rather bare bones right now, moved in just a couple of days ago!). They’re quite similar; both the computers and the chairs are the same kind. I wanted to be even more consistent and get the same type of desk as the office one at home, a decision that was ultimately overruled by my better half (apparently it doesn’t go with the rest of the decor).
Games have always been a big part of my life. Most of my time growing up was spent either playing games or talking about games. But, for quite a while, my family didn’t have a PC. Which meant I was stuck playing all sorts of old, weird games on rapidly aging Apple computers. One of my earliest gaming memories consist of repeatedly failing at air-hockey, losing to a hideous pig-man in Shufflepuck Cafe on my dad’s old Macintosh.
Eventually I scraped together enough money to put together my first PC, in front of which I would stay rooted for the following years. In addition to playing, I spent a lot of time creating custom content for games with my friends. It was always quite basic though, as I hadn’t learned any programming yet.
For a year or so I studied film and media studies at the university, with a diffuse goal of wanting to work in games down the line. One night my girlfriend gave me a push, and I applied for a three-year game development program at Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH).
My years at BTH were a mixed bag. On one hand, we had a lot of freedom and got to work on tons of small projects, which was very fun and super rewarding. On the other hand, some courses felt like they were only marginally related to game development. Working on side-projects during your spare time was crucial. I got through it all by finding a good group of like-minded students that I stuck to for the entirety of the education. Our final project was a side-scrolling adventure game called Far Away – you can watch the trailer for it on Youtube.
Perfectly in sync with graduating, I stumbled across a job opening at Frictional and sent in an application. Over the following weeks I answered some additional questions, did a work test and finally had an interview. A couple of days before I would hear from Frictional, I got a job offer from another company in software development. I clumsily explained to them I was waiting on another offer and asked for a few more days. Finally, I got an email from Fredrik and Thomas offering me the job. It was a no-brainer, and I happily accepted.
What I do
My first few weeks at the company consisted of completing a list of introductory tasks, to learn more about the tools and the engine. This was a lot of fun, and culminated in the creation of a silly mini-game where I got to put everything I had learned to the test.
After I had completed the introductory tasks I got to work on Safe Mode for SOMA, which was something I was really excited about — contributing to a game I truly thought was great. From the get-go, we felt it was important to maintain the monsters’ threatening presence in order for their new behaviours to gel with the overall tone of the game. We couldn’t just disable their ability to harm you; doing this would end up breaking immersion (imagine repeatedly throwing a toolbox in Akers’ face and him just standing there, taking it). Instead, we tried to focus on how to best tweak each monster’s behaviour in a manner that suited that particular encounter. For instance, some might eerily walk up to you and size you up, and can even bluff charge you if you’ve strayed too close. To further enforce the behaviours fitting with the world, we decided that if you were to actively mess with monsters (like invading their personal space for too long, hurling trash at them and so on), they should still be able to hurt you, just not kill you. Overall it was a very worthwhile experience, and I’m quite happy with how it all turned out.
Now I’m working on one of our secret projects. As the gameplay programmer/designer workflow has already been described in previous posts I won’t go into detail, but my days in general are spent designing and scripting events and scenes, as well as programming gameplay systems.
Additionally, I thought I’d talk a bit about the differences in working from home compared to working in the office. We’re also gonna do a proper office tour later on, so stay tuned!
This is our office! Currently, we’re around seven people occupying this space, probably with more to come. It’s quite seldom all of us are here at once though, but there are usually a few people around. And on the off chance that you’re here by yourself one day, fear not; there’s always the noisy, seemingly stiletto heel-wearing, tap-dancing travel agency crew upstairs to keep you company (seriously).
So, it really isn’t all that crowded here. But, seeing as most of us don’t work from the office, we often have meetings over Slack. It can easily get annoying for your desk-mates if you keep babbling on and on in various meetings throughout the day, which is why we’ve set up a separate meeting room. It also moonlights as a test room, complete with a TV, some dev kits and a monster webcam.
The fact that the company is split into people working from home and people working in the office could potentially lead to complications, such as communication issues. In order to prevent this we’ve made sure that all important decisions and discussions still happen over Slack, to keep everyone in the loop. So far this policy has worked well, and the transition has been quite smooth.
In the end, a typical day of work in the office is very similar to one at home. There is of course the added social aspect of working in the same physical space as you colleagues, which is great, but if you one morning feel like you’d rather stay at home and work, you can. Having this option every day really is quite luxurious.
Other than this, and the requirement to wear pants, the routines of working in the office and and working from home differ very little.
Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.
On the last day of the cold January Will from Extra Credits sat down to stream SOMA, and for the first few hours of the game he was joined by his friend and Frictional employee Ian Thomas. Ian worked on scripting, coding, and level design for SOMA, and is now the Story Lead on one of Frictional’s two upcoming projects. During the stream he answered some questions from the viewers, ranging from what type of pizza he thinks Simon had in his fridge, to ways of minimising dissonance between the player and the character in a narrative game.
In this blog we’ve compiled the best questions and answers into an easily readable form. So go get a beverage of your choice and dive into the everyday life at Frictional, narrative game design and tips on networking in the industry! Or, if you’re not the reading type, you can also watch the whole video on Twitch.
Have some other questions? Hit us up on Twitter and we will try to answer the best we can!
(Picture commentary from your favourite community manager/editor of this blog, Kira.)
Q: Does the Frictional team scare each other at the office?
We didn’t have an office until recently, and even now most people are still remote, so not really!
The thing about being behind the scenes in horror is that it’s very difficult to scare yourself, and each other, because you know what’s going on. We do play each others’ levels every other week, and it’s always brilliant to get a decent scare out of a coworker.
Otherwise we don’t hide in the office cupboards or anything like that… regularly.
Q: Is it true that developers don’t actually play their games?
No – we play our games thousands of times, and most developers do!
It does depend on where you sit in the development chain. If you work for a very big company and only do something like facial models, you might rarely play the game until it’s close to completion. But in a team the size of Frictional everyone plays the game all the time. That’s how we get our primary feedback and develop our levels before the game goes anywhere near alpha testers.
Q: How about after they’re released?
Probably not that often. For me personally there are two reasons, which both have to do with time. Firstly, I’m probably already working on a new thing. Secondly, during the short downtime after a release I’m trying to catch up on games I had to put aside during development. But it depends: for example, when I worked on LEGO games I would later play them with friends, because they’re so much fun to sit down and co-op play.
For a couple of years after the release you might be fed up with your game and not want to see it, but then you might come back to it fresh. With SOMA I sometimes tune into livestreams, especially if I’m feeling down. That’s one of the kicks you get out of this stuff – knowing which parts of the game people are going to react to, and getting to watch those reactions! That’s the best payoff.
Q: Did the existential dread of SOMA ever get to the team?
It’s a little different for the dev team, as the horror is a slow burn of months and months, whereas for the players it comes in a short burst. The philosophical questions affected people in different ways, but I don’t think we broke anyone. As far as I know we’re all fine, but given that a lot of us work remotely, it could well be that one of us is deep in Northern Sweden inscribing magical circles in his front room and we just don’t know…
Q: Why did SOMA get a Safe Mode?
SOMA was originally released with monsters that could kill you, and that put off some people that were attracted to the themes, the sci-fi and the philosophy, because they saw the game as too scary or too difficult. Thomas and Jens had discussed a possible safe mode early on, but weren’t sure it would work. However, after the game came out, someone in the community released the Wuss Mod that removed the monsters, and that and the general interest in the themes of the game made us rethink. So now we’ve released the official Safe Mode, where the monsters still attack you, but only if you provoke them – and even then they won’t kill you.
The concept of death in games is a strange one. All it really means is that you go back to a checkpoint, or reload, and all the tension that’s built up goes away. The fact is that game death is pretty dull. It becomes much more interesting when it’s a part of a mechanic or of the story. We at Frictional have talked about it internally for a while, but it’s something we’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer to.
So, all in all, even if you turn on Safe Mode, it’s not that much different from playing the game normally.
Q: What type of pizza does Simon have in his fridge?
Meat lovers’, definitely.
Q: What was the funniest or hardest bug to fix in SOMA?
There were so many! You can find some of the stuff in the supersecret.rar file that comes with the installation.
I spent a lot of time fixing David Munshi. His animation really didn’t behave and he kept leaping around the place. He was so problematic, especially in this sequence where he was supposed to sit down in a chair and type away at the keyboard. We had so much trouble with that – what if the player had moved the chair? We couldn’t lock it in place, because we want the player to be able to mess with these things. We went around trying to come up with an answer for ages.
And then someone on the team went: “Standing desk!”. Problem solved! It’s silly little things like this which tie up your time.
Another similar element was the Omnitool. It was a fairly major design thing that we came up with to connect the game characters, and to gate scenarios. We were struggling trying to tie these things together, and then it was just one of those days when someone came up with one single idea that solved so many problems. It was a massive design triumph – even if we realised later that the name was a bit Mass Effect!
Q: Why does using items and elements in Frictional’s games mimic real movements?
This is one of Thomas’s core design principles: making actions like opening doors and turning cranks feel like physical actions. It binds you more closely into the game and the character, on an unconscious level. We’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about ways to collapse the player and the character into one and make the player feel like a part of the world. It’s a subtle way of feedback that you don’t really think about, but it makes you feel like you’re “there”.
There’s an interesting difference between horror games and horror films in this sense. You would think that horror movies are scarier because you’re dragged into the action that moves on rails and there’s nothing you can do about it. But for me that kind of horror is actually less scary than the kind in games, where you have to be the person to push the stick forward.
We try to implement this feedback loop in other elements of the game too, like the sound design. When a character is scared it makes their heartbeat go up, which makes the player scared, which makes their heartbeat go up in turn, and so on.
Q: Why didn’t SOMA reuse enemies?
It obviously would have been much cheaper to reuse the monsters. But in SOMA it was a clear design point, since each of the enemies in SOMA was trying to advance the plot, get across a particular point in the story, or raise a philosophical question. Thus, the enemies were appropriate to a particular space or a piece of plot and it didn’t make sense to reuse them.
Q: Did SOMA start with a finished story, or did it change during development?
The story changed massively over the years. I came on to the game a couple of years into development, and at that time there were lots of fixed points and a general path, but still a lot changed around that. As the game developed, things got cut, they got reorganized, locations changed purpose, and some things just didn’t work out.
Building a narrative game is an ever-changing process. With something like a platformer you can build one level, test the mechanics, then build a hundred more similar levels iterating on and expanding those core mechanics. Whereas in a game like this you might build one level in isolation, but that means you don’t know what the character is feeling based on what they’ve previously experienced.
You don’t really know if the story is going to work until you put several chapters together. That’s why it’s also very difficult to test until most of it is in place. Then it might suddenly not work, so you have to change, drop and add things. There’s quite a lot of reworking in narrative games, just to make sure you get the feel right and that the story makes sense. You’ve probably heard the term “kill your darlings” – and that’s exactly what we had to do.
A lot of the things were taken out before they were anywhere near complete – they were works in progress that were never polished. Thus these elements are not really “cut content”, just rough concepts.
Q: The term “cut content” comes from film, and building a game is closer to architecture or sculpting. Would there be a better name for it?
A pile of leftover bricks in the corner!
Q: How do you construct narrative horror?
Thomas is constantly writing about how the player isn’t playing the actual game, but a mental model they have constructed in their head. A lot of our work goes into trying to create that model in their head and not to break it.
A central idea in our storytelling is that there’s more going on than the player is seeing. As a writer you need to leave gaps and leave out pieces, and let the player make their own mind up about what connects it all together.
From a horror point of view there’s danger in over-specifying. Firstly having too many details makes the story too difficult to maintain. And secondly it makes the game lose a lot of its mystery. The more you show things like your monsters, the less scary they become. A classic example of this is the difference between Alien and Aliens. In Alien you just see flashes of the creatures and it freaks you out. In Aliens you see more of them, and it becomes less about fear and more about shooting.
It’s best to sketch things out and leave it up to the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks – because the player’s imagination is the best graphics card we have!
There are a lot of references that the superfans have been able to put together. But there are one or two questions that even we as a team don’t necessarily know the answers to.
Q: How do you keep track of all the story elements?
During the production of SOMA there was an awful lot of timeline stuff going on. Here we have to thank our Mikael Hedberg, Mike, who was the main writer. He was the one to make sure that all of the pieces of content were held together and consistent across the game. A lot of the things got rewritten because major historical timelines changed too, but Mike kept it together.
During the development we had this weird narrative element we call the double apocalypse. At one point in writing most of the Earth was dead already because of a nuclear war, and then an asteroid hit and destroyed what was left. We went back and forth on that and it became clear that a double apocalypse would be way over the top and coincidental. So we edited the script to what it is now, but this has resulted in the internal term ‘that sounds like a double apocalypse’, which is when our scripts have become just a bit too unbelievable or coincidental.
Q: How do you convey backstories, lore, and world-building?
Obviously there are clichés like audio logs and walls of text, but there is a trend to do something different with them, or explaining the universe in a different way. But the fundamental problem is relaying a bunch of information to the player, and the further the world is from your everyday 21st century setting, the more you have to explain and the harder it is. So it’s understandable that a lot of games do it in the obvious way. The best way I’ve seen exposition done is by working it into the environment and art, making it part of the world so that the player can discover it rather than shoving it into the player’s face.
Q: How do you hook someone who disagrees with the character?
It’s hard to get the character to say and feel the same things as what the player is feeling. If you do it wrong it breaks the connection between the player and the character, and makes it far less intense. Ideally, if the player is thinking something, you want the character to be able to echo it. We spend a lot of time taking lines out so the character doesn’t say something out of place or contrary to what the player feels.
With philosophical questions there are fixed messages you can make and things you can say about the world, but that will put off a part of the audience. The big thing when setting moral questions or decisions is that you should ask the question instead of giving the answer. If you offer the players a grey area to explore, they might even change their minds about the issue at hand.
Q: How do you write for people who are not scared of a particular monster or setting?
In my experience the trick is to pack as many different types of fear in the game as you can, and picking the phobias that will affect the most people. If there’s only one type of horror, it’s not going to catch a wide enough audience. Also, if you only put in, say, snakes, anyone who isn’t afraid of snakes is going to find it dull.
Q: What’s the main thing you want to get across in games?
The key thing is that the players have something they will remember when they walk away from the game, or when they talk about it with other people. It’s different for different games, and as a developer you decide on the effect and how you want to deliver it. In games like Left 4 Dead delivery might be more about the mechanical design. In other games it’s a particular story moment or question.
In SOMA the goal was not to just scare the players as they’re looking at the screen, it was about the horror that they would think about after they put the mouse or controller down and were laid in bed thinking about what they’d seen. It was about hitting deeper themes. Sure, we wrapped it in horror, but the real horror was, in a way, outside the game.
Q: What does SOMA stand for?
It has many interpretations, but I think the one Thomas and Mike were going for was the Greek word for body. The game is all about the physicality of the body and its interaction with what could be called the spirit, mind, or soul – the embodiment of you.
The funniest coincidence was when we went to GDC to show the game off to journalists before the official announcement. We hadn’t realised there is a district in San Francisco called Soma, so we were sitting in a bar called Soma, in the Soma district, about to announce Soma!
As to why it’s spelled in all caps – it happened to look better when David designed the logo!
Q: Does this broken glass look like a monster face on purpose?
I’m pretty sure it’s not on purpose – it’s just because humans are programmed to see faces all over the place, like socket plugs. It’s called pareidolia. But it’s something you can exploit – you can trick people into thinking they’ve seen a monster!
Q: What is the best way to network with the industry people?
Go to industry events, and the bar hangouts afterwards!
It’s critical, though, not to treat it as “networking”. Let’s just call it talking to people, in a room full of people who like the same stuff as you. It’s not about throwing your business cards at each other, it’s about talking to them and finding common interests. Then maybe a year or two down the line, if you got on, they might remember you and your special skills or interests and contact you. Me being on Will’s stream started with us just chatting. And conversations I had in bars five years ago have turned into projects this year.
You have to be good at what you do, but like in most industries, it’s really about the people you know. I’m a bit of an introvert myself, so I know it’s scary. But once you realise that everybody in the room is probably as scared as you, and that you’re all geeks who like the same stuff, it gets easier.
Another good way to make connections is attending game jams. If you haven’t taken part in one, go find the nearest one! Go out, help your team, and if you’re any good at what you do, people will be working with you soon.
Q: Can you give us some fun facts?
– You can blame the “Massive Recoil” DVD in Simon’s room on our artist, David. A lot of the things in Simon’s apartment are actually real things David has.
– We try to be authentic with our games, but out Finnish sound guy Tapio Liukkonen takes it really far. We have sequences of him diving into a frozen lake with a computer keyboard to get authentic underwater keyboard noises. It’s ridiculous.
– Explaining SOMA to the voice actors was challenging – especially to this 65-year-old British thespian, clearly a theatre guy. Watching Mike explain the story to him made me think that the whole situation was silly and the guy wasn’t getting the story at all. And then he went into the studio and completely nailed the role.
– There’s a lot of game development in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden and Norway, because it’s dark and cold all the time so people just stay indoors and make games. Just kidding… or am I?
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.
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.