It’s a rarity that I end up playing most games in the survival game genre, such as Minecraft and Rust, Subnautica, Don’t Starve, and more. It’s not that these games are bad, but the market has become oversaturated with games in this genre in the last decade or so.
My talents for building beautiful structures, or finding the patience in my ADHD brain to gather the countless resources to craft what I need to advance to the next tier of the game.
But Valheim hits different.
You are a mighty Viking warrior, sent by Odin Allfather himself to the Norse equivalent of Purgatory in order to slay mythical beings that threaten Valhalla. Starting in the relatively peaceful Meadow biome, you build a small home (or find one) and begin to collect resources to better your equipment and explore the world.
Valheim offers a great tutorial system in the form of a huge raven that explains some of the core mechanics of the game, and offers a bit of direction on how to progress forward, which is a big step up from similar games that just drop you into a random world with little to no instructions.
I really enjoy that Iron Gate Studios spent the time to add a good, clear goal as well as a simple but well integrated tutorial system. One of my biggest struggles with Minecraft over the years is how absolutely massive the game is, with little to no direction on how to get to the endgame goal of killing the Ender Dragon or how you should be progressing forward.
Wait, Minecraft Is 12 Years Old?
It’s possible that’s more of an opinion, or signs of age as Minecraft is nearing it’s 12th year, but I’m not as much of a fan of the “figure it out yourself” side of these games. Maybe I’m just old.
The world of Valhiem is a beautiful, slightly haunting world. Danger might not lurk around every corner, but it is ever-present. Beyond the safety of the open Meadows biome, lies a myriad of dangerous creatures that attack relentlessly. From Greylings, Trolls, skeletons and more, they will endlessly hunt you down as long as you leave the safety of your home.
Base building becomes even more important as you delve farther into the world, as attacks on your home will become more frequent and you’ll need to build defenses like spikes and pits to stop them. Crafting your base is a breeze, with pieces snapping into place and requiring you to be mindful of support beams, chimneys for smoke ventilation, as well as protective walls for safety.
Beautiful Visuals, Open World Exploration
Visually, the game’s landscapes are beautiful and the building system lets you easily create nice looking structures without being an architect (in contrast to Minecraft where I can’t build anything). However, monsters and players themselves look like they were ripped out of Runescape, and don’t really mesh with the rest of the visuals of the game.
I do miss the lack of things to discover in the world, but to my credit I have only explored the first two biomes, and have not seen much on the Wiki to change my mind about more discoverable things beyond abandoned structures and small dungeons.
Where No Man’s Sky offers a plethora of locations that overall don’t matter a great deal to progression, and Minecraft offers a huge variety of possible things to explore that are (usually) beneficial in some way, Valheim’s abandoned homes generally only offer the same couple resources (some gems/amber/money that you can’t use for a while longer, feathers, bees, and maybe some arrows). The crypts you find in Black Forest are necessary to create Forges and smelters, but after that there’s never been anything of note to find in them.
The game also offers a skill system where the more you use a skill, the better you get at it.
Or, so I’m told.
I haven’t really noticed any difference between where I started the game and and where I am now. I’ve been sprinting since I started the game, but I haven’t seen a single difference in running speed. The only noticeable progression is upgrading tools and weapons, which make a decent enough difference to feel like progression.
The Final Verdict
Overall, I’m still really enjoying running around the world of Valheim. I’m somewhere around day 35 or so of my current world, wasting time trying to mine more bronze before I craft a ship to sail to the next island to face the second boss. And I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of it.
For an early access title (which is only about $20), it’s a great game at it’s current version. Iron Gate Studio has been adding small patches fairly frequently, improving the game’s stability while also being fairly open about their roadmap for new features.
I hope that some of the visuals are changed as the game goes on, mainly the horrendous looking trolls and player models, but we’ll see if that is just a design choice or not. I’d also like to see more attention paid to the skill system, to feel like there’s an actual progression for all the trees I’ve hacked down over the last 20 hours of game time.
Fans of great emergent storytelling and multiplayer survival games, Valheim is an easy pick. Even if you want to sit and let the game marinate for a bit longer for more content, there’s already plenty to unpack now to keep you entertained for a few weeks with your buddies.
Did you ever wonder how to approach a game publisher with your game idea? Do you like axes? Annoying monkeys? Dinosaurs? How about flannel shirts? Well, this interview is going to be the highlight of your week.
We spoke with the team at Another RoadPublishing, the publisher behind Lumberhill – a crowdfunded chaos-filled lumberjack game you can play with friends. Play in co-op, PvP or solo mode and swing your axe through insane levels that put your axe wielding skills to the test… all against the clock. Expect to see beautifully drawn pirates, raging wildfires, (annoying) monkeys & pandas among other unexpected things along the way, and get unlocking your way to new worlds and skins. Bags of fun, and already critically acclaimed, Lumberhill is well on its way to a raging success.
Sharpen your axe and iron your flannel – this wild co-op will throw you right into the middle of action! Try to get your job done in a crazy race against the clock: collect orders, fight wildfires, pirates and extremely annoying monkeys! Unlock tons of new skins and worlds playing in co-op, PvP or solo mode… and save the world – lumberjack style!
We have started as a video games accelerator, offering financial support and mentorship to students and young studios, aiding them in completing their first professional projects. It became apparent to us that these fledgling studios would also need help with promotion and marketing of their games. So, the Another Road Publishing was created to do just that.
Congratulations on the Kickstarter. At the time of writing, you are almost halfway to your goal! What was the reason you went with crowdfunding?
The team working on the game is young but very ambitious. At this moment, most of the workload is already completed, but we’ve decided that there are still some things that we would like to expand and polish in the game. It could use an additional round of testing, more levels, a few new mechanics and skins. The game will be released in the beginning of 2021 regardless of the result of the Kickstarter campaign, but at the end of the day we would love to include everything we have planned!
The campaign story, video, GIFs and images on the crowdfund page at Kickstarter are very slick and professional. Did you hire a third party or is it all done in-house?
All in-house! We have amazing artists on board who created all of the beautiful images and GIFs for the campaign!
All of the drawn elements were hand-painted and animated by us, and our video editor put together these amazing videos you see in the campaign. Also the live action scene in the promotional video where we are chased by a definitely real dinosaur was one of the most fun things we did this year.
You already have a great following thanks to previous releases. Do you get a lot of organic feedback on Discord, for example, which helps the developers polish a game before release?
Yes, all of the feedback is extremally valuable for us. We’ve got a lot of it on our Facebook page, Discord servers and from youtubers and streamers playing the game.
Sometimes it helps us in not so obvious ways. Let’s say, we have a specific feature in the game, and we feel like it should be visible and clear to the players that it is there, but we get a lot of feedback that says “it would be cool if I could do this that way”. We get a very clear message that there is something wrong with the way we’ve placed that feature in the game and it should be changed. We also listen very carefully to what people think of the game overall and make adjustments where we can. One great example is the tutorial area, which is now completely different from what we had in the previous demo version of the game.
I’d like to take my time here to thank all of our community for their feedback and support! You guys are the best!
Lumberhill looks and sounds like crazy, chaotic fun, enjoyed by many at the Steam Games Festival. What sort of feedback helped the development process?
All of the feedback helped us immensely in creating the experience the players will love to play. As we published the demo version of the game twice (once during the Summer Steam Game Festival and Autumn edition) we’ve received not only a lot of feedback on the game itself, but we could also see how the changes we’ve introduced for the second demo influenced the experience for the players.
We value any feedback, because even something seemingly irrelevant, like a question about the way that the quests work in the game, might push us in the direction of: “Oh, if they ask about it, maybe we didn’t explain it well enough in the game and we should fix it”.
Have there been any in-house full on, all out Publisher vs. Developer Lumberhill battles during playtesting?
Yes! And we had a lot of fun together! (Well I guess the developer had more fun since we have lost all of the matches, but we gave it our best!)
If we can talk about Weakless for a moment: – When publishing Weakless with Punk Notion, how did Another Road help bring the project to life?
As I mentioned before, Another Road Publishing stems from a video game accelerator that was providing support for young developers just starting out in the business.
Weakless came to be as a student project and when we accepted it into the acceleration programme, it was little more than a big pile of concept art and a bold dream of two girls. You could say Weakless was with us from the very beginning, from the conceptual phase, through first prototypes, to the mature, enchanting game we can play today – and we supported it as much as we could along the way.
Weakless is a very unique slant on a traditional puzzle-adventure. The deaf and blind characters are an incredible twist. Did this evolve or was it planned from the beginning?
Actually, it was one of the first thoughts that sparked the game into existence: to have two characters that complete themselves and find their strengths not, like it’s usually found in games, in their superpowers, but through something that is traditionally considered a disability.
The idea for Weakless came from two incredible young artists, Ania Kowalczyk – a graphic designer, and Agnieszka Wlazły – a composer, so somewhat naturally the concept drifted towards deafness and blindness, or rather – an extraordinary sense of hearing and sight. So, yes, it was planned from the beginning and served as a form of foundation for the rest of the game.
Have you ever been approached by a developer and absolutely knew the game would be a hit? …or even hated a concept and didn’t want to get involved with a game at all?
Yes, sometimes we happen to see a certain game and just know that it will be a great fit for players in terms of innovation, fun, polish and overall quality. But we are just people, and sure we have a lot of experience in the field, but we are still limited by our personal tastes and opinions that could not always be in line with specific player base. And that one amazing or not so great game might be great or not so great only for us. This is why we try to remove ourselves from the process a bit and let the player base speak.
We conduct marketing tests to see if gamers like or dislike certain idea and only then we decide if we want to continue to work with the developer. One thing that can cause the project to be rejected from the get-go is the quality of the presented alpha or tech demo; we feel that even the most incredible ideas won’t be successful when realised poorly.
What gives Another Road the edge when developers choose you?
We base a lot of our approach more on “what will the community think” rather than on “what we think”. We conduct a lot of early marketing tests to make sure that we are a good fit for each other. When they start to work with us, we help and fund \ creation of their Steam page (or work together on reworking it) and then conduct the marketing test. If it works out for everyone, we go ahead. If it doesn’t – we part ways leaving developers with all of the marketing assets and a polished Steam page. We also offer extensive marketing campaign plans reaching from community management to performance campaigns on various channels (FB, Twitter, Reddit etc.)
Reddit is known for its “unique” community. What has been your experience with Reddit marketing?
…”be active on different boards, be a part of the community – and genuinely love it”
Another Road Publishing
As for the performance marketing campaigns via Reddit Ads, I found it to be a straight forward experience – if you ran something on Facebook you will feel at home. But outside of paid marketing, Reddit is really specific as a platform. Overall we feel that there is a change coming (and a really overdue one, in my opinion) to the way marketing works on social media channels.
To this day, many games were promoted across multiple channels, creating a situation where we were active on all the channels, but not *really* present on any of them. This, of course, changes with the size of the team: in bigger companies each channel can have a specific person assigned to it, but in smaller teams usually there is one person operating all of them. And I feel that Reddit is the prime example of that need to be *really* present on it to work out well. You have to not just come around once in a while and post one or two updates, but be active on different boards, be a part of the community – and genuinely love it. To sum it up, during the Lumberhill campaign we decided to put more effort into our Discord community, but perhaps with our next projects we will find Reddit to be the best fit.
There has been an outpouring of praise on YouTube for Lumberhill. Do you feel YouTube is a good platform for an indie developer to find “Let’s Play” creators etc. to get it into the wild?
Yes, working with YouTube creators was a pleasant experience and we didn’t stumble on any serious hurdles along the way. Additionally, we were really happy to see that many of the creators just picked the Lumberhill demo straight from the Steam Game Festival without any prior contact with us, and loved it! For us it was more than just marketing, we watched every gameplay video closely and noted all the comments people had while playing, which resulted in a few changes to the game. So it is not only a great way to get more eyeballs on the project, but also receive extensive and very organic feedback on the gameplay.
How would you suggest indie devs approach creators on YouTube?
I would recommend to approach the creators just like you yourself would like to be approached – we all have limited time in our busy days, and presenting your pitch in an organised manner usually works the best. If you contact them via their business e-mail, first tell them what your game is about in quick points and then present the rest of the materials.
If you pick their interest in your “elevator pitch”, there is a bigger chance they will like to learn more about your game. If you try to include all of the info in one huge paragraph, the essence and the novelty of the game might get lost in the details.
As a publisher you must be approached by people all the time who just have an idea to pitch. What is the most common & overused game pitch you hear?
I don’t feel that there are any “overused” game ideas, as with Indie developers due to the smaller production scale they have a lot more freedom to experiment and take creative risks. So even if we receive a lot of game ideas within the action-RPG genre, every one of them will have a different hook or interesting twist to stick up from the crowd.
Have there been any issues with Coronavirus lockdowns impeding progress on Lumberhill?
When the government rung the first alarm bells about the pandemic outbreak in our country we quickly transformed our physical office in to a virtual one and worked from homes ever since. And as easy it was to move computers and other essential hardware in to our homes, the switch to this new way of working took significantly more time. Also the worry about our loved ones – our parents and grandparents didn’t help. In the end we had to push Lumberhill’s release a few months forward, but thankfully we are now at full speed ahead and focused on our goals.
Are you working with any other developers right now on upcoming games?
It is too early to share ?
The industry as a whole has seen an increase in interest for indie games, throughout Coronavirus lockdowns. Have you noticed an uptick in developers coming to you with games?
Most of the game pitches come to us through gaming events that we participate in, such as Gamescom, and usually the devs include some kind of demo or tech demo in their pitch, which naturally requires some time to produce. Since the pandemic started around March I feel that if we might see the increase in the amount of the pitches presented, it will happen in 2021 once the devs will have sufficient time to gather their teams and produce first alphas.
What are the steps Another Road takes to ensure the development runs smooth?
Firstly, we conduct a marketing test; we fund, help to rework or create the Steam Page for the game and present it to the community. If it works out we push forward and fund the development of the game. From that point forward we start to work on the marketing and increase the awareness about the game (so this is not something that happens just one month before release of the game). We also provide QA to the developer if necessary, so they can focus on making the game and we can focus on making sure everything runs alright.
One of the burning questions for every indie developer is: how do I approach a games publisher? What advice can you give an indie developer who wants to get their game published with you?
It is the best when we have a pitch document and some kind of demo/alpha/technical demo to work with. Some important things we are looking for are: what is the overall quality of the presented gameplay, what genre it is, what are your past experiences as a studio, what is the USP of the game and what are the estimated development costs. It is much easier if the pitch document is structured in a way that we can easily deduce what is the essence of the project.