IGM Interviews: Björn Johannessen and Fredrik Tolf (Haven & Hearth) – Part 2
Welcome back to our interview with Björn Johannessen and Fredrik Tolf, two Swedish developers who have worked on and off on Haven & Hearth for the past eight years. In last week’s conversation, we learned about how the two got started on the MMO survival RPG. With an old kitchen computer, the duo hosted servers for Hearthlings from all over the world to play, and we learned their reactions to various player exploits such as building impenetrable walls with drying racks.
This week, we’re looking ahead to the future of Haven & Hearth as Tolf (mainly programmer) and Johannessen (responsible for art and models) switch gears to remake the game from ground up, refining existing systems and crafting 3D graphics
IGM: Moving on to Haven & Hearth 2.0, what’s carrying over? How do the mechanics translate, what’s old and what’s new?
Fredrik: One of the things that’s driving development-back when we first started Salem, I just finished the implementation of some fairly fundamental systems in the server, so at that point I was pretty much prepared to rewrite the game from scratch again. For that reason alone, we were planning to rewrite Haven anyway. Now that we are rewriting it, we take every opportunity to revisit old systems and weed out things that are just not reasonable, and polish up things that we like.
Björn: Right now, our development goal is to reach feature parity with the old Haven, basically.
Fredrik: For sure. The new Haven, we consider it the same game as the old Haven. We are driven by the same exact vision and there are for sure many similarities. But now that we are going through it anyway, we take the opportunity to patch up things here and there.
Björn: Exactly, we’re only doing what we would have done anyway had we continued developing the old Haven, I think.
IGM: Are there then any major new gameplay systems or features?
Björn: Several, I suppose, and in some ways none, I guess. There are a lot of good systems. One of the major things that we’re doing this time around is we’re trying to provide more of a narrative with the game. There’s now a system which provides some amount of narration to the game, or at least that’s the intention. I don’t know if you would consider it a major system, but it’s certainly a system that is new, that didn’t exist in the old Haven.
IGM: How is narration going to work?
Björn: Basically, you get events when you do things, you get a little line of text explaining what happened.
Fredrik: And some lore and stuff. I think it’s fair to say that one of the biggest differences is that everything just works better now. You can tell this already in Salem, actually, which uses the same engine that I have developed, which allows you to do fancy things like display tooltips and information about items.
Björn: We’ve spent a fair deal of time designing better UI solutions for things like extending walls and performing more mass operations, because the old Haven was very clicky; you had to click a lot with your mouse in order to plant fields, for example, you had to click once per tile. Those kinds of things are more or less being removed, now you have better ways of executing mass operations. Fredrik is correct in saying that everything works better, everything is more streamlined, smoother, it is what it should have been all along. Another major thing is that we’re working in 3D this time around, rather than 2D, which makes a fair amount of difference in that you can rotate objects.
Fredrik: That said, we are very much trying to emulate the graphical style of the old game in 3D with the isometric perspective and everything.
Björn: The ambition is that everyone should feel like there is continuity between the old Haven and the new Haven. We don’t really have an ambition to make a new game per se, but rather to make our old game what it should have always been, I guess.
IGM: Did you revisit the learning point system and make changes to that?
Björn: Yeah, we haven’t done that yet but we have plans for it. It will be remade by the time anyone touches the game. The learning point system will still be there, but there will be some quirks to it. A lot of things that are new are basically those kinds of things; again, we just looked at the mechanic, kind of figured in terms of what worked and what didn’t work.
Fredrik: The main differences are in the details, not the broad strokes.
Björn: The game is still fundamentally about surviving in the wild, farming, foraging, hunting, fishing, those kinds of things. So that hasn’t changed, really.
IGM: On the forums you wrote: “We wish to decrease the at times mechanistic feel of character development and progression, and attempt to introduce more meaningful differentiation along qualitative rather than quantitative lines.” What does this mean and how do you plan on putting something like that in action?
Björn: The way we’re approaching it, the players will need to – through the event and narration system that I was talking about earlier – players will need to get experiences and trigger them in order to advance in terms of learning. How they trigger experiences is far from obvious. It is not simply that you can develop a mechanistic formula for how to trigger experiences because we have hidden a lot of the information on how the experiences are actually triggered. Which will, from the perspective of the player, hopefully, appear as a mysterious thing that simply happened. And people have some idea as to why it happened, because the experience will be related to something that you did in the game.
Like, you can get an experience for chopping down a tree, for example. But you won’t get it every time you chop down a tree, and hopefully, our idea is to allow players to get experiences but it will not allow them to seek experiences in a particularly theological fashion. Which, hopefully, will make the players approach the game in a less mechanistic way because the entire blackbox of how experiences are triggered, is, again, a blackbox. They don’t know how they’re triggered. We hope this engenders a more casual playstyle or approach to the game.
Fredrik: One point I might add perhaps is that, the idea is since not all the characters will have all the experiences, different characters will be meaningfully different.
Björn: Yeah, a lot of the experiences will be extremely hard to trigger and obscure in terms of conditions.
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