IGM Interviews: Björn Johannessen and Fredrik Tolf (Haven & Hearth)

Before RustThe Forest, and a number of other survival-oriented indie games, there was a relatively-unknown game called Haven & Hearth. Created by two Swedes more or less in 2008, it’s as gritty and hardcore an MMO as they come: Permadeath, choices with consequences, hunger, open-world PvP, and so on. Despite its meager 2D appearance, its persistent world and difficulty gave it a tiny, almost cult-like following. It’s the type of title where you’d have to search the forums, asking many “How do I?” questions. Each “world” saw communities forming, lands claimed, and forests cut for home-building and production of many in-game essentials.


Haven & Hearth has kept going in the years since, so it seemed like a good time to catch up with its two overlords, Björn Johannessen and Fredrik Tolf. Johannessen focuses on the art and visual aspects of the game, while Tolf programmed it, but both put their minds together to forge the many intricate systems in the game. It’s purely a two-man effort, with no outside help and no publisher.


In 2013, they started posting screenshots on their forums of a new Haven & Hearth — a revamped, entirely redone version of the original. Join IGM in a discussion with Johannessen and Tolf, reflecting on how they came to work together on the title, what their reactions to player exploits where, and what the next iteration of Haven & Hearth will look like.


Indie Game Magazine: I remember playing Haven and Hearth back in 2009 and 2010, so it’s great to talk to you guys about your reflections on the long project and see what’s coming next.

Björn Johannessen: Yeah, there’s a lot of water under the bridge, as we got a little bit sidetracked by the fact that we were developing Salem for the longest while. That is under new management now, so Salem is our other game.


IGM: How did you guys come together, way back, to work together on Haven and Hearth? That must have been at least eight years ago, I think.

Fredrik Tolf: Yeah, something like that. Well, Björn and I have been friends at least since around junior high, and we’ve been making games for quite a long while, in similar fashion. My objective was always programming.


Björn: And I’ve always been interested in whatever it is I do, mainly, I don’t know, come up with crazy schemes, I suppose. Haven & Hearth I guess grew out of basically talking about online games, in 2006 I believe. I was starting law.


Fredrik: And I was studying computer science.


Björn: Basically, we sat down one night and hatched a major plan for the game that we wanted to build.


Fredrik: Well, we just talked about it at that point then, and nothing much came about until I think a year later, when Björn told me he wanted my help to learn programming, and that way he fooled me into programming the game for him.


Björn: Yeah, that’s pretty much it [both laugh]. At some point, I decided that I was going to build the game we talked about myself, and I wasn’t competent enough of a programmer to do that, so I indeed asked Fredrik to help me learn programming and that quickly evolved to him programming the game. Thus, we started building the first version of Haven & Hearth, which eventually would lead to the fact that we got signed with Paradox to build Salem, which a couple of years later are pretty finished with.


IGM: Did Paradox notice your work on Haven & Hearth?

Björn: Yeah, at the time I was actually working in-house with Paradox, and word got around that Fredrik and I had a little indie game on the side. Paradox got interested because we had a fair amount of users for the old Haven at that point. That led to us making Salem, and now, basically, many years later, we are returning to Haven as we kind of consider Salem more or less a finished project for our part. We’re still involved with it to some extent.


Our main focus right now is Haven 2.0, and when we returned to Haven, because when we developed Salem we kind of put Haven to the side, so Haven, the present, old version is in a horrible state of disrepair. Now when we return to it we have much more experience under our belt and things like the ability to work in 3D, because the old Haven is in 2D still. All of that kind of compiled into us wanting to build from scratch because the old code was outdated.


Fredrik: Yeah. The code has evolved quite tremendously since the old Haven. It’s EMACS and vi. The engine is in-house, my own. Most of the programs we use are those that I made myself, and as for languages, the server is written in C and the client is written in Java. We have a fair amount of utilities written in Python. As for external programs, Björn uses mostly those.


Björn: Exactly, I use Blender for 3D modeling and it’s open source, fantastic program, I would recommend it to anyone any day. It’s a great program.


IGM: Are you developing full-time, or do you do something else for work and money?

Björn: Nah, we’re doing this full-time. Our income from Salem has, through various means, financed our development.


IGM: But during the development of the original Haven & Hearth, you had to do it on the side?

Björn: Yeah, exactly. During the development of the original game, it had to be on the side as a hobby project, at that time we were still in school, etc.


IGM: It’s tough to estimate how popular the original Haven & Hearth was, but how did you feel when you saw people from various countries playing it? Your video on YouTube has 500,000 views, you could say it kind of blew up.

Björn: It was exciting in the beginning. When we first got users, it was a very exhilarating feeling that anyone cared about what we did at all. At the same time, we kind of knew that we were building a great game, I think, so I wasn’t really that surprised [laughs]. But yeah, that felt wonderful. Haven is obviously a far sleepier place now than it was in its heyday, mostly because we haven’t been maintaining it, pretty much at all. We haven’t been developing much on it or anything, so Haven, as it is right now, is in a state of disrepair. But we hope to amend this when we release the new version, basically.


That was fun. You kind of get used to everything, I guess, you develop a new sense of normal around everything that happens in your life.

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Luke has wide interests in games, from compelling fighting, action, and RPG titles to deeper interactive, storytelling titles that push today's genres and boundaries - especially awesome if they're related to diversity. Feel free to reach out on Twitter or via email.

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