If you were pleasantly startled by the existence of the charismatic TOEM after May’s Wholesome Direct, you weren’t alone. Shining brilliantly despite a bright sea of other indie stars, TOEM stole the show with its whimsical monochromatic style–rightfully earning itself a slew of new and avid fans. TOEM has been in development since 2018, and it has evolved and matured since then into an affable adventure that can’t be released soon enough. Behind TOEM is a talented team of three based in Sweden. We spoke with studio Something We Made about their history as a whole, the Wholesome Direct, and their wholly inspiring TOEM.
|| How did the trio behind Something We Made first meet? We hear you’re from Sweden, and your team consists of Lucas Gullbo, Niklas Mikkelsen, and Elias Albrecht. What drew you together, and what keeps you together? Who does what?
We all met at university, Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH for short) in Karlshamn (town) where I & Elias were in the same year group and ended up working on a lot of different school projects as well as game-jamming during weekends. Niklas was a year above so we never had assignments together, but occasionally there where local game jams hosted in Karlshamn. Niklas asked me if I wanted to jam, I said yes and a game that is called Knockbots was made! This was the first proper interaction Niklas and I had, and it went really well! Niklas asked me if we should start a company (2018), and Elias has worked with us since late 2019.
It’s a rather weird mix of people haha, we aren’t really similar, me and Niklas being the most different and Elias being the middle-ground. Niklas is really outgoing and handles all social media as well as the important business things + programming. I do design, art + tech art, and gameplay programming. Elias handles ALL 3D modeling, including texturing, skinning, rigging, etc.
Since we are very different from each other there is a lot of different opinions, which definitely helps in terms of what we create and the ideas that pop out! It’s an interesting process as we all generate ideas and do our own personal interpretation of it.
|| How would you describe the development philosophy behind Something We Made? TOEM might be what you’re best known for at the moment, but you have two other project prototypes. Can you speak to the similarities and differences between these games and how you balance up to three titles at once?
Hmm… Personally, I would like to look at it as “Art-first” and “non-violence” but then we have Door Knockers, a game about kicking doors at turrets and security-guards hahaha. We don’t really have a philosophy at the moment, we are definitely moving towards “Art-first” and “non-violence” because we believe there is enough violence in games already.
TOEM and GLIDE are more or less following this, where the world is presented as explorative and pretty, then we have the mechanics that are supposed to enhance this feeling.
Currently, we are working 100% on TOEM, GLIDE (which is actually Elias and my bachelor thesis) is on hold for now! Door Knockers was a silly game jam idea (Game Maker’s Toolkit Game Jam) that was a lot of fun to work on, but it’s mainly funny because it’s a silly game-jam game.
|| What was some of your favorite feedback from TOEM’s spot in the Wholesome Direct? You mentioned a rather hilarious comment in “We Made Monthly (Episode #17),” but did you have any other…more enlightening…comments? What was your biggest takeaway from your moment onstage?
That comment is still fun to look at haha. But in all seriousness, we did get a lot of nice comments and interactions after and during Wholesome Direct! Seemed like the art-style was talked about a lot and how “cute“ it looks. The biggest takeaway from Wholesome Direct is the traction that we gained from it, there was an immediate response to our Twitter and TOEM Steam page, which when we have shown the game on-site there hasn’t been as huge an impact!
|| What were some of the things you couldn’t show in the Wholesome Direct trailer due to time constraints? Are there other points of gameplay you’d like to display, or other moments of dialogue that really stand out?
Time constraint was definitely hard to workaround… We have some scenarios that we really wanted to show, such as helping the Hotel Owner (a bear) with a photo of the hotel that can then be displayed in a fancy frame in the lobby. Or gathering pinecone critters (by staring at them) to move a log blocking a trail!
We are in the midst of planning features and scoping so not all features are completed yet. If anyone has a cool idea they want to share feel free to contact us! :-)
|| Why TOEM? You’ve stated that TOEM “encourages you to stop and smell the flowers.” What inspired you to make a game like this, and how does TOEM hope to accomplish that goal? What impact do you want to have on your players?
TOEM was very different at first, project began in 2018 (back then it was more of an art style) and had a major design change during the summer of 2019 (adding mechanics and what-to-do in the game). Even though the overall design was changed the inspiration for it didn’t. We want TOEM to be like a children’s book, characters, environments, and scenarios are all kinda based around the idea of cute stories and silly scenarios. We think that taking photos and switching between perspectives helps with this (going from an overworld perspective to a first-person one). Internally we look at it like that, then if it’s well presented or not we don’t know yet haha.
We try to think a lot about giving the player space to do the things that are most fun. So there is no need to do ALL the tasks in one area to proceed to the next one, you can kinda pick and choose the things that you enjoy the most!
|| Has the coronavirus pandemic affected the development for TOEM? Have you encountered any unique challenges that you wouldn’t otherwise have faced? What words of advice would you pass along to other indie developers potentially in a pickle?
No, not really. It’s mainly just me and Niklas in the office so regulations are not the same as others. Covid-19 in Sweden has been weird and I’m sure if anyone is interested they can look up the things politicians etc. have said about the situation here. But for the development of TOEM, nothing has really changed. We did work from home a bit earlier this year, but it’s definitely not the same as being on-site and it also had a tendency to lead to overworking!
That being said, I do believe that having regular morning-meetings and tasks REALLY helps when working from home. Voice chat in the morning, text chat during the day and have a LIMITED amount of things-to-do for that day!
|| The three of you are traveling by bus to a location of your choice for a much-deserved vacation. Where do you go, and what three games do you take with you to stay entertained? Why those games?
Let’s take a bus to Lofoten Norway! That place seems magical with its mountains, sea, and openness. It feels like the perfect mix of what everyone on the team wants to experience on a vacation!
There are SO many good games out there! We all have different likings but found one that we all like, Risk of Rain 2! Endless fun and so many different variations of playstyles! But then we would probably need one each to bring, Niklas wants to bring Jackbox 3, because of the social aspect. It’s very hard to not laugh and have a good time in that game! Elias would bring Dreams PS4 for endless creativity and I would bring Fez for the zen atmosphere and that sweet Disasterpeace soundtrack!