Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Valheim: How a team of 5 created the most popular game on Steam

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In 1300 CE, the highest recorded total of the Viking population was 500,000 people, according to Valheim developer Iron Gate Studios. From this week – just two weeks later its launch in early access – over three million people have already purchased the Nordic themed survival game on Steam. Last weekend, over 360,000 concurrent players were exploring Valheim at exactly the same time, breaking all-time records for Destiny 2 and Grand Theft Auto 5.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Valheim could be the biggest indie game release in recent memory and certainly ranks among the most successful of all time – at least in terms of opening months. But what exactly is Valheim’s secret? Is this the start of a new franchise or just another flash in the early access pan?

You can read our full review of Valheim’s early access here.

“We have updated the sales report to get the latest numbers, and it shows no signs of slowing down,” said Sebastian Badylak, executive producer at Coffee Stain Publishing. The team, always at work to do good early access roadmap, sold 275,000 units on Saturday, their highest number to date. “There is so much more to come that will hopefully keep all of these players engaged and bring new Vikings on board.

Revitalize the kind of survival

If you’re not one of those three million players, here’s the elevator pitch: Valheim is an open-world survival game (currently in Early Access) with optional online multiplayer for up to 10 players in total. It’s a procedurally generated sandbox world in which your character is sprawled out with nothing more than pants. Players must search for food and materials to create shelter and materials to aid you on a quest to defeat deadly and mighty spirits on a journey to ascend Valhalla.From its earliest moments, the table is set like most other survival games – but there are a few major differences that have clearly piqued the interest of seasoned survivalists. For starters, fixing things like equipment and buildings costs nothing. No resources, no money, nothing. Everything is free, which takes a ton of pressure off while maintaining resources for maintenance. On top of that, the Hunger System is designed to boost your health and stamina if you are well fed, but you will not die if you decide not to eat. It’s a more forgiving approach to the survival genre, which makes Valheim a lot more accessible than his peers, without removing the challenge.

It’s also very PvE focused, which is refreshing – if somewhat ironic, as one of the most hostile and murderous periods in human history takes center stage. a game that emphasizes teamwork and cooperation.

While most survival games don’t provide specific goals beyond what you’ve set for yourself (often in one of the categories “build new things” or “don’t get murdered by zombies / bears / other players’), Valheim offers a bit more structure, even offering occasional hints and directions by means of a nifty Spirit Crow. As you progress, develop your character’s skills and fill the map, you will unlock new areas with unique biomes that pose new challenges, like cold weather or hidden underground dungeons with rare treasures. All of this makes for a stronger sense of progression than most survival games, even just two weeks after early access.

Valheim’s fight also helps uplift things. Along with the different combos and attack speeds depending on your weapon type, there’s blocking, dodge rolling, locked targeting, and even parry with the right kind of shield. It feels more like an action-RPG than a survival simulation, in particular. during his decisive boss battles against mythical beasts.

Finally, a big draw for many Valheim players is that there is much less conflict between players than you might find in other survival games. As it is, you can enable the ability to attack other players – but unless you attack a friend who gave you their world password, you don’t have to worry about being killed by other players.

Iron Gate co-founder Henrik Törnqvist says PvE is Valheim’s main focus right now, but that they’ll likely add more PvP content eventually, don’t expect that to ever be there. ‘primary objective. “I can venture to say that there will probably never be much PvP part of the game,” he said. “We hadn’t given much thought to this before, but it’s true that most survival games – at least that I know of – tend to be very PvP-focused. “

Where does Valheim come from

Törnqvist specifically cites The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the studio’s main inspirations for Valheim, which is clearly evident in his art style and physics-driven mechanics. Other creative influences include The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, as well as the cooperative survival format of games like Terraria – although he notably avoids mentioning games that have a more violent PvP focus. As for the decor of Valheim, its inspiration is simpler than you might think.

“My partner Richard [Svensson] started working on the game in his day, ”says Törnqvist,“ and he chose Vikings because it seemed like a popular thing, basically. Between 2018’s God of War, rumors surrounding then-unknown Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and even Nordic-themed RTS games like Total War: Brittania, it’s hard to say the Vikings haven’t been a priority for the developers. many games in recent years – and whether we’re currently at the end of this fad or not, Valheim’s timing seems to have worked wonderfully.

Valheim PC game screenshots

Svensson started development at the end of 2018 and Törnqvist joined him in mid-2019. By 2020, the two had expanded their team to five and struck a deal with their publisher, Coffee Stain. The independent publisher, although young, has a strong history of success with cooperative-oriented games, such as the sci-fi factory simulator. Satisfying and procedural underground mining FPS Deep Rock Galactic FPS, each of which has over 40,000 user reviews averaging at Positive ‘on Steam.

“It’s beyond anything we could have imagined.

Valheim was a great couple to them, according to Badylak (though it sure didn’t hurt that Törnqvist was a childhood friend). “What we saw in Valheim at the time was a very promising and super comfortable cooperative game that was, for us, a kind of sweet spot, a kind of passion that we wanted to pursue.

Why is Valheim so popular?

What might initially have looked like a good fit turned out to be a huge win for the publisher and the development team. “It’s amazing,” Badylak says. “I mean we all had high hopes for Valheim and we really, really thought he would perform really well, but it’s beyond anything we could have imagined.

Valheim’s sudden success may come as a surprise, but it’s easy to see why he took off as quickly as he did. Not only does it provide a fairly refreshing take on a genre that has been relatively stagnant in recent years, but it’s also a more complete experience than many Early Access players may be used to. With its massive map, deep feature set – this is especially evident compared to the barebones early access launches of other survival games such as Conan Exiles – and an atypical level of technical refinement, Valheim is what some might call shockingly complete by early access standards.

As a result, it seems like everyone from streamers to Reddit communities has gotten hooked on it. The Sub-reddit Valheim already has over 100,000 members (that’s already almost half of Rust’s, which has been out since 2013) and it has already risen to the rank of 15th most popular game on Twitch. Big Twitch personalities like CohhCarnage and german banner Gronkh – each with over a million followers – have broadcast the game a lot since its launch. Valheim’s collaborative nature, serene lo-fi visuals, and physics-based open sandbox seem like the perfect melting pot for some crazy shenanigans and amazing settlements that players can build and explore – or just watch.

Build better Vikings

Valheim’s immediate success did not change the team’s development philosophy, although it did force them to reassess some of their more immediate priorities. “It’s quite handy for bug fixing right now,” says Törnqvist. “We couldn’t predict that so many users would be using Dedicated Servers, for example … We had to turn off the automatic refresh of the server list in the game because it was too late because there was just too much servers. “

This is far from the worst problem the team could have, although it poses another problem beyond just ‘delay’. There are currently no public servers in Valheim, which means there are a lot of private servers where people play on their own, or with small groups of friends or communities. The limit is 10 players per server currently, and the entire map is procedurally generated every time you drop your character into a new world, so there is an inherent incentive to create new worlds and jump between worlds on characters. It’s a little unique that Valheim allows you to bring a character to the servers, but it’s risky because you could be killed and looted for whatever you brought if you’re not careful. At least when you die in a single player world, you don’t have to worry about other players stealing your gear.Since this is an early access game, that technically means it’s not over yet and Iron Gate Studios seems to have a clear plan. First, other options for building and crafting houses, followed by a more combat-focused update. As for what lies ahead in Valheim, we already know that the Iron Gate team has four updates slated for 2021. Hearth & Home will focus on building the base, while the Cult of the update Wolf will focus more on combat and history. “We want to try to bring in other different enemies and try to have some kind of narrative around this update,” Törnqvist says. After those, the plan is to expand the ocean regions with more ships and boat customization, and then end the year with a new area called the Mistlands.

The team haven’t revealed much about their plans for Valheim in 2022, but given their unique position as an overnight success, the Mistlands are likely to be the end of the road. It’s unclear where the team might send players. Maybe a more tropical biome, or maybe players will even travel to Valhalla?

“I can’t tell you,” Törnqvist says. “But maybe. If Odin wants it.

David Jagneaux is a longtime freelance writer for IGN. Talk games with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.


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