Interview with Olov Redmalm: Game Director, Co-Creator and Writer of Lost in Random
We’re glad to introduce you our interview to Olov Redmalm: Game Director, Co-Creator and Writer of Lost In Random, the new successful video game from Zoink Games, released on September 10 2021.
It’s a Swedish team already known in the video game world for the development of Fe, Flipping Death and other interesting projects.
Olov is also the voice actor of some important characters in Lost in Random including Dicey, Royam and the Fourman.
Hi everyone, welcome back to Indie Games Devel.
Today I have the pleasure and the honor of hosting Olov Redmalm, Game director, Co-Creator and Writer of Lost In Random, welcome Olov.
Thanks so much, glad to be here.
You worked on Lost In Random but also on other Zoink projects like Fe, Flipping Death and Ghost Giant.
Yeah, Fe was my first project. When I joined I was an intern back then, so I worked on the playable cinematics and I did some storyboards and wrote some story as well as like, you know, the petroglyphs or hieroglyphs that you find around the environment.
So that was kind of my first experience, then Flipping Death as well with story and Ghost Giant was instead my first game direction and art direction.
My first question for you is that: Lost In Random was officially released in september 10 2021.
What has been the gamer’s feedback towards this project?
Are you satisfied about the feedback of gamers?
Oh yes very, pleasantly surprised.
I remember when the first reviews hit and the first response and like when we first, you know, it’s always so much tension, in our case the morning, when the game was released and I really started to pour in and we were all just so happy, screaming and jumping. That was great.
It was just great, both in terms of the feedback and the fact that people understood the story and the characters.
One of the most important things is that the players would connect to the characters in the story, but also of course the game loop (which was a big challenge for us). You get to know a fighting game cycle that could be expanded and built, balance, combat and progression. All of this was obviously very challenging…
We’ve always made narrative driven games and hard driven games, but this time we really wanted to take the gameplay loop to the next level and even that it’s been a quite difficult loop to pitch and explain…I mean, it really boils down to some kind of western RPG combat system, but in a lighter version.
You know, I personally take inspiration from games like Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect or Dragon Age, which have this kind of gameplay. But we wanted to create something different … a kind of real-time action.
We asked ourselves what is so funny about board games and why? Why is this whole world revolving around craps and board games? So we asked ourselves what is really funny about all of this and how we could have put all this into action in real time.
It’s like: “Oh, it’s my turn I get to roll the dice, I get to pull a card or play a trap” and then see what like the sense of it, being your turn to really make a difference in the game but taking that to real time what’s the challenge and the goal.
In my opinion this game is a perfectly successful project in all its facets!
What do you think are the distinctive features of this project and what do you think differentiates it from the crowd?
Well…the idea of the game, the world and everything else literally “exploded” when we thought about including the dice in the world we were building.
It appeared to us as if we had drawn it somewhere: it happened that Klaus Lyngeled (the founder of Zoink) drew just at that moment a dice with two legs, two arms and a small eye. All this was not only interesting for the storytelling and the various game themes, but also posed a fundamental question: “What will be the gameplay of this game?”.
And, as you well know, we really had to create iconic gameplay, given the importance of playing dice in the gameplay of a video game.
So I’d say it’s the dice and the way everything revolves around them that is the basis from which the story and gameplay derive.
Our intent was to experience something different and atypical, rather than repeating mechanics or themes that others have done before us.
It kind of grows out of a mood or an experience that we’re aiming for.
I have to admit it: I loved both the settings and the atmospheres very much and I consider them the central part of this game.
And a question I wanted to ask you is: why did you make this choice for the settings?
How are the settings in Lost in Random born?
It starts out with the sketch and the mood. We are guided by both art and storytelling, so it begins in a sense with a story we want to tell or a state of mind we want to put you in. I remember we were finishing Ghost Giant, the colorful VR game we worked on.
The next thing we wanted to do was something darker. So we started sketching a dark fairy tale which we were in the mood for.
We had all been watching Over The Garden Wall: a mini series of two boys lost in a fairytale world and we just love the structure, the humor and like the matter-of-factly strangeness of that world and how everything, the structure, was like every episode is its own fable.
And then, of course, we need to make an epic story: just think of the filmography of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (a film studio founded by Miyazaki himself).
They create very strange characters, but they’re there and it’s not like you need to explain why that character is there, just like in Star Wars.
You have to make your own make up, your own background story. It starts with a mood, a sketch, and we keep drawing a couple of concept arts.
Martin Storm was also one of the designers who worked with us on a prototype, trying different things. But the real breakthrough came when we saw this painting by Sean Tan (an Australian illustrator). He had drawn an amazing painting of a giant.
Instead, as far as Lost in Random is concerned, we tried to interpret the game world as a board game, where there was a little girl holding a dice. So we thought: “What if there was a nut with arms and legs in our game?”. From there we really understood that this was the right path.
As I said earlier, at first the gameplay and settings appeared to us as if they were a real drawing.
“We don’t know where it’s going to take us we’d grab some lunch and talk about”.
In this case we talked about, what is not only the gameplay, but what is what do we mean by this, what is randomness in our game.
It is good or bad? The Queen in this case has a rigged dark dice with which she controls the whole world, so it means that she’s afraid of randomness. What does that mean and what is too much randomness in a game?
Should we make a Roguelite? We had been thinking about it for a while, but then we decided not to, because we wanted to tell a story that has randomness as its main theme.
But then, speaking of Roguelike progress, then you have Hades, that really pulls off a great cohesive narrative even in a quite random gameplay.
I’m not saying it’s impossible but we wanted to make an adventure game. So there are many gradual steps: sketching disgusting story and themes, and for me a theme is really important when coming up with a new story and world just as long, as like it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be light or dark or light versus dark or, in this case, randomness.
So if you have this theme as a prism, look at it and then you and your ideas (that come to your mind) are like the light shooting through the prism.
It doesn’t matter how they scatter, it doesn’t matter what if it’s gameplay or story or whatever, but if they all come from the theme of randomness. They still belong together and make the story feel cohesive.
I personally love how David Lynch talks. I saw a master class with him, where he talked about how like he said that all you need is like 70 great ideas; then you post it, you put them in the cool order and then you have your movie.
It seemed so simple and liberating to listen to; and that’s basically the way we work, even if it’s just in terms of concept arts. We try to find really interesting scenes for our stories and then we put them together.
Thank you; I really appreciate the gameplay and the combat system because for me the combat of Lost In Random is very particular…with an action phase, a strategic phase and a phase in particular: the moment of randomness.
Why did you make this particular gameplay choice? Because it’s very different, especially from many games and I really appreciate it.
Also in this case, the idea was born as if it all started with that specific element of the story: this wanting to have a dice as a character in the game. Then we thought, “Well, you have to roll the dice, but when are you rolling the dice? How does it work?”.
We wanted to make you feel like you were stuck in this giant board game like in Harry Potter: the first one,I think, where Hermione and Ron are riding these giant rooks and pawns on a chessboard.
So we created a lot of puzzles with that as a reference and made a really cool prototype that we were really happy with.
We introduced it to EA: we really had to do our best and like him right away, to get support and money to be able to keep flying and to pay our team.
The big challenge was figuring out the progression for the design team, how does this loop grow ever, how does the combat grow how do you evolve… and we couldn’t.
We realized we couldn’t continue to have this very unique puzzle system.
So we wanted to make it a kind of reusable combat loop where it’s more about the cards, like the skills you get from rolling the dice.
It was certainly a challenge because, at the beginning, the prototype we had in mind was something much bigger. So it went through many different stages and versions, but I still hope I’ve answered your question.
A question that I want to ask you as a developer but also as a player is: which strategy would you recommend to players as the most useful and suitable for the unexpected?
Because in Lost in Random, there are many cards, many strategies for winning fights with enemies and I want to ask you this question regarding combat strategies.
I think it’s always a difficult decision among designers, you know, how we want to balance the game.
Do we want it to be really really difficult or easy to progress?
Because people come for the story; so we tried to find this nice balance and an easier challenge level for anyone out there.
For those who found the game too difficult, there’s an easy mode if you look in the options. It’s not easy to find but it is there.
We wanted us to like it: I mean, looking at me personally, I enjoy these western RPG and i think also random is a bit like a D&D too. You can pick your class in every fight and you can switch from a wizard to a swordsman, or change that on the fly. It’s mostly about just what you find satisfying and fun.
I think some kind of unexpected or funny combo that I’ve always enjoyed during playtesting is all about with crystals: taking out one of those screaming Blue Sonic Bloobs, the crystals shatter. This way you can later add the Crystal Curse card to your hand, which deals extra damage after crystal crumbling on enemies.
And maybe other cards too, like the one that gives you energy, or the one that gives you cards for less energy… so I find it very fun to combine all these different crystal-based cards. I think it’s fun figuring out how to activate all these chain effects with a simple slingshot.
Anyway I find that personally fun but if you don’t want to complicate things there’s the explosive bow and arrows, but I saw that many people didn’t use it.
They underestimate the card because you already have the bow and arrows: but it is precisely when you find the most difficult places that you have to go to Fourbourg and collect your reward for completing the mission.
This is actually one of the last things we added to the game at the last minute, because we wanted more offensive and fun direct combat skills, so that I would always use when I was in a hurry and just wanted to get on with the game: two different direct and indirect tactics for different players.
There’s a lot of ways to complicate things for you if you want, or you can just move on to enjoy the story.
Great! I also noticed that the NPCs are very particular, grotesque, funny and well characterized in all their facets. And my question is: are they all the result of your work, your imagination, or are there references to characters from literary works or other references?
Oh, definitely a mix of everything! We had a large room for the writers: it was me, Alexandra Dahlberg, again Klaus Lyngeled, Victor Becker (our art director) and of course Ryan North worked with us too. He also wrote most of the dialogue for the game, the unbeatable squirrel girl by Marvel and some adventure time comics.
We wanted to involve at least early on as many people as possible to get different perspectives and most of us had this experience of having specifically our older sister with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
We really wanted to explore the theme of sisterhood and siblinghood and, you know, looking up to your biggest older sibling not quite understanding what they’re going through and kind of catching up with them.
Many characters would be quite wacky, strange or weird and we wanted them to feel like this.
Even and Odd are basically thrown into the crazy world of adults: and, come to think of it, it will be just a simple child to solve all the problems of adults. We have given too much responsibility to the new generations.
I suppose was like a thing that went through my head…We wrote the characters and the randomness as a theme going through all the characters and the storylines, but also this kind of sadness underneath.
You know, adults kind of covering the depression of the world under a facade of wacky jokes and the weird storylines, because this whole world is really covering up this depression caused by this dice war that the queen waged against her citizens many years before the beginning of this game.
It’s really easy to come up with these wacky quest side and such on the fly when you have a theme like that.
It must also be said that Even and Odd were very complicated characters to write, because the player spends most of the time with them and they must be extremely human and easily recognizable characters. But, answering your question about references and things like that, the easiest and fastest way when you are short on time and the deadline is just around the corner, it helps a lot to have even a little script, a snippet, a text… whatever may be of help to you in that moment.
Great! One of the most personally interesting questions concerns voice-acting; you’re the voice of Dicey, Royam… the latter is undoubtedly my favorite character both in terms of voice and vocal characterization. Sincere congratulations!
I want to ask you how was this this experience of voice-acting?
I always consider where I come from: loving theater and film, I did some larping and some voice acting very early, on for like volunteer work for Stars Galaxy’s, the star of Sony online entertainment.
Star Wars Galaxies: the first Star Wars released. They had a kind of community where they made machinima movies within the game like propaganda Jedi, propaganda movies. But they reversed the roles, so that the Jedi were evil and things like that …
It was voluntary, it was just for fun and i got a lot of parts there to just have fun.
You know, I would do Yoda or Obi-wan and stuff like that and that’s where I guess I got the first taste for it.
So, when I joined, I mentioned that I like voice-acting and stuff like that.
Later I got to try some things for Flipping Death, Ghost Giant and then Lost In Random. I also did the casting.
If you are working on game development and want to try things like this (especially in a smaller company), there are many opportunities; if you show that you are eager and want to try this, just do storytelling. in my case, even if you are applying as an artist like I did at the beginning. There are plenty of opportunities to try things out if you show you’re interested.
Wow, I appreciate so much also Dicey‘s voice and movements.
It’s very fun as character in the narrative and in all these phases in Lost In Random.
Thanks so much. It’s really fun! As for Dicey, we created animations and movements, I did the voice and Victor Becker, the art director, just the concept arts and different poses and stuff like that. I also did some storyboards.
So all of these people coming together to make this one character and it’s really beautiful I think.
Yeah great! My last question is maybe the worst question… are there any games future updates or new ip for the future of Zoink?
Absolutely, we all we’re always working on something.
We’re currently working on several interesting projects; I can’t talk about it right now, but I hope to be able to update you soon.
However I can recommend Wavetale: it’s on Google Stadia right now, but we’re working on porting it so that one should be available to more players soon.
I only have to say thank you so much for this interview, for your time and for this experience.
The game is fantastic and the work of your team is great, so thank you so much and break a leg for these future projects.
Thank you so much. I’m so glad to hear it and the team says hi and thank you.
I always share the like, all the nice comments on Twitter and the videos…anything I can find in the Lost In Random channel, even though we’ve all kind of moved on to different projects. We’re really grateful for all the great response, thanks so much.
Thank you too and we’ll see in the
next interview, thank you!
Thank you so much, take care.