Valheim is a survival game where you scour the forests for pieces of wood and leather and constantly build your base in an imposing castle. Is what’s more a game in which you are a Viking on epic journeys to distant islands in search of fortune and glory enough to ascend to Valhalla. Why not both, right? Well, one of the reasons this is not the case is that these two ideals sometimes collide with each other in the wrong way.
Developer Iron Gate Studio encountered a particular pressure point when it came to designing their portals, which instantly teleport players across the game world. “We redesigned them several times because we didn’t want people to use them too much,” co-founder Henrik Törnqvist tells me. But why would you put something in a game that you don’t want players to use?
Something important to know about Valheim is that Törnqvist and his co-leader, Richard Svensson, are really interested in the Elder Scrolls series, especially the staggeringly vast Daggerfall, which contains over 15,000 settlements and dungeons. They love the feeling of exploring large open spaces, so much so that at the beginning of Valheim’s development, the world was much larger than it is today.
But they also know that there is a point where all that open space stops adding to the experience. “You must have something to fill it, or put another way, there must be an end point for each trip,” says Törnqvist.
So they squeezed Valheim to better balance his sense of wild nature with his sights, at least in terms of how many interesting sights his small team of five could reasonably produce. The result is a world that encourages you to explore, one in which you can feel enveloped by nature and also trust that you are likely to find something extraordinary that will make every trip worthwhile.
As an aside, Törnqvist isn’t sure he’s nailed those points of interest yet. Valheim, after all, is still in Early Access. “I talked about having really unique locations during development,” he says. “They’re something that I personally think the game is missing a bit, like coming across something really spectacular, a giant castle complex or something like that, and maybe there’s only one of this castle in the world. We would definitely like to add unique things like that. “
Regardless, Törnqvist and Svensson wanted Valheim to have a lot to do with being a Viking, with players building ships and navigating the seas between the islands that make up their world. All of this means that, on a deep level, Valheim is a travel game, and it wants you to feel like a stranger in unknown lands and need to make a hole in them.
Valheim is a travel game and wants you to feel like a stranger in unknown lands.
“We want players to build a lot of bases as they go along, because a lot of building pieces and things like that are unlocked as you go, so you don’t have access to everything from the beginning,” says Törnqvist. “We wanted people to experience the build multiple times, but with different ingredients, so to speak.”
But while it’s exciting to think about the idea of building a foundation and then committing to leaving it behind for distant shores, in practice it can feel a bit wrong to give up all that work and creativity. So it was obvious from the start that Valheim would have portals to instantly teleport players around the world.
But the problems soon became apparent. In playtesting, Valheim was turned into a portal-building game in which players would set sail, build a portal back to base, and never sail to the seas again until they had to reach the next island. “We want the physical examination to be a big part of the game,” says Törnqvist, but the portals replaced the need for most travel.
Additionally, portals also meant that players could bypass many of the challenges set on later islands and biomes. They would carry all the resources they gathered in new biomes to their main base so that they never had to take root in them. “I mean, it’s kind of boring. We want players to play in all biomes, ”says Törnqvist.
For Svensson, at least, it was clear that the portals had to be limited in scope. But how? One idea was that they cost something. “But that doesn’t really solve anything,” says Törnqvist. “It just becomes a hectic job gathering the things you need to teleport, and that time you need to teleport something and you don’t have the resources for it, it becomes an irritating time, you know?”
It was clear that the problem with the portals was the way they transported the resources, so another initial idea was to have different levels of portals, so the low quality ones could not transport any ore, the best ones could transport copper and tin , and the best could also carry iron.
The portals reveal the tension between these two sides of the Valheim gold coin. Game building often relies on convenience, while great adventures are often at odds with it.
Having three levels added too much complexity to the game, but the basic idea proved to be good enough to include in the current version of the game. You can only build one type of portal and you cannot go through it with any type of metal or mineral. This means that you have to physically transport the resources that form the backbone of Valheim’s crafting system across the world, while common resources like wood and stone can pass through them, along with special items like gems and trophies. The inventory is very clear on what cannot be teleported, marking minerals and metals with a small icon and noting it in their descriptions.
Thinking about the Iron Gate solution made me realize that Minecraft must have faced a similar problem with its portals, and used a very different solution that I had never appreciated before (disclaimer: I work for Minecraft creator Mojang). I’ve never considered using portals to tackle the dangers and challenges of the Nether, and the reason is in their design: if I were to place a portal near a dangerous but rewarding location in the Nether as a stronghold, it would take me miles. from my base in the Overworld. That’s because the portals between the Nether and the Overworld are connected in space, but at different scales: a distance of one block in the Nether equals eight in the Overworld.
This option was not available for Iron Gate – Valheim’s world is contiguous, while Minecraft portals take you to alternate dimensions. But it shows that portals are difficult for many open world survival games.
Törnqvist, however, is not behind the mineral and metal solution at all. “I personally love portals!” he tells me. “I think they would probably be better if we allowed the players to transport everything through them.”
Unfortunately, Svensson was unable to join us when we spoke because he was unwell, but it is clear that the portals inspired strong discussions about Valheim’s development, and Svensson’s opinion took precedent, in part because he is the creator of the game. What’s interesting, though, is that the difference between Törnqvist’s and Törnqvist’s views on portals reflects what they’re personally looking for in open-world survival games.
“I’m the type who likes to build a house and just sit there, basically,” says Törnqvist. “Pick up some things, build a new addition, a blacksmith. Richard is more about adventure, exploring the world. “It is fitting that the game they made together reflects both views: Valheim is a game about being a Viking and being brave and proving yourself, and it’s also about digging deeper and make a comfortable life for you.
The portals reveal the tension between these two sides of the Valheim gold coin. Game building often relies on convenience, while great adventures are often at odds with it. If Valheim currently strikes a balance between creation and adventure, Iron Gate isn’t quite sure yet. They haven’t had a lot of complaints about portals, but again, it’s the early days of the game and Törnqvist thinks it’s quite likely that most players haven’t yet reached the part of the game where portals become important. .
“I think, and this is just an assumption, that a lot of players like to travel around the tee,” he says. “That’s what I like to do, to be honest.”