Interview with Niklas Hallin (Yono and the Celestial Elephants)

Interview with Niklas Hallin

First off, tell me about yourself? And tell me a little about Neckbolt?
My name is Niklas and I live in Sweden. I create video games because my brain is too systematic for painting and too romantic for engineering! And I work by myself, coding, animating, writing and designing all on my lonesome, because as it turned out, it was easier for me to learn to program than to learn to work with other people.

What advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do? And has that advice changed over the years?
Read a lot of books. Don’t read books about game design. Read novels from the nineteenth century. And the eighteenth century. Read about philosophy and history and the history of philosophy. The history of art and of cinema and of contemporary politics. Because if you don’t, you’ll just end up making games inspired by other games.

What games do you remember most from your childhood, and do you feel they influence/influenced how you make games?
I started playing video games fairly late in life. In fact, I was almost a game maker before I was a game player. But Psychonauts means a lot to me, in all it’s earnest wonkiness. And Zelda, of course. Wind Waker is still my standard for all video game quality.

While we are talking about other games, what other indie developers do you like, and can you recommend any games from them?
Shovel Knight is a very strong game. I like Hollow Knight and Flinthook. There’s a weird game called Yoku’s Island Express…

How many games have you developed, and how long does it typically take from the idea to the final product?
Yono and the Celestial Elephant is my second truly ambitious game project. I aim to work on a game for one and a half year, 18 months, but that tight ambition usually depends on one or two years of back-of-the-mind pre-production, and also almost of a year of the whole ordeal of porting, publishing and paperwork.

Okay, so I reached out for this Interview because I enjoyed Yono and the Celestial Elephants, for my audience who may or may not have played the game can you tell us what it’s about? And how the story came to be?
Yono is a newborn elephant-god in a world where hardly anyone believe in elephants any more. He journeys from town to town, meeting humans, wise zombies and cute robots along the way. How the story came to be is almost longer than the story itself. It has some to do with ancient philosophy and a bit of post-colonial history, and the role of heroes in video game storytelling.

Why did you pick an elephant as the main character?
At first, the elephant came about because it was fun to animate. It runs almost like a puppy-dog, with its trunk flapping about like a backward tail. I wanted to make a proper adventure, but I didn’t want the hero to be a young boy with a sword.

Can I just say, the art style is beautiful and, my partner said to say she thinks it’s cute?
Thank you. Working with an appealing character like this has been a delight.

Following on from that, was there any particular reason behind this art style?
The art style is inspired by 2D pixel-art Zelda, like Link to the Past and particularly Minish Cap. You can see that in the camera angle and the color palette. But Yono is made with 3D-models, so the peculiar art style comes from creating 3D-models as if they were 2D sprites.

What are you most proud of in regards to Yono, and would you consider making another Yono game?
First off, the best thing about Yono is that I finished it and released it. I am also weirdly proud of my own Swedish translation, which hardly anyone will ever experience (it didn’t even make it into the Nintendo Switch version). I’m not planning any Yono sequels, but I’m working on something even better.

For people who haven’t played the game, can you give them any tips for the best Yono experience?
Play it on the Nintendo Switch if you can. That’s my favourite version. Controlling the elephant with keyboard keys is a bit lopsided, but an analog stick helps a lot. Another great thing about the Switch version is that the game has so much of the Gameboy in its genes, and the Switch works well as a handheld. When you hold it in your hands your viewing angle matches up with the camera angle and it’s like looking into a living toy world!

Lastly, can we expect anything coming out in the near future/what are you working on right now?
Yes! I’m working on a super cool and ambitious new game. I’m hoping to release it in early 2020. It’s about myth and growth, about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, Greek virtue ethics and the symbolism of mythology.


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