The Falconeer was recently released on the 10th of November. A new exciting prospect of re-invigorated aerial combat was delivered to gamers around the globe. The experience offers players a one-of-a-kind game with a unique setting, narrative, and alluringly enticing gameplay. There is an omnipresence of creativity found within every nook and cranny of the experience, the developer behind it all, Tomas Sala, has a rigorous and stylistic approach to designing his games and experiences. I personally had the pleasure of being able to interview Tomas very recently, finding out more about the development process of The Falconeer and much, much more.
To start off with, Tomas spoke to me about his experience launching the game in these unprecedented times that we are persevering through. Launch parties have been smudged from the industry for the time being and he remarks “there’s not that sense of celebration” and that’s absolutely true. Celebrating a game’s launch constitutes monumental excitement for developers around the world. It’s the celebration of passing on a creative vision to the rest of the globe; moreover, a celebration of community. Tomas and Wired Productions undertook the task of launching The Falconeer during these times with the utmost dedication and enthusiasm.
I asked Tomas, “What was your inspiration for creating an experience like that of The Falconeer?”
“It’s been a very interesting journey, I started this after I did modding, I was always working in a ‘work for hire’ studio and I had a burn out and really had quite a dark time in my life. The Falconeer was something I made when I got better. If you look at The Falconeer, the entire environment and story has a really sad and dark tone to it but then there’s the bird trying to fly away; that is a sense of me wanting to do what I want to do and be free with what I make”
I was taken aback by the evocative thought that manifested within the sentences spoken. The image of a bird flying away is the personification of Tomas’s own beliefs and that connection between freedom and the flowing air caressing a Falcon’s wings is unparalleled. The Falconeer is not only a testament to the aerial combat genre, but a testament to Tomas’s own health, the most important of all. He continues on with:
“I wanted to combine that which is sort of an intellectual, artistic way of making games with my love for — the games I loved when I was a kid which were — WWI, WWII air combat games. Especially the ones where you’re not the hero but you’re playing a campaign, and there’s a map and this time you’re playing that ace and the other time you’re playing the battle of verdun and you’re somebody else because it’s historical.
Those games left a very big impression on me when I was a kid. I wanted to recreate that sense of the flying, the exploration in those environments but also the sense of history but then in a fantasy setting.” Tomas then goes on further to explain what he likes to read. “I like my fantasy fairly bleak. I read a lot of China Miéville, he writes these wonderful tales that are intellectually super free and not restricted with any thought of what’s ‘proper’. It’s so original in that sense. I love that, being able to do something that’s original and different, might be a little bit difficult, but it’s different. I think that was a core thing I wanted to do, make something that’s different.”
Tomas goes on to speak about the “hero narrative” and making sure to do more than simply the’ hero’s’ journey or the ‘anti-hero’ journey.
The Falconeer is the amalgamation of his own creative vision, and, from someone who developed the famous ‘Moonpath to Elsweyr’ mod for Skyrim; that vision carries the game leaps and bounds for the sheer imagination emanating from The Falconeer.
The thought process of the environments
I went on to ask Tomas about his time crafting the mesmerising environment and asked: “Environmental storytelling has such an impact on me and there was a particular area that had my mouth drop in awe. That location was ‘The Maw’, where the water seemed to be scythed in two to indicate the divide between the south seas and the northern ones. I would love to hear how you came up with the idea of crafting this particular element.”
“I usually tend to iterate a lot so there’s no map of the world I made, I discovered it the same way the players discovered it, just a little earlier. I was flying around and I found some of the towns and I discovered that I got lost a lot because it’s a water world. I found that it did take away some of the drama, having that flat water. I had already decided that one of the themes was going to be able to go under the water, or in the water, or in caves, or the water opening up. I was experimenting with these temples then someone said “why don’t you have a trench run?” Then I said “yes, why don’t I have a trench run?” That’s when I realised — let’s make a natural feature that’s large, I’ll make it huge, like eighty percent of the playable map. It’s the invert of a mountain range. You can navigate by it; it’s a landmark. It’s a core location of the story and shows that the world is damaged in a way, what’s left is just the relics of the past. The sense of tragedy, there’s beauty in tragedy, just like there’s beauty in violence.”
Tomas’s creation process for the environments in The Falconeer has been immense, “The Maw” is one of my favourite places and hearing his thoughts about creating it was a pleasure. Tomas has a keen interest for environmental storytelling and what’s better for that than making the players have a cerebral discussion about mystery and why the water is separated.
The new era of combat design and enemies
I then went on to ask: “The combat feels monumentally fluid, what was the iteration process for the combat? What core ideas did you originally have for the combat?”
“Originally, so I love Crimson Skies, which is a very arcadey air combat style, it has that World War One feel, where you’re not going super fast. It’s a very niche genre, if you compare it to modern day genre’s where all the action is always in front of you. It always makes you feel like you’re drawn to the right spot.
In air combat, it’s not accessible in that sense at all, because everybody’s trying to get behind you. That requires situational awareness, which I love but it’s not accessible. When I first thought about doing it and I had the bird; and I felt there’s something to this, I thought, I bet there’s still enough people that enjoy that gameplay and nobody’s doing it.
When I started, I had the bird and the idea of diving and gaining energy, that came first. Then I was told “you need to do dives and rolls”, then I saw people playing Rocket League like that fanatically. You’re physically flipping it, I added a roll function in, if you tab it lightly on the joystick, you can make it do a 180° and the idea of throwing around the bird. That’s when the combat really started to shine. Suddenly you had something that fixed wing airplanes can never do. That can alter the combat.”
Tomas had created his own spin on the constraints of the genre and not just spun them, but shattered them to bring the genre to new heights, quite literally. I asked about the enemy design next: “The enemy design is absolutely brilliant in my opinion, from pirates, to flying beetles, to dragons, to manta-rays and more. What one in particular is your favorite and what do you want to make the player feel from all the enemies?”
Tomas remarked: “The way my brain works is that I get distracted a lot and if the work I do doesn’t give me regular reward, for example, every couple of hours. I get distracted. The one thing that never bores me is making worlds or creating something visual. Some days I wake up and say “flying eels”, is that cool? I’m gonna make it! I need something different, flying eels, okay! I made the Razor-beetles at first, that made sense, you go through all the flying creatures, there may be bats in a future expansion. Reptiles, we’ve got dragons, we’ve got insects and you’ve got birds. I’ll make a giant marine eel, that is actually the coolest creature I know, I added some guns on it, animated the tail, and it looked freakishly cool! That’s one that I really like.
There’s also that giant crab that fits in there. That’s another one that I woke up and went “giant crab with guns? Epic? Yeah!” I’d like to make more of those giant enemies and I’ve made a few more, you can find some mosasaurs in the world. At the moment they’re just snapping at you but in a future content update they’ll probably attack shipping when escorting that. I wanted each chapter to have a unique enemy feel.
I must be honest, in this game, I’ve just put anything I love, I’ll just put it in there.”
Tomas’s enthusiasm is exhilarating to hear. I responded: “I think that’s brilliant, some people may call them ‘wacky’ ideas but these ideas and the aspect of having your thoughts merge into one amalgamation of a game, having all these different elements can really draw players in. I think that’s excellent that you come up with these ideas and really just go with them.”
Tomas hasn’t got any concrete plans for the future yet, but he mentions: “There are certain areas I’d like to look at. There are quality of life things people are asking for, such as putting pins on the map and map-based fast travel. I’ve made quite a few more enemies to put in the game, one was the Kraken, every game needs a Kraken. The world itself will also expand.
I hope that when you go there in six months, there will be more game.”
I am excited to find out what is in store for The Falconeer in the future.
I left Tomas with a final question after discussing his previous Skyrim modding work which was exquisite, his favourite moment being from creating the airship in ‘Moonpath to Elsweyr’.
“Creativity can often be seen as the guiding light in our world for self-expression. In the games industry creativity matters with immense proportions, what does it mean to be “creative” for you, what mark of creative influence would you like to make on the world?”
“I want to be different and free. To take your mind where you want to go and then visualise that. I think that is a huge gift and I have developed that through working for others and honed those skills but Now I feel free. I have the ability to act on that, I’m super grateful for that journey. That is creativity for me, a sheer absolute freedom to take your mind somewhere interesting and hopefully take someone along because you know, we’re going into these mindscapes.
I think, in the end, for me, in The Falconeer I think what I’ve tried to do is that previously I would make games and they were one hundred percent for the player. They were about the player’s journey, you made them for the player to give them the best experience but for the Falconeer, it’s a much more shared experience. When you’re playing the game, you’re stepping into my world. I want you to feel that is still there, that you’re in the creation of another human being. It doesn’t work always but that’s the thing if you want to do art. However, for the people that somehow connect and get that little bit of emotional trigger, that is actually a form of communication.
It’s a shared experience, I enjoy that, I think that’s different.
What mark do you want to have?
I…..I would like, you know, you always want to be seen, we’re insecure, damaged human beings: all of us. Especially artists. I would like people to look at the game and see that you can both love games and love the vocabulary of games, the violence, the explosions, the hero, the power fantasy. You can still try to make something that’s critical of that but also an artistic bit of expression. Singular solo developers and artists are having these creative visions.
That’s nice, I hope people see that when they play the game that it’s not just a popcorn style, easy entry adventure, some people may be put off on that but it is you know a very personal experience and actually that marriage can work and be enjoyable, and add something.
That’s what I’ve tried to do and I’ll see if I succeed.
Tomas has revitalised the genre with The Falconeer and I am honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to speak to him about the development process. He is a genuine, extremely kind, and enthusiastic, fun person to be around.
Will you be experiencing Tomas’s creative vision? Get your copy of The Falconeer right here.