Ein Spiel mit dem Code des Codes. So ungefähr (!) lautet, vereinfacht ausgedrückt, die Grundidee von else { Heart.break() }, dass neben dem psychedelischen RPG Nowhere der zweite noch erscheinende Indie-Titel ist, dem ich seit geraumer Zeit entgegenfiebere. Während bei vielen Open World-Spielen die Story eher lästiges Beiwerk ist, versuchen die else { Heart.break() }-Entwickler um Erik Svedäng den offenen Ansatz mit einem interaktiven Drama zu verschmelzen. Theoretisch klingt das nach einem interessanten Konstrukt, dass als ein sehr eigenständiges Gesamtkunstwerk enden könnte, wofür dann auch der visuelle Stil mitverantwortlich wäre. Und für diesen ist Art Director Niklas Åkerblad zuständig, der einigen Indie-Freunden durch das iOS-Game Kometen und noch mehr Fans von Hotline Miami durch seine Arbeit an dessen Cover bekannt sein dürfte. Außerdem ist er verdammt gut darin authentische Interviews zu führen, das muss man ihm lassen. Wie bei diesem hier über über else { Heart.break() }.

Your game else { Heart.break() } seems to be exceptionally unique in many ways. Let´s start with the title. I can´t remember a game which sounds more “anti-mainstream-like” than yours. What can you tell us about the story behind the naming of else { Heart.break() } ?

Well, it was a while ago but we first had “Miman” as a project name and was really close to settling on that but released that it might sound very strange in English. Like some kinda “Hey, whats up MY MAN”. But the name Miman itself is from a poem by Harry Martinsson called Aniara in which humanity has abandoned earth in a number of large spaceships and one of these spaceships gets lost, irrevocably able to return to their current path and thus they are destined to eternally drift through space. The thing is that on each spaceship was contained a computer carrying all acquired human knowledge. The inhabitants worshipped this computer almost as a deity and its name was Miman. The game is not really based on this poem but loosely influenced rather. The idea of a worship-relationship towards computers.

But anyways, we decided to come up with a different name and since the game is about programming and human emotions we wanted something that embraced both of these aspects. I think we did pretty good. Also we never had any intentions of having a mainstream appeal to our games name.  

Niklas Åkerblad self-presented :Live in Gothenburg Sweden. I got a site: elhuervo.tumblr.com . I´d like to call myself an artist rather than anything else. I make some music as ElHuervo. I paint a lot. I like salt liqourice. I have problems with authority.
Niklas Åkerblad, self-presented:
I live in Gothenburg, Sweden
I got a site: elhuervo.tumblr.com
I´d like to call myself an artist rather than anything else.
I make some music as ElHuervo.
I paint a lot.
I like salt liqourice.
I have problems with authority.

else { Heart.break() } is set in a world where bits have replaced atoms, which is really hard to imagine. Which philosophy and thoughts did you and the team had in building such a special Setting?

This is also something that has been influenced by Aniara, at least at its core. If a computer has god-like status it would also be cool if the people who are able to use it to their benefits could alter reality with it by using code.So its not really like the atoms have been replaced by bits.It´s more on a metaphorical plane. To be able to alter reality the computer is able to treat atoms as bits. And in this world, or city called Dorisburg that you play in, such a widespread practice has almost replaced every atom with bits. Or maybe it’s the citizens of this city who have started to see bits instead of atoms since the ability to program reality is such a common thing for them. 

Also it is an analogy of how we use computers today. They are everywhere and we use them in a wide variety of important and mundane tasks. The city is influenced by my hometown, and the town we are all currently living in, Gothenburg. So lots of Seagulls, drunkards and bad weather.

This leads to the question who we are playing in the game? A Human Being? Someone in a Matrix?

The player takes the role of Sebastian, a young guy who wants to find new meaning in his life and takes a job as a soda-salesman in a faraway city called Dorisburg. We are not aiming to create a matrix like world, we are merely trying to build something out of a fairytale almost. But maybe if you dig deep enough you might find a second….layer….

Your goal for the game itself is ambitious: You want to offer the player a kind of metaphysical experience where he (or she) can feel free from the designer. That sounds incredible but how the hell do you want to manage it?

I think it´s pretty individual what “feeling free from the designer” actually means. We have created a world which is inhabited by different characters and various contraptions. They all have their own “lives” and functions. Sort of like Skyrim just not on the same epic scale. We then place the player in this world and from there they are free to explore as they see fit. You won´t be able to enter the code that drives the game itself but Erik has built a sort of layer of code that you can play around with. The only thing is that we decide more or less what can be tampered with to dodge complete chaos. It´s not Minecraft and it´s not a Matrix. It’s a world where you are able to alter certain assets through code and we have tried to create something that is both rewarding to play as regular game and something that could serve as playground for those who want to dig deeper into the coding aspect of the game. We didn’t want to create code Lego, we wanted to create an experience where the rules are loose. In a lot of senses it’s a classic adventure game that is looser than most other games. But yeah, I guess you would be able to completely fuck everything up if you really wanted to.

Vor einem Hotel namens Devotchka. Ich vermute da einen Link hierhin.
Vor einem Hotel namens Devotchka. Ich vermute da einen Link hierhin.

Which priorities will you have in the finished game when you should compare the gameplay with the story, the graphics/visual style and the sound?

I don’t know, we are just trying to do our best in our different areas of expertise’s and when we feel that we are done its going to be what it is. I guess we go more on our feelings than some sorta planned strategy. We are a little pretentious and like to call ourselves artist on good days and unemployed charlatans who press buttons on a computer on our bad days. Life is free, creativity is free and planning is boring.

You are responsible for the visuals of else { Heart.break() }. How would you describe the style? Which emotions do you want to provoke with your art in the game? Your fantastic drawings (zum Beispiel das “Clubgirl”) on the Homepage made me quite melancholic in a positive way. Is it just me, is it that what you want?

I didn’t have a specific style guide or anything besides that I wanted it to feel as if you are looking into a dollhouse. This idea and the level of detail I wanted is derived from a Swedish kids program I used to watch when I was like 4 years old called Skrotnisse. (this is what it looks like: )

Also, I am a fan of things that have a colorful surface but also carries depth. I always liked Sonic better than Mario because I was able to connect with his games on a deeper level through the story (Bowser is an evil dragonturtle? Who likes to kidnap princesses and Dr. Robotnik seems like a tormented evil scientist since he was actually once a good guy according to the manual, but one day he just decided to go nuts and capture all the cute animals and hunt chaos emeralds) and the music. I used to play Sonic just to reach Starlight Zone, listen to the music and cry a little bit because it resonated with me somehow. Silent Hill was a huge influence when that came around and I just became interested in the complexity of human emotions I guess. But I am also a big fan of esthetics as well.
To put it bluntly, I like things that are happy and sad at the same time.

Im Diner des Devotchka.
Im Diner des Devotchka.

What is your point of view in the everlasting discussion about games as art or just (more or often less intelligent) entertainment?

I think it´s just stupid, but I understand if people want to discuss this. It´s good that people are interested enough to do that. But to me it boils down to being creative and I feel the same way about my paintings as I do about creating graphics. It´s just that it´s easier to be angry or go with an emotion when you are in a more direct process such as painting, playing music, writing a book or whatever. Games take a lot of time administration to create and thus the process tend to get a little binary.

But really I don’t give a fuck. People exhibit so much weird mundane stuff and label it art just for the sake of it. I know that I am an artist and sometimes I create art and sometimes I just do stuff. If you want games to be art it´s important to be serious about it. That’s all. Whenever you start to think about money as the main goal it becomes a product instead but it might as well be art to whomever experiences it. If we really want a discussion about labels I think we should let the people who make games decide. If it´s just about cultural acceptance we should just go with the flow and see where games end up by themselves.

else { Heart.break() } is funded by the Nordic Game Program. In which way is it a “Nordic game” or could it be developed at any place of the world?

It’s a “Nordic game” in that sense that it is created in Swedish first and foremost and later translated into other languages. I think this is important because language is a strong cultural asset. Also we take a lot of inspiration from our hometown and various Swedish books, movies and such. I lived in Paris for about 6 months during development and I really felt how my work with the art of our game took on a new feel. Erik told me not too look to much at the Parisian canals. What we create is not just in our heads, well it might be but what is in our heads is a mix of our souls and our environment. But I guess it is mostly reflected in the art, sound and dialog.  

What would make else { Heart.break() } a success when it is released?

I have no idea. I tend not to think about it too much since it clouds my judgment and it also makes me scared. We are trying to be as honest as possible in our creativity. I think success is scary. I hang out a lot with Jonathan and Dennis of Dennaton and while the freedom that their success has obviously granted them there is also a whole community of gamers dissecting everything they do. Jonathan said to me at one point “You think that everything is gonna change when you make it big but then you realize your life is just the same”.

But to answer your question: What would make our games a success would probably be if people really got into hanging out in the world that we have created and that it spurs on their curiosity. Like, just firing up the game and going for a walk and hack some stuff, talk to people, maybe trying to solve a mystery or two.


Wie aus dem Interview mit Niklas Åkerblad herauszulesen ist, befindet sich else { Heart.break() } noch einige Zeit in Entwicklung. Ich spiele aktuell die Alpha-Version, welche, wie Niklas Åkerblad im Interview erwähnte, nur in schwedischer Sprache entwickelt wurde. Das nenne ich mal eine Herausforderung! An dem Punkt, an dem ich glaube, dass ich else { Heart.break() } ausreichend verstanden habe, wird es eine Review auf GameExperience geben.