Fe Interview: How Zoink! Breathed Life Into A Dark Nordic Forest

Fe is now available on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch, presenting players with the chance to climb, glide, and dig their way through a dark, Nordic forest. The platform adventure lets you explore its living, breathing ecosystem, meeting the mystical creatures that inhabit it and communicating with them to unlock new abilities.

We had the chance to speak to producer and creative director Hugo Bille about the game, learning about the project’s origins, whether there were any challenges in porting it to Nintendo Switch, the developer’s experience working with EA, and more.

Nintendo Insider: In the last Zoink game that I played, I was reading people’s minds with a pink spaghetti arm. Fe is worlds apart in taking a far more mature direction, and I wondered if we could first talk about how the project started and your early ambition for it?

Hugo Bille: Fe was a game that we started thinking about even before Stick It To The Man, or even before that went into production at any rate. So, it’s always been a parallel project at Zoink, and there’s always been a strive in the company towards doing different things.

We sort of fell into a routine there for a while, or we found a style that we were doing really well with Stick It To The Man and then with Zombie Vikings, and, in a way, that’s what’s continued with Flipping Death – which is our project that’s going on besides Fe.

So, I think going forward you’re going to see a lot of different stuff coming out of Zoink. We will keep doing the comedic sort of cardboard-style thing as well – because it’s worked really well – but this is another side of the company I think.

NI: Flipping Death is clearly more in line with Stick It To The Man, but Fe has completely pushed the studio’s talent with its more open 3D world. Is it important for you to repeatedly challenge yourselves in new ways?

HB: Absolutely. There is always the risk when you something that turns out well that you just keep doing that thing over and over, and there were a lot of voices inside the studio that were really aching to do something different. And, a lot of us that work at Zoink are really into games like Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, or Metroid, and this is sort of an amalgamation of those three titles [laughs].

No, but more sort of adventure games and for that matter 3D stuff, and Nintendo stuff – there’s a lot of Nintendo DNA in this game. With this, I think we’re coming back to a lot of the games we grew up with and that we felt have been missing from the gaming industry for a long time. Games where you have to go out and find your own way more.

NI: Fe carries a message about our relationship with nature, the land, and its beings. Do you have any hopes for how players will react to that?

HB: There’s a lot that I don’t want to go too deeply into concerning the plot, there’s a lot of stuff that happens toward the end. But, in terms of our relationship with nature, I think what we’re trying to showcase here is, at it’s heart, the contrast between how the Silent Ones are going about dealing with nature – just grabbing what they want and subduing it to do their bidding – and the way that the player learns to interact with nature by working with it and learning how it actually works.

I think there’s a lesson for humanity there, that we do need to take heed from – learning to live in a way that works together with nature, not against it. That’s been a central theme that we’ve worked on throughout the development.

NI: If Google hasn’t let me down, Fe means ‘fairy’ in English. I wondered if you could touch on the reason for choosing that as the game’s title?

HB: So, for our interpretation of the fairy concept is that the fairy is the protector of the forest. That’s where it comes from the beginning, we wanted to create a character that felt like a representation of this darker forest and the atmosphere of going out into the wild and not knowing how anything works or if it’s dangerous or not. We wanted to take this fairy concept and turn it on its head a little bit, to find a darker vision of what a fairy might be.

In terms of the story, I think the protector of the forest is the role that you slowly grow into as you play the game. Because you start out as this frightened child that just wakes up in this strange world and you have no idea how anything works. But gradually, you sort of grow into this role to ultimately become the protector of the forest. To me, that’s very much the core of the game. The journey from being a newcomer to being a citizen.

NI: I saw the studio share that Fe was pronounced ‘Fee-uh,’ but know that many people are saying it as ‘Fay.’ How many times has someone pronounced the game’s name incorrectly to you?

HB: I think it’s hilarious [laughs]. To me, that sort of goes hand-in-hand with the ambiguity of the thing. We’re not going to tell you how to pronounce it. That’s actually one of my favourite facets of the title because you sort of have to make up your own mind about what it means and even how to pronounce it. Much like the rest of the game.

NI: I was really pleased to hear that Fe was coming to Nintendo Switch. Have there been any compromises in doing so, compared to other platforms?

HB: The Nintendo Switch [version] is our proudest achievement really, because it runs really well while sacrificing very, very little in terms of graphical fidelity. I mean we’ve tuned some effects here and there, and maybe reduced draw distances in some of the scenes but essentially it’s the same game.

When we saw the Nintendo Switch getting announced and found out what it really was, we were immediately like ‘Hey, we want to get the game on this because we think we can do that.’ I mean if the fidelity had been on more of a sort of triple-A level, we wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But, Fe felt like a game that we might be able to push to the Switch, and finally, we did pull that off.

NI: The art direction is absolutely captivating. What has inspired it?

HB: I know that we’ve been working with contrasts a lot, and the blackness has been an important facet of capturing the darkness in the Nordic forest – the idea that there might be stuff out there that we don’t understand, or that there’s something mysterious about it. That was always important in the art style as well, to get that, I guess, ambiguity there as well. And, what can I say, Zoink loves purple. Everything we do is full of the colour purple and pink.

NI: How have you found being a part of the EA Originals program?

HB: We were the first EA Originals title, so we had really no idea what it was going into it. We were pitching to EA and they told us about this program that they were about to uncover. So, we were just hoping for a regular sort of publishing deal, and what we got was this huge – I mean, they sent us to E3 and then to Gamescom, and we got to get up on stage and show the game to all these people.

I mean, for me as a producer it’s been a tremendous help to just get all that experience on board. I’ve produced five or six console titles before, but the collective experience at EA they produce hundreds so they’ve seen so much and they know all the pitfalls. We’ve been able to avoid a lot of issues, just out of sheer experience.

The most impressive thing to me is that they really had a gentle touch in terms of the creatives as well. As you can tell from the game, it’s not a typical EA game in many ways. There were a lot of places where I thought we were going to get pushback from EA – ‘this is too artsy’ or ‘this is too demanding’ – and we never did. They’ve always respected what our vision of this game is, and that’s been really impressive to me. It’s all perks, really.

Written by
After starting out with a Yellow Game Boy and a copy of Donkey Kong Land, Alex once hid in his room to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time one Christmas. Now he shares his thoughts on Nintendo Insider, keeping track of everything to do with Nintendo.

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