Teemu Vilén

Turmoil Games

Posted by Martin Mulrooney, Philip Jong.
First posted on 04 September 2011. Last updated on 06 April 2012.
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Teemu Vilén
Ville Loponen, Teemu Vilén, and Mikko Raudanjoki (left to right) pose together for a team photo for Turmoil Games.
Teemu Vilén
Teemu Vilén
Teemu Vilén

Alpha Polaris is the first adventure game from Turmoil Games, an independent Finnish game studio founded in 2008 by a diverse group of media professionals. It is a horror themed adventure where the player takes the role of Rune Knudsen, a Norwegian biologist who is stationed at an American oil research facility located in the heart of Greenland. The game promises to explore the themes of paranoia, isolation, friendship, love, and other human conditions that are central to delivery of psychological horror. The game is now available via digital download in both English and German from Turmoil Games's official website.

We are pleased to have an opportunity to interview Teemu Vilén from Turmoil Games. In the interview, Vilén discusses in brief the development history of Alpha Polaris, the psychological elements of good horror fiction, the business challenges of being an indie game developer, and what plans lie in the future for Turmoil Games.

Check out our exclusive gallery of previously unpublished concept art from Alpha Polaris!

What is the history behind Turmoil Games? How strong is the indie game development scene in Finland where the company is located?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Alpha Polaris! Turmoil Games grew out of a passion for making games. I founded the company with a few of my Media Studies colleagues. After putting out some ads to different email lists, we actually had a team. Looking at that now, I feel we got pretty darn lucky.

As you know, Finland is a small country, and keeping that in mind, we do have a pretty lively indie gaming scene. I'd say one of the reasons for this is the free education system. It gives young people the opportunity to be creative. Also, engineering and information technology are traditional strong points in our system.

Turmoil Games is made up of a small team of media professionals. What are the team's backgrounds and prior experiences in game development?

Game development, aside from small non-commercial games, zero. But we do have very varied backgrounds, from working in an advertising agency to dramatic arts.

What were your favorite classic adventure games? Why?

Just from the top of my head, I'd say the Gabriel Knight-games. I love their sense of history and surroundings, nice blending of fiction and fact, and interesting takes on known mysteries.

Where did the initial idea for Alpha Polaris come from?

Originally, it was a three sentence story seed of an idea I wrote. Prior to that, I believe we had talked about wanting we wanted an isolated setting with an Arctic flair!

Why was Greenland chosen as the setting for the story in Alpha Polaris?

It's a direct connection to the Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft features Greenland in his stories. Also, although we wanted Arctic environment, we didn't want it to be too close to home.

Alpha Polaris is a traditional third-person adventure game that tells a very human story. Why is the adventure genre particularly suited as the medium to tell this story?

Good question! In AGs, you can stop and examine deeper things than in most of the other genres. You know AG players will take interest in, say, figuring out how to help a sick polar bear. No need to be larger than life all the time, one can also focus on little things, and take the needed time.

What subgenre of horror best describes the story of Alpha Polaris? What makes good horror?

I'd say psychological horror conventions are the most significant in AP. In my opinion, good horror is not about releasing tensions but building them up - not plainly showing what is, but conveying what may be. Also, to work for me, horror must stem from the basic human condition. I think horror as a metaphoric way to deal with our problems.

Who are the major characters in Alpha Polaris? How do these characters allow the player to explore the different facets of the human condition that is a central theme in Alpha Polaris?

In addition to Rune Knudsen, the Norwegian protagonist, there are four other characters in the station. Each of them has a different way of reacting to the traumatic experience, a different way of dealing with it. Through these ordeals, we reveal more and more about each of them. Ultimately, their imperfections become very central in the story.

Alpha Polaris was developed using a number of free or open-source software tools. What were these tools? Why were they chosen?

The main tools for developing AP were Wintermute Engine and Blender. Wintermute is a free integrated development tool for adventure games. It's a powerful software, and allows one to focus on content, rather than engineering the software structure.

Blender is a free 3d-modelling and animation software. Despite the budget price range, it's one of the top 3d tools in the world. ;)

Both duly recommended!

During the development of Alpha Polaris, what business challenges did you face as an independent game studio working on a debut release?

To answer in short, money. For an indie developer, is very hard to "step out of the garage" and to start doing real business. I'll admit we haven't still fully emerged out of ours, but maybe that really is the way to do indie games...

How did the closure of The Games Company affect the development of Alpha Poloaris? How difficult was the transition to the game's current publisher Just A Game?

I have nothing but good to say about the transition. There were people in Germany that did the real work for us for us, and we could focus on the game itself.

What plans lie in the future for Turmoil Games?

There will be games, that I can promise, and hopefully, they are AGs. And we really want to develop the genre forward. There are so many good stories to tell, so many interesting angles to incorporate into them... but thank you for having me, and have an adventurous autumn!

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