Asylum Square Interview – Tiny Thor

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  • April 9, 2023
Asylum Square Interview – Tiny Thor

Jochen Heizmann founder of Asylum Square spoke to us about realising childhood dreams and their new game Tiny Thor.

Tell us about your studio, the people behind it and how it was formed

Since my childhood exposure to video games (our first console at home was an Atari 2600), I was fascinated by them. The gaming platforms of the late 80s and early 90s (Sega Master System, Amiga, Super Famicom etc.) have had a significant impact on me. As an adult, I worked in the gaming industry for several years, but I always had the desire to create games that I would have enjoyed playing in my childhood, and that’s why I founded Asylum Square in 2014.

How did you get started?

When I was about 12 years old, my parents had a business colleague over, who wrote a program in GW-Basic on an MS-DOS PC that displayed a beautiful ASCII pyramid made from the letters in my name. I was so impressed that I asked him how to do it. He referred me to the Basic manual, and from that point on, I started learning Basic. It was clear to me that I wanted to program games later on. Shortly after, I got my first computer, an Amiga 500, and started programming with it.

How many people are in your team?

The core team consists of Steffen Künstler and me. I’m mainly responsible for programming, while Steffen takes care of game and level design. We also work with a highly talented team of freelancers. There are Andrew Bado and Nauris Amatnieks, who are in charge of the graphics, and Chris Hülsbeck and Fabian Del Priore, who take care of the fantastic soundtrack.

Tell us a little bit about the story behind your game?

The basic idea was born during the Ludum Dare 28 Game Jam. It’s a game jam where game developerscome together online to create a game within 48 hours based on a given theme. The game itself wasn’t anything special, but I liked the name “Tiny Thor” and so I later decided to pick up the project again and turn it into a fairly straightforward and simple retro platformer. Then, when I was almost finished with the game, Henk Nieborg – a pixel artist who I have been a huge fan of since childhood – made a mock-up of what the game could look like. I was so impressed that I asked him if he would like to create the graphics for the entire game. My idea was just to replace the graphics quickly and release the game.  At the same time, through a fortunate coincidence, I was able to ask my childhood hero, Chris Hülsbeck, if he wanted to make the music for the game. To my surprise, he agreed.  So now I had a game where my childhood heroes were creating graphics and music for MY game. However, the game wasn’t particularly good. I felt like I probably wouldn’t get a chance like this again and that the game had to be exceptional. So, I threw everything away and asked Steffen, an old friend, to help with game design.

What inspired you to make your game?

Graphically, we tried to find a style reminiscent of the good old 16-bit Amiga and Super NES days. Of course, both Steffen and I are inspired by big titles from our youth. Spontaneously, games like Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, Super Metroid, Turrican, and Yoshi’s Island come to mind. But there are certainly many more, especially subconsciously. However, we have always tried not to copy things 1:1, but to bring in our own ideas and to modernize mechanics and designs that we thought were cool.

What challenges did you face when you first started?

The biggest problem in retrospect was certainly that we had to iterate a lot to perfect the game and level design. What sets Tiny Thor apart from other games is the game mechanic that allows players to throw the hammer and have it bounce off enemies and environmental obstacles like a bouncing ball. However, we only stumbled upon this mechanic after a significant amount of the game was already developed. We always felt that there was something missing in terms of gameplay, and when we discovered this mechanic, Steffen and I knew that we had to build our game around it. But this had the consequence that all the content we had up until that point no longer worked. So, Steffen began to design and experiment with new enemies and environments that were built around this central mechanic.

What would you do differently if you could go back and do it again?

In hindsight, it would have been better to address central design questions in a early prototyping phase. Essentially, throughout the entire project, we kept adding in drastic changes or new features that we liked, which resulted in us having to redo large parts of the content. 

One example: At some point during playtesting, we realized that the hammer was actually overpowered. The problem was that players would often stand at the edge of the screen, throw the hammer, and just wait until all the enemies were eliminated, which of course feels pretty boring. Our initial solution was to limit the hammer throw to situations where the player had enough mana, which was obtained by defeating enemies in close combat. However, this caused players to avoid using the hammer as much as possible because they didn’t want to consume this valuable resource. And of course, we as the designers, want the player to use the cool and fun hammer throw mechanic. When we removed the mana system and the close combat attack, as well as zoomed the camera out further the whole thing suddenly started to work as we had envisioned it. The different viewport created more open space, and the probability of defeating all the enemies by wildly throwing the hammer was extremely low or would take a long time. However, it also resulted in a lot of changes since most level situations were explicitly designed around the visible camera area.  The approach in itself is okay, I think. With something like this you just have to iterate and try things out, but it’s suboptimal to do this in the middle of production. I would definitely want to address such important questions in a prototype for the next project so that we don’t have to redo large parts of the content later. Something similar happened to us at two or three other points: whenever we found a cool feature, we often had to redo existing content.

Is your game single / multi-player or both?

Tiny Thor exclusively focuses on single player gameplay.

Has your game won any awards?

So far, we haven’t really submitted the game for awards because the release is still upcoming, but Screenrant awarded our demo as the ‘Best Platformer of Steam Next Fest 2021‘.

What are the recommended software/hardware requirements to play your game?

If you have purchased your PC in the last 10 years, Tiny Thor will run smoothly on it. The advantage of 2D games is that they do not have particularly high hardware requirements.

Is there an age restriction?

We don’t have the age ratings yet, but I think Tiny Thor will be suitable for all age groups.

Is your game free, a one off cost, monthly payment or micro or crypto transactions?

As Monkey Island taught us: Never pay more than 20 bucks for a computer game. And that’s what we want to stick to, so Tiny Thor is expected to be priced at $20 (one-time fee, no subscriptions or in app purchases).

Are you looking for funding/investment to further your games development?

Not right now.

When do you plan on launching your game?

The game will be released in Q2 2023.

What Platforms do you plan on launching on?

The game will be launched on PC and Nintendo Switch. Xbox and PlayStation will hopefully follow shortly after the release.

What platforms did you focus on first and why?

We mainly develop on PC/Windows because it simply offers the best development environment. However, we continuously keep an eye on the Nintendo Switch in parallel to ensure that everything runs smoothly and without errors on it as well.

Do you have a Demo?

Yes, we recently updated our demo on Steam. It can be downloaded on our Steam page.

What stores is your game on?

We will be launching on Steam and on the Epic Games Store. The Nintendo Switch page is not yet live, and we are currently in talks with – where the chances are also quite good.

What other games are you working on right now?

Currently, we are exclusively working on Tiny Thor – it has to be finished at some point, right?

Not Reviewed
Unleash the bouncy power of Mjölnir in this retro platformer. Use the mighty hammer and many other power-ups to travel the realms of Asgard. But watch out! Some mythical creatures will do everything to stop Thor from growing up.
Release Date: 5 Jun 2023
Platform: Nintendo , PC , Switch
Game Mode: Single-Player
Developed by: Asylum Square
Published by: Gameforge
Stores: Steam
Studio Website: Visit Studio Website