A Trick of the Eye – Pavilion Interview with Rickard Westman and Henrik Flink

Jan 14, 2018

Masters of the peculiar and the surreal, Visiontrick Media has cultivated a unique image for itself as a game developer; incorporating new technology, and exploring the possibilities of interactive media. With their newly released title Pavilion blowing away audiences on mobile, it’s our esteemed pleasure to sit down with the studio’s art director, Rickard Westman, and creative director Henrik Flink.

Appolicious: Visiontrick Media is clearly not your conventional sort of studio. You’ve so far put out a VR game, which a burgeoning new platform, and now have released a – in your own words – “fourth-person” adventure game that also even supports Tobii EyeX Eye-Tracker equipment. What drives such experimental and distinct projects?

Rickard Westman: The experimental aspect of our games, as you mentioned, is a significant factor for us when it comes to making games. We don’t have much interest in making a clone of a game that already exists. I think the sense of exploring your own ideas, venturing into the unknown, is a big part of how we want approach creation. I guess this also makes us open to working with fairly new tech like the Tobii EyeX Eye-Tracker and VR.

Appolicious: Branching off of that, what was the inspiration for Pavilion? It certainly brings to mind Myst, but it also has elements of Braid and Monument Valley. Also, how did your team come to creating the game as a fourth-person project?

RW: Most of the inspiration behind Pavilion comes from outside the gaming sphere and our general inspirations and interests in life. Pavilion‘s graphics came mostly out of romantic art from painters like Arnold Böcklin and Caspar David Friedrich.  But Myst, and Riven, in particular, has a visual and atmospheric tone that we really like. The reference to Braid is not too far-fetched either since the puzzle design philosophy behind Pavilion shares a lot of similar ideas with how Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, structured his puzzles. Jonathan has a few inspiring and thoughtful lecture on this topic.


http://inthepavilion.com https://shield.nvidia.com/ Pavilion, the fourth-person puzzling adventure from Visiontrick Media, throws you directly into its mysterious world without any text tutorials or beginning explanations. It is a puzzle game portrayed through exploration and audio-visual imagery. By interacting and observing you gradually, bit by bit, learn things about both the puzzling gameplay and the world itself.

We never initially decided to make a “fourth-person” project. The term came out of us trying to describe the somewhat unique aspect of not directly controlling the character in Pavilion. Just looking at a video of Pavilion you would most likely wrongly assume it to be a normal third-person game, which it is not. Though, as we coined the term, who can really say it is an accurate description. At least it hints to Pavilion not being your average third-person puzzler.

Appolicious: What was your methodology for introducing players to mechanics, story elements, and core concepts? By eliminating text and not forcing the player down any given path opaquely, I imagine such communications had to be extremely subtle. Weighing that crucial balance between complexity and accessibility.

RW: Our initial incentive for not using text in Pavilion was funny enough to minimize the work of localizing the game into a lot of different languages in the end. But we soon found the lack of text very much affected how we needed to present things in the game. Instead of text interactions, character behavior and graphics become a subtle language to lead the player into the game. The first screen of Pavilion is designed to teach you everything you need to know. For example, once you have learned how to make the first interaction the main character runs out of the frame and you then follow him on instinct, thus learning to move and scroll the camera. We always felt it was important to not dumb things down and trust the player to figure things out.

Appolicious: What’s more – what is it like, writing for a game that has no text?

RW: For the most part, I think we have seen Pavilion as a puzzle game and most of the game is centered and built around the puzzle design. As any kind of conventional writing couldn’t be done in a textless format anything story related is embedded in interactions, certain event scenes or symbolic visual themes within the background graphics.

Appolicious: How did your team block out the world of Pavilion? You’ve got deeply detailed art, so one can imagine you tried to iterate on the levels before implementing it.

RW: As we briefly mentioned before, the puzzle design is what we built the rest of the environments around. Once the puzzle layout is set then we try to make the environments come alive and feel like an environment that was built with a purpose. What is interesting is that the layouts of the puzzles very much add to the otherworldly architecture and mysterious atmosphere of Pavilion. Some architectural ideas would never have come to us if the layout of the puzzle didn’t push us in a certain direction.

Appolicious: Each of your projects has deeply detailed visual direction that leans into classical art meets steampunk fantasy. What draws your team to this aesthetic?

RW: All of us at Visiontrick are interested in the details of life and trying to capture a kind of realism even in the surreal. In Mare, for example, we try to capture the subtle movement of the world, how the wind blows in the trees, the air underneath the wings of the mechanical bird and so on. One of the first ideas for the visuals of Pavilion was simply to try to make something that felt like an interactive painting. So there is a very direct connection to classical art. Overall I think nature is a big inspiration for us in general.

Appolicious: Similarly, there’s a hint of… is that a hint of Celtic in the composition for Pavilion and Mare?

RW: Tony Gerber, the composer for Pavilion, is partly Native American and plays a lot of different flutes connected to that heritage. When we found his music it was just a perfect fit for Pavilion. The highly atmospheric ambient quality of Tony’s music is beautiful and leads you into the mood of Pavilion in a special way.
Sangre de Muerdago, who made the music for the Mare trailer, is a Spanish folk band with Celtic touch. The timeless feel of their music very much gives the world of Mare a certain unique feel to it. Again, maybe it’s our connection to nature that leads us in this direction when it comes to choosing the sound to our games.

Appolicious: What differences were there, porting and releasing Pavilion on mobile, versus PlayStation or PC?

Henrik Flink: On a technical level, it has been pretty straightforward porting the game to different platforms – optimizing performance, integrating platforms APIs etc. The more interesting part has been porting the control scheme, especially for mobile and eye-tracking, where we really had to come up with new solutions regarding how you control the game in order for the controls to feel native to the platform. And interestingly, pushing the design to support different control schemes have also informed and improved the other control schemes.

Pavilion Featurette: Art Direction

In this Pavilion Featurette we get to hear Visiontrick Co-Founder and Art Director Rickard Westman talk about the Art Direction of the game. He shares some insights to his own background as a matte painter and texture artists, and also where some of the inspiration for Pavilion’s art style came from.

In terms of release, the work of us have been pretty similar, but I guess the reception has been quite different. On PC it never really took off and it has performed pretty poorly in terms of sales, on the other hand, the mobile version has done fairly well and have sold significantly more and is honestly the reason why Pavilion as a project is still alive.

Appolicious: Rather than combat or flair, exploration is the core of your team’s work. What is it about delving through impossible worlds that interests your team?

HF: I think it has been a kind of unconscious – or rather natural – decision for us to go with this kind of games. Most likely stemming from that we ourselves enjoy being inside an interesting virtual world where you can poke and prod and just exist without any real pressing challenge or threat of dying or losing the game. There’s something fundamental to just existing in space and time within a virtual world that will always peak our interest.

Appolicious: What are some titles you and your colleagues are looking forward to in the coming year?

HF: That’s a tough one, our awareness of upcoming games is not what it ought to be. But there are 2 games at least that are on our radar.
First off “Totem Teller” by Grinning Pickle – a strange exploratory glitch game – I’m not quite sure what you do in it but it looks superb.
Then there’s “In Other Waters” by Gareth Damian Martin – an interface/text-based game where you poke and prod and explore an alien ocean.

Appolicious: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you learned, creating Pavilion?

HF: Well, there’s so much we learned from the very rocky development of Pavilion. But if it’s one thing that created a kind of before and after – was the insight into how much it actually takes of you to create something from scratch. Previous projects we’ve worked on have mostly been based on a certain genre or it’s a riff on another game – highly derived from something where you can borrow a lot of the design and presuppose how you can communicate with the audience. But for Pavilion we more or less had to explore and invent from the ground up – through interactions, audio, visuals – how we communicated with the player; and the effort to do that was something I don’t think we understood on a fundamental level when we started and made the development less than optimal. Though in the end, we all agree on that it was worth it and that it’s something we’ll keep doing for future projects, but with the awareness and experience of the obstacles such development methodology can result in.

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Elijah Beahm

Elijah is a man who can't stop talking about games, geeky things, and to the chagrin of his colleagues, horrible puns. He's been working as a game journalist for several years now, and in addition to Appolicious, His other work can be found at GameCritics.com, I Need Diverse Games, and The Unabridged Gamer on YouTube. When not reviewing games, you'll probably find him ranting on Twitter, writing, or replaying Dead Space 2 for the zillionth time.

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