Developer interview: Wholesome – Out and About

Platforms like Gamescom and EuroPlay are great for spotting unique indie talent, and during EuroPlay 2021 we spotted Wholesome – Out and About from Yaldi games as something quite unique. We had a chat with Elena Höge from Yaldi to find out more.

Yaldi Games was founded at the start of 2020 – what inspired you to pursue your own gaming company?

I started playing games when I was 11 years old. Before then, I wasn’t allowed to own consoles – partly because my parents didn’t like video games, and partly because it just wasn’t something “girls do”. So I lost out on playing the first Pokemon games – total bummer! – but at least I had Zelda: Ocarina of Time. So from an early age, I’ve always loved games and spent a lot of time playing them. But when I played the first Assassin’s Creed I discovered how games could be both meaningful and fun. And at that exact moment I realised that this was something I wanted to do. Make games that are beautiful, have great characters, are fun to play and then also have a meaningful component to them. Something that gives value outside of the game. So beginning of last year, after having prepared myself with skills in business admin, IT and game design, I decided to found the company and follow my dream.

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What’s your background in game development, and where did the name Yaldi Games come from?

After my Master’s in Design & Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh I first worked as an Operations Manager for a software startup – to gather some startup experience – and only then worked as a game design freelancer. But I hadn’t shipped a game, from start to finish, before I started my journey – which is something I would change if I got to do it all over again. Perhaps I could have built on one of my game projects as a student, or worked in the industry and get more experience working from a design document and doing things like implementing core loops and going through testing cycles.

Yaldi is a Scottish expression for joy and excitement. I fell in love with the word the first time I saw it. Back then I actually had to google it since I had no idea what it meant. There’s a chance that the word “yaldi” was created through mispronunciations of the phrase ‘geeing it laldy’, meaning to give something your all.

One of the pillars for Yaldi Games is to work on projects that have real life relevance and meaning. This feels like a very personal goal that goes beyond what you do in gaming – is that true?

Yes, after being inspired by Assassin’s Creed I just couldn’t get the thought of real life impact out of my head. At the time, I was inspired by a quote from Arthur Conan Doyle, who said “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence.” So I felt like there’s no need to invent fictional content, considering that reality itself is already so fascinating. Honestly, at this point I feel I am incapable of designing a game experience without meaning – it’s just hardwired into my brain to look for ways to pass on knowledge or add value to the player’s real life. Some of that may include aspects of folklore though, as it intersects between fiction and reality – we may integrate some popular beliefs into Wholesome because they’re interesting, even though they’re not grounded in reality.

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You’re currently working on Wholesome – Out and About, which besides offering ‘life sim’ elements also teaches players about heading out to forage in real life and the excitement that that can bring. How do you make sure people stay on the safe side?

Currently, if people want to learn about foraging, other than attending a course, they need to buy books, read blogs or watch videos. The way these media ensure that people stay on the safe side is by educating them about the wild food identifiers and most common lookalikes. In Wholesome, we go beyond this one-dimensional education into an interactive space. The core loop of the game is designed in such a way that it’s very similar to what you will be experiencing when foraging in real life: you need to get the right tools (like a mushroom knife, a brush, a shear and some gloves), learn to observe and identify an object before you can pick it, take care not to pick dangerous lookalikes or poisonous items (because of a few negative impacts this will have), and then carefully sort your collected items when you are home. So, by going through this experience, people will already be safer than by just reading about it. Of course, there are many more things we want to integrate that make the transition into real life easier and safer – like the fact that we would send you the foraging cards you unlocked in the game as a pdf to print at home. That way, you can build your own deck and use the cards for your real life foraging. We also want to keep adding lots of new items, so that we cover areas from all over the world – but, since we have to start somewhere, we will only have wild food from Europe and parts of America for now. We’re also working closely with biologists and foraging experts, and our community, to make sure we make the game as safe as possible. In the end, even if you don’t want to forage, you will still learn about your local plants and be filled with joy when you recognise them on a walk – I speak from personal experience! 🙂

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Sustainability and social elements also feature heavily in the game – what are some of the game mechanics you’re designing for this and what are some other games that inspired you?

One of the things that makes us different from other games is that we want players to respect and preserve nature – so no chopping down trees or greedily picking every last plant you can find. In Wholesome, you can only use the wood from windfallen trees and you shouldn’t pick too much – or else there will be climate related consequences (such as we are dealing with right now). The story itself is also woven around the theme of sustainability – along the way, you can help characters with their own sustainability journey and through that learn what you can do yourself. I love games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, but they aren’t sustainable: expanding your farm by removing forests and trees, always growing your crops and fields to make money, buying new clothing and furniture instead of upcycled or recycled ones, catching all the fish or bugs with no regard to the ecosystem. Always just taking – never giving. So in a way, I just want to bring the fun and beauty of these games into a more sustainable setting.

You entered Wholesome into UKIE’s EuroPlay competition this year – what was that experience like?

It was great – even though we didn’t win we still had a great time. It was an honour to be amongst so many professionals, many of which had games that were much further ahead than ours. At events like this, it’s also interesting to meet people with vastly different roles, from the business side of things to those who record the voice over work in games.

Where in development is the game at the moment and what’s next now that EuroPlay is over?

We’re getting closer to the vertical slice and will soon start to approach publishers with it. It’s important to us that we find a publisher who loves our vision behind Wholesome and who knows what a potential it could have – not just for sales but also for impact. If they or anyone else are interested in the project, then please visit the Yaldi Games’ website or get in touch with me at elena@yaldigames.com

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