While working small contract jobs, John and Alex started to build a strategic game that harkens back to their old favorites. One doesn’t have to look further than the shelf behind Alex’s desk to get a glimpse at The Banner Saga’s influences: Fire Emblem, X-Com, Myth. Look above that and you’ll see an assortment of animation classics, ranging from the works of Japan’s premier animation company Studio Ghibli to classic Disney. Sleeping Beauty isn’t a film you ever hear developers cite, but these guys have a way of fitting it into every other sentence when describing the game’s art style.
Alex didn’t want to just make a turn-based strategy game. He wanted to make a very pretty one.
“We were looking for teams to do this and we found that no one does this stuff anymore,” Alex says. “This stuff” being hand-drawn, rotoscoped animation: A style of animation where footage of actors (or one’s reluctant wife) is used as a framework for animated movement and action. The result is a lifelike representation of the fantastical. Hair flows and clothes sway realistically, giving the warriors of The Banner Saga soul and texture.
Between the intricate six-on-six strategic combat and early Disney art style, Stoic was on to something. It wasn’t until Arnie joined that they found the last and most important ingredient: Vikings.
“I come from a family in Denmark which is the Viking [mecca],” Arnie says, eyes brightening as he grows increasingly giddy to discuss his favorite subject. “I’ve seen stuff like this since I was a kid. We used to have smorgasbords. All the family we brought over have names from the Viking days. Alex had this really great story idea, and I thought, ‘What if we put that into this?’”
For such an influential mythology, there aren’t many games about Vikings. Perhaps, it’s because developers in the past thought of them as big, dirty, bearded men that don’t make for the most sympathetic characters. Stoic wants to depart from stereotypes and prove these developers wrong.
“Before Skyrim, there were no Viking games, really. No significant ones. Once Skyrim came out, the only thing we wanted to do was not retread on what they did with dragons and stuff,” Alex says. “Our game is much more personal. It’s about the caravan that you are traveling with and less about the enemies that you are fighting. There is no villain in this story.”