The Berlin-based studio Toukana Interactive was founded in 2020 by Luca Langenberg, Sandro Heuberger, Timo Falcke and Zwi Zausch. Despite their rather short company history, the four students have major success to show for with their first game Dorfromantik. With us, they talk about their studies, the development of Dorfromantik and the benefits of player feedback.
Congratulations on your wins for Best Game at DEP and the Gamescom Indie Arena Booth, as well as Best Debut and Best Game Design at DCP for your first game Dorfromantik. Please give us some insights into the developing process. How did you come up with the general look and gameplay? Was there a time when you felt that you were on to something special?
Thank you very much!
We created the first prototype of Dorfromantik for the Ludum Dare Game Jam in April 2020 and its look and gameplay already went into a very similar direction as our Early Access release version, even though they were far less refined. We came up with the idea by brainstorming on the Game Jam theme "Keep it alive" and liked the idea of keeping a civilization alive by balancing it with its surrounding nature. Since we were aiming for really simple interactions, we came up with tile placement as a core mechanic and quests that prompt the player to build up their landscapes in a certain way.
The general aesthetic and game feel also emerged during this early phase. We quickly realized that the game system pointed to a slow-paced, relaxing game and chose a rural countryside setting to emphasize that mood.
Among the many prototypes we created, Dorfromantik stood out for its well-defined and already enjoyable game loop, realistic scope and scalability of the game system. We also received a lot of positive feedback on our early three-day prototype and had concrete ideas on how to address most of its major game design flaws and vastly improve the overall gameplay.
All these factors boosted our confidence in Dorfromantik's potential for success.
You decided to publish Dorfromantik in an Early-Access phase. What feedback have you received from players? How did the game profit from the input? Have there been issues that you overlooked before?
In general, the feedback was really positive and supportive - many players really enjoyed Dorfromantik and shared heartwarming stories about how the game helped them unwind during these stressful times. In my opinion, this kind of feedback and the fact that the game actually has a positive impact on people's lives is the greatest reward for game development.
However, player feedback was also really helpful to prioritize our plans for further development and helped us identify many usability and comprehensibility issues. The suggestions we received were inspiring and we have picked up many of them since the Early Access release, which helped the game get much closer to the community's wishes and expectations.
One big problem that we overlooked was the balancing issues that occurred at a very late stage of the game. Players who reached 100.000 points or more (which we never thought possible) noticed that the game became easier again, leading to potentially endless play sessions. Thanks to player input, we now know where these problems are coming from and how to fix them.
You were funded by Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and supported by the Game Design program at HTW Berlin and the DE:HIVE incubator program. How did these institutions help you during development?
The DE:HIVE is an incubator closely connected to the Game Design program at HTW Berlin. They provided us with office space and hardware that we could use to develop Dorfromantik. We also had regular coaching opportunities where our professors and other students gave us feedback on our development progress, design decisions and the creation of our company. Especially in the early stages, this feedback helped us a lot to build a solid foundation for our endeavor.
The Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg was our main source of funding and allowed us to fully focus on development for a whole year. This worked out without much administration effort and without external influence on our game design decisions, which made this collaboration very pleasant. Therefore we can wholeheartedly recommend applying for Medienboard funding to other startup teams in similar situations.
Why did you choose to study at HTW Berlin? How did your studies prepare you for the design and development of Dorfromantik and for founding your own studio?
All four developers of Toukana Interactive were part of the Game Design Bachelor program at HTW Berlin, where we got to know each other and learned the fundamentals of game development. The courses have a strong focus on practical experience, teamwork, design thinking and drawing inspiration from topics outside the gaming cosmos. This, in addition to a constructive and honest feedback culture, leads to very diverse, creative and interesting student projects.
During our bachelor studies, we already took our first steps into the entrepreneurial side of game development, but the Game Design Master allowed us to fully focus on this aspect of creating games. With our prior experiences from the Bachelor's degree and the industry experience we gained in various jobs, we felt well-equipped to give starting our own studio a try.
What are the advantages of founding a new indie studio in a city like Berlin?
We have all lived in Berlin for several years and have had the opportunity to meet many other game developers from the Berlin game scene. Having this many people nearby who work on creative projects themselves is a great inspiration and gives us many opportunities to ask for help and learn from others' experiences.
Game hubs like the DE:HIVE as well as game developer events that often take place in Berlin are good starting points to get in touch with other creative people. Funding opportunities such as the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, many support programs for startups and great educational institutions also make Berlin a great place for game development.
We have really enjoyed this creative exchange in the past and hope to repeat it once the Corona pandemic finally subsides.
Do you already have plans for a new game? Will you be able to expand Toukana?
We still have a few things we want to do with Dorfromantik before we start our next project. There are already some game ideas from previous ideation sessions, but when the time comes, we will probably do the same as we did for Dorfromantik - start with a wide range of prototypes and iterate from there.
Because of the success of Dorfromantik, we have the resources to expand the team. We were already able to recruit Dom, our community manager, and Marco, a marketing freelancer, to our team. We can also imagine expanding the development team at some point, but we want to take it slow so that it doesn't negatively disrupt our current team dynamic.