“We wanted to do something different than the … adrenaline-rushed experience that ski games usually come with. Our experience from snowboarding is rather the opposite: a bright sunny day in the mountains, you explore the areas and enjoy the nature and scenery.”
That’s the inspiration behind Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands, a different sort of skiing and snowboarding game from the “three snowboarding brothers” that make up Swedish indie outfit Toppluva. They’ve been remarkably successful in that aim, too: Wonderlands has its high-speed runs and tricky freestyle courses, and the excitement that comes with that, but dressed up in an atmosphere that’s serene and a little playful, and with as much focus on exploring the slopes and taking in the natural wonder as on challenges and adrenaline.
Much of that mood and sense of exploration comes from the design of the mountains themselves, with their slopes, forestry, ski lifts, resort facilities, and nearby residential areas coming together in a way that feels organic. In an email interview with Shindig, Toppluva’s Sebastian Sehr said map design usually started with trying to get the right feel and little details, before adding challenges later.
“We’ve tried to make the mountains in the game feel like real ski resorts, with connected lifts and slopes. And we’ve also added any detail we could remember from our own ski vacations into the mountains which I also think matters. Challenges usually came in a bit later in the map-making process. And to get the challenges right, we’ve mostly just iterated over them until we were happy. If we never got happy, we removed them and tried to add them somewhere else on the mountain.” (The other secret to Wonderlands’ memorable levels is “a rather big graveyard of scrapped mountains”, said Sehr with a laugh.)
It’s that personal touch, drawing on Toppluva’s snowboarding experience, that gives Wonderlands its unique quality. Indeed, none of the brothers had any prior background in game development, but when injuries kept them off the snow, they decided to start tinkering around with a game idea as a way of keeping boredom and FOMO at bay.
“Back in 2015, I broke my back after crashing on a big jump in Les Deux Alpes in France, and just a few weeks later, my brother Viktor broke his knee on a ski trip to Gressoney, Italy,” Sehr told me when I asked where the idea for Grand Mountain Adventure came from. “This was quite early into the ski season, and we both had to stay home from our ordinary jobs. With a lot of spare time and nothing to do, we started fiddling with a ski game. I guess missing out on the rest of the ski season was a factor too. None of us had any background in game development, it was just a really fun thing to play around with. A few years later our youngest brother joined the team as well.”
The team spent the next few years working on the game, mostly in solitude—they didn’t show it to anyone else for the first four years of development—and feeding their love of the sport into it. “We’re all pretty passionate snowboarders so we all chipped in (read: had big lively arguments) on how the skier should move, how the turns should feel, and so on,” said Sehr. “Most of the time the game felt like ‘We’re on to something, this is becoming a really nice game!’ but there were so many days I started developing and then just felt that the entire game is just crap and we should scrap it and do something else instead.” They persevered, though, and Sehr says they’re happy with how the game turned out.
So, what’s next for Toppluva?
“For now, we are focusing on fixing any issues with the Switch and Steam release and responding to comments and feedback from players. But once it gets a bit calmer, we will start working on something new, and we’re playing with the idea of a sequel!”
The thought of a sequel is certainly an exciting prospect, especially after such an impressive debut. For now, though, Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands hits a sweet spot between adrenaline and the more laid-back feeling of just enjoying the snow.
“We’ve packed everything we associate with a great day in the mountains into this game, so that’s basically what we hope people get out from it: the feeling of exploring a new ski resort on a powdery, sunny ski day.”