Jonas Tarestad about the story of Year Walk

The process from idea to finished piece of work was, in retrospect, very rapid with Year Walk. From reading about the phenomena to the game’s release, it was approximately 14 months. In a sense, Year Walk was an adaptation of a folk horror short film screenplay. But the script was in a very early stage and had barely left the printer when it began to morph into something else. Today, I view the screenplay as the first building block rather than a separate piece of work. Screenplays are strange beasts in the sense that the audience is typically in the dozens, I think Year Walk was only ever read by Simon and Gordon.

Year Walk happened almost by chance. I took a book on Swedish folklore (Folktrons År by Ebbe Schön) from my bookcase, and read about year walking. I had never heard of the concept before and found it intriguing. I wrote a script where a young man goes on the titular vision quest. Simon read it and thought that it would make a neat game. And within a couple of weeks, we were in production, which is really rare. Most screenplays turn into nothing at all over the course of several years.

Characters, backstory and exposition were on the chopping block as they did not fit the game. But, as the concept and the folklore were quite obscure even to Swedes, it needed to be explained to the audience. But telling it through exposition would ruin the minimalistic atmosphere of the game.

The solution became The Year Walk Companion. Initially, the companion was just meant to present the folklore, but we felt something was missing from the overall narrative of the game. If I am not mistaken, the solution came to us in a pub. The meta-narrative of a folklore scholar going insane while doing research for the game was in “a hidden” diary inside The Year Walk Companion. And to reach the true ending, you had to go back from the companion app and into the game. The need to switch apps on the phone had a peculiar effect that the game felt more “real”. It felt like it bled out into the world, and the player became a part of the narrative. This strange sensation was something we would pursue further in DEVICE 6.

The inspiration for the story other than the folklore itself is hard to pinpoint. I did read the Swedish mystic but very rural poet Dan Andersson at the time. I think he might have rubbed off on me a little. But music, is for me, almost always the most essential inspiration–at least in the early creative stages. I listened to a very haunting gospel singer named Washington Phillips while writing the screenplay. Swedish contemporary composer Matti Bye’s Elephant and Castle was played a lot as well. Along the road, the music I listened to was gradually replaced by Daniel Olsén’s excellent soundtrack. For every game, the music seems to be coming earlier and earlier in development, which is a blessing because the original music can inspire the writing.