“It’s a fucking weird game and my relationship with it is complicated.”
Tomas Sala is a funny man. Not just in that he’s a bit odd – in the best way possible, I promise you – but he’s a genuinely funny guy. So funny, in fact, I laughed away the worst headache that I had ever had after an hour of talking with the creator of The Falconeer.
I explain to Tomas that if I look constipated while he’s talking, it’s not because I think he’s talking shit – it’s because my head feels like it’s imploding after my recent lumbar puncture.
“Why are you even working, man?!” Tomas half-shouts at me.
I explain that I had taken the weekend off and spent it on my back, moaning and groaning, but the sympathy well in my house had run dry and that I’d been shooed off the couch and back to my desk.
Tomas laughs and we agree that we men really are the weaker of the species, and how after a woman has gone through childbirth, no pain we endure can ever match it. It’s true, but it won’t stop us from trying to get some tea and sympathy for every bruised thumb and sore back.
Tomas is actually nursing a bit of a runny nose. He has the sniffles and when I ask cautiously, as we all do these days, “Rona?” he assures me he is Rona-free. He had actually contracted the virus just a few days before the release of The Falconeer last year.
“What happened in November is I got Covid two weeks from the press build,” he says “and I was on my couch, dying… and I was thinking that, you know, everybody is testing it, it’s probably gonna be alright. And then I find out, the thing I changed three days before I got sick, it also made every enemy FUCKING HARDCORE and now everybody is complaining about difficulty spikes. So yeah, that was painful. Oh well. Shit happens.“
Normally, before I do an interview, I don’t tend to do any research whatsoever. It’s not because I’m lazy (maybe a little bit…) but it’s because I don’t want to get any preconceived ideas about the person – no research, just natural conversation. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be.
I broke my rule with Tomas. I was nursing my headache one night, unable to sleep (I also had a toothache – double misery!) and I wondered what I would actually ask the guy. I knew he’d already done a load of interviews with other outlets in the run-up to The Falconeer’s release last year, so I didn’t want to repeat any questions. I didn’t want to be what I fear most: boring.
I Googled his name and I was surprised to find that one search result was for Quora – the community questions and answers website.
I spent the next 20 minutes reading Tomas’ online scribbles to strangers. People would ask about Amsterdam and where they should go while they are on a day visit to the city. I gleaned from his answers that he’s not fond of the way the city is overrun with cheap tourists, tacky attractions, and hotels/homestays that are driving up the price of affordable housing for locals, not to mention the pisshead Brits standing around getting pissed all day.
“We have a name for you British people – vertical drinkers. Because you all stand outside drinking,” he tells me with a laugh. He’s not wrong. If you see a passed out white male in Amsterdam, chances are he has a British passport, a bag of weed, and a wrap of coke in his back pocket. And if that’s in July (my birthday month) there’s a fair chance that’s me…
I poured over his answers to game development questions where he would give aspiring creators tips on what they should be focusing on and what pitfalls to avoid. He was doling out free advice and not taking a penny for it, nor was he overtly doing it to further his own cause – I rarely saw mention of The Falconeer in his answers.
“So… I get really bored really quickly, so if I get exceptionally bored,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like an addiction. My email will go ‘someone has asked a question’ and so once a week I’ll go and answer some! I’ve since re-read some of my answers, ones that I wrote when I was tired or depressed and… they’re questionable at best – not all answers are good haha! So… you read my Quora… Wow. That is a first!”
I assure Tomas it’s not a bad thing and that I was actually impressed with the amount of freedom he has online to do his own thing. He isn’t managed, unlike many figures in the industry who get shoved in front of cameras to give blockbuster games a human figurehead.
I offer up one publisher as an example with all of its studios and key people being super coordinated on Twitter, welcoming new studios to the “family” with pre-planned tweets and cringe artwork; the digital version of the fake gamer chat that Ubisoft is so fond of.
“Yeah, normally people are completely managed,” Tomas says with a knowing nod.
I tell him that I imagined him sitting at his desk at 3am in the morning, little schmoke on the go, answering the questions of internet randos: ‘don’t be a fucking tourist, stay away from the centre, go up to the north side and see the culture,’ I say in my best on-the-spot Tomas Sala impression.
Tomas laughs hard at my questionable Dutch impression and we have a good laugh at his humanity. He’s comfortable being himself online, offline, wherever – he’s made his game, his name is known, he’s comfortable with life, “I really like owning a car!” he notes on more than one occasion.
Yet he’s still cautiously aware that The Falconeer trades as much on his name as it does its own, and that he is part of the brand now and he needs to be careful not to ruffle the wrong feathers. He is, after all, trying to sell, as he calls it, a “fucking weird game” on as many platforms as he can.
Tomas asks what my comfort game is – the game I go to when I’ve got free time from all of the reviews I work on. I tell him that my go-to at the moment is a game called Boxed In – it’s devilishly addictive. Tomas…is not impressed. It’s not that he can’t see why I wouldn’t like it, but he can’t see himself playing something that isn’t full of “epic fucking landscapes,” he says, arms thrown up in the air, holding out an imaginary canvas of his imagination.
I tell him that I’m probably part of that problem as I can pick a game up on Game Pass or PlayStation Now, play it for five minutes, decide I don’t like it, delete it, and then move on to the next. It’s not like the old days where you bought a game in the store, took it home, and played it through to the end, even if it was shite – you had already committed a bus ride to this game, it was going to be completed!
“Yes, people are just sampling games now, judging a game by the first hour. If I had one big regret from The Falconeer, it’s that it takes four fucking hours for a boss battle or for something epic to happen,” he says, regretfully. He also notes that it’s the younger players who don’t connect well with the game, and they often leave negative reviews.
Toma has his fans, though – a dedicated group of pilots that flock to the official Discord channel to share their adventures, as well as Tomas Sala memes…
“On the other hand, all the people in the discord are like ‘yeah, I love it, the more you play, the deeper you go, the better it gets. Nobody makes this stuff anymore.'” Yeah, I can tell you why nobody makes it: because it doesn’t survive today’s market,” Tomas half yells into his mic.
“It’s harsh, but lots of people are trying out stuff they otherwise would not do, which is fantastic; people are sampling new stuff,” he says on the topic of subscription services, “now there’s much more depth available.”
And there really is. Game Pass is proving to be a major win, at least for players on the Xbox family of consoles and PC. The Falconeer originally launched as an Xbox/PC exclusive, but it’s now coming to PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on August 5th, 2021. Tomas is happy that he’s getting something of a do-over with this new release – The Warrior Edition, “I’m happy with where the game is now. The thing that’s coming to Switch and PlayStation is substantially better than what it was in November.”
I’ve had a review build sitting on my PS5 since early June for the preview and I planned on going into it fully in the middle of July to get the review ready for the August 2nd embargo. But when I learned I’d be talking to Tomas Sala, the game’s creator, I decided to leave it alone until I could ask him how somebody should really play it.
“I would say play a little bit of Chapter 1, do some of the side missions – there’s lots of variety in there, lots of exploration; shrine and temples that tell the story that’s close to my heart. So, do a couple of missions, make a little money, and then start properly at Chapter 2 where you get insectoid enemies and giant crabs, and then you get all the intrigue in Chapter 3,” he says, careful to avoid spoilers.
Tomas offers up a bit of trivia on how he made the game and how it influenced the final product in terms of quality.
“Chapter 4 is actually the best to play because I made the game sequentially – so I started to make the game with Chapter 1, then I finished making Chapter 1 so I moved on to Chapter 2, and then Chapter 3, and then Chapter 4, and so on.”
“I’ve been told in the past to always start with the end, not the beginning, and you know why? Because by the time I got to Chapter 4 I had made all of these extra systems and by that point I was at the top of my game! It’s excellent, there are chases in there, a fucking stealth mission in there, there’s a Dambuster homage mission where you have to bomb something for the first time in the whole story. So it’s a nice, varied chapter, apart from the last minute where I ran out of time. And so Chapter 1 is the first one I made and it shows. And Chapter 4 is the last one I made, and it shows.“
Tomas paused for a second and then dropped what I think Wired should be brave enough to put on the back of the box, or at least in a trailer…
“It’s a weird fucking game, man, and my relationship with it… is complicated. For me, it’s a work of art. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I’ve done enough drink and drugs and been to some weird places and dealt with some shit, and that’s all in there. So I find that for some people who play it, they say it’s relaxing. It’s beautiful and there’s an emotional tone to the world and the music, and it’s very chilled out.”
“There’s something dark about the game. There’s a sadness to the game and sometimes people are completely insensitive to it. But for some people, after flying around there are these moments where you get emotional resonance, and I like that. That’s all I ever want to achieve as an artist. And if you don’t, well… I don’t give a shit haha!”
I couldn’t help but laugh loudly at Tomas’ straight-shooting, no bullshit approach, and I implore the PR rep sitting in on the chat to get the quotes “I don’t give a shit” and “it’s a weird fucking game” included in the promo materials. It won’t happen, but it should. Devolver would have run that trailer… Be brave, Wired!
I ask Tomas what’s next for him and The Falconeer. Will he go on and do something completely different, or will he carry on what he has started? Turns out, he has plans that are a bit of both.
“Making a game takes four to five years by yourself. Even with all the help of Wired, the QA, and someone is helping to port it, and there’s a musician, and there’s someone calling me on Sunday “have you finished yet?” so, you know? It takes four to five years without going mental… So if The Falconeer does well enough… then yeah, a sequel is worth it and I’ll happily make a sequel,” he says, before offering up some early ideas he has for the world of The Falconeer.
“It will involve trains, I can tell you that. Big battle trains – with guns! And with perches for birds. And the landscape, I see it – it’s of a giant train and there’s a bird guarding it. It’s gonna be in a world that’s just covered in trains with train tracks everywhere.”
“So yeah, I’ve got an idea for that, but I’ve got other ideas as well; I wanna make a sailing game based on The Falconeer world because the world of The Falconeer is pretty dark and so I imagine I’ll lower the water – play the game and see how that is possible – and then I’ll make a sailing game in the same world but a hundred, or even a thousand years in the past and it would be a little bit more peaceful. It would be like a trading adventure – you meet people at port, do sailing, some light combat… wind and storms and stuff.”
“And then, of course, because in The Falconeer you know the world’s gonna go to shit – the entire game is about a world that’s gone to shit. So I’ll make a game that’s really pretty and peaceful and it’ll be super tragic because if you play these other games, you’ll realise that world no longer exists. That gives me a nice buzz as well.”
At this point, we had been chatting for over an hour, and my headache was forgotten. What was also almost forgotten were the quick-fire questions I had saved as a note; some silly offbeat questions that’ll become a mainstay of future interviews. Because why not? Who doesn’t want to know what game developers think about The Killers?
1. What was the last game you played, not including your own.
Company of Heroes.
2. If you could play any game again for the first time, what would it be?
Original WipEout on the PSX!
3. What game made you go “whoa, games are more than just silly toys”?
4. AR or VR?
VR! Reality is boring, that’s why we want to go somewhere else!
5. SteamDeck or Switch?
Switch, because it has a purpose and clear vision.
6. Symmetrical or Asymmetrical sticks?
Either, don’t care. As long as there are two sticks, I’m happy!
(Tomas then pulled out his Steam controller and went on a mini-rant…)
7. Late night party or a LAN party?
Late night party! In a responsible manner, of course…
8. Do you like The Killers? If yes, what is your favourite song? If not, why, and what is wrong with you?
Oh, man… I’m stuck in the 90s…
Tomas then YouTube’d The Killers and decided he did in fact like The Killers. Good man.
The PR lady sitting in on the chat liked The Killers, too, but only their early work… Such a hipster…
9. Should Ubisoft make another Splinter Cell game?
If they grow it like Hitman, then yes.
You heard it here, Ubisoft – make another bloody Splinter Cell game!
The Falconeer: Warrior Edition launches August 5th, 2021 for PS5, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
Massive thank you to Tomas for taking the time to talk, and for being a pleasure to talk to. And a massive thank you to Wired Productions, especially Anastasia for sending over the audio recording after I realised I had only recorded one side of the conversation!