Eldfall Chronicles: Interview With Freecompany’s Žiga and Tjaša

We’ve been covering Eldfall Chronicles recently, a new fantasy tabletop skirmish game from Freecompany. If you missed our coverage you can find a review of the game here and a review of the models here. Today we’re joined by Žiga and Tjaša, the game’s creators, about designing the game and bringing their ideas to life.

Keewa: Hi guys! Thank you for speaking with us today, it’d be lovely if you would introduce yourselves and give us a little bit of information about your backgrounds.

Tjaša: Hi! I’m Tjaša. Žiga and I, we’re both from Slovenia. I’m the only girl in the team 😄 I am the co-creator, in charge of the graphic designs, the image of the game and company, and I’m the designated writer and editor. I’m also the Žiga’s lieutenant, pitching in everywhere I’m needed.

Žiga: Hey, I’m Žiga. And just like Tjaša, I’m also from Slovenia, and have a degree in East Asian Studies. We are both specialized in Japanology (studies of Japanese language, history, anthropology etc.), which was – as you can see – a big influence for our game, Eldfall Chronicles.
I am the head creator, and am supposed to be the CEO of the company – Freecompany. 🙂
My tasks are primarily game design, visual design, illustration, art direction, etc.

keewa: Great! I can definitely see those influences. Now that we know a bit more about you, when did you decide to make a tabletop game together? What lead you to that point?

Žiga: Well, we’ve been into games (both video and tabletop alike) since our childhood.
When it comes to the tabletop side of the hobby, I started playing wargames and card games a lot sometime in high school (which is now some 10 years ago). This of course also got me into the mini painting hobby and things kept snowballing to this day.
Me and Tjaša met in the the university and we first became good friends.

The female Colossus – Credit: Keewa

Tjaša: Yeah, it was the first time when we fell into it. Žiga was constantly scribbling into his notebooks, and you can imagine he wasn’t really taking notes. 😉 He was drawing and writing things and when we talked about it, we has so many ideas popping up. We started writing some ideas about Calad (the world the game is set in), its peoples and he made the visual designs, which we then remade and made again. Then, in time, a friend of ours saw how excited we were and how much we liked anime figures and miniatures. So he asked, “why not make your own figures?” And that gave us the idea that we should try making this, someday.

Then we left for Japan, where we studied for one year. During that time, Žiga started on the rulebook and I was checking it over, discussing ideas and getting more and more excited. Aljaž, the third team member got busy here as well, and he and Žiga tested the game out a lot. They also got some better ideas and we implemented them. Then at some point, there was so much content and our university days were ending that we felt some anxiety creep in. We felt we needed to try this. To make the game. We knew that if we didn’t do it now, we’d have to get regular, full-time jobs and we knew it would be over.

Gargoyle – Credit: Keewa

So instead, we threw ourselves into it. It was just the lockdown times, so we had some extra time on our hands. Žiga gradually learnt to illustrate digitaly using a digital tablet and I learned various design/editing programs to make the rulebook, cards, graphics and so on. We also started using social media at this point, trying to market the game ourselves. I must say that having an active discord community back then really helped us – the beta rulebook was uploaded there and everyone gave feedback. But it was all very new to us and quite scary. 🙂

Throughout all this, Aljaž and Patrik assisted us with photos, designs and lore and became part of the team, and from there, we made the Kickstarter. 🙂

keewa: Wow, so was this your first foray into game design altogether?

Tjaša: we always liked design as a hobby, but this was the first time when we made something for real 🙂

Žiga: Maybe as a side note; a lot of the inspiration for game mechanics, flow of the game, logic behind, lore etc. came from study of history, as well as the practice of historical martial arts, archery, and things like that. We wanted to incorporate all that into a fantasy game, where despite magic, things feel realistic and immersive.

keewa: That’s very impressive, you certainly went right in at the deep end with such a large project! As (relative) newcomers to the world of game production, has anything in particular surprised you?

Tjaša: I think the biggest surprise was how Kickstarter and other platforms function. You hear very good things about it, but nobody can really prepare you for the reality of it.
A lot of big companies use it now and contorted its original intent – to kick start a company or project. Now it’s much harder being a startup and it can been daunting.
Also, we had to learn business and after the campaign, how to make a product and deliver it. It’s definitely a very steep learning curve – the ways of crowdfunding, the ways of the industry, logistics and marketing. There are many things that relate to business that can make you feel naive or innocent and it almost feels like you have to fight to not stray from your values. We love game design and everything that comes with it. We probably both feel like that’s what we really want to do. 🙂

Onitaoshi – Credit: Keewa

keewa: You mention values, what are the values you fought to maintain? How were they challenged by the industry?

Žiga: Well, to put it simply; Our community matters to us dearly and we want to be as transparent as possible with them. We hardly see them as customers and more like fellow colleagues and friends with whom we share the community, story and so on. This may not be the best business practice, but I think it generates a warm and welcoming environment, where creativity can flourish. When it comes to the business side; again, we want to be transparent and truthful, which on Kickstarter can be very hard to do when [competing] with big companies, promising thing left and right, presenting unrealistic funding goals to generate momentum, even if behind-the-scenes this can mean a failure of the campaign or even delivery. In the end, we do not want to compromise the product itself or the trust of the people that support us.

keewa: That’s a great ethos to have 🙂. Speaking of the community: The game has been in the hands of players for about half a year, how has the community response been so far?

Žiga: From our perspective, there has been a wonderful response both to the gameplay and the physical quality of the products. We’re starting to see small communities popping up, and we want to do our best to support them.
To be honest, we were really afraid how the minis will be received. With the designs of the minis we are pushing the limits a bit, so we had to (with our manufacturers) come up with a new material for them. And as you’ve mentioned in your last article, we are introducing a new aesthetic to the genre, to some extent. Luckily, both were received very well by the community. 😄
We are also thankful for all the feedback, as it helps us improve things in the future. We’ll do our best to improve further from here on.

Taskmage Explorer – Credit: Keewa

keewa: The physical quality is certainly excellent! I really had fun painting them (I’ve still got more to do though!) On the topic of aesthetic, from an art direction standpoint, what would you cite as your main influences when it comes to designing for Eldfall Chronicles?

Tjaša: Hm, that could be a long list. As for me, I’m an avid PC gamer and I watched a lot of anime when I was younger. I know I always liked thinking of asian MMORPGs and their general aesthetics. Being engaged in artistic communities is also a good inspiration, like Artstation, because I follow a lot of artists.

Žiga: For me as an illustrator and concept designer, inspirations come from allover. Just like Tjaša said, a heavy influence for me were Asian rpg games and anime as well. Not just for the visuals, but for the art theory behind as well. Otherwise, there is also our human history, which gives the best foundation for especially realistic armors, clothing and such. Literature plays a huge part as well, especially the folklore and some more contemporary works, all the way from Tolkien to GRRM. Otherwise, FromSoftware and CDPR games left a heavy imprint in my artistic preferences. 🙂

keewa: I can definitely see the FromSoft influence in some of the minis, I said to my colleagues that the Helrin Expatriate in particular looked just like a Souls character!

Žiga: 😄

Helrin Expatriate – Credit: Keewa

keewa: Within such a small team, you must certainly have your hands full, what’s the division of labour like? Do you each focus on different things or is your process more directly collaborative?

Žiga: Tjaša and I are on the project full-time. We take most of the work, but we really appreciate the help coming from our team, and our partners who help us with marketing and logistics. I typically handle most of the important business. Apart from that I also work on game and lore design, rules, concept art, illustrating, and art direction for sculpting of the miniatures (that we outsource).
Tjaša is basically our chief editor and my lieutenant. Apart from helping me with the business side, she graphically design everything, polishes texts, and even artworks. She is why things around the game look nice. 😄
Aljaž assists from all sides and manages our workload. And lately, he has been handling logistics in my stead, which I appreciate dearly. 😄 He also manages live events, demos, playtesting and so on.
Partik does the professional photography and is in charge of everything camera related. Aside from that he helps Aljaž with everything live, and me with the the 3D printed prototypes for our future releases.
Samo, who you may know from our tutorial videos, joined the team recently and he is basically a walking rulebook. He is a demo/playtesting machine, and the best person to test out new mechanics and combinations, and break them. 😄

keewa: It sounds like you have a tight ship!
Speaking of playtesting, now that the game is ‘in the wild’, have players discovered anything especially surprising that you may not have considered or encountered during development and testing?

Žiga: Luckily we consider a lot of the things as our hobby that we like to do in ”free time” 😄. To be honest, when we launched the thing, we didn’t expect people to like our solo and PvE gameplay this much! And we are surprised in a very positive way and this opens our design space a lot. Rules-wise; because we received so much feedback from the community in the past, the core game mechanics were pretty solid and tested even before our first KS campaign launch. And even now, apart from a mistype here and there, there was no need to change anything.

keewa: That’s really fortunate! Yes, the solo and PvE elements were really intriguing when I first read about the game, it’s not something that a lot of games really do, definitely.

Žiga: Maybe the one weird thing we encountered was our Samo, finding a way to put a mounted model on a flying carpet…. 😄

keewa: My next question for you: Eldfall has so many different and distinct characters, which one is your favourite?

Žiga: Tough one…. I think my favorite changes with every new mini we create. 😄 with the current ones; visually it’s probably the Kitsune Spellmaiden, while gameplay-wise it’s the Flameweaver Errant.

A Kitsune Spell-Maiden – Credit: Keewa

Tjaša: Very hard to pick 😄
I still very much like the design of the Citadel Guard. She was one of the first designs we made into a miniature, and it turned out great, even though it was a really tough one. Because of her armor, which is very realistic, many people think she is a male. But I like the fact that she looks so epic, but also feminine, in a sense. 🙂
I also very much like the new heroes coming up in the new campaign; especially Nara, the big bad cat chimera that is agile and beefy but sassy and cute -and she’s also very agile for a 60 year old granny, according to her lore 😄

Žiga: Ah, Tjaša already went into the Northern Wind… 😄

keewa: Aha! A perfect segue into my next question!
Your upcoming Eldfall Chronicles: Northern Winds expansion offers new modes of play as well as expanding the available models and lore of the original game, following on from a smaller “Wayfarers” models-only expansion. Are any potential further products going to be in the same vein?

Žiga: If you mean having a smaller release, like Wayfarers, available immediately, followed by a larger, possibly crowdfunded release that advances the story; yes, we have something like that in mind. However, this can change with our creative output power, and many more things, like the Wayfarers can happen. 🙂

keewa: Of course, it’s still early days and you’re already planning a major expansion, that’s a lot of work!

Žiga: Ideally we want to greatly expand the game, the setting, and the range of minis. There’s so much we want to show and we had to start somewhere. We are just waiting for the right moments to delve deeper. Currently you can see that there are predominantly humans and rin (our elf-equivalents) represented in the 4 factions. But there are so many more sub-factions, species, and aesthetics to explore.

Tjaša: We also want to show the darker side of Calad and the other magical elements. For now there are only the Earthen creatures, but our setting has 7 elements. Profane, divine, elder and the four classic ones.

An Earth Elemental – Credit:keewa

keewa: Interesting! I am certainly looking forward to seeing what new things you have to show us!
One last question before I let you go: There are plenty of Goonhammer readers who like a bit of anime/manga, as Japanologists, what’re your favourite series? Do you have any deep cut recommendations for us?

Žiga: Let me first give a disclaimer that while we do enjoy anime and manga, it doesn’t have that much in common with Japanology 😄 …. However, my old favorite would be Gintama (a surprisingly good mix of comedy, action, and touching story in the weirdest setting). Among more modern ones, I’d recommend Mushoku Tensei (Jobless Reincarnation) – it’s a nice fantasy show with twists very unusual for anime.
Ah… and of course Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure for those of culture 😄

Tjaša: Hmm… I recommend these nowadays often: Castlevania, Another, Ranma 1/2 (very old-school), Super Crooks, Violet Evergarden, Clannad (be prepared to cry), Cowboy Bebop, Black lagoon, Gosick, Fullmetal Alchemist…. and I can’t remember anymore, I’m sure I’m missing a lot. I also really like Ghibli and especially Princess Mononoke. I saw it as a young child and it scarred me for life 😅 But I love it 😄

keewa: Some great recommendations there I have no doubt from people of culture such as yourselves.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us guys, and all the best for the continuing success of Eldfall Chronicles! Cheers!

Žiga: We are all people of culture… 😄
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us! 😄

Tjaša: Thanks for having us!
And thank you for your time and kind words 🙂

Next Week: Faction Focus

That wraps up our interview. We’d like to thank Žiga and Tjaša again for sitting down with us. If you’re looking for more Eldfall Chronicles content, you’re in luck – check back next week when we start talking tactics, with our first faction focus article covering one of the game’s four major factions. Until then if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.