It’s been nearly four years since Mark Essen’s tug-of-war fencing game Nidhogg first emerged, seemingly fully grown as the perfect lo-fi brawler that none of us knew we needed until it was in our hands. Originally commissioned for the first No Quarter — NYU Game Center’s annual public-multiplayer-focused exhibition — and then known as Raging Hadron, the game was soon re-named after the Norse snake-dragon horror that ends each round and submitted to the 2011 IGF, where it took home the festival’s Nuovo award, on top of two nominations for both excellence in design & that year’s grand prize.
And then the beast slumbered… with only tiny (and, for some, maddeningly rare) further glimpses at public exhibitions put together by hyper-local indie groups Toronto’s Hand Eye Society and our own JUEGOS RANCHEROS, the game was soon cemented as one of videogames’ best spectator bloodsports for all who were lucky enough to be present, but largely avoided public gaze — until a mid-2013 appearance at fighting game mecca EVO signaled that it was finally nearly ready for public consumption.
Following quickly on the heels of & fitting beautifully in amongst Matt Thorton’s TowerFall & Teknopants’ Samurai Gunn as part of a multiplayer renaissance & still one of the most anticipated multiplayer games, Nidhogg has just been released for Windows on Steam, with Mac & possible console ports to follow in due time.
I talked with Essen about what the past four years of incubation have been like, and what people who’ve only played its earliest iterations can expect from the finished game — including two of its most major additions: online multiplayer and a robust single-player AI.
So, what’s been keeping you busy since your IGF win back in 2011?
Grad school, then part-time co-teaching Intermediate Game Design with [Waco Resurrection and The Cat and The Coup co-creator] Peter Brinson and my own class on experimental mobile games — both at USC Interactive Media & Games program — as well as contract work, side projects, and making & tweaking games for festivals and museum or gallery shows.
I have been working pretty consistently on Nidhogg all this time, it’s just that some weeks got one day a week, and others got eight days a week.