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Interviews: An Interview with Didrik Tollefsen

By  on January 29, 2007

An Interview with Didrik Tollefsen

Deveoper Profile: Funcom's Didrik Tollefsen

Garrett Fuller had a chance to get to know Funcom's Didrik Tollefsen, the Art Director for Age of Conan.

Tell us a little about your childhood. How did school and where you live influence your choice to join the video game community?

Didrik Tollefsen:

We grew up in a little village on the countryside, surrounded by beautiful, dense forest and wide acres. We loved to play in that forest. We spent a lot of time in there, finding new and magical spots. As we grew older we dared to venture further in to this endless jungle. In to the unknown. I still dream about those places and they can actually still help me in different creative processes during a game production. Later on our little innocent world was invaded by large, grey supercomputers... with 64K of easy-accessible RAM! All the kids in our street had one. So magic took a new form. "Press play on tape" became a big part of our everyday life. Homework had to wait, naturally.


Can you remember your first video game? How often did you play, what other games had an influence on you?

Didrik Tollefsen:

Arcades were big when I grew up. I remember the first game I played on one of those machines, before the Commodore 64. Oh baby, Pong and roller-skates and groovy music... pure bliss! There was absolutely nothing dodgy about small, smoke-filled rooms with burn marks and French fries everywhere -- a healthy environment for a games-maniac getting educated in the fine arts of pixelating. I must have spent thousands of coins on those games -- before I was ten even. And my family was not exactly well off. I just had clear priorities. Space Invaders, Missile Command, Defender, Galaga -- the sight of them made me loose my marbles completely. Ah, and speaking of marbles: Marble Madness! What a game!! Blisters and sweat and tongue tips pointing in all directions. By then we were getting a little picky when it came to graphics, so when games like Dragons Lair and Space Ace came to Norway, it didn’t matter that it was eight times the price and one tenth of the playing-time, those laser games was nothing short of fantastic, and inspired me immensely. I have heaps of doodles in every school notebook, trying to copy Don Bluth`s style of drawing. The first game I bought... I think it was "The Hobbit". 30 min of loading time was worth every second. Hours and hours of exquisite text based gameplay, and crap graphics had a very positive influence on my imagination. Yes, those where good times.

Besides games what other influences brought you into your career? Whether it is books, movies, or artwork everyone has different tastes, tell us about yours.

Didrik Tollefsen:

Well, I have always loved creature movies. And during the 80`s, when VHS-rental took off completely, creature movies flooded the shelves. It gave respectable young kids a decent chance to see the wonderful trash that the movie theatres in Norway just wouldn’t run. Holding your breath through a horrible storyline for 90 minutes, just to see the creature fully revealed at the end was worth every penny! Also, video gave me a chance to experience the classics of the 60’s and 70’s, as well. Priceless are the movies of Ray Harryhausen and what he did for movie creatures and their rights to a meaningful life. It was groundbreaking stuff. And the mythic universe he set his creatures into, was, and still is a priceless reference. I started reading The Odyssey when I was nine, and have had great interest in, especially ancient Greek mythology since then. Comics have been a huge source of inspiration through the years. Mobeus, Corben, Jeffrey Jones, Calutha. Just to mention some. And various book covers for fantasy-art and weird, pulp fiction. Some of my favorites are of course Frazettas work.

What are some games you have worked on in the past?

Didrik Tollefsen:

Longest Journey, AO, Midgard (canned, but hugely anticipated and similar to Conan in many ways). I was also a short period on Dreamfall, the sequel to The Longest Journey, during kick off.

What is your job at Funcom? How did you get your foot in the door?

Didrik Tollefsen:

My first assignment for Funcom was back in 1993, I think. Funcom had just gotten started and I was doing freelance work for them. I did acrylics on paperboards that they scanned and used as splash pages between levels in an action RPG for one of the first 3D consoles. The no short of stunning, 3DO! The project they where currently working on had obvious similarities to the Conan universe, except the hero was swapped for a strong blond, kindhearted, Norwegian Viking with an itch for high adventure. The game director of that project, Gaute Godager (who is now the game director on Age of Conan -- only some 12 years later) liked my paintings, and they hired me a few months later. Not as a painter, though. Gaute asked me if I could do 3D animation, and I had actually done some brief tinkering in 3D Studio version 1.0, but was far from professional. But I kept going at it, and went completely wild with the 60-80 polygons we could spend on each character. Need I add that the project was canned? That cruel faith that strikes at least 50% of all projects in this industry, I guess. Valuable experience, though, every time. As the years and projects went by I had done everything from concept work to 3D modeling, texturing and more animation. I had seen some strange production pipelines, and really felt we could do better, so when the position for Art Director was announced, I took a shot at it and I’ve done that since 96.

Take us through a typical day of work on Funcom while working on Age of Conan, what is it like when you show up at the office?

Didrik Tollefsen:

Needless to say, it is quite busy at this stage. So controlling chaos, or at least making friends with it, is a necessity to remain creative throughout a day of work at Funcom. "Must keep calm, no matter what" is a useful mantra, when various discussions becomes personal, and then heated, moving towards boiling. "Babies" come in all kinds of shapes and sizes on this projects, and great many times I the past we have stitched them together just to form a hideous monster, before getting wiser. Now, it’s actually very rewarding to see it all come together, and pretty close to the grand plan, only a tad better!

Are there any friends or family who had a major impact on your career or chasing dreams that you’d like to talk about, do they play games?

Didrik Tollefsen:

I think both my father and mother at some point hated games, simply because of my total addiction, and still they did play an important role in the choice of career, my father being an Art Director for educational books and all, they taught me about esthetics in art and design. And the shallowness of pure inhibited regurgitation within trash culture. So bringing esthetics in to Age of Conan is incredibly important to me. If not, my father will cut me from his will. I mean it. I hope he doesn’t have a problem with the very subtle, very graceful head chopping in the game.

The video game industry continues to grow very quickly. What are your hopes for games in the future?

Didrik Tollefsen:

I hope there will be room for a wide variety of different genres -- from the narrowest narrow, to the hugest MMO. I would say “more of everything”, basically. I hope companies dare to go new ways instead of sticking to the tried and true formula that might seem the easiest thing to do.

How have things been progressing with Age of Conan? Have you enjoyed working on such a strong IP as Conan?

Didrik Tollefsen:

Indeed! Doing a Conan game has been a dream since I was a teenager and read the comics for the first time. I’ve gotten to know some fantastic, extremely talented people. And we are all doing our part in something that is more than a massively multiplayer online game -- it’s a living breathing, parallel universe! Always changing, never the same. It is truly a unique project.

Is there anything you would like to write to the readers of that we have not spoken about?

Didrik Tollefsen:

Have you ever wondered if there where highly developed civilizations on this planet, before the ice, before the great cataclysm. Before the continents parted? An age undreamed of? Answers to these questions are revealed at It is truly an epic in the making.