Exclusive Interview: Andrew Goodale From Northern Lights Gaming
Seeing the Northern Lights is considered to be one of the most incredible experiences in the world, so a slot game developer named after the natural phenomenon has a lot to live up to.
Northern Lights Gaming is a new contender, and with studios in Manchester and Stockholm is looking to make its mark with bold and brave games that deliver an unrivalled player experience.
The company was founded by the same industry veterans that set up the Jadestone Platform, which was later sold to WMS and was used as the foundation for Williams Interactive and later SG Digital.
Today, Northern Lights Gaming has a team of ten full time staff across its two offices and is run by chief executive Andrew Goodale – himself a former SG Digital man.
Find My UK Casino sat down with Andrew to talk more about the studio, its approach to slot development and, most importantly, why you should play its games.
FIND MY UK CASINO (FMUC): CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT NORTHERN LIGHTS GAMING AND YOUR PLANS FOR THE ONLINE CASINO SECTOR?
ANDREW GOODALE (AG): Northern Lights is a small, boutique slot development studio focussed on producing high-end games with a little extra love for the UK and Scandinavian markets.
We’ve put together a dream team that works across our offices in Manchester and Stockholm who have so far designed, developed and launched four games that are live on two platforms (Yggdrasil Masters platform and the SG Digital platform).
This includes Rocky’s Gold, Electric Wilds, Blast Off and our most recent release, Niagara Falls. These games are being enjoyed by thousands of players on hundreds of operator websites such as Foxy Casino, PartyCasino and Videoslots.
At the moment, we are fortunate to have a small portfolio so we have gaps that we know we need to fill from a content perspective and our product roadmap will allow us to do this over the next 12 months via a number of really exciting game launches.
FMUC: IT SOUNDS LIKE A BUSY YEAR AHEAD. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW NORTHERN LIGHTS APPROACHES GAME DEVELOPMENT AND HOW THAT MIGHT DIFFER TO OTHER STUDIOS?
AG: We do things a little bit differently here just because I have learned a lot over the years – I have been working in the sector for more than two decades – and have made my fair share of mistakes over this time. Mistakes that I am keen to avoid with Northern Lights.
In terms of our development process, it starts with everyone in the company coming together, including those at board level. We hold these content kick-offs every six months and use them to form the initial ideas for themes, mechanics, features and so on.
From there, if the idea is strong enough, we create a spec for the game which is then used to create a game design document which includes rough and finished artist sketches, ideas for symbol sets, mood boards, renders of the proposed artwork style and explanations of layouts – basically everything that defines the look and feel of the game.
Once the design document has been signed off, we then build a simulation of the game – a playable version of the slot with the correct game logic. If we like what we see, the game is then moved into full development.
This approach means that we pre-load the development process, but it means fewer iterations further down the line and also means that the whole team has a great understanding of the game from the get-go and can contribute to its development.
FMUC: YOUR PORTFOLIO IS DIVERSE IN TERMS OF THEME AND GAMEPLAY OFFERED, SO WHERE DOES THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR SLOTS COME FROM?
AG: You’d be amazed – inspiration literally comes from anywhere. The important thing, however, is to take whatever inspiration you may have and apply that to the whole of the game and the experience offered to the player.
The player has to be able to follow the game and understand what is going on. If you don’t, you will lose them very quickly.
Take Rocky’s Gold, for example. Inspiration for this slot came from the cult TV show Gold Rush, which I can totally relate to because I imagine finding gold can give you the same feeling I get from playing slots. One moment you have x in the bank and then all of a sudden, a big win lands.
Then you build an idea from there and with that theme it was pretty easy, in fact the hardest part was to come up with a character for the game that isn’t normally associated with slots that relates to gold mining.
FMUC: IS THERE A PLACE YOU GO TO IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING TO FIND INSPIRATION OR TO MOVE AN EARLY IDEA FROM CONCEPT TO SOMETHING MORE SOLID?
AG: When we are at the initial stage of an idea and we are trying to find that “spark” to bring to the group to help take the concept to the next stage, I tend to work from home. This helps me to defocus from everyday business tasks and focus on that one thing.
When working from home, I can get my head around the flow and the gameplay quite quickly and make a decision as to whether the idea will work or not, and what, if any, changes to the early concept need to be made. This may be a little unconventional, but it works for me.
FMUC: ARE THERE ANY CHARACTERISTICS THAT MARK YOUR SLOT GAMES OUT FROM OTHERS IN THE MARKET?
AG: Our games are always created for a reason and we never go for the easy win. This requires looking at what’s happening in the market, what we think is missing and what we think works in terms of delivering an entertaining and rewarding player experience.
Northern Lights is at the point where we are building out our portfolio, so we need a good mix of games across the board and this means that designs will vary widely. In addition, we have gone to great lengths to keep desktop layouts for desktop and mobile for mobile.
On mobile, for example, it is important for the game to accommodate both portrait and landscape play, so we work hard to ensure our slots look great and play well in both modes.
FMUC: WHAT ABOUT GAME FEATURES – DO YOUR SLOTS OFFER SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT?
AG: We like to take existing features and give them a twist. This means that players get the familiarity of playing slots with wilds, free spins and so on but with something extra that makes them sit up and take notice. Of course, we tailor this to specific markets and players.
In Electric Wilds, for example, the Lightening Overprint feature will strike chord with “old school” players that will recognise the matrix from the hugely popular traditional slot machines found in pubs up and down the UK. We simply brought it up to date and online.
FMUC: LET’S CHAT ABOUT YOUR LATEST SLOT RELEASE, NIAGARA FALLS. I THINK IT IS A VISUAL MASTERPIECE WHILE STILL DELIVERING A THRILLING EXPERIENCE. HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE THIS?
AG: As you can see, I am smiling here as the design has spilt people. The game was deliberately made to look like a retro slot from the 1940s with hand-drawn symbols, a funky reel spin and a pressed metal surround reminiscent of the one arm bandits found in an American speakeasy.
In that respect, I think we nailed it completely. What it isn’t is a fully-rendered beautiful piece of art that has all the modern-day trappings, but I am ok with that. You have to give confidence to the artists that this is the right path for the game, have the conviction and stick to it. I love it.
FMUC: SOME OF YOUR OTHER SLOTS HAVE A BIT OF A RETRO FEEL TO THEM – I’M THINKING PARTICULARLY OF BLAST OFF HERE. IS THIS YOUR HOUSE STYLE?
AG: Not really. It has been intentional on those games and if we see that they are popular with players then of course we will look at that style again. Although the next game we are releasing will be very different from the “old-school” look and feel of Niagara Falls.
I mean, everyone loves to play a retro slot once in a while but for a game studio you need to be careful that you combine the traditional look and style with mechanics that counter the simplicity and deliver a modern player experience.
I think a lot of the enjoyment is that retro slots are normally very easy to play but in making them easy to play you can make them quite niche. That’s why we proceed with caution, but I still believe there is always place for well-designed retro slots with compelling gameplay.
FMUC: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM NORTHERN LIGHTS IN THE COMING MONTHS? ANY EXCLUSIVES YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
AG: We are looking to have our games more widely distributed and to make more players aware of our growing portfolio and the huge entertainment value our slots provide. We are working through our roadmap and already have sims built for the games we plan to launch later in the year.
What’s more, we have some major announcements to make but you’ll have to watch this space for those. It’s busy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.