The Tower at Tortenna’s story unfolds as you explore a quiet, mysterious city that’s seemingly abandoned by its inhabitants. Tower Team International developed it during the annual three-day DreamHack game jam, and it was picked as the winner out of 171 games. It’s now available for PC and Mac on the indie game store Itch.io and on Game Jolt.
DreamHack Jam’s theme was “apocalypse,” and Tortenna is a peaceful though eerie interpretation of it. You spend most of your time exploring vacant structures and climbing upward into a tower high above an empty city, reading the spines of books and notes that others have left behind. You’re like a ghost, haunting a structure that’s stuck out of time, scattered with both arcane ancient ornaments and modern tools. It’s a slow, quiet game that seems to exalt in its sense of solitude.
After the initial game jam, Tower Team had another two weeks to polish up Tortenna before showcasing it at DreamHack Denver. In addition to building more visual and audio details in the environment, it also added more areas to explore and more story to experience.
“I like to say that we ‘built a tower on chaos’ and so, the two weeks afforded us to tame some of the rough edges of building quite a large tower, with five people, in such a short amount of time,” said Tower Team’s writer and composer Michael Berto in an email to GamesBeat. “The game added in almost [three times] the amount of notes and interactables, as well as a new side-quest-like narrative experience, as well as just generally making everything a much more intuitive and content-deep experience.”
Berto says that the core concept came from lead designer Gareth Damian Martin. Then together, they shaped a story that was heavily inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a surreal novel that describes impossible towns in a conversation between the explorer Marco Polo and Mongol Khagan Kublai Khan. Berto says he was also inspired by the environmental storytelling in games such as Dishonored, BioShock, and Gone Home.
“Our absent protagonist, Constantin Bosch, still has a narrative arc of someone experiencing an apocalypse, but in the time we took to really flesh out the game, so much more was injected into word building around the tower itself,” said Berto.
“When I was first sketching the tower I was thinking a lot about the architecture of hub areas, and the ways in which designers can create spaces that encourage idling and passive exploration,” said Martin. “As the editor of the games and architecture zine Heterotopias, game architecture is something I spend a lot of time thinking about an analyzing, and here I found myself drawing on hubs like Destiny’s Tower, in which I have spent many hours idling, Firelink Shrine from Dark Souls, and also the Hound Pits pub from Dishonored.”
The key thing about all those spaces, Martin says, is that there are so many layers — balconies, mezzanines, courtyards, and stairways. He wanted the main structure in The Tower at Tortenna to convey both the lived-in feeling of being at home as well as the sense that there are secrets to explore in the environment.
None of the five people in Tower Team had ever worked together before Tortenna. They only officially formed Tower Team after the game jam, and now they’re working on a second project. In addition to Berto and Martin, the team is Tom Kitchen, who designed levels and was the 3D modeler; Moshe Linke, who did the architecture modeling and built the levels; and Thomas Newlands, who created the technical art.
“We found a very unique and rare team dynamic that made working together very rewarding and powerful for what we turned our attention to, and thus have formed ‘Tower Team International’ as the five of us and are absolutely actively talking and developing something new together,” said Berto. “Tower Team is now, for all intents and purposes, a new game-making collective.”
“All of us are game makers who work on our own or in small teams,” added Martin. “[Berto] has worked on Where the Goats Are and A Bright Light in the Middle of the Ocean, Tom Kitchen created Emporium and Moshe has built a series of walking sims including Living With The Moonoliths. So while working on the jam was familiar, it was also unusually collaborative, with each of us working in different roles and bouncing off each other’s ideas in surprising ways.”