From Iceland — Exploring The Island Of Winds

Exploring The Island Of Winds

Published June 26, 2024

Exploring The Island Of Winds
Photo by
Joana Fontinha for The Reykjavík Grapevine

Parity’s ambitious adventure game casts a distinctly Icelandic spell

Iceland’s bleakly picturesque landscape has become a popular backdrop in the last two decades. From Hollywood sci-fi, to crime literature, music videos and prestige TV, the country’s gleaming glaciers and gnarled lavascapes have become ubiquitous in the popular imagination.

The same cannot be said for video games — the interactive medium that has become, by some measures, the world’s most popular form of entertainment. To date, only a handful of major games have turned to Iceland’s wild nature as their setting.

Reykjavík-based game studio Parity is seeking to change that with Island Of Winds — an ambitious adventure game set in a distinctly Icelandic wilderness. “We initially thought of making a game set in Russia,” says María Guðmundsdóttir, the game’s creative director and Parity’s CEO. “But we decided to work with what we know and set it in Iceland.”

Reimagining Iceland

The game’s world was originally based on Ísafjarðardjúp in the Westfjords, but Parity quickly found the topography impractical. “We tried using a height map of that area, but it’s so steep, there wasn’t enough surface area to explore,” María laughs. “You’d be clinging onto the mountainside like a sheep. So we decided to use different parts of Iceland as inspiration.”

Instead, the game’s seven biomes became more of an Iceland mood board. “There’s a glacier lagoon, a lava area and a fjörd,” says María. “One area is based on the Ásbyrgi canyon, reworked to better guide the player. We’ve also used basalt and black sand and sea stacks, like at Dyrhólaey.”

Learning new spells

Set in the 17th Century, the game tells the tale of Brynhildur, a witch who returns to the fjord one day to find her clan is nowhere to be found. “She sets out on a journey to find them,” says María. “You’ll learn spells and skills, and de-hex cursed areas. It’s a balance of story, exploration, puzzles and spellcasting.”

While the game’s story is fiction, it touches on some gruesome chapters of Iceland’s history. “We thought about making a game set in the Viking era, or in Norse mythology, but those have been used elsewhere,” María explains. “So we settled on the witch hunt era of the 1600s. It was a harsh time. There was the law of ‘big judgement’ — you could kill someone for having a baby out of wedlock and drown someone for being a witch. Island of Winds is about healing and helping, but it’s set against this dark time.”

Empathy encounters

Like most third person action-adventure games, Island of Winds’ gameplay includes combat — in this case with creatures from Iceland’s rich mythology roaming the land. But the game has an unusual approach to killing enemies.

“Life at this time was harsh, so the player can use spells to kill hostile creatures,” María says. “But you aren’t rewarded for it. When an animal’s health is down to 20%, they will stop attacking you and return to their home. You have the option to deal the final blow right there, in front of their offspring. It’s a brutal choice to make. We call these ‘empathy encounters.’”

The same is true of the bosses found in each of the seven areas. Rather than facing them in battle, the player engages with them in different ways. “In every level there’s a five-stage boss encounter,” says María. “But you help them, rather than fighting them.”

Off the beaten track

The game also contains a range of optional activities and side-quests that encourage the player to explore all the corners of its world. “It’s a linear game, with high level missions to complete and open the next level,” says María. “But there’s a lot of secondary content that lets you go off the beaten track. You can find letters that people have left behind and there’s an artefact system where you can examine objects related to the era and get extra treats for exploring.”

The game’s gentle exploration and empathic approach to confrontation was designed to create a more flowing, thoughtful gameplay experience. “When designing these systems, we thought about how the player will feel and how the game will sit with them afterwards,” says María.

Asked what she thinks players might feel specifically, María pauses, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. “I hope they will feel a little bit of emptiness when the game is over,” she finally says. “I think there’s a balance of sadness and happiness. There’s some sadness in Brynhildur’s story, that you will learn by playing. And I hope that, in the end, people will find closure.”


Island Of Winds is planned for an early 2025 release. You can wishlist the game now on Steam and find more info at islandofwinds.com.


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