Introducing: Lee Williams
December 8, 2023
Aside from the main crew at Iron Gate, Valheim also benefits from the contribution of some talented freelancers. We want to give them a chance to introduce themselves and their work, and for you to get to know them a bit better!
Last time you met the artist Mats Minnhagen, and now it's time to peek into the mind of the man behind a lot of Valheim's story: Lee Williams.
Who are you? What’s your background?
I'm Lee Williams, a writer and games developer from the Isle of Wight. I've worked on a wide range of games, from Fall Guys to The Return of the Obra Dinn. I'm currently making a game called Cryptmaster, as well as continuing to write new lore for Valheim.
How did you get into writing, both in general and for video games specifically?
I started as a farm labourer and then I was an electricity linesman, a security guard and a tour guide. After this I taught English in rural China for about 5 years, moved back to the UK, got a degree and had a whole career in teaching and Special Education, before eventually striking off on another tangent and becoming a games writer… To be clear, I'm pretty sure this isn't the usual or optimal route into games writing!
However, throughout all that time I read voraciously and for many years I wrote and published short stories. I kind of drifted into games writing when I helped out on a few indie projects that really interested me and it gradually grew to the point where I could make a living from it.
Do you play a lot of Valheim yourself to get inspiration? Do you have other things that inspire you?
Yes, I've played and still play a lot of Valheim. The world is a lovely one to spend time in and I wrote most of the runestones with the game open on another monitor, just idling in the scenery where I wanted those runestones to be placed. A good number of them are written by a Viking called Ulf and he is my character in the game – his experiences in Valheim are drawn from my own bumbling efforts to survive.
Aside from the game itself, my principal inspirations for the writing in Valheim are literary. I love the Poetic Edda and the sagas and I was happy for an excuse to read and reread them as I worked. Anyone else who is keen on Norse literature will probably spot quite a few nods and references throughout the game.
I wrote most of the text for the game during the first lockdown, in a very rural area, so I also had plenty of time for a woolier sort of research. I took walks along the cliffs, swam in the sea, dug a pit oven with my sons and even attempted, with very limited success, to cook an authentic Viking meal. I did everything I could to feel like a real Viking, short of burning down a monastery.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?
I'm a great procrastinator and writing doesn't always come easily. I can have a blank document open all day. Walking helps. Sticking to a strict schedule sometimes helps. Being away from internet access DEFINITELY helps.
When I do start writing, I usually write a lot in a short space of time. I'm an overly wordy writer during the first draft but I've learned to be a really brutal editor of my own work. I never need to go back and expand on something I've written but I almost always need to cut it down. I can take a thousand-word piece of writing and chop it down to three or four hundred words very easily. Most of the runestones and dreams in Valheim went that way. If I find myself struggling to chop out something that I think is especially clever or witty then that's usually a sure sign that it has to go!
What piece of lore that you have come up with for Valheim (so far) are you most proud of?
I'm proud of the general premise, tacking a tenth world onto Yggdrasil that basically gives us licence to do what we please with the story! That was an accidental masterstroke that has made everything else much easier.
Of the runestones and dreams, my favourites are the quieter ones, like the mother who remembers her child only as a phantom weight in the crook of her arm.
Is there anything you specifically like about working with Valheim? Is there anything that’s particularly challenging?
I like the freedom of it. It's not a story game and the writing does not impact directly on the gameplay, so I have a free hand to write what I think best fits the mood. Short, disconnected vignettes like those found on the runestones are really fun and liberating to write.
To be honest, the challenges particular to Valheim were all things I embraced. There is no dialogue, almost no NPCs, no fleshed-out player character, no quests, and no urgent central storyline to interfere with the sense of exploring at your own rate. These all place limits on the writing, but limits can be nice!
If you were a viking, what would be your role in a village?
I think I'd just sort of float. The other Vikings would assume I was doing something but they wouldn't always know what. Somebody would say: "Where's Lee? I thought he was helping with the goats?" Then somebody else might say: "Oh, he told me he had to check the boundary fence." Probably I'm just having a nap somewhere. I'd see my role as mostly supervisory.