Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II – On Location at The Vast Iceland Setting

MALIK PRINCE: Games in this podcast range from E to M.


MALIK PRINCE: We are here to talk all things Senua’s Saga– Hellblade II

And I have two amazing people who worked on the game

here to help me through this because they are the real stars.

I have Lara Durham and Dan Attwell,

who are going to talk about the game, talk about what we

experienced here in Iceland, and actually just be the experts.

How are you all doing today, by the way?


Yeah, really good.

MALIK PRINCE: We have just endured

two days of extremely long treks across Iceland

and it has been amazing.

And I got to start with you, Lara.

I think that this has been an amazing journey.

And so I’m curious, what is your role here at Ninja Theory?

So I was the scriptwriter for Senua’s Saga–

Hellblade II, and I also did directed the performance


We have a lot of questions posed to you

because this game is like such a narrative experience

that we’re going to come to you about a lot of that stuff.

Well, yes, but you can come to Dan as well.



Because everybody on the team is

involved in telling that story, so we all know.

Yeah, you’re in there.

Well, speaking of you, Dan, what’s

your role here at Ninja Theory?

DAN ATTWELL: So I’m Environment Art Director.

I’m also one of the creative direction team as well.


And it’s very obvious why you chose Iceland,

and we’ll get into that in just a little bit.

But Lara, can you set it up?

For folks who may be jumping into this game

for the first time and maybe haven’t played the first one,

can you explain a little bit about Senua’s journey

in the first game and where that leads us in the sequel?

ANNOUNCER: Yes, of course.

So Senua is a Pictish warrior from Orkney,

and she sees and hears the world differently from other people.

Her father made that feel like a curse,

so she retreated from the world.

But she met a young man who not only opened

her heart to the world, but also taught her how to be a warrior.

And when he is killed in a rage by Viking slavers,

she sets out to free his soul from hell.

And that’s her experience in the first game.

She’s very traumatized and buffeted by her experiences.

By the time we come to the beginning of the second game,

she’s found a kind of peace with her experiences.

She’s found some agency.

So when the Vikings come back to her village,

she makes a promise to Dillion that nobody else will

suffer like he did and she will stop the slave trade

at its source.

And that promise is what leads her to Iceland.

Oh, that is so badass, if I can say that.

From your perspective, that journey you mentioned,

the words you use were like “by the time we get to the second


How important is it to have that character arc and that character

development, where you’re building a story?

It’s really important to us that we don’t press

the reset button on Senua.

The events of the first game changed her,

and that has to remain true.

That has to stay true.

For her character to be convincing and authentic

and feel real, she has to change.

She has to grow.

So in the second game–

the first game was very insular.

It was a very personal journey for her.

In this second game, we’re taking her out into the world

and she’ll meet other people and be changed by them

and change them, and it is really a continuation

of that journey for her.

I love that, and we’re excited to see how she tackles it.

Now, Dan, we are in Iceland and a lot of what you’ve mentioned–

and we’ve been here with creators

and we’ve been talking to creators.

And Dan, I think you set up the reason

we’re here in Iceland so well.

The first game wasn’t necessarily in a real location

and now we are.

What are some of the benefits that affords you

and some of the things you have to consider?

DAN ATTWELL: Yeah, so basing on real locations

and capturing those real locations

kind of offers us the opportunity

to increase immersion.

Because we’re using real world reference and things

like that, real world locations, it

means that you kind of don’t question

what you see on other screens.

So there’s a groundedness or a believability

to it, which is fitting perfectly

with how Senua was interacting, and now in this game,

compared to the first one.


We were actually talking the first night

at dinner about how exactly what you said

is true of so many games, even some of the biggest

games in the world.

If you think GTA V, which is not necessarily

Los Angeles, but the reason why I think

it resonated with so many people is because it

is a version of Los Angeles.

And I think it’s interesting, and we’ll

get into it as we go into each location, some of the liberties

that you had to take with each location,

but also just how true to each location and the elements

that you kept from each location as we went through.

So on the first day, we went to Djúpalón,

and that was an experience.

Everyone knows who watches this podcast knows I’m a city boy.

I grew up in New York City.

So that is the furthest thing from New York City.

So when I was there, we got there.

It was kind of overcast.

And I was like, oh, I hope it starts raining.

Because I feel like this game, it shines in the rain.

I mean, we can talk about how beautiful the game is, just

generally speaking, but I think in the rain and everything.

But yeah, that location, can you tell us

a little bit, Lara, about the benefits of going there?

LARA DERHAM: We have shown that location before as part

of a gameplay trailer we released,

which shows Senua’s encounter with the sea giant.


LARA DERHAM: So we wanted to take everyone there,

just to show how we’ve created recreated that location in game.

It’s a hugely important moment for Senua.

She can’t give too much away in spoilers.

MALIK PRINCE: Of course.

Of course.

LARA DERHAM: But she meets a character there

who’s really, really important to her.

That location, I think going there really

inspired the creation of the sea giant and that encounter.

Because when you go there and it’s such a stark landscape.

There’s all these huge rocks crouched there, like giants.


LARA DERHAM: And the sea is such a presence.

It seemed really fitting to create an encounter

like in that location.

Yeah, and a few things there.

One, I just remember the reveal of that.

Everyone remembers where they were when

they saw that gameplay trailer.

And I just think there’s so much going

on from the graphical fidelity of that moment

to the urgency of that moment for Senua trying to run away.

Everything was so great.

But I love what you mentioned about the sea

being sort of a presence there, because that is what I felt.

You almost felt every wave crashing

into rock in your chest, and I feel

like that was awesome to see.

Now, from your perspective, Dan, when

you’re going to build that and you go onto this beach

and you see all of these different elements,

from the black rocks to the impressive rock formations

to the sea, what is the first thing that

comes to your mind of how you’re going

to recreate that in the game?



Well, yeah, basically that.

How are we going to do this?

Well, yeah, in terms of the process–

because we knew we wanted to have

a representation of the location as faithful as possible,

so we used satellite data to get the topology of the land.

And then we eventually used drone-based photogrammetry

on top of that to get a higher resolution.

And then we went in there and we took

scans of all the different rocks and things like that

and kind of recreated them back in the game engine.


So it was a multi-layered thing.

And that location, in general, was one of the first test bits

that we did as well.


DAN ATTWELL: And I think, as well, parts of that story

came out of being there anyway, that inspired

us to do that chunk of the story as well.

Now the cave, though, where the sea creature was

wasn’t there.


Just for any of the locations, but this one specifically,

what were some of the–

you’re making a game, right?

So you have this place that you’re taking inspiration from

and then you have to take it and make a game.

So I’m assuming that cave came into it,

like, how do we make it so that the player walks into it

and finds something?

I mean, if you look at the area that we placed it,

you can kind of imagine how that headland was

connected to some of the sea stacks that are out there.

What we also did, as well, is we took–

there’s a location further up around the peninsula,

where there’s kind of a sea cave there,

and we used that as an inspiration.

We scanned that, as well, and we kind of

transplanted into that area so it kind of feels integrated.

But yeah.

And in terms of how the narrative plays out,

where the key beats are, and things like that,

there’s things that we have to remove.

There’s things that we have to add.

But then in essence, we want to keep the feeling of the location

to be quite faithful, though.

MALIK PRINCE: 100%, and I think you all did a great job just

from that gameplay trailer.

I can’t wait to actually jump in.

But Lara, from the perspective of someone

who obviously is a scriptwriter, but also,

you oversaw the motion capture, we got the chance

to hike some of those hills, and I quickly

realized how out of shape I am.

So that was great.

Thank you for that.

But then one thing that I kept thinking in my head is like,

not only is Senua battling any foes that she may come across,

but it’s really she’s battling the terrain,

and there’s the physical, I guess,

fortitude needed to get over the terrain.

What was it like capturing those kinds of scenes, I guess?

So we tried to be as 1:1 as possible with our motion


So that means if we have to do a tricky traversal sequence,

then we recreate it on stage and have Molina,

our amazing actress, actually make her way through that

and record that as a sequence, and then

that’s what we use in the game.

So you really have that fidelity of performance

that adds to the immersion.

We have a really, really talented team

of people who make that happen.

MALIK PRINCE: Yeah, and it was so evident.

As we’re going, we’ve only talked about one location,

but I think one thing that maybe players

have noticed from the trailers and just from the gameplay,

in general, is just the mastery, the level of mastery

that you all have in building these.

The attention to detail is just impressive.

But I want to move on to the second location,

and help me with this name pronunciation.

I am a city boy, remember.


Yeah, pretty close.

Pretty close?

OK, cool.


I’ll take that.

How would you say it?

So that specific area, Reykjanestá.

MALIK PRINCE: Reykjanestá.

DAN ATTWELL: There you go.

MALIK PRINCE: So I wasn’t that close,

but I appreciate you giving me credit.

That’s where we went on day two.

There’s so much to talk about in that space,

but I think you did a great job of setting up

that that’s Senua’s landing point as she’s coming

to the southern tip of Iceland.

What is the other significance of that location for Senua?

LARA DERHAM: It’s the first time she

encounters this strange island that she’s come to.

She doesn’t know where she’s going.

She doesn’t know what this is.

So she turns up and, well, you’ve seen it.

We had nice sunshine when we were there,

but if you imagine a night thunderstorm

with driving rain and a furious sea,

you can see how imposing and terrifying that would feel.

So it’s really quite a confronting and–

what’s the word I want– like dynamic scene for her

to stumble upon.

MALIK PRINCE: And I think in this game,

players will find a lot of those situations

where you thought Senua had gone through everything she could

possibly go through and then here’s

this new experience for her.

And that’s so cool.

And then, Dan, from your perspective,

when I went to that location, there

were like pops of green on some of the rocks and then the sea


But that place also had what seemed like the lava rocks that

were more recently placed there because it’s like more active,


As you’re building each location,

what are some of the things that you’re looking at

to build out that spot to give it its own identity,

obviously, outside of the inspiration that’s there?


Well, I mean, the locations that we’ve picked

are all quite distinct anyway.


DAN ATTWELL: And then we lean into those,

in terms of the lighting and the weather

and things that we put in the first level.

It’s very much representative of Senua’s mental state

at that point and it pushes the narrative

in a certain direction.

So when you’re going through that,

we wanted it to be oppressive.

We wanted to increase the bleakness of it

to really hammer home what–

it’s kind of dawned on her that she didn’t

know where she was going.

She doesn’t know where she is.

It’s just all pretty overwhelming at that point.


It was just stunning.

I feel like I’m running out of adjectives to describe

the scenes in Iceland.

I’m just like, people are going to think I’m a broken record.

But it is just so overwhelmingly beautiful

that you just can’t help but be awestruck.

Our next stop was Krysuvik.

And Lara, you told a great story.

And I think one of the things that I mentioned

at the very beginning of this entire experience

was the decision to go to Iceland seemed multifaceted.

And it is the beautiful location,

but it’s also it’s lore.

And she told a great lore story about Krysuvik,

if you don’t mind sharing with the audience.

No, I can.

So the name Krysuvik comes from, it means “Kyrsa’s Bay.”


LARA DERHAM: Krysa was supposedly

a witch who lived there.

And her sister, in some versions of the story, who was called–

I might pronounce this wrong.

I’ve only seen it written down–



LARA DERHAM: She lived nearby in what is now Herdisarvik.

And they had a little dispute over where

the boundary between their two settlements was,

and each of the settlements had very good fishing spots.

So one day they met.

And they’re still angry with each other because

of this boundary dispute and they started trading insults,

and those insults turned into curses.

So Krysa would say I will curse your fishing grounds so

that all your trouts turn into fir trout

and grow fir and become inedible.

And Herdis would say, I curse your fishing spot so that

all your trouts into anglerfish.

And they got angrier and angrier with each other

until the rage was so overwhelming that they exploded.

And they also took out a shepherd

just haplessly wandering by.

Somewhere around there– I haven’t

been able to find it– but somewhere around there,

there are three piles of stones that represent.

I found them.

No, I didn’t.


So when you hear those stories, what

do you pull from that to apply to Senua’s Saga?

LARA DERHAM: We’ve tried with every location

to ground what we’re doing with it in some kind of connection

back to the folklore and back to the land.

Maybe in an abstract way.

It may be in a specific way.

But we always wanted it to have that kind of link to the land.

So we took that figure of Krysa and we

took feminine, monstrous energy from that,

and then we used that to create the settlement of Freyslake.

Frey comes from Freya, the goddess, feminine goddess

of Norse mythology.

And then the [NON-ENGLISH] refers to the hot springs that

are in that area.

And so the kind of bubbling fury of the hot springs,

the rage of the witches, and the feminine energy

becomes very slick.

So that was how we kind of came up with the name.

And again, not to give too much away, but there

are other links to the narrative.

MALIK PRINCE: Yeah, 100%.

And then, Dan, there were multiple things

that I noticed about that place.

The smell was one.

Very sulfuric, which is fine.

It was great, you know, the steam coming from that place.

When you’re building a game, especially from an environment

perspective, do you see places like that

that are so far different than any other place

as moments to be like, OK, I’m going

to take a little bit of creative freedom?

or do you just go straight forward

and say, this place is so vastly different from some

of the other places that we visited that we want to stay

true to the essence of it?

DAN ATTWELL: A bit of both, really.

I mean, yeah, because we had to take some artistic liberties

in the layout of that anyway, because sticking a settlement

right on top of it, it’s a bit of a weird place

to put a settlement.

MALIK PRINCE: Yeah, a little bit.


DAN ATTWELL: But it feeds off what you were just saying

about the ideas behind it.

And then, yeah, we’ve accentuated

some of that that was there, with the bubbling mud and things

like that.

We’ve got areas within it that are even more kind of volatile

and things.

We dial some stuff up.

We dial some stuff down.


Will players, if they touch the water, will they like get burned

or something.

Because we were warned by the bus driver,

do not test out the water.

It is hot.

No, you can’t.


That’s confirmed.


What are some of the encounters that Senua

was going to have in Krysuvik?

LARA DERHAM: So Krysuvik is where we first

encounter the droga.


LARA DERHAM: Which you will have seen in some of the trailers.

They’re based really strongly on the droga

from the Icelandic sagas, specifically– sorry

to get a bit specific, but there’s

a saga called The Tale of Grettir The Strong.

And in that, Grettir fights a droga.

And the Norse idea of the undead was really, really compelling

to us.

For them, the people that came back from the dead

were not spirits.

Not ethereal, ghostly spirits.

They’re very, very real, very physical, and very violent

and very dangerous.

So in this saga, the shepherd who comes back from the dead,

he roams around attacking livestock, attacking people,

and killing them.

And the ones that he kills, they turn into droga, too.

So there’s an element of contagion

to it, as well as this really violent physical presence.

So that’s what informs our depiction of the droga

and crucifix, where you will first,

and Senua will first, encounter them.

MALIK PRINCE: All right, next up on the trip was Rauðhólar.

I don’t know what I thought of that place in the sense of it

was very clear, the striking red on those rocks.

And actually, Dan, I’ll start with you on this one.

As you know, we’re in 2024.

You see this location.

You’re like, I want to put this in the game.

But you realize the game is set in 10th century Iceland.

And again, going back to the fact

that you have to make a game, what are elements there

that you change and you say, let’s go and–

how do you make it a game?


Well, number one is the vista that you

can see when you’re there, because obviously, if you look

out beyond it, you can see Reykjavik

and there’s a motorway entrance and stuff like that.

MALIK PRINCE: It wouldn’t work.

DAN ATTWELL: Yeah, exactly.

So then and obviously, again, it’s

about dialing everything up.

So we wanted to expand that out.

We’ve accentuated lots of it.

We’ve changed the elevation.

It’s going to give you a really cool opening shot as you come in

and then give you that sense of being lost within it when

you get to the other end.

Yeah, there’s lots of things that you

have to tweak, definitely, to make it feel

compelling as a gameplay space.

I have loved this.

And like I mentioned, this entire experience in Iceland

has been really eye-opening.

I’m glad that we’ve gotten to take the viewers along

for this because I don’t know that people quite understand

what it takes to make a game.

But not only make a game, but make

a game that takes a location and builds upon it,

takes its influence and lots of points of references

and builds it into the game.

And then to what you work on, which is script and everything,

you also have to consider how a character grows

in that space and their encounters, and all of it’s

been great.

And then Lara, I want to pose this question to you.

Because as you build this game, as I mentioned at the top,

with the mastery that you all have gone through in many

different facets– we haven’t even gotten to how great

the game looks or the sound design, the binaural audio,

all of those elements–

what do you hope players take away from this?

LARA DERHAM: What I really want is

for people who love cinema, who played the first game

and maybe saw something of themselves in her,

I want them to feel that we’ve continued

her journey in a way that makes them feel as immersed and as

invested in Senua as they did from the first game.

But I would also like people who haven’t played the first game

to become invested in Senua’s journey, become

immersed in her world.

MALIK PRINCE: Yeah, and I think they’ll do just that.

Just again, from the trailers, we’ve

seen that level of dedication to her character,

and I know when we get to play the full thing,

it’s going to be even more evident.

And then, Dan, what do you hope that players take away from what

you’ve built off of Iceland?

It is a beautiful land and you all went to extreme lengths

to make sure it was faithful, but also tweaked it in a way

that it makes sense for a game.

What do you hope players can understand

from this entire video or the process of making that?

DAN ATTWELL: Well, I mean, yeah.

So the sense of journey was really important for us to have

that beginning, middle and end, have that real roller coaster

of emotions and locations.

I’d hope that when people come away from it,

they feel like they’ve kind of gone on a journey,

too, like they’ve experienced it.

It’s still pretty intimate.

The first game was super kind of insular, like we talked about,

and very introspective.

And obviously, this one, she’s following other people

and she’s meeting other people and stuff like that.

But it’s still very, very personal,

and I think that the way that we’ve

tried to represent the locations hopefully amplifies that.


I think players will definitely recognize and appreciate

that cohesion between source of inspiration and the game,

how it plays with Senua, and all those elements together.

Just from this trip alone, I have a new appreciation for what

it takes to make a game.

I have a new appreciation for what

it takes to build a character that has depth.

And I know that the players everywhere, when they experience

it, they’re going to walk away saying that this is something

special and it’s something that, quite frankly,

if we’re being honest, only a team like Ninja Theory

can build.

You all have done amazing work and I

can’t wait for players to play.

So once again, a reminder that Senua’s Saga–

Hellblade II is out on May 21st on Xbox and PC, and of course,

Day One on Xbox Game Pass.

Thank you so much, Lara and Dan.

Thanks for stopping by.

Actually, thank me for stopping by in Iceland,

I guess we would say.


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