Interview by Suzanne Ashton
Here we interview Nomi Bontegard, one of the biggest talents behind the largest teen horse adventure video game, Star Stable.
Hailing from Axvall in Sweden, Nomi Bontegard was discovered by the Star Stable Music record label, which is part of Star Stable Entertainment (which boasts over 25 million registered users across 180 countries), where she works as a 3D game artist and animator modelling, designing, and creating assets for the game.
At the beginning of December 2022, Nomi performed at the Sweden International Horse Show in front of an audience of 14,000, the biggest performance of her career to date.
In this interview, Nomi opens up about what it felt like to perform in front of such a large audience, including her preparation and more about the performance itself. Nomi later delves into her life as Star Stable, talks about game dynamics, and opens up about her own interests in horses.
- You performed at the Sweden International Horse Show, can you tell us a little more about the performance and how it went?
It was an amazing experience! As a teenager, I dreamt about riding in the big arenas at horse shows, and during the performance, that dream came true. I got to ride in on a 13-year-old grey P.R.E Stallion called Aragorn. He looked like a horse from a fairy tale with his long white mane. There were 14,000 people in the crowd, so I was a little nervous since I haven’t performed on such a big stage before. The crowd was so amazing; every time I waved, I got huge applause back!
- How did you feel leading up to the performance? Were you nervous, and is this something you’re used to doing?
I’m not used to performing for such a big crowd. The nervousness came and went randomly depending on what I was thinking about. When I thought about the stuff that would go well, I wasn’t nervous, but when I started thinking about what could possibly go wrong, I got nervous.
- How did you prepare, which songs did you perform, and what was your favourite one?
I was in Spain for 10 days, and I came back just in time for the rehearsals at Friends Arena. Before my vacation, I also went into the office to rehearse my body language. I prepared by relaxing and disconnecting for a little while. But then, when I came back to Sweden to the snow chaos, I was fully charged and ready to roll. I sang the songs in the car on the way to the stables; I met the makeup artist and the stylist and prepared the outfit. I got to know the horse I was going to ride on during the entrance of the performance.
I sang “Ride With Us” and my favourite song “Fire”.
- How did your musical career begin?
I’ve been singing ever since I was very young because of my parents, who are very interested in music. We used to sing at home, so it was an interest that has been with me from the very beginning. When I was 13 years old, I started working with different music studios and then it has just kept on going from there.
- Who, or what, are your musical influences?
Big artists like Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande. But also bands like Faun and Big Money (a small band from Sweden that my dad used to play in the car). I especially love their song “Snowman”.
- What part of the performance did you enjoy most and why?
The entrance, of course. To ride on a beautiful stallion to the soundtrack of South Hoof Penisula, which is one of my favourite soundtracks in Star Stable.
- Where do you plan on taking your music career in the future?
I’m working with Star Stable’s music label and hope that that collaboration will develop more. We had a band in the Eurovision Song Contest last year, so maybe that could be a possibility for me sometime. I also want to make music more continuous and find more collaborations with musicians who want the same. I also want to record some Christmas songs and other ballads that I have and collab with people who can play classic instruments. The songs are very dreamy, magical, and timeless, and the world deserves to hear them.
- You currently work as a 3D game artist and animator modelling, designing, and creating assets for Star Stable, can you tell us a little more about this?
Working with game development is so much fun! It comes naturally to me to create horses and creatures in a computer that can be part of a big open world. It comes with its technical challenges sometimes, and I always learn new ways to improve my workflow. My goal with the horses is to make them as personal and individual as possible. The animations are inspired by real-life horses, not just how they move – but also how they yawn, blink and show different emotions with their body language. We study horse behaviour a lot to make the horses feel as much like real-life horses as possible.
My life is surrounded by horses, from the moment I wake up I’m staring at digital horses all day long until the afternoon when I go out to my own horse, Runestone – an Irish cob youngster.
- How did your career/opportunity with Star Stable come about?
When I was little, my favourite game to play was Star Stable, and when I found out the studio was from Sweden, I got the idea that maybe I could work there someday! Work with games, that sounded cool. So I went to a game development school in Stockholm for many years. I fought hard, I fell asleep on the school bench and was there almost 24/7 to learn all the software and combine my creative veins with technical software like Maya and zbrush.
- What are your external interests in equestrianism?
I’ve been around horses since I grew up. Our home was surrounded by stables, and therefore I couldn’t resist interacting with them more closely. My family wasn’t so interested in horses, so getting my own horse was my life goal ever since I was little. And finally, after getting hired by Star Stable, I could save up enough money to buy my own first horse. I named him Runestone after my favourite horse in the game. My goals with him are to have an adventure horse to go for hacks in the woods. I’m doing trick training, reward-based training and western riding mixed with some all-round. But the main focus is trick training and western at the moment. So we’ll see! It depends on what Runie thinks is most fun in the end.
- How do you feel Star Stable fits in with future goals?
I think it fits in nicely. Since my life is all about animals, horses and creativity it’s a perfect mix.
- What is your favourite musical piece in the Star Stable game and is there a meaning behind it?
My song, Fire. It has a lot of meaning behind it; it’s a song about anxiety, doubting yourself but still trying to fight to reach your dreams. The song is a lullaby/folk/pop song about a little girl and a troll walking in a land of fire. The troll is a metaphor for something old, wise, and ancient, almost like an old soul. While the child represents the young version of yourself, your inner fragile child. Together they struggle through the fire to reach their dreams.
- How do you feel the characters fit in with equality? Are there any further changes coming as a result of player feedback?
The characters will be completely updated, and we have a whole team working solely on that project. We continuously gather and consider player feedback. That’s very important and valuable for us. We want anyone to be able to play the game and feel represented. Everyone can play the game, and with a wide variety of hairstyles and body shapes that are coming, the character creation will be a lot more versatile than it’s ever been in Star Stable.
- My daughter, an avid player of the game, says her favourite horse is the Star Stable Arabian; which is yours and why?
Oh that’s so fun! I actually made the Arabian horse among others. My horses so far has been the Jorvik Wild horse, and it’s foals, the Gotland pony, Heidrun, The Arabian, The American paint horse, Appaloosa, The Haflinger and now the new Tennessee Walker. My favourite out of these is still the Jorvik Wild, it was the first horse I made for SSO, so it will always have a special spot on the favourite list, but it was also so fun to create a breed that didn’t exist in real life. The horse got lots of extra detailed work on the facial expressions with a new face rig.
- If you were talking to someone who had never played the game before, how would you describe it to them?
Star Stable is an open-world adventure game full of missions where you get to ride on your own horses, play with friends and live out your own equestrian dream. The world has its own spirit in a way, it got magic, dark powers, kindness, horses and other cute animals. Everything I would ask for in a game.
- Do you play the game yourself?
I used to play everyday. I went for hacks in the woods with my club or went to riding lessons in the game. And sometimes, I still take my own Irish Cob Runie for a hack inside the game or give him some digital carrots. So, I don’t play as often as before, but it’s good to play sometimes to see what the players want and stay connected to the product you develop.