David Braben Inteview: LostWinds
Posted by Darren Calvert
David Braben, founder of Frontier Developments and the man famous for bringing the world such legendary videogames as Elite and Virus, recently gave us the honour of taking part in an exclusive interview.
In it, he talks about Frontier's recent WiiWare release LostWinds and also gives a little insight into the production of the game, the prospect of a sequel and what he thinks of the other WiiWare titles that are competing for your Wii points.
So without any further ado, here's the interview in full:
WiiWare World: How did the concept for LostWinds come about?
David Braben: We have a forum within Frontier called ‘Game of the Week’ where anyone can put forward game ideas. This causes a great deal of debate, criticism and argument, with many improvements, problems being raised and solved - we have likened the process to dangling a leg of lamb into a piranha-filled stream: the water boils for a while, but then whatever is left must be pretty tough.
The idea for LostWinds dates from the time that the Wii was first announced privately to developers, when we were brainstorming design ideas that made good use of the Wii controls – LostWinds is one of many strong ideas we have built up over time, and it gathered a number of very enthusiastic internal advocates.
Steve Burgess, one of Frontier’s designers, was watching the trees and leaves from the window on a windy day. He remembers thinking about how many ways the wind shapes and manipulates different things within the world, and if only there was some way to become the wind in game. He then applied this train of thought to the Wii controller.
So the game was designed with this in mind, the whole point of the game is to allow the player to use the Wii control system in a coherent, intuitive, satisfying way with no compromises.
As time went by and we saw the games available for Wii, we felt increasingly certain that LostWinds would satisfy a pent up demand from Wii owners for something innovative that delivers deep, involving, Wii-specific gameplay in a beautiful skin.
WW: Why do you think LostWinds is particularly well suited to WiiWare?
DB: When we heard about the service and its aims from Nintendo, it seemed to us like LostWinds was exactly the kind of game they were trying to encourage with WiiWare, something specific for Wii that innovated around the controller.
Having said that, I’m not sure that there is anything fundamentally suited to WiiWare about it – the whole idea of the game was really all about the Wii and its controller, so if anything it should be the Wii that its suited to. From our point of view, WiiWare is just a different way of distributing games. The great thing about digital distribution is that we can take the risk of development ourselves as there are no expensive discs to manufacture, ship and stock, so in that sense WiiWare made it easier for LostWinds to come out because we believed that it was a great idea, and a publisher may have been more skeptical about it.
So I’d agree that its suited to WiiWare in the sense that it’s a Wii specific title that tries to do something different.
WW: The use of music in LostWinds is quite subtle, with only slight snatches of melody appearing here and there during play. What was the reasoning behind this?
DB: Two reasons, one is that we believe that in many cases ‘less is more’, and also the intention was to create a relaxed, mellow atmosphere in the game.
WW: What would you say to the claim that the LostWinds experience is over too quickly at around 3 hours to completion?
DB: Obviously it depends how you play it – when we were doing focus tests it seemed like it averaged four hours plus for people who haven’t seen the game & puzzles before and did a bit of exploring in the world. The game only records ‘successful gameplay’ so the timestamp on save games judges it a little low if anything.
If you look at the playthrough time of recent Xbox360 or PS3 games they vary between four and seven hours, for a full price disc release. So we don’t feel that at four or three hours LostWinds is shortchanging anyone for 1000 Wii Points - quite the opposite, actually; we think its very good value. The objective is to entertain people with a unique, quality experience they can enjoy, and leave them wanting more in the best possible sense. So we think it stacks up favourably against other games, or even movies.
We have had a very high number of players contacting us, uniformly to say very positive things about the game, people saying it’s the best money they’ve spent on a videogame for years. On the evidence we have, it seems that people are enjoying the experience and not clock-watching!
WW: Would you have done anything differently if LostWinds had been a full-scale retail release?
DB: In terms of the way we approached the game, it was no different than any other game we have done – though we have used the opportunity to streamline our development processes. For a full-scale disc game, we would expect a longer game, so we would also spend correspondingly longer on development (with the higher expense and risk this entails for us), but essentially the process would have been the same.
WW: LostWinds has enjoyed a positive critical reception. How does it feel to see your hard work being appreciated in such a way?
DB: Its amazing! With any game you eagerly await people’s ‘verdict’ on the game, and even more so with LostWinds, because it is the first game that has come from Frontier’s Game of the Week forums everyone at the company feels a strong attachment to it, like a parent. It’s very rewarding to have so many people enjoying what we did, and making such kind comments on it.
WW: You made an announcement on your website regarding the possibility of a sequel to LostWinds. Can you tell us any more about that?
DB: The enthusiasm of the team who developed the LostWinds concept meant they created a very detailed, coherent world and back-story for the game. There is already a lot more game-play ideas and story waiting to come out of Mistralis, but we feel now is the time for people to try LostWinds for what it is, and then hopefully when we are ready to talk about another game they will remember a positive experience and feel that they want to sample a new experience in the world.
WW: What other WiiWare games have grabbed your attention?
DB: We haven’t played it but, what we’ve seen of World of Goo looks very good to us – I’ll certainly get it when it comes out.