Interviews: LostWinds 2 - Frontier's David Braben
Posted by Darren Calvert
The big boss man talks to Nintendo Life about LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias
It's hard to believe that LostWinds was a WiiWare launch title. It still effortlessly overshadows much of the content being published on the service and remains a deliciously playable slice of video gaming that puts even full-price retail releases to shame.
The game was produced by the talented Cambridge based Frontier Developments, which was founded by gaming legend David Braben. If you're one of the unlucky few that don't know who he is, turn off your computer, find a copy of the epic space trading game Elite (any format will do), lose yourself for a few weeks and then come back, suitably enlightened.
If there's one fault we could find with LostWinds its the length of the challenge. As a result, we've been hankering for a sequel at Nintendo Life for some time and rumours began to circulate almost as soon as the original had been released to glowing reviews.
Only recently was Frontier prepared to lend them any credence and now the cat is out of the bag we've wasted no time in securing an exclusive interview with Mr. Braben himself so we can find out all about the epic follow-up entitled, LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias. Read on and enjoy.
Nintendo Life: As a launch title for the WiiWare service, were you surprised by the incredible commercial and critical success of LostWinds?
David Braben: We were delighted with the reaction we got when we first released LostWinds, as it is a game very dear to our hearts.
Nlife: What encouraged you to stick with WiiWare for the sequel rather than taking the disc-based route?
DB: We were extremely happy with how LostWinds performed on WiiWare, so there was no reason for us to not return to it for the sequel. The distinction between WiiWare and high street retail sales is really just one of how it is distributed. Some game types need to be disc-based; simply because of the size of their data set, others do not need to be. Selling through Wiiware is a much more straightforward and purer process than distributing physical disc boxes, meaning we can manage the distribution and publishing entirely between ourselves and Nintendo.
Nlife: What is the basic storyline in Winter of the Melodias?
DB: Without giving away any spoilers, little time has passed since the events which unfolded between Toku, Enril, Deo and Magmok in “LostWinds”.
Notéa's sudden return from an expedition brings with it saddening news. Whilst searching for the ruins of the Melodia City Toku's mother, Magdi, has mysteriously disappeared. The only clues to her whereabouts lie within the tattered remains of her treasured journal.
As repayment for saving his life, the ancient Guardian Magmok pledges his assistance to Toku and Enril as they head up into the mountains in search of Magdi.
Toku and Enril arrive at Summerfalls Village, a picturesque location that has been beset by an eternal winter. Even more worryingly, its people now live in fear of ferocious monsters that hide in the snow.
Fearing the worst, and with the chilling cold taking its toll, Toku and Enril seek the help of Sonté the Spirit of Seasons. Sonté's season changing powers will provide the key to unraveling the plight of Summerfalls, and unearth an ancient curse that haunts the Melodia City.
As events continue to take unexpected turns, Toku and Enril venture onward. Wielding their new powers with care and in the face of potentially fatal dilemmas, Toku and Enril are plunged into a race against time to save not only the life of Toku's mother but also the future of Mistralis.
For more than that, you’ll have to wait till the game is released. I think players will be really engaged in the story of Winter of the Melodias. We’ve been able to throw in twists, turns and further character interaction compared to the first game.
Nlife: Toku now has the ability to transform Mistralis at will between summer and winter. How will this miraculous power be used in the game in practice?
DB: Switching seasons is a very big new mechanic for Winter of the Melodias, and is central to the gameplay – during the game Toku and Enril earn the help of Sonté the Spirit of Seasons, allowing them to use her amazing power to switch between Summer and Winter at will in order to help them on their journey. Players will find they have to use the different characteristics of each season to help them during gameplay - in Winter all pools of water are turned to slippery impenetrable ice, it snows outside and drawing a vortex in the air causes a snowball to be created that you can then throw around, if you gust enemies with your wind powers they get wind-chill and freeze, and particularly early on Toku has to be kept warm with fire. In Summer you can go swimming in the pools, taking care not to let Toku run out of oxygen, you can grow plants, create clouds, and even use them to move pools of water..
Nlife: Toku could harness the wind in some quite interesting ways in the first LostWinds, will he gain any new wind powers to spice things up this time around?
DB: The game starts with the player having all the powers from the end of the first game, and gradually as players progress new powers are added to Toku and Enril’s arsenal. In Winter of the Melodias, players can use Enril to freeze or douse enemies and use the air itself to form hurtling snowballs or moisture-laden clouds. Other amazing new abilities introduced include the Cyclone, which can be used to transport Toku, defeat powerful enemies and drill through rocks. Each of the new powers have instinctive use in both solving puzzles and combating enemies.
Nlife: Did you consider the possibility of adding multiplayer or Wi-Fi gameplay modes?
DB: You can play LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias with two players so playing with a friend or family is an option, but in essence we’ve always thought of LostWinds as being a single player game and so that’s where our attention has been focused, there is no specific gameplay support for more than one player.
Nlife: One of the few complaints about the original LostWinds was that it could be completed in about 3 hours. Will you be making efforts to extend the longevity of Winter of the Melodias, or can we expect a similar amount of play time?
DB: We’ve learnt a lot from our experience of developing the first LostWinds. Significant optimizations means we’ve had more space to squeeze more high quality gameplay into, so we think we’ve been able to make Winter of the Melodias significantly longer for any given player (I don’t have a hard figure, as it depends on the player).
Nlife: Might a winter release for LostWinds 2 be on the cards?
DB: I’m never too sure when Winter starts officially, but it’d be a great tie-in!
Nlife: What other WiiWare games have impressed you so far?
DB: There are plenty of great WiiWare games which have been released, some of them bringing some great innovative ideas to the table, such as World of Goo and Cave Story. WiiWare certainly seems to be fulfilling its original brief.
Nlife: What are your thoughts on DSiWare? Do you have any plans for the platform in the future?
DB: We think DSiWare, in common with all digital distribution, is great. It allows developers like us to make innovations which would otherwise be more difficult to bring to market. At Frontier we are fortunate that with the WiiWare platform we have been able to fund the LostWinds projects ourselves and therefore retain complete creative control, which is a fantastic experience.
DSiWare is an option that could be in the mix when we plan the many directions we can go with LostWinds next, but we do not yet have any firm plans for it.
Nlife: You're well known for being the genius behind such classics as Elite and Virus, as well as other quite "serious" video games. Has your involvement with the more light-hearted LostWinds series been a new experience for you?
DB: We’ve made quite a diverse portfolio of games at Frontier over the past few years. LostWinds has been at the tail end of titles such as Thrillville, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Dog’s Life and the Wallace and Gromit games - so it’s not an entirely new experience for me, but it’s certainly been great dealing with a unique idea that has had great success to date, and has the potential to have continued success for years to come.
Nlife: You've tackled WiiWare, but does Frontier Developments have any plans to release standard Wii retail releases? Does the console strike you as an enticing development platform?
DB: We’d already released a Wii game before, Thrillville: Off The Rails, so we need no convincing of the great potential of the Wii console for developers..
Nlife: LostWinds 2 is going to be released in a very different marketplace than its predecessor was; WiiWare has matured and the competition is stronger. With this in mind, why do you think Wii gamers should take a second chance with Toku?
DB: We’ve tried very hard to make this game as innovative as the first one and not rest on our success and “just release more levels”. We were really keen to take the game forward with some novel new gameplay elements, different and better environments, NPCs being a lot more involved in the game and so on, but still maintain the essence of LostWinds people will remember from the first title. We think Winter of the Melodias takes the whole experience up a notch in just about every way, and stands comparison with the very best Wii games, download or disc.
The official website for LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias can be found here: lostwinds.frontier.co.uk