Interview: Child of Light Team Tells Us About Storytelling, UbiArt And Stepping Back From Blockbusters

"Child of Light has many unique and distinctive features"

Upcoming Wii U eShop releases that catch the eye are often from small, independent developers, with a sense that it's these small teams that have freedom to express new ideas or conventionally niche approaches. For multi-national, multi-million dollar publishers the focus can be different, yet with the rise in popularity of download-only games we're seeing these sizeable companies beginning to dabble in smaller-scale releases.

A clear example is Ubisoft, which has taken various opportunities over the last couple of years to increase its presence in the download markets, from PC and consoles to smartphone games and apps. Nintendo gamers may have encountered Cloudberry Kingdom on the Wii U eShop, a crowdfunded game by Pwnee Studios that was eventually published by the European giant.

Yet Ubisoft seems to be stepping up another gear with home console download-only releases developed by its own internal studios. One of these that's caught the eye is Child of Light, a 2D RPG coming to the Wii U that utilises the eye-catching UbiArt engine first pioneered in Rayman Origins. With little revealed to date beyond a 2014 release window and a short walkthrough video, we posed some questions to creative director Patrick Plourde and writer Jeffrey Yohalem to learn a little more.

Nintendo Life: Thank you for your time, can you introduce yourselves and describe your roles in the development of Child of Light?

Patrick Plourde: My Name is Patrick Plourde, I’m the Creative Director on Child of Light.

Jeffrey Yohalem: And I am Jeffrey Yohalem, the Writer of Child of Light.

NL: To date we’ve seen an announcement trailer and a brief walkthrough, so we’ve had glimpses of the storyline and setting. Can you outline these for us?

JY: Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young girl from 1895 Austria who wakes up one morning to find herself on the lost continent of Lemuria. At first she believes she’s in a dream, but then discovers the only way home is through a mirror in the throne room of the Queen of the Night. On her quest to return home she meets the magical creatures of Lemuria and discovers that the Queen of the Night has stolen the sun, the moon and the stars. As she learns more about Lemuria and grows, her destiny will shift. Lemuria is a continent that once existed but is now hidden from our world that is home to all the fairytale creatures we’ve recorded throughout history.

NL: From a storytelling perspective, are there any particular sources of inspiration for taking a real-world girl to a fantastical place? It’s suggestive of C.S. Lewis (the Narnia series) to us.

PP: Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan. It’s a structure that is part of many tales.

JY: We were also inspired by early 20th century fairy tales and the Oz books, as well as more modern sources like Edward Eager’s novels and His Dark Materials. Video games like Syberia and the Longest Journey.

When I write stories for games I follow the principle that the player’s actions and what the player is doing moment to moment in the game should be the central focus of the story.

NL: Can you tell us about the storytelling style? You’ve already explained that dialogue will rhyme, so is the aim to have a storybook approach, or will in-game events be as important to the narrative as text?

JY: All the events in the game are told through rhyming stanzas, usually in ballad form (four lines with endings ABCB) and couplets for emphasis. When I write stories for games I follow the principle that the player’s actions and what the player is doing moment to moment in the game should be the central focus of the story, that what the player is playing should deliver the meaning. So, that is the case in Child of Light. The cutscenes serve to emphasize and frame the gameplay. And, depending on the player’s play style, events and outcomes change.

NL: Moving onto the gameplay, can you tell us first of all about the degree of exploration that’s encouraged? Do you feel the 2D sidescrolling perspective will portray a sense of scope and size to the world?

PP: My previous experience as a designer came from making open world games and I like the freedom these types of games provide to players. So for me it was really important to create a game where freedom of movement could exist even in 2D. That’s why Aurora can fly: it gives the player the freedom to move and explore in every direction: Up, down, left and right. I feel we managed to capture a feeling of freedom similar to that in a 3D game.

NL: The turn-based battle system places an emphasis on timing; how does this influence the dynamic of battles, as opposed to a standard menu-based move-set?

PP: It adds a layer of anticipation and strategy to battles – When you add the notion of casting time and the risk of losing your turn, it open up a lot of depth. It also allowed us to add the CO-OP.

JY: You have to balance both decision-making and timing, especially as a single player. You make a choice and you act it out. The passive element in menu-based combat is gone. In CO-OP it sometimes feels like running football plays together.

NL: Will the Skill tree and levelling up be relatively complex, or are you aiming for a clear, relatively simple setup?

PP - Each character has a unique skill-set and there is a different skill tree for each character, each with different branches to specialise. So overall I would say simple, but deep.

NL: We’ve noticed that the walkthrough had an emphasis on a second player to assist with avoiding enemies, identifying objects and even co-operating in battle. How important is the multiplayer mechanic?

PP: A player can play the game alone – the second character is controlled with the right stick, but it’s great to sit down and share the adventure. The asymmetric gameplay allows two players to talk about strategies and places to explore.

NL: In terms of the Wii U, has any consideration been given as yet to how the GamePad or Wii Remotes will be utilised, such as pointer controls for the second player or use of the touch screen?

PP: The game will fully support the GamePad. More details pretty soon.

NL: We’ve heard in the past of the UbiArt engine being easy to use, and it’s becoming increasingly prevalent in Ubisoft games. Can you share your experience utilising it for your vision of Child of Light?

PP: The pipeline for integrating art is really straightforward. An artist can draw concept art and integrate it directly in-game. It also allows level designers to create levels quickly and modify them on the fly. It’s the same for the animation system, which utilizes a puppet system that is very quick. UbiArt allowed us to create more than fifty enemies in the game, creating a wide variety of foes for Aurora to face in battle.

NL: With so many stylised, artistic and creative indie platformers available on digital game stores nowadays, how is Ubisoft ensuring Child of Light stands out in the crowd?

PP: Child of Light has many unique and distinctive features – the watercolor artstyle, the rhyming dialogs, the turn-based combat and the soundtrack (wait until you listen to it, it’s glorious) that are already making the game stand out for those who have seen and played it.

NL: Is Child of Light, in any way, a reaction to the rise of the Indie / download-only scene? Should we anticipate more download-only experiences of this nature from Ubisoft?

PP: Personally I was really interested in the creative challenge of producing a smaller scoped game. I feel that it was a great opportunity to try something different from my previous experiences. As for Ubisoft, I’m not the person who can answer that.

NL Is there any indication, as yet, of a release window in 2014?

PP: You’ll have more details on this pretty soon.

We'd like to thank Patrick Plourde and Jeffrey Yohalem for their time. Let us know whether you're looking forward to Child of Light based on what we've heard so far, while you can check out the recent video walkthrough below.

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