As you may have seen, the Wii U eShop is thankfully being included in the line-up of platforms that'll receive The Fall Part 2: Unbound in Q1 2017. A follow-up to The Fall, an intriguing adventure game with a strong narrative that blended action and puzzles, this title with a focus on a "Metroidvania" approach shows an ambition to take the IP and storyline forward in fresh ways.
We've had the opportunity to speak to Over The Moon Director John Warner, covering the performance of the first game and, naturally, learning more about its sequel. Our initial question, reflecting the ongoing trend of game releases drifting away from the Wii U, was to enquire on the thinking behind the studio standing by the system and its modestly-sized audience.
Refreshingly, for Warner it's all about maintaining a positive relationship with fans and taking support anywhere it can be found.
There's really one main reason why we're bringing Part 2 to the Wii U. We're a really small studio, and I think that we're in a position where we can get a lot of benefit from following through with what we say and maintaining a connection with the small number of people that really like the game. I think for Indies visibility is the number one problem, so if there's someone that likes us or is interested I don't want to squander that by saying "oh, I know you're a fan but the Wii U might not be worth it".
The other thing is we're developing for Unity, so the process isn't too bad. Going through certification on any platform isn't fun, but it's not as if we need to write all this code to make it work on a certain platform. It's pretty painless.
Also, we just like the Wii U, it's a great platform. I still play Mario Kart 8 with my fiancé, we play all the time. We committed to doing it, we brought Part 1 to Wii U, designed the story to entertain but also tease people about Part Two. I wouldn't be comfortable not sharing Part 2 with that audience.
When talking about the first game the conversation switched to lessons learned. The Fall was part of history when it appeared on the first Humble Nindie Bundle, which was the debut console bundle on that platform; although the bundle was restricted to North America it nevertheless led to a lot of buzz. For The Fall it was one part of a strategy to make up for a bad start. Warner admits he doesn't track individual communities a great deal - "I feel a bit guilty about that" - due to his focus on development, and shortcomings in promoting the first game led to a sustained period 'flogging' the title to salvage the situation.
Basically, when we launched on PC it was incredibly poor. We didn't do enough promotion, and we basically bombed. It was then about flogging the game a lot to get some traction, as some people found it was decent and then shared it among their friends and so on. Basically the only way we could do that was through extreme discounts.
We got a lot of emails saying "whoa, where did this come from", people who got it in some bundle or other and tried it out. That side of it was really good.
Warner is ultimately focused on making games, hiring a PR team for the sequel as "they're organised while I'm not!". Though the market is "is still insane right now", the hope is that a more joined together approach can lead to a stronger performance out of the gate.
Always planned as a trilogy, what's interesting is that Part 2 underwent a fair amount of revision from the original planned narrative arc. In fact, since the original's arrival in 2014 a lot of time was spent in pre-production, with full-on development of the sequel having been underway for less than a year.
Early on we were talking about the whole arc, planning a trilogy. We had an idea in mind when we started the first game, but the truth of the matter is that it's changed a lot. When we finished the first game we started loosely brainstorming while I was patching and supporting Part 1; I think we spent the majority of time in pre-production. Part 1 came out in 2014, and I don't think I started full production of part two until about 9 months ago. It was all really intense story and structure work before that.
We're thinking ahead and we do want to do a trilogy. We're leaving it open to a certain extent - we know where we want the story to go, but I also figure our opinions are going to change. I think we can do a better job if we leave it slightly open.
The key twist that's been publicised so far is that, following the events of the first game, our AI protagonist ARID has been separated from her body, and so needs to team up with and employ the support of varied robots and companions to make her way back. While the first game was big on isolation and ARID's loneliness, the new settings and characters give Unbound an opportunity to go further and expand on themes.
Part 1 was about ARID's deconstruction, mentally speaking, and coming to terms with the rules she was operating under. In Part 2, in the beginning, she's ousted from her body and finds herself on a global network, and she needs to get back to her body because it's in danger. She goes looking for resources and help, finding characters that she tries to enlist. Each one of those have their own hang-ups, ticks, limited rules and so on, so she's got to deal with them and work within their limits.
She's her usual obstinate, abrasive self, so there are opportunities for her to learn and understand about different people and herself.
Certainly, there's less isolation. We're ok with bringing the world forward a little; Part 1 is isolated, and it should be, it's a lot smaller and simpler. But if ARID is going to continue growing we need to open up the world as she grows - meet other characters, see new locations. She sees a larger perspective to piece together how the world fits.
We still want to maintain that creepy feeling of being isolated and removed from others, that's still fantastic. Ideally we can hang onto that while opening up the world a bit.
That approach, naturally, opens up new possibilities in gameplay, with ARID's artificial intelligence theoretically occupying new bodies with different capabilities. Warner says that each character ARID encounters will have "their own types of puzzles", with each character encouraging the player to think in different ways to tackle challenges. It seems that the narrative and these different approaches should come together, too - "when we link the narrative together these different approaches should make cohesive sense."
Beyond an expanded setting and story approach more practical matters have been addressed, too. Warner admits that the controls had plenty of critics in the first entry, telling us that "the aiming mechanic has been fixed as that was something that people complained about." He went on to say that "the combat's had an overhaul too - there's a couple of different systems to provide contrast when we need it." Considering the fact control issues were among our few complaints with the original in our own review, this is certainly welcome news.
The upcoming heavy discount of the first game on eShop - between 80 and 90% - is targeted to celebrate the announcement of the sequel and perhaps warm up some new players. That said, the new entry could include a "last time on The Fall" style recap, and Warner is keen for each entry in the series to be "self-contained" to a degree. Each part is designed to be "complete" at the end, with room for a continuation. The strength of the narrative remains vital overall, with the project's writer "much more involved from the ground" this time. As highlighted above a lot of time was spent bringing the story together, and Warner says that "the game's more complex intellectually and thematically, but the telling of it should still be simple and accessible."
This attention to story-telling is arguably one of the IPs strongpoints, helping it to stand out from the crowd. For Warner, the design approach is to blend those qualities with more visceral gameplay, designed to appeal to the varied desires and complexities of the player.
Who knows why something connects with people, maybe it's dumb luck! But one thing we try and do is to have something that appeals on lots of levels. The Fall has got shooting, it's got action, it's got puzzle-solving. Obviously it's got a core inspiration, but while exploring you're also in a bad-ass spacesuit. The situations we put people in are extremely bizarre, too, and we try to make things happen that are thought provoking and interesting.
We're trying to pick a strategy where we pick up on the fact that people are multi-layered and have different human needs. We have a need for intellectual expansion and being thoughtful, but even the most intellectual person is still a sexual being, they're still violent, they have darker impulses. There's no reason that those two areas can't exist in the same space. Often I see intellectual content that's like a floating head situation - there are ideas but what you're doing in a literal sense is not appealing on that 'caveman' DNA level. We try and appeal on all those levels; there are a few things in Part 2 that may be shocking or offensive to those primitive levels, but at least we're focused on titillating them.
The goal for the Q1 release, Wii U owners will be pleased to hear, is release parity across all platforms, barring any unexpected issues with certification. The Wii U version will be a relatively simple port, however, albeit with off-TV support on the GamePad. There were GamePad-centric experiments when developing the first game, but Warner found experiments with the second screen to be "jarring in the end".
For Warner, the focus seems to be simply on making games for fans to enjoy, espousing a refreshing lack of business buzzwords and strategies. He told us why he has felt no need to utilise Kickstarter for a second time, highlighting how the work of running a crowdfunding campaign can be full on for around two months. Ultimately, the first game sold well enough that rather than try to boost capital further through crowdfunding, he simply wants to get on with working with his small team to get the sequel out into the world.
It's two months to get money [with Kickstarter], and though it helps to get extra money the first game sold well. I could take that sales money and hide it in the bank, but there's no point. I would rather just get back to development.
Warner also told us that, in the end, the first game attracted the "vast majority" of sales on PC. He doesn't "have a bias against console" though, as seen through support for all three current-gen systems; the focus is on supporting fans across all systems.
We asked about NX, too; though Warner is simply happy to state he's interested in the system provided it supports Unity and is a feasible platform.
The game engine we use is Unity, so if Unity comes to NX I'm not opposed to it. We really like the idea of being on the NX. I don't know anything about it yet, we haven't been in touch with Nintendo. We currently don't have any plans but I think Nintendo's great and I'm sure the next platform will be great. I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be interested.
After the low-key launch and early sales struggles of The Fall, it seems that the intriguing title found its feet and audience, allowing Over The Moon to continue with its trilogy. Warner, from our time chatting to him, comes across as an earnest, enthused and passionate game developer, keen to intrigue gamers with his creations. Though the development team is still small, perhaps Part 2 can make a more immediate impact and get The Fall foremost in more gamer's minds.
Based on the potential of the first game and what we've learnt of the follow-up, it seems to deserve that chance.
Are you intrigued by The Fall Part 2: Unbound? Let us know in the comments; we'd also like to thank John Warner for his time.