The Wii U eShop has been integral to the appeal of the system for long term owners. The influx of 'Nindies' of various kinds has kept the store busy, and has also enabled some exclusives and intriguing PC releases to make their way onto Nintendo hardware. In some cases the GamePad, in particular, becomes a vital part of the experience that can't be easily recreated on other platforms.
Year Walk looks set to fit these criteria - a fascinating experience previously prominent on PC through Steam and on smart devices, developer Simogo has teamed up with Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails developer Dakko Dakko for the Wii U version. The title itself is rich in its design and cultural approach to its storytelling, and on Wii U looks set to take it further for a definitive edition.
We caught up with Simon Flesser, the game director from Simogo, and Dakko Dakko lead Rhodri Broadbent; they discuss the inclusion of notable features from previous versions, but also entirely new aspects that will be exclusive to the Wii U iteration.
First of all, can you introduce yourselves and explain your roles in Year Walk and its upcoming release on Wii U?
Simon: I'm Simon Flesser from Simogo. I directed the game and made the art and sound.
Rhodri: I'm Rhodri Broadbent from Dakko Dakko. I handled the Wii U gameplay development.
For those unfamiliar with the title, can you give us an initial introduction to the concept and the lore on which it's based?
Simon: Year Walk is an adventure filled with puzzles and riddles, which takes place in the forest of later 19th century Sweden. It's a story about a person who decides to "year walk", which is a long forgotten tradition which involved walking out starved at midnight during certain nights, such as New Year's Eve, to be able to see the future. Depending on what creatures you met, and what sights you had, you would be able to tell what would happen in the coming year. It's an atmospheric game filled with puzzles and riddles.
The title has been critically acclaimed for its storytelling approach and creativity; can you tell us more about Year Walk's origins as a short movie script, and how this informed its subsequent development into a video game?
Simon: My childhood friend Jonas Tarestad is a script writer. We often show each other what we're working on, and Jonas had sent me the script for this weird little short called "Årsgång". When I had read it I joked a bit about turning it into a videogame, because there was something about the structure that I thought would fit. I wasn't too serious, but the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea, so over a weekend I rewrote the script to fit a videogame structure. Removing creatures, adding creatures and such. I presented it to Magnus "Gordon" Gardebäck, the other half of Simogo, and Jonas, and they both seemed very keen on the idea. So here we are!
Year Walk focuses more on the sensation of feeling lost and not understanding what is going on, to make the players feel uneasy rather than scared.
Year Walk has been described as a horror game, though clearly goes much further than jump scares in its approach; can you talk about the nature of the experience and its horror aspects?
Simon: It does have few jump scares, because we simply think those are quite fun ... and a very effective way to build a tense atmosphere which will keep players on their toes. But generally, Year Walk focuses more on the sensation of feeling lost and not understanding what is going on, to make the players feel uneasy rather than scared.
It's only natural that an experience like Year Walk requires the right approaches to visuals and audio. Can you talk about the visual design and tell us about the soundtrack and audio approach, too?
Simon: Visually, we went through a lot of iterations until we settled for the flat storybook-like look. I always wanted the game to feel eerie and atmospheric rather than scary, so my visual inspirations were much more from children's book illustrations than horror.
Daniel Olsén made the music for Year Walk, and he found a lot of inspiration from the types of harmonies you'd find in Swedish folk music, to capture that cold, wintery, northern feeling.
But you'll notice that the game is very sparse with music. We wanted to build a tense atmosphere with very subtle sounds, and make the music feel impactful when it was there. I worked a lot getting those crunching footstep sounds right too. We're doing quite a few Wii U specific things with sounds too...
Rhodri: We've done a lot of work to make sure that the GamePad specific controls have some really tactile sounds to go with them, and one puzzle in particular benefits greatly from the separation between the GamePad and the TV speakers.
How did the first-person approach come together in this game, and can you give examples of how perspective and the environment are used to drive gameplay ideas?
Simon: We tried a lot of different approaches with Year Walk before settling for the two dimensional first person gameplay. We even had concepts of a top-down 3D version.
It quite simply came about with us asking "how would a first person game function in 2D?"
Originally released on iOS and subsequently on PC, can you talk about the origins of the DakkoDakko / Simogo partnership to bring this to Wii U?
Rhodri: Simon and I became friends many years ago, initially over a shared love of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and Wii Music, and so working together on a project had been discussed many times. Late last year the idea to rework Year Walk for Wii U came up and luckily we were available to team up. Initially it was discussed as merely a direct port but, basically as soon as we began working on it, new ideas started flowing and before long almost every puzzle in the game was being redesigned for the new interface!
With that in mind, in what unique ways will this game utilise the GamePad and how, in your view, will these ideas evolve the experience?
Rhodri: One thing we're especially excited about is the gyro cursor system, which affects the whole game and means players can easily and intuitively point around the screen using the GamePad. Both Simon and I have a lot of love for the Wii Remote and its pointer, but the GamePad screen is crucial to the way we've redesigned Year Walk. As such, we worked hard to attain pointer-like functionality in the game whilst still benefiting from the second screen, and it has turned out really well.
Being able to play the game on a console that has one screen for the game and one screen dedicated to those things simultaneously just feels like it was always meant to be that way. The GamePad becomes the link between the player and the game.
Will there be any exclusive content on Wii U, and will the encyclopedia accompaniment from iOS be featured?
Simon: All puzzles have been reworked for Wii U, and some elements of them are completely new. One thing that is totally new and exclusive for Wii U is the note taking feature. Plus another fun thing we can't go into without spoiling the game!
Of all the changes and Wii U features outlined, is there one in particular that contributes a good deal to this being the 'definitive' version of Year Walk?
Simon: It just feels like the game is coming home. So much in Year Walk is based around the concept of the game world and the real one spilling into each other, with the companion pieces like the encyclopedia and such. So being able to play the game on a console that has one screen for the game and one screen dedicated to those things simultaneously just feels like it was always meant to be that way. The GamePad becomes the link between the player and the game.
Rhodri: Definitely the gyro cursor system, and the inclusion of puzzle-specific motion controls. They not only give the game a fresh feeling for people who may have already taken a Year Walk on iOS or Steam, but they also really integrate the GamePad into the gameplay in a way that we think all Wii U owners will appreciate.
What's your perspective of the Wii U eShop as it stands, and where do you see Year Walk's upcoming status within that catalogue?
Rhodri: I think there's a nice diversity of content on the eShop. As it's something fresh and interesting and unlike anything else, and because it uses the GamePad in so many ways, I think Year Walk will find a nice home there.
Are you confident that the Wii U eShop audience will embrace Year Walk, then?
Simon: I hope they will!
What's next for you both? Do you envisage future partnerships between Dakko Dakko and Simogo, and have either of your studios started work on your next projects? Can you give us a tease on what those games may be?
Simon: I hope so! At Simogo we have few things we are working on, but it's a little too early to start talking about those. I do hope we'll be able to make more things on Nintendo platforms.
Rhodri: Yeah it'd be great to work together again. It's been really fun and we're very pleased with the end result. As for what we're doing next, we're also not quite ready to talk about that just yet but rest assured, Year Walk is our second eShop release and I don't expect it to be our last.