Interview: Frontier's David Braben on LostWinds and WiiWare

GR: The Wii's retail releases are of course still suffering from a 'me too' culture of throwaway party games. Those titles are a safe financial bet but totally at odds with the innovation the Wii was supposed to herald. Do you see the presumably lower dev costs and independence from publisher interference making WiiWare the main haven for 'real' Wii games from now on?

DB: It's certainly possible. I think another factor at work here is the fact that Wii was somewhat of a surprise hit. Nintendo have done a phenomenal job with it and I think it has taken a while for developers and publishers as a group to register what’s happened. And so there have been few titles developed specifically for the Wii and its audience.

You still see a pervasive form of ‘denial’ going on today, and the monthly sales ‘battle’ between Microsoft & Sony, when the real story is that Nintendo is consistently beating them month after month by a huge margin. Definitely what appealed about LostWinds to people at Frontier as time went on was that it had that potential to fill the perceived gap and demand for quality gameplay for the console. WiiWare may perhaps lead the process, and will certainly be the home of the riskier ideas, but there's no reason why disc-based games should not also address the needs of the audience when people fully accept what Nintendo has achieved with the Wii and start to address it.

GR: LostWinds is hard to label using currently trendy gaming terminology. On the one hand it's a smaller-scale game with a simple, accessible and tactile interface, seemingly making it 'casual'.But on the other hand it contains inventive 'hardcore' exploration gameplay remeniscent of Metroid and Castlevania. Did you consider any of that when designing it, or do you think it's time we stopped trying to polarise definitions of things on the Wii and concentrated on the overall game quality?

DB: The truth is we wrote the game for ourselves, not some imagined audience. The genesis of the game through Frontier’s ‘Game of the Week’ forum means that we knew LostWinds was definitely appealing to the Nintendo ‘hardcore’ - if we can be forgiven for describing them as such - as we have many representatives of this 'hardcore' here at Frontier!

But equally our experience with successful mainstream games like Thrillville and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 before it has taught us that quality is indeed key, along with accessibility. So we’re not in favour of the ‘hardcore’ vs. ‘casual’ distinction if the ‘casual’ is meant pejoratively. Great games are equally difficult to make for either audience, needing the same level of love and dedication, so we try to focus on making high quality gameplay and making it accessible, and then you can please both ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ gamers.

GR: LostWinds has a unique and very appealing ambience. It's both visually striking and incredibly relaxing, with art and music that evoke east and west at the same time without really subscribing to either. It's etheral but also feels very solid and tangible. What were you trying to evoke with your aesthetic decisions?

DB: You’ve just made our artists very happy! What you describe is pretty much in a nutshell what they aimed to do. The art direction was centered around creating and evoking a world who’s culture was based on the idea of the wind. It came very naturally to have an indigenous culture that lived in high environments, and we immediately centered around thinking of a Tibetan culture, or cultures in the Andes. And so there were cultural influences from those areas, and a blending and emerging of some of those spiritual, natural aesthetics that they have. Then the gameplay reinforced that, being rooted around the natural, elemental, organic world.

GR: The newsletter sign-up invitation on your web-site already mentions a welcome sequel to LostWinds. How far along is that and how can we expect to see it build upon the first game?

DB: No comment at the moment, other than to say there is a lot more to come from the world of Mistralis, both story and gameplay wise!

GR: Do you have plans to continue making new IP for the Wii beyond LostWinds, either within or without WiiWare?

DB: Most definitely – we have a ton of great game ideas, and the Wii is one of the major platforms, and making games for the major platforms is what we do!