Interview / David Braben on LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias

With LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias, the sequel to the WiiWare’s successful launch title LostWinds, from UK-based Frontier Developments almost upon us, we figured we’d find out what’s changed in Toku’s second outing, what’s remained the same and what plans the company has for the franchise in the future. Satisfying our curiosity is none other than industry veteran and founder of Frontier, David Braben.

That VideoGame Blog (TVGB): To start, what would you say is the biggest and most exciting change those that played the first LostWinds should be looking forward to in Winter of the Melodias?

David Braben (DB): With LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias we’ve really kept up the pace, moved on and I hope you’ll agree that we’ve made something that has the same step change in gameplay innovation that the first game offered when it was released. Probably the biggest and most exciting single change is the ability to change the seasons between Summer and Winter. Players will need to use this new mechanic to solve puzzles, defeat enemies using a selection of new powers (such as throwing snowballs!) and experience new depths of gameplay and story. The contrast when playing in Summer where waterfalls flow and the sun shines while Toku swims, to playing in Winter where it snows and pools of water turn into slippery impenetrable ice is something we think players will really feel immersed in and enjoy.

TVGB: Is Winter of the Melodias a direct sequel to LostWinds? Is playing the first game a necessity to understand what’s going on?

DB: It is a direct sequel, as the story continues after the first game, but it has been designed so that you do not need to play the first LostWinds as the story of Winter of the Melodias is self contained. Obviously there are a number of story elements and character references which may be lost on those who haven’t finished it, but that shouldn’t spoil the experience, and how to play the game is still explained for those who need it through in-game hints & tips. Ultimately, we hope players new to LostWinds will purchase the first game too.

TVGB: Will it be a bigger, lengthier, a more ambitious game overall? Or will it stay true to the first game more than it tries new things?

DB: Winter of the Melodias has definitely evolved in comparison to the first title. The main priority for us has been to ensure that the new game stays true to the purity of experience of the first game; that it has just as much (if not more) gameplay innovation as the first one, to keep that fresh, enchanting feel. The landscapes are bigger and more diverse, and there are a greater number of powers that the player can use to solve puzzles. The story is more involved for those that want it, and there is greater interaction with story characters than in the first game…

Certainly I think Winter of the Melodias is ambitious. Yet it still has that beautiful simplicity that characterised the first game – there’s just more of it! For example, players start Winter of the Melodias with all of the powers from the first game so those familiar elements will still be present. But it also means players can jump into the new story and gameplay quicker, unlocking Enril’s new powers sooner rather than later.

TVGB: Quite a few people have mentioned that LostWinds has a relaxing effect. Does the sequel intend to create the same type of atmosphere, or will you orient it towards a more action-based gameplay?

DB: Yes, Winter of the Melodias builds on the atmosphere we achieved in the first game. There will be a blend of tranquil and action-packed gameplay depending on what you’re doing, with appropriate visuals and audio in support. The old music is included, together with new music to maintain the relaxed atmosphere of the first game.

TVGB: What are some of the not-so-obvious things and/or little touches that you’re hoping players will notice?

DB: A few favourites of mine are the lighting and refraction effects when you see Toku pass behind a stalactite or firelight flicker in the chilling cold, or the new animations when Toku sometimes does a roll to climb up to a location or when he slides (and sometimes trips and falls!) along the ice, or notice that in winter the plants are encased in frost until you gust them with wind, when they break free and become ‘interacive’ again.

TVGB: Was the theme of winter chosen mainly for gameplay purposes or..?

DB: The idea for Winter of the Melodias came about right at the end of development of the first game, when Chris Symonds the game’s Art Director wondered what one of the levels might look like in winter and did a mock up, and that set the creative juices flowing about how to switch between Summer and Winter and the many gameplay possibilities it offered. So yes, all driven by gameplay.

TVGB: Are you refining the controls at all?

DB: A clear control system is one of LostWinds’ strengths, and the controls in the first game felt good so we’ve kept them as they were for Winter of the Melodias. A lot of thought and testing has gone into all the new features that have been added to make sure they all feel as intuitive when using the WiiMote as in the first game. Most of the new abilities are based on context, so need no new controls (like swimming, changing the seasons), and the main new ability that does need a control, Cyclone, is used widely in many different ways so players will find themselves getting used to it very quickly.

TVGB: What would you say will be the most notable change in Winter of the Melodias?

DB: Changing seasons from Summer to Winter is a big thing players are going to notice is new, and it’s something players can do as many times as they like, but makes a big difference to gameplay so they will need to think about when making their decisions (it’s certainly not just eye candy!). I think another big noticeable change players will see is how much bigger the landscapes are in Winter of the Melodias compared to the first game, and the increased variety and even greater beauty.

TVGB: Are you considering retail? Both LostWinds games packaged together once Winter of the Melodias comes out perhaps? Do you think that’s necessary or viable for downloadable titles such as LostWinds?

DB: When we’ve finished Winter of the Melodias the team will sit down and plan which of the many directions we can go with LostWinds next. We’re happy working with WiiWare for the LostWinds titles, as selling through Wiiware is a much more straightforward and simpler process than distributing physical disc boxes, meaning we can manage the distribution and publishing entirely between ourselves and the good folks at Nintendo.

If we were to do a retail game I doubt we’d simply stick the existing two WiiWare titles on a disc – there’s much more of the story and world to come than that! I wouldn’t say a retail release was necessary, but certainly it should be viable, I think, if the game is treated with respect – obviously there is a proportion of Wii owners who are not on line, so it would be good to be able to address those people but a disc release brings its own challenges in terms of distribution & cost.

TVGB: Is it safe to say you’ll be exploring LostWinds beyond Winter of the Melodias?

DB: We certainly hope so! We were extremely happy with how the original LostWinds performed, and people seem excited for Winter of the Melodias. So if there’s an audience we certainly want to continue telling the LostWinds story and adding to the world we’ve created – when we first developed the concept we had a huge number of strong ideas and spent a long time developing the myths and ethos of Mistralis beyond anything that has been shown LostWinds OR Winter of the Melodias, so we already have a rich fund of material. It’s a world we love and still have a huge enthusiasm for.

TVGB: Have you considered bringing LostWinds or something like it to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 once their motion solutions launch next year? Do you think it’d be as big of a success on LIVE and PSN as has been on WiiWare?

DB: One of the key strengths of LostWinds is its appropriateness for the Wii and its controller, and we have a whole host of other great game ideas. We wouldn’t port LostWinds just for the sake of it, whatever we may do for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 would have to be appropriate for the audience and the platform. But for now we’re focused on finishing Winter of the Melodias!

TVGB: Have you had the chance to fiddle around with Natal and Sony’s motion controller already? Dev kits in the house?

DB: They both look to be really promising additions to those platforms.

TVGB: Can we expect LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias to hit WiiWare this year?

DB: We hope so :) We’re currently tracking an October release, obviously subject to the good graces of Nintendo. You’ll hear more when we announce a release date officially!

TVGB: With a price point similar to the first game?

DB: We’ve not yet announced how much LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias will cost; we’ll release details soon.