David Braben
We recently enjoyed the opportunity to put a few questions to David Braben, founder and chief executive officer of Frontier Developments, the company behind the upcoming LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias. Braben has been in the industry for around three decades now, having co-wrote the hugely successful space game Elite, which was released in 1984.

Q. The original LostWinds drew some criticisms for being “too short”. Will Winter of the Melodias be any longer than the original?
We prefer to think that people didn’t want it to end. Obviously we are aware of people’s perceptions of the play time of the first game, and have been able to learn a lot from our experience of developing it. We’ve worked hard at the design to concentrate as much quality gameplay as possible in each environment; there are significant optimizations which have really helped us to save space, and therefore add more content, and new and different types of gameplay. I don’t have a hard figure for you, as it depends on the player, but we’re confident that Winter of the Melodias will be significantly longer than the first game for any given player.

Q. Is there any particular reason you opted to develop the sequel for WiiWare as well, instead of developing it as a retail game?
The distinction between WiiWare and high street retail sales is really just one of how it is distributed. Some game types need to be disc-based, simply because of the size of their data set, others do not need to be. Selling through WiiWare is a much more straightforward, purer process than distributing physical disc boxes to the dozens of different territories LostWinds has sold to already, and so is much more practical for a company like Frontier, but this does not mean you should think less of a game as a result.

“In general we’ve tried to push every aspect of the game forward, from innovating again with the gameplay, to larger, more visually varied environments, and story and character interaction is another area, with the addition of cut scenes where we feel they help.”
Q. Is having played the first game essential to enjoying Winter of the Melodias?
No. The story of Winter of the Melodias is self contained. Obviously there are a number of story / character references which may be lost on those who haven’t finished it, but that won’t spoil the experience at all, and how to play the game is still explained for those who need it. Hopefully players new to LostWinds will be motivated to get the first game, too.

Q. Is the story or narrative of Winter of the Melodias more integral to the gameplay than it was in the original LostWinds?
Yes, it is. In general we’ve tried to push every aspect of the game forward, from innovating again with the gameplay, to larger, more visually varied environments, and story and character interaction is another area, with the addition of cut scenes where we feel they help. It’s not rammed down the player’s throat, but there is a lot more depth to the story for players who want it. The first game’s story was very straightforward, whereas Winter of the Melodias is a little richer, offering a couple of entwined arcs: the search for Magdi (Toku’s mother, who has gone missing on one of her explorations), and uncovering the fate of the Melodia people who disappeared from Mistralis centuries before. Entwined with this is the story of Riveren – where Toku found Enril, he found a piece of the evil Balasar – so his story is a sort of dark mirror image of Toku.

Q. The Summer and Winter transitioning mechanic looks very intuitive, and opens up a whole realm of possibilities for the game. Will players discover any other abilities similar to this in Winter of the Melodias, or is that something reserved for potential future sequels?
Switching seasons is a very big new mechanic for this game, and is intrinsic to the gameplay, so the player will have to use the different characteristics of each season in order to progress. There is another major wind power in cyclone, which itself has a whole host of uses throughout the game. In addition, there are many other new and improved features large and small. But Season switching is the ‘poster child’ mechanic of this game.

Q. Will Winter of the Melodias also feature two-player co-op like the first game did?
In the same way that the first game did, yes — we’re not advertising it as a two-player game and there is nothing specifically designed for two players, its a single player game. But we did get a significant number of people who really liked the ability to play with their child or partner, and that ability is still there.

Q. What do you think of the MotionPlus accessory? Will there be any MotionPlus enhancements in Winter of the Melodias?
MotionPlus is great for games that can benefit from the extra precision, like sports for example, but doesn’t really change the use of the Wii Remote for pointing. The gameplay we offer mainly relies on pointing at the screen, so there isn’t anything in Winter of the Melodias that needs MotionPlus.

Q. What do you think of the DSiWare platform, and have you considered releasing any LostWinds games via DSiWare?
We think DSiWare, in common with all digital distribution, is great. It allows developers like us to make innovations which would otherwise be more difficult to bring to market. At Frontier we are fortunate in that we have been able to fund the LostWinds projects ourselves and therefore retain complete creative control, which is a fantastic experience.

The challenge currently for all involved is to get the awareness / acceptance of the various digital distribution services as high as retail disc / cartridge.

When we’ve finished Winter of the Melodias, the team will sit down and plan / prioritise which of the many directions we can go with LostWinds next. DSiWare is an option that could be in the mix.

Q. Finally, when are you hoping to release Winter of the Melodias?
I can’t give you a specific date yet, but it should be in the next couple of months.