Wii U | Broken Rules | Coming Late 2012
4th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
In seeking to attain perspective, it is not uncommon to hear of individuals chasing after dreams and passions, taking backpack trips to far-flung lands or immersing themselves in initiatives to reach long-term goals. However such persons go about their journey of self-discovery, they are effectively charting for themselves a course that leads on into the future. Painting a landscape of their own, Broken Rules has been hard at work creating a new way of looking at something many of us wanted to do since we were kids: fly. Advancements in technology have allowed humans to simulate flight in ways that were previously reserved for movie production or simply not possible decades prior. But bringing that dream home to a more convenient space, game developers have long explored unrealities such as this to connect with the imaginations of players. Broken Rules plans to do just that in Chasing Aurora. Martin Pichlmair was kind enough to clue me in on a number of pertinent details surrounding the team's ongoing creative process in the development of this exciting project.
Wiiloveit: It's great to have you guys back for another interview with us! I'm sure you're just as excited as we are to talk about Chasing Aurora in greater detail. But first, please introduce yourself for the benefit of those who may be unfamiliar with the team.
Martin: Broken Rules is a small independent studio based in Vienna, Austria. We started out as a student team working on an assignment for a Game Design university course. The prototype for the course became And Yet It Moves, which was submitted to IGF, won the Student Showcase, was accepted by Steam, picked up by Nintendo and ported to WiiWare. At the same time we grew from a team of four to a company of eight. Andrea, Clemens, Felix, Jan, Josef, Martin, Peter and the other Peter - that's Broken Rules! We all wear too many hats to list them all. Our philosophy is simple: everyone contributes to the game. And everyone is involved in the game design process. We are overly democratic and our hierarchy is flat.
So how did And Yet It Moves prepare you for this new endeavour? Was it a smooth transition for you to cross over to this new concept?
Making your second game is definitely harder than making your first. If you started your first game as a prototype for university and it develops into a full game over years you plan as you move along. With Chasing Aurora, though, we had to make a lot of plans up front. The transition itself was smooth, but it took a long time. Let me put it like this: The first game happened by coincidence, the second game by intention.
Who did you have in mind target-wise when you decided to bring this concept to life, and were there any key inspirations that helped you get to this point?
There were three starting points for us: First, we wanted to make a game for gamers like us. Though we're all different we immediately found a number of core qualities in games that we agreed on. Originality, deep and worthwhile gameplay and meaning beyond the obvious are some of the concepts we find intriguing in games. The second point we quickly agreed on was that we wanted to make a game that plays in our immediate surroundings, not in an artificial place we've barely experienced. So instead of a galaxy far far away, or an American suburb, we chose the local countryside as the scenery for the game, specifically the Alps, a local mountain range. The third key inspiration was that Felix wanted to make a game about flying. We all had amazing dreams of flight so that it was easy to agree on the theme of dream-like flight.
Tell us about the name choice. Why focus on the word "chasing" instead of, say, "gliding" which still seems connected to what's been shown thus far?
Picking a name for your game is probably harder than inventing the core game mechanics. We had discussions, Skype day-long conferences, tears and screams. Aurora emerged as one of the interesting names, though it is a word that is quite hard to pronounce for a foreign speaker. It was Peter who made a joke I will not repeat in public that finally lead to the name of the game. The working title for Chasing Aurora was "Riders on the Storm", by the way.
Journey have proven that not only can it be done, but it can be done superbly. Would you say the game is driven artistically in that sense? What sorts of feelings do you hope to communicate to your audience?
In that sense, yes. We don't aim to make a piece of art in the classical sense. Telling a story without words limits the scope of the story. The emotional engagement can be just as deep, as if you played an expensively written game filled with cut-scenes. Honestly, most games that feature explicit storytelling do not trigger more than primal emotions. There are emotional states you can tap into with well-designed interactivity. Loss, attachment, closeness, mercilessness, despair and panic are just a few of them. Those are the emotions that art without or with just a few references – like music, video art, abstract painting, and this class of word-less video games – can access. In a way we just create a vessel for the player to fill.
The first time I caught sight of your game, I gathered that it had racing elements built into it. However, the most recent trailer showed off a different, more soothing and adventurous side to the game. What changes have been made since you first pulled back the curtain? And what game design principles would you ultimately pinpoint as being the backbone of Chasing Aurora?
The backbone of Chasing Aurora is the flying mechanic. The dream-like flight. How we, as humans, imagine to fly like birds (yes, this is what I mean). That is the foundation we build the rest of the game upon. We implemented racing, tag, freeze tag, hide & seek on top of that for our multiplayer modes. Some worked out, some didn't. For the campaign, we've started with the same gameplay elements, combining them in interesting ways. We've researched fun ways of flying before we could start working on scenes that do not require human opponents to be entertaining.
As part of the creative process, it can be freeing to let go of something that's holding you down. Judging from your blog updates, that's exactly what you guys have had to do. On one occasion, it was felt that the vision was too vague. What made you come to the conclusion and how have you since ironed out and expanded upon it?
Creating a game is a bit like panning for gold. Only you produce both - the gold and the gravel. The arduous process of isolating the gold is the production phase. Now the metaphor gets a little bit out of hand. In game design sometimes you have to throw away small nuggets of gold in order to lay bare the bigger slabs of the precious material. There are thousands of game mechanics that are fun, but if you happen to find the right combination – and iterate it until it is perfect – you can create magic. At one point during development our game design had lost its focus. So we had to take a step back and refocus it by cutting away everything that stood in the way of the pure vision we had agreed on for the game.
Chasing Aurora can't have those desired aerodynamics until the fat has been trimmed. How has it been to come to these realizations?
Sometimes painful. Sometimes relieving. We're still not finished with this process. At some point during working in a game, the game design has its own mind. Then it might just ride off in one direction or the other and you can either follow it or steer back. Those are decisions we're still facing every day. It might be that it would be easier to layer system over system to create deep gameplay out of complexity, but we're striving for deep gameplay as elegance and simplicity instead.
How will the game's soundtrack lend to the sensory experience of the gameplay itself?
The soundtrack was composed by Christof Dienz, an Austrian musician who plays a very unique style of modern music with folkloristic influences. Some tracks are played on traditional folk instruments. A lot of the sounds were actually recorded in the Alps. We are creating a dynamic score that always fits to the situation at hand. A score where the sound effects and the music blend together. Austin Wintory's GDC talk about his work on the score of Journey was a great inspiration, especially when it comes to the actual implementation of our plans.
In addition to the single-player experience, you guys have been hard at work developing a multiplayer component to the game. Knowing that the game will be made available for the Wii U, I'm sure some are very interested to hear how this will all play out with respect to the use of the Wii U GamePad. Could you tell us about that?
I cannot disclose any details at this point. Suffice to say that we have created some multiplayer modes that are only possible through the unique Wii U GamePad.
Now that you've had some time to play with the Wii U, what do you like about it? Better yet, what do you see in the console in terms of potential and the way Nintendo is positioning it to meet market needs?
The development environment is great. I cannot comment on the hardware itself. We were not happy with the low rate of online Wii's when we released And Yet It Moves. Judging from Nintendo's pre-E3 presentation they are creating much more motivation for connecting your Wii U to the internet, which is good. The Wii Remote was magic and immediately triggered a host of new possibilities for interesting gameplay. The same is true for the GamePad. People are used to controlling games by touch nowadays, and the combination of the small screen and the big screen holds a lot of promises.
Although you may have moved on from the experimental stage, I understand the team is still keen on receiving feedback in the months to follow. What are some things you'd like to ask of onlookers and testers that will help you in your process?
We will continue to show the game at events and festivals in order to garner interest and test it in the real world. We're quite sure that we are onto something with this game. One of the things that is interesting for us is to learn what people with a different cultural background see in the game. What do they expect when they hear the title of the game? Also small things like who do they think they are playing – Is it a bird? Is it a man?
When all is said and done, what are you hoping players will take away from the experience?
We want the player to have a unique dreamlike experience with this game. A feeling that stays long after you have turned off the console.
I can't wait to find that out for myself! Would you like to close off this interview with a teaser for our readers?
A teaser? Let's see... The last thing we've implemented is underwater movement.
Now with even more confidence on the potential of this project, it's been a pleasure speaking with Martin about Chasing Aurora!
expose yourself to more teases
as it continues to take shape.