Nintendo is serious about digital distribution. That much was made clear in a recent event showcasing nothing but WiiWare and DSiWare titles due to hit the online service over the next few months. The sheer number of indie developers making substantial games for both platforms is a refreshing argument against the condemnation Nintendo has suffered recently for ‘abandoning gamers’.
“We constantly aim to challenge the video game market, and seek new talent and ideas”, said Laurent Fischer, Managing Director of Marketing and PR for Nintendo of Europe (and the company’s regional George Clooney look-a-like). “With the Wii, we provided a way of enjoying games without having any physical barriers. WiiWare is about offering budget games and additional content that the retail channel cannot offer.”
As I went around the event hall I spoke to many developers and tried to get their take on just why digital distribution is the future, and it was truly interesting to see plenty of people with different backgrounds and intentions getting involved.
Some studios have come from developing flash games or iPhone apps; others had never designed a game before in their life. For one person it actually meant a break from early retirement. Here’s a selection of some of the games that were on show.
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias
(Frontier) is the sequel to the fantastic LostWinds
. It sees you controlling both a boy called Toku and a wind spirit, which aids his puzzle-platforming quest by motion-controlling various weather patterns. In this sequel, you get to switch between the summer and winter seasons in order to progress through the story. Circling the Wii Remote in the air while holding the B button in winter creates a snowball, which you can then smash into enemies or switches.
Frontier founder David Braben explained that the original title would not have been possible without Nintendo’s online platform. “The concept is so different from any other game before it and that made it very difficult to pitch to publishers and get to retail – it is very handy to publish your own content in a large distribution channel that discerning gamers can appreciate and recognize.”
Playing a demo for the first time, I was again entranced by the wonderful art direction and ease of play – and the two seasons really help to make some interesting puzzles. At one point in the Summer season, I had to evaporate some water from a hole into a cloud, direct said cloud to another hole to rain the water into, then change the season to Winter so I could snowball a previously unattainable switch and open a door. The game will be out in a “matter of weeks”.
Worms: Battle Islands
(Team 17) introduces a new ‘Tactics’ mode, that sets your profile up with a number of islands. Each island can be populated with a specific ‘ability’ that can be used at the beginning of every match. Abilities include radars that let you see the entire map before play, and choosing where you’d like your team to be deployed instead of a random location. Using either improved motion controls from A Space Oddity
or classic controller options, playing a quick round is as fun as ever – especially when I was told that you can steal other players’ islands and abilities if you win a Tactics match.
Tales of Monkey Island: Episode 2
was being heavily promoted at the event, with Telltale Games’ Dave Grossman telling SPOnG that digital distribution is about the only platform in which an episodic series can work; “To be honest, it’s not that much cheaper to develop and publish a game on WiiWare than on disc… the real draw is that you get a lot more creative freedom, and that’s a big deal for us because you get a lot more control over the scheduling for a title like this. I mean, the alternative is to keep shipping discs in the mail to subscribers, and that’s not really a beneficial model.”
In the second episode, due to be released soon, Guybrush ends up getting his hand chopped off by a mercenary pirate. Now left with with a hook, it’s certainly one of the more controversial things to happen to our hapless hero. Grossman mentioned that it was an “interesting” conversation to have with LucasArts regarding that part of the storyline, but the publisher has generally been very supportive of the entire project. In playing through part of the game myself it was quite hard to put down without wanting to know if Guybrush gets his hand back or not. The writing is as sharp as ever, too.