David Braben is best known for co-writing Elite, a massively popular and influential space trading game in the early 1980s, whilst still an undergraduate student at Cambridge University.
The game was ported to numerous platforms throughout the decade and even spawned a sequel named Frontier, produced by Braben's own company, Frontier Developments.
Since then, Braben has worked through Frontier Developments on a number of attempts to get another Elite game off the ground, whilst simultaneously developing games for a number of franchises, including RollerCoaster Tycoon and Wallace & Gromit.
Frontier's latest game is a Wii Software (WiiWare) launch title called LostWinds. We caught up with David Braben to ask him a few questions about what it's like to develop for the service, whether it constrains creativity and exactly how his 'third-way' of using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk actually works.
LostWinds has been labelled an action-platformer. In terms of gameplay, what will players actually be doing when playing it?
David Braben: First of all, some background. The story of LostWinds is set in Mistralis, a place that was created by elemental spirits, one of whom (Balasar) tried to usurp the others and rule its inhabitants as a god.
The spirits created a Spirit Stone to trap Balasar, and Enril the wind spirit duelled with him and forced him into it, at the cost of being trapped with him.
Ultimately, Balasar's centuries of frenzied rage caused the Spirit Stone to shatter into seven shards - he escaped and set about tightening his grip on Mistralis, leaving Enril trapped in the shards.
One shard of the Stone was found and is carried by Toku, an inquisitive young boy. Together Toku and Enril set off to restore the Lost Wind powers of Enril, re-awaken her sibling spirits and foil Balasar. The player controls Toku with the Nunchuck, and Enril via the Wii Remote.
This sets up a really interesting co-operative dynamic in the controller system, because Toku is relatively small and vulnerable yet he has physical presence in the world, whereas Enril has no physical presence, just a localised sphere of influence of wind power around the shard of Spirit Stone that Toku is carrying.
So the player has to think how to use the two characters cooperatively, they need each other to progress through the world on their adventure.
That's provided us with lots of new mechanics to play with, from ways to get around (using Enril's powers to waft Toku through the air, of course), ways to combine natural elements of the world such as blowing flames onto obstacles or enemies water onto soil to grow various seeds that Toku and Enril can use, and of course cool new ways to overcome enemies - suspending one of Balasar's Glorbs in a mid-air vortex and then gusting it into the ground is very satisfying!
The control system is very tactile. The whole experience is very playful and encourages exploration - everything in Mistralis bursts to life when exposed to Enril's wind power, making for a very rewarding experience for those who experiment with the world.
With LostWinds, you used the opportunity to explore a number of different design ideas that arose on Frontier's internal forum discussions. Can you elaborate on what these ideas were?
Braben: To explain the background, at Frontier we're very eager to encourage informed debate about game design within the company, and so we have a forum called Game of the Week (for reasons best kept shrouded in the mists of time) where people put up and discuss game ideas.