Wii sparks development gold rush

Wii sparks development gold rush
Michael French

By Michael French

January 12th 2007 at 9:45AM

Nintendo's best-selling DS and Wii games machines seem to have sparked a flurry of production and acquisition activity, with Traveller's Tales the latest studio to set-up a format-holder-exclusive team to satisfy publisher demand.

Today the studio revealed that Embryonic, which is acquired last week, will now be set to work on a brand new Wii game and Wii/DS versions of TT's other titles.

"Up until now we outsourced GBA and DS work. We wanted to handle all our versions in house. It is more cost effective, and we can control the quality of the product more easily," studio founder Jon Burton explained to Develop.

The Embryonic name will soon be ditched and both studios will soon share new Traveller's Tales premises, which includes new facilities and a mo-cap suite - but importantly the Nintendo-oriented team will retain its own identity.

Publishing demand for Wii titles has risen, confirmed Burton - news which doesn't come as a surprise given that Nintendo says it will have put 6m units out on the market by March, just over four months since the machine's launch.

Almost all of Traveller's Tales (with one notable exception - see below) are now heading to Wii as well: "It makes sense as it is an enhancement of our GC engine which we now don’t have to just throw away."

PUBLISHING POWER
While independents such as Traveller's Tales are benefitting from the Nintendo spike, last year publishers began amassing internal resource behind the Nintendo Wii with Buena Vista Games and Electronic Arts both starting Wii-dedicated teams in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA (via a new studio for BVG and acquisition for EA).

The head of Fall Line Studios, Buena Vista's effort, has told Develop that the real draw for publishers is lower risk, as the lower asset and production demands (when compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360, at least) are more appealing to those managing a balance sheet.

"We were discussing if we could build a new studio from the ground up and what I was looking at was whether or not there was a model that meant smaller teams with more creative focus would do well," Scott Novis explained when discussing Fall Line's founding.

"We've all done the big project thing and that has a distinct characteristic and feel to it. When we really started looking into the Wii we realised that what Nintendo is introducing and the demographic that's likely to appeal to looks like a really powerful combination."

FORCE FEEDBACK
Nintendo's introduction of a format that almost-exclusively demands motion-sensitive input (unlike Sony's Sixaxis, which makes it optional) but removes the emphasis from graphics and visuals, has changed the development game somewhat, however.

"The Wii demands games more tailored towards its unique hardware. Although we can generally adapt our games to work in a more unique way on the Wii, games targeted directly at the hardware will provide a better experience.

"My only reservation with the Wii is that the novelty may wear off quite quickly, in which case you are left with a last-gen machine," explained Burton.

"The unique input devices on the DS and the Wii require specific design decisions. The users expect a certain style of game and certainly expect it to use the unique features the platform."

However, proving that the Wii is as discriminatory towards concepts as it is accesible to new gamers. Burton explained that the new interface the Wiimote provides  means that gamers shouldn't expect a swift port of Traveller's Tales most recent hit, Lego Star Wars II any time soon.

He commented: "We were very tempted to release LSW2 on the Wii. It makes a lot of sense to do so. However, people would expect to use the Wii controller as a lightsaber. A third-person platform game like LSW2 doesn’t lend itself to that control method, and trying to get it to work would make the game a lot harder to play. So we would either ignore the controller and get flak for not using it for it’s most obvious use ever, or we try and use it as a lightsaber and break the gameplay. Either way doesn’t work, and so players would be disappointed. So no Wii version (until we figure out an elegant solution)."

Fall Line's Novis is adamant that this challenge and the controller's novelty isn't a detriment to the games being produced: "Being able to take what we already know and enhance and add to it our focus is on the new novelty of the additional functionality the controller provides. That means you can use smaller teams, and people that already know how to make things for the gameplay. And that means there will be better games for the Nintendo Wii early in the lifecycle."

'Notorious' a detailed profile of the consequence Nintendo's 'disrupting development' strategy has had for studios and the games industry can be found in the latest issue of Develop, which can be downloaded here. The full Q&A with Fall Line's Scott Novis will be posted later today.