The Wii U's line-up of launch games features several titles worth playing, from Nintendo-developed experiences like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, to more surprising titles like Ubisoft's ZombiU. But there's more to the console's library than just what you'll find on store shelves. While the original Wii's digital offerings featured a few success stories — most notably World of Goo — the platform lagged behind its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts. Austrian developer Broken Rules tested the WiiWare waters back in 2010 with a port of its PC game And Yet it Moves, and now the developer is back with a beautiful Wii U launch title dubbed Chasing Aurora.
"We simply like to play local multiplayer games."
The game is all about flight. But more than that, it's about flying with other people. The core appeal of Chasing Aurora is its offline-only multiplayer modes, which let you play with friends in the same room. "This has more to do with us as a team than with the game itself," Broken Rules co-founder Martin Pichlmair says. "We simply like to play local multiplayer games. That's why we've started working on one."
The team began working on a prototype of what would eventually become Chasing Aurora not long after And Yet It Moves launched on WiiWare. In addition to the game itself, they worked on creating a new engine, which would make it easier to eventually bring the game to multiple platforms. At the 2012 Game Developers Conference, they brought along a copy of the game that ran on PC, Mac, and Linux, and after talking to a few publishers, the studio was offered a development kit for the Wii U from Nintendo. But even though the core of the game was in place, the new platform meant that the team had to figure out how to incorporate Nintendo's unique controller.
"Of course we thought a lot about how the gameplay could profit the most from the GamePad's unique features," says Pichlmair. "The most intriguing feature for us was the ability to show gameplay on a second screen. That fit perfectly to our multiplayer gameplay, yet not so much to the single player game. Since we wanted to be finished by the launch of the console, we took the decision to cut the game into two and release the multiplayer part — with a strong focus on asynchronous multiplayer gameplay only possible with the GamePad — first."
The GamePad's second screen provides one player with a different view into the game world, which is used differently depending on what mode you're playing. For instance, in "Hide & Seek," the player using the GamePad is hiding from everyone else, while in "Freeze Tag" that player then becomes the hunter. Because the GamePad-wielding player can see the action on both the controller and the TV, they have somewhat of an advantage, as they can easily pick out where everyone else is. This playful competition is core to what the game is all about, and the fact that it's done face-to-face only makes things better. "Nothing beats playing with friends on one couch," says Pichlmair.
"Nothing beats playing with friends on one couch."
The game does feature a simplified single-player mode, which can be played entirely on the GamePad and lets you race through 20 different tracks. But the real meat of the single-player experience is yet to come. Once Chasing Aurora launches in Europe, Broken Rules will get back to work on a currently untitled project that's set in the same universe, but which will focus on single player.
In the past Broken Rules has said that And Yet It Moves performed "good, but not spectacularly" on WiiWare, but Pichlmair believes that Nintendo — which historically hasn't offered the most indie-friendly of platforms — has done a better job this time around with the Wii U. "They allow much more freedom nowadays than they did when we launched on WiiWare," he says of Nintendo. "I think the eShop is bound to be a good place for a couple of indies. Gaijin (developer of the Bit.Trip series) had great success on WiiWare. The eShop definitely is a huge step forward. Of course, Steam and iPhone built a strong base for indie development, but in the end it might be different indie games that succeed on the Wii then on those platforms."
"We're in for the long haul."
Whether or not the Wii U becomes a haven for these kinds of indie experiences remains to be seen, but as part of the first wave of Wii U indie games — which also includes Tomorrow Corporation's Little Inferno — Broken Rules will be among the first to find out. Pichlmair says that, while it's too early to tell how successful Chasing Aurora will end up being, the studio is committed to supporting it long term.
"Just like every multiplayer game we hope to build a community and we're in for the long haul," he says. "Nintendo offers a platform that allows us to keep the game going with patches and extensions. Let's see how it pans out."