The WiiWare service may be debuting behind Sony and Microsoft's services, but also it may well capture a distinct audience that Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network cannot -- just as the Wii itself does. One of the most notable things about it is how high-profile developers like Square Enix, who've sat out the online battle thus far, are delivering games to the service.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is a spin-off of a spin-off of what's likely the most popular role playing game series in the world; it's also the dawn of a new way of working for a company used to high-budget, CG-laden games.
The city-building simulator - a break from conventional Final Fantasy gameplay - is a launch game for the service, which debuts in North America this week and Europe next week.
Here, lead programmer Fumiaki Shiraishi and producer Toshihiro Tsuchida discuss the philosophy behind the biggest title in the WiiWare stable so far, in an interview conducted shortly after their presentation at this year's Game Developers Conference.
Jeremy Parish: I was at the panel yesterday, and it was very interesting and very candid, and I appreciate that. It was interesting to see the difference in development this game took from the usual Square Enix approach.
Do you feel that the growing size and complexity of games has stifled the individual creativity of games? If you look at current Square Enix games today, they tend to be more of a certain type, whereas in the PlayStation era, you had things like shooters and fighting games that you don't see so often now. Do you think that moving to WiiWare will help create smaller projects that can break out of the current Square Enix mold?
Fumiaki Shiraishi: That's a lot of questions at once. (laughs)
Toshihiro Tsuchida: To answer your first question about stifling creativity, I don't think it's about stifling creativity. It's just that you expect a division of labor when you work in such a big group. You have creativity in your own little field, but you're limited to that field.
But with WiiWare, as we said in the session, people get to see the creative part of the game. Hopefully, we'll get to train more people who see the larger picture, and hopefully, until then, will go on to make different kinds of games.
JP: So going back to the division of labor aspect of it, does the size of current game development and requirements keep games from being a single person's vision? It becomes more of a group vision, and focus-tested. Do you see WiiWare as a remedy of that?
FS: That question assumes that without a single vision, it's not as good.
JP: Not necessarily, just that you create different games when you have a single vision.
Brandon Sheffield: I think the phrasing of it suggests that, but I don't think you mean to suggest that.
JP: Maybe you can rephrase it for me.
BS: To rephrase, I would say... does the smaller team size of WiiWare allow for more person-directed projects, rather than brand-led projects?
TT: There's two ways. One would be games with a single focus, I think. We can make more of those. On the other hand, even the larger teams... it's not necessarily that you can't have one focus. I think we've managed to have some games with focus, but it does show up in different ways, I think.
Square Enix's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King
BS: I'm curious to know how difficult it was, or if it was a welcome challenge, to fit that game into a small file size. Was it challenging? I know when people saw the screenshots of the game for the first time, they were like, "How did that happen?"
FS: It actually wasn't that difficult. I think we designed the game to fit in the memory space. It wasn't so much that we had a game and had to squeeze it down. If anything, I think the size restriction helped us. I don't think we would've had this game design idea if we didn't have the memory restriction to begin with.
Once we had the restriction, we had... all our artists are veterans, so if you tell them the size, they'll hit it right on. And once we started making it, in the beginning, a lot of people didn't think we could fit this game in the given size, but we were actually quite a bit under. It uses a little bit of compression, and a little bit of techniques. You can fit a lot of game in a small size.
BS: Did it help focus the scope of the design as well?
FS: Yeah, definitely.