Daniel Smith, Senior Producer on Ori and the Will of the Wisps at Xbox Game Studios, speaks with GamingBolt about Moon Studios’ beautiful Metroidvania platformer.
Ori and the Blind Forest remains one of the best games to have come out of the Xbox Game Studios umbrella this console generation- that, and the fact that Will of the Wisps looks like it’s going to improve upon every aspect of its predecessor, together mean that people are more than just a little excited about the sequel. We recently sent across some of our mot burning questions about the beautiful Metroidvania platformer to its developers, hoping to learn more about the game. You can read our interview with Daniel Smith, Senior Producer on Ori and the Will of the Wisps at Xbox Game Studios below.
"When we set out to make Ori and the Will of the Wisps, we wanted to preserve the pieces players loved about Ori and the Blind Forest while evolving the series beyond what we were able to do at the time and giving players more to explore in the universe they responded so positively to."
Is there a lot of pressure in trying to follow up on a game as beloved as Ori and the Blind Forest, knowing that fans are going to be expecting something just as good (or better) with the sequel?
When we set out to make Ori and the Will of the Wisps, we wanted to preserve the pieces players loved about Ori and the Blind Forest while evolving the series beyond what we were able to do at the time and giving players more to explore in the universe they responded so positively to. So I wouldn’t say there is pressure to live up to the acclaim of the first game as much as we just want to build something our fans will love while being more accessible to new players. That is the expectation we have for ourselves and it drives everything we do.
Can you go into detail about the shards system, and how much that plays into combat and traversal?
Shards are a diverse new system that allows players the ability to customize Ori’s powers in a variety of unique ways. Players can equip up to three shards at any given time, with upgrades to equip more later, spanning a wide range of abilities, offering the flexibility to adapt Ori to any playstyle. With 35 shards to collect plus upgrades, there are nearly endless combinations for players to choose from.
What we love about the shard system is it really opens Ori up to a much wider range of players and allows the game to scale both up and down, which is perfect for a title launching into Xbox Game Pass. For example, experienced players can enhance their damage output by becoming a glass cannon and taking more damage, while a newer player can equip abilities such as the Sticky shard that enables players to climb up walls effortlessly to aid in traversal. There truly is an option for every type of player to finely tune the gameplay experience to their liking, and we’re excited to see what combinations players come up with starting March 11.
Something else that is new in Will of the Wisps’ combat system is multiple weapon types- can you talk about how many they are, and how much they differ from each other?
Ori and the Will of the Wisps features a variety of weapons for players to equip, evolving combat beyond what it was in Ori and the Blind Forest. Similar to shards, players will be able to equip up to three different weapons at a time to customize Ori’s combat ability to best fit individual playstyles. The first weapon players will unlock is a sword, giving Ori access to a fast, flexible melee weapon useful in a wide variety of situations, but they’ll quickly unlock more as they make their way through the game. Whether it’s a hammer to dish out heavy, powerful swings or a Spirit Bow to add a ranged element to your assault, there are options to suit every type of player.
"Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a much bigger game than Ori and the Blind Forest in terms of overall scope, and that includes the map."
Combining the multiple weapon types, the shards, and the game’s progression mechanics, it definitely seems like there’s going to be plenty of build variety in Will of the Wisps. How high on your list of priorities during development was it to nail down that aspect of the game?
More than build variety, our goal with Ori and the Will of the Wisps was to make a game that was more accessible to all types of players. While fans loved Ori and the Blind Forest, we received a lot of feedback from interested potential players that they were unable to play the game due to its high difficulty curve. So in revamping the combat system and introducing shards, we were able to give advanced players ways to challenge their skills and new players ways to assist and make the game a little easier. Both systems offer that sort of flexibility and replayability we feel is key when opening the game up to a large audience on day one with Xbox Game Pass.
Movement was a huge pillar in the first game, and one of its most refined and enjoyable aspects- how does Ori and the Will of the Wisps improve upon that?
One of the biggest pieces of feedback we received from players on Ori and the Blind Forest was that you didn’t receive some of the game’s most fun powers until later in your adventure. So in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, we wanted to give players access to staple abilities such as double jump, dash and bash earlier to help aid in the feeling of momentum in movement. Additive to this, we opted to keep some of the fan-favorite powers from Blind Forest and expand on them so there will be a variety of new traversal abilities for players to master along their journey.
Can you talk about how big the game’s map is, especially in relation to Blind Forest?
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a much bigger game than Ori and the Blind Forest in terms of overall scope, and that includes the map. Players will be able to explore a world roughly three times bigger than Ori and the Blind Forest, and we’re excited to see how players react to all the surprises they’ll find along the way.
"In a genre filled to the brim with fantastic games, we wanted Ori and the Will of the Wisps to stand out based on the unique power and combination of its storytelling, art and design, combat system and technical abilities that power the game, which we feel make Ori stand out alongside its contemporaries."
Speaking of maps, one of the biggest strengths of the first game was how diverse its map felt in terms of environments and the design of the areas- which, of course, was also a great excuse for the game to show off its incredible art. Can players expect similar diversity from the game’s world in Ori and the Will of the Wisps?
A map three times bigger than Ori and the Blind Forest has resulted in an even wider and more diverse array of locations to explore. While the map is bigger in Ori and the Will of the Wisps the areas remain roughly the same size, so players will have a wide world to traverse that allowed our talented artists and designers to truly flex their creative muscles. In Blind Forest it was critical that each environment not only look different, but feel different and have unique puzzle or traversal mechanics. We’ve made no exception to that design philosophy in Will of the Wisps and I think players will have a blast exploring the world of Niwen.
Something new that Will of the Wisps is adding is NPCs, some of whom can even hand out side-quests. What should players expect from this side of the game- can you talk to us about the nature of the side quests, what they might entail, how they would play into the story?
With a bigger world we wanted to encourage players to explore off the beaten path, and side quests will add even more depth to Ori’s adventure. While some side quests will consist of simple tasks, others will lead players on journeys to discover the background behind many of the characters Ori will meet along his journey. While we don’t want to give any specific details away to avoid spoilers, players can expect the same level of emotion and care in them they would from the main story, and we cannot wait to see player reactions to them.
The metroidvania genre has seen a resurgence like no other in recent years, and Ori and the Blind Forest has been hugely responsible for that. Have any of your peers in the genre stood out to you, that may have perhaps influenced you during development as well?
We love the genre and think games such as Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Bloodstained, and more have done a remarkable job of moving the genre forward in interesting ways. In a genre filled to the brim with fantastic games, we wanted Ori and the Will of the Wisps to stand out based on the unique power and combination of its storytelling, art and design, combat system and technical abilities that power the game, which we feel make Ori stand out alongside its contemporaries.
"While it’s hard to put a number on the length of the game due to the wide range of playstyles players adapt when playing something like a Metroidvania, we can say the game is three times bigger than Ori and the Blind Forest, so there will be much more to explore this time around."
About how long will an average playthrough of Ori and the Will of the Wisps be?
While it’s hard to put a number on the length of the game due to the wide range of playstyles players adapt when playing something like a Metroidvania, we can say the game is three times bigger than Ori and the Blind Forest, so there will be much more to explore this time around. Plus, with the various combinations of shards and weapons, players will be able to replay the game and have a completely new experience along Ori’s journey.
Will the game feature Xbox One X-specific enhancements? Is 4K/60 FPS on the cards?
Ori and the Will of the Wisps will indeed play at 4K resolution with HDR and run at 60 fps on Xbox One X. The game truly looks and plays beautifully on the hardware.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One, in terms of frame rate and resolution?
It’s important to us that we achieve as close to performance parity as possible with the original Xbox One hardware. We believe we have achieved that but are continuing to work on a patch that will ship shortly after launch which will make small incremental improvements so that players will see 60fps no matter what hardware they love to play with.