Trine Interview With Frozenbyte CEO Lauri HyvärinenBy Patrick Klepek - Posted Sep 16, 2009
Frozenbyte has come out of nowhere with Trine, a beautiful 2D platformer that has players transforming in real-time between a wizard, a thief and a knight. Each has different attributes that aid the player in solving Trine's many physics-based puzzles and evading enemies. Sometimes you're even tasked with switching between characters in the middle of a jump. It sounds daunting but it only takes a few levels before it becomes second nature.
Trine was released on the PC over the summer but has encountered trouble making an appearance on the PlayStation 3. Luckily, Trine finally arrived on the PlayStation Network in Europe and should be over here soon enough. With the game's console debut almost here, I spoke with Frozenbyte CEO Lauri Hyvärinen about Trine.
G4: How did Frozenbyte get started? What's your "mission statement," so to speak?
Lauri Hyvärinen: Frozenbyte was founded by a few game enthusiasts in 2001. While we have learned a lot during these years, our original goal still remains the same: to create games that we want to play. We are driven by lust for new ideas and high quality results.
G4: Trine and Shadowgrounds are very much rooted in old school genres but don't play like their archaic counterparts. How does Frozenbyte straddle between old and new design?
Hyvärinen: While the Shadowgrouds games certainly are positioned to be top-down shooters we wanted to add a lot of fresh ideas to them also. This is also seen in Trine, it's our take on platforming genre, and at least we feel we did add some things never seen in such context. Our main goal is not to "just" upgrade old games, but instead to find a genre where we could make a strong footprint and where our skills are best used. We don't see our games so much as retro games, but instead modern games which are made to respect an older genre. That said, Frozenbyte might not stick to just "old" genres - we don't actively look into old genres and go "there hasn't been a new game like this for a while". We are driven by games which we ourselves find fun to both create and play, and that includes a whole bunch of potential stuff.
G4: Were there any primary gaming influences when designing Trine? I've heard a lot of people compare Trine to Blizzard's The Lost Vikings.
Hyvärinen: The original idea is from some very old MSX games, and the final Trine is something that combines a lot of modern ideas to the original idea. While everyone knows Lost Vikings by name and reputation and screenshots, there's not that many of us here that have actually played it, even to this day. But certainly, we can say having three characters must have been influenced by Lost Vikings a bit, and we definitely welcome the connection.
G4: How did you decide on the three classes -- wizard, warrior, thief? What's the advantage of having three characters with differing abilities versus a single, all-powerful one?
Hyvärinen: Three characters has advantages (and challenges!) for story, controls and dying mechanics for example. For example, it's like having three lives before you have to go backward (to a certain extent), although with this ability we could have made Trine a bit harder than it is now. And in fact, when we were shopping Trine to publishers back in 2008, some of them actually wanted to have an all-in-one main character instead of the trio, but we stick to what we thought was best and I think ultimately we were right. Having only one character would have made co-op more boring too.
G4: Were there any characters you'd prototyped for the game but cut?
Hyvärinen: The original cast was Wizard, Warrior and a Summoner, but the summoner didn't have enough cool abilities versus the development costs, and the Warrior had a few too many abilities, so we instead created the Thief and gave her the grappling hook, which turned out to be a good choice.
G4: Can you complete the entire game with a single character?
Hyvärinen: It's possible with the Wizard at least, maybe with the Thief too. With the Knight, definitely not.
G4: Co-op is an interesting experience, one that intimately requires actual cooperation from the players in order to make progress. What were your intentions in designing Trine's co-op and what did and didn't work, based on how people have been playing the game?
Hyvärinen: Most problems so far have centered around the fact that there's no online multiplayer, and our mind with co-op was set to PS3 where it's most convenient. We wanted to have drop-in-drop-out multiplayer on PS3, just press the Start button to join. It works great. But on PC this was a bit problematic so we had to drop it, and thus rely only on the menu options. That doesn't work so great. To top that all, we also redesigned and created the whole menu interface during the very last weeks, so it's not as optimal as it could be. Other than that, we didn't have time to make the 3 player character change work instantly when two players change characters, so it's operated via the inventory screen, which is pretty hard to figure out. So we could say that the co-op itself works as intended, but accessing it and changing characters can be way too hard at times.
G4: Trine mostly successfully straddles the line between fun and difficult, but the last areas of the game ramp up the platforming of the game considerably. At times, it felt more like a Mega Man game. It was pretty hardcore. You even issued a patch. What happened?
Hyvärinen: The last level was actually the only one we didn't have time to test with outsiders, and of course that was the only level which really should have been tested. Many in our development team thought that it's one of our best levels, but that clearly was based on the fact that we of course had played the game so much that we loved the extra challenge, but could not see it's not fair for a first-time player.
Now we have fixed the easy and medium difficulties to be on par (almost at least!) with the rest of the game, but hard and very hard are still as hard as we originally set them to. It's been a tough lesson to learn for us too, and we won't make the same mistake twice.
G4: Trine looks to be your most successful project yet. What opportunities does this open for Frozenbyte? Are there ambitions to work on more than one game at a time?
Hyvärinen: We actually have been running one smaller project aside Trine (and we did the same with Shadowgrounds Survivor), and now the Trine team has moved to a new, same-size project while the smaller game is coming out hopefully in the spring next year. Of course, Trine has opened doors and for the first time in our company history we are, fingers crossed, able to do a project "properly." This should further increase the quality of our upcoming games.
G4: It's been a frustrating journey for gamers waiting for the PlayStation 3 version of Trine. One day, it's coming -- the next, it's not. What's it been like on your end?
Hyvärinen: It's killing us. Of course, if we had had any experience on console development, we would have known that it's most likely going to be like this. In addition to bugs which were totally our fault, the process has also involved some bad luck and many things out of our control. Once Trine is finally released I think it will have been worth the wait. We're just as anxious to see it in the PlayStation Store as everyone else!
G4: Can you update us on the status of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Trine? Does it actually exist yet?
Hyvärinen: We have a build running on the development tools but it's still very uncertain whether or not it will ever be released on XBLA. It's not in our hands.
G4: The question on my mind after finishing the game: Trine 2?
Hyvärinen: There will be certainly more Trine, but in what form, platforms and such, that still remains a small secret of ours. :)
G4: Oh, and here's a bonus question. Given Frozenbyte's fascination with playing with and updating classic gameplay conventions, if you were allowed to make the next installment in one classic game franchise, what would it be and what would you do with it?
Hyvärinen: Actually we have a few in mind already, and we might do one or two! I don't have anything specific to announce at this point, but I guess we are fond of genres which allow solid gameplay mechanics combined with easy access and lots of fun - a total blast as I call it.