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Trine Interview: Frozenbyte on Pricing, Online Co-op, Future Projects and More

As a big fan of Frozenbyte's slick platformer Trine, it was unfortunate to see its recent PC release somewhat confused by price-point discrepancies and puzzling platform information. A typical Trine discussion included any, or all, of these que

As a big fan of Frozenbyte's slick platformer Trine, it was unfortunate to see its recent PC release somewhat confused by price-point discrepancies and puzzling platform information.

A typical Trine discussion included any, or all, of these questions: Why is the game $10 more on PC? Will online co-op be patched in soon? When is the PlayStation 3 port coming out? And what's this about an XBLA version?

We caught up with Frozenbyte public relations manager Joel Kinnunen in an attempt to clear up some of this confusion. In our email exchange, we also covered the origin of Trine, whether a sequel or expansion is on the way, and what the developer is working on next.

Shack: First of all, how are the sales looking? Have they met your expectations?

Joel Kinnunen: Yeah, I think. It's a bit hard to say because all of our "hard" sales knowledge comes from the Shadowgrounds games, and Trine has had much, much better pre-release hype. I think we made like three predictions, and the sales have been following the middle one pretty much. And with so many things going wrong with the project, I think we have to be fairly happy with the current sales.

Now it all depends on the legs of the game, so to speak. And of course the game has only been released on PC so far, so there's still a lot of unknown factors regarding sales. We can't wait to see what happens with the PSN release.

Shack: What was the initial concept for Trine, and how much did the game evolve along the way?

So in other words, yes, we will revisit the Trine universe in the future.

Joel Kinnunen: Trine had a rather interesting starting point, as it was actually a hobby project of one of our main programmers. It was an homage to old-school platforming games, and I think that's the game that was truly supposed to be "indie." But when our other projects weren't getting enough publisher interest, it was agreed that Trine could benefit a lot if the whole team started working on it, and so we made some radical design changes and reworked the whole art style, and really went all out on making a great game.

Shack: A lot of people have named The Lost Vikings and LittleBigPlanet as possible influences. Are those games you had in mind?

Joel Kinnunen: We're obviously familiar with both, but they weren't conscious influences. We just thought of all the fairytales of knights and wizards, and the atmosphere surrounding them, and tried to capture some of that in Trine. There's a lot of familiar elements in many games and in other media, but it's hard to pinpoint any specific source as the "biggest influence." The whole project has evolved so much that at some point it really became a rather unique blend of its own I think.

It also comes down to the way we work, we work in a very agile way (because we can't handle any other way) and because everyone's opinion and thoughts are heard, and respected... unless said opinions and thoughts are stupid, in which case they're ruthlessly shot down by our CEO. ;)

Shack: Are you still planning to add online co-op for the PC version?

Joel Kinnunen: Online co-op is a possibility. But the thing to remember is that it was a possibility with the Shadowgrounds games too, and it never happened. We've always conditioned it to the sales of the game(s).

With Trine, it looks like the chances are higher than they were with the Shadowgrounds games. But the cold reality is that we have to think about all the possibilities, so that could mean that online is released as pay-for DLC with some extra levels and features, or included in a sequel and then released for the original as a free update, or in some other way.

Ultimately, at this point it's just too early to say. In any case, any possible online features will not be added to the game until next year, because it just takes a whole lot of time to rewrite the inner workings of the game engine.

Shack: Any update on the PlayStation 3 release?

Joel Kinnunen: I wish I knew! Seriously though, I think the European PSN Store is getting the game by the "end of July". This is what we've been told, although I don't think it's truly official yet. The North American PSN Store probably gets the game a bit later. That's a bit annoying but we can't do anything about it...

Shack: What's the deal with Trine XBLA? Is that definitely on the way? And if so, when?

Joel Kinnunen: Well, there's really no right answer to this one. Here's the two facts: 1) We would love to have Trine on XBLA, 2) We've partnered with Atlus and we try to make it happen. These things are sometimes surprisingly complex and there's a lot of things that could go wrong, so it's definitely not a sure thing.

At the end of the day, we are really happy that Trine is coming to PSN in addition to PC. XBLA would be nice but we're not banking on it because it's so uncertain.

Turn the page for Kinnunen's comments on price points and Frozenbyte's future projects.

Shack: Prior to the release, there was a lot of confusion about price points. Was that frustrating on your end?

Joel Kinnunen: It was. We are not very happy about the current price points either, but ultimately we can live with them. We know the game would sell multiple times better if the price point was consistent across the platforms and currencies, so it's a bit painful on our side as well.

Shack: In particular, the Steam version ended up being $10 more expensive than the PlayStation 3 version here in the US. Were you guys unhappy with that discrepancy?

Joel Kinnunen: It sucks, but in all honesty I don't lose too much sleep over the $20 price on PSN and the $30 price on Steam/online/retail. The game is worth the higher price too, in my opinion, and I think people will have an enjoyable experience--and you can play the demo and judge for yourself.

I'm a bit more irked by the 20 euro price on PSN (Europe) and the 30 euro price on Steam/online/retail (and even higher in retail in some countries/retailers). The currency rates are just mad right now, and I can sympathize with a lot of European gamers who are angry at this discrepancy. But it's more or less out of our hands because it's linked to the retail side of things.

Shack: John Carmack recently told me that iPhone developers won't be able to release quality games on that platform if people reflexively reject iPhone games priced above $1.99. Downloadable games on PC/XBLA/PSN seem to be in a similar rut, where any price above $20 seems outrageous, even if the game is more substantial than a typical XBLA game. What are your thoughts on that conundrum?

Joel Kinnunen: We're aiming for premium downloadable games. It kind of seems like the market isn't ready, but I hope that will change in the future as bigger and better games come out as downloadable-only. I definitely put Trine in this category--it's not a AAA retail game, but it's also not a simple downloadable game. It's somewhere in-between and I think this market is slowly starting to form.

I think classifying Trine as an indie game has been a double-edged sword too. I mean the game has cost close to a million dollars with these currency rates, and it doesn't really follow the tradition of many other indie games in terms of quirkiness and that kind of stuff.

We funded over half of it, but our retail publisher Nobilis also chipped in, and Trine wouldn't have been possible without their support. In the future we hope to be less publisher-dependent, although at the same time I must say that publishers do have their own expertise too, so we might not abandon publishers totally even if we could financially afford it. But we definitely want more control of certain things.

Shack: Is there a possibility you'll revisit Trine with an expansion or sequel, or are you moving on?

Joel Kinnunen: We have a lot of great ideas. But you know, we're not stupid either, at least not with things that are totally in our control. Building a new IP takes a lot of money and resources, and I think we won't be churning out new IP after new IP... So in other words, yes, we will revisit the Trine universe in the future. Whether it's an expansion or a sequel, that's too early to know yet. We're also somewhat keen to revisit the Shadowgrounds universe in the future too, although there's quite a bit of competition coming out right now.

Our next "big" release is a new IP though...

Shack: You guys are developing two other unannounced titles, is that correct? Are they similar in scope to Trine?

Joel Kinnunen: Actually it's just one right now. We canned the other one. It was a bit of a shame because it was probably our strongest IP to date and could've been a rather big hit if it had got the multimillion budget we were aiming for. But publishers weren't risking all that money to some unknown developer and the concept really demanded a big budget.

The publishers also feared some other titles would steal the market, which is funny in retrospect now that those games are out and not so good... Anyhow, all this also meant the birth of Trine (see the second question), so I can't say I'm too disappointed, and I think we also lost a lot of internal interest for the canned project too, as some of its driving forces have left the company and so on.

The one new game we are working on is a bit smaller than Trine, and it's for the Nintendo DS. It's been in development for a long while and I think it's going to be absolutely wonderful when it's done.

Lately we've been thinking we should bring it to PC too, so that's a possibility too. As for the game itself, we're not ready to talk about it yet. All I can say is that if you were surprised that a developer who's done a game like Shadowgrounds does a game like Trine, well...

Shack: Is it safe to say that your next game will be another modern approach to a classic genre?

Joel Kinnunen: It's safe to say that we will always aim for something that is unique.

We're not going to do a first person shooter that looks and plays just like every other first person shooter, and we're going to keep away from flight simulators and hardcore strategy games. Everything else is possible if we come up with a good concept. We're also not set on any specific target group, we're going to do whatever pleases us best at any given time.

Shack: Thanks Joel.

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