Earlier this year, gamers were treated to a delightful fairy tale adventure about a magically-challenged princess. Awakening: The Dreamless Castle reached the #1 spot on BFG in its first week of release. Gamezebo sat down with Ran Wong and Christopher Natsuume of Boomzap to chat about the game’s sequel, Awakening: Moonfell Wood, whose launch is rumored to be right around the corner.

Tell us about the new setting for Awakening’s sequel.

Ran: The basic idea for Moonfell Wood was to use an outdoor environment, somewhere more expansive and open than The Dreamless Castle. We thought that a magical wood was a great traditional fairy tale location that offered a lot of scope for beauty. It also hints at the importance of night and day in the game, and gives the story a slightly darker, more sinister feel as Sophia leaves the safety of the castle and heads out into a dangerous new world.

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How did you come up with the idea for the original story?

Chris: The idea for Awakening‘s story comes from a challenge that we gave to the designer of The Dreamless Castle (Luna Cruz): Invent a story about a princess with no magic, in a world where everyone else was magical. The idea was that it would give the player a reason to complete challenges using logic and puzzle-solving, because she can’t use magic herself. Luna did an amazing job in taking a one-sentence challenge and creating this great character of Sophia, and a whole world for her to explore.

What’s in store for Princess Sophia in Awakening: Moonfell Wood? Will she hook up with a prince?

Ran: It’s not quite as simple a fairy tale as that! She’s on a quest to find not a Prince Charming, but an entire kingdom that seems to have disappeared. Along the way, she’ll discover why she was put into an enchanted sleep to begin with, and the lengths to which both the forces of Light and Darkness went through to protect/destroy her. It’ll be a journey of hope, tinged with foreboding traces of darkness.

What were your design inspirations for the character art, backgrounds, and visual style?

Chris: The #1 rule at Boomzap is that everything we do has to be “Bright and Beautiful” – Awakening was largely based on taking that rule to its logical extreme in a fantasy setting. The architect for the visual look (Michael Gonzales) “discovered” the hand-painted look of Awakening when we were making the earliest demo for The Dreamless Castle. For anyone who remembers the garden scene from Dreamless Castle, that was the first piece of art we ever made for the franchise, and incidentally the one that convinced Big Fish to publish the game.

Ran: For Moonfell Wood, we wanted to evolve that style into something still very “Awakening” but also new and interesting. We wanted the outside world to be darker, dangerous and foreboding – and yet remain beautiful and magical. We discussed the idea of how moonlight would provide overall illumination, and how we’d light the forest at night with dynamic, dramatic effects. One of our original ideas was these magic colorful mushrooms that glowed, and some puzzles would revolve around them. Eventually we settled on crystals that grew all around the forest, as they created a strong, inorganic contrast and added a sense of the supernatural.

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The basic look of our goblins was already set in The Dreamless Castle, so in Moonfell Wood we had a lot of fun playing with that look to create all sorts of personalities to meet in the forest. We actually used some real famous characters as ‘references” for our goblins – Albert Einstein and Gregori Rasputin, to name a few – to give them some personality.

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As for the fairy world, the main character is the elusive Fairy Queen who the players “met” by carrier pigeon in The Dreamless Castle. In Moonfell Wood, she has a more active role, so we spent a lot of time working on her. One issue we had was that we knew she was a few hundred years old, but we wanted her to be timeless and beautiful – that was a challenge!

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Were there any ideas you abandoned during the development process?

Ran: One of the biggest gambles we took with this game was creating a much more expansive, free-roaming environment. We tried to give the player the freedom to explore as many relevant areas as reasonably possible from the get go; but when we put this in front of our beta testers, many of them were overwhelmed by the scale of the areas. We ended up focusing the gameflow – closing off some parts of the game until the player finished other parts to get players moving in the right direction with minimal frustration. This ended up creating a large number of design changes, but we think they ultimately delivered a much better experience.

Chris: Interestingly, sometimes even your successes require redesign. One of our experiments in Moonfell Wood was to make a companion for the player to find early in the game. This was such a huge hit during the beta tests that we went back and redesigned some of the game to make more use of the little guy.

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Are there any plans to continue the series? Will you be porting Awakening 1 & 2 to other platforms?

Chris: Yes and yes! We have just finished a version of The Dreamless Castle for iPad/iPhone – and are hoping that it’ll be available through iTunes before Christmas. (They make *great* gifts 😉 As for sequels, absolutely – we’re already developing the third Awakening game, and are really excited to continue Sophia’s journey.

I understand that Boomzap is a virtual office, where developers work individually from their homes and practice web commuting. Tell us how that works.

Chris: Yep, we’re a 100% virtual office. Everyone in the company works from home, and we don’t have an official “office” anywhere. Our staff is all around the world – the founders are an American living in Japan and a Norwegian living in Singapore, so that gives you some idea of the diversity. Boomzap has people working all around the world, but the Awakening team in particular has people in the USA, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Russia.

Ran: Everyone works on a flexible schedule, and manages their work from home. It takes a lot of discipline to keep working in this environment, as there isn’t anyone standing over your shoulder telling you to get to work – but the staff love our games so we stay very productive.

Any final words for Gamezebo’s readers?

Chris: We just want to thank everyone for playing our games, and say that we’re so excited to share more of our Awakening world with you. It’s really a privilege for us to be able to dream up a world like this, and then share it with millions of people – sometimes it seems unreal. To say that we are truly grateful is an enormous understatement.