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Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori takes equestrian gaming to 13th century Mongolia

The upcoming Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori marks a significant departure from the familiar settings of this long-running horse-riding series. Traditionally set in modern-day Germany, the new game transports players to 13th century Mongolia. Here, they will build and cultivate their nomad camp and undertake missions as an ancient courier rider, delivering packages across the diverse Mongolian landscape. 

Alice Ruppert, a leading authority on equestrian games with her website The Mane Quest and a producer on the game, spent most of 2023 working on its inception and concept, laying the foundation for a game that faithfully portrays horses. “We hope to break out of the ‘horse game’ bubble with Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori and provide an experience that appeals to a wider audience of players.”

“There were two main reasons for this drastic change in scenery,” she explains. “On the one hand, we noticed that our target audience of ‘horse game’ players was getting a little tired of seeing similar settings and premises in almost every title in the niche. On the other hand, we knew that ‘be a Mongolian courier rider’ would appeal to a wider group of people than ‘manage a riding stable’. And that the historical setting would allow us to reach players that wouldn’t otherwise pick up an equestrian simulator game.”

Getting ‘the feel’ right

Aesir Interactive, the developer behind Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori, is based in Munich, Germany, and consists of over 105 people working on multiple projects simultaneously. At present, roughly 20 people are dedicated to Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori. Aesir specializes in open-world games, with key genres including simulator games like Police Simulator: Patrol Officers and Ambulance Life: A Paramedic Simulator, alongside horse-riding games such as the Windstorm franchise and Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch.

“The game is still very early in development, but I’m excited to see how several of the planned features will work out, especially what relates to the ‘courier’ gameplay and packing your inventory for long trips,” Ruppert says. “At the moment, we’re focusing on getting the feeling and controls of the horse riding itself right, which can be quite complex. We’ll soon be conducting first playtests with the horse-loving target audience to make sure riding controls and animations hold up to scrutiny.”

Equine realism

While the game will have a narrative, its main appeal is expected to be the open-world exploration and system-driven gameplay. “Equine realism is part of the project’s vision, so everyone is well aware of how important it is to get this right,” Ruppert emphasizes. “I’ve been providing resources, guides, and reference footage wherever possible, and it helps that one of our artists is a horse owner and rider as well, so we have another pair of eyes on horse accuracy. I’m really happy with how our animations are turning out.”

The visual appeal of Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori is also a standout feature. “It all comes down to the Aesir Interactive team and the skills they’ve been honing over the past decade or so,” says Ruppert. “While we’ve made a heavily stylized game with Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch, the new Windstorm game aims for a broader target audience beyond equestrian enthusiasts and children who are familiar with the Windstorm IP. So, we wanted to go for a style that can be highly appealing to open-world adventure players. Also, Unreal Engine 5 and its tools allow us as a developer to reach new levels of visual fidelity and detail that we absolutely wanted to play around with and show off.”

Reinvent the Wheel

Discussing the creative process at Aesir Interactive, Ruppert notes, “the studio has a dedicated process for handling ideas and pitches. Everyone is encouraged and welcome to contribute their ideas. Ultimately, the final decision rests with the C-level executives in collaboration with the shareholders. They evaluate ideas based on typical aspects such as business case, potential, genre fit and credibility, and partnerships/funding.”

Aligning vision, scope, and budget is a crucial and often challenging part of the development process. “In a creative environment and an iterative development process, there’s a tendency for teams to reinvent the wheel within their departments, or to bring in ideas that some people like, but that deviate from vision or scope too much,” Ruppert explains. “Ensuring alignment with the original vision and adhering to the quality targets and goals we’ve set, is an essential part of the development process. This doesn’t mean we can’t iterate along the way, but it’s important to stay focused on our core objectives.”

Horse game bubble

Looking ahead, Ruppert has high hopes for Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori. “We believe that Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori will be fresh and interesting to existing fans, since the game’s narrative and thematic content is very much in line with the Windstorm spirit, so to say. At the same time, we hope to break out of the ‘horse game’ bubble with this game and provide an experience that appeals to a wider audience of players. By releasing in Early Access at a very early stage in development, we want to involve the community and its feedback as soon as possible, in order to build and balance a quality product over time.”

Windstorm: The Legend of Khiimori will release in Steam Early Access in September 2024. Until that time, you can play the remastered version of Windstorm: Start of a Great Friendship.

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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