Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a nice little indie game from a small development team at Cornfox & Bros. The developers are currently hard at work on making the sequel titled Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm. It is only confirmed for the iOS devices but the developers have teased a Nintendo Switch version later down the line.
Recently we had a chance to talk with Heikki Repo, creative director and co-founder at Cornfox & Bros. Heikki was kind enough to give us detailed answers on some of the questions that we asked him. We have already covered the PS Vita portion of the interview here, while the Nintendo Switch details were shared here. You can now read the full interview below.
GearNuke: It is pretty obvious that the game was inspired from The Legend of Zelda series but which game in particular was your source of inspiration when you were developing Oceanhorn?
Heikki Repo: When we came up with the early game concept for Oceanhorn back in 2010, we wanted to do a perfect portable adventure game for iPhones. I have always been a huge portable console fan, ever since the Gameboy days and Link’s Awakening is absolutely my favourite Zelda game. But Oceanhorn was not only inspired by Zelda franchise, but also by Final Fantasy and Mana games from (Square-Enix). Especially the first Seiken Densetsu (Mana) game for Gameboy was a great inspiration for Oceanhorn, since that game too is a console style adventure-RPG.
Seiken Densetsu was Square’s answer for Zelda and it was much more organic and complex game, with dramatic story and varying locations. Excellent remake of Seiken Densetsu was just released on iOS and PS Vita, called Adventure of Mana. It is huge visual upgrade, but it is very loyal for the game play of the original game. In many ways, it is a game that we set out to do in 2011.
With Oceanhorn, we wanted to mix elements from Zelda, Seiken Densetsu and other classic console adventure games, such as Landstalker. Our goal was to honor the legacy of these console adventure games and provide a fresh take at those experiences we used to have in our childhood. We wanted to make a retro game, but with modern visuals. This is how we came up with 3D tile engine that is used in Oceanhorn.
For some younger players and reviewers the retro connection is lost. They don’t recognize the references and hat tipping we have going on for the classics, as they have never got the chance to experience those, but we were well aware of that. In fact, we wanted to bring the classic gameplay for the people who haven’t had the chance to experience those games. In Oceanhorn, you don’t follow the compass pointer across the maps, you will have to find information from NPC’s or find your way. You will have to read the environment to find the paths or weak walls, we’re not going to have a specific “weak rock” to show it to you.
When we realeased the game on Nintendo Switch, I was surprised to find people asking for a jump button. There have never been jump button in Zelda games before the Breath of the Wild and it is not usual for top-down game to have jumping at all. You get to jump over the gaps in Oceanhorn later in the game, when you get the Trencher Boots item.
This genre of games, whether you want to call it Zelda-like or console adventure game, is very underpopulated genre, but people want to play good and thoughtful games like this. Success of Oceanhorn on all platforms is proof of that. Even though these games might seem simple from the surface, they are quite complex and you need to design the progress through the game carefully in order to make them work.
With Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, we wanted to master the format rather than start re-design a console adventure game. Instead we streamlined the format at some places and innovated in others. Some of the unique elements we have are challenge and XP system as well as many small features, like the way you unlock new play areas. Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas was made by three people, so for us it was quite an achievement to get this game done and working. Now, years after its initial release we are team of five and we are focusing on Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm.
GearNuke: How do you plan to approach the sequel? Do you want to iterate and improve on the foundation for the first game or attempt a more ambitious approach and go bigger and better with the sequel?
Heikki Repo: With Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, we are going to take a different approach. Instead of making a modern retro-game, we are making a modern adventure game with elements that people loved about Oceanhorn 1. The game is played from third person perspective, so you get to explore even the smallest nooks and crannies of Arcadia and experience the game from very personal viewpoint. We also continue to take the genre to a little bit different direction and discover the nature of Oceanhorn 2 as we go along. But one thing is certain. If you enjoyed the first game, you are going to have a good time with Oceanhorn 2.
As I mentioned above, we are a small team of five people and we are lucky to have such an efficient and talented team, but developing a game like this takes a long time or a big team. We started pre-production of Oceanhorn 2 in Spring 2014 and production in 2015, so we have already worked on this game for two years now, but we are not even close to releasing it. We will tell you more as we develop the game further. Please look forward to it!
GearNuke: Why was the game initially planned around mobile platforms? Where did it achieve the most success for you?
Heikki Repo: We have a background with mobile game development, even before smartphone app age that begun around 2008, so when we setup our studio we were going to focus on iOS development. We’ve had our biggest success on iOS, but all the following platforms have sold very well as well. Overall Oceanhorn has sold more than 1 million copies.
GearNuke: While porting the game to the PS Vita, what was the most challenging aspect that you faced? How was the feedback from the PS Vita community regarding the port of the game?
Heikki Repo: When we were porting Oceanhorn 1 for consoles with a porting house, Engine Software, the opportunity came to tackle PS Vita as well. We were a little afraid that Vita would not be powerful enough, but we wanted to give it a shot anyways. Biggest problems were the polycount from the characters and environment as well as memory limitations. To remedy this we made custom low-polygon 3D assets as well as reduced the texture fidelity of the assets to get make a reference build for the porting house. Oceanhorn is a great fit for PS Vita and I am proud of what Engine Software were able to squeeze out of that hardware. The game was well received by the PS Vita community and that is all we ever wanted: portable gaming community to enjoy our game.
GearNuke: Is it possible to see Oceanhorn 2 for the PS Vita or there is no way to scale it down for this platform?
Heikki Repo: Oceanhorn 2 is developed with Unreal Engine 4 and currently engine does not support PS Vita. Even if it did, it could not meet the hardware requirements due to CPU and memory limitations.
GearNuke: How easy it is to develop for the Nintendo Switch? Most of the developers have praised the support from Nintendo so what has been your experience working with them so far?
Heikki Repo: Oceanhorn was first released on mobile hardware, so it was very flexible game to port for mobile based Nintendo Switch. I see bright future for Nintendo Switch, as it has a support for Unreal Engine 4 for example and we are currently spearheading the mobile development on UE4 with Oceanhorn 2.
GearNuke: Do you think the power gap between Nintendo Switch and PS4/Xbox One makes a difference as an indie developer?
Heikki Repo: It depends on indie developer. Some indie developers don’t care much about saving resources, but it is everything for us as we are developing for mobile first (or parallel development), so our games have been optimized right from the beginning. This way we can add stuff for higher-end platforms later on. Nintendo Switch is already couple of years old hardware (NVIDIA Tegra X1), so latest iOS devices that we use for development are already more powerful than Switch. But developing mobile first helps and Oceanhorn 2 is going to look great on Switch, when the time comes!
GearNuke: How do you find mobile development challenging compared to consoles and PC? What do you consider as a good alternative for the touch-only restricted controls of mobile?
Heikki Repo: Yes, controls are the challenge when working on mobile. You can get good mobile controls, if you make sure people can hold the device in their hands so that it rests like a game controller and you only need to use both of your thumbs for 95% of the time. You should have virtual buttons to a minimum and preference is 1-2 buttons that is needed for core gameplay. We have always had this approach (Death Rally, Oceanhorn) and it works very well.
Other restriction is the power saving functions that you can’t get past. Your smartphone could look very powerful on paper, but in reality it goes into power saving mode real fast to prevent it from overheating. This is why getting a 60 FPS mode is very hard on mobile, but we were able to do it for Oceanhorn.
Third is the horsepower, but it is no longer that big of a problem. You can make a stunning game on mobile, if you don’t waste your resources, work around the restrictions and play with what the GPU is good at.
GearNuke: Do you plan to implement any support for the unique control scheme for the Nintendo Switch?
Heikki Repo: I’m curious of using the similar motion control aiming that was used in Breath of the Wild and Splatoon. It is very simple since it uses gyro and it is very fun to use. This is an innovation that could be used in any mobile game and on any console since the PS3, so maybe it is not unique to Switch – but there you go.
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is currently in development for the iOS devices and there is no release window specified for it yet. Judging from the release of the original, there is no doubt a console and PC version might also release at a later date.