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E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


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E3 2019

The Outer Worlds is Proof of Obsidian’s Ability to Build a Universe

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The Outer Worlds

Obsidian Entertainment has consistently put out stellar RPGs for the last decade, but all of its creative juices have been strained of originality. Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: The Stick of Truth, while loved by many, are not synonymous with the Obsidian name. Though the developer has taken a crack at its own IP before, The Outer Worlds looks like the world’s first real taste of an unhinged Obsidian. Bringing together everything fans love about Obsidian-led games with the production values of a AAA RPG, The Outer Worlds plans to show players what the team can do when given time and the right tools.

Thanks to Obsidian’s generosity, OnlySP was given the chance to check out a behind-closed-doors viewing of the game at E3 2019. Even though the footage was hands-off, what was shown was more than enough to justify high hopes.

Obsidian has worked up enough goodwill in the last decade to fill a wasteland. From the moment the demo started, The Outer Worlds proved that Obsidian deserves all of its praise. 

Falbrook, a town on the planet Monarch, was showcased in the demo’s early moments and looked to offer Rockstar Games-levels of character. Townsfolk were walking around, talking with each other as business carried on as usual. The western, sci-fi fusion felt lived-in and was a nice reminder that Obsidian can do more than just make gripping RPG gameplay.

From the streets of Falbrook, the player walked into a nearby bar area to talk with an NPC. Here, dialogue and the importance of choice was shown in full effect. Those familiar with Fallout: New Vegas will find similar NPC interactivity here, as dialogue options have varying paths to take. Of course, standard options can be chosen to progress the story or learn more about another character’s background. Again following the example of Fallout was how dialogue can change depending on how the player character is set up. Obsidian did not go into detail about how dynamic this feature can be but did give the example of unique dialogue options for players who choose to have a low-intelligence character.

A true Fallout: New Vegas spiritual successor needs more than the classic RPG developer’s advanced dialogue, though, and The Outer Worlds’s combat offered just that. Though appearing sluggish during the first encounter, combat can pick up quickly. For example, The Outer World’s has a slow-motion mechanic called Tactical Time Dilation, which can most easily be compared to Fallout’s V.A.T.S. mechanic. This spin on an ability familiar to both Obsidian and Fallout fans alike is a great example of the developer’s willingness to blend its past experience with new ideas. Similar mechanics have been a staple of modern games, though normally can only be found in arcade-like games. Seeing such an arcadey ability used in a proper RPG was refreshing and should offer some hope to those worried The Outer Worlds could be all bark and no bite.

Obsidian doubled down on the importance of choice shortly after the first encounter by stressing the choices players can make both outside and inside combat. Again, as seen in many modern games, The Outer Worlds promises the option to take a stealth approach when infiltrating enemy lines.

What was really stunning about everything shown in the demo was the world and universe building. Leaving the town of Falbrook, which was interesting in its own right, led to fungal treetops that towered over the landscape. Pollen and spores filled the air as the player progressed onward. Obsidian claims the game will remind players of the team’s dark sense of humor, and the creatures and environments are unique both in name and appearance. The Outer Worlds looks to be both lived-in and well-realized, thus justifying its existence in the process. The entire reason Obsidian, or any developer for that matter, needed to take a leap of faith with its own IP was to prove it can produce a world worth living in. Despite gameplay and RPG mechanics that may not be wholly unique, the game’s namesake is.

Obsidian is promising outer worlds that are brimming with character. The Outer Worlds, while not promising anything too outside of the box in terms of gameplay, looks to offer a world like no one has ever seen before. Expect a much more polished Fallout: New Vegas with environments built from the ground up when The Outer Worlds finally finds its way to shelves on October 25, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. 

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