Monday, June 10, 2019

The inspirations of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm - Part 3

For this last installment of our Inspirations series, we had the chance to sit down with Heikki Repo, Creative Director of Cornfox & Brothers. Heikki, one of the founders of the company, is responsible for the overall vision and story of the Oceanhorn saga.

“When talking about influences, we need to differentiate between the inspiration for the whole series, and those specific to Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm,” he says.

Upon the release of the first iPhone, the whole studio was excited to know everyone will have a powerful gaming machine in their pockets. At the time, the only RPGs on the device where some fairly obscure Korean-style action games – no RPGs in the vein of Zelda or Secret of Mana were available.

“Some of the games I hold most dear from my childhood were portable,” says Heikki, “two of my favorites are Link’s Awakening and Mystic Quest – Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu). I love them because they could combine the portable experience with extremely high-quality content. Mystic Quest, for example, uses a real myth (think Excalibur) and builds its story upon it. It also has a lot more drama than Zelda – a quite peculiar trait for those years.”

Oceanhorn, since the beginning, was planned as Cornfox’s own RPG franchise: an homage to the classics with its own personality. Versatility and gameplay experimentation were the keywords the company used as a guiding principle during the development of the first chapter.

“The first Oceanhorn is undeniably a Zelda-like, but we have XPs, and the story becomes increasingly dramatic towards the end – that’s not something you’d expect, for instance, from a Zelda game. These ambitions carry on to the second game as well. When it comes to the actual plot, I think I’ve been deeply influenced by Final Fantasy VI, VII, and IX: they never take shortcuts, and everything that happens there is the outcome of very thoughtfully laid out worlds and events. What actually goes down in the games is the natural consequence of what already had happened before.”

The story told in Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is the background story of the first Oceanhorn: an opportunity to lay strong foundations for the saga, add more details, and create a universe that will keep making sense for potential new projects as well. “The production phase of Oceanhorn 2 brought everything into focus. Certain story elements were a bit vague, and I think we managed to handle them quite well in Oceanhorn 2.”

Visually, Oceanhorn 2 will be an inviting, colorful game. Here the references are, again, Zelda and the Mana series: while its approach is console-style, the game will feature some dark undertones.
“Oceanhorn was developed by three people”, says Heikki, “me, Antti, and Jukka. It was a 15-20 hours game, so it was a huge undertaking for so few people, but we managed to squeeze in cinematics and most of what you’d expect from an RPG. At the time I was playing The Last Story, Hironobu Sakaguchi’s game for Wii.” Sakaguchi had previously delivered Lost Odyssey, Xbox 360’s own ‘Final Fantasy’. The Last Story, developed in collaboration with Nintendo, wasn’t destined, for obvious reasons, to set a new graphical standard, but the gameplay was something truly inspiring. “I saw that game as Sakaguchi’s idea of where to take the genre’s next: he focused on the feeling of presence, with party members talking to each other during gameplay, and an unprecedented possibility to use the environment to your advantage. The story wasn’t limited to cinematics, but brought directly to the levels.”

Energized by The Last Story, Heikki decided Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm would be a third person experience, with multiple party members.  

“I don’t mind when people make comparisons with Skyward’s Sword or Breath of the Wild, it means we’re giving out the right vibes. If you compare screenshots from Call of Duty and Battlefield it might not always be obvious which one is which, but when you get to play, these games feel quite different. The same is true if you compare Oceanhorn to Zelda or Xenoblade Chronicles – they provide similar experiences but each in its own unique way.”

One more saga that had an impact on Oceanhorn 2: Mass Effect. “After I played the Mass Effect Trilogy, I realized how the characters companionship and the way they explore the planets made those games great. I think that that, combined with the Zelda-like heritage of the first Oceanhorn, is what makes Knights of the Lost Realm special”, Heikki concludes.


Want to read these updates before anyone else? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The inspirations of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm - Part 2

In the second part of our Inspirations series, we sat down with Claudio, Cornfox Producer, and Level Designer. “My tasks range from managing partners relationships to designing the dungeons in the game. Cornfox is a small company, we all multitask.”

Claudio grew up in Brazil, a country where high import duties never stopped the gaming scene in the 80s and 90s from resembling its US counterpart. Arcades, PC games, and consoles were popular, and kids spent their afternoons switching between NES, SNES, Megadrive, and MSX.
“Soon SEGA, Nintendo and other manufacturer started to build their consoles directly in Brazil. That way, duties weren’t really an issue.” Claudio spent the last 20 years developing games, moving from Brazil to Germany to Portugal. Six years ago he finally landed in Finland. “I met the Cornfox guys at various local game events. After a while, we realized we were aligned in tastes and philosophy, and that’s how this adventure started.”

When asked about the games that are influencing Oceanhorn 2’s level design, Claudio goes back to the titles he grew up with. “The first Oceanhorn was a top-down game and shared the core gameplay with many Action RPGs of the 90s. We are now working on a third-person game: the camera can be controlled, there are 360 degrees of freedom, and there’s verticality in the level design. That means, for example, that we can add floors to buildings and dungeons, or hidden areas that would be impossible to create using other kinds of perspectives.”

Pacing is another area where Claudio focuses his efforts. “I want to have a balance between exploration and action, and make sure the learning curve is approachable, adding gameplay elements bit by bit.” But what makes a game feel fresh even after several hours? When a new mechanic is added, balance feels right if the player is allowed to experiment with it. As soon as the new mechanic is learned, the game gets slightly harder or mixes it with elements that have already been introduced. This design philosophy can be applied to everything: combat, puzzle, exploration. “I love the Diablo games, but the mechanics there are mostly built around combat: in Oceanhorn 2 we need to make sure there’s enough of everything, and that it comes in the right order, while also revealing the story bit by bit.”

Good examples of what Claudio means can be found in two of the most popular game IPs: Zelda and Metroid. “In those games, skills and mechanics keep stacking. The level structure usually follows a plot-exploration-boss template, which works really well. We’ve been inspired by the best.”

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is, in a sense, a “natural sequel” to the first Oceanhorn, as Ocarina of Time is a “natural sequel” to Link to the Past. “They are different games, of course, and Ocarina of Time deserves a special mention also because it changed how players interact with a 3D environment”, says Claudio, “but in a way, both titles feel part of the same saga, and the pacing is what ties them together.”

Claudio is also quick to add that there are other notable contributions to the Action RPGs space beside what Nintendo has been doing: less known titles such as Xak, Alundra, the Ys series, the Oasis series, Crusader of Centy, Terranigma, and others all have contributed to what Oceanhorn 2 is today. “When it comes to how the game looks”, he concludes, “there’s been a plethora of titles from the PS2 era that have informed Oceanhorn 2’s style, but I think we owe something to Dawn of Mana, one of the sequels to Secret of Mana. That game looks still good today.”

There’s still one episode left in this Inspiration series – stay tuned for more!


You can read pieces like this in advance subscribing to our newsletter!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The inspirations of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm - Part 1

The best thing about being a small team of developers is that we get to come to work and exchange opinions on what games we played lately, what retro titles our colleagues should check out, and what we could learn from the design of this or that game.

By popular demand, we decided to go over some of the games we think had some influence on our work for the Oceanhorn series, and in particular on its newest chapter, Knights of the Lost Realm.


Our first guest is Miko, Cornfox & Bros Game Artist. "I work very closely with Heikki (Cornfox's Creative Director) to create the visual style of the game. I focus mostly on environment art, but have worked on other things as well," says Miko, "We're trying to capture the feel of the original Oceanhorn, but the transition to the new Unreal Engine physic-based rendering opened up new possibilities for the series."  

Knights of the Lost Realm sports a world inspired by quite many late-90s RPG games: in contrast to what came before, often set in a medieval world of knights and castles, here we have both technology and industrial elements seamlessly integrated into a "classic" RPG setting. Breath of Fire 3, Grandia and Alundra (all from 1997) are good examples of this style, where coal, electricity, and gritty backdrops are mixed with classic RPG stuff.

"The world of Oceanhorn 2 is not completely industrialized, and in most areas it doesn't go as far as many of the environments do in FFVII, for example." continues Miko, "We are big fans of this classic though, and one can most likely see the influence Midgar had had on Arcadia's capital, the White City. Like Midgar, it has a circular design and you can see gigantic pipes rising over the walls of the city, but unlike Midgar it’s not a dystopia. The White City is a beautiful and bright place, where the sun is always shining. In a way, we try to bring the scale of things to a level similar to what you see in FFVII: even if we use a different aesthetic approach, you feel like you could easily just walk on the pipes."

The more advanced technology in Oceanhorn 2 quite often have rounder and smoother shapes, much like some of the vehicles found in Akira Toriyama’s work. The Yellow Bird, Trin's airship, is the perfect example of this rounder design. The most advanced Arcadian tech takes this up a notch, featuring an even sleeker and aggressive design, inspired by modern sports cars or jet planes.

"And then we have the Living Fortresses," says Miko, "compared to the original Oceanhorn, we had a bit more technical freedom with the art, so we tried to make them look even more sophisticated and dynamic. If the Living Fortress in the first title was our version of the Metal Gear Rex, the Living Fortresses in Oceanhorn 2 are an evolution on that, Cornfox's Metal Gear Rays."

If you want to know more about the games and styles that inspired us during the development of Knights of the Lost Realm, stay tuned for Part 2!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Nations and Cultures of Gaia

Enclosed by mighty glaciers, the lands of Gaia are divided into three main regions: Arcadia, Pirta, and Submeria, each home of a specific culture – respectively Arcadians, Owrus, and Gillfolk.

Arcadians used to be devout followers of the god Sol, but after centuries of holy wars, their religious drive has dampened. As a result, their society has turned to technology-driven secularism: in Arcadia, faith in magic has been dwindling for some time now, and religious temples lay in ruin, like forgotten relics of a distant past.

Owrus and Gillfolk have, on the other hand, been able to sustain their cultures around the temples and shrines of their respective gods, Nieto and Trito.

The Owrus, whose tribes are currently divided by an old Emblem-related quarrel, have all built their homes in the proximity of the Forest Shrine. Despite their differences, Owru people as a whole have always considered themselves as the Wardens of the Jungle. Their sacred duty is to live in harmony with nature and protect Pirta from aggression. Despite the good intents, rumor has it that their fierce warriors have been struggling to keep a terrifying threat at bay for some time now…

Irontalon is the Owru Ambassador in the White City. While he misses the Great Jungle of Pirta, he's in charge of an important task: taking back the Sacred Emblem to his people.

Submerians too have had their fins full lately: trapping the Yurmala Turtle inside Ootheca, the holy place, was no small feat.
When not busy fighting monsters from the sea, Submerians hunt down precious sea materials. Thanks to the finest blacksmith in the whole of Gaia, these corals, and other rare minerals are turned into beautiful weapons that are the envy of the whole world.

Princess Fin loves her country, Submeria, a land full of life and color – a true shelter for both fish and birds. She attributes all of this to the blessing of Trito, the god residing inside the Sacred Emblem of Ocean, which, one day, she hopes to bring back from the White City.

There's much more to the world of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm than meets the eye, but that's for you to discover upon the game release.

Stay tuned for more updates!


Want to get these updates a few days earlier? Sign up for the newsletter on the Oceanhorn website!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm to be part of Apple Arcade in Fall 2019

Hi all, a quick recap of the last few days – Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm will be part of Apple Arcade, and is confirmed in Fall 2019 for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac. You can read more about Apple Arcade here. We'll share additional updates as we go.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to show you our brand new teaser trailer. Enjoy!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Binding the Powers of Nature: the Caster Gun

The world of Gaia is living an era of unprecedented technological marvel, led by Arcadia, home of Archimedes and his engineering revolution. However, there's a power hidden from regular folk and forgotten by many: magic.

One relic from the days when Knights and Mages were fighting united in the Direfolk War is the weapon our Hero wields: the Caster Gun, a rare device created by the best Arcadian Mages, able to transmute the raw elements of nature you’ll find along the journey into combat spells.

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm features four main spell types: Fire, Ice, Lightning and Heal, each useful for a specific purpose.

As you might guess, Fire will allow you to burn down wooden objects, destroy weak walls and inflict massive damages against vulnerable enemies. Ice can freeze enemies in place, or spawn floating ice rafts on the surface of the water. Lightning stuns enemies and is useful to power devices or solve electricity-based puzzles. Last but not least, when you're running low on HP, the Health spell will allow Hero to recover some much-needed hearts.

During the game, you'll also be able to increase the efficacy of this weapon thanks to the Power-Up Shards that you'll find as rewards from treasure chests scattered around the map. Once equipped, they will increase either Damage, Might (which influences duration and area of effect) or Charge (the cooldown) of the Caster Gun.

This is all for today, but remember: there are many other gadgets waiting for you in Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm – keep your eyes peeled for more!  


Want to get these updates a few days earlier? Sign up for the newsletter on the Oceanhorn website!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Discover the White City, Capital of Arcadia

In Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, we'll take you to all the main regions of Gaia: Arcadia, Submeria and Pirta. One place you'll get to know well is The White City, and today we'll discuss its history and points of interest.

The White City is the vibrant, rich capital of Arcadia: under the strong leadership of Archimedes, blessed by his continuous scientific breakthroughs, it has prospered and blossomed. After declaring himself Grand Regent, he spent the last 20 years upgrading the pre-existing feudal structures and turning the city into a shining jewel of industrialization; an example for all Gaia to behold.

The city, built by the sea, is an old settlement dating back to the savage wars waged in the name of Sol, Nieto, and Trito. While its feudal walls are ancient, most of the fortifications are of recent build, as is the new city center, developed above Archimedes' modern masterpiece: the Grand Core.

The city is divided into three main districts. Upper Town is where the high society and officers live. Before Archimedes' arrival, the area hosted the Order for All Gods (aka the Mage Guild), whose building is now occupied by the headquarter of Genco Corporation and its automatons workforce. Genco is responsible for the production of appliances and technological artifacts, and as such, it basks in the approving gaze of the Grand Regent. Mages, instead, are banned from the city, and while magic is not explicitly ostracized, few feel comfortable coming forward as users. Upper Town also has access to the railroad, which pierces the town from both East and West.

Lower Town, the area between the Trident fortifications, begins with Genco's loading docks, through which most of the goods come in and leave the White City. The permanent market stalls are a popular attraction, both for visitors and regular citizens. A small slum has spawned not far from the market; despite the efforts of the Grand Regent, the White City cannot embrace all its children, and some less fortunate citizens are forced to seek shelter from the elements under its massive stone arches. Lower Town also used to be the religious district; now, only ruins remain, to remind everyone of the sins committed during the religious strifes of the past.

Past Lower Town, a visitor would soon arrive at the doors of the Knights' Order, the oldest building in town. The palace is one of the few that has maintained its original features, a sign of the importance that the Knights still maintain in Arcadia. The administrative district begins beyond the Order, with offices and business-related infrastructures, such as the airport and the hangars of the Living Fortresses. The entrance of the Grand Core is where the public space runs out, and the influence of Archimedes' Palace, commanding the whole town from the White City's center, becomes predominant.     

Sounds like a place worth visiting? Pack your bags, this year you get to see it with your own eyes!