Hey readers, Judge (Nick) here bringing you a special interview with Onipunks, a Chinese game developer. Onipunks recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming game C-Wars, in which they raised a whopping $95,574, well above their $32,000 goal. It’s been almost two months since their campaign ended, so I reached out to them to ask a few questions. They were kind enough to answer.
1. Can you please introduce yourself and the team at Onipunks to the readers?
We are a pretty small team with 6 core in house members. Occasionally we take 1 or 2 short-term interns to assist the art and programming department.
Loup Zhou, founder, creative director, & lead programmer (flies back and forth between China and Canada).
Louiky Mu, art director & lead game designer.
JCN Zhang, programmer.
Eddy Liu, composer & sound specialist (currently resides in New York).
Sun Chang, art assistant & assistant office manager.
Sally Liu, Marketing VP, scenarist, & Kickstarter campaign executive producer.
2. How did Onipunks come to be? And were there any projects you attempted before C-Wars?
Loup founded Onipunks Canada in 2009 and Onipunks Beijing in 2011.
We had a project named “Crystalides” before C-Wars. Unfortunately it had to be cancelled due to various reasons. The beta version was nominated as the Best Game at Game Connection Asia 2012. We released an iPhone app called “Mind Card” on App Store in 2011. We never publicized Mind Card much but apparently it was favored by many users. C-Wars is our first commercial game.
3. A big congratulations is in order for an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign. I think one of the biggest questions is, did you expect such a huge outpour of support?
Thanks a lot! We had no experience in Kickstarter and never focused much on marketing before. Every team member had very different expectations. Loup believed that it was going to be either a nobody-gives-a-crap failure or a huge success that’s beyond our initial goal. Sally expected it to be at the borderline of 32K. Louiky could be pessimistic sometimes so he didn’t anticipate much. We actually made a small bet before the KS launch. Loup ended up winning and bought the team a decent dinner with the ante he won.
4. You mentioned on your KS page that one of the risks in running the campaign was that you were an unknown Chinese developer. Is it particularly hard developing games in China?
Frankly speaking, China isn’t the best place for indie game developers to live yet. It’s getting better, but still relatively difficult comparing with those who live outside Mainland China. The strict censorship and firewall are only two of the many obstacles for indie developers to survive here.
The only influential indie contest here is IGF China, which is not even originally Chinese. You can imagine the support indie Chinese developers get in the Mainland.
The Chinese industry is full of aggressive F2P low quality online games, which has neither good technical or design standard, and that makes it extremely difficult to make great games on consoles in China. The developers’ pool isn’t very healthy.
5. Now that you’ve had an amazing KS campaign, do you think other Chinese developers will try to emulate your path?
I believe so and hope that will be the case, because crowd-funding websites are such great platforms for indie developers to be known. In fact, there are a few crowd-funding platforms in China as well, even though they’re not as popular or famous as KS. For teams that aim for a more local market, it’s the way to go.
6. Moving on to the game itself, how did the idea of combining roguelike and RTS come about? It’s really unique and to my knowledge it hasn’t been done before.
It’s kind of difficult to fully present this immense Luna world we created. We decided to go for roguelike because it’s more efficient to directly invite players into and interact with this world. It’s better than a simple RPG, as every decision the player makes matters. We didn’t want the combat system to be too complex, but at the same time we did want to be innovative. That’s why we wanted to amplify strategy assets from RTS in a TBS-looking RPG environment.
7. For those unfamiliar with what roguelike is, do you mind explaining what it is?
A roguelike is a sub genre of RPG. The world is represented by different special/random events. The text in a roguelike game is more like a movie script. Players complete the world with their own imaginations based on these events. Their decisions can’t be redone, which means permanent death. It’s the main power to drain the players into the game world. A roguelike game can provide players psychological impact when they see the consequences of their actions. It’s almost like seeing the inevitable fate in real life. That’s the power of roguelike game.
8. Why did you choose to use zombies and an apocalyptic theme? Some people might say these things are overdone.
In C-Wars, zombies are the lowest level mutants and shouldn’t be defined as the zombies in a regular setting. They bite but don’t transfer people into zombies. As the opposite of the uncanny valley theory, people love to beat humanoid enemies in a game. It’s convenient to borrow the population of the certain cites and make them become enemies. That’s why we have zombies instead of giant Scarabs.
Fallout would be the main motivation for us to create a post-apocalyptic world. As game creators, we sometimes get more interesting inspirations outside the game world, such as animated film “Ghost in the Shell” with its dark theme of the cyberpunk future, and French novel La Nuit des temps (The Ice People) by Rene Barjavel with its idea of the futuristic anti-utopian society. Apocalyptic theme provides a feeling of desperation and forces the players to look for hope and fight for it.
The concept of Zombie can actually amplify the tragic and desperate feeling in a post-apocalyptic setting. We guarantee you that C-Wars isn’t just another average zombie game.
9. Were there other games that influenced aspects of C-Wars? In particular, any RTS games that you looked to for inspiration?
We’ve played lots of games since the DOS era, from pixel TBS to 3D FPS. As an indie game developer, we seek inspirations while playing, and sometimes we don’t even notice that. All these games influenced our designs at some point.
Starscraft 1 and 2 are awesome RTS games, but the micromanagement skill set is not for normal hardcore gamers. When we kept getting our ass kicked on battle.net, we started to think the way to amplify/simplify the micromanagement.
10. Why did you choose pixel art?
We’ve always loved the warm feeling those old-day games provide, and think pixel art gives viewers more room for imagination. The way how such few small pixel blocks are able to create a vivid character or item is pure magic. Because we love pixel art so much, we believe there must be some people out there who can share this love with us.
11. There seems to be a lot of love for “old-school” pixel art and retro games these days. Why do you think that is?
There are two main reasons for this.
First of all, when anything reaches certain height or point, it will awaken people’s memories from the old days, and original and older versions of anything may become popular. For example, when modern skyscrapers occupy Beijing or New York City, people begin missing old-fashioned houses or apartments. After seeing or eating deluxe food too much, many might start craving for a real home-made meal. Same thing applies to almost everything, such as the fashion industry, where more retro style outfits have become popular. That is equivalent to how pixel art and retro style are loved again in recent years.
Secondly, those who were born in the 1980s grew up playing pixel games when they were younger, so it’s easier for them to embrace pixel styles. Later they got older, and some of them began working in the game industry and really pushed the certain part of market to be “pixelated.”
12. The character concept art looks anime influenced. Any reason for this?
Many of us grew up watching anime and reading manga, so we’ve been inevitably influenced by them more or less. Louiky, our art director, has a special aesthetic preference in Japanese anime. We don’t want to simply copy anyone, but think borrowing certain good things isn’t bad. We take what we like and mix them with what we have to create the unique C-Wars style.
13. What was your approach to character design? Some might just see Valky and say, “Oh another scantily clad hot chick with a gun.” However, I feel there’s some real depth to each hero. Am I wrong?
Nick, can I just say you’re very insightful? ^_^ Yes, there’s definitely depth to all the heroes. We created each character with a detailed back story as they were in a novel or film screenplay. Loup, the creative director, was into literatures and novels. Louiky, the art director, became obsessed with anime since he was little. And Sally, the marketing VP and scenarist, was a film directing/writing major. Everybody in the creative team chipped in with their different approach and wanted to make each C-Wars character unique.
14. I have to ask: whose idea was it to have Sally be a hidden hero?
It first came from one of our backers. He kept commenting on our KS page and suggested how we should put Sally in the game. Loup thought it was a nice idea to have someone represent Team ONI in C-Wars, so after getting Sally’s permission, the suggestion became reality. Sally herself found it fun and funny. It’s a good example how our KS backers interact with us and how their ideas could affect and be part of the game.
15. I thought it was really cool that you incorporated “guest” heroes. How did this idea come about?
Loup came up with the idea of inviting guest heroes. Our indie friends and we have many things in common, so it wasn’t too hard to convince them to send their heroes to C-Wars. The way we promote and help each other really shows the power of the indie community.
16. I recall seeing that part of the money made will go to supporting other KS campaigns. I may be mistaken, but what brought about this decision?
It wasn’t the KS money we were talking about; it was 5% of the profit after the official release. There’s a campaign called “Kicking it forward,” initiated by Brian Fargo. Because we are very grateful for what we’ve received from the indie game community and truly understand how much other people’s support means to a new project or team, we want to do something in return to show our appreciation. We took, and we wanted to give, so we became part of “Kicking it forward” after hitting our initial goal during our KS campaign.
17. The music and compositions are amazing! Tell us a bit about the creation process.
Thank you for liking the C-Wars OST. Since the very beginning in 2009, Eddy Liu, our composer, knew he wanted to go with retro style. Originally, due to the hardware limitations, we used General Midi instead of other audio formats because Midi provides a huge applicability for different platforms at that time. Today we can support more powerful devices such as PC, 3DS, PSV, Android, and iPhone which can be applied for audio format with better quality. We have already improved our composition technique and no longer use Midi only, but still maintain the retro feeling. This retro style fits C-Wars perfectly. Eddy hasn’t stopped writing new OTS pieces for C-Wars yet, and more wonderful music is to come upon our official release.
18. Can you tell us a bit about the creation of the ONI-engine? What’s one of its best features?
ONI-eninge was initially just an animation tool. Now its toolkits contain over 15 editors. It’s very flexible yet a little difficult to use. We can now make any kind of 2D games with ONI-engine.
It’s the powerful animation management functionality that makes it unique. It’s super light comparing to most commercial 2D game engines at the animation level.
19. I’m happy that you’re bringing C-Wars to the 3DS, Wii U, and PS Vita. How easy was it working with Nintendo and Sony to obtain authorization and dev kits? I know both of them are trying really hard to work with indie devs (or so they claim).
Folks at Nintendo and Sony are wonderful. It was a pleasure to communicate with them. We were surprised how open they are now towards indies. We are very proud of our community, where everyone wants to contribute ideas and contacts. Without their efforts, it wouldn’t have been possible to write the game for consoles as an indie developer.
20. Will you be taking advantage of any of the features of each console?
We didn’t order the dev-kits yet because we are focusing the PC version now. When we do, we will try to dig the most from each console and take advantages of their special features. The good news is that C-Wars was designed to be a console game. The runtime RAM usage was under 24M, so we just need to rewrite the core logic, control logic and displaying of the game.
21. Kickstarter is getting more and more popular. Do you think it will be a more integral part of the gaming world in the future? It’s been a godsend for a lot of indie devs.
KS provides a good exposure platform for indie game projects to the media. However the game industry is still dominated by AAA companies. Their budget of marketing can be 10M or more for one game, which easily surpasses the total amount of the most successfully funded game projects on KS. As indie developers, we still have a long way to go after having a project getting funded. There is one thing for sure though – KS is one of the best platforms to present your game and to hear honest feedback from gamers, even before your game is completed.
22. It may seem far off, but what are your plans after C-Wars?
We’ve promised to deliver C-Wars on many platforms, and it will be a while to move onto other things, so we can’t say what we will be working on after this yet. As we mentioned in a previous question, we had an incomplete project called “Crystalides” before C-Wars. Hopefully we will get a chance to work on this much more complex game at some point in the future. We just don’t know when it will be yet.
23. Lastly, if there’s any shout outs you want to do, go right ahead.
Kickstarter was a very encouraging and blessed experience for us. We want to say thank you to everyone who put their trust and faith in us. Please continue your support, and don’t forget to vote for us on Steam Greenlight!
Thanks again to the team at Onipunk for answering all of my questions! Please go follow them on:
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