Oniken Reminds Us Why We Still Love 8-bit Games

At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Oniken for one of those lost gems of the NES era, a game that you beat yourself up for having missed out on for so many years.  And while it certainly looks and plays like an action-platforming NES classic, this recently released Windows title has the spot-on controls, music, and level design that retro gaming fans live for.  It’s a mash-up of elements from some of the best games ever made  during the NES era, and seasoned veterans will notice nods to some of their favorite games in the official release trailer.

With a total user rating of 9.7, it’s proven to be quite the hit with both players and the media.  Even more impressive is that the entire game was made by a two-man team using Multimedia Fusion 2, a very simple and user-friendly development platform for up-and-coming game creators who may not have the technical savvy or knowledge of a complex programming language.  I got chance to speak with lead developer Danilo Dias on how this this gem of retro gaming goodness game to fruition.

How was the original idea of the game born?  Did you and fellow team-member Pedro Paiva just decide that you wanted to make a kick-ass retro NES style game one day? 

Oniken was born in 2005 from an old project of mine that had a pretty similar story and theme.  However, that game had 16-bit graphics and a Super Deformed art style.  Also, the old game was very complicated with lots of mechanics. At some point in 2006 I decided to cancel that old project and dedicate myself to my architecture college. After graduating in 2010, Pedro asked me about that old project and I expressed that I had no interest in it anymore. Pedro came up with the idea to transform it into an 8-bit game. At first, I didn’t accept it because I was still very frustrated with the old one.  Some weeks later I was playing my NES and enjoying it so much that I started to remember Pedro’s idea. That same day I started to sketch some ideas, and during that week I already had a playable prototype with an 8-bit Zaku that could walk and jump in a small room. I showed that to Pedro and he said “Lets start this right away!”

Did the game evolve a great deal once you guys settled on the idea of making it an 8-bit game?

The first Oniken prototype was very close to the game available right now. We were very sure about how the game should be at the end of development. The only thing that we had decided to put later was cutscenes in all stages, rather than just at the beginning and end of the game.

So is it true that you guys didn’t use any professional dev tools or dev platform to program the game? 

Pedro and I are not programmers and we don’t know any programming language so we decided to use Multimedia Fusion 2. It’s a great tool for people who want to make their own game without hassles or complications.  The main problem for us was that Oniken was a weekend project. My work took a lot of my free time so I was unable to expend entire days trying to troubleshoot and balance the game.

That’s quite impressive considering how well-made the game is.  The difficulty of Oniken is especially superb.  It hits this real sweet spot of challenge and reward.  What was the design philosophy in terms of the game’s difficulty?

Oh we’re very happy when we hear that. We knew from the beginning we were trying to make a ‘NES hard’ game but not a ridiculously difficult game. Nothing like Ninja Gaiden (though I think it’s still a great game and one of my personal favorites) but something more fair like Contra or Shadow of the Ninja. It was very difficult to calibrate the level of difficulty since we were very sure that we didn’t want to make multiple difficulty levels. We wanted to make just one level of difficulty; to make the game difficult, but not unfair. We knew that Oniken was not for everyone and that was the way that the game was designed. I plan to make more games in the future with multiple difficult levels but Oniken was created to be a hard game even if it scares away some players.

After playing the game, I felt that Oniken‘s difficulty was balanced out by the game’s excellent controls.  Was it a challenge to balance the physics and controls?

As Pedro and I are quite addicted to platformers, it was easy for us to know what was working and what wasn’t working during the gameplay. We were constantly saying things like “Hey, that jump is weird! Remember? It’s a lot like the NES version of Strider, that sucks! Maybe we should make the jump like in Vice!” or “I think that we could put a bike section here, like in Battletoads!” That was a pretty fun part of the development.

Sounds like the development of the game was really a ton of fun, with two friends brainstorming back and forth.

Yeah, we made a lot of fun design decisions as friends.  For example, Oniken was supposed to have just 5 levels. However, level 5 was so big that we decided to cut in half and thus level 6 was born. Pedro would do funny stuff like draw a random stage inside a pyramid and then just decide not to use it. At one point, we had the game’s hero Zaku tell the stage 4-1 boss “You’re already dead” before he cut him into pieces as a reference to Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, but all in-game texts were eventually scratched out.

While this game is a Windows download, it’s very much an NES game at heart.  Do you think that there will always be a place for 8-bit games? 

Sure! After all, I like to think that old games are like old movies. They have a style. They’ll never become obsolete.

Do you think the outpouring of love for Oniken is more of an element of nostalgia that keeps retro style games popular, or is it the simple accessibility and pick-up-and-play nature? 

I think that old games can offer something that was lost over the time, something that new games cannot offer. I think that retro-style 8-bit games can offer a real unique challenge for players and this is something that many modern games are lacking.

Any idea on what’s in store for the future for you guys?

For now I’m still working on Oniken, making some fixes and adding an extra level. I have some ideas for our next game, but the problem is that there are so many ideas that it’s difficult to choose which one will become a game.

Well, we’ll certainly be on the lookout for whichever crazy idea you guys decide to turn into a game in the future.

We honestly didn’t expect so many positive reviews and so much attention for Oniken. We’re a very small dev team and we’re very grateful with everyone who supports us and plays our game.  We appreciate the cool interview.

Oniken is currently available for only $4.99US over at Desura.  There’s even a free demo available for anyone who wants to try it before they buy it.

  • Shelby Reiches

    Just a quick update for the frugal gamers out there: Oniken is also part of the July Jubilee bundle over at Indie Royale, along with Geneforge Saga, Unepic, Puzzle Agent, Mutant Storm Reloaded and Shift Stitch. As of this writing, the minimum for the whole thing is $5.57, but $8 or more will also get buyers a chiptune album by Prof. Sakamoto.

    http://www.indieroyale.com/

    Definitely worth a looksee.