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The story of making Oxenfree game The story of a 30-year friendship and love for the cinema of the 80s

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Adam Haynes and Sean Crankel are intimate cousins ​​who grew up together almost from childhood, and their common interest is nothing more than video games and movies, and from the very beginning they had a strong interest in making video games. But before the two studios founded Night School and worked on Oxenfree as their first joint game, they both had experience working on other games.

For Adam Haynes, it all started with a shoe store; Where he worked at the same time and, of course, published a graphic novel called Duncan The Wonder Dog. The same novel attracted the attention of his friend Pierre Shorette, who was working as a TV director at the time, and led Heinz and a few of his friends to use TV and work on games such as The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderlands. کردن. Crankel, on the other hand, did a variety of work at Disney, most recently working as a game designer at Disney Interactive. However after the mobile game Where’s My Water? Unable to achieve the success Disney had hoped for, Crankell and his team lost their jobs.

Adam Haynes and Sean Crankl at Night School Studios

Adam Haynes and Sean Crankl

Crankel’s departure from Disney played a major role in shaping her and Heinz’s future. One day, as usual, they were always spending time together, and they came to the conclusion that it was time to stop grumbling about their jobs once and for all, and from now on, to work for themselves. Thus, the first steps were taken to establish Knight School Studio and build the Oxenfree game. According to Crankel, they first came up with an idea that first came to their mind two / three years ago; A game in which you can walk and talk at the same time! Their example for this purpose was a game similar to Limbo in which the main character speaks.

When they approached a few well-known investors to implement the idea, it was not a trial version, and everything, including the general idea of ​​the story and the type of game control, was summarized in a series of ideas recorded on paper. Eventually, however, they were able to get the green light to implement their idea by convincing an investor, and Crankell turned to some of his former Disney colleagues to work together on the project. Heater Grass, Art designer and Brian now, Senior programmers, were among these people.

Oxenfree characters are walking in a beautiful environment

Oxenfree’s story arose more than anything from Heinz and Crankel’s interest in adventure films depicting characters during adolescence. According to Haynes, the character Alex Inspired by the character Lindsay Weir, Created in the Freaks And Geeks cult series, and the character of Jonas is inspired by a character in the movie Stand By Me, whose role is River Phoenix He was playing. There were many other things in the game that came to the minds of Heinz and Crankel, inspired by events related to movies and series or even real events. For example, while on the 25th anniversary tour of The Goonies, Crankel met a place that gave him some interesting information about Japanese submarines in World War II, and later the fate of the USS Kanaloa submarine in the game was inspired by this information.

Of course, it seems that the total volume of ideas and things that Crankl and Heinz liked to have in the game is more than what we saw in the final version, and like any other game developer, especially in the first way to enter the industry, Knight School Studio has some limitations. had. “Crankel says about this:

“We knew from the beginning that because of the number of people we had, we would have limitations in making the game. For example, our budget did not allow us to narrate the game in Tokyo; “But what was happening on the island still gave us a lot of potential to tell an interesting story.”

Two Oxenfree game characters inside a cabin

Undoubtedly, one of the success factors of Oxenfree game is its atmosphere and, more precisely, the design style of the environment and characters of the game, for which it also won the visual award of the IGF event. The creators’ decision to run the game on Edward Island, a small tourist island in the Pacific Northwest, was inspired by the stories of Stephen King and the films of Steven Spielberg. But beyond these sources of inspiration, Crankel attributes the main reason for such an atmosphere to the personal experiences of Heather Grass, the game’s art designer, who designed everything from the characters to the environments.

From movies from the 1980s to games like Silent Hill and Stephen King’s stories, they are the source of inspiration for Oxenfree.

More precisely, Heather Grass herself grew up in an area in the Pacific Northwest, and according to Crackle, she was very interested in exploring the region’s woods and was quite familiar with their specific atmosphere. For this reason, Gross was able to implement such an atmosphere in the game very well, and of course, it presented it to the audience very well in the form of a video game. According to Crackle, for example, one of their challenges was that players might sometimes have trouble recognizing paths due to the two-dimensionality of the playing space, but Gross, cleverly and without exaggerating the picture, was able to clearly visualize paths and other interactions. To kill.

Oxenfree game dialogue system

Another very important feature in Oxenfree is the system of talking and communicating with others in the game. Alex’s character has different options for talking to others during conversations, and it is even possible to, for example, interrupt another character while talking. Heinz explains that such a system had a specific purpose:

“We felt that sometimes in everyday conversations, we might go to Yahoo in the middle of a conversation or interrupt someone else to say what we want sooner. So we decided to add this feature to the game as well. To do this, we designed a system that consisted of a number of bookmarks and checkpoints that, for example, allowed us to say things like “Anyway,” “What was I saying?” And other things, the dialogues are managed, and of course the voice actors of the game also played an extremely important role in making these dialogues look natural, and sometimes they changed some things in an improvised way that was better than I imagined, and why lie, this sometimes makes me “He was also angry that they were doing this better than me!”

The environment inside the cave in the game Oxenfree

Thanks to games like Oxenfree itself, the gaming industry is now accustomed to the experience of walking simulators or games in general that do not have very detailed gameplay and focus on storytelling. But it should not be forgotten that the production of Oxenfree began around 2014, and at that time there was a concern that this work, with these mechanics, might not be taken as seriously as a real game. According to Haynes, this was initially something of a real fear for the team; When they had only a series of simple ideas and implemented them in the Unity engine. But as the game progressed and they began to experience it, they all agreed that playing with the same mechanics was fun. But before reaching this stage, there were various other ideas for the game.

For example, one of the ideas was to give supernatural powers to the characters in the game. In another idea, the characters had guns like the Ghostbusters! But one of the weirdest ideas was to give Alex a Walkman character with a tape of Alex’s brother on which you would record Alex’s career over and over, deleting the songs that Alex’s brother liked. The idea was eventually dropped because of what is considered too crazy, but its legacy for the final game was to inspire the idea of ​​arguing with the radio.

Cross the bridge in the game Oxenfree

The game design style and the world in which the events took place were mostly based on the personal experiences of the game art designer who grew up in a similar environment.

Eventually, the game development team decided that the main mechanics of their game would be the same system of conversation and communication with others. According to Crankel, they concluded that focusing on a particular mechanic and deepening it was far better than playing with different mechanics, but none of them provided a specific experience. Even the radio through which Alex opens portals and communicates with ghosts is somehow connected to the core of the gameplay, which is talking and communicating with others. “Crankel says about this:

“We looked at a variety of games, including The Cave Studio Doublefine, and found that the idea of ​​a connection between the characters in that game was somehow the core, and the story, for example, took advantage of this feature. For us, the core of Oxenfree was communicating with others, and radio is a kind of communication tool that you can use to communicate with supernatural beings. “So we considered communication to be the core of the game, and we built the rest around it.”

The main characters of the game Oxenfree

One of the main sources of inspiration for Night School Studios for putting radio in the game was the first version of Silent Hill. They agreed that radios could be a little scary because of the strange sounds they might make (meaning the same sounds that are heard when trying to find a frequency, for example). On the other hand, according to Haynes, the development team did not initially intend to create a classic adventure game in which, for example, you would get various items such as keys and you would have to use them in the right place. For this reason, tools such as radio or cassette players were used; The simple tools that were played in the game did supernatural things with them. For example, when Alex gets caught in a loop, turning the tape back on the cassette player is a way to get rid of it, and Crankl explained that this is not a coincidence, and if players are a little more precise, they will notice more details.

Crankell also explained that in Oxenfree 2 we will have similar mechanics that may help us better understand these small details (such as the non-random cassette player function). Of course, Crankel adds that the details of the story related to the cassette player came to their minds after the general idea was presented, and for the first time the idea of ​​using this device in the game was related to Oxenfree general music, which includes analog sounds such as recorded sounds. The tape becomes cassette.

Boats in the game Oxenfree

Some of the game mechanics may be simple and their operation may seem random, but the creators believe that behind this simple appearance, certain story details are hidden.

The various mechanics of Oxenfree game, from how to use the radio and the cast player to even the use of its conversation system, are such that players can easily use them from the beginning without the need for special training and explanations. But not everything at Oxenfree is that simple. For example, one of the doubts that players have always had about understanding the details of the game has to do with the character bubble system. According to the creators, one of the reasons why they have to present some of the characters’ thoughts in the form of these bubbles is the existence of some reasons, and better to say, technical limitations. But in general, the main purpose of these bubbles is to show the mentality of the characters towards each other; According to Crankel, they show through these bubbles that one character’s mentality has changed from Alex or another, but deliberately prefer not to explain further so that the player does not feel that he is doing something right or wrong. have given.

To be more precise, Crankel likens the performance of bubbles in the game to a mechanic in teleton games, in which the game tells the audience that the character will remember the player’s action, but it is unclear whether this action will be a good thing in the character’s mind. Staying or doing something annoying. He also sees these bubbles as a means of capturing some of the characters’ emotions, which in a 2.5-dimensional world cannot be expressed in any other way. Haynes also says in this regard:

“Personally, I still really like the bubble system, which shows the characters’ thoughts. Some players fully understood the purpose of these bubbles, and some were involved in some kind of skepticism, and this is exactly what we wanted to achieve. “Even the skepticism that the UI conveyed about the bubbles was intentional and a sign of the skepticism we have as teenagers, and we often have doubts about how we feel about other people.”

Oxenfree game characters on the beach and by the fire

Whatever the combination of these mechanics, or the similarities that Oxenfree had with some of the cinematic works that its creators loved, KnightSkool Studio’s first production was a huge success and won the hearts of gamers. Crankel, Haynes, and other members of the studio at the time decided to create a different work with a unique storytelling style that, ironically, paid off, and can be traced back to other studio works. Of course, Night School never forgot Oxenfree, and these days it is working on a second version. The studio, now acquired by Netflix, is trying to have the same impact on the second version of Oxenfree, this time on a larger scale, and it remains to be seen how successful it will be.

Finally, please share your thoughts on the story of making Oxenfree, as well as your memories of it, with Zomji and its users.

This article is based on an article in the February 2022 issue of Edge Magazine.

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