Last year, we saw the release of New Straight Roads (NSR), a Malaysian indie game made by Metronomik, led by former Square Enix employee Wan Hazmer.
Shortly after revealing Metronomik’s second game Ondeh Ondeh, we were lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Wan Hazmer about No Straight Roads, Ondeh Ondeh, and what he thinks about the Malaysia video game industry going forward.
Learning From No Straight Roads
It’s been just over a year since No Straight Roads and a new version of the game No Straight Roads: Encore Edition has been released. We asked Wan Hazmer what they learned from the reception of No Straight Roads.
“The positive thing we learned would be putting your fans at the center is important. It was the fans that propelled us to move forward. Their fan art has been amazing for the past year.
The game is not super popular, but it did touch a lot of hearts. They even started a thank your metronomic hashtag and we still receive fan art to this day. One thing I’m glad we did is that we had a two-week communication with our fans, and we want to do this with future games as well.
We tried our best to improve a lot of things. But there were still problems in terms of the camera and bugs. The camera is something very hardcoded in the game. So, one thing I would like to improve in the future is we have to make sure our systems are more manageable in terms of our codebase and debug systems. It was difficult to adjust even a simple camera in the game because there are so many things that were happening.”
Malaysia and Global Audiences
The fan community for No Straight Roads is certainly strong, not only in Malaysia mind you, the game has gotten a fairly big international cult following. Wan Hazmer told us a bit more about this reaction to No Straight Roads and how it will play a part in Ondeh Ondeh’s development.
“Here’s the weird thing, the more we cater to the international community, the more we want to put in Malaysian culture. A lot of the international community commented a lot about how unique NSR was. That is why we have a cult following, it’s because it has this weird and unique feel, and the Malay language, people thought it was a fantasy language.
People found DK West especially refreshing. I compiled this entire video for this talk of non-Malaysians saying Ewah.”
He says however that it is still important that the themes and ideas be relevant to a global audience.
I think we still care about relevance. For example, in NSR the relevance was about the clash of ideals. Different people have different views of justice.
So, we will still want some form of relevance in the second one. Everyone [global audiences] will still feel that the story is very relevant to them, that it could happen to them, there is something in their life that has that kind of storytelling.”
Malaysian Culture and Games
Next, we asked Wan Hazmer, what in his opinion was the most beautiful part of Malaysian culture.
“Food hahahahaha! It’s the most typical answer. It’s the fusion of many different races. I think that is something that’s very hard to portray in video games because people will say that it looks very Chinese, it looks very Indian, yes because Malaysia’s like that. Or ‘I don’t like mayday is constantly changing accent’ yes because Malaysians do that! We talk differently, people here talk differently.
Hazmer says he wants to showcase this fusion in Ondeh Ondeh as well, even though it was harder due to the fantasy elements being fused in as well. He believes that was is beautiful about Malaysian culture is “our culture is the mix, boiling pot of culture.”
Of course, this lead to a more important question: what was his favorite Malaysian food?
“It’s so hard to choose! Is yong tofu Malaysian? You can’t find it anywhere else; you can’t find it in China.
My favorite dessert is definitely Ondeh Ondeh although I’m not much of a dessert person btw because of Japan. Japan has changed my palette to the point that I can’t eat very sweet stuff anymore but Ondeh Ondeh is still very nice because it has that explosion in the mouth. That one from Malacca, in particular, is very nice, maybe that was the trigger to make the game.”
The Malaysian Game Industry
A lot has changed since No Straight Roads launched, we asked Wan Hazmer if his opinion of the current Malaysian video game development scene has changed in general.
“Yeah, things have changed a lot. Since then we have had way more original IPs than before. NSR is very unique but they are all very unique in their own way. Rhythm Doctor is amazing, the Doctor Who game from Kaigan Games, Bake N’ Switch from Streamline games so it’s really active but we should still move forward, and improve further.
He says he hopes that games like NSR and Ondeh Ondeh will be a “trigger” for Malaysian developers to see the potential of Malaysian culture in video game design.
“Culture is something we can sell. That is a direct translation from Japanese but it is our weapon. Japan and the Western world have progressed so far, we can’t keep up in that department. Of course, Streamline Studios and LemonSky may have the upper hand because worked on triple-A games before so they may be able to focus on graphics and all that but for the rest of us, culture is what we have to show to the world. We have so many unique things in Malaysia that aren’t touched upon yet.
I noticed that some developer responses to NSR were aware of that but I would push the culture thing further. l hope that NSR being released on so many platforms helps Malaysians realize that we have a gaming industry. Many people still don’t.
Some people are still blindsided by popular games like Fortnite so they don’t see there’s something happening locally or feel that local content is cringe because it’s not Western, it’s not Japanese, it’s not anime. Hopefully, we can change their perspective, or widen their perspective.”
The Distinct Art of No Straight Roads
This idea of culture was something that we found really interesting. It was a big part of the reason people found No Straight Roads so striking. It was its own thing and people who’ve seen it notice that its sort of has a style inspired by folk Malaysian art. We asked Hamzer if he could tell us more about this.
“That is a credit to my cousin and my co-founder Daim Dziauddin. I have always felt his art style to be very unique ever since we were young. During college, when I was working on my college projects, the lecturer did allow external artists to work with us, so I always have Daim working with me. While making our first engine, he liked to sketch a lot of these Street Fighter characters in his exercise book in school. He does all this flip animation. I always felt that his art was very hard to put under a specific cultural category.
I think that inspires Daim a lot and he keeps on pushing that to the team as well. To make sure our art direction is unique. It has its own flavor, it has its own personality. Props to Daim and also the concept artists, Ellie and DaddyStar as well.”
Malaysia’s Voice Acting Community
No Straight Roads featured both an English and Japanese dub with English voice acting by local Malaysian talent. We wondered if ondeh ondeh does have voice acting, would the team be reaching out to the local community again?
“Of course. I can’t say much but yeah, that’s obviously one of the biggest things. In NSR, the local voice actors did an amazing job on the game. So yeah, definitely, we won’t back out from that.”
He went on to compliment and talk about the talent of the local voice acting scene, though he wishes they were more appreciated.
“Seriously, I think the local voice actors are so underrated. It’s just because they don’t have the opportunity to do a lot of things. When you give them the opportunity, my god, the things that they can do. Now, you can see Su Ling Chan (voice of Mayday) voice acting for an [Funimation] anime dub. And also Uncle Ali is also (who is also the voice of DJ SubAtomic) voicing some game characters for overseas. Billie Bust Up is one of them and a few others.
I think one good thing about NSR for me, is that we purposely tell them to not provide a Western accent. Just be yourself. Try to channel the character into yourself but they can also do western accents as well. If you hear all their voice samples, it’s really really great.
So yeah.. underrated and in a way, from what I heard, underpaid. Hopefully, we paid them well. They seem to be okay with their contract. what I know about voice acting horror stories in Malaysia, I can tell that it’s very close to how audio is treated in games sometimes. It’s a last-minute thing. So I’m very glad that we got them very early on in production and I encourage everyone to do the same as well.
He further says he dislikes the process many companies use with voice actors in Malaysia.
“I think that the idea is you have a voice recording studio, look for voice actors, something like that. I really don’t like that pattern. It’s really an uncommon pattern even in Japan. The holy land of voice acting. I think you should meet the voice actors themselves before you engage or hire them.
That’s why I think having an open audition is also very important. It actually expands the voice-acting circle more. We did open auditions for NSR as well and we got in people who haven’t voice acted before. Please please please, if you are a creator, please seek them [local voice actors] out. Don’t just ask for a Westerner to voice your work.”
Crafting The Story
We asked Wan Hazmer about his experience crafting the story of No Straight Roads.
“I think No Straight Road was an exploration of how we flesh out every single character because the entire concept of the game is you can change the world with the music. Of course, with the two main rockstars Mayday and Zeke, it’s pretty obvious how they will change the world with music, but the other bosses and other characters are also changing the world with their music. So different bosses have different motivations to play music, a different worldviews, and a different sense of justice.
It was an interesting experiment in how we can do visuals, storytelling without the Japanese style, if you get what I mean. You know, for example, one thing I really don’t like about some Japanese games is they over-explain. I am not talking about all of them like Dark Souls is amazing in storytelling right.
For example, DJ Subatomic Supernova right, we didn’t tell everyone “hey I am in the center of the universe, because I am self-centered, that’s why all the planets rotate around me”. I would imagine if No Straight Roads was created by some Japanese company, they would definitely explain that.”
GB: Ya, there will be a line like “I am the center of the universe”.
“Yeah, but in No Straight Roads, we try to don’t show it too much, don’t spoon-feed too much. We tried to kind of bake it into the gameplay. We were learning from 2000s-era games, like Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, which do not spoon-feed their users with how to play the game. But it’s time to catch up with the time’s lah boomers.
He explains this type of more hands-off, story through gameplay type narrative will continue into Ondeh Ondeh but perhaps a bit more subdued.
“In Ondeh ondeh we were gonna take it down the notch compared to the No Straight Roads. That game was like very loud, you know rock, baam kind of thing. But for Ondeh Ondeh, we are planning to keep down the notch, so not very very loud, but at the same time it is still not boring, so it will be weird but unique, so we are going in a way different direction.”
Finally, we asked Wan Hazmer about the more technical side of porting a video game and if Metronomik had any trouble porting No Straight Roads across multiple consoles. Apparently, the biggest hurdle was the Switch.
“Oh yes! So every time people said Hey! Just put it on Switch lah! And I was like no, it’s not that easy at all! Being a Malaysian itself is already a disadvantage in that way because we lack support from some test kits you know. PlayStation is not a problem, because they already recognized Malaysia’s current game industry as well. But for Switch for example right, up till the point where we released NSR, Malaysia is still not an officially supported country, so you cannot have dev kits sent here by Nintendo directly, so you will need to sign with the publishers then you can only get the dev kits, that kind of thing, so yeah it was not easy at all.
The switch is very difficult because let’s admit it, it’s actually a handphone, in terms of specs. Some handphones are now even more powerful than the Switch. So what is nice about Switch is, it is portable, and lots of games are on them now compared to mobile phones like some AAA games such as Skyrim its on Switch now right? That is the advantage, but still, very low specs.”
Hazmer says that as his first time directing the game and having to deal with porting to multiple consoles without a big backer like Square Enix, it was an important learning experience.
It’s not finalized, but let’s say if you want to release multiplatform games for Ondeh Ondeh, I will definitely do it one by one, rather than simultaneously. For all we know we can go for the Hades route for example like they were on Steam, then you will have some feedback, but it all depends on who our publishers are, at the end of the day.”
Overall, we had a great time talking to Wan Hazmer and hearing about No Straight Roads and Ondeh Ondeh. It was interesting hearing a local talent gives us some insight into the Malaysian industry and where he believes it will go, and what we can do to improve.
No Straight Roads is available for PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
Ondeh Ondeh will be released sometime in the near future. We look forward to where Metronokik takes the game going forward.