This interview is the final in a series of articles featuring the stars of Jalur 14 and this week we have Wan Hazmer. Known for his work on Final Fantasy XV, he introduced Roti Canai and other local delicacies to the world while he was part of Square Enix in Japan. Upon returning to Malaysia, he founded his own games development company, Metronomik, to grow the industry here. They released their first game, the multiple award-winning No Straight Roads, earlier this year to huge acclaim.
Congratulations on the release of your game last week! How do you feel about the release of No Straight Roads? (Note: this interview took place in early September)
Thank you! It’s been a crazy week because we’ve been going through Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, going through the comments of the game and all that stuff. Obviously, some people did talk about the bugs in the game but we already issued a video message saying we will be fixing them. But apart from that, it’s been a really great reception so far! A lot of people really love the game even despite the bugs there. Also, the game is already profitable on the first day of launch. That was an official statement by our publisher’s parent company who released the news for all the investors. I’m very humbled by everyone’s response to the game despite it being just a debut game from a not very well-known company yet. It’s our first game. It’s been surreal, to be honest, I just can’t believe after two and a half years, we’re finally having the game played by people, it’s really nuts.
The game was partially completed while everyone was working from home right? What was the experience like?
Before the MCO was announced, I kind of predicted that it might happen, so we already issued a work-from-home order before the MCO commenced. Hardware-wise it wasn’t much of a problem although it took a bit of time to set up because I wear many hats and one of the hats is IT manager. So I had to take care of the servers and all that. All my knowledge of networking in my college days really helped. The thing about working from home is that our team is very open when it comes to communication, so moving it to digital was not much of a problem because we are still open anyway. The programmers can talk about art, the artists can talk about game design, we’re very open.
Sometimes there are a few advantages to physical contact, you know, really being there in front of your eyes. Especially in the last few months when you have to point out a bug, usually you can just point at the monitor and ask “what is this?”. But working from home, it’s a bit difficult because you have to take a screenshot or a video, and sometimes when you’re playing the game you’re not recording. When you encounter a bug, you think “oh crap” and you have to play the game again and hope for the bug to show itself again. And with the game as analogous as No Straight Roads, unlike puzzle games which are easier to recreate problems, a lot of things can go wrong. Some bugs only have a reproduction rate of 1 out of 20 playthroughs – which isn’t much. But can you imagine when you amplify that by the number of players playing the game worldwide, that’s the scary part. So that’s been the biggest work from home hurdle we’ve faced, but we’re glad we could overcome it.
Does it open the possibility of future games being developed from home?
I still think we can benefit a lot from being in the office. Not only in terms of working, but motivation, and being able to easily discuss with your teammates by just rotating your chair to the left. So there are a lot of advantages to that. Of course, we’re already working from home for some people, even way before the MCO. Our creative director is in Japan, so we’re already teleconferencing with him often. We also have PR managers, producers overseas. To a certain extent we’re already working from home but to go full work from home, I don’t think it’s probable at the moment especially considering that most of the team are here in KL.
Has it been a sigh of relief to finally push it out, or is the team still busy with any patches or new content?
In a way, it’s a sigh of relief because people finally get to play the game. But at the same time, of course, like I mentioned there are reports of bugs, so we’re looking into whatever is being reported and seeing what we can fix, so they’ll be very busy for the next few months.
Have the reviews been fair to the game? How do reviews affect you or your company? Do you pay a lot of attention to them?
First of all, it’s our debut game. We didn’t try to make our game super mainstream. We tried our best to make a lot of people like it, but we were prepared for the what-ifs. What if people didn’t like the game? We’re okay with that. Not everyone likes an action game that is based on music, furthermore, some people were expecting a pure rhythm game, while others were expecting a full action game, where everything comes with visual cues and has nothing to do with audio cues. We know that it’s not a game everyone will like.
If it becomes a cult classic, then we are very happy. So far through the user reviews, we have seen, we rarely get reviews in the middle. We always get some in the red, a lot in the green. Twitter and Reddit are the same – you either love it or hate it and we’re totally okay with that.
The most important thing for us is that it becomes memorable. Whether it is in a good or bad way, of course, good is preferable. But at the same time, if our game makes someone passionate enough to review it that way, it’s better than them just going “meh” at our game. I think this is going to impact the lore and stories of the characters in the months to come. Hopefully, people will really resonate with the characters and who knows, maybe if we were to make a sequel, I hope people will come back.
There was some backlash about the game releasing on Epic Games Store instead of Steam. How did you handle the criticism? In the end, was it worth it?
For Epic Games Store, to me, it was a matter of us promising if the game was on Steam or not, which we didn’t. We didn’t have a Kickstarter to say that the game was coming to Steam. We didn’t break any promises in that regard. So I don’t think we are going against any company policy. If they all feel some hatred against Epic Games in general, I would say that a lot of games are built on Unreal Engine, and Epic Games made the Unreal Engine. We made No Straight Roads on Unreal Engine, and Epic Games provided us with a lot of financial backups to ensure that we could make the game whatever we dreamed of.
The thing is, it didn’t limit us from creating for consoles. We still released it for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. To release a game to that kind of standard with the very little time that we had and an inexperienced team – talented but inexperienced – I think if it weren’t for Epic’s support, we wouldn’t have gotten here.
How did the deal with Epic Games come about?
Firstly, we made the game in Unreal, which attracted the attention of Unreal staff. Unreal Shanghai was very interested in it. When we were at Unreal Open Day (an exhibition full of games made in Unreal), we won the Indie Game Award for that particular exhibition – the best award you can get at that event. That caused it to get attention from the higher-ups at Unreal, so when we were at E3 2019, we spoke to them, and that’s how the deal got done. It’s more about getting the game to many shows to see what opportunities you can get. It’s also how we got our voice actor from Japan, and our current publisher, through all these game shows.
What’s next for Metronomik? Anything you can share?
A patch! That’s all I can share for now. Of course, we will strive to make more games from now on. But we just finished No Straight Roads which was released last week, so all we have in our brain right now is the game.
How do you feel about the current state of game development in Malaysia? Any concerns or praises you want to sing?
I think the game industry in Malaysia is thriving like crazy now, it’s really nice. We have a bunch of original IPs, some of them are really going into the hardcore side of it. Really focusing on one aspect and pushing it, for example 7th Beat Games’ A Dance of Fire and Ice and Rhythm Doctor. Just download them and see how wonderful it is. It’s excellent, you can tell that a person who is in love with these sorts of games is behind them.
We also have Kaigan Games with all the phone horror games like Simulacra. They are also very passionate at telling stories. We have a lot of variety. We also have the AA standard kind of games like Gigabash from Passion Republic Games, and Bake ‘n Switch from Streamline Studios. All that, on top of working with AAA companies to make games like Uncharted, Last of Us and so on. It’s really nuts. We’re going really strong right now.
And it’s also really thanks to the government. MDEC has been supporting us a lot – not only in terms of finances, but also in terms of providing infrastructure, giving opportunities, connecting us with overseas companies and so on. And when I was in one of their exhibitions, I saw a bunch of booths where we have school kids coding for games, in a program called “Level Up Schools” by MDEC, it’s amazing. It’s really crazy.
I guess if you want to talk about concerns, I think one thing we have to really care about is how to make things relevant to the world. We have two problems basically – one problem is that we’re not proud enough of our culture, and we’re too proud of our culture. The first one being – people are shy to put in their own roots in a game. I’m not even talking about Hang Tuah, you don’t have to go that far.
You can talk about your childhood – buying your ice cream from the roti-man, or other experiences like that. Just talking about food alone, there’s so many you can choose from already. If you want to talk about going to mosques in school uniform or watching movies at TGV – it’s all part of Malaysian culture as well. People are shying away from it because they think that it doesn’t sell. It’s very apparent when we try to put Malaysian accents in our game, and Malaysians are complaining about it. But other people have been wondering about it, mentioning that it sounds so unique and we have this stigma that anything local is low quality, so we shouldn’t have that kind of mindset. I’m looking forward to more games that incorporate Malaysian culture in a very relevant way. Nobody is going to play congkak if there’s no relevance.
And that’s where the second problem comes in – when people are too proud of their culture. Some people make a game like congkak, and just stop there. They come up with ideas like Uncharted but with Hang Tuah elements. It’s so shallow. When you talk about Hang Tuah, there are so many things you can incorporate into a game. For example, the art of silat itself – it’s so different from karate or taekwondo. And the coming of Islam to Malacca, Malacca being a port. You don’t have to refer to Uncharted. You can refer to it later, but you don’t have to make Uncharted with Hang Tuah skins. It doesn’t make sense. Making it relevant to the world is important because when you put your congkak or whatever Hang Tuah game in the shop, it will be beside Spiderman, God of War, and Assassin’s Creed. Will your action game be better than theirs? Will people actually buy your game? So that’s something I want people to think about.
What needs to be done to take it to the next level?
A lot of things! Number one is we really need a lot of financial support. MDEC has been giving us a lot of grants, but it feels like MDEC is the only financial body that recognizes video games. I tried to get a loan from banks but it’s been very difficult because they don’t understand how the video games industry works. They expect us to give them a revenue report for our first game, which doesn’t make sense because they don’t understand that a game takes two years plus to make, unlike a restaurant. We’re not a client servicing company as well, when you get a client, sometimes the project takes three months at most and then you get the money straight away. For us to make a video game, it takes a very long time. And I go to a lot of banks, and they don’t even have ‘video game production’ in the dropdown box where you select your industry. It’s a bit heartbreaking, you know? I can tell that a lot of people are suffering because of this. That’s why we depend a lot on MDEC. Hopefully, we can get a lot more financial institutions and also support groups to recognize how video game production really works.
The other thing is something of a personal gripe of mine – the reason why are not proud of their culture is because the way we spread or promote our culture is very low quality. I’ve been to a few museums and while a few are great, it feels very lacking. I’ve been to so many museums around the world and Malaysia is very far behind. We are too ‘slumber’ or too honest, you can say. We just show the history as it is, but we’re not entertainers. To get young people to get into culture, we need to put it into an entertaining package.
Before the MCO, there was this craft festival called Riuh. Riuh is this very nice event where local Malaysians show off their craft, clothes, sewing etc. It shows Malaysian craft in a much more modern light – we need more of these kinds of things so that people would be proud of their culture. When I was staying in Japan for 10 years, you can tell that they’re very proud of their culture. And the Japanese themselves have lots of festivals. All their anime, everything that they do – there is a connection to Japan. Not only in terms of Kimono – Japanese high school life and so on. Persona, is a very big celebration of Japanese lifestyle and culture. We just don’t have enough of this kind of things here. Having things in a much more entertaining package would really help.
Another example is the ramen museum in Yokohama, where you can explore different ramen from different prefectures all in one place. The place is even decorated like 1950s Japan, you can hear sirens, and planes flying by, as though it was World War 2. I’m just boggled why we don’t have a laksa museum where you can eat different laksa from different places. We also have that kind of culture, just that we don’t have that kind of facility for entertainment. We really need that to celebrate our culture.
Anything to say to fans of Metronomik or No Straight Roads?
Thank you so much for playing the game, if you haven’t gotten it yet but you’re still drawing fanart, thank you so much also! It’s really an honour, we worked on this game for two and a half years, we never expected to get this kind of reception. This is the reason why we’re making games in the first place. It’s for the fans. I would really like to thank everyone for the support and hope that you’ll continue to support us on our journey to make more games, and also to put Malaysia on the world map.
Watch Jalur 14 every Thursday, 9pm (GMT +8) beginning 26 November 2020, on eGG Network Astro CH800, available to all Astro subscribers. It will also be shown on Awani (CH501) every Sunday, 10pm (GMT +8) from 29 November 2020 and AEC (CH346/306 HD) every Saturday, 7pm (GMT +8) from 5 December 2020.
A docuseries chronicling the rise of esports and the gaming industry in Malaysia. Jalur 14 recounts the tales of 14 Malaysian icons including Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung, Ng “YamateH” Wei Poong, Mohd Fariz “Soloz” Zakaria, Ahmad Fuad “Fredo” Bin Razali, Andriyana Binti “ChuChu Gaming” Mohamed Ghazali, and more, as they share about their struggles, challenges, and experiences on their path to success.
Covering some of the biggest games in Malaysia, namely, Dota 2, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Counter-Strike, and PUBG Mobile, Jalur 14 is a must-watch for anybody who’s had any interest in the Malaysian esports and game development industry. From zeroes to heroes, these stalwarts of the scene have all broken their backs putting the Jalur Gemilang on the map.
Jalur 14 is presented to you by eGG Network and Esports Integrated. It is proudly sponsored by Yoodo, Acer, Zotac Gaming and Suncycle.