If you’re a fan of bizarre games (like us), we’ve got a fun premise for you: What if you could run a liquor spa? Waking Oni Games’ “Onsen Master” tasks you with bathing yokai, so Derrick Fields, the studio’s founder and designer, answers questions and explains the inspiration, goals, and cultural fusion it brings to fruition.
An Interview with Derrick Fields (Founder & Designer, Waking Oni Games)
What inspired the development of Waking Oni Games?
Waking Oni Games was born for two reasons – when it was originally founded it was so difficult to get a job in the industry. I would later reflect on whether my being a black person contributed to this result as my portfolio was compared to others who gained positions. Later, my experiences shifted my inspiration to create titles that included more representation, especially for black people.
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Tell us a little about your first project, Onsen Master.
Onsen Master was created through one of my regular playbacks of spirited away. It’s an all-time favorite movie of mine, and I remember saying to Tim (Robinson), my roommate at the time and co-designer on the project, “What if we made a game where you had to bathe yokai” ? He had already gained experience with another project and jumped in immediately. We both worked full-time at the same company, so during our downtime we spent a lot of moments contemplating what the game might look like. He later had the idea of getting the wood used to make dry-erase boards from Home Depot at a bargain price. We spent a lot of time at home developing ideas, design and awesome gameplay mechanics that would never appear later in the game. I still have the photos of that dry erase board on my phone.
What was the central design philosophy behind Onsen Master?
From the beginning, Onsen Master has always been about healing and the connections we make with each other. We wanted to create a game that would bring the same themes together while still being fun for the family.
Onsen Master has been described as a cross between Overcooked and Spirited Away. Can you elaborate on these two inspirations and maybe name others who contributed to the development of the game?
I, too, extensively describe Onsen Master as the same mash-up. Back then, Overcooked helped overcome a number of design hurdles and inspired much of the gameplay. When it comes to Spirited Away, I would say that the film’s theme along with its vibrant cast of characters was really something we were hoping to allude to in Onsen Master. There were a few other titles like Mushi Shi or Gegege no Kitaro that also played a small part in the influences.
Screens – Onsen Masters
How is Onsen Master different from his contemporaries?
I think what people enjoy most about onsen is the ability to play the game with or without friends. Other management games can be very difficult to play alone and it can be frustrating at times. We wanted to create a title that allows you to do both while enjoying an anime-inspired game.
What are your favorite aspects of the game?
For me it’s the art! In the earliest stages of development I was involved in all aspects of artistic direction before we brought in additional artists to move things forward. It’s very cute and I enjoy interacting with its characters the most.
Cultural overlap is a key pillar of Waking Oni Games, with Onsen Master having a black protagonist while being steeped in Japanese lore. How do you ensure that all cultures are represented authentically and respectfully?
This is a great question that I think about most often when making games like Onsen Master. I think the best way to answer this is that you can only explore these intersections by drawing from your personal experiences, rather than borrowing cultural aesthetics to create media that ultimately doesn’t represent you. When it comes to the games at Waking Oni, we create games that specifically explore the cultural intersections of Black and Japanese. As a black person, conversations about anime just flow differently for us. We have characters that are ubiquitously black (Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z is a great example) and this creates a space where you find connections with others and relate to the media together. Shonen anime mostly featured characters who overcame major disputes or hurdles to fully realize themselves – coupled with some series drawn from black culture or musicality (Samurai Champloo comes to mind and later more obvious Afro-Samurai), it will be difficult Not to develop a connection. Through this connection I do my best to make these representations.
Can you give us hints about your next project?
All I can say is that we plan to take our exploration of cultural interfaces even further, and I can’t wait for you to dive in.
Connect with Waking Oni Games
Check out Onsen Master on different platforms
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