From Touchscreen to Big Screen: Bringing Oceanhorn from iOS to Consoles
Oceanhorn was originally an iOS game released in 2013 by FDG Entertainment in collaboration with Cornfox & Bros. At the time of their inception, the Germany based FDG Entertainment was one of the first major developers of iOS games and has now successfully moved into console development with the launch of Oceanhorn on PS4 and Xbox One. This action adventure game follows the quest of a young boy as he sails across the seas in search of his Father and the mythical sea monster Oceanhorn. The premium iOS title enjoyed great success on mobile, bringing deep gameplay and a huge world to a platform that rarely gets either. Don’t let it’s mobile roots deter you however, the developers have managed to take a very polished touchscreen game and make it feel right at home on a controller.
One of the main brains behind Oceanhorn from it’s inception in 2012 to it’s debut on consoles is Thomas Kern. Thomas is the Executive Producer on Oceanhorn and a co-founder of FDG Entertainment. I had the opportunity last week to ask him a few questions about FDG, Oceanhorn, and just how exactly you bring a game from mobile to console and make it great.
Spencer Birch: Can you tell me a little bit about how FDG Entertainment got it’s start?
Thomas Kern: We started our company in 2002 with Java Mobile Games! Our company name was FDG Mobile Games at that time and we’ve been among the first companies to produce and publish mobile games at all.
All the production was based on networking with individuals around the world, not studios. We provided game concepts, project management, QA and looked for paid freelancers to work on parts of the games.
SB: Where did the idea for Oceanhorn come from initially?
TK: When we started our games career and while working on mobile games, we always wanted to go bigger and make real videogames.
We had been very excited about the iPhone when it came out, the App Store paired with powerful hardware allowed to make rich and really cool games. 4 years ago I got in contact with Heikki Repo from Cornfox & Bros. a small studio in Finland and we shared so many things together.
We loved the same games and genres – to name a few: Final Fantasy Adventure on the Gameboy, Legend of Zelda and many other games from the golden age of cartridge gaming. Needless to say when they told me what they’d been working on I was stoked. They had a prototype of Oceanhorn and we instantly jumped in to support the production and publish it together with them.
Joining the production and creative process of making Oceanhorn was a dream come true because we could work on a project that came as close to our favorite games as possible. That said we also wanted to do them justice so we really put a lot of care into it.
Fast forward to end of 2013 and we released Oceanhorn for the first time on iOS. It was received very well because until then no game could deliver such rather deep, console like experience on a smart phone. Mission accomplished!
SB: Oceanhorn was a great success on iOS and has recently been released on PS4 and Xbox one. Congratulations! Was porting it to consoles always the plan, or did this come about due to the success of the original version?
TK: Thank you very much! During game development with our partners Cornfox & Bros. and when it became bigger and cooler with adding more and more assets, ideas and gameplay to it – we thought: man, this could come to console too! Not as a full price game, but as a digital release for a reasonable price. So, after we made 10 updates to the iOS Version on App Store, Cornfox & Bros. started to work on a graphics and control upgrades for a PC Version (which was released on Steam).
This was the right time to bring it to consoles too. We now had a graphically improved version of the game that was looking good enough to provide a nice TV big-screen experience on consoles.
The console version is now the definitive version because it combines the Ultra graphics from the PC Version, FullHD 1080p/60fps and the premium soundtrack featuring Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito. These tracks are not included in the Steam/PC Version.
SB: The music in Oceanhorn is one of my favorite parts of the game! I think that each track really helps to polish the world that you have built. How did Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito come to join the project and what was it like to work with them?
Thank you! Music in games is also very important for us. We love good game soundtracks – it motivates us even more to play a game. When we contacted Uematsu-san and Ito-san the first time, we never actually expected a response. We had sent them some footage of the game and kept asking until we got an incredible response: they’d do it! We were like – WHAT?! WOW! It was a key moment during development and meant the world to us.
Both composers are childhood heroes for us, delivering so many memorable and emotional moments with their awesome music in Final Fantasy and Seiken Densetsu. Working with them was fantastic!
We sent footage of the game and specific moments where the music was planned to be used. Then it was important to explain what kind of emotions you aim at, explain the background story and the atmosphere.
Both composers asked numerous times if they got the concept right and then worked on the brilliant tracks. There’s a reason why Ito-san and Uematsu-san are such legendary composers! The result is amazing.
SB: FDG Entertainment has made quite a few games but this, to my knowledge, is the first one that has appeared on console is that correct? What was the most challenging part of porting Oceanhorn to PS4 and XBox One?
TK: There was a lot of optimization to be made for the console architecture so we get a really good and constant 1080p performance on both consoles. Also, the certification process on 2 platforms we never worked on was quite challenging. Ultimately all went well because we had a great partner who worked on the port: Engine Software from Netherlands. They have great experience and helped us make a perfect port.
SB: I was pleasantly surprised at how well Oceanhorn controls on PS4, was it difficult to translate the game from touch controls over to a controller?
TK: It was more challenging to make it work great on Touchscreen when we initially released the game. A real controller feels much more natural and it wasn’t hard to implement. We tuned it a lot though, adding slight analogue features that didn’t exist in the initial release.
SB: I have heard that Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is in development and coming straight to consoles. Is FDG Entertainment collaborating on this project as well?
TK: Right! We’re not collaborating on this project but I can confirm it is in development and it will come to consoles. It will be great!
SB: You have another game coming to consoles in January: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. You are making this game in collaboration with Ryuichi Nishizawa, the creator of the Wonder Boy series, and The Game Atelier. It had a great trailer at Gamescom recently and people seem to be pretty excited about it! Can you give us any hot insider tips about the upcoming game to hold us over until January?
TK: Oh yes, that is another dream-come-true project for us. We’re big fans of Wonder Boy, especially the Monster World series and it’s so cool to work with the mastermind who created it.
I can give you an interesting piece of news – you probably heard about the legendary composers joining this project but you probably didn’t know that we’re going to make it a 2-pass soundtrack production. First pass: All music is done with Synthesizer and Samplers. Second Pass: Real instruments are being recorded to increase the quality of the music. The recordings start in 2 weeks! I’m so excited 🙂
We’re also still working on the game itself, tuning levels and balancing, ironing out graphics and animation – but we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel now! I think the gameplay, graphics and music will be plain awesome. A real blast from the past!
Thank you so much for your time Thomas, Oceanhorn came out great on console and I am sure that Monster Boy is going to be just as excellent!