Waking Oni Games discusses IGN Plus Game of The Month Onsen Master

Waking Oni Games discusses IGN Plus Game of The Month Onsen Master

If you are a fan of bizarre games (as we are), we’ve got a fun premise for you: What if you could run a spa for spirits? Waking Oni Games’ “Onsen Master” charges you with bathing yokai, so Derrick Fields, studio founder and designer, answers questions and explains the inspiration, goals, and cultural fusion it brings to bear.

An Interview With Derrick Fields (Founder & Designer, Waking Oni Games)

What inspired the creation of Waking Oni Games?

Waking Oni Games was born of two needs– at its initial creation, it was because getting a job in the industry was so difficult. I would later reflect on if my being a Black individual had anything to play in this outcome, as my portfolio was comparative to others who gained positions. Down the road, my experiences shifted my inspiration to want to develop titles that included more representation, especially for Black individuals.

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Tell us a little bit about your first project, Onsen Master.

Onsen Master came about through one of my regular playbacks of Spirited Away. It is an all-time favorite film of mine, and I recall expressing 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 had some experience on another project and readily jumped aboard. We both worked full-time at the same company, so during our downtime, we spent a lot of moments ideating at what the game could be like. It was later that he had this idea of snagging what was basically the wood used to make dry-erase boards for super cheap from Home Depot. We spent a lot of our time at home coming up with ideas, the design, and grandiose gameplay mechanics that would later never show up in the game. I still have the photos of that dry-erase board on my phone.

What was the core design philosophy behind Onsen Master?

From the start, Onsen Master was always about healing and the connections we make with one another. We wanted to create a game that could bring these same themes together while being fun for the family.

Onsen Master has been described as a cross between Overcooked and Spirited Away. Can you elaborate on those two inspirations, and perhaps share any others that contributed to the development of the game?

I, too, profusely describe Onsen Master as that same mash-up. At the time, Overcooked helped to answer a number of design hurdles and inspired a lot of the gameplay. When it comes to Spirited Away, I would say the theme of the film, along with its vibrant cast of characters, was really something we had hoped to make a nod to in Onsen Master. There were a few other titles, such as Mushi Shi or Gegege no Kitaro, that played a small part in the influences as well.

Screens – Onsen Master

How does Onsen Master differ from its contemporaries?

I think what people enjoy most about Onsen is the ability to play the game with or without friends. With other management games, it can be very hard to play by yourself, and that can be frustrating at times. We wanted to create a title that could allow you to do both while enjoying an anime-inspired game.

What are your favorite aspects of the game?

For me, it’s the art! At the earliest stages of development, I was mired in all aspects of the art direction before we brought in additional artists to help move things along. It’s very cute, and I enjoy interacting with its characters most of all.

The cultural intersection is an important pillar of Waking Oni Games, with Onsen Master having a Black protagonist while also being steeped in Japanese lore. How do you ensure that all cultures are being represented authentically and respectfully?

This is a great question and one I most often think about when creating games like Onsen Master. I think it is best answered by saying that you can only explore these intersections when you are drawing from your personal experiences instead of borrowing cultural aesthetics to create media that ultimately does not represent you. When it comes to the games at Waking Oni, we create games that specifically explore Black and Japanese cultural intersections. As a Black individual, conversations relating to anime just hit different for us. We have characters who are ubiquitously Black (Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z is a great example), and this creates a space where you’re finding connections with others and relating to the media together. Shonen anime most often featured characters overcoming great strife or hurdles to fully realize themselves – paired with some series drawing from Black culture or musicality (Samurai Champloo comes to mind and more obviously Afro Samurai later on), it becomes hard not to develop a connection. Through that connection is where I do my best to make these representations.

Can you drop any hints about your next project?

All I can say is that we plan to take our exploration of cultural intersections even further, and I can’t wait for you to dive in.

Connect with Waking Oni Games

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WakingOniGames

Check out Onsen Master on various platforms


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