November 29, 2018

Omen of Sorrow proves that a small indie developer can make a well-respected, competitive fighting game

By Jimmy Thang

Inspired by classical-horror fantasies and featuring characters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, Omen of Sorrow is a fighting game that’s designed to be heavily skill-based. Developed by AOne Games, a small indie team from Chile that consists of hardcore fighting-game fans, Omen of Sorrow has earned the respect of fighting game pros. 

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with AOne Games’ Co-founder and Technical Director Sebastian Gana and Gameplay Designer Felipe Muñoz. The two talked about how working on a new fighting game IP as an indie developer allows them to be more flexible and creative with their combat and explained how they were able to accomplish their goals with the help of Unreal Engine 4. 
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about Omen of Sorrow and congratulations on the recent release! It's not often we see a fighting game that takes inspiration from classical horror and fantasy. What drew you to that setting for Omen of Sorrow?
 
Sebastian Gana: First off, I wanted to thank the Epic team for Unreal Engine. We’re very excited about the release. We love being able to share with the audience more details about the game.

We love videogames, we love the classic horror characters, and we love metal music. We wanted to combine those three worlds and mix them up in Omen of Sorrow. We wanted to reinterpret the classic horror characters and make them fight in a dark setting. We found our inspiration in them because we just felt it would be fun to put them in combat. These are well-known characters, ever present in the collective unconscious, easy to recognize, and easy to imagine in a fight with characteristic movesets.
 
Considering the game features iconic fictional beasts like Frankenstein's monster, Quasimoto, and a werewolf, how did you go about choosing what characters to implement into the roster?

Sebastian Gana: At first, we iterated the roster quite a few times. The very first picks were the most classic monsters like Adam (Frankenstein’s Monster), Vladislav III (Dracula), and Caleb (Werewolf); we always knew they were going to be part of the main roster. As a matter of fact, there were many different options to pick from, and we would choose characters based on combat design needs as well as the different character options we wanted to give the player. Gabriel (loosely based on Van Helsing) and Zafkiel (our original character) were designed as the easiest characters to use for newer players.
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With Omen of Sorrow being built from the ground up to be heavily skill-based, what fighting games would you say had the biggest influence on the project?

Felipe Muñoz: It’s hard to say, really. There’s so many that none really comes through as the “main” influence in a meaningful sense. If I had to choose, I guess Street Fighter Zero 3 (also known as Street Fighter Alpha 3) comes to mind, as does the Melty Blood series. But there’s some King of Fighters and Last Blade influences, too!
 
As an indie dev working on a new IP, do you feel that you could be more experimental with your combat compared to established fighting game franchises?

Sebastian Gana: I think so. We felt really free to experiment with the game as much as we wanted. We took a number of freedoms from the design and technical point of view. For instance, the mummy character was a great challenge, since it was a character who could split into two. It was a real headache for the programming team, but it was also what we had set out to do.
 
Can you delve into what makes Omen of Sorrow's combat unique compared to other fighting games?

Felipe Muñoz: Another hard question! This is one that players are better suited to answer than devs, I think. You aspire to create something different and unique, but only the audience can tell you if you succeeded. With that caveat, here’s my best shot: I think the placement of the learning curve is decidedly different than other fighters, and I think we succeeded in making a more frenetic, fast-paced 2D fighter that nonetheless remains grounded.
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Can you explain how the game's Fortune vs Fate system works?

Felipe Muñoz: Sure! Fortune and Fate are meant to be a flavorful indicator of the performance and playstyle of the players, while also reflecting the momentum of the fight. You gain Fortune by exerting pressure and attacking, while you gain Fate (and thus lose Fortune) by being on the receiving end of pressure, or playing very defensively. Having Fortune is usually what you want, as it lets you receive more pressure once it’s your turn to be on the defensive, while also letting you extend your combos and damage by spending most of it. However, your strongest defensive option is tied to having very low Fortune, so defending well is also rewarded, but is very dependent on your good performance. Once your Fortune is depleted, any knockdown will put you in the dreaded “Doomed” state, during which your guard can get broken by certain attacks. You don’t want to get Doomed, which is why making sure your Fortune stays healthy during the fight is an absolute must!
 
Omen of Sorrow seems to reward players for playing offensively and punishes those who turtle up too much. Can you talk about your design philosophy here?

Felipe Muñoz: When you look at faster-paced 2D fighters, you usually see that they have a lot of verticality. One of the things we were trying to do was create a faster-paced fighting game that didn’t rely on verticality for its action and combos. With that in mind, we created a combo system that was more suited for staying grounded. However, long combos on the ground means that the corners are that much closer, and corners in a combo-heavy game usually mean instant death for whoever is unfortunate enough to get hit. This was one of the reasons for the long stages. However, giving players a lot of space to work with would inevitably lead to zoning/runaway strategies to easily dominate, so we had to give strong incentives for attacking. A second reason for the long stages was the retreat mechanic. I’m a fan of defensive options. A “Retreat” is an invincible backdash that resets the neutral game. This, on its own, would also make for a corner-to-corner game experience, plus making it extra easy for zoners once the stages are longer. Thus, the emphasis on running moves and Fortune-building through pressure and forward movement to help us curb the increased effectiveness that those kind of strategies would have in an environment like ours.
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How do you approach balancing gameplay so that it's both accessible to newcomers, but offers enough depth for veteran fighting game fans?

Felipe Muñoz: We’re very aware of how difficult it can be to get into fighting games, given their often steep learning curves resulting from the depth of the games. When you’re playing a videogame, you want positive reinforcement to be easier to access than it is in real life--that’s why you’re playing a game! If it was as hard to succeed in a game as it is to succeed in life, you wouldn’t bother to play games. With that in mind, with Omen of Sorrow, we tried to give players easier access to combos and damage opportunities--even as they remained discoverable and not automatic--but made resource management a more important, integral part of the fight. This way, the reward of cool fights and cool combos is closer, and yet it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to defeat a more experienced player.
 
Omen of Sorrow is getting a lot of respect from fighting game pros like famed Street Fighter player Justin Wong. What does that mean to you as both an indie developer and hardcore fans of the fighting genre?

Felipe Muñoz: It’s amazing! I don’t really know what else to say about it. It’s just really exciting and motivating! For me, Justin Wong is one of those players I grew up admiring, and whose opinion I really respect a lot. So... yeah, it’s amazing.
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What made Unreal Engine 4 a good fit for Omen of Sorrow?

Sebastian Gana: I’ve been using Unreal Engine for about eight years--ever since its previous version. I’ve used other engines as well, but when UE4 came around, I had no doubt that it would be the right engine, as it had everything you could need to solve a fighting game for consoles and PC. I’m truly satisfied with the tools it provides. Ever since it opened up it’s source code on GitHub, the community and UE’s ability to solve problems helped this technology get that much better, too. From a technical standpoint, we were able to modify the main loop of the engine, and this opened up the doors to execute our development integrating the basic requirements for a competent fighting game, as is, for example, achieving deterministic physics and simulation.
 
Does the team have any favorite UE4 tools or features?

Sebastian Gana: Generally speaking, I think the communication that exists between C++ and Blueprints is our favorite feature. We made use of C++ to implement game functionality and used Blueprints as a bridge to expose cosmetic implementations. This workflow was very helpful for technical artists to make safe implementations, and has even been helpful for technical artists to prototype some functionalities that are later carried to code.
 
How else did the team use Blueprints?

Sebastian Gana: Besides using it for cosmetic implementations, we used it as a base tool for combat move configuration. This has been tremendously helpful to our workflow as it makes changing what’s necessary easy and safe.
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Overall, what do you think of UE4 as an engine for fighting games?

Sebastian Gana: Speaking as the Technical Director, UE4 is a powerful tool that provides us with all that’s needed to be able to create video games for consoles and PC--and not just fighting games. Ever since UE4 offered an open code, I think the only limit is people’s capacity to solve problems.
 
What steps did you take to ensure online PvP would be smooth? 

Sebastian Gana: UE4’s versatility allowed us to implement the well-regarded GGPO system for online fights which, in turn, set the basis for the development of the entire gameplay. It’s always important that, if you’re going to be making an online game, you take every precaution to code it with that in mind from the very start. That was our philosophy. Furthermore, besides the gameplay data transfer, we created our own network of matchmaking servers which communicate through a modified version of the “Unreal Online Subsystem” interface. This was a parallel development we undertook to make it compatible with UE4 and test it with Omen of Sorrow. This system could, today, allow for cross-play as well.
 
Omen of Sorrow features a unique art style. Can you talk about how you achieved the game’s visual look?

Sebastian Gana: Characters are inspired by classic horror films, but the way to represent them was meant to be more modern and dark. Gonzalo “Genzoman” Ordoñez--a very well-known Chilean artist--was a big help in the design process.

Felipe Muñoz: While we were looking to evoke the classic monsters and their recognizable looks, we were also trying to put our own spin on them, to make them look a little more ours. Plus, while Omen of Sorrow borrowed a lot of the looks from western style games, we weren’t looking to simply emulate those kind of games. We were also really into Japanese games and the anime they often evoke. In terms of mechanics, too, we were much closer to Japanese than western games. So, it was inevitable that we would introduce a little more anime into the look of the game.
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How big is the team?

Sebastián Gana: We started out as four people in 2015. Today, the team consists of 27 people, plus four freelancers in charge of sound, music, and implementation.
 
As an indie developer, what were the biggest development challenges the team faced and how did you overcome them?

Sebastian Gana: During development, we learned that making a fighting game is a big challenge, one worthy of respect, as it requires a very high level of technical proficiency and attention to detail. As far as our team goes, this meant being especially meticulous and conscientious in every area as to establish a workflow that would allow us to move forward while doing the least re-working possible.

In terms of development itself, there was much to research when it came to UE4. For example, a fighting game has to run at 60 FPS at all times, and that was hard to accomplish in terms of balancing artistic goals and game optimization. To manage it, we had to do a ton of investigation and establish a very strict flow for importing game models, implementing textures and particle usage. We used the PS4 console as a base for all testing. To allow for cheaper shadows, we had to change the rendering system, which UE4 allows. We also had to modify the input system, so it would run faster than the thread of the engine. This was done to give the player a better feeling of the controls, among other things. None of these features could have been accomplished without UE4’s source code being open.

In any case, I think we still have a lot to learn as a team. This is only our first launch, and we are listening very intently to the community and their feedback.
 
There aren't very many prominent Chilean game developers. How does it feel to represent your country with the release of Omen of Sorrow?

Sebastián Gana: There’s no doubt that we’re proud of representing our country with this launch. Chile has an emerging industry when it comes to video game development, with a healthy developer ecosystem that is organized, helpful to one another, and open to sharing our knowledge and experiences. There aren’t very many companies doing video game development in Chile, however, our history of launched titles has placed us at a very good level.
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Are there any plans for future updates?

Sebastian Gana: Yeah! We have a lot of plans to keep improving the game as well as adding more characters. Like old-school games, we want to ask people to unlock them before being able to use them. We’ve been very receptive to criticism and feedback in and out of social media, so we’re taking on the more urgent matters first. We have an agenda with more launches in different platforms as well, which will, of course, include all of these improvements. Stay tuned for the PC version, which will come with a lot of new stuff.
 
Thanks again for your time. Where can people learn more about Omen of Sorrow?

Sebastian Gana: They can find us in our website, http://www.omenofsorrow.com, and can follow us on social media via our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

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