You may have played as detectives, explored complex cyberpunk worlds and environments built with voxels in other video games, but you’ve never seen or played anything like Oniria Crimes. cKolmos Games have created a universe as complex as it is unique.. An adventure in which you will have to solve successive crimes in dreams by interrogating the most surprising witnesses: the objects in each room.
In Oniria Crimes you will help Detective Santos and Inspector Torres, two members of the Rounders, a secret society that fights crime through dreams. Identify the suspects and their possible motives for committing each murder. Don’t let your prejudices dominate, analyze each crime scene in detail, each “statement” of the objects, and decide their innocence or guilt based on the testimonies. You may or may not be right.
To learn more about the universe of Oniria Crimes, we interviewed Jorge Garcia, founder of cKolmos Games and programmer and designer of the game.
When was cKolmos Games founded and how many people work there?
cKolmos started in 2011 as a blog dedicated to video game development where I explained my first experiences in projects for iOS. In 2013 I started teaching video game programming at CES school in Madrid. There I met David Luengo, the animation teacher, and we set up an indie studio. Shortly after, my brother, José Miguel García, joined us. The goal we had was very simple: to collaborate in the creation and publication of games.
The first years there was a lot of experimentation and learning; we published mainly in iOS and Android, in a very amateur way actually. We started to develop games of all kinds: long projects that didn’t go very far, small “jam” games that were well valued, commissions for “serious games”… a little bit of everything, except big productions. We collaborated with many people and became a small community of developers with the three founders as the main core.
From 2018 cKolmos specialized in two branches of development. A very experimental one, which we call the “Strange Operations Division”, led by my brother and focused on games for children, which has achieved more than 15 million games played. The other branch is narrative and came about thanks to the incorporation of Meri Palas as a writer, with whom we have published several narrative mini-games, interactive poetry, and other works in which we have developed a very particular universe: Oniria, the Land of Dreams.
When did the development of Oniria Crimes start?
Oniria Crimes comes from two mini jam games we made in 2018 and 2019. The first one was for the Jam Idea. We created a criminal investigation adventure that was very simple in terms of mechanics but very dense on a narrative level. Here appeared the first voxel versions of the main characters of Oniria Crimes: Detective Santos and Inspector Torres.
At the Global Game Jam in January 2019, which we were lucky enough to do at the video game museum in Rome (VIGAMUS), Oniria Rooms was born. It was a “meditation game” with a voxel aesthetic based on the novel Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf, which already had the main mechanics of Oniria Crimes. This game was very appreciated and we realized that it had magic. We also loved making a totally voxel narrative game.
Then we saw that the two games could complement each other very well to create something a little bigger. We decided to make a prototype by combining the idea of “mystery room” with the characters and criminal investigation. We presented that prototype to GameBCN in February 2019, so you could say that’s where the Oniria Crimes adventure began.
One of the aspects of Oniria Crimes that attracts the most attention is its immense and rich universe, with a very particular lore. How long has it taken you to develop it?
It’s hard to calculate, Meri and I have been forging this universe throughout a lifetime of passion and creation dedicated to literature and video games. For example, Detective Santos is a variation of a character created for an unpublished novel entitled La Tasca Gris, which I wrote at the end of the 20th century. Jazzmine, the cultural attaché of the Rondadores in case 3 of the video game, is a character whose civilization we created about ten years ago for a utopian adventure video game… but I think it was around 2014 when we started to need a common universe where to place all the stories we wanted to tell. So we named it Oniria, set its rules, and materialized many of the concepts that are now part of the lore of Oniria Crimes.
The game’s mechanics are amazing, turning the objects in each room into witnesses to various crimes… How did you come up with this concept?
The relationship with the objects arises in the Global Game Jam we did in Rome, from a lax interpretation of Jacob’s Room. Meri wanted to represent the idea that objects tell the story of a person. The resulting interactivity was so interesting that we decided to go a step further: the objects would not only tell the life of their human but they would also be the witnesses of a crime. So we opened the door to scene investigation.
The funny thing about it is that dream objects have a very subjective view of reality. Most of them don’t even understand the concept of life or death, so each one tells only what worries them most, making research a little more surreal (or maybe not), than with human witnesses.
What have been your main sources of inspiration in creating the universe of Oniria and its gameplay?
On the video game side, and although it sounds a bit cliché, Monkey Island and other classic graphic adventures like Simon the Sorcerer or The Day of Tentacle, are the most direct references when it comes to creating the tone of the game and the characters in general. Some more recent references we have are Thimbleweed Park and The Return of Obra Dinn.
As for the themes, the dream part is very inspired by Carl Gustav Jung’s work in terms of the collective unconscious and pseudoscience, in Ready Player One in terms of the fusion of the two worlds and the Oniria/Vigilia connection, and in films like Waking Life in the surrealist dream world. Of course, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a whirlwind of inspiration for everything to do with the land of the dreams.
The investigative part is led by classic detectives such as Holmes, Poirot, Rouletaville…; along with the black novels of Chandler and Hammet. Gaston Leroux has a work called The Mystery of the Yellow Room where the concept of crime in a closed room is explored for the first time, and which is one of Meri’s favourite stories.
For aesthetics, we are very inspired by a “voxel artist” called Sir Carma and the whole voxel community of the internet.
And last but not least, the touches of cyberpunk futurism and the conception of the Rounders as “a team of elite professionals perfectly prepared and trained but with their feet on the ground” is strongly influenced by Ghost in the Shell, our favourite anime.
Oniria Crimes surprises by the increasing complexity of each new case. But the more options the player is given to solve them, we understand that the more complicated the design and programming to make it possible will have been. What have been the main challenges you have faced?
What we are doing in Oniria Crimes we have called it evolutionary genre and it comes from the tendency to mix two genres that we are seeing in the last years in the “game design”. We wanted to go a step further and make one genre become another. The mechanics of “novel visual” superimposed on the “point & click” of the first cases is evolving towards a game system more appropriate for a graphic adventure. However, we have dispensed with some usual and almost sacred elements in this type of games (dense ramification, inventory), to focus on the narrative and everything that enhances the experience of “searching” in a room.
The hardest part is coordinating all this with the narrative design, and balancing the user experience so that the game stays fresh. The genre is changing because detectives need to “move more” around the world to advance their investigation.
The other challenge is the “big problem” of detective games. We want to give the player a game to have fun and not feel like they are working. We have to pretend that he is investigating, but it has to be fun (real investigation is boring and repetitive). That’s why you have to relax many of the premises of a real investigation, without losing the illusion of investigation. The hardest part of this is to achieve a progression of difficulty that engages the player without frustrating him.
To fit all this, we tested over and over again, filing and polishing the game. I think that’s our big challenge. We test as much as we do in action games, until we’re sure everything is well-balanced.
Do you have plans to expand the universe of Oniria beyond this first video game?
Many plans! We want to develop Oniria’s universe as a transmedia project to which we will add works of different genres and sizes, along with contributions from the community. In fact, the first videogame in the universe was Oniria Times, a mini-game where you manage the newspaper of the world of dreams, with all kinds of crazy news mixed with other real ones… and several mysteries to solve.
The research background is common to all the works of the universe, which currently also includes several works of interactive fiction and “noir” stories. We have two novels in progress and, of course, more games.