Design

Digerati50: Wan Hazmer’s grand design

  • Bringing positive change & talent to Malaysia’s games development
  • Bring Japanese philosophy of making games to new Gen of developers

Digital News Asia (DNA) concludes its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital version can be downloaded from the sidebar link. Watch out for the 2022/2023 edition out in June!

In many ways, Wan Hazmer Halim appears to be shouldering the hopes and dreams of the indie Malaysian games industry.

Perhaps it’s the credentials. A graduate of the Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU), Wan Hazmer spent a few years as a programmer and lecturer before packing his bags and leaving for Japan in 2010, where he joined one of the most prolific game companies in the world , Square Enix.

There, Wan Hazmer became the game planner for Final Fantasy Type-0, and later the lead game designer of the company’s 15th entry of their mainline game series, Final Fantasy XV. He gained a good amount of attention for incorporating Malaysian elements in the blockbuster game – players would be able to find lovingly-rendered versions of roti canai and satay in the game.

You can tell that home is where Wan Hazmer’s heart is. In 2017, after the completion of Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer would return to Malaysia and build his own video game company – Metronomik – alongside his friend his Daim Dziauddin, who also worked as illustrator for a triple-A game series, Street Fighter.

Wan Hazmer returned home to “wake up” the Malaysian games industry. “Not many people get the chance to work on a triple ‘A’ game and I wanted to bring back the Japanese philosophy of making games to Malaysia for a new generation of game developers,” he told Digital News Asia back in 2017.

The Malaysian games development space back then was more focused on being part of the outsourcing chain, helping other top game companies with development work. Wan Hazmer, however, believes that the industry needs to create its own Intellectual Property to stand out.

Starting out with US$71,250 (RM300,000) initial capital back then, Hazmer marshalled a team of developers to begin work on their own video game, No Straight Roads. The music-themed game is indicative of not just Wan Hazmer’s passion for music, but also music’s relationship with games. Rather than being a rhythm game, No Straight Roads is an action-adventure that works harmoniously with music.

Thanks to Daim’s distinctive character design and the novel approach to merging music and gameplay, No Straight Roads has gotten widespread attention and accolades. The game won the Grand Jury prize at the 2018 SEA Games Award and Best Audio at the 2019 Taipei Game Show’s Indie Game Award.

After three years of development, No Straight Roads was finally slated for release 25 Aug 2020. Metronomik partnered with UK-based global games publisher Sold Out to release the title on PlayStation 4 and PC platforms, including a physical release for the PS4 version (complete with a Collector’s Edition).

That No Straight Roads have such a distinctive look and gameplay isn’t surprising, considering Wan Hazmer’s own strong principles in games development. He believes in the emotional contexts in games – something he learned when making Final Fantasy XV.

Rather than create a game that just injects Malaysian elements into existing game templates and genres, Wan Hazmer wants more unique Malaysian point of views in games.

He doesn’t just want to awaken Malaysia’s games development through No Straight Roads. With his signature flat cap, Wan Hazmer is also no stranger in appearing and giving talks in various local games development initiatives like Level Up KL and Kre8tif. Metronomik also has collaborations with educational institutions like Politeknik Metro.

Metronomik and No Straight Roads doesn’t just serve as a shining beacon of the types of games Malaysian studios should strive for, but also in company culture and practices.

Wan Hazmer’s believes in work-life balance. Overtime and “crunch culture”—referring to the practice of overworking long hours in order to wrap game production before release – is baked into the DNA of games development, and it’s something Wan Hazmer is avoiding.

His employees have flexible work arrangements and he made hires based not just on credentials, but whether or not the candidate has a “life outside of games” and can bring their own passions to games development. He believes the company should have a mix of experienced and fresh blood, and not just be a company of old hats.

Metronomik runs on a lean team of developers. Until they have more employees, Wan Hazmer wants to focus on only one game at a time, understanding that it’s important to keep the team’s motivation up and not have them be bogged by too many projects at a go.

As per his game title, there’s no straight roads in creating a vibrant and successful games development ecosystem in a country. But Wan Hazmer is certainly laying the ground work towards a bright future.


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