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Exclusive interview with Jason Oda and the emotional action adventure, Waking


Five years in the making, the emotional action-adventure that is Waking will finally be found hitting Xbox One and PC on the 18th June 2020. Partially funded by ID@Xbox and combining third-person action with fully voice-guided meditation, it promise one hell of an adventure; one that has been influenced by the life of the developer – Jason Oda. We just had to find out more, so grabbed Jason for a little chat to see how Waking has become a reality. 

Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role in the development of Waking?

My name is Jason Oda. I am the dev behind Waking. I created the concept, programmed the entire game, created most of the 3d art. Besides me there is a freelance animator, a freelance character modeler, a few other people who helped with odds and ends, and several musicians.

So sell it to us, why should gamers be interested in Waking on Xbox One and PC?

Waking is, I believe, the most personal game that has ever been made. When I say personal, I don’t mean about the personal things I’ve gone through, but rather it’s a game about your life, your memories, and the people you love. Perhaps the most original aspect of the game happens at the end of quests when you are asked to close your eyes and listen to guided meditations that take you back into your memories. These memories then become weapons at your disposal to battle against the forces of death within you.

Unlike most games that try to explore ideas that are deeper and meaningful, Waking is an action game. It has challenging combat, randomly generated worlds, and an original combat system.

waking xbox one

Waking is sold on the back of being an experience that is all about the player, but with influences coming from those of your own life. Could you elaborate a little on what has inspired the creation, and where the initial idea rose from?

I went to art school and did a lot of paintings. There is something about that training that makes you really focus on trying to make something meaningful. Later when I fell into game design, I realized that often things I would make were just pure fun or mindless violence or power fantasies of some kind. There is something about the medium of games that does not naturally lean towards trying to do things on a deeper level. Telling a story with greater philosophical ideas in it is the closest games tend to get. I wanted to make a game about the really important, personalized aspects of our lives. I wanted the treasures not to be imaginary gold or weapons, but instead the things in our lives that we actually treasure.

The last piece of the puzzle is the work I was doing in interactive media, mainly for ad agencies at the time. There was always an emphasis on creating things that involved bringing the user into the experience. Waking takes this notion way past selfie-filters or avatar customization. It asks you questions about your desires, your struggles, your beliefs, and your fears.

Waking has been five years in the making, first announced as Coma back in 2017 and then hotly tipped to launch back in 2019. Firstly, what dictated the name change and what held it back from going live prior to here and now in 2020?

As I began promoting Coma back in 2017, it just became obvious that the name was not original enough. There was a popular flash game by that name from years back and a few other smaller games on Steam that were called Coma: Something Something Something. The SEO was just terrible too. I had a bit of a crisis and just decided the name change was going to be necessary. At this point, I’m glad this happened because Waking is such a better name.

We’ve had some issues with porting the game to Xbox One, which has delayed the release. The game was actually ported twice after the first attempt failed. It’s just not an easy task to do for anyone.

Is Waking likely to provide a unique tale for everyone who plays it? How will any individual experiences come to the fore?

There are three main chapters to the game. Origins, Loved Ones, and Identity. The differentiation in tales people encounter will vary by the paths they choose to take and their feelings towards various aspects of their life. Generally, there are not huge forks in the road plot-wise, but people will take very different things away from the game depending on their personal experiences.

waking xbox one screenshot

Even though initial thoughts point to a dreamlike world, it seems as if combat plays a huge part in the entire Waking experience, with Souls-like elements hinted at. Could you please expand on how these mechanics have come to fruition, and are we likely to be discovering some hardcore fighting systems within?

Dark Souls ends up being the easiest thing to compare Waking to, but it’s actually pretty different. There isn’t the typical attack/evade system. Waking uses a telekinetic combat system in which you pick up various objects, charge them with energy and unleash their power. Sometimes it’s just picking up some clutter off the ground to telekinetically hurl at an enemy. Sometimes it’s specialized shields and melee weapons. Waking also is not a game where you are constantly dying. The difficulty levels are adjustable and the difficulty curve is much less steep. My goal is to make something challenging and action packed, but not frustrate the player to death.

What influenced your creative design of the enemies we will face? Are they also influenced by the mind of the character?

In designing the enemies, I wanted to create a type of mythology that didn’t reference any type of religion specifically. The visual style was influenced by various occult illustrations.

The leader of the forces of death is a spirit named Somnus who acts like a bored government beaurocrat whose job is to convince you to come to the other side. Underneath him are the death counselors who are these animal-headed beings that poetically try to sell you on the merits of death. There are geometric machines of death called Sleep Keepers and Nightmare Machines who are the drones in charge of deconstructing your lifeforce. Finally, wandering the cavernous passages of your psyche are your personal demons.

There is promise that Waking will allow us to combine exploration opportunities with meditation techniques. How does this all marry together?

Like many other games, a player battles through various levels to reach a plot point or cut scene…however the twist with Waking is that the cut scene effectively takes place in your mind’s eye with your own memories and visions that emerge as you listen with eyes closed to the guided meditation. These then merge with the exploration parts as you are asked a series of questions based on your memories and your answers become your weapons. Examples are a pet from childhood, a handful of dirt from your hometown, or a childhood stuffed animal.  

waking xbox one screenshot 2

We’re Xbox gamers and we live for achievements. Could you divulge any information to those found in Waking? Are we looking at simple progression achievements or some which will require a whole load of thought?

As you explore your mindscape, there are various memories to be found and explored. Most of the challenges deal with the discovery of these.

So we’ve got Waking coming to Xbox One and PC via Steam. Are there likely to be releases on other formats further down the line?

Because it is funded by ID@Xbox, Waking will not appear on other formats.

Xbox Game Pass has become a staple for Xbox gamers, and it’s pretty safe to say that the scheme has helped many check out games that they wouldn’t ordinarily spend time with. Have you considered running the Game Pass route for Waking? 

We’ve explored those routes, but those opportunities did not arise for us.

How has the funding from the ID@Xbox team and publication from tinyBuild helped with getting Waking over the launch line? Could you have been so ambitious without the help of those two behemoths?

There is no chance this game would exist without the funding of ID and practically no chance it would have made it to Xbox without tinyBuild to sort through the porting process. Without funding, there are just not enough hours in the day to build something to this scale and support yourself financially.

waking xbox one screenshot 3

And other than the help provided by those teams, have you drawn on the expertise of any other developer?

Very early on in the process of pitching the game, there was talk of a studio developing the idea. Vander Caballero, creator of Papo & Yo, took me under his wing briefly to teach me the ways of the indie game world. I’m really grateful for the lessons he taught me during those times.

And finally, what is next for you, and Waking, in terms of going forward? Do you have any further gaming ideas that you’d like to build on?

Making indie games is one of the most trying and challenging art forms to work in. It really takes a toll on you mentally. Ideally, I would continue making them, but realistically it all depends on how this one does. Financially and spiritually, I don’t know if I will have the strength to continue unless some moderate level of success is achieved with Waking. Exhausted as I am with this thing, I occasionally have dreams of a Sword & Sorcery style rogue-like about doomed teenagers battling for redemption, but for now those are only lofty, distant dreams in my mind.

Huge thanks go out to Jason for sparing us the time to quiz him in regards Waking.

As you can most probably tell from this interview, Waking looks set to be a hugely interesting experience. If you agree then you’ll be able to pick the game up on Xbox One and PC (via Steam) from the 18th June 2020. If you wish to know more about the game then our full review will be hitting home around that time, or you could of course follow Jason’s development progress over on Twitter. Alternatively, the official Waking Twitter page will also sort you out.

Neil Watton
Neil Wattonhttps://www.thexboxhub.com/
An Xbox gamer since 2002, I bought the big black box just to play Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. I have since loved every second of the 360's life and am now just as obsessed with the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S - mostly with the brilliant indie scene that has come to the fore. Gamertag is neil363, feel free to add me to your list.
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