By James O’Sullivan
Cornfox & Borthers’ fantasy-based narrative of Oceanfox has drawn comparisons to such genre classics as Zelda.
By now, the interwoven fabric of the Finnish gaming community is a well thumbed-through story. Nonetheless, it is always a pleasure to hear when the pay-it-forward attitude of the local ecosystem sees a fresh upstart included into the fold and eventually succeed globally.
Five years ago graphic designer Heikki Repo and programmer brothers Jukka and Antti Viljamaa found themselves out of a job. The global financial crisis had seen to it that the games company they worked for dissolved its operations in Finland. As a result, their dream of kickstarting their own venture together was promptly transferred from the backburner. Cornfox & Brothers was born.
Given the nature of the local industry, it wasn’t long before a window of opportunity swung open for the trio. Fellow Finnish studio Mountain Sheep had been asked to bring Remedy’s wildly successful Death Rally PC game to iOS. However, the offer arrived at a time when they were too involved with their own projects to commit completely and recommended that the budding company takes the reins.
“Mountain Sheep worked as producers for us on the game, as we didn’t have much experience,” Jukka Viljamaa recalls. “We implemented and they supervised. We learnt a lot from the project and gained a lot of self-confidence.”
And so they should have – positive reviews lauded the inventive design and visceral gameplay of their effort. The public responded in kind, with development costs recouped in just three days. It has since been played more than 60 million times by over five million gamers worldwide.
Needless to say it wasn’t difficult for Cornfox & Brothers to secure financing for their next project, an idea they had been tinkering with for many years, one that would revisit the games of their youth.
Drop in the ocean
When the resultant game, Oceanhorn, first appeared in 2013, there was nothing like it available on the iOS platform. Its fantasy-based narrative and expansive gameplay rapidly cultivated a dedicated fanbase. Critics, meanwhile, were distracted by its similarity to Nintendo’s hugely influential Zelda franchise.
Oceanfox’s fantasy-based narrative and expansive gameplay rapidly cultivated a dedicated fanbase. (Photo: Cornfox & Brothers)
“The things we borrowed were not copied because we wanted to make exact copies of the same things so it would sell,” Viljamaa explains. “The game was made out of our love and memories of those old games that we somehow wanted to recreate in a modern way.”
Priced in the premium bracket,Oceanhorn has gone on to draw user numbers fast approaching one million. This is all the more impressive when the average playing time is considered.
“It’s quite a different experience when you compare it to Angry Birds, for instance,” Viljamaa explains. “Our game is not one you pick up for two minutes when you are awaiting for a bus. It has a story arc; it has a beginning and an ending and is intended for longer sessions at a time.”
Over a year since its release, users continue to absorb themselves in the Oceanhorn world. A recent fan art and screenshot competition drew artists by the hundreds to articulate their inspiration. The game has even managed to penetrate the notoriously fickle South Korean and Japanese markets.
After bringing the game back to its original PC roots by launching on the Steam entertainment platform in March, the trio fully intends to return to the well for Oceanhorn adventures in future.
“There’s going to be more games of this world,” Viljamaa promises. “We are going to expand. Heikki has the whole back-story for the things in the game. There are so many things to be explained.”
(left to right) Heikki Repo and Jukka and Antti Viljamaa founded successful gaming company Cornfox & Borthers in 2010. (Photo: Cornfox & Brothers)
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