The list of publicly inspired games from Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda franchise isn’t small, but it’s still impressive to see specifically what some of the smallest development teams can achieve. Heart of the ocean is a recent example on the Switch eShop, a game that has gone ahead in acknowledging its inspirations.
With its fascinating pixel-based visuals and plenty to explore in its world, we’ve Ocean’s Heart a recommendation in our review. Most impressively, though, it’s largely the work of a solo developer, Max Mraz. The core game is a one-man effort, though its path to Switch is also an interesting one, as it was a pioneer for Solarus engine, has been used for a large number of Zelda games. Ocean’s Heart was the first time that tool was used on Nintendo hardware; it was also the first game using this engine to be released on Steam.
It’s a game with an interesting history, so we caught up with Max Mrax to learn more about his creative process, the path to Switch, and what’s coming next.
Nintendo Life: First, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and development in the gaming industry?
I’m Max, ostensibly a game developer. Development is just a hobby of mine, but it turns out I do a lot of Its because I can sleep when I die. I started trying to make video games when I was 11 years old and a kid at school told me about RPG Maker, when Don Miguel’s pirated version of RPG Maker 2000 was all over the internet. Then and so on, I would try to make Zelda games during my school years, which never worked in RPG Maker because that simply wasn’t the purpose.
Can you take us back to the early stages of Ocean’s Heart development? When did the project start and how big is the team?
Back in 2017 I was building a Raspberry Pi thing to play old games and came across the Solarus engine and a few Zelda games. The concept of a game created by myself on my own TV very wild and exciting, and I realized I was in my 20s, it was time to learn to code anyway, so I started teaching myself. I thought I was going to make a really small game, just a few small islands and a few little dungeons, and it would just be for myself. The team then was the same as it is now, just me. That means there’s no one to stop me as I’m unintentionally making the game bigger and bigger.
You once described it as a ‘love letter to the Legend of Zelda’; When you started, was there a particular Zelda game, or a set of gameplay concepts from the series, that inspired you the most?
Visually, I’ve always watched Zelda: Minish Cap like the height of pixel art. The Game Boy Advance has some of the best pixel art ever, because after that console, unfortunately, most of the big companies turn to 3D models no matter how good they look. or not. So that’s my visual inspiration.
In terms of gameplay, what drew me to Zelda was the exploration – especially the way you split the underworld between the dungeons. I love chatting with people to find new quests that take you to new places, and I love how the underworld teases me with glimpses of places I couldn’t get to until I hit one. some weird scheme that turns the trees upside down or whatever new will do.
I love talking to people to find new quests that take you to new places, and I love how the underworld teases me with glimpses of places I couldn’t get to until I hit one. number of strange things.
What aspects of Ocean’s Heart set it apart from that inspiration, what do you consider the biggest part of its identity?
Compared to Zelda, Ocean’s Heart focuses more on side quests and optional content. If you only follow the main story, you will miss most of the world. There are secret dungeons, hidden quests and outback towns for you to visit. All of that is done at the player’s discretion, if you want to explore you’ll find cool stuff but I’m not your mother and I’m not going to make it for you. Another difference is Tilia, the main character. Instead of being a silent, sincere protagonist, Tilia has a personality and shows her attitude. While she will spends her time helping people (as she often needs money to fund her missions), she won’t hesitate to call anyone out for making a mess or acting stupid .
The game arrives in early 2021 on Steam; What do you learn from player response on Steam, and is there any feedback that follows that affects updates and ultimately the Switch port?
Steam players certainly found some puzzling bugs, which was helpful, but much of the feedback was immediately refuted by others – for example, music was said to be repetitive and hard to hear, but also is a hit and where can I buy the soundtrack? Mathematically, the positive comments outweigh the negative ones. What PC players can agree on is that rebinding keyboard controls are obligatory, as well as achievements on Steam. Obviously neither of these make the switch to Switch, but I’ve gathered a ton of small tweaks and improvements; things like certain quests are a bit unclear, or small areas are too easy to miss, that sort of thing. The Switch port certainly benefits from the testing of thousands of players on Steam.
It’s hard to remember I made this game when I saw it on the Switch screen next to Hollow Knight and Breath of the Wild.
Technically, how was your experience bringing this game to the Switch?
I don’t know anything about conversions before, as Ocean’s Heart was my first big game. However, it’s also the first commercial release of a game made with the awesome Solarus engine, so the engine’s developers are excited to make the switch to Switch too and have been heavily involved. I’m just a lucky intern whose game just happened to play out in some way. So the engineering work was a lot of back and forth with the Solarus tool team, like “Max, can you try running this?”, “Sure, but I literally can’t find it.” the ‘go’ button does it help?” ? “. One of the most important pieces, though, is the work we’ve done that will allow future Solarus games to be delivered smoothly. I hope this can encourage more people to play the game.
Emotionally, isn’t it a particularly special time to release Ocean’s Heart on Nintendo hardware?
Absolutely, it’s hard to remember I made this game when I saw it on the Switch screen next to Hollow Knight and Breath of the Wild. But then I started playing and I said, “no, this is definitely my game because I fought this stupid bat enemy 50k times during the test”. While I expected it to feel exciting and special when it released on Switch, and it does, the surprise was how much gap between completing the game and releasing it for me. . Between the QA, the certification process, the marketing and everything else, I worked on other projects for the better part of a year for the most part. So the excitement is definitely there, but there’s also some willingness to move on to something else.
Are there future plans for Ocean’s Heart, in terms of this game’s content or new games/sequels?
I definitely have plans for new games, but haven’t committed to a big one yet. Currently, I am working on a small game that will serve as a free resource for other developers using the Solarus engine. Graphics, code, sound effects, that sort of thing. The idea is that you can take whatever you want out of it and it speeds up development by having built-in modular systems and development on top of that is going pretty well.
There’s still a lot I want to explore in the pixel-art, top-down action RPG space. Ocean’s Heart isn’t really reinventing any wheel or mine – it’s by design, I’m actually teaching myself to code while building it. But now that I have some experience, I want to try to explore new mechanics and create something more unique.
Do you have any final messages to share with our readers?
I’m never sure what kind of message the reader needs to hear, so I’ll add some advice? Be careful not to accidentally start the game, it’s hard to quit, and it’s just a lot of work. Also if you like to explore in games, your city probably has several parks, and they don’t tell you but you don’t have to go on the trails. You could literally wander into the woods and you’ll almost certainly find a cool rock or something. Hope that is helpful!
We want to thank Max Mraz for his time.