[Featurama] Interview with Corners Studio on Bar Oasis and The Meaning of Cool
Recently, the sequel to one of my favorite iPhone games, Bar Oasis, was just released. Bar Oasis 2 is a continuation of the narrative delivered in the first installment as well as the free pseudo-sequel Bar Oasis 1.5. Part bar tending simulator, part visual novel, the Bar Oasis series is unlike anything currently out there on the iOS. The studio behind the games, Corners Studio is a Seoul based team of four individuals whom I got to speak with recently in person. Meeting at a local coffee shop near their office we talked about the game, about bars, and what makes these things cool. Hit the jump for the interview.
First tell us a little about yourself. What do you do?
My name is TaeK and right now I have two jobs. I have a background as a conference interpreter for ten years, but pertaining more to this conversation I am a game developer as well as in charge of the business aspect of Corners Studio.
Can you tell us more about Corners Studio?
The company Corners Studio is an iOS game development company comprised of four friends and we’ve been together since 7th grade. We’ve always been interested in games, manga and animation, and I guess we sort of always wanted to work with games. Our team has a lot of experience in mobile development, and our music guy, Nauts, had been writing music for games for some time now. We knew that we always wanted to do something for ourselves as the four of us, and it worked out that together we all had the necessary knowledge of being able to put together a game. We have a programmer, a designer, a composer, and someone that could handle the business end of things. We didn’t plan it in any way, but it just happened and everything fell into place.
Opportunity struck in 2009 when somebody approached us to make a game they’ll sort of invest in, and they kinda did. We all either quit our jobs or cut back severely what we were doing and we decided that now was the chance to go for it. That’s when we made the first Bar Oasis.
I think the next logical question is how did the concept of making a bar tending sim come about?
Well I like drinking, what can I say I’m a Korean hahaha!
Don’t we all? hahaha
Well actually, only two of us actually enjoy drinking, me included. In fact, one of our guys can’t drink at all. But yeah, I enjoy drinking and I actually went out and got a bar tending license and worked at a pub and a proper bar for that matter. About two offices prior to our current office, we actually built a bar in our office (Pictured above).
So anyways our chief designer, N0body (incidentally the other one that drinks) became seriously interested in drinking and cocktails. This curiosity and interest is what makes him such a great designer and story teller, so I showed him the ropes, taught him a few things about bar tending, but he took these interests and wanted to make a cocktail game out of it. This was even before we were approached to make a game. We were brainstorming ideas of what we can do as just four people and his idea was the cocktail game which eventually evolved into a bar tending game.
The bar in the game, the Bar Oasis. It’s a very cool bar and not something you can find these days, especially in Korea. It’s very old fashioned, it’s a biker bar, very casual. What influenced some of these aesthetic elements?
Well basically the bar we had. The elements found in Bar Oasis was found in the bar that we built ourselves and I’m going to take credit for this, the bar I designed. N0body took these elements and made Bar Oasis from it, but it’s nothing especially special. By that I mean it was a very classic sort of bar, sticking with traditions and it was very understated. You probably can’t find a bar like that anywhere in Korea these days probably. As for the bike bar aspect, N0body and I are actually bikers ourselves. I ride a Harley and N0body, well he used to ride a Ducati. I mean we didn’t have a bike garage in our bar, but most of the elements found in Bar Oasis was pretty much from our own bar.
Actually, if we could somehow make it happen we’d love to recreate Bar Oasis in real life.
That would be amazing.
Did you or N0body have any input on the soundtrack?
Well, no. I mean N0body drew the cover, and I believe he gives these directions as to what he’s looking for and Nauts just brings it everytime. But we don’t have any direct control, it’s all Nauts’ work.
Have you ever read the manga Bartender by Joh Araki?
Yeah, we love it actually. The series just finished recently I believe.
Ah please say no more, I still haven’t finished the series.
Oh right, right, I won’t say anymore. We read Bartender and we also read that Japanese manga about wine, Kami no Shizuku, as well. No, but we really like Bartender and it’s great! But I have to say, both our game and that manga, I believe we both sort of have exaggerations. I don’t want to speak for Mr. Araki, but I can speak for our game and not everything in our game is 100% true but I’m sure the manga author would agree with us. None of this is a bad thing though.
Right, they’re both sort of idealized versions of what a really pleasant bar would be.
Yeah exactly. We put forth what we’d like to think a bar should be and we enjoy seeing people agree with our take on such.
What are some new features of Bar Oasis 2?
Well we have a free-play mode that hasn’t been released yet. You don’t have to follow a story and you can just be a bartender. It’s something a lot of people have asked for and we will be providing it in a free update. We’ll be calling it A Day at the Bar, and what is is that you’re the bartender and that’s all you need to be.
Another difference is that the story is longer, more branches, and oh- there are in-app purchases.
None of these purchases are essential, you don’t need any of these to complete the game, but we provide it to make the game easier if you so desire. A full-auto mode for those who want to experience the story, an instant completion to the bar’s liquor shelf, a control that allows you to adjust the number of customers that come in. Again, none of this is needed for the game or story, but some people want to experience the story quicker.
We also provide some tips on how to better play the game. For example, we put in a southpaw option for left handed players but there’s not a really subtle way of explaining this so these tips appear at the beginning of the game to explain a few details.
I also noticed there is a liquor catalog in the game.
That was actually a feature suggested by a fan. I think the advantages of being a small studio is we have the flexibility to put in fans input like that. We’re always listening to our fans because without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Basically the fans are what keeps the bar afloat so yeah, we try to accommodate as much of the fans’ request as possible.
Were there always plans for a sequel or was it a result of the success of the first game?
Well there wasn’t an “official” plan but being the four of us, and having known each other for so long, we sort of knew we were all thinking of making a sequel.
Your game reached number 1 in Hong Kong and successful in other regions as well yes?
Number 1 overall in Hong Kong and really great in other places as well. Actually, I don’t have the exact figures, but Bar Oasis 1.5 did really well around the world. As for Hong Kong, I have to mention a couple of friends in Hong Kong who helped us out a lot in marketing and publicity. In fact, one of those guys makes an appearance in the game.
This actually will lead to a really interesting tangent. Most of our characters, are based off of real people. There are some that we created as originals, but majority of the names are from people that we know and most of the characters are based on people we know or even after us! We thought it would be more fun that way. At least for the person being portrayed in the game, it would be a little extra fun.
That’s actually really interesting!
Yeah of all the characters that appear in 1-2 (including 1.5) only about 5 characters are totally fictitious, and the others are based off a little or even completely off of people we know personally. We plan on continuing this trend for more sequels.
Bar oasis is an odd mix of very different genres. On one hand it’s a cocktail sim, and on the other it’s a visual novel. How did you guys come up with this concept? I mean you guys could have just released a bartending sim without the story element.
Well N0body has a background as a mobile programmer, but he’s always been the graphics guys. That’s his thing but he didn’t have time to do it this time around. Originally it started off as just a cocktail simulator but we thought that it was too weak on its own. There were some cocktail simulators out there and we pride ourselves on being the most realistic sim out in the market. There are various factors as to why we believe that. For instance, how much you tilt your iPhone and depending on how much you tilt, the amount of liquid that pours changes. As far as I know, and I’ve tried a few, we’re the only ones that do that. I might be wrong now, but as far as I know that was the case. However even just that wasn’t enough to compete. People weren’t going to fall over themselves just because of that. We felt that there needed to be a background to all that and to Bar Oasis.
No one knew that at the time but N0body turned out to be an amazing story teller. I mean we all put in some input, for instance I provide the info on all the cocktails and alcohol related content, but the basic story is all him.
Any crazy bar stories you’d like to share?
Well I’m not really sure I have anything especially relevant to the games.
Oh ha but there was that scene involving Vicki in the first game where she- [Play the first game to find out what I'm talking about ]
Oh no, we made that up, but in my years as a bartender I’ve seen people do essentially the same thing.
Actually, a fun story pertaining to how Bar Oasis got its name as well as the drink that makes an appearance in the second game is that it’s an actual original cocktail. The four of us took a trip to Tokyo and we went to this restaurant and there was this bartender making cocktails and I asked him for a recommendation. He went off to serve me this drink, and it was an original that he had created. I don’t remember the bartender’s name, but this drink was so good and we loved it and the name of the cocktail was, as you might have guessed it, Oasis.
Well, I asked for the recipe and he was kind enough to give it to me and if there was any way I can contact him I would. If you see this, please contact Corners Studio haha. But yeah so that’s how we got the name Bar Oasis.
Well that’s all I needed for an original story. Earlier you mentioned briefly about looking into other platforms? Can we expect a release on Android or Steam anytime soon?
Well not in the pipelines or immediately planned or anything. Like I said, we are just four people and there are limits to what we can do. I guess people think that Android is the next logical step and we agree, but the Android market is such that we will have a better time finding a publisher for the Android market. We’re actually in the market for a publisher so if there are any publishers out there let us know. Steam we’re going to have to think about because the controls for one would be completely different. Like having to shake your laptop would be too much of a hassle hahaha.
Any last words for fans and players?
Absolutely. We love you all and we absolutely love how you support our game. The fan page on Facebook we have is great and we get compliments, suggestions, criticism and all are accepted. I mean, we love it all and we look forward to making future games for you all to enjoy. Oh and before we get into talks of newer installments, get ready for free-play mode coming soon. Don’t worry though, we’ll try to make the next game even better.
Do you guys have any details for the next one?
We don’t have any actually, but all I can say is that we’ll make it better!
Come in again next time as Twinfinite sits down with series composer Nauts on the music for Bar Oasis and be sure to check out all three games on the iTunes market (Installments 1,1.5 [free], and 2) and visit their facebook page.
There is currently a contest in which you can submit any creative mention of Bar Oasis on any social networking site and it will enter you to win a Bar Oasis coaster! Check Bar Oasis’ facebook page for more details (but please remember to put your mailing address on your submission! These are really nice coasters.)