Screenshot from OPUS: Echo of Starsong. A male figure wearing a long coat stands before a glowing light, emitting from an opening in the midst of several rock and cavernous structures.
March 14, 2022 | by Elvie
The OPUS Games: An Interview with SIGONO

With heavy narratives Intertwined with themes of space and the human condition, the OPUS series is an anthology of science fiction games developed by SIGONO.

Starting off as a duo of merely two developers, SIGONO has since expanded to become a full-fledged independent games studio with ambitions to grow even further. I had the opportunity to talk with Scott Chen, one of SIGONO’s co-founders, to talk about the history behind the studio and the philosophy behind some of their games.

Screenshot from OPUS: Echo of Starsong. A humanoid figure stands in front of a massive, circular, rustic door. There are various patterns and runes within its shape.

Thanks so much for taking your time to talk with us! Can you talk about the history behind SIGONO and how did the studio come together? What were some of SIGONO’S earliest projects?

SIGONO started 6 years ago with Brian and me, Scott. At the time we were classmates in a postgraduate program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. Actually, one of our earliest projects was a prototype that makes use of Microsoft’s Kinect, which we ended up selling to a big company. That gave us enough capital to create SIGONO. From there, we created a few fun, casual arcade games. One of them was called Hyper Square, which caught the eye of Apple, and ended up getting a lot of recommendations. After Hyper Square, we started thinking about how we could leave players with something more than just the feeling that the game was fun. And that’s how the OPUS series was born.

What were the sources of inspiration behind the OPUS games? Each of them are all very different in both style and genre. Are these differences across all of the games intentional? Was the OPUS series ever intended to be a singular connected story, or was the game always intended on being an anthology?

Although the OPUS games all look different, the core of them is essentially the same. They’re all heartwarming, yet melancholic stories. We think that the art style, music, and mode of interaction that suits each story are different. As such, we didn’t want to confine ourselves to just one style. We also didn’t want to connect the storylines from each game, since that gave us a lot more creative freedom.

The protagonists of OPUS: Rocket of Whispers, in particular, are focused on reviving a very unique tradition after a disaster wipes out their community. When someone passes on, their body must be launched in a specially made rocket through what is known as a space burial, and specifically gifted women known as witches oversee this tradition. Was any of this inspired from anything existing in our reality?

The act of wanting to send off those who have passed can probably be found all around the world. It’s just the customs and beliefs of each location create differences in the way that’s expressed. I think you can see it as, in the world of Rocket of Whispers, the people have their own specific customs and so the space burial is a part of that, being the unique ceremony that it is.

Screenshot from OPUS: Rocket of Whispers. A male figure wearing a coat and backpack looks up towards a towering, metallic structure. On the structure, a young woman with a ponytail looks down towards the male figure, holding onto railing.

Screenshot from OPUS: Rocket of Whispers. A catalog of various, worn down items on a menu screen.

OPUS: Echo of Starsong is probably one of SIGONO’s biggest titles yet in both the development that went behind it and through the final presentation of the game. What encouraged this dramatic departure compared to the simplicity of the previous two OPUS games?

The transformation seen in Echo of Starsong came about for a number of reasons. The main reason was that we wanted to develop a PC game. After Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms started appearing on mobile devices, people seemed to be using them in fragments, and it looked like they weren’t suitable for a story-driven game. Still, the quality of PC games has evolved rapidly over the past few years, so we really had no choice but to aim for the stars in terms of quality. With that in mind, we gathered a bunch of colleagues together and did our best to raise the bar for every single aspect of the game.

In all of SIGONO’s OPUS titles thus far, why is there a huge emphasis on science fiction themes and space?

Actually, when we were developing OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, we wanted to make a game that could express a feeling of boundless expanse. We had to decide between the deep sea or space, and we ended up choosing space. When we started developing the second game, we discovered that there wasn’t much sci-fi material coming out of Asia. So we took the opportunity to make an Asian sci-fi game series.

Despite some of the initially bleak conditions and settings that the OPUS games start off with, there is always an underlying message of optimism and hope for the future after the protagonists’ journeys are completed. Is this a correct interpretation, and if so, why is this so important to convey?

That’s correct. Each part of the OPUS series aims to tell a heartwarming story in the face of tragedy. During the process of losing themselves, the main characters also manage to find themselves. We believe this is at the heart of the series, and is what we hope to express to the players. We hope that as players are playing these games, they can find courage in the sadness.

Screenshot from OPUS: The Day We Found Earth. A narrow shot of a small, cramped research facility with an open, skylight ceiling with various planetary bodies in the sky. A small robot and a ghostly woman wearing a labcoat stand facing each other in the center of the frame.

Screenshot from OPUS: The Day We Found Earth. A view of a nondesript area of outer space with various galaxies and stars sprinkling further in the distance, seen through a viewfinder with various UI elements.

OPUS: Rocket of Whispers is the first Taiwanese game title to have been reviewed and recognized on Famitsu, a widely respected and referenced Japanese video game publication, even earning itself a Platinum Hall of Fame award. What are some of the things you hope to achieve when you reach international players? What are some of the difficulties in doing so?

We were absolutely stunned to find out we had received a Famitsu Platinum Hall of Fame award. We even thought it was a Silver award and not a Platinum. We consider it one of our biggest achievements, so we’re quite proud of it. Now, in terms of international recognition, we’re really focused on IGF (The Independent Games Festival). During university, we attended and hoped that one day we’d be able to get up on the GDC (Game Developers Conference) stage and receive an award. Entering the international market is extremely tough, especially for a game company that just started to get moving. Without an established presence in the industry, it’s very hard to stand out among the constant stream of titles. Relying solely on your game’s quality to get attention is just not enough.

Are there currently any plans for more titles in the OPUS series? Or are there any non-OPUS games that SIGONO is planning on developing?

Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about that (laughs). If you’re interested, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We frequently post the latest news for fans on those platforms.

Screenshot from OPUS: Echo of Starsong. A female figure stands surrounded by various machinery and wires. Her face and torso is framed by a circular, lighted apparatus. A speech bubble pointing from a character portrait, with the name "Eda", on the bottom left of the frame says, "Recording starsong."

OPUS: The Day We Found Earth and OPUS: Rocket of Whispers are both available on all mobile devices, PC, Mac, and the Switch. OPUS: Echo of Starsong is currently available on PC and Mac. You can find more information and news on SIGONO’s work on their website.

Elvie is a lost creature wrought out of recycled materials from New Jersey. She is the designated subtweeter of the social media channels.

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