Playing to his passion: Metronomik’s Wan Hazmer puts his stamp on the gaming world


Growing up immersed in the enchanting world of gaming, Haz’s fascination evolved into a desire to shape these virtual universes himself. — Photos: IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

Wan Hazmer Wan Abdul Halim – generous with smiles and laughter, donning a cute flat cap and uwabaki Japanese slippers – cuts a striking figure as the co-founder, CEO and game director of Malaysian video game company Metronomik.

Renowned for his role as the lead game designer for Final Fantasy XV at Tokyo’s Square Enix, Haz (as he is fondly known) has been instrumental in shaping the gaming style and work ethic at Metronomik.

Together with his cousin and Metronomik co-founder, Daim Dziauddin, as well as the 20-strong team, Haz is forging a path that promises to redefine the tech-driven future of Malaysian game development.

Haz’s journey into the realm of video games traces back to the early days of his childhood, where the wonders of Atari’s Pong and Space Invaders captivated his imagination.

“I fondly remember playing Atari’s Ghostbusters too... I really loved the movie as well,” the 43-year-old Kuala Lumpur native reminisces during an interview at the Metronomik HQ in Mid Valley City’s Northpoint. “I have been playing games since I was five, when my dad bought me my own PC!”

Growing up immersed in the enchanting world of gaming, Haz’s fascination evolved into a desire to shape these virtual universes himself.

However, faced with the absence of game design courses in Malaysia during his formative years, he began charting a unique path. Haz pursued a programming degree and began a career in advertising, which he would later recognise as a stepping stone toward realising his dream of contributing to the gaming industry.

“I spent four years at the ad agency If Interactive, where I created a lot of cross-media solutions and worked with a very creative team. Then, I decided I wanted to go back to video games,” he shared, detailing how at the time there was an ‘indie boom’ which inspired him greatly.

“Before 2007, you had to learn very complicated methods in order to create games – you needed to pick up a technically complex engine, buy software, etc. But when the indie boom came about, many of these programs were available for free, and I was able to create a game together with some of my cousins and friends.”

Ballistic Wars was a military game based on snooker where all the balls were military units. It managed to come in third place at the international Jayis Casual Game Design Competition, which fuelled Haz’s determination to achieve more.

“We made another game the following year, The Last Canopy, and that won first place!”

This experience kindled Haz’s fervour for game development, yet he grappled with the challenge of determining where to direct this newfound passion.

Prolonged reliance on creating personal projects, he felt, would only hinder his growth as a designer. While looking for direction, Haz found himself perusing an array of game design books at Kinokuniya, aligning with his appreciation for both Western and Japanese gaming styles.

Metronomik boasts a distinctive work culture that places a premium on employee well-being.Metronomik boasts a distinctive work culture that places a premium on employee well-being.

It was, however, the idiosyncrasies of Japanese games, exemplified by titles like Katamari Damacy, that left an indelible mark on him. The game’s innovative concept involved rolling a magical, adhesive ball called a katamari around diverse landscapes, collecting objects that ranged from mundane items to entire mountains and skyscrapers (even the Petronas Twin Towers!), eventually transforming the ball into a star.

“How does one even think of coming up with a game like that?” he asked in awe. “I tried to research more about these Japanese games, but it seemed like I was looking at a black box. The only way, I finally figured, was to go into the black box and learn something!”

Haz had saved up his part-time teaching salary (he was teaching at The One Academy and Asia Pacific University then), and so he hopped on a plane to Japan and signed up for a full-time language course for one and a half years!

Then, leveraging on the experience gained during his language course in Japan, Haz meticulously translated into Japanese a detailed 10-page game design proposal he had come up with.

This move was not merely a linguistic adaptation; it was a cultural bridge-building endeavour, ensuring that his ideas resonated authentically with the Japanese gaming landscape.

These strategic efforts culminated in Haz securing a coveted position at Square Enix, one of the gaming industry’s giants, marking a turning point in his career, propelling him into the heart of the Japanese gaming world, and setting the stage for his influential role as the lead game designer for Final Fantasy XV.

Building Metronomik

Haz’s collaboration with his cousin Daim emerged from a shared passion for video games and animation, forming the bedrock of their creative partnership. United by a common love for the immersive worlds of gaming and animation, Haz and Daim envisioned a venture that would combine their diverse skill sets.

Coincidentally, Daim had landed a job in Tokyo working for an animation firm when Haz first went to Japan. Haz remembers catching up every other weekend at the funky, high-energy northern Tokyo neighbourhood of Ikebukuro.

“We would talk about video games and animation and bounce ideas off each other. Then one day, Daim wanted me to leave Square Enix and start Metronomik in Malaysia.

“It was a plan that we had been hatching for some time but had to wait until I was able to wrap up Final Fantasy XV,” said Haz, adding that Daim, who is Metronomik’s creative director, stayed on in Japan to handle operations from over there.

As the Malaysian gaming industry navigated its own set of challenges, Haz’s experiences in Japan afforded him a unique perspective on the global gaming landscape.

Witnessing the rapid growth and talent emerging within the Malaysian gaming community during his visit to the Tokyo Game Show in 2014, Haz recognised the untapped potential and vibrant creativity that were burgeoning back home.

Haz and his team overcame challenges posed by the global pandemic to ship ‘No Straight Roads’ on four major consoles: the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.Haz and his team overcame challenges posed by the global pandemic to ship ‘No Straight Roads’ on four major consoles: the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

He felt a strong desire to contribute to the industry’s development, and motivated by the evident growth, Haz returned to his tanahair to establish Metronomik in December 2017.

“Fun fact,” said Haz as he shared about Metronomik’s beginnings. “I had a wedding ceremony the same week I opened the company... note to readers: Do not do that!”

Apparently, during one of his many business trips to Malaysia, Haz met Rie Matsuura, a Japanese national who was working in Malaysia. He fell in love with her and got hitched as soon as he settled back down in the country. “We’ve been married for six years now,” he said, looking at Rie, who is part of the Metronomik team.

No Straight Roads to success

The challenges faced by the Malaysian gaming industry at the time included a slow growth trajectory, insufficient funding and a lack of original intellectual properties, Haz shared. But this absence of many original IPs presented an opportunity rather than a deterrent for Metronomik.

The development journey of No Straight Roads marked a significant chapter in Metronomik’s timeline. The game’s release in August 2020 was a huge success, showcasing a unique blend of rhythm-infused combat, vibrant visuals and a killer soundtrack and being released in 13 different languages across the globe.

Notably, Haz and his team overcame challenges posed by the global pandemic to ship the game on four major consoles: the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

Haz, reflecting on this period, said: “Launching a game during a pandemic was no easy feat, especially when catering to diverse platforms. We had a dedicated team – 80% who had never released an original IP before – and that spoke volumes about Metronomik’s commitment to delivering a top-tier gaming experience.”

The game’s success lay not only in its technical achievements but also in its incorporation of Malaysian elements.

“We had a bunch of Malaysian elements in the game, including the environment itself – things like a kopitiam, mamak, colonial buildings found in Chinatown, dikir barat and wayang kulit,” he said.

Metronomik’s philosophy revolves around infusing Malaysia’s cultural identity into games while ensuring global relevance.Metronomik’s philosophy revolves around infusing Malaysia’s cultural identity into games while ensuring global relevance.

Much to his joy, this intentional celebration of Malaysian culture resonated globally. He emphasised: “I believe a game with a local setting but a global message works very well. It’s about marketing our culture effectively and not just being syok sendiri, you know?”

Indeed, Metronomik’s philosophy revolves around infusing Malaysia’s cultural identity into games while ensuring global relevance. Its deliberate use of Malaysian voice actors and the multilingual release of No Straight Roads exemplified this approach.

Haz said, “Our game was loved for its slight hints of Malaysian identity. We’ve had overseas fans spouting phrases like ‘Ewah, ewah’ and even coming to visit our country because of the game. Imagine that!”

This commitment to authenticity and cultural representation positions Metronomik as an important player in the industry, challenging conventional norms and contributing to a more inclusive gaming landscape.

Teasing Metronomik’s upcoming game, Ondeh Ondeh, Haz expresses excitement about delving deeper into Malaysian folklore and culture.

“While No Straight Roads featured about 10% of Malaysian elements, Ondeh Ondeh will be about 90%, embracing our rich cultural heritage,” Haz offered enthusiastically.

Set to explore themes of family, the game promises an immersive experience that encapsulates everyday life in Malaysia. Haz envisions Metronomik not just as a game developer but as a torchbearer for Malaysia’s identity on the global gaming stage.

“We need to make a conscious effort to sell our culture because the world doesn’t know Malaysia yet,” he asserted.

A great place to be

Another wonderful thing about Metronomik is that it boasts a distinctive work culture that places a premium on employee well-being. At its core is a commitment to a healthy work-life balance, with a stringent no-overtime policy in place.

Haz passionately believes that fostering a positive environment is not just conducive to creativity but also essential for employee happiness.

Haz believes that fostering a positive environment is not just conducive to creativity but also essential for employee happiness.Haz believes that fostering a positive environment is not just conducive to creativity but also essential for employee happiness.

“Happy developers make better games! Mental health and family life are crucial pillars of happiness, and fostering a positive work environment is at the core of Metronomik’s ethos.”

The company’s name and logo are also significant when it comes to this. Metronomik comes from metronome, the device musicians use to practise playing to a regular pulse.

“We wanted to adjectivise the metronome because our games are rhythmic. The metronome in our logo also represents not only our game concepts but also the beat of life and our strong belief in a healthy work culture.

“The heart in the metronome symbolises our passion for craft and education. We emphasise putting the right people in the right places. This includes providing opportunities for people to pursue their interests in our organisation, regardless of their experience.

“For example, our concept artists had never worked on game concept art, only murals, illustrations and promotional imagery, and our technical artist was an accountant before he impressed us with his 3D modelling skills.”

As Metronomik persists in crafting its enchanting narrative, championing a culture of well-being at work, upholding authenticity, and infusing its creations with Malaysia’s charming allure, the horizon promises nothing but bright prospects.

Renowned for his role as the lead game designer for Final Fantasy XV at Tokyo’s Square Enix, Haz has been instrumental in shaping the gaming style and work ethic at Metronomik.Renowned for his role as the lead game designer for Final Fantasy XV at Tokyo’s Square Enix, Haz has been instrumental in shaping the gaming style and work ethic at Metronomik.

LevelUp with Haz

What gaming consoles do you use at home?

I game on the PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC.

How often do you play games these days?

Obviously, less than I want to! Maybe about two hours a day. On average, I play about 15 to 20 hours a week.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to work in the game industry?

First and foremost, don’t let the negative stories about the gaming industry discourage you; there are plenty of companies that genuinely value their employees. To boost your chances of breaking into the gaming world, focus on building a strong portfolio. Creating one is more accessible than ever, with plenty of free software available.

If you’re aspiring to be an artist, draw consistently and showcase your work on a dedicated site; relying solely on a resume won’t cut it nowadays. Take control of your narrative and present your skills effectively.

Additionally, it’s crucial to provide context for your portfolio. It’s not just about showcasing artwork; there needs to be relevance or a compelling narrative behind each piece. In the contemporary gaming industry, your portfolio should tell a story and align with your aspirations.

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