The Story of Nin Online's Development
Nin Online is more than just a game. It's a creation born out of sheer dedication, originating from one passionate fan, who put in over a decade of work into making a game for others to enjoy, so that he could say "I did it".
This is a look back in time on how the project came to be what it is today.
Naruto MMORPG Projects in the early 2000s
To understand why Nin Online was dreamt up, you have to understand what was going on in the early 2000s.
During that era, indie game development was practically non-existent. It was long before the boom of games like Super Meat Boy (2010) & Stardew Valley (2013). Unity3D and Unreal Engine had licenses that cost companies thousands of dollars and no free licenses, unlike today. MMORPG engines did not exist in any practical form besides a couple of open source codebases that weren't battle-tested. The pixel art community was extremely tiny, with most pixel artists in a small online community called PixelJoint. It would be no surprise that most game projects started by individuals, hobbyists and indie game developers in that time period would never see the light of day.
In 2002, the hit series Naruto was released in Japan and quickly made it's way into being a world-wide phenomenon. A flood of projects hoping to make unofficial fan MMORPGs set in the world of Naruto would soon emerged online.
A project started by @Robin around 2004. Naruto Realms was being created with an engine known as Mirage Source. It was based on Visual Basic 6 with DirectX7. Jargon aside, it just meant it was built with extremely outdated technology by today's standards (and even back then).
Naruto Realms played a huge part in the eventual creation of Nin Online. @Ueda aka Rory, the creator of Nin Online, came across this project and followed it's development. The project was eventually shut down without seeing a release, inspiring Rory to start learning how to create games so that he could carry on in it's vein.
A few years after the project was shut down, Rory and Robin became close friends and started working on projects together. Rory being around 14 years old at the time and Robin only slightly older.
NarutoQuest was another attempt at making a Naruto MMORPG by an artist called Neoderk and solidsnk65 aka. Sudo (Creator of Spell Blasters). It had a huge part to play in what became the art style for Nin Online because Rory almost entirely ripped the graphics of their sprite base, drew over it and used that to work on his first attempt at a Naruto MMORPG.
NarutoQuest started off as a sequel project to a Naruto Roleplay (RP) forum, at the time, RP game forums were a popular kind of forum where players would describe their original characters (OCs) and roleplay as them, including roleplaying battles. The RP forum's creator solidsnk65 ran the forum for around 2 years before decided to attempt to turn it into an actual game.Quote
The development wasn’t very long since I was just a child amateur. But lot of ppl seemed interested. I think I eventually lost interest and moved onto other projects. But I had some ppl testing the game. I had received some donations for it as well, but someone that was on my team that I trusted stole all the money. I’m not sure if that was the catalyst for me to move on or not.
-solidsnk65 aka. Sudo (2021)
The project was being developed with a fork of Mirage Source - called Elysium - and released a closed tests for donors of the project. There were a couple of videos posted and a bunch of mock ups created.
Unfortunate, there are no known surviving images of NarutoQuest.
Other brief mentions
A lot of these games have been completely lost to time. But here are some brief mentions of game projects that were started but never released from this era. BYOND games are omitted from this list and will have it's own section further down the line. These projects were intended to be built as standalone games.
Naruto Online (2005)
Naruto Arts (2006)
Last Ninja Online (2008)
Among the Naruto-based MMORPG projects in the 2000s, two of them stood out as they attracted a lot of attention for being ambitious graphically. They would however, be short lived and not see any releases.
The start of Nin Online
As the above illustrates, Naruto MMORPGs were coming and going every other month. A lot of these were brief mentions in forum posts, mock ups, videos on sites like Vimeo, and hence have been completely forgotten to time. The ones that are still remembered are the cream of the crop, the ones that made enough of an impact and drew enough attention to be remembered.
But the constant cycle of disappointment in the community of gamers who longed for a game based on the Naruto universe was growing, not shrinking. With that thought in mind, Rory decided to start his own attempt at creating a Naruto MMORPG...Quote
Personally, I was so disappointed with everyone who started projects, announced them but giving up all too easily. In hindsight, it was certainly never going to happen because of how hard it was to make games (especially at the time) and most of these developers were mostly just kids or people in way over their heads.
This led me to think of just doing it myself. I googled "free mmorpg engine" and found the engine that NarutoRealm was based on, Mirage Source. This led me to join a community of hobbyist developers.
NarutoProject is what was born out of the desire for Rory to see the idea of NarutoRealm through. Not understanding the difficulty of creating a game, let alone an MMORPG, in a time before there was much public knowledge about game development online.
13 years old at the time, Rory had a forum with hundreds of members that would come online daily expecting to see progress. Sadly, the task was far too great, and despite a lot of effort, nothing much was ever accomplished besides mock ups.
Hidden Villages Online (2007)
A slight evolution of NarutoProject, Hidden Villages Online (HVO) was the beginning of Nin Online attempting to be more Naruto-inspired than Naruto-based.
HVO was based on a game engine known Eclipse Evolution. A fork of Mirage Source, the engine used by Naruto Realms.
HVO saw a beta release, with a couple of dozen players playing for a couple of days before realizing how devoid of content it was and leaving forever.Quote
I started off scripting in Eclipse Evolution, a syntax called "sad script". It's akin to what BYOND has with DM Script. This was my first introduction to programming, with my only prior experience being Warcraft 3 Map Editor's eventing system, RPG Maker and Klik & Play as a kid.
I then moved on to programming in Visual Basic 6. Both Naruto Project and Hidden Villages Online was the result of sad script development. The games were very badly made. I cannot emphasize enough how bad. But with Hidden Villages Online, for the first time, I had somewhat a release, and that set me down a better development style going forward. One that I would continue to use for Nin Online in 2013.
The server was hosted "24/7" by a guy who volunteered to do it on his VPS. It saw constant downtime due to the server files being unstable and buggy. I eventually decided to close the server and rework the game entirely.
Hidden Villages Online: Inochi (2007)
Hidden Villages Online: Inochi (命, いのち meaning life) was yet another reimagining of the same project by Rory. It started from scratch, with another engine fork of Mirage Source called "Chaos Engine" and was for the first time being programmed with Visual Basic 6 instead of scripted with Sad script.
At this point, Rory was shaping up as an artist, opting for completely original artwork for the first time.
There was a bigger focus of the life aspects of the game, with features like housing, bounty systems planned.
Mid-way through the development, it was renamed to Nin Online. That name carried on throughout till today!
Nin Online (2008)
Nin Online in 2008 was becoming more and more distant goal as school became more a priority for Rory. While the title of the game stuck, nothing else from this period in time ever made it's way into the modern iteration of Nin Online. Nin Online in 2008 was almost entirely an idea and a collection of artwork.
With the game's concept becoming more and more ambitious, the possibility of it being created by a single person, without any help, was fleeting and with that, Rory decided to take a short break and focus on other projects.
The first hiatus
During the first hiatus the project was on in 2008-2009, Rory started working on a project known as PokemonTown, an attempt to use an obscure engine called VBGore to make a Pokemon MMORPG. This attracted the attention of Robin, the creator of NarutoRealm and a more experienced developer then, who reached out to Rory to work on other projects together. This collaboration would spawn countless projects such as Crystalshire and Eclipse Origins.
The creation of Crystalshire and Eclipse Origins led a new wave of indie MMORPGs to be developed. Even today, some MMORPG games around are based on these engines. An example is DarkStory.
The BYOND Era
BYOND was godsent, it was a free online engine that made creating online games very simple. Coupled with it's own in-engine editors that allowed anyone to make artwork, it had an easy-to-learn scripting language called DM Script, it led to an explosion of anime-based games being developed and some even releasing on all kinds of anime, including Naruto.
Of all of them, the most prominent one was...
Created by Masterdan in 2009, Naruto GOA would satisfy the desire for a Naruto-based MMORPG for a host of people for a long while. When it was starting out, hundreds of keen players would populate the servers. Each server could hold 255 players, and it would frequently max out multiple servers.
Rory worked with Masterdan on the game for a brief period of time after release, creating art for future content. However, Masterdan stopped working on Naruto GOA shortly after it was released, and left the game without updates.
Other developers passed the mantle around for a couple of years, and the game slowly faded into obscurity over the years.
Rory took Naruto GOA as an experiment of what Nin Online could become some day and moved on.
Nin Online (2008-2009)
Nin Online started off again in 2008 with a new art style. They were considered good for the time by most as Rory was finally grasping how to make game art that he would be proud of using for his dream game. This was largely thanks to working with Robin who had an eye for these things.
The game project's development dragged on for over a year without seeing a release. This was due to both Robin and Rory having busy schedules at the time. Rory was still in school at age 15, studying for national exams. Because of this, what began as a few days of working on the game a week, soon became just the weekends and eventually progress just stalled.
Development never made substantial progress, despite the community being large, active and filled with enthusiastic members. Eventually, Rory fell out of love with the work that had been done thus far, and without substantial progress in the programming, there was little keeping the project going.
The game died in 2009 with a long apology to all it's followers. A final email was sent out in May 2010, with a promise that Nin Online would be back and better one day.
With this email, Rory signed off on the project once again and went back into hiatus.
The second hiatus
During 2009 to 2013, Rory decided to stop being overly ambitious and to take game development more seriously. He enrolled into a game development school and after 3 years of studies, graduated with a diploma with merit in Game Design, worked in the games industry for a year as a UI/UX Designer, and became a full-time freelance game artist before deciding to come back to working on Nin Online.Quote
How could I be content with myself if I never finished the first game I ever wanted to make?
Once again, the thought of dying before realizing the dream of Nin Online was unbearable to me. Nin Online had to happen, even if it took the whole next decade to make.
Hayate's Gaiden (2012)
Hayate's Gaiden was an attempt by a game developer named Slaizen at making a single-player RPG game based around an original story, with original characters within the Naruto universe.
Although the game never saw a release, a lot of work was done for the game. Rory took a lot of inspiration from the artwork created by Slaizen. Slaizen's artwork had a prominent grungy, detailed style to it as it based some of it's tilesets on "Hanzo Kimura's RPG Maker XP RTP Edits" free resources posted online. Rory chose to use that as the basis for some of the early tiles in Nin Online as well.
Hayate's Gaiden is one of the catalysts for Rory starting his next attempts at creating Nin Online. Even though the games were very different, seeing someone go so far in attempting to recreate a virtual Konoha village was very inspiring for him.
Nin Online (2013)
Nin Online was reborn in July 2013 from the ground up. After studying, working and gaining more experience in Game Development. Rory decided it was time again to give it another go. Unfortunately, even in 2013 there wasn't any new options for MMORPG engines. Many projects attempting to modernize the Mirage Source code base came and went without substantial innovations or successes.
Rory decided that Nin Online would use a version of the engine that Robin had spearheaded as the definitive version of Mirage Source called Eclipse Origins.
Around 2 months into development, with substantial progress being made, Rory started the Gold Ninja donation group. The goal at the time was to get enough funding to pay for original illustrations, server fees and software costs until the game reached a stage it could be properly monetized.
Together with Eddie aka. Whack, Rory got an Alpha released in 3 months. This alpha contained very limited gameplay, but was a great proof-of-concept. The idea was to continue to have tests until the game was ready to stay online for good.Quote
Yes, it took 4 years. But I improved a hell lot since then. I'm determined this time to create a game fast, to get a release early, and work our way up from there.
Nin Online has always been on my mind since that day in 2009. I missed the project, wanted to work on it again, but every time the idea of bringing Nin back came to mind, I felt it wasn't the right time. I was waiting on a good game engine to be released, one which Nin would be perfect on. But then I realized, there is not going to be a better time to make Nin online than now.
I started making graphics for the new Nin online. Day after day, I just kept making these graphics with one goal in mind - release a game. I was determined that I would learn to code the game myself as well.. But that's when I met Whack/Eddie.
At first, when I posted around forums for any interested programmers, I was looking for just anybody to take on the role. But this guy came in and blew me away. He is talented, hardworking and fun to work with. That's when we started getting online everyday to work together on.
-Rory (Nin Online Announcement in 2013)
The Original Gold Ninja
An outpour of hopeful individuals from BYOND communities, old followers of NarutoRealm and other projects in that vein joined the Nin Online community in 2013. The idea of Gold Ninja as a one-time donation instead of a subscription was thought of as a way to ethically give an asking price and limit of how much we were willing to take from each individual backer for the project at a time where there wasn't enough content for players to enjoy for any meaningful amount of time.
The original backers of Nin Online, the Gold Ninja, gave willingly. With a couple of hundred dollars of Gold Ninja donations, Nin Online was able to put that money towards hosting the server and paying freelancers for illustrations to brand the experience.
Although a couple of hundred dollars is unsubstantial in game development funding, with typical standalone MMORPGs sometimes costing millions of dollars to make. The support and goodwill of the original Gold Ninja meant the world to us. Just the ability to maintain a server while the game's content (ie. Mapping, Items etc.) was being developed made all the difference. Nin Online may not be here today if it wasn't for each Gold Ninja who backed the game in 2013. As such, we continue the spirit of the Gold Ninja, an optional, one-time donation to play Nin Online.
Rory and other contributors such as Seth, Robin, Abhi, Fernando, Masterant and many more put in thousands of hours of work without monetary payment for the years to come. Nin Online was going to happen as long as we willed it to.
This is one of the messages that kept me us going, from Chuubou, an early Gold Ninja.
Over the years, hardships would come. Rory was conscripted into the military for 2 years from 2014-2016. During this period of time, Seth and Robin took up the mantle of running the community. Seth would also continue to code and artists such as Fernando & Masterant would work on art. While Rory's free time was limited, for a large portion of the conscription, he got permission from his military superior officers to bring a laptop into the army camp and worked on Nin Online after hours and in his spare time.
Because Nin Online did not have any budget besides donations (we received less than a thousand dollars in donations from 2013-2016), we made up with that through voluntary manpower.
At some point, Seth quick his part time job to work on Nin Online full-time for a third of his part-time pay. Rory quit his full-time job working as a UI/UX Designer in the games industry to continue working on Nin Online full-time. He also turned down multiple lucrative job offers throughout the years after that.
Rory also channeled money earned through freelancing game art to spend on Nin Online.Quote
I don't come from a well-to-do family, we're not poor, but we never had more than enough to get by. So not having a proper job while not studying was really hard. My grandfather left me a small allowance every month that were supposed to last me through my studies. Because I decided not to go to university, I lived off that allowance of around $250 US Dollars a month for the first few years of Nin Online's development. Being in one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, this was pretty hard. There were times where I survived on bread and milk for meals because I was running out of money for the month, other times it was instant noodles.
Sometimes I would be so upset with the situation I had put myself in. There were people who would say things like that I was taking people's donations and laughing my way to the bank, not knowing how much I was sacrificing to make it happen, but I usually just ignored it and kept it to myself because I knew arguing or responding to things like that wouldn't help make my situation better.
Nin Online's team was mainly consisted of volunteers for most of it's development. Before the game was released, there were periods of time where staff members would abuse powers, campaign against other staff members and in some cases leave the project and attempt to make their own games. None of which worked out, but still caused a lot of drama.
The lead developers of Nin Online have always made it a strict policy to disassociate, not participate in drama, and to be professional in such situations, knowing that community drama is easy and fun, but does not accomplish game development.
Once Nin Online released, a lot more effort was taken to ensure that such things would not happen.Quote
At some points, the quality of people willing to help out on the project (before the game was released) was so poor that there were a lot of people who would simply be in the "staff channels" to create drama. Most of the actual development discussions would actually only take place between myself and Seth in DMs because we were so frustrated with trying to manage volunteers.
In late 2017 to 2018, a grave bug would plague the server causing it to crash randomly anywhere from 2 hours to 72 hours after it went live. Stephen aka. Yoshimitsu and Rory would stay on manual server restarting duty 24/7, as we still had a commitment to 100% uptime as an ideal. This went on for around half a year to a year before finally being fixed in 2018. Bugs were a lot harder to fix before the codebase was modernized, rewritten in C#.
Even after the ordeal was over, Rory reminisced the times when he would wake up in panic in the middle of the night randomly, checking his phone for discord messages telling him the server was down.
Nin Online has been targeted by art thieves throughout the years. From non-English Nin Online clones that use Eclipse Origins (An engine developed by Robin, with Rory as well), using rips of Nin Online's art work, to BYOND games, to Stardew Valley mod. Nin Online has it's fair share of people trying to take our hard work at no expense, to their benefit. While this never directly affected development time significantly, it's always been a slight annoyance and a hit on morale to see others use hundreds of hours of our work to their gain, without permission.
Nin Online launches it's Live Service
Nin Online launched it's live service operation with the "Final Beta" in 2017. Making the commitment to never wipe player's progress and to aim for 100% up-time as an ideal. Although it fell short of this goal throughout the years, we kept up the mentality that anything short of 100% up-time was a failure and took any failure to uphold this as a failure to deliver what players have paid for.
Nin Online C# (2020-2021)
During this period in time, Nin Online underwent a major overhaul with the intention was to convert the dated Visual Basic 6 codebase into a modern language. In comparison, games like MapleStory and Habbo Hotel, during this time period were also going through similar projects trying to modernize their clients. (We did server too!)
Both of those games had teams comprised of dozens or hundreds of staff, with multi-million dollar budgets. In comparison, Nin Online only had the funding from our cash shop sales.
Wolf joined the Hitspark Team at the end of 2019 and began work with Rory on first rewriting the Nin Online server in C#. This was accomplished in a few months while retaining compatibility with the old Visual Basic 6 client.
Rory and Wolf then moved on to remaking the client C# as well. An important point was that in order to guarantee success, they ensured that the new client would be able to replace the old client gradually. This meant the server had to be able to work with both the old and new client at the same time. This was a very difficult endeavor, but would ultimately succeed in replacing the Visual Basic 6 client entirely by Mid-2021.
Made with Love
While others gave up, moved on with their lives, Rory was unable to. The idea of Nin Online was simply too amazing to give up for him. He inherited the dreams of all the developers that had attempted to make a standalone Naruto MMORPGs for over a decade.Quote
I literally couldn't move on with my life. Whenever I worked on something else, it would be at the back of my mind, that I was failing myself and letting everyone down.
Over the entire time from working on NarutoProject to Hidden Villages Online to Nin Online. Rory would write down notes, designing his dream game, Nin Online. Some of the most important things that became clear was that Nin Online was to be
Free-2-Play & No Pay-2-Win
Money would be the last consideration when it came to making Nin Online. The focus would be to make a great game that was worth the wait for everyone waiting for it to be made, to give them a place to realize that single dream. Even as the game project reached alpha in 2013, people like that flooded our team with messages like these. This would make dedicating the next decade into making the game as good as it could be - worth it.
What is Nin Online today?
Nin Online is a 2D Ninja MMORPG where you play as yourself in our very own Ninjaverse. In Nin Online, you'll find a lot of references to anime that you love. We pride ourselves in being a niche community of gamers who love the old school, hardcore MMORPG formula.
- Continues to be developed actively by 8 years into development. With the help of community members contributing art and other skills, We are able to sustain development, maintenance costs and continue to be Free-2-Play and ethically monetized only thanks to the support of our players.
- We spend no money on advertising, promoting or anything that is not making the game better for our audience. In return, we hope that our players will spread the game to their peers through word of mouth.
- Player feedback is taken seriously and responded to personally by lead developers on both our Forum and Discord, through public posts and personal DMs.