Just a short disclaimer, with Galdra Studios’ response to my questions, there is nothing really I can add to it.
I think this is best read raw and uncut — with zero ‘funny’ remarks from my side. Enjoy!
The niché genre of…
To fill you in just a bit (covering only the basics), this is what Gadra Studios is and what it does great:
Galdra Studios consists of three people, Daniel Christensen, CEO and programmer, and the person I’ve been chatting to, Mette Jakobsen, in charge of art and writing, and lastly, Jesper Green, doing the sound and music.
Arcadia Fallen is Galdra Studios’ baby. It’s a visual novel about story and relationships, focusing heavily on choice, and the consequential emotional journey of the protagonist.
But without further ado, let’s get into the article!
Let’s begin with visual novels: why did you want to make Arcadia Fallen and what made you want to make it an interactive story told in pictures? I’m asking, as visual novels and narrative games, in general, have been a bit more-far-in-between and when it comes to popularity. Of course, overlooking the success of games like Firewatch, The Walking Dead-series, and games like Dear Esther, as they are not visual novels but what some would call “walking simulators”.
We are fully aware that Arcadia Fallen, like many indie games, falls within a niche market. Story rich games, especially text-heavy ones, are not for everyone, but to us at Galdra Studios, game narrative and how we make choices in games is incredibly fascinating, hence the choice of genre.
As for our target audience. Visuals novels are roughly put a genre, that takes the choice mechanic found in many RPGs and isolates it. So the people who enjoy forming bonds with their companions in games like Mass Effect, or cried when they had to make their final choice in Life is Strange, that’s our people. Is it a large group of people? Probably not as big as the crowd a triple-A game must attract to make back their production costs, but that’s the tricky part with measuring success, it is all relative. Can we be successful compared to the sales of a triple-A title? Most likely not. Can we be successful within our niche market, with a game that focuses on the wants and needs of that particular audience? We believe so.
A timely return?
The decline in popularity is what leads me on to my next question. As game developers and especially indie game developers, you’re, metaphorically speaking, fighting in a battle royale with a lot more than 100 other indie developers. But not only that, this royale also has boss battles: game companies, publishers, marketing, and consumer theoretics!… Metaphor aside, my question is, how does Arcadia Fallen stand out from amongst the crowd?
Looking at the recent success of Dream Daddy or Doki Doki Literature Club, and the never-ending stream of Japanese PSP titles being ported to Steam, we do not recognize the notion that the genre should be in decline. On the contrary, our biggest challenge will be to stand out in this sea of content, a challenge most indie developers know all too well.
Arcadia Fallen is our take on a merge between Japanese visual novels and Western RPGs. Traditionally Japanese visual novels are a fairly linear experience with binary choices that lead to good or bad endings, while Western RPG titles focus on branching narratives with choices that have consequences. Arcadia Fallen will make use of the format and aesthetic of the Japanese model, and the choice mechanic from the Western model, bringing together the best of both worlds.
To dwell a bit on the game itself: why Arcadia Fallen, exactly — what prompted you to make this game: what inspired it?
We felt that there was a lack of games in the genre that delved into self-expression through roleplay. A lot of visual novels have a set protagonist and focus on players making the “right” choice. How many times haven’t you encountered a character who is acting like a real jerk, wanted to call them out, but not been able to, because the choice leads to a dissatisfying ending? Arcadia Fallen is a game that encourages the player not to make the right choices, but their choices.
We were inspired by modern fantasy and coming of age stories that focus on internal conflict and drama, rather than an external worldly conflict. That is not to say the world of Arcadia Fallen doesn’t have conflicts, it has plenty! But rather than picking up a sword, our hero will have to deal with their struggles by interacting and bonding with characters in the world, gaining friends and enemies and possibly falling in love.
Arcadia Fallen — a visual novel series?
When making games, it’s often wise to have an end-goal: a finish-line or something similar to reach. However, too often the likes of dreams get mixed up with reality. What is your team’s dream for Arcadia Fallen — no holds barred, what do you want it to become?
Our goal is to have a game series with several installments that are released at a regular basis. You wouldn’t want to wait 6 years for a sequel to a book, why should you with a game? The pillar of Arcadia Fallen is self expression through gameplay. For now we focus on choice menus, but we want to explore how other types of gameplay can be utilized for player expression and storytelling. Dreaming big, we want Arcadia Fallen to be a game that inspires new ways to think about choices in games.
Finally, to people, like yourselves: narrative-lovers, visual novel-enthusiasts, and game developers. What would your tips and tricks be to make a stand-out visual novel — can you name three things you learned during your journey that might help others?
Break the mould. There are already strong opinions on what does and doesn’t constitute as a game, which is bullshit. Arguably our medium is still in its infant state and there is still much to be explored.
If you wish to make a stand-out visual novel, start by making just a visual novel, and experiment from there. There are many successful visual novels, and there is nothing universal about them except for the genre. Do what you want to do, and work towards becoming the best at doing that.
For the vast majority of game developers, making games is a passion, so foremost consider what you want to be doing. Following your passion means that even if you never make an outstanding game, it won’t have been a waste, because you created something you care about.