Life after the apocalypse. Wasteland above, safety below. This is life As We Know It, and we’re not in it alone, who are you going to spend your new life with?
Kaiju: Welcome to the Digital Diversity project, Jaime and Elan, I’m really enjoying As We Know It and I’m super keen to hear more about it from the person who made it.
Please tell us a bit about who you are and what As We Know It is all about.
Jaime: Hi! Thanks for interviewing me. I am a writer, programmer, and developer for Jaime Scribbles Games.
As We Know It is my second visual novel project, and was a very ambitious project on my part. I originally came up with the idea for the game while I was working on Pinewood Island. I was inspired by Fallout vaults, Mad Max, and several other post-apocalyptic media. I write characters first, so I created the anxious Ashlynn and her romance-obsessed mother. I wanted to emulate the uneasy small-town feel of a fallout vault and the desperate make-shift families of Mad Max: Fury Road. I poured a lot of my own personal anxieties into Ashlynn, and my flighty love-obsessed nature into Camilla and then placed them both into Camden.
I took my favorite archetypes like the gentle doctor and the bad boy and twisted them into Micah with his rough past and Gloria with her naivety. Eva, the sensitive but friendly girl I think anyone could fall for (including me!) and then Jude, another anxious soul trying to get by. My collaborator helped me flesh out Camden, and the world they lived in.
Elan: Hi, I’ve been collaborating with Jaime on her projects since the start of AWKI, as sort of a sounding board, editor and proof reader. With AWKI we worked a lot on the initial world building to make sure the facility was able to function.
Jaime has this amazing ability to establish characters within a few sentences, while I’m a technical world builder, who tends to be the annoying one going “how does it work? Where does power come from? How do they recycle water?” and it is really thanks to Jaime’s ability to take input and information and seamlessly tie it into the storytelling that there isn’t just a big info dump about generators ^^
K: Since you brought up the subject, Elan, world building in As We Know It is the first thing that struck me when I started playing; from the almost stark utilitarian nature of Camden that somehow manages to feel like a real home, to the clothing design and even the way language contrasts between those new to the vault and those that have been there a long time – Is it wrong to call it a vault or have I just played too much fallout? – How much of your collaborative efforts went into getting these elements to work? Did you have a clear idea of where you wanted things to go or was it done a bit at a time till it felt right?
E: Heh, our writing styles are completely different when it comes to that. I plan everything, to such a degree I never finish my own writing, while Jaime tends to write very fluidly and intuitively.
With AWKI that meant I sent her a lot of research and it bled into the writing where it felt natural to bring it up. We did definitely look into existing underground facilities and tried to think about how language had changed in a world burned to a crisp. It felt logical people would see snow and oceans as almost a fairy tale, while human language tends to go towards pretty generic and simple descriptive words based on their environment. That’s how we got Sandman for example (Which was originally just a temporary name). Both the literal of them living in the sand, but also the older reference of them putting people “to sleep”.
Also most of Camden’s residents would probably bristle at it being called anything but a community, but I think it is very much up to interpretation just how welcoming Camden is.
J: Elan was very good at taking my ‘pantser’ approach to writing and making it mean something in the grand design of the game. They thought of several things I would have never considered, such as actually considering how such a place like Camden would exist which led to the conversation between the Mayor and Camila about Geothermal energy. It comes off as really natural but knowing that bit of information makes Camden feel like a real, grounded, place.
For the clothing I wanted to showcase the difference between Ashlynn’s surface attire which is purely practical and the more fashion conscious luxury of Camden. In Camden people can be a bit more adventurous in what they wear, though they are restricted in using fabrics that are already available. I made mood boards and worked with Kate Frizzell (The character artist) to really get the right look for everyone down.
K: Well you all did a damn fine job of building a world that felt both real and welcoming, you should be proud. There have been plenty of times while playing that I’ve thought how certain ways of doing things make so much sense for long term survival, such as the hydroponics setup and routinely bringing new people into Camden. It feels like AWKI is not only a great game in itself but would be a fantastic template for building more from it like maybe a vault management simulator or a series of shorter stories from each of the main characters. Maybe that’s just my wishful thinking to see more done with the genre.
Let’s move onto something a little more romantic, since quite a bit of the game is part dating sim. The first question of course if you could romance in real life any of the characters from AWKI who would it be? I’m also curious how you adapted romance into a post-apocalyptic setup; does love mean something different at the end of the world and does that affect how characters interact on a romantic level?
J: Thank you so much for those kind words Kaiju! I would romance Eva or Micah. They are my favorites! Micah really has the most romantic route, and who can’t fall for Eva? I wish I had more time to go back and add more romance and depth into the endings, but the basic idea of Camden being a new start for people extends to love. All of these characters have experienced heartache and trauma, Camden is the fresh start they all desperately need. I also made a point to abolish homophobia which was important to me. You won’t find anyone commenting or questioning orientation, people love who they love and no one really worries about it.
E: That’s so nice of you to say Kaiju. I did experiment with a short story set before Camden, since sci-fi and timelines is my love, but of course I cannot represent Jaime’s characters as authentically as she can.
Romance though.. Can I pick Trevor? Because Trevor is very much the type I go for in these kind of games.😅Of the love interests Micah is my definite favourite. The way he opens up and shows vulnerability after you break his shell really hits you straight in the feels.
I feel like the characters feel a bit more of an urgency to connect with someone in a world that’s dying around them. And when the world is falling apart around you, I think having connections to someone becomes so much more important. It is our lifeline in many ways. Camden is really the last option they have both in love and life.
K: The idea of using Camden as a fresh start is such a great idea, especially as a way to abolish a lot of the bigotry of the outside world. I think that just makes it all the more special. And I have to admit a personal fondness for Eva too, perhaps because they are quite similar to one of my partners who is also quite tall and has a side-shave. Maybe I just have a type, haha.
The connection between urgency, vulnerability and hope is a really interesting one that I’m really glad to see represented. I still need to put a lot more time into my playthrough because I’ve a feeling I’ve only seen a fraction of what there is to see.
On the technical side of things did you find putting something the scale of AWKI together much of a challenge? With so many interwoven stories, characters, sprites and events going on did you end up learning anything new that helped as you made the game?
J: As We Know It was incredibly hard to manage. My desire to give the player as much agency as possible made the branching and variable tracking very difficult. It took several spreadsheets, flowcharts, notebooks, and digital notes to keep it all straight. I do believe the game suffered a bit from this, making some of the events barebones and overall it was really hard to test! Going forward with In Blood I made a strong effort to simplify the inner structure and focus on the meat of the story. With Elan’s help I am putting special effort into the endings. I’m very interested to see if players prefer the simpler gameplay of In Blood over the more open game play of As We Know It. It’s always a balance between structure and agency.
E: Oh, boy, the testing! 😖 Four love interest, four career paths, three free time options, completely open to choice meant *so* many different permutations that needed to be found for testing and proof reading. I really learned how to structure my play testing to both account for intended play, and try to find the errant scenes players might only find if they didn’t do what we expected. I suspect there’s still spelling errors hidden in some rare variable lines in there.
I think you sacrifice some narrative focus with going very complex and more “stat-builder”, and I’m looking forward to seeing how In Blood’s more structured narrative-based pathing is received compared to AWKI.
K:There is a heck of a lot going on. After a full night playing I managed to get just one of the thirty endings, and it’s incredible how the game twists and turns into something far deeper and heavier than you first think going in. And considering how much content is in there I don’t think I found a single typo, so you did an amazing job.
I’d love to know how you both got into visual novels in the first place. Were there certain titles that drew you to the medium, or specifically fond memories that you pointed at and went “I want to make that”?
J: I really loved the concept of visual novels as interactive fiction. As I played them I wasn’t finding enough games that really appealed to me, personally. I liked a lot of them, but I wanted more mature stories. With a background as a writer it only made sense for me to jump in and start making my own. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would be interested, but after Pinewood Island sold well enough for me to partially fund a second game I decided to make a proper go of it.
E: I kinda went through a side-path, I’ve always loved point and click adventure games, but I had practically no experience with VNs. That changed after I got massively into BL for a period and read/watched/played everything I could get my hands on. It started with fan-translated jvns, but I think Coming out on Top was probably my biggest inspiration to go “I wanna make something like that!”.
Trying to do my very first game for yaoi jam 2017 I joined lemmasoft looking for programming help, and became a part of the community there, where I really had my eyes opened to the breadth and imagination of the indie vn scene.
That’s also where Jaime and I got to know each other.
K: Ha, we’ve had a few people mention Coming Out On Top in past interviews, that seems to be one of those VNs that hooked a lot of folk. I came at things in kinda the same way as you both combined; started with point and clicks, checked out a few early 2000s VNs, wanted more mature themes that weren’t icky, then just kinda fell into them and haven’t stopped reading since.
Feels like a good time to talk about representation, because that’s what we do here. I’d love to know how much of your own identity goes into your work? Are there particular characters or stories you have both written yourselves into? Or even games that felt like they represented who you are positively that you want to see more games like?
J: I put a lot of myself into my characters, and if it isn’t me then it is someone I know or a character I liked. I mix it all together to try to create realistic and engaging people for the player to interact with. I really want more bisexual characters that aren’t stereotypes, and the easiest way for me to see that is to write them. I try to make an effort to create a more inclusive cast since I know I can’t be the only one that feels that way.
The Dragon Age series was a big inspiration for me, with their characters and lgbt representation.
E: In my personal writing I would say all my characters are aspects of me, to the degree you can track where I was in finding myself through what I’ve written. Xenopathy’s script for example (which is Bob and mine’s project I have not finished) now features 4 different nonbinary identities because of my growing understanding of both myself and others genderfeels.
With working with Jaime it was also important to me to represent, well, me I guess, so Eris in In Blood is kind of a reflection on that. Annoyed nonbinary birb is very much me, heh.
But experiencing representation in stuff is always a difficult question for me. I just don’t relate to media through characters in that kind of personal way, unless I write myself in (or they’re robots). I love seeing new stories from viewpoints I haven’t experienced before, and I am especially fond of first-hand diverse writing, like Bob’s YAGS, Butterfly Soup and Love and Formaldehyde – stories that give me an unique account of a specific feeling/identity.
K: You’ve both mentioned In Blood a few times so this is a perfect time to talk about current and future projects.
Tell me about In Blood, and if you’re working on any other projects right now or have plans to jump onto them next I’d love hear about them.
J: In Blood is our current project and I think we are both pretty excited about it. I’ve learned a lot from my previous two projects and am hoping to really create something special with Elan’s amazing help. In Blood is a horror romance with strong elements of dark fantasy. I was inspired by Gothic Romance, Lovecraft, and genre bending stories such as Crimson Peak. We’re currently working on the audio aspects for the demo while also prepping for a kickstarter we’re planning for this summer. I have End Of Summer, a mobile game, on the back burner but otherwise I’m trying to focus on In Blood.
E: We’re currently all in on In Blood, I will be doing a lot of voice acting directing stuff the next month hopefully, and getting ready for the demo launch. I think we’re both eagerly looking forward to seeing the reception!
Personally I still really want to finish Xenopathy, which is my love child and I have so much research and backstory done for, but chronic illness has been kicking my ass and I don’t wanna promise too much.
K: Well that’s about all we have time for, thank you Elan & Jaime for joining me on Digital Diversity; it’s great to hear more about the inner workings of As We Know It as well as getting a little info about In Blood. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that one comes together as queer games with lots of monsters.
But before we part I’d love to know if you have any advice for novice visual novel creators out there, especially the ones who want to say something important important to them with their games? And of course if you’ve got any last minute shout-outs or words of wisdom now’s the time.
E: Thank you so much for the interview and playing our game!
I hope you’ll like the In Blood demo when it comes out.
My biggest tip for new creators is probably; start small. Do jams, work with others and just take the time to learn the engine and how to create. I promise whatever you try to make will get way bigger than you expected, and when you finally get to making that “perfect idea” you have the experience and knowledge to enjoy your finished product. You *will* hate your first game, that’s just how it works.
There’s one thing I tell every writer I work with – Every story has been told before in some form. What you bring to it is your unique experiences. No matter your idea, nobody has written it exactly like you if you let yourself inspire your writing.
Also I’d like to shout out @rosewater_games. I played the Sagebrush demo years ago and boniae has been getting close to finishing the full game, and I’m really looking forward to getting to play the finished project. 🙂
J: This interview was a blast, thank you for having us! Please look forward to In Blood, it should be amazing!
My best advise for everyone is that done is better than perfect. I feel like the desire to get something ‘perfect’ is what tends to slow everyone down. I agree with Elan, start small and keep going. Each game will eventually improve, and you’ll learn so much as you go!
I’d like to let everyone know about is Ocean Pearls, I did some beta testing for the game and it is going to be really good when it comes out! Plus, mermaids! She is
@jelpiparade on Twitter.