Few games encapsulate the feeling of being trans in the modern world quite like the one we are featuring today. From the anxiety of interacting with other people, to the possible rejection from shared spaces, to the sometimes outright hostility transgender people deal with every day.
Fewer games still can make something truly beautiful out of such depictions; showing the kindness and warmth that can make it all worthwhile.
Today we talk to the creator of the one night, hot springs series about their games & the state of things…
Content warning: the following interview contains references to transphobia
Kaiju: Welcome to the Digital Diversity project, kc. I’ve been really excited to talk to you ever since I played one night, hot springs last year. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to talk about your work, and after last day of spring I knew I needed to get you on ASAP.
Before we get into the hard hitting journalism-type questions, not that such a thing really happens here, can you tell us who you are and what you do for those who might not know your work?
kc: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed one night, hot springs and last day of spring.
I’m kc and I make very small and short free games – mostly visual novels – that usually have LGBT+ themes.
Kaiju: The one night, hot springs series are easily your most well-known games, as they resonate with so many people, but I’m curious where it all started.
How did you get into gamedev, and did you always know you wanted to make LGBT+ themed games?
kc: one night, hot springs actually was created because of an incident I saw in the news. Here is a very brief summary (content warning transphobia), but somebody was apprehended by police at a public bathhouse because another patron said that they thought the first person was a man. The first person turned out to be legally a man, but they had been wearing a wig inside the bath. Online, there was a lot of vitriol towards the first person even though practically no other details shared about them, and seeing the reactions made me want to make a game to sort out my feelings about it.
I think I’m fairly “recent” in joining gamedev – my first game (a little browser one) was released in 2017. I didn’t really intend to make LGBT+ themed stuff, but most of the jams I was interested in were LGBT+ themed (like Yuri Jam, Ace Jam, &c.) and it kind of just ended up this way.
Kaiju: Wow, I can see how that would spark the need to make something cathartic. The debate around transgender folx in shared spaces is one I don’t think will stop any time soon.
Starting up by making games for game jams seems to be where a lot of folx, including me, have gotten their start. I guess if you find your groove writing important stories to you it tends to flow on like that.
If you’re okay with me asking, because this has come up multiple times when I’ve streamed your games and I’m not an authority on it by any means, how are things going when it comes to trans rights & representation in Japan these days?
I’ve brought up the medical requirements to change gender legally to people before, but I’m curious about acceptance and if things are changing for the better.
kc: I’m definitely not an authority by any means either, so all I can talk about is what I’ve seen myself in the news and the media. Sometimes I see things that make me think things are changing for the better – the fairly recent anime Hoshiai no Sora/Stars Align is a good example of great and very casual representation, and I hope more media like it comes out.
Then there is stuff like the recent heckling during a Diet session where the issue of having separate surnames after marriage came up, and a member of the current leading productive party shouted that people just shouldn’t get married if they didn’t want to have the same surname after marriage. (This is the same member who previously said that LGBT+ people were unproductive because they couldn’t have children.) The incident isn’t specifically trans-related, but I think it shows how there often still isn’t really any real repercussion for being prejudiced or bigoted towards minorities.
Kaiju: Sounds the same the world over right now I guess. Very slow movement forwards and nothing stopping the bigots being bigots.
Still, back to more positive gaming things, more to the technical side specifically.
Most of your work is using Ren’Py, although you do have plenty of Bitsy games too, how challenging have you found working with those engines to make what you want? It’s been commented regularly that your skill with Ren’Py is amazing, so if you have any tips & tricks on how to get the most out of such simple (comparatively) engines it would be great to share them with folx who might not have tried them yet.
kc: I’ve never heard anyone mention my skill with Ren’Py is amazing so that’s news to me! I think one of the best things about Ren’Py is that you can choose to do nothing, just use the basic functions and already make a game! But if you want to do any specific thing, it’s also usually possible.
I’d recommend looking at the online Ren’Py documentation because it explains the basics and also lets you check out all the different things that are possible. I’m always surprised by stuff I didn’t realise Ren’Py had built-in functionality for.
I think it also helps to think of Ren’Py as just a general game engine that is specialised for visual novels, rather than “just” a visual novel engine, so that you don’t get trapped in thinking that Ren’Py can only do visual novel stuff. With screens you can pretty much make any game you want.
Kaiju: Haha, a few fellow visual novel devs and I may have been talking about how well made your games are during the last stream 🙂 We all get very excited to see what people do with the engine.
That’s a great way to think about it too, I’m curious to see if folx have made non-VNs with Ren’Py. Worth having a look.
You’re three games into the four-part series in the one night, hot springs series; during your time making the games have you found the stories your telling, or how you tell them, has changed over time? Or did you have a firm idea of where you wanted to take each game and not really deviate from that?
kc: I can understand that feeling – sometimes I’ll be playing somebody else’s game and just have to stop to think, “Wait, how on earth did they do that?”
For non-VNs, if you haven’t seen it before, NomNomNami has a cute card game prototype (https://nomnomnami.itch.io/sweet-fusions) made in Ren’Py and it does a lot of very cool things. I also made a simple clicker game/visual novel (https://npckc.itch.io/a-hero-and-a-garden) for NaNoRenO last year that honestly turned out to be more clicker game than visual novel, so in the end I wasn’t really sure if it was OK to submit to NaNoRenO at all…
I actually don’t usually plan out my stories much before writing them. I just start with a general idea and come up with stuff as I go along. For one night, hot springs, all I had was “trans woman goes to the hot springs” and then I made up the rest from there. Since I don’t really have a firm idea of where I want to end up, I don’t have the opportunity to deviate from it either. It helps that my games don’t really have very complicated branching routes to keep track of though.
Kaiju: That sounds relatable. Working as the ideas come to you is a great way to get a game that feels real.
Since you’ve broached the subject of other games, I’d love to know if you have any favourite games that also handle LGBTQIA+ issues? Maybe ones that handled representation well or gave you a lot of feels? Sharing the love of other folx work is a regular thing around here.
kc: I like Disaster Log C by Sofdelux Studio. it’s one of the few games I know with aspec rep – I really wish there were more! (Please, people, make more games with aspec rep so I can play them.) It was a pleasant surprise for me when I was just playing the game and a character mentioned they were asexual, since it almost never comes up.
Kaiju: Gods, I get you there on wanting more aspec representation. I’ve included a few games with such rep over the last couple of years but they are few and far between. Hopefully they will be more common with Outer Worlds having an asexual character prominent.
Have you already got plans in place for what you’re going to make after you finish up with this series? It’s obviously been a big part of your life getting these beautiful games made, so will you be taking a rest after finishing the last episode or right into the next big thing?
kc: I always like to be working on something, so right now I’m working on a small visual novel for NanoRenO! It’s slow going, but the goal is to have it ready for the end of the month. It’s going to be a fantasy setting and more lighthearted in tone though, since making games that discuss real world issues tires me out a lot mentally.
Kaiju: I bet. I still need to play through the rest of your games, maybe I’ll do a stream just featuring your other work, like your Bitsy games. Are there any you’re particularly proud of that folx should check out?
kc: This one is probably not very suited for streams since it’s mostly a clicker game, but I’m proud of how A HERO AND A GARDEN came out. It plays around with Ren’Py screens a lot and the code is spaghetti because of it, but somehow it all still works.
One I made more recently is A TAVERN FOR TEA. It has a little tea-making minigame in it that I’m pretty proud of too!
Kaiju: Definitely need to check out A TAVERN FOR TEA. Pretty much anything cute involving tea is totally my jam.
Now I kinda want to make a game about a giant monster tea-house. Haha.
It’s been a while since I asked this, but is there a game you really want to make but haven’t yet? Maybe for lack of time or resources?
kc: Oh, I would love to play that game! Please let me know if you make it.
I want to make a “bigger” game but currently I don’t have the time to work on something like that, since game dev is still definitely just a hobby for me. My dream would be to have enough side income made solely from games that I can actually dedicate more time to it.
I’d also like to try making something in 3D one day, but that’s not really possible in the engines I currently use, so I would need to learn how to use something else first.
Kaiju: Whatever it is you make next I’m sure it’ll be great.
We’re getting close to the end of the interview, but I’d love know if there’s anything you really want to see more of in games, aside from aspec rep, that would help normalise or build better understanding?
kc: I would like to see more rep in games that aren’t specifically about the LGBT+ experience. More games that just happen to have LGBT+ characters, or games about LGBT+ people going about their daily lives. We exist as regular people with regular lives and we’re so much more than just the struggles we face, so I’d like to see that represented more.
Kaiju: Heck yes, this is the kind of answer I love. While I do love the stories about explicitly queer themes, like your own, I do want to see so many more games where LGBTQIA+ folx just get to exist and be part of the world without being questioned or made to suffer. Especially in the AAA world.
Well that’s about all we’ve got time for today. Thank you so much for being part of the Digital Diversity project, kc. It has been fantastic to finally get to talk to you about your work and your world. I’ve definitely learned a few things and am looking forward to trying the rest of your games.
Before we part are there any words of wisdom you’d like to share from your time making games, or special shout-outs to make?
kc: Thank you for the space to talk! I think it’s great that you’re doing something like this and I’ll definitely be checking out some of the other games you’ve covered.
I don’t have any specific words of wisdom, but Nonbinary Game Jam will be starting at the beginning of April and I’d love to see a lot of people participate! I’m not in any way affiliated with the jam or anything, but I’d just love to see more nonbinary characters in games.
Kaiju: Haha, myself and my co-host @timepatches will both be taking part in #enbygamejam, so you know there’s gonna be some non-binary feels going on!
Safe travels, kc, and good luck making the final chapter of the one night, hot springs series.
kc: Thank you very much too! I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys make as well.