Today in this world of enhanced storytelling, the mediums in which stories being presented on the big screen or even games are undergoing revolutionary changes.
One medium that has been steadily growing popularity in the past are Visual Novels.
Originating in Japan, these stories make for extremely simple reading – Simply clicking or hitting the enter key progresses the story to be read, like a storybook. Certain visual novels allow you to make choices in-game as the main character, which alters dialogue and endings.
However, the adoption of this new medium in storytelling has slowly been gaining popularity in the West as well as Southeast Asia.
Singapore’s first visual novel developer, Afterthought Studios, run by entrepreneur Darren Kwok says that it is because of the ease of access into development.
“It’s something that lets you be able to create something with far less training and skill sets compared to Unity and Unreal Engine,” Darren says, a developer who uses the free and open Ren’Py, developed by an American, PyTom.
“All you need is to be able to bring a team together, artists, composers, sound effect artists, editor, writers as well as graphic designers and programmers and spend time working on it constantly. The biggest hurdle is just inexperience.” Darren says.
He points out the fact that more developers end up quitting their project halfway than as a consequence of it being a flop.
“I joined about 6 projects before embarking on my own. All 6 projects had their project leaders vanish,” Darren says, showing 6 manuscripts he had separately written that he knows won’t see the light of day.
It was then, 3 years ago, that he started working on a project titled A More Beautiful World, which was Singapore’s first ever Kickstarter project on visual novels, backed by Sekai Project, probably the largest publisher in the West that localizes and translated Japanese visual novels.
“I was extremely lucky that our audience was so receptive to our work,” Darren says, now a recipient of government funding for two projects, You, With Me as well as The Merchant Memoirs.
In the States, more and more visual novel projects have popped up as well. Is the Singaporean developer worried about the rise of competition?
“No, I think there is a fundamental difference in the styles of projects between the West and East. A style in writing, a preference in art, a preference in music”
“It is quite funny that in the East, most pivot towards the West as their desired market, while Western developers have a strong intention to attempt to break into the Japanese market”
“Anyway, competition always encourages creativity. A French developer called Traumendes Madchen that I really respect developed this game called Chronotopia, which featured animated backgrounds in their project. We learnt from them to implement this skill in our projects.”
With Steam, the largest online game retailer accepting more and more visual novels, we’re bound to see more around.
However, what does Darren feel forms that core of all his projects?
“My team, definitely. I wouldn’t be here without them.”