This will be our final interview in the series! Other opportunities to showcase your Original Characters will appear in the future. Many apologies to you, JD. This was put up quite late XD
1.What made you decide to make a visual novel?
Hungry Whispers started off as a university project during the last year of my degree. I've always wanted to write music for computer games ever since I was a kid (since 1997 actually … Final Fantasy VII was to blame for that!) and my degree was highly flexible in what I wanted to do.
Making a visual novel was the perfect start up. It didn't require complex programming but the bare minimal, pretty visuals and of course music. It was an achievable interactive project to aim for and most importantly a great chance for myself to write music for an interactive environment. Since my focus was on the audio side, some close friends helped out on the other areas- mainly in the art and programming section. We were all interested in getting into the games industry and agreed that a visual novel game was just right … within a deadline of course.
2. Can you give us a brief synopsis of Hungry Whispers?
Hungry Whispers takes place during the time of 'Ghost Month': a period in which it is believed that the dead roam the earth among the living for a month before they are sent back to Hell.
You play the role of Dr. Yu Ling who had accidently killed a young patient under his care and is on indefinite leave to mentally recover. Things take a sinister twist when he finds that his sister Kemi disappears which begins his search to uncover the mystery of her disappearence. However the more he uncovers, the more he finds that he may not be entirely safe either...
3. Is the antagonist of the novel a spirit, or something even more sinister?
The antagonist of Hungry Whispers is both an interesting and complicated one. In fact the team and I are still technically fine-tuning the antagonist so whatever I say here in this interview may be wrong in the final version of the game.
Let's just say, the Silent Hill series plays a large part for inspiring the themes of Hungry Whispers and I'll leave the antagonist to your own imagination.
4. How much time do you spend developing your story and programming your novel?
An insane amount of time.
The element of interactivity adds so many different possibilities to the flow of the story that tonnes of planning is needed.
To expand: is our lead programmer and I write the main ideas for the writing department to start working on a script. I try to display the story in various interesting ways and compromise if we can't figure out how to program something but still keeping the dramatical effect of the story.
Player consideration in cutscenes:
For example, in the opening sequence of our first beta: the interactive cutscenes were developed in such a way that the story (and scares) would be effective for two different types of players. The slow/cautious playes who would linger a little longer at places to the fast paced players who would want to race ahead. Taking those into account, I programmed it in such a way that whichever pace was chosen, the effect of the story and end result would be roughly the same.
Within the game:
In game wise, some dialogue enables players to select an answer depending on the question. These are called 'dialogue trees' where the question is the same, splits into different answer routes and ends at the same destination. No matter which option the player choses, the answers will eventually lead to the same ending dialogue due to engine constraints. Therefore, the script would need to be planned and written in a way that would work for the story as well as the engine. I hope to develop this further in future betas however!
5. How will the use of comics, animation and music help you tell your story?
Apart from the default visual novel style, Hungry Whispers uses a combination in varying degrees which I split into different departments of the team. Since our team is still small, I lead the art/animation and music departments and work with my own skill level.
I see comics like film shots which makes things slightly easier to plan and produce in terms of story boarding and analysing the emotional/dramatical/technical flow of the story. From there I can also consider programming, music, art assets and have a good overview of the project's production cycle. Creating a comic/storyboad has its practical uses too!
I've limited knowledge about animation but I do know that it can be highly effective when used well within context. I can't animate crazy things so at the moment I'm only using simple animation techniques to help emulate the atmosphere and environments in the story. An example would be the light flickering over the laptop and desk used in the opening to make a bit hypnotic, leading to the main character having a flashback.
I've been researching the different uses of music and sound design in many fields, the use in film/animation, game and its physiological/psychological effect. You'd be surprised to know how much a soundscape can tell you information: how to feel, how to react and how to stay safe (your ears don't have ear lids for that reason).
The horror genre focuses on both the use of music and sound effects which gives me a nice variety to work with as a musician. To outline the importance of a soundtrack, try watching your favourite film without it. Incredibly dull right? Now swap the soundtrack with something else like Psy's Gangnam Style or Beethoven's 5th Symphony. You'd either be in tears of laughter or you'd interpret the scene in a different light. The same can be said for the use of sound design and the use of silence.
We're so use to a soundtrack telling us how to feel and we actively make it so. Like listening to our favourite music artist because it makes us feel good! But what do we do when there is a lack of a soundscape? That's when we panic and start to notice our surroudings a bit more and become more alert.
Balance is probably the most important aspect when telling a story. Knowing when and how to use animation, music/sound effects in a comic setting makes an effective story. However that also includes when not to use any and to use it to your advantage.
6. Do you have any advice for people who would like to make their own stories?
All I can really say is:
“I want to draw a comic but I suck at drawing.”
First and probably the most important is having the correct attitude to approach your story/project. Be humble, admit you need help, embrace critisism, practise drawing hands, do your creative homework! I promise you results will show if you focus on being productive. Imagine the time you've spent watching TV when you could've been practising drawing those damn hands...now imagine the amount of hours you've spent over a week...a month...a year. Just to put things into perspective.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” - Jack Sparrow
Perseverance / keeping the end result in sight:
“It's too hard and I don't get it. Why should I bother?”
Expanding on having the correct attitde, it's okay to feel low about your project and it's okay to feel excited about it. The key thing is to not give up on your aims and goals. By keeping the end result in sight, I find that a great inspiration and keeps me motivated.
For example, it would be a dream come true to create a fully working game of Hungry Whispers and for it be well received and enjoyed by many people. Instead of focusing on just getting the betas out, I see it as a step closer to making a full version which in turn spurs me onto making more!
There's no such thing as perfection:
You could be forever planning and writing about your characters and until you find them 'perfect', release their stories onto the world! That is until you figure out the perfect plot twist ...
Sometimes, it's better to let someone else have a look at your work and get feedback. Crtisism is a goldmine for inspiration and shed light on different perspectives that you may have not considered before. While there's no such thing as true perfection there will always be a 'better' and 'improved' version of your current level of work!
Be yourself for yourself
Keep in mind of why you started writing this story in the first place. Don't feel pressured to write to reader's expectations. It is your story and yours alone (that is until you involve more people) and most of all, have fun.
Project Whispers is an open game project for anyone interested in a career in the game industry. It is a stepping stone to improve our creative skill and to see whether we can make something awesome.