Visual novels are starting to gain recognition in the independent gaming scene and one of the developers known for supporting the movement is SakeVisual. Ayu Sakata, founder and writer, has dedicated herself to creating expansive adventures for people who enjoy interactive adventures. The developer has created seven games so far. Free adventures include Ripples, [text] A Summer Story, RE: Alistair++, My Magical Cosplay Cafe, while commercial releases include Jisei, Kansei and The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook, wth more en route. Sakata recently took some time to speak to GamerTell about what it takes to create her games.
GamerTell: How many projects is SakeVisual typically working on at a time?
Ayu Sakata: There’s always one major project that I’m focusing on, with two or three that I write when I have time, and an extra that’s in planning stages hanging on my wall somewhere.
GamerTell: About how many words long is an average visual novel of yours and how many endings do you try to include?
Sakata: Word count usually sits around 20,000-50,000. I know that tends to be shorter than other visual novels out there, and that’s reflected in the lower price point. As for endings, three is my minimum, but I basically write as many as I think are interesting. If I can think of a different way for the story to end, I’ll add that.
GamerTell: In a recent poll on the SakeVisual website, you asked what platform people would enjoy playing your games on and both the Vita and Ouya were options. Are you considering porting or creating games for those platforms?
Sakata: Well, given that the poll numbers were pretty low, that’s not high on the priority list right now. However, I do like looking at other potential platforms. Visual novels are a very versatile medium, and I’d like to make them as accessible as possible. At the moment, it looks like people are most interested in a mobile or internet option. People want to be able to play visual novels wherever they go.
GamerTell: Which of your projects has been your favorite so far? Which is the most successful SakeVisual game?
Sakata: Ripples is easily my favorite, because it comes from a very personal sort of place for me, and it’s been very well received. It’s honest and little bit vulnerable, but people have treated it well. As for most successful, I think RE: Alistair++ probably has the widest reach and the largest fanbase.
GamerTell: It looks like Yousei, the latest entry in the adventure and mystery series including Jisei and Kansei will be your next release. What’s happening with the hero, Naoki, Aki and Li Mei this time?
Sakata: A lot of things, depending on which ending you get. Mostly, they all learn to trust each other a little more. All of the characters are pretty guarded, so even though they live together, they keep a lot to themselves. I tried to dedicate a lot of time to Kangai’s relationship with the twins. Li Mei gets a little bit of story too, but the next game will feature her more.
GamerTell: Are there any new features in Yousei that weren’t present in Jisei and Kansei? If so, were they implemented because you thought the game needed it, or as a response to fans and critics’ desires?
Sakata: The exploration system has been updated with a handy little bar that lets people know where they are. That’s basically a direct response to several people noting that Kansei‘s exploration system could get confusing. There’s also a hint system implemented via texting other characters for help. I added it in an attempt to lessen the need for a walkthrough, but I don’t know how much it will actually help. By the end of the game, there aren’t that many hints, and the characters just text you random things instead.
GamerTell: SakeVisual is also well known for otome games, with Backstage Pass and Oneiro in development. What made you want to start creating dating sims for girls?
Sakata: There were a lot of factors, the major one being that the artist tooaya really wanted to do something with romance. It seemed like an interesting thing to try, since there weren’t many romance games for girls at the time, and I figured that it couldn’t hurt to give it a go and see if anyone was interested. And surprisingly, or not at all, lots of people were interested.
GamerTell: Oneiro is known to have had quite a bit of development trouble. Can you elaborate on the delays so people can understand what problems indie developers can stumble upon during game creation?
Sakata: Oneiro has been struggling, partially because it’s a free game. While I have paid most of the people involved, thanks in part to generous donations from fans, the payment level is still below what I can afford for a Green Tea commercial game. Because of that, the artists, composer, and others involved have to put working on the game at a much lower priority than other things. Everyone on the Oneiro team does creative work professionally, so clients who pay more get top priority. There’s also the danger of losing team members, we’ve cycled through several environment artists, and having to start from the beginning in order to maintain consistency.
GamerTell: SakeVisual is also known for creating free games for its fans and Swan’s Melody is one you’ve mentioned in your blog. Can you tell us a bit about what kind of game it will be and what people can expect?
Sakata: Swan’s Melody is a side project that Deji, the artist, and I came up with several years ago. We wanted to do a lighthearted project with a cute story, happy adventures, and no emotional strings attached, and Swan’s Melody was born from that. It was originally a story about magical girls with a romance angle, but it’s since evolved into a turn based fighting game, because we thought it would be fun.
GamerTell: I remember being really excited about a prospective, free SakeVisual otome game called hanami x 2,but haven’t heard it mentioned on the development blog for a while. Is it still in development?
Sakata: It is, but like Oneiro it’s run into several bumps in the road in terms of holding on to team members. It takes a lot of work to make a visual novel, and most artists just getting into it don’t realize all the extra things that will eventually have to be drawn to make the story come together. As of now, I’m calling it “on hold,” but we do intend to finish it some day.
GamerTell: What advise would you give to writers who have considered developing their own games?
Sakata: Start small, plan ahead, and don’t be afraid to mess up. Read a lot of books. Play games that interest you. Try new things. Do old things you like. Drink a lot of water – this one is handy for everyone.