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Games, Interviews

Cyberpunk Casanova, An Innovative Approach to Visual Novels

Interview by Rebecca Rothschild.

By now we’ve been exposed to a type of mixed media game referred to as “visual novels”. They are interactive games that became popular in Japan in the early 1990s. They are like “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels with digital gaming components which mostly focus on romance and adult scenarios. Recently, there has been a rise in popularity in America and video game developers are experimenting with they types of stories visual novels can explore.

 

We caught up with the innovative founders of Jetstreame’s, Godric Johnson, and creator of Patchwork Villain’s, Derek Scott, to talk about their upcoming indie visual novel game Cyberpunk Casanova.

 

Sugar Gamers: What drew you to the subject matter and genre of Cyberpunk Casanova?

Godric Johnson: I’ve always been into tech & futurism since I was a kid so when my business partner (Derek Scott) from Patchwork Villain approached me with his game idea of a Cyberpunk visual novel I was all on board. It’s a thriller. I liked how the overall narrative is a stark contrast from your standard visual novel / dating sim game (which are very popular in Japan but are picking up Steam in the U.S) yes I used a Steam pun. haha They’re definitely garnering more attention here in the U.S market on Steam, indie game showcases, etc. Old school Cyberpunk classic games like Flashback & Judge Dredd are hallmark games of the genre. I also really like modern Cyberpunk games like Mirror’s Edge & Deus Ex. In terms of Cyberpunk movies I’m a fan of Dredd, Equilibrium, The Matrix, 5th Element, In Time, Terminator, Robocop, & Blade Runner. In terms of Cyberpunk anime I like Ghost in the Shell, Ergo Proxy, & Armitage to name a few. I’m a big fan of the whole Cyberpunk genre, with all the new tech & innovation that’s being introduced to our society at a rapid pace it’s the future! We’re not too far removed from this reality considering our current questionable leadership and how mega conglomerates function here in the US. I’m kinda bummed I don’t have my hoverboard though, we have self-lacing sneakers but I still want my hoverboard!

I wanted to create an interactive sci-fi narrative that placed the player in the shoes of an overconfident privileged youth that gets ripped out of his bubble due to his own (or the players) decisions. (Derek Scott)

DS: It was my intention to present both the world of the “haves” (the city of Echelon 1) and the “have nots” (the city of Echelon 2). The game doesn’t have a strong cyberpunk feel until you go to Echelon 2. This was done on purpose to create further polarization of the two lifestyles. Stories in a dystopian setting aren’t usually told from a “1%” point of view so, that sets this visual novel apart from everything else.    

SG: Considering your game is very narrative heavy, what is your process for character development? What sorts of things do you take into consideration?

GJ: I wanted a diverse cast of characters represented in the game and with two major sectors of the planet to explore & meet people I believe we filled the bill in that regard.

DS: For Cyberpunk Casanova, I usually started with a brief outline of a given characters place in the overall world. After that’s done, I like to work outwards and add layers like character relationships, secrets, ambitions, fears, etc. I refer to this breakdown while writing each characters dialogue. Since the player won’t have these outlines, I have to express a character through their dialogue. When writing for everyone, I tried to make each major character into a minigame that unfolds as the player talks to them and makes certain decisions. As the player gets deeper into a characters path, he or she also learns about the things that make that character tick.   

 

SG: What are you bringing to the table that has not been done in this game genre yet?

The western approach, grimdark style isn’t too prevalent in the VN space at this time. The game is written like a thriller with multiple layers and one major overarching theme that ties everything together. (Godric Johnson) 

DS: In the visual novel genre there are a lot of straight lines. I don’t feel like enough indie VN studios give the player enough freedom. I wanted Cyberpunk Casanova’s narrative structure to be non-linear. There is no mandatory order that you have to traverse when visiting locations or choosing to interact with characters. Also all of the characters have multiple ways their story can turn out. In the demo alone there are 4 different ways Nina’s story can resolve. Lastly there are not a lot of sci-fi visual novels in the market which is a shame because I am a fan of many movies, games, and books that are heavy in sci-fi.

 

SG: What do you want the players of Cyberpunk Casanova to get out of playing your game?

GJ: I want players to ultimately have a great experience traversing the world of Cyberpunk Casanova. During my undergrad tenure @ UAT (University of Advancing Technology – my alma mater game design school) the word “immersive” was used a lot in my game design courses describing player interaction. I want players to be immersed in the mythos of Cyberpunk Casanova. If we get an overall positive reception from the game and people finish the game satisfied then I’m thrilled we were able to deliver a good gameplay experience.

DS: There is a quote that someone once told me. “Science fiction isn’t about the future, it’s about the present”. While I am not necessarily trying to make some huge political statement with this game, we can easily end up in a situation where corporations run everything if we keep going the way we are going. Also there aren’t a lot of visual novels where you can put a rich, cocky 23 year old in life threatening situations.

 

SG: Are there areas in the gaming industry that you feel require improvement?

GJ: There are quite a few areas that need improvement but I’ll zero in on a couple. I know this has been said multiple times and it may be cliche at this juncture but I’m going to reiterate it anyway, we need more diverse representation in games. We need more minorities & women creating games. More minorities & women working in the video games industry period. The reason I say these things is because with my before-mentioned points you get varying perspectives and different stories. Which ultimately leads to a greater net of gameplay experiences.

Look at the narrative game “We are Chicago” for example. I love how the devs did their due diligence with research into the South side Chicago community residents and developed an awesome game.

I saw it at indicate last year @ E3 and it definitely piqued my interest so I followed the game. Growing up in North Baton Rouge I can definitely relate since some parts of the city are essentially a microcosm of the same issues South side Chi faces. Which actually segways to my next point: More financial resource initiatives & opportunities for POC & women indie devs to set proper foundations thus creating viable ecosystems so they can ultimately succeed in the industry. Access to experienced devs, mentorship, & resources are vital. It’s paramount. I didn’t have those mentors nor resources growing up as a geeky Nintendo kid who dreamt of one day owning his own game studio. I’ve been working in the games industry for over a decade + and I always make it a point to give to my alma maters (high school & college) and pay it forward. I mentor kids at my old high school (Scotlandville Magnet High School) here in Baton Rouge and happily share my industry experiences with them. I love seeing how their lil faces light up when teaching them the process of how to develop their own games. Since I didn’t have access to experienced game devs in my community I became that person. Being an indie dev is hard work. Being an indie musician is hard work. It’s definitely not all fun & games and of course I’m all bout that “bootstrapping life” being an entrepreneur myself but I’d like to see more types of funding initiatives/opportunities implemented for future aspiring POC & women game devs. I love how both BIG (Blacks in Gaming) & WIGI (Women in Gaming International) are championing the cause of change in our industry in terms of diverse representation but alas there is still much work to do. I really dig what the Game Devs of Color expo represents. The GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) is also very instrumental in helping further the cause, and that’s only one of the numerous reasons it’s my favorite game conference ever. The IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) is awesome in that same regard as well with their SIGs (Special Interest Groups) & Roundtable talks. It’s a lot of hard work, believe me. I’m well aware. There are more POC & women gamers/consumers engaged in the playing space these days but in terms of POC & women producers/content creators that’s where the growth must continue.

I would like major game studios to take more chances on more story driven games. (Derek Scott)

DS: I was able to visit the Sony booth at E3 and play Quantic Dream’s awesome game “Detroit: Fully Human”. I remember playing a rom of Snatcher on Sega CD not too long ago and having the greatest time. You don’t see too many majors making games like that anymore and if they do, it’s usually on the Nintendo 3DS. I think there is an untapped market there. Look how well Tale-Tale is doing with their games.

SG: What about the game industry has you excited?

GJ: I’m amped to see where Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality go in about 5 years. VR has been around a while but it’s just now entering the mainstream conscience within the past few years. The inaugural VRDC (Virtual Reality Developer’s Conference) sold out pretty fast last year and I believe this year’s VRDC sold out as well. That tells me a lot about where we’re headed as an industry. We’re just now learning how to properly develop VR & AR content / experiences since the space is very much still in its infancy. I see Virtual Reality application more so on the game dev side & Augmented Reality on the real-life application side. Furthermore, with new tech like Mixed Reality (MR) being introduced to the world I’m ecstatic to see where it all goes. I’m also excited about E-sports. E-sports is a byproduct of the games industry and I’ve been a huge fan of the scene (FGC proud all day!) and tournament organizer since my collegiate years when I was running QCF (Quarter Circle Forward) a fighting games club I founded at UAT.  Street Fighter & Tekken are my top two favorite fighting game series. I like the Soul Calibur series as well. I must say I’m proud to see how far we’ve come in the last two decades for competitive gaming here in the US. I marveled at seeing Evo 2016 & 2017 on ESPN2 at Mandalay bay in Las Vegas and just exclaimed wow, this is beautiful. It’s amazing, we’ve arrived y’all! We’ve come such a long way. I remember watching Evo matches in college and to watch the growth from those early days is simply stunning. Evo is basically the “Superbowl” championship for the Fighting Games Community (FGC) since it’s been around 20+ years. The commentators, pro players, the venues, the hype, everything is really well done & super professional. The fans really get into the culture, the community has become more knowledgeable over the years. Seth Killian, Joey Cuellar, & their fellow Evo founding board do an amazing job year in and year out. Final Round in Atlanta is the second longest tenured FGC tourney (20 yrs) in the U.S and I love what founder Larry “ShinBlanka” Dixon and fellow FR top brass are doing over there for our scene as well. Those gents are the OGs of the FGC and I have a ton of respect for their veteran leadership since they’ve been doing it for so long. I vie to mirror a lot of what they do when hosting my own tourneys at the local level (Ge-sports is my e-sports entertainment company). I’m looking forward to seeing what a melding of the worlds (VR/AR & E-sports) looks like. Single player VR/AR experiences are great but I believe Multiplayer VR/AR experiences are where’s it’s at. It’s going to take time to fully develop, but that’s with anything on this planet. It’s a process. Look at the craze of Pokemon Go last year. I know Pokemon Go is a reskin of Ingress but the point of multiplayer AR/VR gaming still stands.  What a time to be alive in the industry.

DS: There are a lot of great indie games being made and, that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. A number of areas are starting incubators that foster game development and, crowdfunding is still a great tool in getting projects finished. It’s great to see.

SG: What’s next for Jetstreame/Patchwork Villain?

GJ: We’re currently prepping launch for our Cyberpunk Casanova Kickstarter campaign that shall commence August 14th! We’re looking to raise 10k (with stretch goals up to 20k) to continue paying development costs for our amazing Jetstreame artists & programmers to ultimately finalize the game. Hopefully we get funded and the game ships late this year. Aside from that I’ll be working on a VR music / game project that I’ve been brewing for the past few months. Fans will know more info soon! This project will be shared in conjunction with my record label (G Records). Always remember G is for GENUINE. I’ll also be assisting my business partner Derek Scott with his future VN (visual novel) titles he has planned. We’re going to be quite busy these upcoming months so definitely stay tuned to Jetstreame & Patchwork Villain. Thank y’all! Godspeed

DS: I am also working with an artist on a flash fiction audiobook/hip-hop album that is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. It should prove to be very interesting. I didn’t mention it yet but, I also worked on the score for Cyberpunk Casanova. If you are into electronic music with a house feel, then you should definitely check it out the soundtrack when we make it available. 

https://soundcloud.com/prime8pimpin/sets/cyberpunk-casanova-ost-sampler

 

Considering the amount of hardwork and creativity this diverse team has put forth for this, we are beyond excited to see what this team produces next!

 

 

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Keisha is the Fearless leader of this band of geeky women. She is our gaming, comic book reading, sci-fi loving founder. Find out more at www.gokeisha.com
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