We’ve had the pleasure of playing and reviewing Arimia’s NaNoRenO 2020 entry, Enamored Risks, which you can read about right here.
Aside from making games, Arimia creates art and dabbles in marketing. We sat down with her to talk about her various roles, the production of Asterism, participating in game jams, and more!
How did you get into developing visual novels? Are there any games you remember playing that inspired you?
I’ve been developing VNs since I was in high school, so over half a decade now! I got into them through RPG horror games. I really loved the mixture of light gameplay, anime art style, and a heavy focus on narrative. I watched a lot of let’s plays on various RPG horror games to learn more about them and then found Ren’Py through my research.
Asterism has just released after four years of development! What’s it like having completed a game you’ve worked so long on?
It feels very weird! Asterism was such a huge project that I’d take breaks from it or chip away at different areas all the time- there was so much that went into it (including stuff that didn’t make the final game), namely artwork and fixing bugs. It’s still a bit hard to believe it’s done and I don’t have to work on it anymore!
You mentioned that you had to cut content in Asterism. Can you go into detail about some of the content that didn’t quite make it to the final version?
A majority of the content that didn’t make the final version were the RPG assets, as I had to draw battle sprites for all the characters, inventory images, weapon images, maps, map items, battle backgrounds, and more. Aside from RPG assets, there were a few scrapped plot threads that I removed to make the story more streamlined. While the script was finished for the past two years, it went through several more changes as things were removed (including characters) so it’d be easier to understand. I’ve never edited a script as much as I have Asterism!
How did it feel to have to let some of that content go in the final release of the game?
Some felt worse to let go than others- by the end of it, I just wanted the game to see the light of day. Asterism is released and done- but that doesn’t mean I can’t revisit it some day to rework parts I left out or improve it. …That would be several years in the future, though, Asterism is definitely done for now!
Did you face any struggles during the development of Asterism?
Lots, though most I can’t discuss! A big issue I faced was trying to mix 2 different systems in Ren’Py. As the game was supposed to be an RPG VN, it was going to have sections where you could walk around, talking to friends, and sections where you battle enemies. Due to time constraints and other events, these two systems were done by 2 different people- the walking system was fully done while the battle system was being worked on by someone else and I was combining the two with the Asterism script. The second person left the project and I had to finish the battle system on my own, but at the end of the day because of this I wasn’t able to polish the game as well. I want to try an RPG VN again in the future, definitely- but I’ll be sure to only use one framework rather than two!
Do you mind telling our readers about the game’s premise and where they can download it themselves?
Asterism is an action visual novel about fighting shadow monsters and saving the Zodiac! It’s a coming of age story for a group of high schoolers and focuses on how people process grief. It’s got a lot of anime and shounen tropes, so if that’s your thing then you can check it out on Steam and itch.io!
Crystal Game Works has released A Pinch of Magic for NaNoRenO 2021. What was it like working on a jam game as opposed to something longer, like Asterism?
Working on game jams- especially NaNoRenO- is very different from working on a solo project like Asterism. For NaNo I typically only take a directorial role. I do the busy work of setting up the volunteer form, project detail documents, assigning roles, checking in on people, creating the builds for itchio/Steam, etc. I only step in and do other parts as necessary- for Enamored Risks I ended up having to color a few backgrounds and scripting several parts, for A Pinch of Magic I ended up having to do some writing. Things pop up, people have life obligations arise, you just have to be flexible and know that not everything will go as planned.
Meanwhile, with something like Asterism or Drops of Death, I work at my own pace. I’m not bound by a game jam deadline or leading a massive team, I’m just doing parts on my own time. It’s much freer with less stress.
Let’s talk marketing. What so many developers groan at, you excel in. What drew you to marketing VNs?
I got into marketing VNs after my first commercial game, That Which Binds Us, didn’t sell well at all. I was sitting here going, “what did I do wrong, I thought Steam was the place to go to!” and after a lot of reading I discovered that just publishing on Steam isn’t enough anymore- on the day I released TWBU, 20 other games most likely released that day as well on Steam.
“Marketing” has a bit of a bad reputation due to people incorrectly assuming “marketing” = “advertising”, but in reality it’s so much more! Marketing is how you find who wants to play your game, not selling it to every single person under the sun. I find it fun to learn and mess around with since it helps you find people who genuinely will like your games. For CGW though, I try not to stress myself out with marketing, as marketing includes the aesthetics of the game, the mechanics, the features, etc. I want to make what I want to make and this isn’t my full time job, so I try not to treat it as such. For any beginner devs reading this, definitely learn the basics of marketing and business practices, but don’t forget to have fun!
You program your games, draw the sprites, write the scripts, and market the product! Do you prefer doing one thing over the others? What’s it like juggling multiple tasks in the development process?
A few years ago I’d probably say writing and narrative design are my favorite, but nowadays the answer is drawing! I’m much more confident in my art now so I prefer the character drawing aspects more.
Since I do most of the parts (aside from making music, drawing backgrounds, and creating UI), I do a piece here and there- this month (August) I’m focusing on writing for Drops of Death, and once I finish the part I’m on I’ll start doing some art. When I get tired of that, I’ll go back to writing or scripting, and so on. Working on multiple parts takes longer for the project to be released but it also helps to keep you from burning out, as you can always swap what you’re working on.
You’re very involved in the indie visual novel scene. Do you have any advice for people who may want to start developing games or are new to visual novels?
Start small and work on what you love! I spent my beginner years working on large slice of life dating sims- I don’t like writing slice of life dating sims! I think I started the projects because those were the ideas that came to me at first and so I went with it instead of sitting down and figuring out if it was something I wanted to work on. My favorite media are all chuuni, i.e. super powers, supernatural fantasy, basic shonen anime tropes, so that’s what I’m leaning towards in the future. Figure out what makes you happy and go for that- don’t be afraid to drop a project early on if it doesn’t spark joy.
Our readers would love to know: Are there any new projects you’re working on?
Right now I’m working on Drops of Death, a murder mystery dating sim where the killer is randomized each playthrough from one of the love interests. The demo is playable on Steam and itch.io and I’m hoping to release it sometime before next summer. After that, I have another action visual novel in mind about an engineering student who fights creatures of death on campus with her friends while investigating why the creatures have appeared- if you can’t tell, I like chuuni drama! This last march was my last time directing a large team for NaNo. Going forward I want to focus on solo projects and my own writing- I’m excited about it!