Artist, graphic designer, writer, and one man VN development team, lazytiger is a talented new visual novel developer who wears many different hats! You may have played his very well received Spooktober Jam entry, Waterborne, which we’ve highlighted in our article “The VN Game Den Team’s Favorite Spooktober Games”.
We sat down with lazytiger to talk about what got him interested in making VNs, his experience entering multiple jams, and advice he has for people wanting to make their own games!
Can you tell us who you are and how you started making VNs?
I’m lazytiger. I’ve been a professional graphic designer for nearly half my life. And an artist, comicker and gamer for most of the rest of it.
I’ve always been fascinated by narrative based games. I remember the likes of Monkey Island and Full Throttle completely blowing my mind way back in the day. Over the years I became convinced that video games are the best (or at least the most interesting) way to tell stories. So the desire to make my own has been deeply ingrained from an early age.
My start in visual novels was a long time in the making. I remember a friend drawing my attention to Ren’Py possibly as far back as 2005 as crazy as that sounds. And then 16 years later I finally decided to try it out 😀
I see you’re fairly new to making VNs. Why did you choose that as an interactive medium?
I think it was probably the Doki Doki Literature Club! craze that brought visual novels back into the picture for me. That game showed me (or perhaps reminded me) what a visual novel could be. And helped me realise they are pretty much the perfect medium for me to tell my stories with my skill set. Being mainly design, art, comic making and all the things that come with that.
I really love adventure games. But the one thing that really irritates me about them is all the tedious wandering around needed to solve the puzzles. To me, a visual novel can be everything an adventure game is, the characters, the dialogue trees, the environments, the puzzles, even the point and click. But it is acceptable to streamline all the walking out of it 😀
I have a lot of story concepts and the idea of doing my best to convert them all into comics or screenplays or just *anything* has always overwhelmed me. But VN dev has come to the rescue. I’m feeling really optimistic about the genre being a fantastic creative outlet.
Do you have any particular inspirations for your VNs?
I would actually answer ‘no’ to that question. Nothing in particular, at least that immediately comes to mind. I feel like a lifetime of experiencing stories, through games or otherwise, has fed into my inspiration and desire to make my own. And I have fallen so in love with VN dev as a storytelling medium that the concept of ‘VN’ and ‘story’ are pretty much the same to me now. They will be the vehicle for my stories for the foreseeable future.
As for inspiring VNs, I mentioned Doki Doki. And I just played through AI: The Somnium Files recently and was blown away by it. A detective murder mystery sci fi comedy drama thriller musical. It was so amazing. I would love to make something like that down the track. But without all the awkward otaku stuff 😀
You participated in this year’s Spooktober Jam with Waterborne. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what inspired the game?
I think I came up with the concept back in 2017. At the time I was trying to come up with ideas that would be suitable (read: achievable) for my maiden visual novel. I wanted something that was told in a single location with all or most of the events occurring in a small building. That way there wouldn’t be too many backgrounds and environments to create. The catalyst for the story was coming up with a reason why the protagonist couldn’t leave their environment that wasn’t just simply them being locked inside. At some stage the idea of poison rain occurred and I really liked it. Basically everything else evolved from there. However, I ended up putting development on it aside and pursued making a webcomic instead.
Fast forward to 2021, I was done with the webcomic and starting to entertain VN dev again. I was getting stuck into sourcing tutorials etc and while doing so I saw a post about Spooktober on reddit. And after pacing around for a while debating with myself whether a month turnaround was remotely realistic. I finally sat down to properly write it all out and get busy making it.
How hard was it creating an interactive experience in only a month’s time?
Very hard. Thankfully I was in an unusually inspired and motivated headspace during that time which helped me to achieve a very productive amount of work. But still, very hard. Although, in some ways it made things easier. For instance I realised about halfway through there was no way I was going to be able to work in the puzzle section I had planned. So I could just make dramatic decisions to slash out chunks of unachievable content and the deadline justified it all.
You were able to release not one, but TWO games during the Winter VN Game Jam! How did you manage to do that?
They were both reeeally short so it’s not as impressive as it sounds 😀
I decided to use the jam to try some ideas I had for Waterborne 2. Namely a flashlight effect and learning how to setup up character expressions properly. The flashlight testing turned into Winters and naturally went in a fairly dark, mystery thriller direction. But I wanted to do something more bright and cheerful after Waterborne. So I split the expression testing off into a different project which became Stevens.
The story for Winters was sort of ‘reverse engineered’ to suit the assets and effects I had created. As a result it feels a little unpolished and rough. Whereas Stevens was a more straightforward kinetic visual novel and feels a lot more polished.
Can you tell us a little bit about Stevens and why you think people were so drawn to it?
Cats. I think that pretty much sums it up 😀
The ‘Christmas’ tag probably helped and the attention from Winter VN Jam of course. But essentially, people just generally seem to really love cats.
One of my favourite parts of writing is dialogue. I love putting characters together and just letting them have conversations. Imagining what cats would chat about was really fun and I think that enjoyment came through. I have seen a few playthrough videos and the players seemed to really resonate with that aspect of it. As well as the general ‘cuteness’ of it all. Also the collars, people loved the collars 😀
Why did you decide to add a continuation to it? Did you worry you wouldn’t finish it in time for New Years?
It was inspired by the overwhelmingly positive response. A lot of the feedback was from people asking for more and it all felt like a ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ situation. A ‘new years’ follow up was the most logical theme and I agonised over it for a few days trying to decide if I could pull it off in time. When I finally decided to try I ended up making it in about a day and half just in time for New Years eve.
It was a pretty fraught couple of days, but I’m very glad I decided to do it. People seemed to really dig it. Some suggested that it was better than the first one, too.
Why did you choose to enter a game jam in the first place?
I entered Spooktober because it felt like a perfect opportunity to have a serious attempt at creating ‘Waterborne’. And being a scattered, head in the clouds creative type, I knew a deadline would help me actually make the thing.
Winter VN Jam was purely for fun. It felt like a good opportunity to try out some ideas and without any ‘competition’ element to it there was very little stress involved.
The other motivation for entering is the guarantee of at least some level of exposure. It’s pretty disheartening to pour yourself into a creative endeavor only to have no one notice it. Feedback and reactions are so important for inspiration and motivation to keep going. Thankfully the handful of releases I’ve managed so far seem to have been received generally well.
If you could do one thing over in any of the jams you participated in, what would it be?
I’m probably going to boringly reply: nothing. I feel like I used my time pretty much as efficiently as I could, and that the deadline based sacrifices I made were the right ones. The only thing I guess would be that I polished up ‘Winters’ more so it felt more finished. But I’m not sure even now how to do that without considerable work. So it probably wasn’t something I could have changed anyway.
Can you walk us through a little bit of your process when creating a sequel?
Waterborne wasn’t going to have a sequel, I originally planned it as a standalone story. But after releasing it, I felt like the ‘virus water’ idea (and what’s behind it) had merit and was something I wanted to explore more. I also (foolishly) felt like it was a fairly original idea. But I’ve since had enough people say to me “this remind me of such and such” to dispel that notion 😀
Process wise, for me it’s about identifying the DNA of the story, deciding what elements need to remain so it feels familiar, and what to change so it’s not just retreading. The mystery around the water has to be in there, obviously. The player finding themselves increasingly aware of being in the middle of a dangerous situation; Fun banter with good friends; Survival horror inspired puzzles; And (for better or worse) probably Beethoven’s Fifth. I think they are the key elements of Waterborne, so I set about coming up with a story built around that.
I came up with two very different concepts that I liked equally and couldn’t decide which one to pursue. So there was only one solution. Trilogy! 😀
With Stevens it was all done in a hurry so there wasn’t a lot of planning time. It basically just came down to imagining new cat topics to discuss and setting up the next ‘thing’ Stevens was waiting for. And how to repeat the events of the first to retain familiarity, but to subvert them so they feel fun and surprising. Like continuing the ‘Alina disappearing’ thing but it being for an entirely different reason that ends up tying into the first one. I find that kind of thing really fun to do.
What have you learned so far developing VNs?
That I love it and wish I had started earlier. They are hard work, as with any worthwhile creative endeavor, but likewise rewarding.
Also that sound design is REALLY FUN. I haven’t had much experience with it, so that turned out to be a very enjoyable unexpected bonus for me.
Do you have advice for people who may be wary about diving in and creating their own VNs?
Start small. Create some 10-20 minute experiences to begin with if you can. VN development has sooooo many elements to come to grips with, especially if you are a solo dev. You’ll have a much better time if you’re not trying to create some multi hour epic for your first release. I feel like Waterborne would have been a lot better if I had made Winters and Stevens first.
Otherwise, immerse yourself in reading/watching tutorials, there is a seemingly infinite amount of free resources out there provided by this awesome community. Allow yourself the time to just play around and have fun with the process, I found a lot of inspiration just by learning what’s possible.
Are you working on anything currently that you can share with VN Game Den Readers?
I have about 25 stories in various stages of development sitting in my projects folder. And another 50 or so vague concept ideas vying for my attention. To name a few, there’s a sort of ‘Die Hard’ but Yuri story; A Groundhog day style horror thriller; A reality-TV-show-gone-wrong slasher; A David Lynch-esque mystery drama; A romcom about telepaths; A bunch of ideas in noir settings; A silly zombie comedy; And an obligatory vampire story.
But right now I’m actively working on Waterborne 2. It’s coming along quite nicely and I’m pretty happy with how it is shaping up so far.
I also have plans to do a third part for Stevens and then a proper full length VN down the track. Not sure where I squeeze all that in though 😀