Quilly is the lead developer of Quill Game Studios which focuses on creating heavily narrative experiences for players. They’ve released the sci-fi mystery visual novel, A Summer with the Shiba Inu, which we had the pleasure of reviewing.
Most recently, Quill Game Studios has released Death Becomes You, a murder mystery visual novel that takes place in a magical university. You can see our review of the demo here.
Quilly sat down with us to talk about her motivation in creating visual novels, what it’s like writing for characters that aren’t human, her experience working on a murder mystery game and more!
How did you find yourself making visual novels?
I started my gaming journey heavily focused on FPS games and social deduction games. The thought of creating a game of my own had always been in the back of my mind, but it had always seemed to require a lot of time or money. I got exposed to visual novels primarily through games like 999, but it wasn’t until I read ebi-hime’s Asphyxia (if I recall correctly) that I thought: even as one person doing most of the development, I can create a deep and memorable experience!
In 2016 I created a small visual novel, and started working on “A Summer with the Shiba Inu” shortly after, in early 2017.
You mentioned playing a few different kinds of games. Why did you choose visual novels as your debut game genre?
After reading visual novels by independent developers (such as ebi-hime), visual novels stood out as a medium that can convey a lot of inner thoughts and emotions, which I really wanted to achieve with my games. In addition, the fact that those independent developers could make such immersive and touching stories with one person or a small team, really made me feel it was possible for me as well! Hence I started with creating a visual novel, which I felt was a feasible medium that also conveys the story well.
Would you consider making other kinds of games (rpgs etc) in the future?
I’ve created some prototype games in Unreal engine, primarily through game jams. However, I don’t consider those full Quill Studios releases, since they all used free assets instead of custom assets. I’d require a lot more time spent to learn how to deal with 3D assets, but the different way of gameplay would be something I’d be curious to explore… maybe one day!
What inspired the concept of your hit game, Summer with the Shiba Inu?
I wanted to capture the theme of a high pressure environment, loosely inspired by the highly competitive academic environment that I was immersed in during my high school and university years.
In the game, dogs have to fight in virtual reality, with the results deciding their social standing for their lifetime. It’s an interesting setting, but I think part of the characters’ journeys is realizing how much of a scam this whole system is. The characters can then accept and thrive in the environment, or find other ways to live: such as escaping the system.
What made you settle on dogs instead of a human cast for the game?
First of all, I like dogs – the dog designs of the main characters: Syd the Shiba inu, and Quei-li the Labrador retriever, were based on dogs that my family has had.
Secondly, I felt that since the original inspiration for the game came from personal experience, so I needed a bit of distance so that it would be easier for me to use my imagination for a fictional environment. I wanted to touch on the themes of thriving in a high pressure environment and making choices on how to navigate and cope, but in a more generalized way than an academic environment.
I think it was the right choice – as in the end, the story and setting were able to take on a life of its own, and were not constrained to the real life inspiration.
What do you think drew people to this game?
I think the art, a painterly style, was unique in the visual novel genre (relatively speaking).
In addition, perhaps folks were expecting something cute, such as a fluffy story, and I’ve read reviews that mentioned this. However, having the readers not expect a heavier story seemed to work out – the dogs as main characters providing enough whimsy to balance the heavier moments!
The description of Summer with the Shiba Inu discussed meaningful choices. In your own words, what does this mean and why is it important to explore this mechanic in visual novels?
For A Summer with the Shiba Inu, there are vastly different fates that can befall Shiba Island. I think that exploring different ways of behaving (being kind, or ruthless?) is interesting to do in a fictional setting, where the reader can try different choices and actions that they like.
Your newest game, Death Becomes You, is a far step away from Summer with the Shiba Inu in terms of content. Can you tell us a bit about the game and what inspired its premise?
“Death Becomes You” is a mystery visual novel set in a magical university. The main character (default name Sidney), must find out the murderer of their beloved mentor.
I feel that for this story, using humans was a good fit for conveying the themes – for example, the murder, interpersonal relationships, and emotional manipulation might be more effective if the characters are humans…
What did you learn from Summer with the Shiba Inu and how did that impact how you developed Death Becomes you?
I learned a lot from the development process of “A Summer with the Shiba Inu”.
For example, I improved on the UI components – for “A Summer with the Shiba Inu” the menu functionalities I had scoped out were the bare minimum since I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. In contrast, “Death Becomes You” **has a collectibles screen, an endings screen, and more.
How is writing animal characters different from writing human characters? Is there one you prefer over the other?
I’d say that writing animal characters gives me a bit more freedom since the social norms in the game are being created as I go – the reader tends to have less of an expectation of what the nuances of the society and setting are. On the other hand, with human characters, I can play around with the assumption of certain social norms.
What is it like writing a mystery tale with multiple routes? Was it hard trying to conceal clues?
It was really fun to design what would be revealed in each character route – they all come together to unravel all the character motivations as well as the dark truth about the murdered character.
I’d say the way the characters and routes were designed, they complemented each other (unknown to the reader initially), so I think having the characters’ personalities and motivations well thought out before getting to the nitty gritty of the writing, really helped!
Are you working on anything currently you can share with VN Game Den readers?
We are currently working on two other games, yet to be announced: One about a woman who’s just returned from travelling abroad, and the reader plays as a friend that the woman is catching up with, and another project which is also set in the “A Summer with the Shiba Inu” universe!