Who you are?
Nai: “Man, you’re hitting me with these existential questions right off the bat! Who am I? Who is anyone really?
I’m Nai, the community manager, and owner of the DevTalk visual novel development community. I used to work on my own VNs but none of it really got off the ground. At one point, I was like “You know what? I’m doing a lot more good managing communities and building bridges for people than I am making visual novels so if I can’t make them myself, I’m going to at least help other people do it.” That’s what I’m doing now. I do other things. I program. I write. I make bots [Lemon] [Cherry]. That’s who I am!”
I remember seeing your name [Remort Studios] a few years ago when I was still doing YouTube content!
Nai: “I get around. People make fun of me sometimes because at least someone has heard of me or knows me in the dev community. I’m pretty aggressive about meeting people working on VNs!
I’ll always remember the time at the first Visual Novel Conference, Wolf from Watercress went a couple of people before me and said, “It’s THE Nai!” It was kind of weird.”
How did you come up with Spooktober? There are already a ton of game jams out there, especially ones tailored to visual novels. What inspired you to make this particular one?
Nai: “A couple of things. For a long time, I’ve been doing Halloween events outside of the DevTalk community. I used to play around in MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) which were all text-based games and I would make events for those. In general, I like Halloween a lot and I’ve been running events for it for a long time.
Spooktober, I wanted to get into running jams as well as running the rest of the community. I think jams are really fun. I really love Halloween and I’m like, “Why not put the two together?”
So, I started the jam which ran in October. It was great!”
Since its creation, can you give us a bit of insight into how the jam has evolved? Did you ever imagine it would become as big as it has?
Nai: “Let me tackle the first part of that first. It has evolved. The first year I did it, we had a low participant number which wasn’t a big deal, it was the first year. But one of the big things I really noticed was because the jam was hosted in October, by the time the jam stopped on October 31st, no one wanted to play the games anymore. Halloween was over and we’re already celebrating Turkey day. I was like, “That kind of sucks and I don’t like that.” Everyone worked so hard on their stuff and no one is reading it because the holiday is over. So, I decided to have the jam run in September, like how Oktoberfest does.
We move the jam back a month and start it on September 1st, running till the end of the month. Then, we judge the entries throughout October. This way more people play the games. You don’t make a Valentine’s Day game on Valentine’s Day, you make it before and then you release it on that day so that’s what the idea behind that was.
That same year, we started taking sponsors.
To answer your second question, no, I did not expect the jam to get as big as it is! When I started reaching out to sponsorships, I was able to get in contact with everyone within those companies and groups and it started freaking me out. I had to talk about the cost benefits of sponsoring the jam. I told the companies I was in contact with that the VN community is largely made up of young, highly motivated creatives who’d want to buy the best software. So, why not put your product forward in a place full of individuals like that?
When I kept getting companies and studios on board with this, I was freaking out. I was wondering, “What’s the catch?” I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, haha!”
What kind of lessons have you learned running Spooktober that you’d like to share with anyone who might want to host their own jam?
Nai: “Oh god. So, last year was bigger than I anticipated. We ended up getting 40 submissions so we [the judges] had to read a visual novel a day and then some. It was exhausting and ended up being a lot of work.
My advice for anyone running a game jam and plan on judging the submissions like we are, you really need to have a plan if you end up getting a bigger response than you thought you would so everyone’s game can get judged fairly.
My other piece of advice is to be very clear on the type of content you want. We’ve had some content that offended all of the judges. While we allow gore, it wasn’t clear enough for a few people and we got some truly visceral submissions beyond our expectations.”
Now, this is the 3rd annual Spooktober Jam. Have you encountered any new challenges?
Nai: “Finding judges was really hard. The VN sphere is really small so you want people who you can trust to make good decisions but don’t have any inherent bias.
I’m not paid anything and the judges aren’t paid anything. All the money going into the jam is going towards the people who win. So, getting judges to do something unpaid is a big ask and anyone who does it is a saint!
Getting the word out about the challenge was hard at points too. Having the sponsors promote it is one thing, but having it get out in spaces where it’ll attract people [VN-related subreddits, Twitter, Facebook pages]. Despite posting to r/visualnovels with over 500,000 subscribers, I only managed to get 7 upvotes on my post.”
For those entering Spooktober, do you have advice for newcomers?
Nai: “Have one really exceptional thing in your entry. All the top runners in last year’s competition, including those who place 4th, 5th, and 6th, had something about their game that was extremely well-polished. If you do that, it’s going to put you at the top.”
Going back to what I said earlier regarding submissions, I’m actually pretty squeamish. We allow gore because it’s very much part of the scene, but there’s a point where I start to check out and it’s usually around the guts. So, make sure you’re careful with what you submit and that it’s not going to be too much for anyone.”
To learn more about the 3rd annual Spooktober VN Jam, you can head over to the official itch page!