AFTERTHOUGHT STUDIOS INTERVIEW
Here we are mid March, the month of our five year anniversary, I wanted to bring back one of my favorite parts of Nardio, our Interesting Interviews. I love these so much. I love giving insanely talented people a list of questions and then finding myself totally enamored with the responses. I love that we don’t just interview any and everybody but instead focus on people we respect. Creators whose work have wowed and moved us. For this Interesting Interview we were lucky to get Darren from Afterthought Studios.
Afterthought Studios makes great, engaging and immersive visual novels. These lovingly crafted experiences have delighted and entertained us for months. Well written stories, wonderful art and immersive sound design are a part of each and every visual novel they create. I own every single title they have released as a publisher and as a developer. If you have never played a visual novel before, I suggest you start with their work. If you already love visual novels, I still suggest you check out their work.
I really hope you enjoy this interview my friends!
What inspired you to start making visual novels?
My favorite story of all time on visual novels is that of Umineko, by 07th Expansion. One dream of mine has to always been to write for a video game. I ended up joining several indie game companies, but none of them ended up finishing their projects.
Only I can promise myself to finish the project, so I decided to try my hand at this as a whole.
What inspired your company name?
I honestly hope that people who read our visual novels will gain an experience that will make them think about afterwards. So far, it seems to be working!
Can you tell us about how Afterthought Studios got started?
At the time of creation of Afterthought Studios, I left my job at Green Tea Graffiti, a now defunct online entertainment news site and got a small investment from the founder of the site to get the company off the ground. MysteryCorgi (the programmer) and Camille (UI Artist) are people who have worked with me since day 1 of my joining the visual novel industry. So, the three of us form the core basis of Afterthought Studios.
Tell me a bit more about the Afterthought Family that you described on your website?
Well, aside from myself, Krystian disappeared sometime last year, it was as if he completely vanished off the planet. We’re still trying to reach him but… For now, his name would be there.
MysteryCorgi is our gem of a programmer. She’s the one who deals with my nonsensical demands to push the project to the limit. Bless her.
Camille, whom we just call Camy, is our UI artist who has been with us for a long time, since the days when failed free projects were everywhere. She also calls me a tyrant due to my leadership style.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to create visual novels?
Honestly? Let other people read your script and give feedback. Feedback doesn’t hurt you. It helps you to decide whether it is a good story.
What mistake do you often see rookie visual novel makers make?
Trying to do too much with too little. Always kills the passion in the long run.
What programs do you primarily work with when creating visual novels?
Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft Word, Sublime Text 3 and Ren’Py.
How do you feel about the recent popularity and proliferation of visual novels on Steam?
I feel that it is great, of course. There is still a long way to go to explain things like “Kinetic Novel” and “Visual Novel” etc; but I, of course, hope for more story-oriented works to appear as well.
What inspires you while creating your VNs?
Well, a large part of it comes from life itself. My personal experiences in life is a big portion of it, and a lot of it also comes from the news. For example, When Our Journey Ends came from a semi-true story about a schoolgirl that is the only passenger of a train station in Japan.
You also publish visual novels for other creators. How did that come to pass and what is the process like?
The process is easy, but whether you get through is a separate question altogether.
The stages are essentially:
Submission of work > Evaluation > Notification of Terms
Submission of work is where we want you to give EVERY info to us. Gameplay, genre, demo. We need this so that we can decide whether to accept your story or not before even deciding to try the demo.
“One day, Stannis finds a Wolf God hidden in his car and the two go on a journey to earn money.”
I’m going to call you out for plagiarism!
The evaluation stage is where the Afterthought team gets together and tries the game as well as getting the opinion of a small control group to check their interest. The notification of terms is more of a negotiation on the terms in which a project is built upon. Unlike most publishers, we don’t have a FIXED royalty rate.
How has your creation process evolved over time? New tools, new ways to work, etc.
Oh wow. I can go on forever with this. A More Beautiful World is a LARGE project, let us not kid ourselves. We went from really inefficient scripting to where we are now, where even a script-idiot like me can add comments and have it programmed within a day or two.
We also wish to make voice acting in English more accessible. For that, we created a voice acting bar that shows you whether a line has been fully delivered. (A More Beautiful World a Visual Novel Kickstarter Post)
Nowadays, we are looking to translate our projects into more languages due to demand as well. Right now, it is only Russian and English.
There are visual novels that depend on T&A, others gameplay, but yours are all about the story. What makes you stick to being a story first visual novel creator?
The reason why I stick to being a story first visual novel creator is simple – I just prefer reading a good story over to something that has a sex scene every two minutes, though I understand there is a substantial demand for the latter. I cannot sell what I cannot enjoy.
You take music and sound design seriously for your VN’s. What’s the sound design process like for you as you create each VN?
I dissect the story into specific segments where we feel that the specific scene needs a piece of music. Then, I look for references for that form of music and tell my composer specifically what I want and work with him to fine tune the pieces. SFX is important to us as it sets a form of realism for the scene. We take a look at the actions in a specific scene and think about whether adding SFX into everything will work.
Sometimes, when you try to be perfect, you end up overdoing it, and the sounds become overwhelming. It is about finding a nice balance.
What are some of the most challenging parts of making a new visual novel?
The finances, without a doubt. You’re trying to stretch your creative skills with a limited budget.
How does it feel when you start looking up reviews on your visual novels?
I know a lot of people won’t believe it. But I’m pretty indifferent about it.
I take every piece of feedback seriously, and it informs me on whether we are doing something right. Say, if people start commenting they are crying, I’m doing it right. An inside joke in Afterthought is that the tears of our readers nourish us.
However, a negative piece of comment, for example, if it relates to being a poor story, we take a look at how we can do better next time.
How do you deal with negative and harsh reviews?
I take it in my stride as a creator. All creators get critics. This is nothing new. Do you let it stop you or do you use it to improve?
The review landscape has changed a lot over the years. How do you feel about it now? How do you view and work with it? Do you have any problems or concerns with it?
I used to work in journalism, and I welcome reviews. The only thing I hope is that people who review our games actually reach out to us and let us know they gave it a play!
How do you feel about YouTube Streamers who upload the entire VN and then try and profit from your work? Do you actively try and remove those or do you not mind?
We actually do enforce a term and condition on this. However, I have not issued a single cease-and-desist in my life. We used to forbid Youtube Streamers who stream the entire game with or without commentary. However, we lift the ban on these after a period of time when the game has left the peak period of sales.
How do you feel about the digital distribution stores such as Steam, itchIO, Google Play and iOS App Store?
If this was a war zone,
Steam is the age old Empire, steady and slow, stable and happy with its current position. Once in awhile, they try to do a reform, it may or may not work. You may hate them, but you need them one way or another.
Itchio is the new republic nation that no one really wants to bother or harass. However, it has great policies and will undoubtedly become a great country.
Google Play and the iOS app store are like two nations at war. Both are not giving ground, and both don’t really like to make things easy for their citizens.
Your VN’s get Greenlit on Steam pretty quickly. What do you attribute that to? Can you explain what the process was like for you? How does it feel when you realize your work has been Greenlit?
Marketing and our loyal customers. It involves a lot of pushing of our content to our fanbase. The first thing I do when I wake up is to clear emails from my phone. Getting that “You’ve Been Greenlit!” email is the best thing ever.
How do you go about promoting your work?
Facebook and Twitter are our primary platforms. However, we don’t try to spam 200 tweets a day. A promotional post a day is the most we’d do.
What have you learned about visual novel promotion? Any advice you would like to share?
Content is key. Also, if you can’t read your own text, what makes you think I can read yours? Design with the end result in mind!
What improvements do you think can be made to improve digital storefronts like Steam & iOS?
Categorizing visual novel as a genre by itself.
How do you feel about free visual novels with in-app purchases?
Different firms have different sales policies so I can’t really comment. However, for us, we will never do in-app purchases. It is, buy once and get everything.
Any thoughts on visual novels recent popularity on mobile devices?
Well, the only thing I can say is expect Afterthought products on iOS and Android soon!
What was the first visual novel you can remember playing that just wowed you? Have any recently blown your mind?
Umineko. Closed room murders are my favourite kind of mystery topics.
Recently, I quite enjoyed Narcissu.
What types of visual novels do you enjoy spending your free time with?
Murder Mysteries, Slice of Life and the occasional romance.
If you met someone at a party who knew nothing of visual novels what would you recommend they start off with?
I’d recommend they watch CLANNAD (the anime), then slowly con, entice, convince them into reading CLANNAD, the visual novel.
What do you do for fun and or to de-stress?
I write. No. Really.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Beancurd Skin. Yup.
What is your favorite advice you have been given?
“Write what you want to write.” – Isuna Hasekura, author of Spice and Wolf.
How does it feel to be a visual novel creator?
As a visual novel creator, not a day goes by without me thinking of a new project.
What would your dream visual novel project entail?
It would entail a story of angels, heaven, life and death as well as acceptance.
Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?
We’re working on three projects now.
1. The Merchant Memoirs is a story of a merchant who has passed on in life and given a second chance.
2. On Earth As It Is In Heaven is the story of an angelic scribe who dictates the disasters of the world who is banished to the mortal realm for being too kind.
3. A More Beautiful World. (Demo Here)
I guess we’ll EVENTUALLY do a story which doesn’t involve the tears of our readers but… We’ll get there.
Thank you very much Darren for taking the time to do this interview with us. I loved so many of your responses. Your description of the digital market places was great. Your story over T&A response was perfect. Your passion for what you do is inspiring. Thank you.
Check out Afterthought Studios on social media at the links below!