Speculative-Inspired Arts: Heiden

This month in “Speculative-Inspired Arts,” visual novel designer Heiden gives us a peek at what goes into creating the beautifully diverse and drawn worlds of their (FREE!) online tales.

What is the difference between a visual novel (VN) and an adventure game?

Self-portrait of the artist
Heiden, as drawn by the artist.

At first glance, VNs and adventure games seem very different. Visual Novels originated in Japan and play similarly to a choose-your-own-adventure picture book, where you read through text and are prompted with a choice which impacts your ending. They often focus on romance and calculating stats based on your previous choices. Adventure games were first pioneered by Western developers and play by walking the character around to solve puzzles while using items in an inventory, which advances the plot. Usually, there isn’t as much reading in adventure games and there are less story branches than seen in VNs.

Although from the outset, these two are very different, they both focus on narrative rather than an underlying game mechanic. In my own work, I like trying to meld these two together, taking elements of the puzzle mechanics of adventure games with the more traditional VN talking scenes. I’ve found that if you can get your player to help the protagonist through puzzles, they’ll bond to them faster. I find VNs and adventure games very fascinating because they’re an extension of literature, just with player interaction. I like playing around with that idea. As the developer you can control what the player sees, hears, and reads at any given moment, but you also allow the player to discover that story at their own pace.

What are your biggest influences when it comes to conjuring stories for your work?

Screenshot from The Bog's Hear
Screenshot from The Bog’s Heart.

My biggest influences come from YA fantasy novels as well as JRPGs. I am particularly fond of Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, and Garth Nix, and always found myself wishing that I could take the books I loved and make them more like the video games I liked, such as Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, and the Mother series.

Which aspect of game design do you take most pleasure in (art, code, storyboard, etc.,) and why?

Capture from The Girl with the Gray Hair Awakens
Capture from The Girl with the Gray Hair Awakens.

Of all the assets that go into making my games, I enjoy the designing and drawing the characters the most. My games are very character heavy, so all aspects of the game’s development are centered around making sure the characters are coming through.

How long does it typically take to develop a project from start to finish?

It depends. If the game is for a gamejam, typically it will take one to two months to finish. For games made outside of gamejams, those can take anywhere from a year to two years to create. Though sometimes I’ll get attached to a gamejam game and it turns into a full blown game! That happened with Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend, which was meant to be finished in two months, but instead I decided to develop it into a full title which took a year.

Given that several of your VNs were developed as part of “game jams” or festivals, tell us more about that!

Screenshot from NB-107A
Screenshot from NB-107A.

Gamejams are challenges in which people will gather together for a short amount of time and attempt to make a game. Some of the most famous gamejams, Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, take place over the course of a weekend in which people create games from scratch. Not much sleeping happens during those weekends. Other gamejams, usually ones online, tend to last longer and are usually more relaxed. Those jams tend to range from one to two months. Jams are fun because you always end up meeting new people and collaborating with others! The only danger is falling in love with your gamejam game more than the game you’ve been working on for a whole year, haha!

What do you hope players take away from your games and VNs?

Scene from Kill the Prince?
A scene from Heiden’s newest game, Kill the Prince?

I hope it opens their eyes to the different types of games out there. A lot of people will tell me that they don’t think they like video games but then say that they enjoyed the story parts of RPGs that they played growing up. VNs take away the difficulty of perfecting button press timing and deliver the story with no prerequisites. I hope my games do something similar, to show that there are games out there for everyone!

Which of your projects is your favorite?

Image from Dr. Frank Build-A-Boyfriend
Screenshot from Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend.

I had a lot of fun writing Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend and thinking up all the different puzzle elements. Though Elvine holds a special place in my heart, as it was my very first game and showed me that I really could make a game if I worked at it hard enough. So for that, Elvine is my favorite.


All of Heiden’s games can be downloaded at https://heiden.itch.io/

Follow Heiden on Twitter at @dieletztenrosen