Something spiritual for the upcoming days

Christmas is almost upon us now, and I think this is the perfect time to introduce the VN I wrote next: The Thirteenth Year.

Based on my novella "Astellis Pilgerschaft" (which would translate to "Astelli's Pilgrimage"), this is probably my most linear visual novel, and also my most unusual one. The story leads you through thirteen scenes, each from the viewpoint of a different character in a world that is vaguely steampunk in a few places and a little less developed in a few others. All these scenes have something in common: the person narrating the story meets a young child named Astelli, apparently on a pilgrimage.

The story is presented a little like an animated picture book, with the pictures behind the text and the option to fade out the text in order to get a better look at the art (which, like the music, was created by my good buddy DaFool). Astelli's pilgrimage tales place in a changing world, one where wars can still start for little reason (and do) and where religion and spirituality have greatly different meaning depending on where you go and who you talk to. Just as Astelli is on a journey to find spiritual enlightment, so do all the other characters of the story have their own opinions and views on religion, and it is in the clash of their views with Astelli's where the story's drama unfolds.

The game has three different endings, defined by the choices you made throughout the story - essentially choices referring to whether Astelli is able to change the views of the people encountered or not. You will be in the shoes of these people, so it is you who makes that choice and gets to see the outcome. Without spoiling much, my point was to explore the question of to what extent religion shapes man and to what extent man shapes religion. And I believe it works really, really well.

In terms of writing, this is probably my finest VN so far. As I converted this from a novella, I decided to keep the descriptive parts in (while most of my other VNs are much heavier in dialogue), and I very much like the effect of having that combined with DaFool's laconic, artsy drawings. I think it's quite appropriate to read that for Christmas and remember where that holiday came from, and what we have made of it today. Get it here for free.


Nightmares, anybody?

After my last game, I had the overwhelming urge to do something a little more serious again, and there was one idea I had been planning to explore for a few years already - originally in the form of a novella or novel. Well, the visual novel genre felt perfectly suited for that, so I just did it - and this is how The Dreaming was created.

The Dreaming was my first shot at a psychological horror game, and apparently, it was VERY well received as that. My inspiration was Higurashi When they cry, which is why I wanted a sorta chibi art style for the game, though the story is very different from Higurashi, especially considering that it doesn't contain any sort of gore but rather a horror born out of being deprived of safety and security. The story revolves around Gabrielle, a young psychiatrist who, during her internship at a famous mental institute, is given the task to diagnose a patient with an unusual case of schizophrenia. Gabrielle quickly develops a personal interest in the case and starts analyzing Julius, her patient, a little closer.

As it turns out, Julius's case is quite unusual - not only does he have vivid hallucinations of people that don't exist, he also cannot distinguish them from reality, and in fact, even reality starts looking like a hallucination to him. Gabrielle tries to find out whether there is some trauma responsible for that strange condition - but before she knows it, suddenly things go very, VERY bad, and Gabrielle has to face a situation she's never been in before.

Yup, that bad. And that picture up there is only fan art..

Unfortunately, The Dreaming was never finished in terms of graphical assets. The story is complete, the game is bug-free, but a few of the appearing characters are merely character sketches, and all the BG art still consists of placeholder photographies. However, some people have mentioned that this really helps creating a spooky, unsettling atmosphere, so maybe the result I got is even better than the result I was trying to achieve. Together with a simple graphical trick I did and a good selection of music, this can be a really scary experience. Though not everything about it is scary.

Some have called The Dreaming "probably the best original English visual novel out there", which I cannot agree on, but it's a pretty darn good, scary and eventually really tragic story. However, be warned: this is not a fair game! I intentionally made this VN very, very hard, leading players into death, suddenly fiddling with the controls or even making decisions on its own. The True Ending isn't easy to find, though those who manage to find it will learn the full truth about the story - and also about the original idea I wanted to explore. So get it - as my other VNs up to that point, it's free!


Losers and books and succubi, oh my!

Having proven to myself that I'm actually able to do a game all on my own, I didn't necessarily want to repeat that experience. So naturally, for the next NaNoRenO, I went looking for a partner-in-creation and found DaFool, generally great guy, talented programmer, ever-improving artist and by now even composer! DaFool and I worked together on quite a few projects now, but this was our first:
Daemonophilia (download it here), probably the game with the world's most offensive title, is actually a rather sweet and innocent visual novel (if maybe a little, well, raunchy) about the relationship between two losers. One is a young man who hasn't managed to do anything useful with his life, let alone find a girlfriend. The other is the world's worst succubus. Yes, succubus.

The story revolves around our hero getting into the possession of an ancient spellbook and, not taking it seriously, accidentally summoning said world's worst succubus - a demon whose only task is to seduce men but who actually has no skill at seducing people. Of course, she cannot leave this world until she actually HAS seduced someone, so she's stuck with our poor hero. Not that he didn't already have other troubles of his own, his boss being one of them...

I designed this game to be a sitcom in the spirit of "Two and a Half Men", so naturally, I included a laugh track. Yes, this is a visual novel with a laugh track. (I think it's even the ONLY visual novel with a laugh track.) It's a very funny and silly story, but also a very sweet one. DaFool did a splendid job creating all the art and even making a little "intro-movie", and I think this work, though it is hardly as epic or as dramatic as my others, can easily stand its own. I wouldn't call this an all-ages game, but it's hardly beyond PG-13 in content, and while there are a few suggestive scenes, there is no nudity of any kind. Unless you count that:

Yeah, this is as bad as it gets. If you haven't run away from your PC screaming with a torch and a pitchfork now, please give this little gem a try. It's free!


Mysteriously alone

After creating Metropolitan Blues together with a bunch of really cool people, I wanted more. Much, much more. More VNs, more interactivity, more atmosphere. The problem was, production for my next project proved to be more difficult than I thought. What I really wanted to do was a game about this woman:
...well, actually, she would have been a kitsune, a Japanese fox spirit, and the story was a romance set in medieval Japan, and I had character art produced, I had music produced, I was a little behind on the BGs, but it looked as though the game could still be made - well, but then we all ran into a brick wall, and I still couldn't program (which probably would have saved the project), so - yes, that was the end of that.

So I was without an active project, and NaNoRenO, Lemmasoft's annual "make-a-ren'ai-game-within-a-month-contest" was coming up, and I really didn't feel like assembling another team and disappointing everybody again. So there was only one choice: I had to make a game alone, using public domain and Creative Commons resources and teaching myself how to program in Ren'Py.

And that is how The Loyal Kinsman happened.

This VN was strongly inspired by The Wandering Child, a mystery VN set in Victorian times. My story was also of the mystery genre, only set in the European Middle Ages, at Castle Berwartstein, which is located less than 100 kilometers from where I live. The plot revolves around investigating the death of a knight, and you (the investigator) play the role of that knight's future squire who, without a knight, probably never will be a squire.
For art resources, I used public domain photos and pictures I had made myself during a visit to Berwartstein. Also, I used portrait paintings which were also in the pubic domain - just like The Wandering Child had done. Of course, mine weren't Victorian, mine were a little earlier:
All in all, The Loyal Kinsman is a little less mysterious than Metropolitan Blues, even though it's a classic murder mystery, but I believe it's much more accessible. MetBlues probably has the better writing (stylistically speaking), but I'm quite proud of the plot of this one too. It's just hard enough that you probably won't figure out the mystery the first time, though not that hard. It's a little more linear than MetBlues too, but hey, I did this all alone, within less than 30 days!

Download it for free here, if you want to!


Back to the origins

Well, yeah. That was it. That was the first visual novel I wrote and published. Metropolitan Blues. At that time, I had no idea about programming a visual novel, and all I had was an open source graphic filter program, a photo CD of Tokyo and a few friends I found online on the Lemmasoft Forums.  And I had an idea. An idea only a writer could have. The idea to write a story about being unable to write.
At the time I wrote the story, I had some inspiration, of course, or this whole thing wouldn't have worked, but I knew how it felt not to be able to bring words to paper. It felt as though you were disconnected with the world, as though you were somehow stranded on some distant island, unable to communicate. Having writer's block doesn't mean the words aren't there, but when you try to put them down, they somehow come out wrong, which is why you don't even try to put them down. Yeah, it's that complicated.
Of course, I didn't want to bore players to death with the ramblings of an author unable to write, so I couldn't tell this story from the perspective of said author (which, by the way, in the story is the woman you see above). Instead, I needed an outward perspective - someone to approach the situation from an outside angle and to be able to relate to the situation without being in it. So I made up the perfect character for that: A ghost. Or at least that's who he thinks he is.
The protagonist of the story is a disembodied spirit who literally cannot do anything. He can move almost freely (he just cannot leave the city he lives in, Tokyo), he can observe what goes on around him, but he cannot interact with anything in the physical world. To make matters worse, he doesn't know who he is, and he suffers terribly from being all alone because of his lack of interacting with the world.

Of course, once he meets above writer and starts noticing her and her predicament, he begins to wonder whether he can make a difference after all, and...

...oh, but that's where the story gets interesting. Why don't you give it a try? It's a free download, and maybe it's a first step into the world of both visual novels and my storytelling for you.

By the way, 2005? Has it really been seven years since I wrote that story? Wow...