by Stephanie H., Staff Writer, Inside AX- Anime Expo
Inside AX recently had the chance to sit down with independent visual novel scenarioist and founder of sakevisual, Ayu Sakata. We had the opportunity to ask her about her future plans and are proud to help her spread the word about her games in addition to the ever-expanding realm of English-made visual novels. Here’s what we found out:
• Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your company for those who may not know who you are or what you do.
My name is Ayu Sakata, and I’m the writer and founder of sakevisual. We make visual novels, which are those Japanese choose your own adventure type games that most people equate with dating sims. We focus mainly on mystery games and otome games (romance games for girls), but I’ll write anything if I think it sounds like fun. Sakevisual is made up of a bunch of people from all over the world, and we all collaborate over the beautiful thing known as the internet. When I’m not producing visual novels, you can probably find me acting or making bento.
• Is there a particular reason as to why you became interested in producing visual novels? Why did you create sakevisual?
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. In high school, I experimented with writing novels, plays, and comics as well as trying to make my own animations in Flash. I was never fully satisfied with any of these mediums, and I eventually discovered that a lot of my frustration stemmed from the fact that I wanted the reader to interact with the story rather than be an observer.
I experimented with writing a “choose your own” audio drama that encouraged listeners to vote on what the heroes would do next, but that proved to be too much of a mess to get very far. All this time in the back of my mind, I was aware that Japan had these “dating sim things” like To Heart, but I didn’t fully understand the power of the visual novel medium until college when a friend brought over a copy of the game AIR by Key. I realized that the branching storylines were perfect for what I wanted, so I immediately set to figuring out how to make my own. I poked around online and found Blade Engine, and I decided I’d give the visual novel thing a shot.
It started as a hobby, initially, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. I eventually migrated to Ren’py, and by then I realized that I was completely hooked on making visual novels. I started sakevisual because I honestly can’t think of anything else I enjoy more than creating visual novels, and I want other people to be inspired to create their own as well.
• Sakevisual has produced several Original English Language Visual Novels (OELVNs) that are both commercial and free to enjoy. With the releases of Sakevisual’s visual novels and other OELVNs such as Okashi Studios’ Shira Oka, do you think that there is a large possibility that they could compete with translated visual novels such as ActiveSoft’s Bible Black in the market? What about the mainstream gaming community?
I don’t think there’s really any direct competition between Sakevisual’s games and a game like Bible Black. At least, no more than there’s active competition between a show like Ouran High School Host Club and a show like, say, Night Shift Nurses, since sakevisual doesn’t deal in ero games.
In terms of quality, I think that it won’t be long until we find our stride with fusion games that are anime-inspired, but still Western in nature. I look at shows like Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I see series that are anime-inspired, but clearly not anime. If we want to be successful, we need to follow suit and create our own style, rather than attempt to be Japanese in every aspect.
As for the mainstream gaming community, I feel as if visual novels will find ground there eventually. Visual novels are already making a mark on the indie gaming scene. I will proudly note here that RE: Alistair++ won the indieDB contest for best fanbase, so it’s obvious that this format is gaining ground. The mainstream release of the Sakura Wars visual novel shows that at least some major companies are willing to experiment with the medium as well.
• What do you think about the lack of female game designers/leads in the male pre-dominant gaming and/or visual novels industry?
I’m going to sound terrible for saying this, but it actually doesn’t bother me. I used to rage over it, but there have been a lot of changes in the past few years. Many games target audiences of both genders now, and some genres (like hidden object games) are even geared more towards women. I’ve seen a huge spike in female visual novel hobbyists lately, and while I think that’s great, I think ANYONE interested in making visual novels is a great thing. If anything, I’m mostly just appalled by the quality of many games targeted at females. It’s entirely possible to make a very well designed game about “girly” things like fashion or ponies, but it seems as if a lot of developers think that slapping some pink and glitter on a mediocre game is sufficient. None of that is due to a lack of females in the gaming industry. It’s just due to a lack of caring.
• What are some of your favorite visual novels and why?
Off the top of my head, I’d say that my favorite is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, not just because I find the story incredibly good, but also because it shows how the hard work of one person can pay off.
• Are there any visual novels or authors in particular that influenced your writing? If so in what ways?
Most of my writing influence in terms of style and pacing actually comes from television, specifically White Collar and Doctor Who (odd combination, I know). I’ll take inspiration for stories from all over the place, though.
• I have also noticed that in addition you have done a bit of voice-over work for FUNimation in series such as Tower of Druaga. What was your experience like in the recordings for the dubbings?
Oh, wow, yeah. I didn’t think anyone would notice that. You’re good. XD The recording sessions are different based on what I’m recording. When I’m recording for a certain character, I’ll be shown a clip of the character I’m voicing. Then they play the clip again without sound, and I record for the character while the clip is playing. I’ve also done “walla” sessions, which basically consists of cramming three or four (or more!) actors into a booth at a time to make background crowd noises. They’ll show us the scene, then we’ll all record random chatter (or panicked screaming, or whatever the scene requires) at the same time while the footage rolls. It’s always a lot of fun, and the people at FUNimation are always a pleasure to work with.
• For those of us who want to get into the creation of visual novels and/or voice acting, where should we start? Are there any particular pieces of advice that you would like to give?
In terms of visual novels, I’d suggest starting small. I love an ambitious project, but I love a finished project even more. There are some good online communities like LemmaSoft (http://lemmasoft.renai.us/forums/) and Teacup (http://teacup.lunaen.com/) that are really useful for anyone looking to make their own VN. Anyone who wants to get into voice acting should get as much acting experience as possible in every venue possible. Theatre, with an emphasis on improv, is especially useful.
• As someone who’s played Ripples, I just wanted to say that I found the story to be very cute. Can you explain how you came up with the concept for the game and why you decided to release it on the iPhone/iPad? Do you have any more plans to release any more of your products in the app store? I know that I for one would be very intrigued with the possibility of a Jisei port.
Ripples was meant as a gift for a friend who was going through a really rough spot, but I suspect that I also meant it for myself. The ideals of Koda and Kuu are always warring inside me, and I wanted to write something that would encourage everyone (including me) to try to make a difference in the world. I went with an iPhone/iPad port because I want to share the message with as many people as possible. Even if my games disappear one day, if I can inspire someone else to change the world for the better, then I’ve done enough. There are currently ports of both Jisei and RE:A++ in progress right now. I’d like to port as many games as possible, provided that it’s a reasonable endeavor. Ironically, I don’t intend to port [text], as I currently can’t think of a gameplay format that would work on a smart phone.
• Lastly, is there anything that you would like to say to supporters of visual novels, SakeVisual, and/or Inside AX’s readers?
I’m completely overwhelmed by the amount of support and enthusiasm I’ve seen for both sakevisual and visual novels in general. I don’t know if fans of sakevisual know this, but you’ve all gotten me through some pretty tough times. Your passion for visual novels is inspiring and it motivates me to do the best I can for you all. Many thanks to everyone who read this interview, too. It’s an honor. For everyone going to AX, I hope to see you all there.
For more information about sakevisual, or to download their games, please go to their website.