After making Yume Nikki fan game Amihailu in Dreamland, Noyemi Karlaitė fell into “development hell,” juggling to many concepts and ideas at once and not getting very far with any of them. Now Noyemi has found focus again and it comes with the title Hell Diary.
This new and upcoming game is influenced by and is supposed to emulate the experience of playing a game on the Japanese NEC PC-88. This computer was released way back in 1981 in Japan and came with high-screen resolutions and slow processors while also lacking other features such as hardware spriting. This meant that many of the hobbyists making games for these PCs couldn’t produce fast action games so instead created storybook-like adventure games with text and images, but little interaction. Many of the stories are very weird, some are erotic, others have the most beautiful pixel art seen in games. It’s these hobbyist and commercial games around this time that also contributed to Japan’s interest in visual novels.
Noyemi wants to create a game like that but today and not on a NEC PC-88. As such, Noyemi has stuck with certain limitations when developing Hell Diary. What these limitations are is one of the questions that Siliconera asked during a conversation with Noyemi. We also found out about an upcoming expansion for Amihailu in Dreamland. Another topic was Hell Diary’s focus on plot over outright strangeness, as seen in Amhailu in Dreamland.
You can read the interview below, but before that, here’s a quick overview of what Hell Diary is all about, written by Noyemi: “The game is set in a fictional country called Galwihanawe through early-mid 1979. Lots of stuff is going on—civil unrest and strife, the rise of microcomputers for home and business use, and people vanishing without a trace to a place called Naraka or Hell. The story and world is explored from the point of view of three different characters, between February and August 1979.”
Considering the inspirations of your games, do you have an interest in obscure and perhaps slightly weird Japanese games? If so, which ones do you like and why?
I do have an interest in this sort of thing, but my taste for weird obscure games is no stronger than my taste for map games like Europa Universalis, or any of the other stuff I typically play. Though I did enjoy the bizarre Yume Nikki (and I wear that one on my sleeve), Sweet Home on FC/NES and Link’s Awakening was also a pretty strange game and an early influence on me. I didn’t play the Mother series until some time after I’d started Amihailu in Dreamland, though.
Amihailu in Dreamland seems like quite a big game for your first one. What drove you to create it? And do you feel you were able to achieve everything you wanted to with it?
Amihailu’s more my second game, but it is my first finished game and it’s the one I’d put the most work into in those earlier days of me getting into creating stuff. Originally I created it as a nice little side project I could do what I wanted with while I worked on Hell Diary (more on that in a bit), and it was originally a Yume Nikki clone as that was getting pretty popular at the time and I still felt the need to do that. But I got bored with that whole “basing it off another game wholesale” sorta thing and decided to make it more of a straightforward adventure game with all the strangeness of Amihailu and her little world kept in.
Could you give any details on what you’ll be adding to Amihaliu in Dreamland with the upcoming expansion?
Sure! There was a side project I was working on called Nightmare Castle, which had a small cult following in some RPG Maker communities. It was really a love-it-or-hate-it game, though most people who played it liked the aesthetic and some of the characters even if the game itself wasn’t much. The new expansion will add Masha the shopkeeper from that game, and some of the worlds as paintings, updated with larger layouts and Amihailu in Dreamland‘s bigger palette and ambient high-fidelity music. Oh, and the ending areas felt like a bit of a cop out and were telltale signs of the game being made out-of-sequence, so the whole end zone is being redone too. Can’t say when it will be out, but when I get my nose to the grindstone I can work really fast—and there’s lots of animated bits and bobs and a new gameplay mechanic I’d like to introduce (optional, of course!)
Originally, Hell Diary was actually a Yume Nikki clone, waaaaay back in the halcyon days of Christmas 2011. The dark ages. But I decided I’d give it a story, and one thing lead to another and… well it blew up bigger than I could reasonably expect to finish, so I scrapped it and stripped it down and put together a design document to work off this time.
Anyway, despite the game changing, the basic formula’s the same for the gameplay and a lot of influence it draws from is the real-life computer industry boom in the early 80s. There’s a little bit of influence from the Korean industry boom too in the following decade with the rise of chaebols (conglomerates such as Samsung, Daewoo, etc. Delmun is based on an agglomeration of Samsung, Microsoft, and NEC). I can’t name a whole lot of fictional influences on the world of the game, but I guess that whole industry and the atmosphere around it that cropped up all over the world is something that interests me enough to base it off that alone. That, and some supernatural element tossed in with a more eastern type of Hell.
You’ve made a decision to restrict the graphics and sounds of Hell Diary. Why is this and what are these restrictions?
A lot of indies and small game devs in general like to work to some system limitations to pay homage to their own nostalgia and share it with a new generation or other old farts like them. There’s nothing wrong with that at all! Though, for me it’s discovering the magic of the Japan-only PC-8801 and PC-9801 and the magical world of independently developed software that they knew from the mid-80s all the way up till the last PC-98 was sold. I want to bring some of that magic to the west with my game, and to be as authentic to the experience as I possibly can by smashing the engine ’till it complies as closely to those restrictions as possible.
What I’m working with is: 3-bit RGB colour, which means it’s only 8 possible colours on screen, and I have to use these same 8 colours to make every single graphic in the game. The second restriction is FM chip sound, via YM2203 (and if patreon funding allows, YM2608 would be a selectable option for players). I’m using modern conveniences to emulate these restrictions, because making an actual PC-88 game would severely restrict the audience to people who own PC-88s or feel like going through the frustration of setting up an emulator. And because emulating the soundchip directly might not work properly on every PC, the sound will be rendered to OGGs off an emulator on my machine.
While Amihailu in Dreamland did have a plot it was more exploration focused. Hell Diary seems to be more about the plot. Is that right? And if so, was that a conscious decision you made, to concentrate more on plot for your second game?
Yep, this game is more grounded in “reality” even though it also takes place in the same fantasy world. It’s not nearly as nonsensical, or comical, or strange, and there’s always an explanation for something that’s consistent to the world’s internal logic. For that game it seemed fitting that a character as bizarre as Amihailu would be at home in an equally bizarre world.
Could you introduce the characters we’ll be following in Hell Diary? And how will we experience their stories?
Sure. For each of these characters, you’ll be controlling them directly:
Kekoha Tanmun: Born 17 June, 1950. A professor of mathematics at Lanmun University. She’s not very religious, but she does have the odd tendency to nationalism. Despite this, she’s dating a foreigner. She begins the game out of town for a convention and, on the way home, runs into a dangerous criminal…
Eun Utai: Born 10 February, 1954. She’s a programmer working at the DelmunSoft offices in Nampodon, a suburb of the capital city. Comes from an impoverished background, very religious with strong ties to the clergy. Her sister Chun is in the Royal Legion, which has become more of a secret police force. If she sounds familiar, Chun also appeared in Amihailu in Dreamland.
Anastasiya “Nastya” Falken: Born 21 March, 1965. A red-haired foreign high school student with a huge interest in computers and electronics on a class trip for immersion study. She’s a wizard with electronics and tools and can’t wait to get her hands on something more advanced than a dumb terminal. She’s also the mother of Mikhail from Amihailu in Dreamland.
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of really strange stuff. It is a fantasy world and it is the same timeline and everything Amihailu and Dreamland is set in, just 30 years before that game. But I’ll do my best not to make it too jarring! It’s always more fun with words and imagery than explicit scares, at any rate.
Finally, how can people keep track of what you’re up to? And where will they be able to find out more about Hell Diary?
I post major updates on my doings to my site, and smaller updates (technical victories and the like) to Twitter and such. A lot of updates I post via Patreon would be public as well (and all of the currently posted ones, are!).