Once Nathan Low started playing the Phoenix Wright series in 2007, he became smitten with it, loving the idea of collating evidence to present in a virtual courtroom where he could prove someone was lying.
After replaying the games again and again, Low decided that he would attempt to take his fandom of the series up a notch by creating his own spin on the game. This was back in 2009, when he first started writing the script for Regeria Hope, which was to be very similar to Phoenix Wright except, most notably, it had women as the main characters.
Due to a number of complications, it would be another three years before Low released the first episode of Regeria Hope. That was at the end of last year. He’s now in the process of collecting feedback and working on improving the first episode while also working on the second one.
Siliconera spoke to Low to find out what it was he loved about the Phoenix Wright series so much that he went through the trouble of creating his own take on it. Low also talks about the complications he had during development, why he wanted women as the leads, and what will be changing and be added to Regeria Hope in the second episode.
To start off, we know you’re a fan of the Phoenix Wright series, but what about it in particular has you hooked?
Nathan Low, director: The first time I played Phoenix Wright was on the DS in 2007, I remember playing the first case and being hooked as soon as I was able to prove one of Mr Sawitt’s statements as a lie, and hearing that incredible “objection” theme whenever I exposed one of his lies. In a world where there’s so many arguments about so many things, it felt incredibly satisfying to prove someone was lying, and to hear that there are people out there willing to defend the innocent.
The story within the series is incredibly heart warming as well. I remember a vacation in Rome, where instead of looking around at the Coliseum around the corner, I’d rather replay the last court case of “Trials and Tribulations” in an eight foot wide room and see Mia and Phoenix take on Dahlia. I was tearing up on the ending, which was both so happy and so sad at the same time.
The music of the series is amazing. I’m actually listening to the orchestral version of the music from the series now, as I write this.
Why did you decide to make your own take on the Phoenix Wright games? What was the motivation?
I first started writing the first episode in late 2011, as the Skyrim joke at the beginning in one of the choices dates the game pretty far back, in video game industry years. Actually trying to do a Phoenix Wright game started way back in 2009, when I was trying to use XNA to make a Phoenix Wright game, and write a bunch of XML parsing code, and really hitting a brick wall in terms of trying to get the game properly started. There’s probably an old TIGSource forum post somewhere with some embarrassing code or videos. I think someone told me about Ren’Py in late 2011, and when I found out how easy it was to write scripts for the game in that engine, it made me really excited to get started.
The motivation came from probably any game developer’s motivation, I played a lot of games. I still remember when my father was playing The Legend of Zelda when I woke up on my 6th birthday. We ended up dying on those damn spike traps in the first dungeon every time. I’ve always wanted to make a game, and I thought that making a Phoenix Wright style of game would be a good first step, but there were definitely some challenges.
Were there many difficulties when developing the game that you had to face? Any particular moments that stand out as a challenge?
Doing artwork is really not my strong point! I was trying to learn to draw to get characters done, but getting nowhere. I was incredibly lucky to find an exceptionally talented artist on Deviant Art in 2013, who is also a big fan of the Phoenix Wright series as well.
Another difficulty is working on this game, and doing almost everything in the game while working full-time. I can’t really complain about it that much, but early morning and late nights when working as a consultant on the road can make it very tough to finish anything. Having the artist’s amazing art to inspire me was a very big help, and certainly wouldn’t be as far along with this game as I am now without her help.
How did you come up with the various characters in Regeria Hope, especially Regeria and Artemis?
Back in 2011, I wanted strong female leads as the main characters, mostly because back then you never really saw it that often, but games that had a female lead, like Beyond Good and Evil, were great and didn’t make a big deal out of it. That’s definitely getting better now, but I thought that a female lead and female major antagonist would still be an interesting story to write. I want to make it so that it’s not a big deal that the major characters are female, it’s just how the game is, they’re both human, and whatever gender they are doesn’t matter. Nowadays, I’m glad that there’s going to be a female protagonist, since the family has a little baby girl on the way, and I’d love for her to play the game in the future.
Regeria needed to be an underdog and a blank slate, since the player will be controlling her actions, and learning throughout the game. Artemis needed to be fancy, vain and stuck up, because I wanted the player to hate her. But if people decide to throw the first case and be on her side, I wanted the player to have the motivation to do so. They will be getting a wad of money to throw at the next case, and Artemis will be much easier on the player in the next case. When the defendant in the next case is a current fan favorite, people might want to throw the first case in order to prove their defendant innocent.
Did getting voice actors and recording their voices the way you wanted prove to be much of a challenge? How did you go about it?
Ha! You’ve probably noticed that all the male characters were me. My wife was nice enough to indulge me and provide the voice for Regeria as well. I’m not a trained voice actor, that’s for sure, and the mic I use to play TF2, Left 4 Dead, and Hawken doesn’t really cut it for recording equipment.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a musician at Boston FIG last year and she was able to provide a voice actor for Artemis, who did a great job. From the release of the game, some voice actors have come out and stated that they would love to provide voice work for some of the characters, and there’s been some Twitch plays and YouTube videos with people that I’d really enjoy having as the voices of characters. It’s pretty hard to hide my Australian accent, so it would be better to have real voice actors do the work.
You say that, in the future, you’ll be adding a jury to the game. What will this add and / or change?
The three major ways it will change the game is that you’ll have closing statements from Artemis and Regeria at the end of each day, and you’ll have to choose what to say to the jury. Say the wrong thing too many times and your case is over right there.
The second major change is that Regeria will be bringing her own witnesses in, and prepping them herself. So the player will get to decide what the witness says. This means that the player will have to plan what the witness says before the trial, and remember that. You’ll also need to react quickly to whatever objections Artemis has, and rebuke her with your own objections or facts in a time limit or lose face with the jury. I’m hoping to include a version of this in the next version of the first episode, along with much more dynamic rebuttal sections.
The third major change to the game play is more around making the game more interesting. Each jury member will have their own ways to increase and decrease their approval rating. In a lot of Let’s Plays of Phoenix Wright, you’ll see players just press on Every. Single. Statement. Doing that with a certain jury member is likely to get you a guilty verdict. I want every action in the game to have at least some meaning, or consequence at least.
Are there any other additions, or improvements, or original ideas that you hope to bring to the game in the future?
A part I want to make very different is the investigation phase. I’d love to see it play out as some sort of cross between a text adventure and a board game. You’d have a certain number of turns for the investigation phase, and list of evidence you need to collect you know about, but not know where it is. Other characters would move around the board, and you’d need to talk to them to get clues, or avoid them to find evidence in certain areas.
You’d build a list of topics you can use to talk to characters, which would either build you list bigger, or pick up evidence from players. I’m going to have this set-up for the second episode. I’m trying to make the rebuttal sections much more dynamic, by having timed sections, and areas where you’re not sure if you want to object or not. You’ll have to know your evidence pretty well in later cases.
Later cases will depend on your first few cases, and characters could be dead or alive from choices you make. You didn’t like Brock? There’s a way to talk him into jumping off a bridge or a building in the first episode. You’ll see that on TV at the beginning of the second episode, or witness the hanging if you threw the case. In the third episode, Regeria will be tired of working within the system, and will start her own detective agency/law firm. The other characters in the detective agency will depend on who lives and dies in the first two episodes. How much money the agency itself has will depend on the first two cases, and your defendant in the fourth case will change based on your actions in the first three.
I want to provide some moral choices, like “Would you defend your client if you knew he was guilty, and you were sending someone else to death?” Would the money be worth it? The second case will deal with how dirty you will be willing to get to save a friend’s life, and how far you are willing to go to find out the truth. If you can prove your client “Not Guilty”, do you care what the truth is? Even if it means you’re going to be in a lot of danger?
I also want to provide some replayability with the games. You might play one way one time, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if you made different decisions. You might not be able to find all the evidence on the first play through, but you’ll be able to make a closing statement and win anyway. There’s going to be a system within the game which tracks how fast you complete a trial, if you were able to find all the evidence, and how dirty you were as a lawyer.
How successful do you think you have been with Regaria Hope so far?
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much. Just that it would be out there and I’d be happy to have made at least one game that I’m proud of. It’s been great to interact with other Phoenix Wright fans online. I’ve been lucky enough to see someone play the game on their Extra Life stream and donate to his cause, and see someone play the game in a “Let’s Play” on YouTube. The biggest thing has definitely been having the game featured on this site! I’m glad to have as many downloads as I have, and it’s really driven me to continue to update the first episode to make it even better. The artist and I are driven to really bring our ‘A’ game now!
There’s always things that I’d like to improve about anything, and I’m starting to do that with the first episode of Regeria Hope. I’ve received very useful feedback, so there are tweaks being made here and there, and new gameplay being added to the first episode in coming updates to make the game stand on its own two feet. Major things I’d like to do is to start commissioning people to do the music and make the backgrounds, because I can see some major improvements being done there. There’s also the voice actors I was mentioning before.
It’s been great just to have a game out, as it’s made it easier to find other people that want to work on the game.
Will all future episodes of Regeria Hope be free or do you plan on charging them? If so, how much do you think they will be?
The first episode will always be free, so that people can try it before they commit to anything else. Since I’m paying the artists, musicians, and voice actors, as much as I’d like to make this free, I’d still like to at least break even on this.
I’ll be running a Kickstarter in late January/early February, mainly to see if doing this is something people want. It will be a low amount, probably $1000 – $2000 just to cover half the funds for the first episode. Each episode would be $3, so the whole series would be $12. Depending on how the Kickstarter goes, hopefully 50 cents of each sale can go towards Child’s Play. I don’t think any money from Kickstarter itself can go to Child’s Play, but I can definitely have sales go there.