Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire is a most unusual visual novel. This is due to it being combined with a luchador wrestling game. You guide the protagonist, Honey Rose, through school as she studies for tests while also training for her time in the ring.
What makes Honey Rose even more surprising is that it’s being developed by only one person. Pierre Sylvain is trained in animation, but has taken to creating his own game in Construct 2, doing every single job himself, and it’s the first time he’s ever tried to do that.
Siliconera wanted to find out how Pierre came up with such an unusual but interesting idea for his game. And as we weren’t able to duke it out in the ring with him, we settled on a 1v1 interaction of another kind: an interview.
Pierre told us where the character Honey Rose came from, how you’ll be able to control her—or as we find out, won’t be able to control her—how he compares the game to Long Live The Queen and Persona, and why he would like to see the game on Vita.
How did you come up with the character Honey Rose? And how would you describe her?
Pierre Sylvain, developer: The character’s design comes from an illustration series I did in early 2013, “Fictional videogame heroines ABC”. It featured 26 potential videogame protagonists made to feel credible, each with its own game pitch. H was for a super heroine/wrestler moniker, Honey Rose, and everything came from that name and then grew into a more complete game experience.
“Honey Rose” is a persona, even in the game: she’s what the main character, Honey, aspires to be. Honey’s a strong and passionate individual, with her sights set very high, but maybe lacking a bit in focus. This is where you come in as a player: you’re here to act as her advisor. You’re not given physical form or presence, and really no other character interacts with you other than her, so what you actually are in the game is open to your interpretation.
I wanted to make Honey and Honey Rose positive and relatable figures, with drive and conflicts similar to ours, and that could inspire us to do better for our own goals.
What other media (games, comics, etc) are you looking at and taking from when designing the different parts of your game?
A lot of the general look is inspired by comics and cartoon animation (Cutie Honey, Bruce Timm, Bill Plympton…). I’m trying to achieve a dynamic animation style using as few frames as possible, both for production and aesthetic purposes. There’s a lot of extremely fluid 2D animations these days, but I wanted to go in another direction with detailed motion using almost only keyframes.
Some aspects of the game mechanics are reminiscent of Persona, Princess Maker or Long Live the Queen (maybe the closest to Honey Rose). In the game, you react to events which may or may not happen in each playthrough. Some are set (school tests, some plot beats…) but many are random, and you should adapt and correct your course as in a life management sim. The other main reference would be Streets of Rage for the fighting mechanics.
The fights may look like traditional 1vs1 fighting games, but the underlying core is much closer to beat’em alls, as regards character control, balance, etc. The animation style is meant to complement this, helping define a slower rhythm to battles where you’re not trying to input frame precise commands, but rather chain movements aesthetically and in reaction to the situation to gather style points. The aim of the matches is not simply to beat your opponent – it’s to put on the best show you can!
Another thing to note: Streets of Rage was one of the main musical references for the soundtrack, and Morusque, the project’s composer, has taken this original intention and went wild, and turned it into some phenomenal music to play to.
So, regarding the wrestling portion of the game, the intention is to make it more dramatic than your typical fighting game?
Yes, it’s based on showmanship. Your aim is not so much to win as to make a name for yourself, and for that, you need to win in a way that the audience enjoys.
Honey will perform different moves at the press of one or several buttons (though there are no complex combos, à la Streets of Rage). Player skill is of course involved but your earlier choices during the VN segments have the most influence, depending on the stats you raised, on whether or not you interacted with your opponent before or saw her fights and studied her tactics. This can completely change the balance of a match.
The main goal is to get style points to increase Honey’s reputation as a fighter, so you may want to stall the match to perform show moves, and avoid having to end every fight too quickly for lack of training…
Also, note that losing a fight is not a defeat condition: what matters is that you keep your identity secret. As long as you escape from a fight with your mask on, you can come back and try again later, hopefully better trained!
Why did you decide to hybridize a visual novel and a beat ’em up? It doesn’t seem like an obvious choice.
Well, though the game mechanics differ, the structure is very similar to Persona for instance: set segments of narrative exposition and character building, followed by bursts of action. The idea here was to offer two rhythmically distinct experiences that would create a coherent continuity.
The VN part is like a slow beat, with patterns of recurring situations, eventually gaining momentum and leading to the fighting segments that serve as emotional and dramatic climaxes. I also wanted to contrast the two main aspects of Honey’s life: her day to day life routine opposed to her dreams of glory and adrenaline, under the spotlight.
You can’t: though you have control over her stats, and sometimes dialogue, she is her own character. There is no physical customization, and most of the time she’ll even decide what to say on her own. By making series of choices, you can affect how she ultimately reacts to some situations, but you won’t be able to straight out choose things out of line with what you/she did up to now.
More precisely, you choose how to spend her days, which in turn affects what stats she can raise. However, you don’t know by exactly how much: the idea is to feel your way through the situations. Is she ready to tackle the next opponent? What if you have a surprise test coming up the week before? And what happens if just before that, her suit gets stolen? I wanted to avoid mathematical reasoning along the lines of “I need 22 STR to beat the next opponent, so that means 3 more days at the gym doing the top option”.
To be honest, if I wanted to be completely radical in the overall design, I could make the fighting segment automated and entirely dependant on Honey’s stats: you as the player would only see the results of how you trained together. But I wanted the emotional release of direct input, so for the matches, I forego some of the rules and allow the player to directly control Honey.
In more specific terms, how do the two different parts of the game interact and affect each other—the brawling and the life management?
Your overall goal is to get reputation points, while keeping low the general suspicion that the lead character and Honey Rose are one and the same. In the VN segments, you find ways to raise her stats to overcome short and long term challenges (which can earn her some reputation points). This directly affects your performance during the fights, and grants you more freedom in how you wish to perform. Do you take the time to put on a show, or do you need to win at all costs ?
This, in turn, affects the VN segment: Honey’s latest performances will have been seen and will be commented upon by many, most of which you can directly meet and interact with… and so on and so forth!
How long do you estimate Honey Rose will be, and will it have multiple endings for people to explore?
I believe a playthrough should take about 5 hours, depending on how fast you read!
There are indeed multiple endings. Those are not choice-dependant, rather a consequence of your overall play, meaning you can’t simply reload a save, choose something else and have a different ending.
Each playthrough will be somewhat different, too, since most of the daily events you encounter are randomized. That way, if players wish to experience the story again, they can do so while still keeping things interesting mechanics-wise. And if they only wish to experience the fights again after the game’s over, I have some plans for that too!
This is probably one of my biggest videogame projects, yes, and the first one I’m doing fully by myself and making available to the public. I’ve worked on several other games, either alone or with teams (I grew up with RPGMaker!) but of those that still exist, the commercial ones are still under NDA.
Currently I’m working full-time on Honey, but I’m occasionally called to participate in other game development projects. I like to lend a hand when I can, but there’s really something about working on your own project at your own pace that’s right for me. If you’d like to see some of my other stuff, you can look through my deviantart gallery or watch my Tumblr: I post daily updates about Honey’s development, but also anything else that might pop up in the meantime (mainly illustrations these days).
You’ve said that you might consider other platforms outside of PC once the game is finished. Which do you think the game could work on and which would you most like to see the game released on?
I’d love to release Honey on other platforms, but that’s unfortunately not completely up to me. I’m not a programmer by trade, and it’s only thanks to software like Construct2, with visual scripting, that I can make something like Honey work. I wouldn’t know where to begin to port it, so there’d have to be someone else involved.
But speaking in theory: I’d love for Honey to be on Vita. This is one of my favorite platforms, and I believe it’s the perfect fit for this specific blend of mechanics. The screen is also excellent and the tests I’ve done to reduce sprites work best at its resolution.
3DS would feel a bit cramped from what I’ve seen, and I don’t see this sort of game as being really enjoyable to play on a home console. So my first priority would be Vita – and then, well, it’d be dependant on what happens and if there’s demand, I suppose… But I’ll get to these thoughts when I actually have a complete game to talk about!