Sukeban Games recently released the prologue of its cyberpunk bartending sim VA-11 HALL-A and has accrued plenty of feedback since. Of course, that’s handy when this prologue serves as a basic introduction to the larger game that Sukeban is currently developing.
Set in a “post-dystopian society”, VA-11 HALL-A has you mixing drinks to the liking of your customers so that they’ll talk about their life and the world around them. The society they all live in oppressive and stressful, so a bar is a place of respite for many, hence you get to hear a lot of what’s been going on – some of it very personal.
The game will be coming to Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPad in December. Sukeban is also hoping to release VA-11 HALL-A on Vita before the end of the year but can’t guarantee anything due to the certification process. Android and iPhone versions are also being aimed for. The prologue was released for $4.99 (or $6.99 with the soundtrack), while the full version will cost $9.99 (or $12.99 with the soundtrack). All of those who bought the prologue won’t have to pay the extra.
Siliconera caught up with VA-11 HALL-A’s designer and artist Christopher Ortiz to talk about what he and programmer and writer Fernando Damas, as well as musician Michael Kelly, have learned since releasing the prologue. Ortiz also talks about the game’s beginnings, how Blade Runner and Shin Megami Tensei influenced it, where the “waifu” bit comes in, and what we can expect from the full version, as well as his hopes for a 3DS version against the near-impossibility of it happening.
How did Sukeban Games form and what do each of you bring to the team in terms of skills, experience, and interests?
Christopher Ortiz, Designer / Artist: Sukeban Games was born when Fernando and I decided to start a blog to write about anime and video games. With time, we managed to create a very small but awesome community that liked our content and so, for the first anniversary, we created a short dating sim for them to play. That’s when we realized how awesome it was to make video games, and decided to follow that path.
As for what each of us bring to the team: I take care of the art and design aspects of our games while Fernando takes the programmer and writer role. We complement each other since we have different tastes in storytelling. I’m always going for atmospheric things while he likes a more traditional approach. We both like character-driven stories, however so that’s where the magic happens.
When you decided to enter the Cyberpunk Game Jam earlier this year, what was it about a cyberpunk bartending sim that jumped out at you?
It wasn’t too hard to come up with the idea. When I read about this Cyberpunk Jam, I was like: “Hey, you know what would be cool? A game where you’re the bartender in a cyberpunk society, and you’re not the hard boiled hero or stuff like that. You just do your work while classic characters from cyberpunk tales tell you stories about life in dystopia.” Funnily enough, the game had to be based on some artwork but we ignored that and made this weird visual novel adventure thingy.
The coolest thing about this approach to storytelling is that it can only be achieved in video games. Our main focus as developers is blending mechanics and story in a way that one could not exist with the other so the gameplay in VA-11 HALL-A, albeit simple, does have a strong impact on what you see on screen. Only in video games can you be a bartender on a Blade Runner-esque world!
Where do you look for influences when coming up with the setting and characters in VA-11 HALL-A?
Main influences are the aesthetics of old PC-98 games for a reason beyond “being retro”—it was because it looks futuristic. In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, the world was under the impression that Japan was going to take over with its superior technology. Japan was truly living in a cyberpunk society, and as such all the cyberpunk works that were born since then portrayed a society with strong Japanese influences. This game is more of a product of that setting. We wanted the game to look like it came from a parallel universe where Japan did conquer the world through capitalism and technology.
Other influences come from rather obvious sources: Blade Runner, Neuromancer, Ghost in the Shell, and the classic Bubblegum Crisis. This is a huge combination of everything awesome about cyberpunk but condensed in a setting you almost never get to see in similar works in this genre. What if instead of following Deckard, you are actually the Japanese man serving ramen on the street? That’s what we are going for. I guess vaporwave also influenced the aesthetic a bit since that genre is also a product of a setting.
For the music, Michael’s a big, BIG Shin Megami Tensei fan and all things cyberpunk so he was the perfect man for this job. His main influences for VA-11 HALL-A were awesome people like Kenji Kawai and old PSX soundtracks.
What did you like about the jam version of VA-11 HALL-A that had you decide that it needed to be a bigger game?
We wanted to see more characters and wanted to hear more stories about this world we built based on what we love the most about cyberpunk, while also looking for a good challenge design-wise… like, it’s not easy at all to make a fun game with just drag and drop. You need more going on to engage the player so we try our best on all aspects to make a compelling piece. You could say Papers, Please serves as a good starting point for this.
In the prologue that you’ve released, there’s a chance to alter a character’s responses by the drinks you mix for them. Do you take this further, beyond simply reaching a high score, in the full version—perhaps making moral choices regarding alcohol content in the drinks? If not, did you ever think about this, or want to do it but haven’t been able to?
That’s a secret! But, what I can say right now is that you’ll be able to reach at least 7 different endings based on how much you get to know the characters. Sometimes, they will ask for whatever drink, but because you know that character very well you will know what drink they want in that exact moment. It’s a very personal experience. The “waifu” bit is based in this interaction. You see the classic otaku getting strongly attached to a character and we want to achieve this through characterization and not so much through the looks, although there’s a fair share of beautiful people.
Who are your favorite characters in VA-11 HALL-A and why? If any of them are only in the full version of the game, what kinds of conversations can we expect from them?
My favourite character is Alma. She’s what you might call a “Christmas Cake” and the reasons I like her so much are … well, spoilers but what I can say is that you can expect all kinds of stories about bad relationships and how pursuing your dreams can harm the ones you love. She has her own route in the full game so please look forward to her! she was also present in the prototype.
Fernando’s favourite character is Dorothy the robot sex worker. He truly enjoys writing odd characters and in his words: “She has one of the most well-defined personalities and I feel she’s a different kind of independent female. It’s also fun to see the range of reactions people get from her.” That last point is pretty funny, some got the creeps from her while others praised her characterization in the prototype. She has her own route in the full game so expect a lot of talk about her.
Does the world outside of the bar ever interrupt the narrative, as in a conflict breaks out for instance, or have you decided to keep it strictly in the background for the customers at the bar to reveal? Did you ever want the world to be bigger or more present than it is in the game – perhaps you could even use it in another game?
One of the characters is actually a White Knight, like the ones you read about in the game’s description. Another is some sort of private eye, and then you have this millionaire lady too… and so on. You get to hear a lot of what’s happening outside from a lot of perspectives. Whenever something big happens, the bar will most likely be affected by that. There are some circumstances where your bartending will affect the happenings of the city like you’ve already seen with the tablet bits at the start of each day but the full game will go a bit further.
We do have a couple ideas to expand this world we built but everyone will have to wait after we finish VA-11 HALL-A!
You now have a publisher in Ysbryd Games, what will they do for VA-11 HALL-A and does this mean we’ll see it on more platforms when the game releases in December, or soon after? If so, which ones are likely?
We really, REALLY want to see this game on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. I think those consoles would be a perfect fit for VA-11 HALL-A because you would have the conversation in one screen and the mixer in the other. But, as far as I’m concerned, Game Maker does not have a Nintendo module yet, so unless someone steps in and offers to do a port for Nintendo consoles … well, I wouldn’t say no. *wink*.