Kotaro Uchikoshi, Game Director at Spike Chunsoft and the creator of the Zero Escape series, has a sense of humor. He started his GDC talk going off script with a joke about returning home to his wife without a Game Developers Choice Award. Uchikoshi was nominated for best narrative, which The Walking Dead from Telltale Games won. Uchikoshi humbly thanked his fans and Spike Chunsoft for Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. Then, he pointed out that three of the most nominated games Journey, The Room, and The Walking Dead were all adventure games and titles that he played.
What is a visual novel? Uchikoshi defined this as a sub genre of the adventure game genre. Since Virtue’s Last Reward features a lot of puzzles, Uchikoshi said it may not be a visual novel in the purest sense, but it’s safe to say it fits in the genre.
Still on the definition of a visual novel, Uchikoshi pointed out Real Sound: Wind of Regret, a Sega Saturn game from D creator Kenji Eno that lets players make decisions, but the game visuals are limited. Stepping back from visual novels, Uchikoshi talked about sports. Baseball and football are by definition sports. What about darts, fishing, pool or lingerie football? (There’s Uchikoshi’s sense of humor again!) Uchikoshi believes all of these are sports because they require participants to be competitive, but some people might disagree that lingerie football is a sport the same way some people disagree that a visual novel is a "game."
If being athletic, competing, and using your reflexes defines a sport. What is the definition of a game? Uchikoshi’s view is it’s something where the selection made by a player’s decision changes the history of events or outcome that takes place within a given set of rules.
In other words, in Tetris players decide where to drop blocks and that affects the game board by clearing lines. Lingerie football is also a game, Uchikoshi joked again.
A visual novel is a video game that specializes in selectivity, Uchikoshi said. It’s a primitive game or the purest form of a game. Having selectivity makes visual novels different from anime, manga, movies, and other media.
Virtue’s Last Reward and the Zero Escape series were inspired by the Super Famicom game Kamaitachi no Yoru or Night of the Sickle Weasel. Players have to solve a murder mystery that takes place in a ski lodge in this Chunsoft classic. We’re going to talk about similarities between Virtue’s Last Reward and Night of the Sickle Weasel below. There are some spoilers, mostly for Night of the Sickle Weasel, which has only been released in Japan.
Night of the Sickle Weasel is interesting because the game doesn’t use "flags." The oversimplified explanation is a flag is either raised (set to true) or lowered (set to false) and used to determine if an event has been triggered. Visual novels commonly use flags to check if a player has made a certain decision or seen a certain event scene to determine which story branch players are on.
Night of the Sickle Weasel has a different flow. Players start the game when they discover a dead body. Then they can enter the name of who they think is the suspect. If they pick the suspect right on the first try they can skip straight to the good ending. However, most players will probably go through a different route like B, C, D, E, F, or G… etc. All of these other paths have clues to who the real killer is and a tragic fate for the protagonist. The "flags" in Night of the Sickle Weasel are actually stored in a player’s brain. After you go through route B you know not to go down that route and remember or write down clues that help you get to the good ending. In an extreme case, players might guess the right answer or use a strategy guide. In that case, they skip the entire game.
Virtue’s Last Reward has a similar structure with the password system. Players have to remember passwords procured from going through different routes.
Uchikoshi says his stories are inspired by putting characters in a state of discomfort. In Night of the Sickle Weasel the game starts with a murder, which is discomforting. 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward begins with the players trapped with no escape, not exactly a pleasant situation either.
In Night of the Sickle Weasel the main character can only see one chain of events and usually meets an unhappy ending. The player keeps track of all events past and future similar to how the morphological field in Virtue’s Last Reward lets characters transfer information from one person to another. To make this easier for players, Virtue’s Last Reward has a flow chart which was a requested feature from fans of 999.
Reality in video games is different from our reality, Uchikoshi stated. Take RPGs for example or action games where your character has a lot of equipment, but you can only see one item. You also get money, healing items, or ammo at just the right times, which is unnatural. Players accept this in the confound of what a game is so in Uchikoshi’s opinion we shouldn’t get hung up on games being too real.
Where do adventure games go from here? Uchikoshi says that adventure games are on an upward swing thanks to digital distribution. He also thinks adventure games are fitting for smartphones and can be a new way to tell a story like manga, anime, or movies.
Speaking to the audience, Uchikoshi said he hopes someone sitting in his session will be able to create an amazing game in the future and if he can assist with that he will be really happy.