Writing A Visual Novel: Interview With Lucky Dog’s Tennenouji


Full Disclosure: This interview has been conducted by a Siliconera editor that will most likely be involved with the English-language release of the game (Lucky Dog) in question. Laura Hou, who is on our staff, is presently fan-translating the game on her personal blog. Prior to beginning her translation, Laura had contacted Tennenouji to ask for permission to pursue a translation of their game. Eventually, this led to discussions between the two parties (Laura and Tennenouji) of the possibility of a commercial English-language release on iOS devices.


Normally, running an interview for a game our staff is involved with in any manner would be considered a conflict of interest, as Siliconera is part of the media. However, in this case, an exception is being made, as Boy’s Love is a genre of games with very little exposure in the West, and one of this site’s goals is to help bring worldwide exposure to games from Asia. Part of that goal involves getting Asian developers to open up to their English-speaking fans, which is something Siliconera has a lot of experience doing, and is why we decided to publish this interview.


Note that, at no point in time, will Siliconera ever publish a review or any other sort of critical coverage of Lucky Dog. Our coverage of the game will begin and end with our two-part interview, this being part 1. Additionally, should Laura end up being involved with the game’s official English release, no member of this site, aside from her, will receive any sort of compensation, monetary or otherwise.


Despite the recent influx of visual novels from Japan, one genre is receiving fairly little coverage in the West—Boy’s Love, games with stories that involve romance between males. Lucky Dog is a story-heavy BL visual novel developed and published by Tennenouji, as well as one of the surprise hits within the BL community.


The game’s characters have consistently ranked among the top 10 in the “Favorite BL Character” surveys of Cool-B, a popular, bimonthly magazine that focuses on BL and otome games, it has a strong following in Japan, despite its initial status as a doujin game.


Released in 2009, Lucky Dog tells the story of Giancarlo Bourbon del Monte (Gian for short), a small-time soldier in a Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) family called the CR:5. Gian has few cares in the world and his favorite hobbies include breaking out of jail. Luckily, that works perfectly to his advantage when he receives an order from his boss. If he can break himself out along with the other four captains in his family, all of whom are locked up in the same prison as him, then he will be the next Boss.


However, escaping is just the first step in returning to their headquarters in Daivan, NJ, and with the city being embroiled in a gang war. Gian needs to use all his experience, wits, and the luck he is so famous for to get out, survive, and keep everyone else around him alive.


Lucky Dog has an 18+ PC release as well as a slightly modified iOS release. In addition, there are four side games and a planned expansion pack currently in the works that, from the sound of it, will dwarf the original game in terms of content. This is rather impressive, considering Tennenouji is a very small company, with only three members having public recognition. Yura (Absolute Obedience, Enzai, Hana Awase) is both the founder and artist. Jinnai and Suganuma are writers with previous experience in visual novels both straight and slash.


Tennenouji itself has released one previous game (Miracle Not-on) as well as a browser “game” (Sei Crain Gakuen). Both games have their own expansion packs and side games. Lucky Dog is the company’s second major title, and being a fan of the game, I’ve been working on an English translation of the game for some time. It was through this connection that I recently had a chance to discuss with Tennenouji their thoughts behind the game, the creative process, and their views on western fans.


Now is a good to mention that Tennenouji do hope to release Lucky Dog in English. Although there are no current plans for PC version to be released, discussions are ongoing regarding the release of Lucky Dog in English for iOS devices, likely using my fan-translation. As such, although we’ve pointed this out in the disclaimer above, you should keep in mind that you are reading an interview conducted by someone that will possibly be involved with the game’s commercial release in the future.


The questions below have been answered primarily by a representative (T) speaking for the entire staff of Tennenouji. They tend to be a secretive company, and the representative wished for their name not to be publicly mentioned as well. In the interview, unless stated otherwise, this is the person answering the questions.


Tennenouji is a small company, isn’t it? However, as far as I know, there is very little information available about your staff. Would it be possible to provide a simple introduction to them?


T: We’re sorry. We wish to keep information about the staff a secret. We wish to remain a “mysterious” sort of entity.


How did Tennenouji start as a company?


T: The company started when Yura went independent, with the first game created being Miracle Not-on.1


At first, Lucky Dog 1 was sold at Comic Market, or Comiket. Then, after the number of stores selling the game and the number of copies sold increased, we were able to become a legal entity. A company. Because being a company would make making new deals and such easier to accomplish.


1. Miracle Not-on was Tennenouji’s first proper visual novel for the PC, published in 2006.


Why did you start with BL? Is there some charm to BL that is unique to the genre?


T: That would be because Yura likes BL. As for the charm of BL, that would be the charm of seeing and experiencing something different from what you have in “everyday life”.


When the company started, how did you make yourselves known? Currently, the Tennenouji name is pretty well-known among fans, but what about in the beginning?


T: There were some fans who remembered Yura’s name from previous works, but the brand name “Tennenouji” wasn’t famous at first.


After the hit that was Miracle Not-on, it seems that players gradually began to take notice and remember our name. We believe that we were able to remain in their memory despite having done no promotional work because we were able to release a game that left a strong impression on players.


What is the process for creating a regular scene (for example in Lucky Dog 1)?


T: Based on what the writers had written, we would create the art, music, sound effects, and movements. But if you’re talking about the creative process, in the case of Lucky Dog 1, we wrote the story based off concepts and characters brainstormed by the writers, Jinnai and Suganuma. Who knows what the writers are thinking. :-)


Also, sometimes, Yura imagines up things to include in the scenario, so we would also include those.


Lucky Dog 1 is a story revolving around an Italian Mafia situated in America. Why did you choose the Italian Mafia (instead of, for example, Japan’s own Yakua)?


T: At first, we wanted to write something focused on “a jailbreak in a country that isn’t Japan”. This had already eliminated the choice of using the Japanese Yakuza.


As a motivation for breaking out of jail, we thought up the reward of “becoming a Mafia boss”. As for “Why an Italian Mafia”? The Italian Mafia is highly recognized in Japan (probably because of The Untouchables), so we thought that it would be easier for the players to envision this way.


How did you do research the Italian Mafia and life in America? Previously, in our conversations, you’ve stated that you’ve never been to America, yet you seem to be rather on-the-ball.


Jinnai, Scenario Writer: The Internet, books, movies, games, etc. In addition to the usual material, the atmosphere from the 1930s era the story takes place is a personal hobby of mine, so the Heinlein novels and the supplement booklet for the RPG Call of Cthulhu2 also helped.


2. First published in the 1981, this game based off H.P. Lovecraft’s book takes place during the 1920s.


Suganuma, Scenario Writer: I’ve penned historical stories or games in the past, so I have collected historical references for many different countries. Also, I often watch historical movies. And among those, many are from the 1930s period American Mafia, and I’ve seen those many times.


When I was writing the story for Lucky Dog 1, I used my memory of those movies as a base and found whatever I thought I might need that I could get my hands on in books or the web. Also, I am fortunate to have researched historical American cities in the past—even if it was in a different era from this game (such as New York in the 19th century movie Gangs of New York).


What would you say the theme of the game is, if there is one?


T: There are differences in the relationship between two males and a relationship between two females, or even a male and female. We used this as our theme. The sturdy bond [between the characters] and trust is a big factor in moving the game’s story forward.


On the topic of character creation, anime and games (especially in BL visual novels) usually have the main characters cast to a set of stereotypes. For example, there’s the “cool character,” the “tsundere character,” the “senpai character” and so on. However, the personalities of the characters in Lucky Dog 1 don’t fit these archetypes. Is this on purpose?


T: We first came up with the main character Giancarlo, and after that we designed characters that would bounce interestingly off of him. Their images and actions were appended as the creation process for the scenario went on.


The reason the players may feel the characters from Lucky Dog 1 are different from those from other games is because the characters are defined by their link to events in the game itself.


Why do Bernardo, Luchino, Giulio, and Ivan work so well with Gian? In every route, their combo is very natural, fun and interesting. Did you come up with their interaction based off the characters’ personalities? Or did you start off with how you wanted them to interact and based the character personalities off of that?


T: Their personalities and their roles in the family were set first. It was because of Jinnai and Suganuma’s skill that the relationships were detailed so naturally and interestingly.


The bad endings in Lucky Dog 1 (and, to some extent, other scenes as well) are, frankly, very cruel. There’s no favoritism at all. Usually, writers show leniency towards their protagonists; however, this isn’t the case in Lucky Dog 1. How did you come up with these scenes? How were you able to write these bad endings?


Jinnai: I don’t really feel the need to go easy on your own characters. I think the bad endings are their own form of entertainment, and I wrote them as such.


Suganuma: To make one side shine, you need to make the other that much darker. To make the happy endings that much happier, we created the bad endings to be very dark. Being able to see and include two (or more) opposing sides in one product and making them both good is a big advantage and strength to games as a medium.


By the way, because I have mercilessly written many horrible scenes and endings in previous projects as well, and not just Lucky Dog, I don’t feel I went overboard this time. :-)


Lucky Dog 1 is split into three parts. The last two play pretty much like your usual visual novel, but the first part is surprisingly complex.3 How did you come up with the Jailbreak Part? How did you put it together? And why didn’t you continue with this system?


Jinnai: I liked the complex visual novels of old, so I decided to design it after them. First, I came up with two escape routes possible in reality. After that, I thought up the tools and conditions necessary. After coming up with the events where you obtain these tools and conditions, I listed the events out in my head and on an Excel spreadsheet.


I also added another route that you can view if you fulfill more difficult conditions. At first, it was too difficult, and I’d made it so that if you always stuck with one character’s events you’d always get a bad ending. Tennenouji fixed it for me.


3. Part 1 of Lucky Dog 1 involves breaking out of jail, where you have the choice to talk to one of seven people and can only do so twice a day. In doing so, you gain tools such as lock picks, guard schedule, escape route information. There is a time limit of seven days and only after Gian has collected the appropriate tools and information can Gian successfully escape.


Lucky Dog 1, unlike other games, is a bit realistic in the fact that every year, a short story is released about events that many years after the main game, and we can see the relationships between the characters evolve.4

According to rumors, you’ve gone all the way to the end. Usually, all a game’s events are included in the main game and their related games, so why did you think so much about Lucky Dog 1’s “future”?


T: In the game, there is a scene that tells of the ends of the other character’s in his reflections, but their life up to their death and their final moments weren’t set in stone, and we may write about them in the future.


We’ve seen these rumors, but unfortunately there are no details on the future, past what we’ve written. We would love for players to let their imaginations wild. :-)


4. For example, the first year anniversary short stories take place one year after the events of Lucky Dog 1.


Lucky Dog 1 has two5 side games. However, Lucky Happy Life6 and If For Gian7 are completely different from usual visual novels. Why did you change genres? How did you choose these genres?


T: We searched for game formats that would burden our scenario writers as little as possible.


It was very interesting to see whether visual novel fans would accept a game format that depended on players directly controlling the way the game unfolds. We chose the genres based on what we wanted to create at the time.


It was very fun designing If For Gian after playing with blocks.


5. At the time of the interview, there were only two side games. Two more have been released since.
6. Giancarlo’s Lucky Happy Life is a PC game released in 2011. It is designed like a board game and covers what-if scenarios in each character’s life. The genre is “Alternate Life Board Game”.
7. If For Gian, We Would Destroy the World is a PC game released in 2012. It is designed to play like the Atari 2600 game, Human Cannonball. The genre is described as “Puzzle Action Game”.


Are you surprised that Lucky Dog 1 was so successful?


T: At first, we never thought that it would be this popular.


We predicted the sales figure of Lucky Dog 1 based on the average number of visitor hits on the Tennenouji website (we felt this would surely work, as the number of fans with a high probability of buying the game were likely to visit the site), but on the release date we ran out of stock. What in the world was going on?!