November 21, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless
Now, here's something interesting. In the raft of press releases we get sent here at GSW, we came across Heileen, created by the folks at Tycoon Games.
It's, intriguingly enough, a PC indie title that's a "historical-fiction visual novel game with multiple endings", and the release for it has Tycoon's Riva Celso insisting: “Visual novels are the next wave of interactive fiction games. They're like a hybrid of books and games - they're deeper than the average video game since they're narrative-based, and they're interactive; what the player does affects the story and ultimately the outcome.”
The game, for which there's PC, Mac and Linux demos available, and 4500 screens of dialog, 8 chapters and 3 different endings, "...tells the tale of a young girl from the 17th Century, Heileen. Her merchant uncle leaving her no choice, she undertakes a voyage to the New World. She'll meet old friends, like her childhood friend Marie, and get the chance to befriend other people, like John, the young, dashing sailor, Marco, the ship's cook, and Lora, the shameless mistress accompanying her uncle on the voyage."
Of course, those who know the visual novel genre will realize that they are pretty popular - in a niche way - in Japan, but have never really made a big impact in the West, primarily because they're not interactive enough for a lot of people who consider themselves gamers, one suspects.
In any case, I caught up with Italian native Celso, who has made a surprisingly eclectic set of homebrew-ish titles, including Universal Boxing Manager and the RPG/card-ish Magic Stones, and asked him a few questions exclusively for GameSetWatch via email about his new game and his thoughts on the genre:
What made you decide to try the visual novel, given it's popular in Japan but not so much in the West?
First of all because I like them. I remember playing those kinds of games already 10 years ago, like True Love, Paradise Heights 1 & 2, and so on. Second because I'm an indie, that means I can try making any game I want, and not always follow the "market rules".
Is romance as major part of your visual novels as it is in Japan, or even explicit content?
Romance is present, and sensuality as well (the character of Lora for example) but there's more than that. It's basically a story and there are choices like in real life, which influences your relationships with the other crew member. There's not only love in the game, but also friendship, hate, envy and more.
Who do you think the target market is for this kind of product?
I believe everyone who enjoy reading books or comics, and sometimes thinks "If I was the protagonist, I would have made this other choice".
This is quite different from your previous products, which include sports simulators - why the shift?
I love making simulation games, but they require lots of effort, research, and unfortunately, big name licenses to sell well. Playing a soccer game where all player names are false isn't as exciting as playing an "officially licensed game". Beside that, I am always experimenting with various games genres. I did a card/RPG (Magic Stones) and a space wargame (Supernova 2) too. However, I'm really enjoying making visual novels so probably will make more in the near future.
Do you think the relative non-interactivity of the genre presents a problem in the West?
It could be, I don't want to lie. Some players really don't get what's so exciting in those kind of games and I can understand them.
In Heileen I tried to break a bit from the classic visual novel scheme introducing a "Quest System" inside the game and a final rating similar to those you find in Sid Meier's games, to add more replay value.
What are your favorite examples of the visual novel genre?
Well I've mentioned some earlier, if I have to talk about more recent titles, I liked Hanako's game Fatal Hearts, but honestly apart for that there isn't anything else that caught my attention.