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Sci-Fi Adventures in the Making—Interview With Spire Games

Disclaimer: Review codes have been delivered by the developer to both reviewer and subsequent interviewer via Curator Connect. Thanks for all the support!

This interview was conducted on July 29th 2023, in sequence of Fujoneko’s review of Spire GamesSYNESTHESIA. Please give it a read and, if interested, you can buy the game on Steam.

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After almost a year of no interviews, we’re finally back! And this, dear readers, is only the beginning. For this interview, as you might have seen in the title, we’re talking to Spire Games‘ representative, Q.

MahouGao: How did you come up with the idea of a Sci-fi visual novel? Are you and your team members sci-fi fans? Which series did you take inspiration from to make Synesthesia?

Q: I’ve always been inspired by stories that take you to another place and cause you to view the world differently. From fantasy classics like Lord of the Rings–to visual novels like the SciADV series–I love how engaging characters in a fictional world can expand our thinking. It was my hope that by using a sci-fi setting, I could create a sense of awe and reflection for other people that I’ve experienced in some of my favourite stories.

MG: Adding a glossary mechanic to your game was a nice idea: it added depth to the world building and everything could be checked again. Why did you implement a glossary that most visual novels are missing?

Q: I find using a glossary and tips list can help readers keep track of information, as well as go into more depth if they choose it. Particularly in sci-fi stories, readers have different levels of how much they want to engage with the intricacies of the mechanics and world building. For those who want the fullest experience of the plot, they can use the tips list to brush up on the information as well as piece together little things that are hinted at in the main story to further flesh out the world–without bogging down the pace of the main story.

MG: Speaking of game mechanics, the flowchart was my personal highlight. The fact that the player can jump into important events at any time is great, as it increases your curiosity to get all the different endings. Did you want to give the player the opportunity to see and plan how to change the story faster?

Q: I have found that sometimes a frustrating part of visual novels is the amount of wasted time trying to navigate routes and endings. We wanted SYNESTHESIA to be a joy to read, easy to navigate, engaging and keeping the pace throughout. We thought the flow chart was a great way to tease readers with outcomes, and help them make their choices.

MG: Manifesting the protagonist’s SCP in colorful patterns over important objects is a very good integration of the story and it gives the player an additional feature while not breaking immersion. In my opinion it has much more potentional of use. Are you planning on releasing other games in the world of Synesthesia, like a sequel or side games?

Q: We would love to make a sequel to SYNESTHESIA. Although this is a stand-alone story that has a solid conclusion, it was always made with its sequel in mind. There is still much more to explore with those mechanics, are we are hoping that the interest in this visual novel will warrant the next instalment!

MG: The ending may be seen as divisive, without going into spoiler territory. Was this planned from the start or did you change your approach to the story as you developed it?

To me the ending is inevitable given the philosophical themes of the story. I have always felt that the ending should be the crowning cap of the message of the story, and has to be thought-out from the beginning. SYNESTHESIA has a few hidden plot points, and the more you dig in the story and the hidden philosophies, the more you will understand and pull out of everything that happens in the ending. I also hope that if we get to make the next instalment in this world; we can expand on everything that occurs in this story.

MG: The integration of synthetic voice-acting is an interesting idea. Most dislike it in this new era of AI. At the point I am in the game, only Ms Keller’s voice could use some improvement; the other characters had solid voices, but they lacked a little bit of emotion on certain scenes. How did you come up with this idea?

Originally we had voice snippets for SYNESTHESIA; meaning there would be a grunt, sound or a few words to convey the emotion that wouldn’t match the written dialogue. This has been used in visual novels like Danganronpa and many more. We hired voice actors and starting implementing it into the game, but found the voice snippets only distracted from the scenes. Fully voicing a visual novel as long as ours wasn’t within budget, so we were facing having to cut all voice acting altogether. Although this wouldn’t have been too bad as many great visual novels don’t have any VA, I’ve always found voice acting adds personality to the characters.

It was then we trialled training our character voices using AI to flesh out the lines. It took a lot of work, but we thought the results were much better than no voice acting at all. We also could hire some VAs to voice certain parts and also to train the AI (with their permission). In this way we could support the industry within our budget. We thought transparency was important, which is why we give readers the choice at the start if they want the voiced option.

Other than the voices, no AI was used in the project. We hope to grow as a visual novel making studio to be able to hire full voice actors in the future, as not only do we want to support the industry, but the results speak for themselves. Having said that, we are pleased with the results for SYNESTHESIA and think readers will be too! [11:13 AM]

MG: The backgrounds have an interesting mix of 3D and 2D objects with an oil painting style. It fits the world around the city and the mystery of something bigger very nicely. Did you choose this art style of the world explicitly for that or was it a thing that happened by chance?

The art style for SYNESTHESIA came about by trial and error in the development phase. Given the prominence of colour as a theme, it was important the style matched the world. Originally we tried a few different artists, and even tried using 3D based character models to be able to have more animated elements.

Eventually through feedback from the community, we landed on the style we used. We found a great background artist and character artist online after trialling a few different people and found it clicked perfectly. Even though traditional hand-drawn sprites were less animated and had less flexibility than the original 3D based character models we started with; we felt the style matched the world far better and created a much greater sense of immersion. We wanted the world to feel in-line with the themes and mechanics, and we feel we got that balance right thanks to these wonderful artists who were great to work with.

MG: The topics in Synesthesia are rather deep and surprised me when I discovered them. How did you come to this decision? Did you read about it in the past?

I had the idea of aligning various philosophical concepts that always fascinated me with scientific theories that seemed to overlap. Growing up, I often had ideas and symbols stick out to me that seemed to have some deeper meaning. In exploring these ideas, I could somehow feel how they all dovetailed together–and it was these ideas that gave me the idea for the plot of SYNESTHESIA. I then worked from those ideas back to the plot and characters of the story. That is why for me the ending always felt inevitable, and it felt the concepts themselves gave the ideas for the plot and the characters.

However, we wanted real, down-to-earth characters in a real world to explore these truths as they unravelled; not something lofty and pretentious. We felt that we wanted these big questions to be explored in the simple story of a group of friends. Not big and lofty, but everyday people caught up in something they’d prefer not to be. The story is both big and small in scale at the same time, which we felt was the best way to bring everything to life.

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