Hello, world! Today, we will be interviewing one of the co-authors of the visual novel SHINRAI – Broken Beyond Despair! For more information about the game and the developer themselves, read my review on the game. Both articles contain ample collective information to keep you informed around everything you need to know about SHINRAI and Gosatsu Visual Novels. Visit their website, socials, Patreon and Discord here. They also publish weekly development blogs consistently for nearly 500 posts now.
Get ready to explore the roots of their passion for visual novels, their journey into the gaming industry, and an exciting sneak peek into their game and future projects.
|SHINRAI – Broken Beyond Despair||26.08.2016||PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC/Mac/Linux|
|GENBA no Kizuna||Demo: 20.08.2018|
|SHINRAI – Withering Without Hope||TBA||N/A|
Interview with GospelDS
With: GospelDS (Writer & Artist)
Mishka: Thank you for agreeing to an interview with us! Would you like to start off by introducing yourself?
Gospel: Hee-ho, thanks for having me! I’m Gospel, a huge dino nerd from Germany! Been super passionate about the coolest creatures to ever exist since elementary school! Oh, and about writing, drawing and gaming too, I guess!
M: How did you get involved with the visual novel industry/community; which are your first and most favorite visual novels?
Gospel: As seems to be the case with most VN devs I’ve gotten to know, it all started with “Umineko no Naku koro ni”. My best friend Natsu got into the anime in 2009, prompting me to watch it too, which then led us to check out the source material. And that was when I first became truly aware of the concept of visual novels and immediately fell in love with them!
Since it was the perfect medium to combine all of my lifelong passions, I just knew I had to give it a shot myself! So, while doing more research and checking out more VNs (the next stop being Higurashi, of course), we slowly began to work towards creating one of our own.
M: What inspired you to develop a murder mystery visual novel? How old were you when you first had the idea of making a game? Did you have early supporters?
Gospel: As you can probably imagine, it being our first VN, Umineko was a huge inspiration and we really wanted to create something similar, so the first VN we planned out was a murder mystery of ridiculous proportions. Way too huge and intimidating for first time devs, which was why we eventually tried to go for something smaller: a 300,000+ word horror VN!
As that too dragged on and on, 2013 came around and, out of frustration, we yet again considered starting over with a smaller scope, just so that we could maybe finish a project before the end of the century. And that’s when I had the idea to turn something I had written two years prior into a VN.
Back in 2011, I still had this tradition of writing horror stories during the spooky season, mainly as entertainment for Natsu. And that year, I decided to give a Halloween-themed murder mystery a shot for a change, the decision being influenced by me being on a Meitantei Conan (Case Closed) binge watch at the time, while also reading Agatha Christie (which naturally became the main inspirations for the project, along with the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series for its few horror elements).
Even though it all needed to be translated into English to reach a bigger audience, at least we had a fully finished script before us now! So, in September of 2013, shortly after my 26th birthday, we officially began development of the “VN adaptation” of SHINRAI!
It wasn’t until 2014 that we first went public with the project, however, so when it comes to early supporters, we didn’t have any until the demo release later that year. There were only few people showing genuine interest up until the full release, but it made us appreciate each and every single one of them all the more!
M: In your opinion, what makes a good detective visual novel stand out?
Gospel: That it’s an engaging, fair and logical experience that leads to a satisfying conclusion.
To me, the most fun part about a mystery is the whole process of trying to figure things out, so I appreciate a constant flow of new information and evidence, which keeps me theorizing.
What I don’t appreciate, however, is when this exciting process is retroactively soured by the way it’s resolved. I don’t need to be right in order to feel satisfied, but if my theories turn out to be wrong, I need to at least feel like it’s on me and not the game (for insufficiently/ inaccurately presenting crucial tidbits or neglecting them altogether, for instance). And if it does turn out that I got the right answers, I want to feel proud of myself for finding them, not like there was no challenge at all.
I know from experience that it’s tough to strike the right balance between “too obvious” and “too obscure”, especially since the perception of difficulty is very subjective and partially depends on the player’s experiences with the genre. The more mysteries you play, the more you develop an eye for what to pay attention to and the better you get at solving them. But if a game manages to feel fair at least, keeps me engaged and presents a coherent mystery that doesn’t have any too outrageously nonsensical elements to it, or requires any huge leaps in logic, well… then I’m a very happy detective!
M: What is the inspiration behind the title ‘SHINRAI: Broken Beyond Despair’?
Gospel: When I first wrote SHINRAI, it was actually titled “Night Of The Vanishing Corpses”, because the disappearance of the bodies was intended to be the core mystery. It ultimately ended up only playing one small part in it, however, so when it came to the VN version, I wanted a better fitting title. One that would also work for a series, as I already intended to do more.
“Shinrai” (信頼) is the Japanese word for “trust” which is a prevalent topic in the overall story and, in combination with the subtitle (an obvious play on the expression “broken beyond repair”), I wanted to refer to the catalyst behind the murders this time, rather than the mystery.
Furthermore, the new title now references our protagonist as well, who (going by Japanese name order) is named Shinpuku Raiko. This kinda double-meaning is also why I opted to capitalize the word as SHINRAI.
M: Were there any alternative artstyle and character options before settling down with the ones you ended up using? If you were to publish the visual novel today, what would you change about the characters and the summary of ‘SHINRAI: Broken Beyond Despair‘?
Gospel: Theoretically, we could have split the work differently, but since the characters were “my children” and I had already designed them in 2011, I wanted to at least do the line art for their sprites! But beyond that, we wanted to maintain visual consistency between the sprites and backgrounds and since I was the one who had also conceived the location, only I could really visualize it. The alternative would have been to provide Natsu with highly detailed sketches and notes of the layout and where what needed to be placed (such as evidence), so it was easier to handle that myself. And it then only made sense for the sprites to fit my BGs.
The cast was originally intended to be larger, featuring three more guys for a proper balance between males and females. That was way too many characters, however, so I cut them out (they’re still briefly mentioned though, and you might get to see them in the future)!
As for changes, I actually already tweaked the few things I wanted to back with the 4th anniversary update, which included changes to the personality of Nobara’s dad, some of Taiko’s thoughts and perspectives, and an elaboration on Kamen’s feelings towards Raiko (to be more in line with my updated sequel plans). But beyond that, I wouldn’t want to change anything else. Some people complain about certain NSFW behaviors, comments and thoughts of some of our cast, because they find it “inappropriate”, given how old they are. I don’t really know what to respond to that, though. While some have condemned (and even refunded) the entire game because of it, I don’t really want to tone anything down. Maybe teens are much better behaved and more mature nowadays, but what I wrote reflects my own experiences with my classmates at that age. And let me tell you, compared to some of those, even the most perverted and foul-mouthed characters in SHINRAI are pure innocent little angels, haha.
M: Would you like to tell us how well you feel the game sold, and whether it sold better on one platform over the others? Exact numbers are welcome, if you’re comfortable, of course. What difficulties did you face during the production process? How was the decision made to partner with Ratalaika and release the game on Switch?
Gospel: I can’t really share exact numbers due to NDA-related reasons, and it’s difficult for me to gauge how well it did. I’m sure it could have sold significantly better with the right marketing (or any at all *cough*), but not only did we have zero clue about that sort of thing and couldn’t afford to hire somebody to handle it for us, with everything else already on our plates, we didn’t have the time to learn it either (never mind the desire to, because, as creators, we naturally only want to create).
But all things considered (including the non-existent budget which primarily dictated the presentation, this being our first release, us being complete nobodies, the pricing often being considered “too high”, murder mystery VNs essentially being a niche within a niche, etc.), I think it did really well. I’m especially happy with the consistency of our sales. They have been relatively steady ever since the release. We still sell about the same number of units every year as we did back in 2016. Something that went against our expectations, as everyone kept telling us that, over time, sales only ever go down.
Well, at least the PC sales remain steady. The console sales did, in fact, take a dramatic dip over the two years those versions have been out. But on the flipside, they started out insanely strong compared to PC, so it kinda balances out.
To be honest, it’s less the sales themselves that I’m unhappy with and more what we actually get from them, especially when it comes to the console versions. After the platforms and publisher have taken their cuts, the rest is split evenly between Natsu and me, meaning that each of us receives only around 17% of the total revenue. Which doesn’t really seem all that fair, given that she and I are the ones who dedicated three years of our lives to this project, working on it essentially every single day.
Regarding difficulties during production, it was really only the programming, since we (or rather Natsu, as she was the one in charge of that) had to learn everything from scratch. It took a while to get things to work the way we wanted, especially when it came to the evidence presentation, but Natsu obviously prevailed and figured it all out very niftily!
As for the Switch port, I primarily grew up a Nintendo kid, so releasing a game on one of their consoles has always been a huge dream of mine. And the idea of being able to play on the go or while comfily lying in bed made a Switch version all the more desirable!
Never really thought it possible, however. Not until early 2020, when I started to see more and more fellow devs bring their VNs to the console. So, naturally, I got curious as to how they accomplished it and did my research. There were a couple of publishers that offered porting services, but I’m very suspicious by nature and didn’t want my “baby” to end up in the wrong hands. The reason I ultimately went with Ratalaika Games was because the great ebi-hime was already working with them, so I figured: if she trusts them, maybe I can too! Thus, I sent them a mail and, after a pleasant back and forth with their CEO, made the decision to go for it and sign the contract!
M: I noticed that the twin sisters’ that Momoko and Kamen had dressed up as looked a lot like the Sonozaki twins from the Higurashi series, was that an intended easter egg?
Gospel: I guess one of my earlier answers already gave this away, but yes, it was indeed intentional! The twin sisters (named Aya and Saya in SHINRAI) are both a reference to Mion and Shion (the hair), as well as to Sae and Yae (the kimonos) from Fatal Frame/Project Zero 2.
M: In the credits list, I noticed that your dad was also helping you with the development of the game by producing some of the background music; it’s certainly rare for indie devs to include a parent in their project, would you like to tell us how he also became a part of SHINRAI?
Gospel: When it came to the music, we obviously wanted to have an original soundtrack. Only problem was that we didn’t have the skill to compose anything ourselves and, as mentioned before, didn’t have a budget to hire a composer, either.
Luckily, though, my dad’s always been a musician! So, of course, he was the first person I approached about this, asking if he could help us somehow and, being the good and kind man that he is, he gladly sacrificed quite a lot of his free time to compose the whole thing for us!
Without him, I honestly don’t know what we would have done about the music, so once again: thank you so much, dad!
M: What are your opinions regarding the indie game development during these past few years? How has the indie game scene changed in your country; does it intend on continuing to do so? What are some of the trends you notice in the western indie game scene, especially in your country. How do you expect them to continue?
G: To be quite frank, I’m not really in the know regarding the indie game scene in Germany. We’ve always been more concerned about it globally and, with the vast majority of devs we’re close to being from other parts of the world, tend to discuss things with a global perspective, too.
Generally, however, I’ve certainly noticed things change a lot ever since we began our dev journey. Setting out on your own has become even easier, thanks to all the great tools, sources and communities out there, that can help you get started. On the flipside, this also means that it’s more difficult than ever to succeed, due to the ever increasing number of indie projects flooding the market. There are so many new games out every single day, it’s getting harder and harder to rise to the surface and be seen.
Features and events by major sales platforms sadly don’t help much with that either, as they tend to fail bafflingly at providing the increased visibility they promise and usually only benefit games that are already big and known.
And the way I see it, this isn’t really going to change. Not anytime soon at least. I think, as indie devs, we can’t rely on the big platforms to eventually make life easier for us. They mostly seem to have AAA companies in mind, so we need to help ourselves. That’s part of the reason why, along with a number of other fellow devs, we’ve recently created the “Mystery Gamedev” community. As the name suggests, it’s a place for developers of mystery games (both seasoned and aspiring) to come together and support each other. We’re all trying to reach a similar audience after all, so by sharing our experiences, trying to learn from one another and putting our heads together, we aim to collectively find ways to success (we’re open to enjoyers of the genre in general though, so it’s a great place for players to stumble upon the next mystery to solve, too)!
M: Do you have any projects you’re working on at the moment? If so, do you mind telling us about that?
Chronologically, it takes place before the events of our first project, but rather than a prequel, it’s more of a standalone story. That said, it does include some familiar faces and will not only address some of the questions left unanswered by SHINRAI, but also help set up its actual sequel!
Taking to heart SHINRAI’s major criticisms, we’re doing a lot of things differently this time, throwing you right into the mystery (as a police officer who just arrives at the scene), while also putting more focus on the characters, as indicated by the title.
While there’s one “main MC”, this story is also told from four different perspectives, as you slip into the roles of each main investigator: the officer-in-charge, the medical examiner, the crime scene technician and the interrogation officer.
Moreover, since this project was conceived with the idea of interactivity in mind right from the start, you can also expect a lot more investigating, interrogating and shoving evidence in people’s faces! But I guess the best way to learn more would be to check out our website or Steam store page (and maybe wishlist it while you’re there *wink wink*)!
M: Finally, could you let our readers know the top 3 reasons why they should check out ‘SHINRAI: Broken Beyond Despair‘?
G: According to our reviews, if there’s one thing we’ve nailed with SHINRAI, it’s the mystery. People found it 1) fair/just about right difficulty-wise, 2) highly engaging and 3) unique.
I guess, at least in the realm of VNs, there still aren’t that many classic Christie-type whodunits/howdunits out there, so if that (with an anime spin on it, making it more akin to Meitantei Conan) sounds like a fun time to you, then please go ahead and give it a try!
(And let’s be honest here, what’s not fun about investigating a murder??)