GameRanx Asks: A Developer Interview With Christine Love

We at Gameranx have something special for you today: an exclusive interview with visual novel creator Christine Love.

Hailing from Canada, Christine is best known for three original works: Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, and Analogue: A Hate Story. Today she is busy at work on her latest visual novel, Ladykiller in a Bind, and she is also set to release a side project, Interstellar Selfie Station, to mobile.

We thought it would be great to step back from the usual Christine Love interview and delve into a little explored subject: how she makes her games. Much like an Iwata Asks, we delve deep into the mind of the game designer and find out what makes her tick. Or at least, as close as we can get.

I think longtime Christine  Love fans are really going to love this one; she shares a lot more about Ladykiller in a Bind than I expected. We would like to thank Christine for her time and recommend you follow her on her official site here.

The first thing I noticed when researching you and your body of work is most interviews revolve around you or the themes in your games. I think these are compelling topics, but perhaps unintentionally we’re left with little idea on your actual game making process. So, how do you actually go about planning and designing something like Analogue: A Love Story or Don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story? Have you laid down a formal process, or do you find inspiration intuitively, to grasp and hold on to, as you make your games? Or is it a combination of the two?

My process isn't really too formal; I don't use design docs or anything like that. Generally, how it's worked is that I start with the UI first; since it's the most important visual element of a lot of my games, I feel like it's something that I need to be able to visualize perfectly before I can get started on any actual writing. While I'm working on that, I start breaking down the story into a structure that can be easily put into flow charts, so I can understand the pacing of the game, and figure out how all the interactions work. But the bulk of the time, for me, is just spent doing writing. Hate Plus is over 100k words, so really, long after all the design work is done… there's months and months of just thoroughly unglamorous writing.

Many of your works simulate the look and feel of computer interfaces, including online communication networks. What is the influence these interfaces and networks have on your work? Can you name some of programmers who designed the operating systems/user interfaces/network systems that inspired you?

When I made Digital: A Love Story I just straight up ripped off the old Amiga Workbench 1.0 visual style for it… and frankly, it kinda suffers for it, since what works well for an operating system isn't necessarily something that works well for a visual novel. The approach I took withAnalogue and Hate Plus I'd describe as basically modern minimalist web design mixed with Hollywood computers. The goal is to make something that looks obviously futuristic, but also is easy for the player to understand and navigate. So each screen has a single purpose, a clear place in the hierarchy, and in general, I try to stick with web design's "three click" rule: never make anything farther than three clicks away. The result, I hope, is something that's a lot less confusing than just straight up copying a real operating system might be.

For Hate Plus particularly, because I wanted the protagonist's broken-down ship to be a strong contrast from the ship in Analogue's clean feeling, I actually looked to old hardware for inspiration. There was a lot of work that went into making the game look like it was being played on a broken CRT, with the glowing colours bleeding into everything, and the screen flickers erratically. Realism isn't really my concern, but I think the quintessential experience with computers is that they never quite work, even when they feel futuristic; that's the sort of feeling I was interested in evoking.

In researching your work I found Cell Phone Love Letter, and I thought it was an interesting experience as well. I don’t know if you would know about this game, but it made me think of Chobits: Atashi Dake no Hito for Game Boy Advance, not because of the story, but because of the structure. What was your motivation behind making Cell Phone Love Letter? Do you think Cell Phone Love Lettershould still be referred to as a game considering its nonlinearity? Are there other nonlinear visual novels out there that inspired you to make it, and would you recommend fans seek this out today?

Oh, god. Okay, so since I guess someone's going to try googling this, Cell Phone Love Letter is a visual novel that I wrote when I was 17. It's so, so bad, nobody writes anything good at that age. Please don't read it.

So I never really originally thought I'd get into making games at all; I always thought of myself as a writer, and was doing pretty much mostly straight prose at that time. I figured I would just be a novelist, but I was still interested in new and different ways of presenting that sort of prose, so visual novels inspired me. Even when I made Digital: A Love Story, I really just thought of it as being a slightly unconventional visual novel; it was other people who decided that it was a game, and I just figured I'd run with it. So I definitely was not thinking of it as a game at all.

I would highly recommend please pretending that I never wrote anything at that age and certainly never reading it, and instead playing the excellent visual novel that inspired it instead, Collage.