Aenne Schumann is one of the narrative designers of Arcade Spirits and Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, a pair of visual novels set in a fictional timeline where arcades still reign supreme. Both games feature a diverse cast of characters to meet and, optionally, romance, while telling stories of personal discovery and social justice. When not writing games or speaking on convention panels about romance in games, Aenne is a streamer for Stumptgamers and Rainbow Arcade and works by day as a licensed veterinary technician.
In this podcast interview, Aenne and I chat about how they and Arcade Spirits director Stefan Gagne divvied up the script; weaving social justice into game narrative; the storytelling options introduced by the Fist of Discomfort 2 minigame; how to know when it’s time to end a podcast; deciding what games to stream to Twitch and which to host on YouTube; juggling multiple jobs when living with ADHD; and an alternative history for full-motion video (FMV) games.
Stream the audio edition of this interview below or from Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Overcast, Pandora, Pocket Casts, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, RadioPublic, or the Internet Archive. Click past the jump for a transcript and links to resources mentioned in this episode.
- Aenne Schumann
- Arcade Spirits
- First Bite Games
- Rainbow Arcade
- Simulacra, an FMV game
Voiceover: Welcome to the Polygamer podcast, where gaming is for everyone. Join us as we expand the boundaries of the gaming community.
Ken Gagne: Hello, and welcome to the Polygamer podcast, episode number 126, for Wednesday, June 15, 2022. I’m your host, Ken Gagne. I love video games. I love books. So, it makes sense, of course, that I would love the mashup of the two, the visual novel. I haven’t played too many games in that genre, but the ones I’ve played have totally hit it out of the park, most significantly, Arcade Spirits. When this game first came out a few years ago, I saw it getting a lot of hype at PAX. My friends were playing it on Twitch and I was like, “What’s the big deal?”
Ken: So, when it was included in itch.io bundle a few years ago, I finally picked it up and wow, I saw what the big deal was. It was this amazing game set in an alternate timeline, where the video game crash of 1983 never happened, which I guess means that my Alamogordo E.T. cartridge doesn’t exist either. It was just so much fun. The writing was amazing. That was my favorite part of the game. The story, the characters, the dialogue, it was all just so phenomenal. And I had to reach out now that the sequel is out just two or three weeks ago on May 27th. Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is now available for PC, Mac, and all the consoles. And I was eager to talk to today’s guest, Aenne Schumann, the game writer and narrative designer for Arcade Spirits. Hello, Aenne!
Aenne Schumann: Hello, Ken! Thank you so much for having me and thank you so much for all those kind words you said about Arcade Spirits. I really appreciate it.
Ken: Every single word is true. My friends Enfys and Helene and so many others, were talking about this game — and not just because your co-author, Stefan Gagne, has the same last name as me.
Aenne: How interesting is that?
Ken: Right? This isn’t nepotism. That isn’t why I love the game, but the two of you did such a great job together. And I want to talk to you not only about that game, but also about your diverse career and all the other things you do beside Arcade Spirit, but why don’t we start at the beginning?
Ken: How would you introduce yourself if somebody said, “So, Aenne, who are you? What do you do?”
Aenne: Yeah. So, my name is Aenne Schumann. My pronouns are they and she. I am a game writer, a narrative designer of Fiction Factory Games, which we made Arcade Spirits and Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers. I’m also one of four people that are part of First Bite Games and we released a game earlier this year called First Bite. When I’m not doing that, I’m actually a licensed veterinary technician and I used to be the manager of two hospitals.
Aenne: And then when I’m not doing that, I’m also a full time streamer and YouTuber with Stumpt Games, which I recently just started doing that a couple of months ago. And it’s been wild just having this very fluid life of being able to do my professional veterinary medicine and my content creation and game development and streaming. And I don’t know how to say no, basically, is what I’m saying.
Ken: There are several things there that you said you do full time. How many full times can one person fit into one day?
Aenne: A lot, I think, if you have ADHD like I do. Well, recently, because I switched over full time with Stumpt Gaming, I actually went down to part-time at the hospital. So, I took a step back from veterinary medicine. I’m still doing it part-time and then game development goes in waves. So, we just released The New Challengers. And yeah, there’s some work that still does that like reaching out and doing podcasts like this and talking to streamers and seeing if they want to stream the game and doing that content stuff and doing last minute fixes from watching streamers find typos or bugs like that, but I’m not in the middle of game dev right now. So, I don’t have a lot of game development work going on.
Ken: I want to ask if a joke you made was actually serious. Does ADHD enable you to do all these things?
Aenne: Yes and no. I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of exploration into ADHD. I recently got fully diagnosed with ADHD this year and part of last year. I don’t know. You know how time fluctuates within the pandemic.
Ken: Especially in a pandemic, yeah.
Aenne: Yup. And so, I’ve been exploring that and finding things about myself as to whether the ADHD has helped or hinder that or just how I process things, compared to what people that don’t have ADHD and how they process those things. So, I think it’s helped in a way, because I’m always having to focus on something, whether that is game development, whether that is animal nursing or content creation. It’s hard to just sit and relax sometimes for me.
Aenne: So, I always like to have a lot of things on my plate so that when I’m not getting bored or when I’m too stressed out from game development, then I can jump on over and do content creation and then I can still keep doing my veterinary medicine job, because those each give me a break in between those. So, I still feel refreshed, but I’m able to do all these multiple things, if that makes sense at all.
Ken: No, it does. And in fact, I read once a theory that ADHD is actually founded in evolution, where when we became an agricultural society where we had hunters and gatherers, then the hunters were the ones with the ADHD who were always paying attention to all the changes in their environment.
Aenne: Whoa, that’s really cool. I would love to learn more about that and read that. That sounds really cool to research.
Ken: Sure, I’ll see what I can find and I’ll put some links in the show notes at polygamer.net.
Ken: So, I interviewed a narrative designer on this podcast two years ago, Jordan Jones-Brewster of We Should Talk. For those who didn’t hear that episode, tell me you are both a writer and a narrative designer. What’s the difference between those two titles?
Aenne: So, I feel like this is going to be very depending on who you talk to, because I feel like game writer and narrative designer are very interchangeable within the games industry. Some people are just like, “I’m a game writer,” and that’s also called a narrative designer. So, I think some of it is just based on what title you prefer. In veterinary medicine, I am an animal nurse and I’m a licensed animal nurse. So, I call myself an LVT, which stands for licensed veterinary technician. But in other states, they’re called CVTs, certified veterinary technicians or you have RVTS, which are registered veterinary technicians, or I call myself a nurse because that’s my job and not a technician. So, I feel like that same goes for game writing and narrative design.
Aenne: There are also some differences within that as well. The game writer, I would be like, this is me writing a scene out with all the dialogue and the descriptions and everything like that. And then the design part of that is like, “How am I going to implement those questions that I’m asking the player in the game to make choices of?” So, here’s the part of the dialogue where it branches out into these different sections and how am I going to loop that back to the main scene that I’ve created? So, I feel like, like I said, they’re interchangeable and sometimes narrative design can also be how we’re going to set up the overall outline of the story and how that’s going to work within the software that we’re using.
Ken: And which software is that?
Aenne: We use Ren’Py. And for those of you that don’t know what Ren’Py is, it’s Python based and it’s specifically made for visual novels. So, it’s a software you can use and really easily implement things and make your own visual novels. It’s very accessible.
Ken: So, you don’t even need to be a programmer per se.
Aenne: You need to know a little bit of programming, but it’s very easy to read up on how to implement stuff. I have no programming background at all. The most of my programming background is back when GeoCities was a thing and you could change the font color or add a picture onto your website. And that’s about all you need to know to use Ren’Py. It’s like how to change the font, how to attach a certain dialogue piece to a character. And the programming and the software is so easy to use that it’s really simple.
Ken: So, if you want to write a text adventure, you use Twine. If you want to write a visual novel, you use Ren’Py.
Aenne: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve used Twine with my visual novels as well for outlining stuff too. So, Twine is another good resource for game making, especially narrative game making.
Ken: Fantastic. The creator of Twine, Chris Klimas, was on this podcast a few years ago. Amazing guy.
Aenne: You’ve interviewed so many cool people!
Ken: And you’re one of them!
Aenne: Aw, thank you.
Ken: So that’s how you resolve the conflict or the difference between game writer and narrative designer. What about between you and Stefan when you’re writing the game? Because you both share equal billing for writing the game. How do you collaborate on writing the story for a game? Who does what?
Aenne: Yeah. So, that’s a great question and it’s very interesting because I feel like every team does this slightly differently. Basically, Stefan came up with the original idea for Arcade Spirits. So, Stefan already knew how he wanted the overall story to go on. And both of us came together and we went over that story. And we pitched ideas back and forth of how we thought it was going to go or if there were instances of the story that he hadn’t fully worked out yet, we would talk about it or any issues that we might have had while we were going through the actual writing of the game. Well, this doesn’t quite work out now that we think about it because we’ve changed a couple of things.
Aenne: So, we would come together and talk about those things and brainstorm together of how we could resolve that. And then beyond that, we would also take on different characters. Obviously, Stefan and I both write the player character, who you get to choose, your name and your pronouns and stuff like that, but we both had a very similar voice and we were able to both mold both of our voices for that character.
Aenne: And then in Arcade Spirits, the first one I wrote specifically actually Teo and Queen Bee based on my own experiences in arcade culture. And then Stefan wrote Percy, Gavin, and Naomi. And then we split up the NPCs, so there were some characters that Stefan had a better idea of how he wanted that to go, so he took the charge of that. And then there were other characters that I added into my stories that I took charge of. So, in the end, it felt pretty equal between our parts of what we would put into the story and the characters.
Ken: That’s so interesting because whatever a particular NPC says or does ties back into the larger story. So, you might be writing Queen Bee and Teo for example, but that isn’t happening in a vacuum. It affects those things that Stefan is writing and vice versa as well.
Aenne: Yeah, true. And so, the other thing that we did is once we wrote a scene out or we had a chapter done, I would go over and read Stefan’s stuff, because obviously, all of our characters are interacting with each other. So, I would read over Stefan’s stuff and he would maybe write a line for Queen Bee and I would go back and I would fix it or not fix it, but be like, “This is what I envision Queen Bee’s voice since I’m the main person who’s writing Queen Bee.” So, I might edit it a little bit based on my personal experiences. And he would do the same for my chapters or my characters or the scenes that I was writing, just to make sure that we had that same voice for both of those characters.
Aenne: And that was really nice because there were scenes where I had to write Ben and Matt who are a wonderful gay couple that own the whole story in the first Arcade Spirits and then Good Clean Fun in Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers. I know those characters are very dear to Stefan’s heart because he created them. So, I always got nervous when I was like, “Okay, I have to do this scene with Ben and Matt and I want to make sure that I’m doing them justice.”
Aenne: And so, it was really nice to be like, “All right, Stefan, here is the work that I did for this scene for Ben and Matt. Please look it over and make sure that it sounds appropriate for the characters that you created.” And then he would go in and make the edits that needed to be or add some things. And so, it’s just nice to have a friend and a partner to be able to bounce those ideas off of and make sure that we have the same voice and the same flow throughout the entire game.
Ken: So, you say you want to have the same voice, but is there a distinction between each of your styles of writing? Could I look at a character and be able to figure out who wrote that person?
Aenne: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I feel like I think it depends on how well you know both of us, because then you can see… I know that my friends, when they’re reading my characters, they’re like, “Oh, I know Aenne wrote this character because this is very similar to who they are as a person or some of their humor is showing through.” From watching streamers and people play the game that I don’t know or that I have no relation to, they’re always surprised of like, “Oh, you wrote this character. I didn’t know that.” So, I think we do a good job of mimicking each other’s style, but each having our own style, if that makes sense, in a writing context.
Ken: Well, let me ask you this. In the first Arcade Spirits, I was really torn between romancing Naomi or Teo. Two excellent choices, I couldn’t go wrong.
Ken: And I got the sense that Teo might have been a bit more of a hot and steamy romance and Naomi was a bit more chased.
Ken: I think I was told later by a friend that Naomi was written by Stefan. Is that correct?
Aenne: That is correct. Yeah.
Ken: So, based on that experience in Arcade Spirits 2, let me know if this guess is correct, I’m going to say that Grace is somebody that Stefan wrote and you wrote Zapper.
Aenne: That is a good guess. I did not write Zapper. Actually, I’ll do the breakdown right now. So, I wrote Rhapsody and I wrote The Rival and I wrote Valkyrie.
Ken: Oh, interesting. Okay.
Aenne: Yeah, and Stefan wrote the other five. And that was because at the time, during the pandemic, I had a lot of stuff that I had to do mainly for the hospitals that I was running. So, I had a little bit less time to dedicate. So, Stefan took the other five characters. And so, I was able to focus on those four characters. Writing The Rival was actually because we have an antagonistic rival and we have a friendly rival, even though they’re very similar, it was essentially writing two different characters. So, The Rival was a lot of work and took up almost two character slots rather than one.
Ken: Sure, I can see that.
Aenne: Oh, I forgot to add, but I did help write some of the romance scenes for Zapper because Stefan was like, “I need Zapper to be a little more feisty and a little more spicier.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m on it. Let me go. I got this.” So, I helped write some of the romance aspects of Zapper.
Ken: Okay. Okay. So, that makes sense to me. Cool. Thank you. So, let’s take a step back a bit before we get back into more details about Arcade Spirits. You and Stefan met after a panel at PAX around… Was it 2013, 2014?
Aenne: I think it was 2013. Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve been to so many PAXs and they all blend together at this point.
Ken: So that was nine years ago. What was your experience like as a writer and game designer back then that Stefan said, “This is somebody I want to work with”?
Aenne: Yeah. So, at that point, I really hadn’t broken into game development. Basically, I always love to tell this. My story of how I started writing video games is first, I started writing fan fiction because fan fiction is great and I love it. And then a whole bunch of friends and I got together and were like, “We want to go to PAX for free.” And the way to do that, to get free tickets to PAX is to have a media website, which in reality, yes, it’s a cool thing to be like, “Yes, I’m going to get free tickets to PAX by getting a media badge,” but it also requires a lot of work because you have to build a website. You have to write reviews. You have to write editorials and you have to put all this work into it. And we did.
Aenne: And so, I did a lot of editorials. I did a lot of reviews for our website, Press 2 Reset. And through that, I met a whole bunch of cool people. And then because I love romance and games, I was asked to be on a panel with a couple of other people. Mylan, she had written a vampire game at the time, which was really cool. So, we got to talk about that. And so, I just started doing panels about romance in video games, because it was such a passionate topic of mine.
Aenne: And then after one of those panels, Stefan actually came up and met us and knew some of the other panelists at the time. And so, we became friends like you do at conventions. And we basically followed each other on Twitter and we would interact. And he would watch my stream sometimes and I would watch his stream sometimes. And then one day, I don’t even remember what game I was streaming, but Stefan was just in my chat. And he is like, “So I have an idea for a game and it’s about dating and arcades and arcade culture.” And I was like, “Twoflower? Sign me the fuck up. I am so there. That sounds like all of my favorite things.” And then we just started working on the game basically.
Ken: I love it. So, thanks to PAX and Twitter and Twitch, a union was formed. And how much did that require you going outside your comfort zone?
Aenne: I would say in learning to write in the programming, that was a huge step in learning how to just… Let me think. Let me think for a second. How to actually design a game was, I want to say, outside of my comfort zone, but it was something I didn’t have a lot of experience in. So, I was very excited to learn about that. Before, I had been working on another game, which I won’t say here, because it wasn’t a good time. So, I had some experience with actual dialogue writing for games at the time, but I hadn’t been in depth with the design, which is something I was craving. So, it was very exciting to me to be able to finally do this, but for comfort, I was thrilled. I was thrilled to be a part of it and get that experience.
Ken: Well, some people are most comfortable living their life at the edge because that’s when it’s exciting.
Ken: You said you’ve been craving that experience. So, was writing a game one of your dreams, one of your goals?
Aenne: Yeah. And I feel like it was a dream that I realized later in life and that reason is when I was back writing fan fiction, when I was 15 and a teenager, I loved playing games. JRPGs were my thing back in high school, like Final Fantasy VII. I always have to give a shout out to Final Fantasy VII, because that was the first game that I played that had a complete narrative story that I was completely sucked into. So, I was just like, “These games are amazing. I would love to make a game like this,” but I really didn’t have that cognizant moment where I was like, “I want to write games.”
Aenne: Even though I was writing fan fiction and I love playing games, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was like, “Oh, hey, I could do this. This is a real thing and a real dream that I could actually obtain.” And I just always think that’s quite interesting, because I was on a path for veterinary medicine, which I still am doing. But for college and school, that was my profession and I didn’t even think that game development could be a profession that I could be in until I started writing for Press 2 Reset and then I was meeting other game developers and other game writers. And I was like, “I love games. I want to make a game. So, let’s do this.”
Ken: Would you say that working with games full time… As we said, you do many things full-time but would you prefer to do that more and veterinary medicine less?
Aenne: No, I like them both equally. I think it goes in phases as well. And I was talking about ADHD earlier of how if I’m burnt out on one thing, I can switch my passion to another thing. I’ll give you a little behind the scenes in veterinary world. So, when the pandemic hit in veterinary medicine, a trifecta of things happened in veterinary medicine. You probably saw a whole bunch of posts of people adopting animals because people were spending a lot more time at home and they’re like, “I have enough time to bring on a new animal in my life.” So, adoptions went up, which is great. We love that.
Aenne: At the same time, because we were in a pandemic and people were getting sick and businesses had to close because of this, veterinary hospitals, there were a few in the area that I work, where they actually closed. So, in the hospitals that I worked in, there were three that closed in the very close vicinity. So, then we had to take on all the overflow of those hospitals, but at the same time, people had to leave veterinary medicine, because either they’re sick or pandemic wise, they just couldn’t continue working. So, we had a decrease in actual doctors and nurses and assistants in veterinary medicine, which has still created this bottleneck in veterinary medicine.
Aenne: So, the past two years in veterinary medicine have been exceedingly stressful for everybody in the profession. We’re all trying our best to do what we can, but there’s literally not enough hands. There’s not enough people in veterinary medicine to take care of all the animals right now. So, I became extremely burnt out in veterinary medicine, just trying to do my best and survive in an ever changing field and world with the pandemic of veterinary medicine. So, with that, going down to part-time now has been good, because then I can switch over to doing game development full-time and that’s been nice to do that as well. I’m sorry. Did that make sense?
Ken: No, it did. It sounds like there may even be a day in the future when hopefully the consequences of the pandemic are less than they are now and you may be doing more stuff in the veterinary world than you are now and it may oscillate between the two.
Aenne: Totally. Yeah, yeah, exactly that. I’ve always had those two passions and I don’t ever want to leave both fields. I love them both equally and I want to find the balance, whether it is working full-time in veterinary medicine and then game development part-time or vice versa, how I am now. I want to do both for the rest of my life and I will continue to do that because I love it.
Ken: And yet you didn’t write a game about animals.
Aenne: I feel like if I did, it would be boring honestly. I try so hard not to be that person that’s playing a game that has veterinary medicine in it and like, “That’s not how it actually works.” I feel like if I did that, it would be one, sad, two, boring, and there would be a whole bunch of medical jargon in there that people would be like, “I don’t understand what any of this is.” We’d get too technical with it.
Ken: It can be hard to separate the fiction from the reality when you are so immersed in the reality.
Aenne: Totally, exactly.
Ken: So, you decided to instead help write a game about romance in arcades. It came out two or three years ago and achieved what I considered quite a bit of success. Not every visual novel gets picked up by a distributor, gets a physical release, distributed on Mac, PC, and all the consoles, and certainly a cult following, at least among the people I speak to. So, in your terms, I know it’s a little hard to be not biased about this, but why do you think Arcade Spirits achieved that level of success?
Aenne: With being a little bit biased, I think we worked really hard at it, like really hard. And I love visual novels and Stefan loves visual novels. We were very familiar with visual novels themselves. And I think that really also helped because we knew what the visual novel community is looking for and what we wanted in visual novels. And I feel like visual novels are still a genre of games that not a lot of people know a lot about.
Aenne: And so, what we wanted to do is create a game that would bring visual novels more to the forefront of people that hadn’t played it before. So, we were also hoping to get the retro crowd on board too or people that really liked arcades and speak to gaming culture just in general, which obviously, we’re all gamers. So, we all understand that aspect as well. And it is very interesting because when we first started Arcade Spirits, we were like, “We’re going to do this for fun. And if it’s successful, that’s great.” I didn’t even know about what success looked like in the indie game world until basically, we were done with Arcade Spirits and it was successful. I didn’t realize what success meant.
Aenne: Having a game that broke even in terms of what you’ve spent and having a profit and stuff like that and that’s the business aspect to it. Seeing people be fans of a game is still this weird foreign concept that I don’t fully grasp on a certain level because I’m like, “Yeah, well, we made a fun game and I’m glad that people like it. And that’s really cool and people wrote fan fiction. So, to me, that’s the success, right?” If a person is writing fan fiction about your games, that’s a great success for me. And yeah, I think we put a lot in hard work of doing the research in terms of what we wanted to see from visual novels and what we already knew from visual novels. And I think that helped.
Ken: And who would you say your audience was? Because you said, you know what people who play visual novels want, but then there’s people like me who I think this is one of maybe three visual novels I’ve played. So, you pulled me out of my usual track and got me to play this game and I love it.
Aenne: Aww. Yeah. And I think I touched a little bit about that, how we wanted to make a game that would bring visual novels to the forefront or at least have people that haven’t played visual novels play it. I think, also, our experience like BioWare games were a huge influence, because those are games that narratively you make choices. And so, that was also part of the people that we were hoping to reach is people that like narrative games and like to make their own story along with that. And so, that was really helpful looking at those games, being able to translate the BioWare experience into a visual novel format. So, in terms of Mass Effect, take away the shooting part of it and focus on the actual story and the decisions and how that changes throughout the game.
Ken: I love it. And so, that game came out several years ago and you almost immediately announced the sequel, which at the time of this recording, came out less than two weeks ago. What were your goals with the sequel other than to tell a different story?
Aenne: Yeah, I think our goals were also to push people’s boundaries in terms of how we talk about negative experiences within gaming culture. The first Arcade Spirits game is very much like a love letter to arcade culture and a love letter to gaming communities. And I won’t say we didn’t play it safe in terms of the things that we talked about, but we wanted to focus more on the happy feelings of games. And this one, we had enough success from the first one that we could really push what we wanted to talk about and explore in narrative games and explore within gaming culture. And some of those things included negative things of racism and ableism within gaming culture itself.
Aenne: And so, those were topics that we wanted to explore and teach people about and what people go through within gaming communities, in especially the fighting game communities and competitive gaming especially. And so, that’s what we wanted to focus more on. And I got to write a little more spicy romance than what was in the first one as well, which I was looking forward to.
Ken: However, I do appreciate that romance isn’t a required feature of the game. You can opt out of it entirely.
Aenne: Totally. And for me, I’m, non-binary. My pronouns are they and she. I’m also pansexual and Stefan is part of the LGBT community as well. So, it was important to be able to have aspects for queer gamers to see themselves represented in games as well, which we’re still working to strive within the community of gaming. And so, it was very important to have a romance game that had an option for ace and arrow people or people that just wanted to enjoy the story if they didn’t feel connected to any of the people that we created.
Ken: Yeah, and it’s just accepted as part of the game’s narrative. It’s not made a big deal very often. Certainly, when the main character meets Jinx, there’s an exchange there, but also, Rhapsody. I was playing the game for hours before I realized that they were non-binary.
Aenne: Yeah. I’m going to talk a little bit spoilers for Arcade Spirits I. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip ahead about a minute. So, Ashley in Arcade Spirits I, she was one of the characters that I wrote, her story is about figuring out who she is gender wise or who they are gender wise. And she goes through development of what that means and how she never felt like she was 100% a woman and how that defines her. And so, that’s her story as you play through Arcade Spirits and you figure out, if you like romance, Ashley, you get to the end and they’re very comfortable being a non-binary person. So, because I explored that in the first one, I definitely wanted to have an actual nonbinary person just be as one of the romance characters in the second one.
Ken: I totally missed that thread in the original Arcade Spirits. At the end of the game, as you know, the two characters that you interacted with the least, they just wander off and do their own thing.
Ken: And for me, that was Ashley and Queen Bee. So, I never knew that about Ashley.
Aenne: Well, now, you do.
Ken: Yay. Well, thank you for the spoiler.
Aenne: Of course.
Ken: Now, I don’t need to go back and replay it. I can just play the sequel.
Ken: From a technical perspective, a lot of sequels have better graphics, more levels. In this sequel, you were able to add the Fist of Discomfort 2 minigame. How does that tie into the narrative and all the different branches you had to take into account?
Aenne: Essentially because the first Arcade Spirits was more about working in arcade, we really wanted to capture competitive gaming and eSports for the second one. And so, it naturally makes sense that the Fist of Discomfort game that we had from the first one where Queen Bee was this pro eSports player would be the game that your character gets to play a part in the second game because it’s an eSports game. So, then we created a minigame that we could put into a visual novel and not have it be like a very game play, intense, game. So, it’s basically like rock, paper, scissors, but we were able to put that and make it work with the narrative because you’re building a competitive team to go be pros and to essentially win Evo.
Ken: I found it really interesting that the game lets you choose not only whether or not you want to play the game, but whether or not you want to win the game, because I am inclined to just choose every single time, “Oh, yeah, we win. We’re awesome. We never have to deal with defeat and loss in our lives. This is perfect.” And yet I assume that there may be, I haven’t finished the game yet, narrative advantages to losing at times.
Aenne: Definitely. And this was one of the narrative choices that Stefan and I toyed with and brainstormed with very early on when we were starting development for The New Challengers. And originally, I think we had talked about having players just play the game and if they lose, they’d have to go and replay it. And for me, I love visual novels and I feel like adding a minigame can be a hit or a missed, depending on who’s playing the game or what story you’re telling.
Aenne: So, I was like, “Well, I don’t want people to have to go back and replay it because that’s going to break the narrative and they’re also going to feel bad about it.” And I was like, “Well, what if we have a different story or something different happens if they lose? And that way, there’s no punishment if you don’t win the minigame, right? You still get to experience the story in just a different aspect of the story.” And so, we toyed around with that idea. And then on top of that, we also talked about, once again, some people don’t like minigames in their visual novels, but some people really enjoy it because it breaks up the monotony of what visual novels are, which is a lot of reading and a lot of just making choices. So, it’s more engaging to some people.
Aenne: And I was like, “Well, how do we essentially provide options for both of those players?” Because I don’t want minigames in my visual novels most of the time. And Stefan was like, “Well, I want minigames in my visual novels.” So, we’re like, “Well, let’s just have both. The player can choose if they want to play the minigame or not and then they can choose whether they want to win or lose.” And so that was a really fun part of development is having all of those options and having the player be able to have the experience that they want within a minigame within eSports competition.
Ken: That sounds like a wonderful compromise. Whereas Stefan wanted one thing, you wanted the other, and you both got your way.
Aenne: Yeah, totally.
Ken: Are there other mechanical or technical changes to the sequel that affected the story?
Aenne: I don’t think so. Oh, you know what, I’m lying. I totally forgot about the other thing that we had a lot of fun making, which was the character creator. Actually, how we designed how Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers looks when you’re playing the game is based off of having a more expanded character creator. If you’ve played the first one, you don’t really see your player character on screen a lot. And we wanted to have that happen for the second one. We wanted there to be a better connection between you and your avatar or the person that you’ve created within the game. We wanted that connection to be stronger.
Aenne: And one way to do that is to have that player be on screen a lot of the time and having them emote and having them have reactions as do all the rest of the characters because all the other characters can be happy. They can be sad, they can be angry, they can be crying, they can be laughing. And we wanted that same diversity of emotions and feelings to be felt by the player and the player character that they create. So, we switched everything up. There’s not a lot of like CGs where you see your character that you create, but they’re onscreen so much more and you get to have that. And that directly went into the character creator and why we wanted to have a lot more options for the character creator and how just everything was set up UI-wise.
Ken: It’s so interesting. You mentioned the opportunity for the main character to emote more, because when I was in the character creator, they had a neutral look on their face and I thought to myself, “Is this what I’m going to be looking at for the next several hours?” It didn’t seem very appealing to me, but I chose the character and then they went into the game and they got angry, they got smiling, they were confused. And I was like, “Oh, okay. They’re a real person. That’s great.”
Aenne: Yeah. I think at the end, I think Stefan was saying that there’s 400 different pieces of art that go into the player character. So, there’s different body types. You can have different hats. You can have slightly different clothes. There’s a whole bunch of different colors you can choose from. So, there are 400 separate art pieces that all come together to make the player character have that emotion and be able to be on screen all that time, which is, I think, amazing. I’m impressed with Stefan’s programming and making that all work together and function.
Ken: And one thing that impressed me, I don’t think this was in the original Arcade Spirits, was the option between chapters of the sequel to change any of your metadata.
Aenne: Yeah, that is correct. That was another thing that Stefan and I definitely wanted to be able to do, because like in life, it’s so cool to be able to change your hairstyle on a whim or show progress if you have goals of getting gains that like, “Hey look, I got buff between chapters three and four,” or people change their pronouns all the time because they’re exploring that side of their life. And maybe she/her worked for the player character for the first part of chapters one and two and then that player character has actually decided, “Well, nope, I go by it/its now.” So, we wanted to have that flexibility, especially because that’s what we are as humans. We constantly change as well. And so, we wanted that to be reflected in the player character.
Ken: I remember playing the first game. I was constantly thinking to myself throughout the game, “Dang, I chose the wrong gender.” There was no opportunity to change that.
Aenne: Yeah. Yeah. Those were things that while we were creating the first one, it was our first game too. Not that we didn’t want to take risks. There were just certain things we didn’t know how to do. And by learning, by making the first game, we were able to implement those things in the second game, which was really, really awesome that we could do that.
Ken: So, the protagonist can look like anyone. And with all the different characteristics and lines of dialogue, they can behave and have almost any personality. Are there any general descriptors that you can use to describe the character? If somebody asks you, “Who’s the main character of this game? What are they like?”, other than saying the manager of an eSports team, what can you say?
Aenne: I can say that the player character has strong feelings about wanting to win and is exploring those feelings throughout the game, essentially, and what does winning mean.
Ken: And how would you describe the protagonist of the first game?
Aenne: I would describe the protagonist of the first game as being someone who is looking for a change in life and has had a very steady life, but not necessarily obtained all the happiness that they want with that life. So, they are looking for a change and a dream to fulfill.
Ken: Because as I’m playing the second game, I find myself making the same category of responses that I would’ve been the first one.
Ken: Is it?
Aenne: It is. So, for me, when I played through the first one, we call it the kindly meta, because in general, most people are going to choose kind responses because no one wants to be an asshole frankly or they don’t want to test the waters of how people are going to react to garishness or different types of reactions or different types of dialogue. For me, when I was playing through Arcade Spirits the first one and going through that story, I found that my responses were more friendly or kindly and then quirky because that’s who I am as a person.
Aenne: But through playing The New Challengers because it’s based on eSports and because I have experienced playing competitive games in the past, I was more drawn towards choosing the gutsy responses and the logical responses, because that’s how I respond and that’s how who I am within competitive gaming. So, I’m very curious about that from a game design point of, “What did people do? And did their choices change from what they chose from Arcade Spirits to Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers based off the storyline?” So that’s very interesting to me because my response has totally changed.
Ken: Interesting. Maybe it’s because I don’t have eSports experience. I don’t know, but I also like in the sequel that you can obscure what category each response falls into.
Aenne: Yeah. Yeah, totally. And that was something that we did in the first game as well, because let’s take BioWare for example, like Renegade or Paragon, right? You know what’s going to happen. You’re like, “If I make the Renegade choice, I know I’m going to be potentially a jerk and someone might die.” And then with the Paragon, you’re like, “Okay, so this is going to be the really hopeful uplifting speech we’re going to say here.”
Aenne: And I feel like that you have a conscious response to that and you also have a subconscious response of knowing how that’s going to go, how you’re going to choose, right? So, if you take that away, it puts less pressure on, “Oh, am I going to say something that’s kind or am I going to say something that’s funny or am I going to say something that’s rude or snarky?” And then they just go with what they would say is the goal of that, right, for people to respond how they would feel not metagaming it.
Ken: Yeah, because I can’t consciously choose… I’m sorry. What’s the name of the emotion with the scales, judgmental?
Aenne: Oh, logically.
Ken: Logically, right, same thing.
Aenne: We call it steady, but it’s like the logical-
Aenne: … response. Yeah.
Ken: Yeah. I find myself choosing the logical response more often than not. Sometimes I get the little smiley face emoji, but it tends to vacillate between those two with the preponderance of the logical choices. So, I guess I’ve always found in games that I have a hard time role playing, which when I put it that way sounds terrible, but I make the choice that I would make. And if I go back and I replay Firewatch or The Walking Dead and I’m given a different option on, one hand, I want to see the full breath of the game and do something different. But on the other hand, I just can’t bring myself to, for example, be a jerk knowingly.
Aenne: No, totally. I am the same way. I will play a BioWare game and I will romance the same character over and over again, even though I’m like, “Oh, but I really want to see this other romance or how this story plays out the other way.” I’m 100% going to make the same choice every time.
Ken: Unless it’s about eSports, in which case, your snarky side comes out.
Aenne: Exactly. Exactly.
Ken: We talked about the different ways that the protagonist manifests themselves visually and personally. I find when playing this game more so than the original but a little bit in both that the antagonist that I’m encountering, I’m not talking about The Rival, but more so the team that The Rival belongs to, they are the kinds of people that I block on Twitter, especially when you’re talking about the different kinds of isms that are a little bit more contentious, especially in the eSports world. Are these encounters with these antagonists based on actual people or experiences?
Aenne: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think there’s specific examples that Stefan and I channeled like this is based off of seeing that happen to me, but definitely based off real experiences, because it happens. Me being a femme presenting person in gaming and someone that has a very femme voice, I still refuse to go into voice chat if I’m playing Overwatch. I will never go into voice chat. No, thank you, because of all the amount of sexist, shitty things that people say. Even if the team has been super friendly, that’s a boundary I’m not going to cross because it’s happened to me so much in the past of these sexist comments that you get just being in competitive gaming.
Aenne: So, yeah, those things happen all the time. And like I said, we wanted to show those experiences and people that maybe have the privilege that they don’t have to have those experiences or haven’t been a part of those, let them know that does still happen and it’s very real. And those are things that we need to bring attention to, so that we can counter it and call it out when it happens in real life and around each other.
Ken: And is it a coincidence that the antagonists seem to be less diverse than the main cast?
Aenne: Yeah, a little bit. I feel like in making the characters, I think we wanted to show a variety. And even within the antagonist themselves, like Divine is Latinx and Coda is of, I think, Pacific Asian heritage as well. So, we wanted to show that diversity. You can have bad people from everywhere, but we also didn’t want to fall into specific tropes of making certain types of people bad guys, right? We wanted to have diversity but also avoid those stereotypes in media.
Ken: Got it. As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t finished the game yet. I’ve only had one encounter with that team so far. So, there may be aspects of them I have not yet realized.
Ken: I have a question about the world in which these two games take place. Well, first of all, I want to say, I bought the first game on itch.io. I bought the second game on Steam and I was concerned that it wouldn’t recognize or be able to locate my saved data to import. And I’m so glad it did. So, thank you for that.
Aenne: Of course. I’ll pass those onto Stefan because he did all the programming to make that happen and I’m super impressed with it.
Ken: Yeah. I mean, other than of course BioWare games and the like, it doesn’t feel like a lot of games do that nowadays. I remember back in the 1980s, on Apple II RPGs and you’re playing games like Wizardry and Ultima and Bard’s Tale and it would carry your data over. And I feel like I don’t see that very much. So, when I heard that the Arcade Spirits games are going to do that, I was like, “Ugh, that is so old school,” which is exactly what Arcade Spirits is about. So, thank you.
Aenne: Oh, of course. You’re so welcome.
Ken: One thing though is Arcade Spirits is set in a fictional future. It diverges around 1983 with the video game crash that we experienced in our lifetime. Now, there are still some similarities. Despite this very important divergence in the timeline, games like Smash Brothers still exist for example, but I have to imagine that other technologies may have evolved differently in this world of Arcade Spirits. I understand you’re a big FMV fan, especially Phantasmagoria.
Aenne: Yes, so much!
Ken: So, what is the state of FMV in the world of Arcade Spirits?
Aenne: Oh, my gosh! They flourish! It’s canon! The FMVs are amazing. Oh, gosh, what was that? Oh, hold on. Now I have to look it up. What was that arcade game with the shooting? Mad Dog McCree! There was nine Mad Dog McCrees — never stopped.
Ken: Oh, wow — that is quite the franchise!
Aenne: Yeah, FMV arcade games are great. And they are a popular part of the world of Arcade Spirits.
Ken: Full motion video games, like Night Trap and Sewer Shark, these are the kinds of games that Zapper is playing when she goes home at night.
Aenne: I would say, yeah. I mean, who isn’t?
Aenne: Everybody is playing FMVs!
Ken: And Arcade Spirits III is finally going to show us. Instead of just drawing these characters, you’re going to record them. You’re going to film them and put them in the game.
Aenne: I wish. Now, I have ideas to do it. We’ve actually talked about for right now, game three that we’re working on is not going to be Arcade Spirits related. We want to take a break from Arcade Spirits. We’re not saying that maybe sometime in the future, we might not like come back to it, but we’ve told basically a lot of the stories that we wanted to tell within arcade culture for this particular moment of our lives. Stefan is definitely working on it’s the prequel.
Aenne: So, it’s like the novel of what actually happened before Arcade Spirits. So, there’s some more lore coming for Arcade Spirits fans, but for future games, I know that we want to try out new genres and new characters and tell new stories. Because like I said, we’ve told almost all the stories that we wanted to tell within arcade culture within the two games.
Ken: Awesome. And that will be the next game from Fiction Factory Games?
Ken: Awesome. So, speaking of leaving some of Arcade Spirits behind us, I want to talk about other things that you have done besides Arcade Spirits. We’ve talked about some of it, like some of the games you’ve worked on and your veterinary tech. You also mentioned the Press 2 Reset website and you also did a podcast for them, Reset Transmission, right?
Aenne: I did. We did that every week for a long time and then I was also on another podcast with another media website called Bitch Team Alpha. So, I’ve done plenty of podcasts in my time.
Ken: And the website, Press 2 Reset, that website is still up. Is it still the entity that you built?
Aenne: I think it is. I feel like obviously, I don’t submit any more material to there, but occasionally, I’ll go back and I still talk to my friends who run it. So, yeah, it’s still doing its thing and still having some articles and some podcasts going. So, it’s really amazing that it’s been kept up for so long.
Ken: The website has evolved over the years. It looks like the podcast Reset Transmission may no longer be hosted there. And one of the things I’m really passionate about is digital history and archiving. So, for example, every episode of Polygamer also gets uploaded to the Internet Archive at archive.org.
Aenne: Oh, cool.
Ken: So that if my website goes down or if I win the lottery and walk off, then there’s a copy of it somewhere. So, you did over or at least 200 episodes of Reset Transmission. And I was wondering, if I want to go back and hear early prehistoric Aenne, where do I find that?
Aenne: Well, as soon as I find out where the Press 2 Reset episodes went, I will tell you.
Ken: Okay, do you have your own archive in your external hard drive?
Aenne: I don’t. No, not of those times. That was so long ago that I’m like, if I went back and listened to it, I’ll be like, “Oh, my God, I’m so embarrassed. Why did I say that?”
Ken: Oh, I never listened to my old podcast. I just leave them up.
Aenne: This is not quite as far back. This is more recent than the podcast, but I started our first Twitch channel for Press 2 Reset as well. And I do believe that’s still up and I have a lot of me playing games on that Twitch channel. Now, I’m actively on.
Ken: It says recent highlights and uploads are from three years ago.
Aenne: Yeah, but I also saved all those videos. So, if we go into probably highlights, you can scroll all the way back.
Ken: Oh, yeah. I’m seeing videos from nine years ago.
Aenne: That’s me. If you see any Organ Trail, that’s definitely me. Yeah.
Ken: Oh, yeah, Organ Trail. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Aenne: Oh, there’s Phantasmagoria.
Ken: There you go. Organ Trail for those who are wondering, it’s spelled O-R-G-A-N. It is a zombie-themed take on Oregon Trail. I had the creator on my other podcast, IndieSider, years ago when they were developing their next game. Orgon Trail was quite the experience as somebody who grew up on the Apple II playing the original.
Aenne: Yeah. Yeah, same. I’m like a huge fan of the OG Oregon Trail, because I grew up with that and I lived in Oregon City when I was a kid. So, it’s the end of the Oregon Trail. So, I was all about bonnets. And then when the zombie one came out, I’m also obsessed with just the zombie genre because it’s really fascinating and fun to me. And yeah, I just have a good time with zombies. So, when that game came out, I was all about that Organ Trail as well with the zombies. So, it was fun. It gave me enough nostalgia, but enough humor and cadence to it that I had a really good time with it.
Ken: So, where you grew up, was the original game just called Trail?
Aenne: Nope, it was still Oregon Trail.
Ken: Okay. So, thank you.
Aenne: It’s the trail that’s here, just down the street.
Ken: Right. I think I saw the museum that is for the Oregon Trail in Southern Portland area. It was closed the day I was there. It was raining. It was also the pandemic.
Aenne: Yeah. Did you see the giant Conestoga wagons?
Ken: If they were outside, then I sure did.
Aenne: Yup. Yeah, that is one of my favorite museums.
Ken: I need to go back when they’re open.
Aenne: Yeah, it’s very interesting. You get to learn all about how the pioneers burnt dried cow poop for fires and what they did to survive and all the bad decisions that they made along the way.
Aenne: Sorry, I’ve been through that museum a lot of times.
Ken: So, let me ask you, you did 200 episodes at least of Reset Transmission. Regardless of where they are now, how did you decide when it was time for you to stop participating in that? What was the precipitating factor, if any?
Aenne: Let’s see if I can remember my timeline correctly. I think it was just that I had started working officially on game development and that was taking more precedent and I just had an honest conversation. As we did this and as we were getting older and our lives were going in different directions, two of us who did the podcast had gotten jobs or were working in the video game industry. So, our time to devote to weekly podcasts, just slowly, it was harder and harder to do.
Aenne: And so, with both projects like that, if anyone’s played a D&D campaign with five adults, they know exactly what I’m talking about. It just became harder and harder to schedule those things and commit time. And we all were like, “You know what? We did a lot of good things together and it’s okay if something has to end. We’re all doing amazing things and this was part of our journey to get to where we are now. And we can look back at these memories fondly and be okay that we’re still not doing it, because sometimes you have to stop projects to work on new things.”
Ken: That’s right. Very often people view the order of events as a beginning, middle, and end, but the reality is there’s an end, there’s a transition, and then there’s a beginning. Because you can’t have a beginning unless something else ends first.
Ken: Well, I hope you enjoyed your time on Reset Transmission. It sounds like you had a very productive experience and you were simultaneously streaming on Twitch. So, it’s not like you did audio podcasting first and then you made the leap in front of the camera. It sounds like you were doing both simultaneously.
Aenne: Well, Twitch wasn’t even around when we started Reset Transmission. So, I remember back then, I think, it was just in TV if anyone remembers that. And then I remember when Twitch was like, “Hey, we’re a new streaming service specifically for video games.” And that’s when I actually signed up with Press 2 Reset to have our own streaming channel. So, podcasts did get me into streaming video games on Twitch.
Ken: Oh, that’s very cool. And now you do streaming for a lot of other groups of Rainbow Arcade and you mentioned Stumpt earlier. How did you get connected with those groups?
Aenne: Yeah, so Rainbow Arcade is a Twitch community that focuses on LGBTQIA individuals that helps uplift other members in the community and really is a beacon of how we can do a lot of charity work for marginalized people within Twitch and within the gaming community. And that was just a simple application that I put in and it got reviewed and I got asked to join the team. And then so for Stumpt Gaming, they have a YouTube channel and a Twitch channel and they play multiplayer games cooperatively. And I met the members of Stumpt, because they are local here to the Portland, Oregon area.
Aenne: And I met them through a mutual friend when I was basically doing the podcast for Bitch Team Alpha. I met Price of Stumpt Gaming when we were all hanging out together. And then because we all live in the same area, we met at a con that happened here in Portland called BetaCon. It was the first gaming convention in Portland, Oregon. It had one year and that was it. It never happened again, but I was able to hang out with the other members of Stumpt Gaming for a little bit longer than just the casual like, “Oh, Hey, we’re having a 10-minute conversation at PAX because we all know each other.”
Aenne: And so, I got to hang out with Ash and Jazz of Stumpt Gaming there a lot. And then I discovered that they actually lived three blocks away from me, so we started hanging out. And Ash and Jazz are some of the closest friends I’ve ever had and they’re fantastic people. And I also met Rick along with that, who is the fourth member of Stumpt Gaming. And so, I just became friends with them because they’re amazing people and we hung out and we all played games together. And eventually, I did like some guest spots on their channel when they needed a fifth person or if somebody was sick or on vacation. I would come and play games with them and help them record.
Aenne: Like for their big charity event that they do every Christmas, it’s called the 12 Days of STUMPTMAS, I would help with that and just be around and be available to help with whatever they needed help with.
Aenne: And then recently, Rick, he just had his second daughter. And so, with family stuff, he was like, “Hey, I need to take a step back from doing on person gaming with everybody.” So, he decided to be more behind the scenes and do more of the editing and be less upfront camera person so that he could spend more time with his family, which totally makes sense. And since that was happening, they invited me to be the official fifth member of Stumpt Gaming. And I said, “Of course, I would love to do that.” And so that’s now where I do my other full-time job of playing video games with my friends and recording content and turning that into fun YouTube videos.
Ken: Because if there’s something you enjoy, you can also monetize it to the point that you no longer enjoy it.
Ken: Now, you said that this group has both a YouTube channel and a Twitch stream. How do you decide which content goes on which outlet?
Aenne: Everything that we stream gets turned into YouTube content, just because you can take that information that we’ve recorded and then edit it and then put it on YouTube. And it’s very interesting the differences in terms of YouTube and Twitch and community growing, especially because I’ve had experience with growing a community because I’ve done streaming for so long and in building a community through game development for our games. It’s just been interesting to see how it’s different in building a community on YouTube versus building a community on Twitch.
Aenne: Whereas Twitch, you’re actively building a community, because you’re streaming and you’re having active conversations. Whereas YouTube, you’re like, “Well, I hope the algorithm picks it up and a whole bunch of people see it and then they decide to stick around and hopefully leave nice comments instead of horrible comments on our contents.”
Ken: And as you and I were talking off air, YouTube, you really need to focus on a particular content. You can’t do a bait and switch, whether it’s intentional or not.
Aenne: Totally. And in that regard too, a lot of the stuff that we stream is obviously multiplayer stuff and all the multiplayer stuff goes up on the main Stumpt channel, but then each of us have our own individual YouTube channel on top of that. So, we all have different days where we’ll have a solo stream because we all have lives and we can’t all just play video games all the time together for five days in a row.
Aenne: So, right now, my day to stream on the channel is Thursday. So, I’ll play what I want to play on Thursdays. And then I can take that and put it up on my personal YouTube channel, which hopefully, my YouTube people that follow me like the content that I’ve made. And so, I can curate that on my YouTube channel for that content based off what I’ve been playing on my Twitch streams, on my solo Twitch streams.
Ken: So, if there is somebody who wants to be sure to not miss any content made by anybody on the Stumpt’s team, they basically need to subscribe to six YouTube channels?
Ken: In a way, that’s brilliant, because it allows them to cherry pick exactly what content they want.
Aenne: Yeah. And within the core group of us, we all play different games too. And for me, I love horror games. So, I always play horror games on my days or I love competitive games. Hence, Arcade Spirits: New Challengers. So, I’ll play competitive games or I’ll play narrative games, because I love those games as well. And then Rick who still has one streaming day, he plays a lot of simulation games as his things. So, there’s like Sim games and Price plays a lot of Sim games. And so, you have a variety of each of the games that we all like within the channels themselves.
Ken: What are some of your favorite narrative games that you’ve streamed?
Aenne: Oh, geez. Recently, Elden Ring. I am obsessed with Elden Ring. Oh, my God. I’ve played almost 200 hours and I’m still not stopping anytime soon.
Ken: It’s funny. When I think of narrative games, I think of Life Is Strange or Firewatch.
Aenne: Yeah, which I also stream those. But the thing about Elden Ring that has captivated me so much as a narrative game is with any Souls game that has come out, there’s always this deep lore. It’s like a puzzle game. It’s almost like a horror game, because in horror games, you’re given here’s the story, right? Here’s the story. If you just go from point A to point B, you know the story, but then if you start exploring around the environment, you find a newspaper article that gives you plot and lore as to the main character or the main villain in a horror game or something that happened 10 years ago that’s now relevant or related to the current plot that’s going on.
Aenne: And so, in that regard, horror games really try to reward players for exploration and finding out the entire narrative. And that’s what Elden Ring has done, but on a much more accessible level than the other Dark Souls games. So, for me, I have a lore journal that I have that I’m writing notes in constantly whenever I’m playing Elden Ring. So, I’m trying to find the puzzle of the narrative game itself while I’m playing and it’s been fun. It’s been great, because they give you little tidbits and you’re like, “Okay, well, how does this ring relate to the demigod that I just defeated that relates to what these characters are experiencing?” So, it’s a narrative puzzle game.
Ken: It’s impressive that they’re able to accomplish so much successful narrative and storytelling and world building in an open world game, because games like Firewatch, Life Is Strange, a lot of visual novels, they’re very linear. You don’t have a lot of side branches you can go off and explore.
Aenne: Yeah, it’s really impressive. And it’s why I think I’m 200 hours in and still obsessed with the game. In terms of other narrative games, I tend to stream and love playing just other visual novels made by queer developers that are telling queer stories and have romance in them. Those are my feel good, go-to games.
Ken: Do you stream Arcade Spirits?
Aenne: I have streamed some Arcade Spirits, but it always gets weird. I don’t know what it is about streaming your own game. You’re like, “I already know what’s going to happen.” I feel like I’m not entertaining enough when I’m streaming my own game because I’m like, “Well, there’s no speculation.” The reactions for me aren’t pure because I already know everything involved, but I have done it and done like a developer breakdown of, “Oh, we’re playing this scene and these are the things and the elements that went into creating this particular part of the game.”
Ken: Yeah. If you’re not doing a director’s commentary, if you’re just playing the game, then it feels more like an extended demo.
Aenne: Yeah. And I’ve also gone on other people’s streams and played along with them, which is more fun because then I can, once again, add fun tidbits of like, “Oh, yeah, this scene is based off this interaction that I had as a child or something like that.”
Ken: Oh, neat. It sounds like there really is a lot of your own personal story invested in these games.
Aenne: Yeah. I tried to do that, especially in the first one and somewhat within the second one as well.
Ken: And is there a cheat sheet or FAQ that will tell me these moments in the game, you can tie these back to Aenne’s story?
Aenne: Nope, I have not done that. I mean, if you want Ken, I will write you one specifically for you, but I was like, no one needs to know. No one’s going to go be that person and be like, “I want to know everything that Aenne has done that’s related in this game.” I don’t think people have that much time to do that.
Ken: Well, if nobody’s going to do it, then I’m certainly not.
Ken: You’re busy enough.
Aenne: Fair, fair, fair.
Ken: You don’t need to be writing a personalized guide for Ken. I appreciate the offer though. It’s very generous of you.
Aenne: Of course, of course.
Ken: I mean, you have copious spare time with your multiple full-time jobs. It’s easy to see how your work on games like Arcade Spirits and how you’re streaming on Stumpt interact and how they overlap, but what about your work as a veterinary technician? I know you mentioned that you like being able to pivot your passion from one place to the other when you get bored or distracted, but are there skills or passions from veterinary technician that help you be a better game designer or streamer or even vice versa? Does being a streamer make you a better veterinary tech?
Aenne: I think it’s about people interaction and people skills at the end of the day that bond those two experiences together. Veterinary medicine is viewed as like, “Oh yeah, people get into veterinary medicine because they love animals and they love animals more than people.” And a lot of that is true, but at the same time, what people don’t understand is veterinary medicine is also a lot of education and talking to clients about their pets and being able to interact with those clients and being able to go over certain elements with clients and like I said, teaching them or explaining things to them so that they understand.
Aenne: And being able to be in the veterinary field for over 15 years, you get really good at talking to people and you get really good at explaining people and sharing that passion of their pets and being like, “Oh, yes, Fluffy is a great animal and we’re going to take care of Fluffy. And this is what we need to do to give Fluffy the best care.” And that translates into streaming and into game development, because you have to know how to talk to people. You have to know how to talk to people in multiple professions, but in streaming, you have an audience. So, you have to be one, entertaining, two, educational enough that you can teach people about the game and just be able to hold a conversation.
Aenne: And then in game development, especially in narrative games, you have to know how people talk to each other and how they interact and how a whole plethora of people talk to each other. Because in veterinary medicine, there are several different types of people and personalities that you’ll meet and how you have to adjust how you talk to those people. What you say to some person about their pet and trying to be like, “This is why we recommend blood work,” might not go over for the next client that you see.
Aenne: So, you might have to judge how these conversation has gone ahead of time and be like, “Oh, so this is how I will present this information to this person based on the exchanges that we’ve already had about their pet.” So those instances in veterinary medicine have prepared me and helped me been able to have real life conversations in game development and streaming and write about those and have those experiences and share that.
Ken: But reading your audience isn’t always something you can do when you’re podcasting or streaming. That’s very much a one-way medium.
Aenne: It is. I think in streaming, it’s lucky that you have a chat, right? And it’s a community base. So, it also takes a lot of time to get to that point where you’re like, “This is the community that I’ve created and that I’ve crafted. So, that I know that these people that are part of this community are going to enjoy the medium and the content that I am sharing and that I’m producing.”
Ken: So, do you prefer animals to people?
Aenne: No, I like them both. I love it. Listen, I’m an extrovert. So, I love talking to people and I love having friends, but I also love my animal companions and I want to be able to give every animal the best life and the best care that they can.
Ken: I am also an extrovert. And I imagine just like you, the pandemic has been very challenging.
Aenne: Oh, yeah.
Ken: But to paraphrase one of my favorite tweets, I can tell you, I have said I love you to two women in my life and to every dog I’ve ever met.
Aenne: Yup, that sounds about right. I love it.
Ken: So, we have talked about so much today. Was there anything else that we didn’t cover that you’re just bursting at the seams to tell our listeners?
Aenne: Play more FMV games.
Ken: They should, they should. It’s a lost art, I tell you.
Aenne: And in that same regard, FMV games are great, but I have to always talk about indie developers and especially marginalized developers. The one thing that I wanted to tie visual novels in is a lot of people still, there is still a huge stigma out there of visual novels. I feel like recently, there was a game in media that was like, “Hey, hey, we’re not visual novels. We’re not making a visual novel,” even though it’s clearly a visual novel with different gameplay elements. And it’s so sad that visual novels are taken as these things that are either like waifu romance game or if it’s not considered that, it’s considered like the jokey KFC romance game.
Aenne: Visual novels for a lot of the gaming world are still considered jokes and I think that’s completely unfair because so many great stories can come from that. And on the second aspect of that whole thing is a lot of marginalized game developers and a lot of marginalized people are able to tell stories through visual novels because it’s the most accessible medium out there for telling those stories. So, it’s very important for uplifting very specifically marginalized game developers, whether it’s POCs, whether it’s queer people. Anybody that is marginalized within gaming, those stories are going to come from visual novels.
Aenne: So, if we’re looking at uplifting gaming as a whole and uplifting marginalized voices within gaming, uplifting VN and visual novel game developers is a huge way to do that and to really pay attention to those stories and pay attention to those games and play them and support them. Visual novels are games, damn it.
Ken: Well, I absolutely agree and I’m glad that our listeners will too after hearing about what a wonderful portfolio you have and all the amazing things that you do. For those who do want to follow you and find your works online, where can they do that?
Aenne: Oh, wow. I can be found just about everywhere at PeachyAenne. And that is P-E-A-C-H-Y and my name A-E-N-N-E. And then my personal Twitch channel is SharkyAenne, because Twitch won’t release my PeachyAenne name to me yet, but I don’t do a lot of streaming on there. You can follow my streaming mostly at Stumpt Gamers on Twitch and on YouTube as well.
Ken: And Stumpt is spelled S-T-U-M-P-T.
Aenne: It is.
Ken: What about Arcade Spirits? Where’s that?
Aenne: Oh, yeah! You can go to arcadespirits.com and you can have access to Arcade Spirits, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, and our prequel of Arcade Spirits. I think it’s One Last Quarter. So, you can check all that stuff out. Like we said earlier, if you’re interested in playing Arcade Spirits, you can play that on Steam, itch.io, all the consoles. And if you’re interested in sexy vampires, check out First Bite on Itch or Steam.
Ken: And the prequel to Arcade Spirits, what’s the ETA on that?
Aenne: Oh, I have no idea. I’m not writing it! So, you’ll have to ask Stefan about that one.
Ken: Oh — you’re not going to be sharing a credit on this one?
Aenne: No, he’s actually just writing it as a novel for fans and to create some more lore for everybody. So, he’s been working on that project in between other projects. So, I don’t know his ETA on that.
Ken: Awesome. Well, I guess I’ll just have to ask him!
Aenne: Sounds good!
Ken: Aenne, thank you so much for your time. This has been delightful.
Aenne: Oh, thank you so much, Ken! This has been so great. And like I said, if you ever want to talk FMVs, I’m here and I’m available.
Ken: Or Star Trek.
Aenne: Or Star Trek! Yes, definitely, Star Trek!
Voiceover: This has been Polygamer, a Gamebits production. Find more episodes, read our blog, or send feedback at polygamer.net.