Q & A with ramenjae
We were approached by ramenjae, a talented animation student who connected with our team at the ShelfLife booth at Chromacon 2019. ramenjae is in the process of creating a pitch bible for a game concept that covers diverse content and themes, and had some questions regarding our project. (Check out ramenjae’s Instagram here).
Thomas (Artist, Co-Director) and Nate (Writer, Co-Director) try their best to answer her questions below:
Who is your target audience?
THOMAS: The game’s themes are most relatable for young people from high school to tertiary education age, and in particular people who are Non-Binary, Trans, LGBTQIA+, belong to a minority group, and/or are affected by anxiety or mental illness. In every instance where we make something for ourselves or our friends, we are always passively taking into account a world full of friends we haven't met yet, who are cool and accepting and kind, and want to consume genuine content made by diverse people for diverse people.
We hope ShelfLife resonates with people who feel underrepresented or marginalised in mainstream media (games in particular) and are hungry for stories with LGBTQIA+ content that stray from a conventionally tragic/hopeless narrative (i.e. Brokeback Mountain, Soldier’s Girl, Blue is the Warmest Colour (graphic novel), basically everything on the "Bury Your Gays" page at tvtropes.com).
NATE: Thomas has pretty much covered this, so everything he said, but I just want to put a big emphasis on: the target audience is me, especially teenage me who really would have benefited from this sort of content at the time.
What do you wish for players to get out of your game? (Is there a message or a moral?)
THOMAS: I guess primarily that it is fine and normal and cool to grow up different in New Zealand (or anywhere). I want people to feel like they can define themselves by whatever metrics they want (or don't want). I'd love if people took away a nice "full" feeling from the project, like a good book or movie (or a meal) that covers a lot of ground, and has a bunch of different flavours of storytelling. I'm a huge fan of content that gives the reader a fresh perspective that they can use to take on the world, and make their "Human Experience" a little bit more pleasant.
NATE: I am not too interested in there being a moral or deep intentional message. There will inevitably be themes or messages that appear in the final result, but I think they will happen organically based on the continued development of our world and characters. The main thing I really hope for is that people will connect to our characters. I want them to feel like people you could meet, three dimensional and layered. I would love it if the game made people feel emotionally moved in some way, if it made them cry or laugh or think about something from a different perspective. I suppose that will lead to maybe a moral about how people aren't always what you would expect they are on first glance (not judging books by their covers) and messages about healthy friendships/relationships.
What are your main points of appeal for your game? (What do you think attracts your target audience?)
THOMAS: From talking to people online and at The Chromacon Indie Arts Festival, it seems people find the retro look (pixel art and low-poly 3D) and the mundane slice-of-life setting appealing. A lot of our indie contemporaries are making games set in fantasy worlds, so being in a modern-ish 2000's New Zealand setting is a nice point of difference.
We are also trying to cover issues that are important and emotionally resonant, in a story with a lot of humour and absurdity. So having that come through in the writing for our teaser trailer definitely hooked some people. On another note, I think within our character design we are quite conscious of creating fleshed out characters that all have their own flaws and redeeming qualities, which is something I always hope people find appealing and relatable.
NATE: The fact that it is LGBTQIA+ content where none of the LGBTQIA+ characters die and the graphics. There's a 30 year cycle for content and the 90s/Early 2000s aesthetic is coming back, as a lot more creators and consumers were children around that time. A lot our target audience is at that age where the art style of the game is very nostalgic to them.
What are the inspirations for your game?
THOMAS: My influences are pretty chaotic but I'll try to distill them into categories…
Terry Pratchett books. I am particularly partial to the books about Sam Vimes (a watchman) and Tiffany Aching (a young witch). These fantasy books are packed with esoteric humour, whimsy, introspection and characters with remarkable inner strength. Everyone has differing traits, flaws, weaknesses and struggles in this universe, and despite the fact it is set on a disc-shaped world, nothing feels flat.
In terms of games, Stardew Valley (PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One) and Life is Strange (PC, PS3/4, Xbox One) both have small-town settings that are refreshing to inhabit, with a hint of the mysterious and supernatural (which is something we want to get across in ShelfLife). These games also provide the player with a diverse cast of characters, and choices that affect the players character’s relationship with these characters.
Grandia (PS1), Breath of Fire IV (PS1), Pokemon Black/White II (Nintendo DS). These games all look great and utilise some combination of 2D and 3D assets to create charming worlds.
Story, Setting and Gameplay:
The Earthbound/Mother series (SNES, Game Boy Advance), Undertale (PC, Switch, PS4), Chrono Trigger (SNES, Nintendo DS), Persona 3,4,5 (PS2, PS3/4). These games all present some form of contemporary setting as a cornerstone for the adventure / storyline that follows. These games also tend to have a cast of characters with a depth of personality, who come together to support each other through various difficulties (which vary from funny and mundane to serious and emotionally impacting). An unfortunate aspect about some of these games is that they don't really execute much in the way of good minority representation or diversity — a fact which I find frustrating. This does, however, motivate me to create projects that do possess such qualities.
NATE: See above. Plus, reading so many fanfictions where the characters are gay and/or trans. Heheheheh. (Here’s a recent one I’ve read this year that has been super influential: All The Young Dudes by MsKingBean89 — link here). Essentially everything you ever create is an alternate universe fanfiction of everything you’ve ever liked all at once.
Also we’re both very influenced and inspired by the actual real experience of being at Art School. The feeling you get when it’s 3AM and you are still at University and you have to leave the building to go to the bathrooms and it’s winter and all you consumed all day was Weet-Bix and V energy drink. Your whole body is chapped.
Superfluous closing statement?
NATE & THOMAS: Hopefully this was at least 31.5% helpful, thank you for reading!