Along the Edge Interview

Along the Edge is an interactive adult graphic novel, it takes place in the European countryside, where the player choices impact the main character’s personality and appearance.

Players will follow Daphné, a woman who is unsatisfied with her personal and professional life. After she inherits an old family house in a remote part of the country, she seizes the opportunity in hopes to start off fresh.

With the game’s release just around the corner, it’s set for release on June 14, the French-based development team at Nova-Box can finally catch their breath and relax.

I spoke with Geoffroy Vincens, writer of the game’s story, to find out how the game came to be and why the game is called a graphic novel rather than a visual novel.

OmniGamer: Along The Edge is called an ‘interactive graphic novel’, is that the
same as visual novels or is there more to the gameplay?

Geoffroy Vincens: From the gameplay perspective, our game is quite similar to a “visual novel” indeed. We chose to call it an “interactive graphic novel” for two main reasons.

First of all, “visual novels” are often associated with a Japanese animation visual style and a rather codified story. We wanted to show right away that we were somehow different in tone and in art direction. The name “graphic novel” initially comes from comic books, it describes a comic written for a mature audience, and usually not destined to be published in monthly issues (like a literary novel). Since it fits our game perfectly, we just added “interactive” to clearly indicate Along the Edge is, indeed, a game.

The other reason is that the visual novel genre isn’t very well known in France and the term “visual novel” doesn’t describe very well what the game is about in itself. That’s why we felt had to create our own term, but you can say that “visual novel”, in the largest sense, covers quite well the kind of experience we are offering to players.

OG: Where did the idea for the game come from?

GV: In order to properly explain where the idea of the game came from, let me first come back to the premises of the story.

With Along the Edge, we wanted to put the player in the shoes of someone who is at a turning point, with several issues to work through. Daphné, the main character, feels like she has failed in several aspects of her life. She’s unfulfilled in her job and her couple imploded after she lost her first child while she was expecting. So, when she inherits this mysterious family house, she jumps at the opportunity to reinvent herself. She also discovers her ancestors’ history, and, as she digs deeper and deeper into it, it seems to explain, almost uncannily, everything that went wrong in her life. However, if she really wants to embrace this legacy, it means that she also has to completely renounce her scientist view of the world… But at this point, whether she does or not is no longer up to me. The decision is already in the hands of the player!

This idea of confronting a very Cartesian character with the supernatural and see how the players would react came from late night discussions with a close friend of mine, who is also, by the way, the music composer of the game. He’s a skeptical person by nature, and he has a very incisive critical mind. Being more of a “believer of the occult” myself, we had some very opinionated conversations together on this subject and that’s how I first came with the concept of Along the Edge as the clash of these two very different world views.

OG: What were some of the technical challenges when designing a game like

GV:Well, the most obvious challenge was, of course, to manage the huge quantity of content we’ve put in the game, and I must admit we didn’t do very well. At first, we wanted to make a “small” game, one that would take about three months to create… and we finished almost six months overtime!

We’re not sorry it took that long, though, because we have a richer and more polished game than we initially thought and we’re very proud of how it came together.

OG: The main character changes depending on the players action, correct?
How does that work in the sense of gameplay mechanics?

GV: Yes, both the personality and the physical appearance of the main character evolve several times during the story, according to the player choices. Some of these changes are quite subtle and gradual, and some can be quite drastic, to say the least. In total, there are 33 different versions of Daphné. You get to see six or seven different ones on each play-through.

The personality of Daphné evolves towards four main archetypes. In order to make the player aware of this system, we added a wheel of symbols on the top of the game screen: the “sphere”, the “moon”, the “star” and the “sun”. Each time the player makes a choice that slightly changes Daphné’s personality, the corresponding symbol or pair of symbols light up to notify them of the change. Some of these archetypes are in opposition (you can’t be both “sun” and “moon”), some others complete themselves (you can be either “sun and sphere” or “sun and star”).

OG: The game’s hand-drawn look is said to be massive, over 400 different
illustrations and variants for characters. How long can players expect
the game’s story to be?

GV: The game isn’t very long in comparison with other visual novels that often boast about ten or even twenty hours of gameplay, but only provide something like 40 or 50 different illustrations for the whole game.

Each play-through of Along the Edge takes between 3 to 4 hours to complete, depending on your reading speed.

That’s something along the lines of 50,000 words to read (a bit more than half of all the texts available), and something like 2/3 of the 450 illustrations.

What differentiates us from most narrative games is that the setting of the story changes quite often. You start the game during the summer, in the city, and you end it in the countryside during the spring of the following year. We wanted to show the passing of the seasons, with the environment around Daphné evolving with her, tree leaves turning red, then snow covering the landscape, and, finally, the vibrant green shades of spring. To achieve that, we had to produce a lot of illustrations.


OG: There are 60 different endings in the game, how big of a difference
does each ending make from one another?

GV: Well, the endings of Along the Edge are very composite, very “tailored”, in a sense, to each player.

There are six different ways for the main plot to end, and some of them are quite hard to unlock. You have to make the right choice at multiple points of the story to see them.

Then, you multiply that by four “destinies” for the main character, Daphné. By “destiny”, I mean, what would her daily life be like in the long term? how has she grown and change after being confronted with the events of the plot? things like that.

You can multiply that number again by the different possible outcomes in terms of romance, so, again, there are three more alternatives.

If you do the math, 6 by 4 by 3 equals 72 distinct variations of the story. Some of them are mutually exclusive (the romantic interest you’re pursuing may not agree with some of your decisions, for example), so, what you get is a total of 60 different endings, each of them taking the player’s choices all of the game into account. And that’s without counting several smaller plots points such as your relationship with some supporting characters, or even if they’re still alive and well in the end!

Please, also note that’s there’s no “good” or “bad” ending, and whatever storyline you choose, you always get to the very end of the story. There’s no “game over, please do better next time” abruptly ending your experience and forcing to try again from the start.

To help the players navigate between all these possibilities, we added an achievement system. Each time you complete a variant of the story, a new badge unlocks on the achievements screen.

OG: The main character, Daphne, isn’t a very happy person at first,
what’s going on with her at the beginning of the story?

GV: At the start of the story, Daphné is in a deep identity crisis. She is grieving the death of her first child, and she’s very unsatisfied in several aspects of her life, both professional and personal. We felt it was necessary to depict a character who was in doubt about her life in order to enable the player to help her get herself together.

OG: How many characters will the player be able to interact with?

GV: About twelve to fifteen on each play-through. Some minors characters are met only on specifics story lines. Also, the importance of some characters may differ wildly from one play-through to the next. Someone you’ve only briefly met the first time you played may end up being way more central the next time around, depending on your decisions, of course.

OG: Lets talk writing for a moment. You said the story came from a
conversation with a friend. Did that conversation have a big influence
on how you wrote the characters?

GV: I can’t say it did, but it helped me greatly to come up with the initial concept of the game. When you create a piece of interactive narration, I think the best way to tackle the problem is to start from the concept, the “message” you’re trying to put through.

For Along the Edge, I had this big idea of putting a very rational character in a crisis of faith and see how she would come out of it (which is kind of funny for Daphné, who, initially, defines herself as scientist, someone who puts her trust in hard facts, not beliefs). The rest came quite naturally from that.

OG: How long was the writing process, especially since the game is in
both French and English?

GV: Well, it’s next to impossible to deal with several languages at the same time, so I’ve started by writing the game in French, and then I translated it into in English as late as I could get away with, so that I wouldn’t have tracked a lot of text changes in both languages during the polishing phase of development.

Then, we made the mistake of really deeply getting into the technical side of the game before the story was fully formed. Since we needed visual assets to test the engine, Nico began to produce images and one thing leading to another we were out of pre-production, probably way too soon. I think that’s the main reason why we underestimated how much time it would take for us to finish the game, and since I was working on several fronts at the same time, the first full draft of the story was ready quite late into production.

I didn’t keep an exact record, but I think I turned up the French text in late February, maybe early March. I knew I had to send the English translation to Guillaume for proofreading early enough before the release (80,000 words is nothing to sneeze at), so I had to translate the text in no more than two weeks. At this time, the game was pretty much in its final state on the gameplay side. Nico still had a lot of placeholder illustrations to replace with final ones and, of course, we had a lot testing and debugging to go through, so we spent most of April and May doing that.


OG: When writing a game this big did you have to make cuts to the story
or even characters?

GV: Actually, it’s the contrary that happened. When we saw we were about to completely spill out of our initial time frame, we tried to wrap up the second part of the game in the most efficient way we could.

When the game was beginning to come together and we were able to test it with full play-throughs, we quickly realized that the endings felt rushed, so we came back to the design board, and I ended up adding about 10,000 extra words to correct the pacing of the story.

OG: From what I’ve seen of the game so far its soundtrack is heavy with
pianos, how did the music influence the writing or vice versa?

GV: Well, as I’ve told you, the composer is an old friend of mine, we jam together once a week (I’m a musician too). So, I kept him updated on the development progress quite often, and, of course, I gave him access to all the beta builds, so that he could get into the ambiance, the universe, and the story as often as possible. Since he had worked with us on our last game, he already knew the process quite well.

I actually tried to create some music for the game myself, but my musical style didn’t match very well with the atmosphere we wanted to create for Along the Edge. I knew Charly’s musical universe would be a perfect fit, and he was instantly inspired by the illustrations and the story.

OG: Will the game’s soundtrack be available for players to download?

GV: It’s not up to me. We only have the rights to use the music as a part of the game, so it’s ultimately in the hands of Charly, the music composer. Charly doesn’t really have any online presence for now, and since music isn’t his day job, it’s more of a side project to him, but he wants to put his music online at some point. In the end, all I can tell you, it’s that the soundtrack should be available, eventually. What I don’t know is when.

OG: You have a very small team working on the game. How long did
development take?

GV: Nine full and busy months. We started working on the story, did some visual research and started technical pre-production in the second half of August 2015, and we wrapped everything up in May 2016.


OG: What was the process like fitting multiple endings into a small game
in just nine months?

GV: Well, the game was conceived with multiple endings from the very start, so we didn’t “fit” them in the game, so to speak. What we didn’t know is how long it would take us to go from point “A” (the start of the game) to point “B” (the endings).

OG: Why did you give yourself such a small time frame to complete a game?

GV: When we started working on Along the Edge, we were just coming out of a 3 years project, “Echoes” for iOS. This game didn’t sell well, but we were convinced (we still are) of the potential of narrative games, both from an artistic and from a business point of view. We didn’t want to invest ourselves once again in a long and risky project, so we thought it would be more reasonable to try our hand on smaller stuff, to test the waters, in a sense, and we also knew we didn’t want to do another episodic game.

The only safe way for us to sustain a longer production cycle would have been to go episodic again, which makes a lot of sense on the business side for this kind indie projects. It’s the same argument as doing an “early access” version. It enables you to put something out quite early, gather some feedback, some revenue, and finance the rest of the production with the money you get from early adopters, but from an artistic point of view, it’s also very limiting.

At the end of each episode, you need to get to get a conclusion of sorts, story-wise, and it can’t differ too much from one player to another because you have to deal with problems like what happens when a player loses his save? What if someone tries to start a new game from the third chapter? the last one?

We wanted to give ourselves more artistic freedom for Along the Edge, so we decided to do it all in one go, from beginning to end, and it allowed us to create a more personalized experience for each player. For example, in Along the Edge, the second and third chapters can be quite different whether you decide to let… let’s say “a particular someone” (to avoid spoilers) settle in Daphné’s family house or not. We wouldn’t have been able to pull this off with an episodic game.

OG: What kind of engine is the game running on?

GV: When we started working on Along the Edge, we tried every “visual novel” engines available on the market, but none of them completely satisfied us. Most didn’t look sturdy or extensible enough, and even the most popular ones were beginning to show their age. It would be foolish nowadays not to think about mobile platforms, for example, which mean having a good support of touch interfaces and also a simple way to deal with multiple screen sizes. We also we needed a to have a strong support of multiple languages, and we didn’t find an engine that dealt with all that efficiently enough. On the other hand, solutions like Unity seemed like a complete overshoot for what we needed (basically, we needed to display texts and still images along with some background music), and besides, it would have meant having a developer working full time on integration.

We knew we needed a modern, reliable and extensible tool to make a quality game, so we decided to make our own. Since we do a lot of contract work on web projects at Nova-box, and since web technologies are by nature very portable (as long as you can launch a browser, you can launch our game), we decided use node.js (an open source JavaScript framework) to develop the engine. In the end, we’re very proud of the piece of code we’ve created, so we’ll be sharing it with the community at some point in the future. There’s still some work to be done to publish and document it properly, so we can’t afford to focus on that while we’re still in the midst of releasing the different versions of the game.

OG: If you were to make a sequel to this game would you return to Daphne
or move on to a completely different character?

GV: With Along the Edge, we really wanted to tell the story of Daphné from the beginning to the end, while making sure it reaches a definitive and satisfying conclusion. We didn’t want to limit ourselves artistically by considering a possible sequel, keeping things aside “for later”.

And, by the way, to be honest, I guess it would be more interesting to tell other stories set in the same kind of universe, but with a different set of characters. Maybe we could make Daphné appear in a cameo, or maybe we could decide to make a secondary character of Along the Edge the lead of this next story… At this point, nothing is decided, and most of all, nothing is impossible.

OG: The game is coming to MAC, PC, Tablets and Linux. Is there a chance
that consoles and/or handheld devices will see the game’s release?

GV: We’re already working on the tablet version that will come out during the summer on iPad, Android and Windows tablets.

To be honest, we haven’t thought of a console version yet. Nothing is planned right now, but I guess we might consider it in the future. Getting into console stores is quite hard for small indie studios like us, so we’d rather stick to more accessible platforms for now.

The same goes for an eventual smartphone release. Adapting the interface to properly fit on such a small screen while maintaining a high standard of quality isn’t an easy endeavor, and we’re not sure yet players would want to play it on this type of devices… but we might be convinced to go for it in the future.

OG: Do you have any advice to other independent developers who wants to
create their own game?

GV: Well, I personally think that the only thing that makes sense, it’s something really meaningful on a personal level, and to make sure it has its own artistic merits, but, most importantly, what I would advise above all is not to put yourself at risk, financially, for an indie game project. Chances are, it’s going to fail, especially if it’s the first one and, if you’ve put all your resources and energy into it, it’s going to very hard to dig yourself out of this situation, and it also means, most likely, that you won’t be able to create other games in the future.

That’s the philosophy we’re trying to follow, and while we don’t have a huge success under the belt yet (we really hope Along the Edge will correct that!), we still haven’t lost our passion for creating video games and we will continue to try our best to offer something of value to the players.

To sum it up, I’d say : be creative, enjoy yourself, but be careful.

Along the Edge will be available on June 14, 2016; on PC, MAC and Linux for $9.99 USD. Tablet devices will see a release later this summer.

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