Day one of PAX Australia was a hectic one, and we were lucky enough to get an opportunity to speak to some fantastic indie developers. One that we’d like to highlight is Kevin from Route 59, talking about their new visual novel game Necrobarista.
Check out the video below for the interview, or if you’re unable to watch it, you can read the transcript further down…
David: We are here with Kevin from Route 59 and we are talking about their game Necrobarista, the visual novel set in Melbourne. So, can you tell us a little bit about the game?
Kevin: Necrobarista is a visual novel set in a magical Melbourne cafe where the dead come back for one last night and one last cup of coffee.
David: And why are the dead coming back for one last cup of coffee?
Kevin: We don’t really explain that too much. It’s basically like a magical realist setting. It just happens, and people don’t really question why. It just happens.
David: I’ve actually been following Necrobarista for quite a while now because I quite like visual novels…
Kevin: Oh, cool!
David: So it seems that visual novels aren’t super huge in western culture yet, but hopefully after Necrobarista it will be.
Kevin: Fingers crossed!
David: Necrobarista is inspired by anime and film, so could you tell us about the inspirations behind the game?
Kevin: Visually, my biggest influence is probably Akiyuki Shinbo. He’s one of the main directors at Shaft. Madoka Magica, Bakemonogatari, that kind of stuff. But narratively, we are most heavily influenced by Time of Eve (Eve no Jikan), which is a movie about a cafe set in the neo future in a world where androids are a thing, but they all become like slaves, or servants of humans. In this cafe world, first of all you are not allowed to discriminate against androids. And secondly, the androids have this little blinking light on them and it disappears in this cafe, so you don’t know who is an android and who is human.
David: OK, and is there a bit of that in Necrobarista?
Kevin: Exactly! Because normal humans can also come into the cafe, the same as ghosts, but they look identical. So you don’t know who’s dead and who’s alive.
David: Right. So when we go and play Necrobarista, what sort of things should we expect? Should we expect deep and philosophical insights? Or comedy? Romance?
Kevin: Some memes.
David & Kevin: (laughs)
Kevin: Australian humor, I guess is what I really wanted to show off in our game, and something I think the international audience will appreciate, just because it’s a bit different. The narrative, I guess for the most part, is humorous. We didn’t want to make it too doom and gloom. There are a lot of emotions as well, but we did want to make something that felt close to your heart, something that we knew, and something that hopefully the audience will see as like it’s about real people. We didn’t just make a fantasy world.
David: Absolutely. So when you wrote this visual novel, it seems like a lot of it is from conversations in real-life with other people. Is that were a lot of the narrative came from?
Kevin: So to clarify, I’m not the actual writer. We have two writers: Justin Peterson and Damon Reece, and I think a lot of their influences definitely come from their real-life interactions when they use to work in hospitality, for instance, or their encounters as baristas and bartenders at cafes themselves.
David: Awesome. So tell us a little bit about the art style. There seems to be a lot of cell shading, but is also seems kind of dark as well. What’s the intended effect here?
Kevin: Again, we’re really big fans of anime, graphic novels, and that kind of stuff. So we wanted to make a game that felt like the experience of watching an anime. But at the same time, we realised that there was no way that we could be one-to-one with anime. And I think that instead of trying to be something we’re not, we will try to feel a bit like that without breaking the art style. So, kind of looking at inspirations like Breath of the Wild and Wind Waker, that kind of cell shading really captivated us and were strong influences, as well as Guilty Gear!
David: I wanted to comment a little about Necrobarista as a visual novel because for a visual novel, it’s actually kind of unusually high quality.
Kevin: Thank You!
David: A lot of visual novels have 2D sprites and just text, but you’ve actually gone and done a lot of 3D work. Was that difficult?
Kevin: Yeah, a lot of people say: “So why did you decide to do it in 3D?”, and the best answer is: the folly of youth.
David & Kevin: (Laughs)
Kevin: It’s our first project, it was a student project, and we’re going to do it; it’s going to be great; it’s going to be in 3D because no one has done it before. It’s a lot of work, and it is quite expensive, but we also hope that with the increase of technology as things get easier, and engines become easier to make, it is becoming much more reasonable now. It’s a good time.
David: Yeah! So tell us a little bit about the technology behind Necrobarista. Is it Unity 3D?
Kevin: Unity, yes. It’s interesting that the pipeline for Necrobrista, we’ve discovered over time that it’ s very different from a traditional game’s pipeline. In fact, it’s more akin to a 3D movie. So for instance, we have a storyboarder; we have multiple animators; we have a DOP (director of photography) who literally all their job is to do composition and framing. And that was a real learning experience, because obviously it’s different from something you show at uni, it’s different from every Gamasutra article you read, and I actually think, “No, that doesn’t work for us.” And also just in terms of acquiring funding from publishers, it has been a bit of a tricky thing. Unlike games where you can make vertical slices really easily, because you need to show off the mechanics, what makes Necrobarista shine is the polish; it’s the visual fidelity, the audio, everything coming together at the very end. You’ve probably seen footage of Hollywood movies before production, and they look kind of poopy.
Kevin: And that was Necrobarista for a long time, so we really had to work hard to convince people that I know it looks like poop now, but it will get better.
David: I think it looks really good now! So what do you find is the biggest difference between industry accepted practice in comparison to what you guys had to do?
Kevin: So as I mentioned before, hiring. We really had to find different jobs and for an indie studio, we had two out of maybe ten people as writers, which is a lot of writers. We have very few programmers just because the game is not that mechanically heavy. Most of the programming isn’t actually making the game, it’s actually making tools to allow the other people to make the game easier.
David: Oh, right! So you have an in-house visual novel editor?
Kevin: Exactly! Because if you want to do this manually, you could. But, it’s so inefficient and a waste of time. We made our own mini engine inside Unity to make Necrobarista.
David: That’s really amazing!
Kevin: That also means that if we want to make sequels, we could use the same engine and make a season 2.
David: Absolutely! Because a lot of people use things like Ren’Py, but your process seems so much more advanced. Are you ever planning to release this engine to the public, or is it all in-house?
Kevin: It’s very ugly at the moment, so I would bork at the thought of other people trying to use it. I’d be like, “please don’t, don’t suffer!” But, perhaps down the line.
David: (Laughs) So we noticed that the music composer, Kevin Penkin –
Kevin: Kevin Penkiiiiiin!
David: (Laughs) yeah he’s a big guy because he’s actually done work for Made in Abyss –
Kevin: Yeah and Rise of the Shield Hero was the new anime.
David: Yeah, can you tell us a bit about the music direction for Necrobarista.
Kevin: So, one of the first things we did when we spoke to him was like, “Cowboy Bebop!” and FLCL you know, that kind of jazz and punk style. But as time went on, I think we shifted a bit just because we really wanted to capture that unique moment vibe of being in a cafe, being in that space.
David: And what is that vibe, is it just like chill?
Kevin: Yeah, chill! Chill-house, basically. Which again, is a bit more down tempo, a bit more relaxed.
David: Are you able to tell us a little bit more about the characters, because the cast seems really interesting and unique.
Kevin: Yeah so the main character, Maddy, she is the necromancer barista and the apprentice of Tre, the previous owner of the cafe. And it’s kind of about those two, for lack of a better term, pay off their debt to the council of death, because every ghost that comes in has a limited number of hours to spend here and as time went on, they’re starting to let people stay a bit too long. So, death is not happy with us, and now they’ve coming knocking like, “Hey, you owe us souls!”
David: (Laughs) Yeah, it sounds a bit mafiaesque as well.
Kevin: Yeah, but in Melbourne.
David: That’s really cool! So what are your thoughts on other visual novels like Doki Doki Literature club? Was that inspiring for you guys?
Kevin: It’s very exciting! On one hand it’s definitely a really good sign that people are taking notice of visual novels, especially the broader market. But I guess on the other hand, it does show us that marketing… it’s something we think about a lot. Just because, don’t get me wrong I consume a crap-load of anime, so I understand that I love myself a good power-fantasy or fan-servicey show now and then –
David: Don’t we all (Laughs)
Kevin: Yeah! Don’t we all! Wrap it up, wrap it up (laughs)! But when we started out with Necrobarista, we very much wanted to be the Studio Ghibli of visual novels and to us, what that means is a game that doesn’t rely on tropes; it doesn’t rely on standard fan service. We want to tell a good story for the sake of telling a good story. We want to sell something that is very inclusive, that everyone feels welcome to watch – very high quality, pushing the quality as much as we can.
David: Yeah, you guys seem to have a very aspirational art direction, writing direction, it’s shaping up to be an awesome visual novel.
Kevin: Thank you! Even saying that makes me feel like, “Man, what an arrogant jerk,” and we’re not saying that that’s what we are, but that’s something that we strive to be and what really want to one day become.
David: It’s very inspirational! I think a lot of the visual novel readers will appreciate that it’s not just fan-service; it’s not just tropes; it’s something that’s very unique and you aim for that narrative over fan-service. So, when can we expect to play Necrobarista on Nintendo Switch?
Kevin: Necrobarista is coming out late 2019 for PC and Mac on Steam, and afterwards we’ll probably spend a few months porting the game to Switch as well as PS4.
David: Cool! And what is the best way for our audience to follow you guys?
Kevin: You can add your name to our wishlist which is on our website, which is necrobarista.com.
David: Awesome! Thank you very much, Kevin!
Kevin: Thank you very much!
What do you think of Necrobarista? Will you be checking it out when it comes to Nintendo Switch? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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