Interviews, News

Cyanide Tea Interview

It’s rare that a visual novel catches my attention the way Break Chance Memento has. It certainly had plenty of reasons for me to ignore it now that I think about it, however despite the BL and everything associate with that sort of thing I find myself looking forward to playing the game in full.

A lot of the credit of getting your atypical heterosexual male interested in BCM goes to the two behind the game. Cyanide Tea is really composed of only two people: Auro-Cyanide (artist) and Camille (writer, etc.). This month I had a chance to sit down (digitally) with them and talk about how Cyanide Tea began, their ambitions and, of course, BCM.

VNs Now: So, let’s start with a question I usually open with and that is how the two of you started as individuals before joining together as a team? What inspired you take up art, writing, etc.?

Auro-Cyanide: I have always loved stories. My dad used to read to me when I was little and, as soon as I could read myself, I managed to devour the majority of the adult and teenage fantasy books at the library. I was driven to create my own stories, to tell and share in the same way my books did. I actually started with writing… but I wasn’t very good and had a short attention span. I had always been pretty into drawing, and my mum encouraged me a lot. She used to do oil paintings and other crafty things. When I was about 13, I fell in love with the concept art for Jak and Daxter and that is probably what really got me into drawing. I haven’t stopped since and the driving need to tell stories hasn’t ever gone away, either. You always want to get better so you can communicate your ideas better. The excitement from producing an idea from your head is exhilarating.

About two years ago, I started dabbling in VNs (well, just the art, I can’t program to save my life) which is the perfect medium for what I want to achieve. It has art that I can create, it has a low entry level and I can help tell the stories I love so much.

Camille: I honestly can’t even remember how exactly I got into writing because I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Creative writing was a big part of my English education when I was in elementary school and I just … kept going after that. Recently while cleaning, I found the first book I ever wrote, which was from 1st grade. It’s a book about a pair of ants who try to change the world by teaching people to be nice. (: It’s funny how people start out! I think being a decent writer also has a lot to do with being a good reader, so I’ve always been a strong reader. Even now, when a lot of my peers have given up reading for pleasure, I still buy new books on a weekly basis and read them often. I think that the anime/manga fandoms probably pushed me to write as much fiction as I do now, though. I did a little bit of fanfiction when I was younger before deciding that I vastly prefer making up my own characters and writing about them.

I haven’t been writing for VNs for very long (almost a year now) compared to most others in the field right now, but I have played many Japanese VNs over the last few years. I discovered Ren’Py and LSF one day and the rest is history, I suppose.

VNs Now: I’m interested in finding out who approached who. Which one said, “I really like your _____, we should be a team!” or was it something where you were both looking for a partner and someone’s peanut butter just so happened to fall into someone’s chocolate?

Auro: Camille technically approached me first. I had just finished uni and hadn’t found a job as a graphic designer yet. I decided I would try and make some money in the meantime doing some commissions and I offered them at LSF first. I was working on one lot of sprites already, a set for Komi-Tsuku. Camille asked if I would like to do 5 sprites for a “smallish project”. I knew her work from Machina Jewel (which looked amaaaaazing) and after a couple backwards and forwards I decided she was someone I would like to work with. I offered to do the CGs or work on her next project for free if I found a job. Not long after, I DID find a job, the one I’m currently at full time, so it was a done deal. We really seem to… click. We didn’t argue about things, we had similar ideologies, and we started talking about other things we wanted to do.

We had been working on BCM for about 4 months, I think, when she brought up the idea of us continuing to work with each other after BCM. That was easy. I have never found anyone I had worked so well with, and what we could achieve together had a lot of potential. So I said “Well duh, of course I will” and then we had a moment and since then, we have been happily ever after. But this is only the beginning.

Camille: It’s kind of funny because Auro and I are pretty close now, but we started out just as a commissioner and a commissioned artist. BCM was originally kind of just a brainstormy mess that came about when a group of friends got together and made up a bunch of characters. I wanted to do a small little VN for fun as a present to my friends, so BCM was born. When Auro and I look back on how I said it was just a “small project” for private viewing, we get a good laugh out of it. So yeah, I was looking around for an artist who had a style that matched what I had in mind… Not only that, it had to be someone reliable. I eventually found Auro’s commissions post on LSF and thought she was perfect, but I was really paranoid about being turned down, so I kind of just rolled around indecisively for a few days before finally approaching her. She agreed, so we started working on BCM together.

Eventually, like she said, she found a full-time job. She didn’t need commissions to be her main source of income anymore, so she offered to do the rest of the art for free. After that, before we knew it, the project sort of got bigger and bigger until it became the game you see now. The two of us really get along well and have similar tastes and philosophies, so describing it as peanut butter and chocolate falling into each other sounds about right. We’ve been working together for over 6 months now without a single argument. It was a very serendipitous thing, but I’m glad we’re working together now. Aside from BCM, we have plenty of other games we want to do together, so you really haven’t heard the last of us yet. (:

VNs Now: When each of you takes a look at visual novels we’ve seen in the past year and the visual novels that are coming, what is missing that you wish there would be more of? Why?

Auro: Not all of them are missing what I am looking for. Some of them are very inspiring. I’m looking for diversity and storytelling. I want to weave stories that haven’t been told, make people fall in love with the medium, make them feel something. I want be innovative and try different things, to push myself and change the way things are done. And I want to make things look pretty. VNs are such a young part of the gaming medium, which is itself very young. There are so many things to do and experience, but we tend to get trapped a bit in conventions. I want to see people being more daring and looking at different ways to tell the story, as well as looking at the different types of stories to be told. I’m only one artist but damn, I sure as hell want to try giving this my best shot.

Camille: I really like VNs where I can get lost in them due to their length or expansive world, but I think that might just be me. I think as long as the VNs aren’t just lengthy for the sake of being lengthy, which can make them drag on and get boring, they can be pretty enjoyable because you get to be someone else for a day. A lot of the ones that have come out recently are sitting at less than 50,000 words, which is a little hard for me to get immersed in, personally. Like Auro, I enjoy VNs that are innovative. Not that there’s anything wrong with a pure VN done “the usual way”, but I think a little bit of other gameplay or art presentation makes things more fun. Recently, Japanese VNs have been really pushing boundaries in terms of settings, stories, and artwork, so I think it’d be nice if we could follow suit on the English side of things. So to sum it up, I guess I’d really just like to see longer stories and some more diversity. Not that there hasn’t been any of that this year, just… Y’know, I’d like to see more of it.

VNs Now: What originally attracted me to the two of you was a visual novel called Machina Jewel…I think that was the name at least. I haven’t seen a lot about it since you have announced BCM. Is it on hiatus or dumped or what?

Camille: Ah, Machina Jewel, haha. That’s the first Ren’Py game I ever tried to make. Actually, that game has a different main artist, who happens to also be my best friend, though its existence is part of the reason why Auro decided to work with me on BCM. I guess it’s true, then, that “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. I got about halfway through with the script for that project and then my friend got really really busy. She’s currently studying graphic design at the SVA in New York and the curriculum is pretty brutal over there. We do plan on finishing it at some point because the project is our baby and I feel very strongly about it, but it really will have to wait for when my friend has more free time. We will definitely be bringing in another artist or two (Auro has already volunteered~) to help out when that happens. So I guess right now it’s on an indefinite hiatus, though I really hate that phrase. ):

Auro: It is definitely an amazing project, and the sheer amount of effort that Camille put into it told me a lot about her before I started working with her. I’ll probably be helping with the backgrounds when it starts up again, since it will be lovely to see it done one day. I know how hard uni can be, though, especially with the time-consuming nature of graphic design, so I wish the artist the best. Good luck!


VNs Now: Now to your main work right now: Break Chance Memento. I read somewhere that Camille was a fan of darker works and the story does have a pretty sinister undercurrent to it along with the time traveling aspect. How did you guys come up with the concept?

Auro: We both love darker works, bwhahaha. Which is going to be pretty telling in our future works… And when I get around to doing the murder scenes for BCM. Most of the concept work was well and truly done by the time Camille asked me to do art, so I’ve just been following along so far, which has been an amazing line of discovery, that’s for sure. She has it well and truly covered and I have loved every minute of it. But she can fill you in on the details.

Camille: Auro definitely loves dark works just as much as I do. I was planning on trying to pick “tame” story CGs for her to do, but then she came along and was all “I’m excited to draw the murder scenes!” and whatnot, so now I know better than to underestimate her, haha. But yes, I really prefer games that are more on the dark/melancholy side, so like Auro said, you can probably expect more of that in our future works. (though I also like happy endings, so no worries there)

Regarding the concept of BCM… I don’t remember exactly how the idea came to me, I just wanted to come up with a way to throw all the characters together in a way that would be plausible. I thought something like a murder mystery could be somewhat episodic enough that all five of the main characters could be featured and so that’s what I went with. Fuyuka was always dead even in the original concepts before BCM was a game, so I used her death as a starting point for the Amamiya family’s problems and then threw time travel and murders into the mix to give the characters a conflict that they could resolve together. I guess mainly I was inspired by Persona 4 because of its murder mystery concept, but I think BCM is pretty different from that game, haha. If you look very closely, however, you’ll probably see little elements of and homages to Persona 4 littered here and there throughout the game.

VNs Now: When I played the demo for the game, the storyline with Shuuki (who I still think is a preening twit…sorry) really stuck out to me. In putting this visual novel together, have there been any characters or events in the story that really stood out for you in a way you weren’t expecting?

Auro: Hahaha, yeah. Shuuki is definitely… An individual. But I haven’t seen a protagonist like him before, so that is half the fun. And while his hair is an ongoing insult to masculinity, it’s a lot of fun to draw. Characters or events that stood out? Hmmmm, in a way, all of them. I mean, Camille tells me about the characters, who they are, what they look like. She tells me about the plot and all that. But none of it really hits home until I actually start reading the script. The way the characters come to life as living, breathing embodiments of humanity literally makes my jaw drop and have a desperate need to draw what I am imagining for the scenes. If I could draw out every moment, I would. Some of the more powerful moments are too spoilerish to describe, but even simple scenes, like the ones with the brothers can be very… Real and touching.

Camille: I think even the other characters in the game think that Shuuki’s a “preening twit” (except Natsume, who is way too indulgent) so you’re not alone! It still amuses me that he’s the most popular character. Is that really alright? Are you people really okay with a hero like him?? He does get better, though. His side of BCM is really about his journey on the path to maturity.

Back on topic, let’s see… There were two questions on the demo survey that asked people what their favorite and least favorite scenes were. To my surprise, there were many scenes that were one person’s absolute favorite and another person’s least favorite. People relate and get emotional in different ways depending on their own personality and life experiences, so it’s been very interesting seeing how different parts of the BCM story cause different people to react. For me personally, I think Masaharu has stood out more than I expected him to. I think after a lot of people sort of pushed him aside (I have to admit, in hindsight, that his demo scenes were not as interesting as they could have been), I tried harder to relate to him and figure him out so that I could make him a stronger character. As a result, some of his scenes in the actual game have stood out to me a lot. Until writing one of his scenes in chapter three, I had never teared up reading my own writing before. It probably sounds vain, but Masaharu made that happen. I hope that other people playing the game later give him a chance, too.

VNs Now: When people finally pick up Break Chance Memento whenever you plan on releasing it, what is something you’re hoping they take away from your work?

Auro: The story. I want people to walk away from this game feeling something, whatever that emotion may be. There are messages woven into the story if you look for them, but mostly I want people to just go away thinking about the game as a whole, to believe in the characters and to feel that the game gave them something more than just a way to pass time.

On a more technical level I hope we are able to present VNs well to the audience, to make a consistent and positive playing experience and hopefully engage them with the medium.

As an artist, it is my job to facilitate the story. My job is to do my best to help colour the world the writing creates, to give the reader visual information to make the world and experience have more depth. The story will always be the overarching goal and every decision I make will be made in the hopes that it will tell the story better. If people do what I mentioned above, it means I have succeeded to some degree.

Camille: I’ve said before that the greatest compliment I could ever receive would be for someone to tell me that they could relate to at least one of my characters. More than BCM being a BL game, more than shiny art and GUIs, I really would love it if the story and characters resonated with people in some way. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself just from writing the script for BCM (quite a few events draw on my own personal experiences) so it’d be great if other people could have a little journey of self-discovery right alongside Shuuki and Natsume as they play the game. I think Auro pretty much put it perfectly. It’d be awesome if the game brought more awareness to EVNs and Ren’Py, too. I suppose the second greatest compliment I could ever receive, then, would be someone making their own VN after being inspired by ours. (:


VNs Now: Looking ahead for the two of you, what are some things that you want to achieve or experiment with in visual novels? And are there any personal goals you have while you are a part of Cyanide Tea?

Auro: Oh, hell yes. I hope each and every one of the games we work on gives us an opportunity to try something new. Different art styles, different ways to tell the story, different stories, different genres, different gameplay, different mechanics, different characters. Ah, so many things to do, so little time. We have three projects lined up to also work on. Two are mini free ones (one will be for NaNoRenO) and the other will be our next big work. Each one is very different from BCM because, well, there is far too much to explore to waste time doing the same things.

Camille: I think Auro took the words right out of my mouth–err, fingers, haha. Personally, I’d really like to tell some great stories that people can relate to. I also have a little bingo card of “romantic genres” that I’d like us to do at some point. We’re already tackling BxB and I can say that GxB and BxG are also coming up in the very near future. (: I’m excited for our future games because Auro will have more input in the stories and character designs. A lot of the BCM characters were already fully designed and I already had the story all lined up, so I think it’ll be great for her to have more freedom in our later projects this year and beyond.

VNs Now: Auro and Camille thank you so much for your time and good luck with BCM!

Auro: It was a pleasure 🙂 I wish you luck on the website too, I think you are doing a great job.

Camille: Thanks for giving us the opportunity! We enjoyed answering the questions and look forward to seeing what else you do with VNs Now this year. (:

Support Cyanide Tea at their website & on DeviantArt!

Written by JP3 - January 13, 2012