Coffee. For some people it is more than a simple pick-me-up; for some it’s a daily routine – a ritual that involves a morning visit to one’s favourite cafe where the barista knows your order, what footy team you support and even the name of your dog. For the city of Melbourne, arguably the coffee capital of the world, the coffee trade is huge, with cafes across the city bustling with patrons looking for their morning fix from the moment they’re open to those looking for that afternoon boost.
It makes sense then that a Melbourne-based game development studio would use the city as the setting for a game about coffee. Which is what Carlton-based studio Route 59 Games have done with their upcoming visual novel Necrobarista. For July’s Made In Australia segment we sat down with Necorbarista’s lead artist Ngoc Vu to talk all about the game and what players can expect when it launches next month.
WellPlayed: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us what your game Necrobarista is all about.
Ngoc Vu: Necrobarista is a suspenseful cinematic visual novel set in a contemporary fantasy cafe in Melbourne.
WP: Necrobarista has a very striking anime-inspired art style, what influenced the way it looks?
NV: The visuals were our biggest hurdle in development. The brief was essentially to have it work from multiple angles in a 3D rigged character pipeline, facilitate a diverse set of characters and feature the elements of anime art that we loved like dynamic eye highlights, cel shading etc.
WP: Seeing as Melbourne is the self-proclaimed coffee capital of the world it makes sense that a game about making coffee would be based here. What is the reason you chose to set the game in Melbourne?
NV: We actually started with the type of genre we wanted the narrative to be. We wanted something fantasy focused but also grounded in a real-world place. Fantasy lands and mythical countries are great but coming up with fake names is not any of our fortes. The core production team all live in Melbourne so it just made sense to gather visual reference from the place we were most familiar as a group. As for why we chose a single cafe; we only had one 3D artist so it was unfeasible to replicate all of Melbourne; we settled on a central location for events to occur. Our first concept was a milk bar, however we quickly learned we wanted to facilitate some more conversations aside from “a bottle of milk thanks” and it was really convenient that we’re pretty well known for coffee culture so that decision seemed to tick all the boxes for us.
WP: The game was originally set for a 2018 release but was pushed back to 2019. What was the main reason for the delay?
NV: We didn’t heed the sage advice of scope small. We should have listened. WE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED! But no, gamedev is difficult and we’ve had to wrestle with hiring for specialised roles like our director of photography, asset integrator, shader programmers etc. They are precious and difficult to find especially since our project is so different. Without the time to seek assistance with those tasks we absolutely would have delayed longer.
WP: Visual novels are an uncommon style of game these days, what made you go down that road?
NV: We decided on a visual novel because of that exact reason. We felt at the time visual novels had yet to be explored deeper from what we were taught about games design. We wanted to play around with the elements like dialogue and text presentation and what we could do to make it work with all the unique scenes we were generating from a 3D space.
WP: Where did the idea of “The dead getting one last night to mingle with the living” come from?
NV: Justin basically gave us a brief outline of all the stories he thought was suitable for a cafe setting. We thought that the twist of whether inhabitants were ghosts or not complimented well to our perception of a cafe being a very social as well as “spiritual” place.
WP: Was there any location in Melbourne that they wanted to include in the game but weren’t able to? Any place that absolutely HAD to be in the game?
NV: I really wanted to put in the Melbourne Central clock and the shot tower. I think it’s a place that holds meaning for a lot of the people that live here and is visually striking with the conical roof. Of course we couldn’t include it in because of time and resource constraints. I’m pretty sure Joe’s (our 3D artist) soul would have left him haha. In the end we opted for a small alleyway like many you would see around the CBD and Carlton.
WP: Branching pathways mean multiple playthroughs and the player driving the story beats, what kind of challenges does structuring a game like that present in terms of the narrative?
NV: I sent Kevin a slack message with this question because my best answer was that rereading kinda sucks but here he is with a much more eloquent answer.
‘One of the classic issues is to do with continuity – continuing games past the original becomes quite difficult without establishing a “canon” route (which then devalues all non-canon ones). This is why in Necro we decided to have a single cannon ending, and place all player agency within the optional side content.’
WP: How long will the game’s campaign last?
NV: We’re aiming for roughly 10 hours of playtime.
WP: Currently it is only scheduled for release on PC in August. PS4, Nintendo Switch, Mac were scheduled for release this year but have been delayed. When can other platform holders get their hands on the game?
NV: We have no solid date set currently so I can’t definitely say. It all depends on the localisation and console certification process so I would expect some months. We’ll be sure to let everyone know as soon as we’re concrete about it.
WP: We played the game briefly at PAX Aus last year and enjoyed our little taste. You must be excited to get it out in the wild next month?
NV: I can’t wait for it to be out the door mate. Very keen to see what people make of it.
WP: Are the team big coffee drinkers? What sort of coffee do you drink?
NV: Both Joe Liu and I are big coffee drinkers haha. A couple years back I went and got myself a proper espresso machine and it’s so nice to make yourself a latte each morning ^_^.
WP: Any future plans for the world of Necrobarista? Animations / Comics?
NV: If all goes well we’d love to expand and get more collaborations with other creatives. In any case we’re gonna strive to deliver high-quality experiences for our supporters in future projects.
WP: Best of luck for the game’s release.
NV: Thank you! We’ll be giving it all we got!
Necrobarista will release on August 8, 2019, on PC via Steam.