Interview: Volrath talks Labyrinthine Dreams, Dystopian Satire, and the Twins


May 18, 2012
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As part of my interview series, I'm speaking to prominent developers/contributors in our RPG Maker Web community to gain insight on their inner workings. Today we speak to Volrath, the writing half/third of the Solest team that created the epic seven-chapter superhero saga Master of the Wind, the hugely promising demo of X-Noir, and most recently the dark moody puzzle-adventure game Labyrinthine Dreams, which recently launched a successful Kickstarter to the amount of $6,000. A graphically upgraded and revised Labyrinthine Dreams is coming soon to a download link near you.

Thanks for agreeing to have this interview with us, Volrath. First off, tell our audience exactly who you are, for those who may not know.

Sure. I'm a part of the Solest team, which includes ArtBane and sometimes Enkur, and we've been working on games together for many years now. I tend to handle the writing of these games, but I'm also involved in various other parts of the production. The most well-known project I've worked on is Master of the Wind. Since then, we've been working on X-Noir and as of a few weeks ago, we successfully raised some money on Kickstarter to overhaul the visuals on our other game, Labyrinthine Dreams.

Golem Puzzle in Master of the Wind
Let's just start by getting straight into the big one, Master of the Wind. It took you 6 years to finish, was published in 7 different parts... what was the main inspiration for you and ArtBane to start up this game? How did you guys happen to get together and decide to make a game like Master of the Wind in the first place?

Oh man, if we're talking about MotW's origins, we're going back to 2005. Around that time I was finishing my RM2k game Clean Slate and I started thinking I wanted a game that mixed classic fantasy with elements of the superhero genre. My very early concept was that the game would be an episodic story about "The Masked One" (later given the less cumbersome name Shroud) and his "skeleton sidekick." This "sidekick" became Stoic the Skeleton, who is arguably the main character in the final game.

ArtBane and I have known each other since I was in the sixth grade. We got into RPG Maker at the same time and after we worked on our early projects, it was clear what our individual strengths were. My stuff was focused on story and characters while he had a great mind for puzzles and dungeon design. We figured if we combined our work, we'd have a pretty well-rounded game. We didn't know we were committing ourselves to six years of development, but we really wanted to see that game finished.

Did it ever cross your mind that Master of the Wind would become as big as it is now? What do you think contributed to that success?

It was the first time that we had shared a game with the RPG Maker community, so we had no clue what to expect. When we put out the first demo of Arc I, it was very rough around the edges and the response was mostly indifferent. But we just kept working on it and releasing more content and it started to become very popular after Arc III was finished. As for why it caught on, I would guess it's because ArtBane and I both focused on what we did best and it showed. A lot of people were impressed with how complex the puzzles were, especially since most of them were created just by events, not scripting. That was how ArtBane did it back in the 2k days when there was no scripting option and he had a lot of practice when we started in XP. From my side, I approached the writing like serialized entertainment, like it was a comic book or a TV show rather than a movie or a video game. It's not the fastest paced game, but the approach I used allowed for a lot of detail in the lore and characters, which I think people really enjoyed.

We had some great years with MotW as a heavy hitter, but I think now it's faded into RM history. It's spoken of in high esteem but I'm not sure how many people are still playing it. The 30+ hour length that once impressed people is now intimidating, like when your buddy lends you six seasons of some acclaimed TV show. You've heard its good, but it's just such a commitment. We're really grateful for all the acclaim and awards we got, our experience with MotW was a great foundation for whatever happens next.


And of course you swept so many Misaos. So how did you segue from making games like that to starting on very unique projects like X-Noir? What was it like making such a unique game like that?

Yes, a lot of Misaos. For anyone who wasn't following RM news back then, Arc IV and VII both won Game of the Year (2007 and 2011) and Arc V lost that category by less than 10 votes. I wouldn't be surprised if we were banned from them forever at this point.

After MotW, we felt like we had done all we wanted with the large-scale epic fantasy. We figured our next game would have more experimental game mechanics and a less traditional storyline. There were three ideas that were getting tossed around and one of them was to do some kind of film-noir detective game. X-Noir wound up being far less straight-forward than that. In the same way that MotW has some subtext that challenges the typical superhero conventions, X-Noir has a needy sad sack for a hero instead of the usual macho tough guy. That wasn't really the intention going in, but we both really wanted to have a highly vulnerable lead character so it just turned out that way. That scenario reflects the rest of the game's development so far - we just started working on it without fully knowing what it would be. It makes for a game that can feel inconsistent or just plain odd, but I'm quite happy with its writing and I fully intend to finish it - it's about 2/3 done.

And as for your personal works, you wrote the dystopian satire novel The World Beyond, which to my understanding is a futuristic parable about the dangers of the media and their tendency to give a false representation of reality at the expense of their televised victims in return for, what rules the world, power. With that novel and others, do you intend to make a statement with your creative projects sometimes?

That's a very impressive summary of the book's themes, I like that. I remember back when I was working on my first game all those years ago, I wrote a scene late in the game that was influenced by the bullying I was experiencing in high school. At that point, I had a huge epiphany that I could use my work as an outlet for my feelings about the real world. Sounds obvious but it felt like a revelation back then. I've learned since that I need to check myself every so often - MotW in particular gets out of hand with the social/political commentary sometimes, like I'm trying to weigh in on all the world's problems at once. Since then, I've tried to have a more focused approach when it comes to that stuff. The World Beyond is primarily about journalism and the media, even though I could have used the dystopian setting to comment on all sorts of other issues. Lately, I've been taking a more personal approach to the subtext - both Labyrinthine Dreams and X-Noir are less about solving the problems of the world and more about fighting for your own happiness within a world full of problems. Maybe that's age talking.

That is true. Speaking of Labyrinthine Dreams, yours and Artbane's Kickstarter, which was set to raise $6000, was thankfully a success! Which means that Labyrinthine Dreams will receive a graphical update, much to your pleasure and relief, I presume. How would you describe Labyrinthine Dreams' development, it being a very distinct game in tone to many other stereotypical RPG Maker games? How has the success of the Kickstarter reaffirmed your suspicion that people might indeed enjoy a game like Labyrinthine Dreams

We had a prototype of LD available on the Kickstarter page although I'm not sure how many people tried it out. A lot of the donors helped us out because they knew us, but hopefully the donors we didn't know were convinced by our description of the game's story and concept. I think the success of other indie games that have a very serious, introspective tone to them has proven that there's definitely a market for games that tell small-scale, personal stories.

With LD, we were going for something very compact, something that could be easily updated if we had the opportunity. Art has always been a major issue for our projects since our talents fall outside that area. But we don't like to just sit around and pout if we don't have the art we want, we just make the content with what we have. But once you decide to try and sell a game, it's not so practical to cut corners like that, hence the Kickstarter funding. With a game as small as LD, it's a more realistic goal to overhaul the whole thing visually. Can you imagine the cost of trying to do this with a game the size of MotW? It would be way beyond what we'd be able to raise on Kickstarter. It's a great feeling to know that the list of art needs we're currently compiling isn't just a pie in the sky wishlist, but something that we'll be able to get for sure.


Labyrinthine Dreams
Yes. Also, your twin boys are very cute. Did they help you make the game?

Oh, thanks! They did help make the game although they don't know it. For me, Labyrinthine Dreams is a distillation of everything that happened in the year leading up to their birth...and it was a pretty epic year. I hope the broad strokes of the game are feelings that all the players can relate to, but there's no question that my experiences shaped the way the story turned out. Once they're older, they'll be expected to carry their own weight around here. One can learn art, the other can learn programming. Then we'll be in real good shape. B-D

Sounds like a plan, then. What is in the near future for Volrath? What will be the thing most occupying your time within the next, say, year?

Babies. But I assume you meant creative projects? This autumn, we'll have the overhaul on Labyrinthine Dreams. Except for some revisions here and there, not too much is left for me to do since the story is already in place. ArtBane will be tweaking the maze puzzles based on feedback we've gotten on the first version. Once the art's done and the new version is polished and ready to go, we'll take it to the masses and then a LOT will depend on how it sells. I would also really like to see X-Noir finished. That one got pushed aside for a while by LD, but it was never far from my thoughts. The finish line is in sight and I think having it complete in a year's time is a reasonable goal. ArtBane and I have also been doing some very preliminary brainstorming on a new project and I suspect there will be more to that one in a year's time too.


Projected Graphical Upgrade of Labyrinthine Dreams
Cool. Lastly, to conclude our interview, I will introduce the section of questions that I ask every interviewee, the "5 Favourites". They are as follows:

What is your favourite food?
I don't think I can narrow it down, but chances are it's unhealthy.
What is your favourite actor/actress?
I'd say my favorite actor is the late George C. Scott and my favorite actress is Naomi Watts.
What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?
Cooke Dough.
What is your favourite musical artist/style?
I listen to a lot of metal and progressive rock, although I can't tolerate much of the growling stuff. Iron Maiden is my favorite band, but I'm also a huge fan of Nightwish, Anathema, Sonata Arctica, Porcupine Tree and Within Temptation.
What is your favourite day of the week and why?
It's not the most original choice but Friday. Especially if it's the Friday before a vacation, nothing beats that.

Thanks very much for the interview Volrath, and I hope all the best for you, your wife and your new children. Oh, and your dog.

The dog will be happy to hear that! Thanks for the interview, you're doing a really cool thing for the forum. I've enjoyed reading the previous interviews.

[This is the eleventh part of a multi-part series that will be released every few days, whenever I get the chance. The other parts are Archeia, Gorlami, Mister Big T, Shaz, seita, Tsukihime, Dark Gaia and Deckiller. Try Labyrinthine Dreams now.]
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Innovate, don't emulate
Oct 15, 2012
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I am really looking forward to the completion of X-Noir. I've really enjoyed the demo of it. Maybe I should get myself to check out Master of the Wind one of these days. :)  


RPG Maker Mastermind
Nov 8, 2012
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I'm probably going to be one of those people who will get X-Noir the hour it's posted online XD

Seriously love this interview, when you told me you were going to interview Volrath, benny, I knew this would be good.

And it also happens to be when I do a second play through of Master of the Wind and watching episodes of Clean Slate. I've been trying to get my brother to play MOTW but he doesn't play RM games often...

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