Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with members of Lunaris Games team—the team behind the LGBTQ+ visual novels When the Night Comes and Errant Kingdom. This time around, I had the chance to chat with members of Nix Hydra, the team behind the massively popular fantasy mobile game, The Arcana.
Nix Hydra got its start with the virtual pet mobile game Egg Baby and has since branched out to create the wildly popular fantasy romance game The Arcana in 2018. The Arcana is the team’s first visual novel and has been wildly popular, garnering praise for it’s dynamic cast and inventive storytelling. In the game you play an unnamed magician’s apprentice with a gift for fortune telling. When your master, Asra, a renowned magician leaves on an unexpected trip, you are left to look after his shop. But, before he leaves, you with his prized Tarot deck. Not long after, you are visited by two mysterious strangers: the beautiful Countess, Nadia and the disgraced physician Julian. Each stranger has a request that will change the course of your life forever. The game has since expanded to include more characters and stories for player to enjoy.
In 2019, the team released their second visual novel app, FictIF—a collection of several standalone story based visual novels. There are currently four series available, ranging from fantasy adventure to historical drama! I’ve been a long time fan of the team, so I was excited to get the opportunity to chat with some of their members of their FictIF and Arcana teams—Dev, Lynne, and Nathalie. So without further ado, let’s turn things over to them…
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, as a long-time fan of The Arcana, I am super excited to be talking to you guys! I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Dev: Hey, I’m Dev! I’m a writer and game designer who used to work in licensing adapting comic books like The Walking Dead into video games. Now I write Last Legacy for FictIf.
Lynne: Hi, I’m Lynne, one of the writers on the Arcana. I wrote Julian’s route from Book 10 onwards, and I now write Portia’s route. I also co-created the concept for and did a lot of the writing on Nix Hydra’s newest title, Potions Please.
Nathalie: Hi there! I’m Nathalie, Editorial Director for FictIf and the Arcana. My background is in storytelling, I worked most of my career as a writer and editor at The Walt Disney Company. Now, I’ve had the pleasure of creating diverse stories with an incredible team of individuals!
Before I dive into your work with Nix Hydra, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?
Dev: Growing up, my big brother always needed a player two for his co-op games, so that’s basically how I got my start. I think the first game that made me actually want to design my own was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Every time I played it, I was left wanting to know more about the world, the characters, and those adorable little ghost buddies. Eventually I got super into JRPGs like Final Fantasy IX and Xenogears and that pretty much doomed me.
Lynne: My parents were both computer engineers, so I always had edutainment games growing up–ClueFinders, Carmen San Diego, that kind of thing. When I was a little older, they got me a Gameboy Color for road trips, with Golden Sun and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, and that was the start of it. From there, games like Kingdom Hearts, FFX, and Digital Devil Saga (which has not aged that well…) really cemented my love of games with weird stories and expansive worlds.
Nix Hydra got its start with the virtual pet game Egg Baby and has since branched out to create the wildly popular romance game The Arcana—your team’s first visual novel release. What are some things that you think set The Arcana apart from some of the other romance themed visual novels already in the market?
Lynne: With the Arcana, we focused on polishing and developing a single story set within a more expansive world. When we were writing and releasing the first three routes (Asra, Julian, and Nadia), we brainstormed each book together, and while some aspects of the story remained consistent between routes, each route showed a different aspect of the world or the characters involved. We also have a strong focus on story first, with romance being woven together with the plot so neither is ignored in favor of the other.
In 2019, your team released their second romance app, FictIF—a collection of several different romance themed visual novels similar to Crazy Maple Studio’s Chapters and Pocket Gem’s Episodes. What prompted the transition from a singular branching story format like that of The Arcana to the choose your own adventure format in FictIF?
Dev: With FictIf, we have this great opportunity to take everything the team’s learned from Arcana and apply it to new stories and new genres with different creators.
Lynne: While we really enjoy writing the Arcana, we also wanted to explore more format and structure options in VNs. It made sense to do so with a ‘library’ type app, as opposed to making multiple solo apps, so that was the direction we pursued!
Both The Arcana and FictIF feature stories with diverse casts of characters—with love interests in all shades and hues, sexual orientation, and gender identity. How important is representation in the games that your team creates? What are some things that you do to ensure that your characters aren’t inherently trope-y or stereotypical?
Lynne: Many of the employees at Nix Hydra are themselves queer, BIPOC, and people of diverse genders, including myself. Growing up, I didn’t see people like me in games that often, and when I did they usually fit into a few very narrow boxes. I started making games because I wanted to help change that. I was initially interested in working at Nix Hydra because, as a company, they were very inclusive and interested in making games with a wide range of characters and storylines. I wanted to write diverse characters going on adventures in fantasy worlds, running magic shops, traveling through space, and more.
When there’s only one character of a given identity in a story, avoiding every stereotype and trope can instead turn them into the anti-stereotype, and they become a sort of monolith. They become the sort of, be-all and end-all of representation for that identity in the story, and that’s an impossible position to be put in. The solution for us has been, simply, more. When we have multiple characters with different identities, we can show different sides of their experiences, and they can occupy different roles in the story and world. It’s also important to think of each character as a character, not just a collection of tropes or traits. Part of this is doing research, learning more about different people’s experiences and perspectives, and discussing our ideas with our colleagues. Part of this is just practice, improving our skills at writing distinct characters with their own unique voices.
Nathalie: I’ll put it simply. I’m a first generation Mexican (mom) – Colombian (dad) American. I grew up hearing, watching, reading stories that were so different from what I was brought up experiencing. I’m a storyteller, and I think the most important thing for me is to tell great stories with positive messages that resonate with people from all walks of life. I want people to be able to read a story and see themselves in the story as well, and to tell diverse stories to showcase how beautiful and different cultures are!
Dev: Echoing what’s already been said, I grew up seeing all sorts of characters that just didn’t feel like me—that I couldn’t relate to and it’s really important to me that marginalized developers like myself get these opportunities to create characters and worlds that speak to us. Like Lynne said, no single character should or can encompass an entire race or identity or experience. And that’s true for the people writing them too. This industry just needs more marginalized folks from all walks of life involved at every level of production and development.
The Arcana has grown considerably since its initial release in 2016, in part due to Nix Hydra’s engaging their audience in the development of the game. Your team encourages players to send in suggestions about things they’d like to see in future updates of the game—this was most evident during the most recent “Save Portia” campaign, where fans lobbied to save the Portia’s route in the game. What are some aspects of the game that were directly influenced by fans?
Lynne: So, as Portia’s writer, I was part of the “Save Portia” campaign from start to finish. I think that really illustrates the part of the game most directly influenced by fans: readership numbers. As creatives, we’re committed to telling a wide range of interesting stories; as people with bills to pay, we need to think about what will be successful. Ideally, those two groups are a circle, but more often it looks like a Venn diagram, and our job is to find the intersection between them. By necessity, we work on stories that resonate with enough people to find broad support, and we try to tell interesting stories about diverse people within that space.
We love that our audience is so engaged, because it means that they’ve really connected with our stories and characters. While we can’t look at story ideas for legal reasons, we love seeing people’s feedback on the stories we publish and the features we release.
Dev: Unfortunately, it’s difficult for smaller companies to support content if customers aren’t paying for it. This is especially true when it comes to more indie, lower budget stuff. There are so many stories we’d love to tell that just would not be profitable enough to keep the lights on. That said, we’re really thankful for all the support that we get.
FictIF is a collection of episodic visual novels. How did your team come up with so many different stories for the app? Where did you draw inspiration from when developing your characters?
Dev: Surprise to no one, Last Legacy was heavily inspired by a lot of my favorite JRPGs and MMOs like Ragnarok Online and Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve always found isekai stories appealing. Like who doesn’t occasionally fantasize about being spirited away to a different world (especially nowadays)? Anyway, I spent a lot of time thinking about the characters in role-playing games that stuck with me—the ones that I loved, or despised, or bounced between feeling both in the case of a certain egg-head elf…
Nathalie: Two Against the World came from my love of gangster TV shows and movies, and tying it into my favorite genre to write, magical realism. I picked my favorite eras, and that led me to Gatsby’s 1920s, Old Hollywood 1950s, and a Vibrant Miami in the 1980s.
Who Killed La Dama Roja? was my way of spotlighting a beautiful country and culture known for many negative stereotypes. I wanted to both touch upon in one route, and diminish in another. We thought this was the best setting for a murder mystery where all isn’t as it seems. Lastly, probably the most important part is the legacy left behind by a successful woman, and one’s duty to protect what’s most valuable! Roadkill was pitched by one of my freelance writers, while brainstorming we wanted to touch about how life after college is something you’re completely unprepared for and can become a bit of a drag. Then came the idea: as an eager recent college graduate, you set out on the path to your dreams, and end up living your nightmares.
What are some stories you’d like to explore in future installments of the FictIF app?
Lynne: While my focus is currently on finishing Portia’s route in the Arcana, there are plenty of new stories I want to tell that would be ideal for Fictif’s format. I like writing stories involving horror (this shows in some of Julian and Portia’s books), weird/surreal fiction, and modern fantasy, so those are all areas I’d like to explore in the future. But for now, keep your eyes skyward: a new story will be blasting off soon!
Nathalie: There are so many! Among other things, you can look forward to strong female leads, new story formats, and a bit of magic as well.
Dev: The sky’s the limit! I think it’d be really awesome to do much shorter-form stories too. Like, I’d also love to write a horror story with a bunch of terrible endings…
For The Arcana, do you already have an ending planned out for this story and these characters? If so, how do you think fans receive your ending for the game?
Lynne: For the Portia, Muriel, and Lucio routes, we roughly planned their stories from start to finish before we got started on their first books. While we left room for plot twists and unexpected shakeups along the way, this helped us plot our trajectories and foreshadow important developments.
We hope fans will be surprised, delighted, and ultimately satisfied by the endings for their routes, of course! It’s hard to tell exactly how stories will be received before they’re released, so we’ve been focusing on telling the best stories we can.
Just personally, I hope you’re all ready for secrets and possible betrayal on a grand scale 😉
Lastly, what are some things we can expect from the Nix Hydra team in the future?
Dev: More characters that make you want to gnash your teeth and tear out your hair!
Nathalie: Exciting new stories, and new ways of storytelling!
Lynne: We’re far from finished! There’s all kinds of exciting stories in the pipeline that we can’t wait to show you. Keep your eyes on our page in the Apple & Google Play stores….
Bonus Question: If you were the star of your very own visual novel. What would it be about, and how well do you think you’d do in it?
Dev: There’s this isekai anime called My Next Life as a Villainess that appeals to me because I, too, would love to be a messy, cackling villain. Like, sign me right up! That’s part of the fun in playing like renegade Shep in Mass Effect or rolling a completely reprehensible character in like Dragon Age, right?
That said, I’m pretty sure I’d fail miserably at being the big bad because I’m secretly a big softie…
Lynne: So, funnily enough, I personally am aromantic/asexual, so any visual novel starring me would be friendship-routes-only by default! I would love to star in a visual novel about a fantasy cooking championship, like Battle Chef Brigade! Maybe I could be a matchmaker for the other contestants…
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to the Nix Hydra team for taking the time to do this Q&A with me! I especially want to thank Dev for setting everything up between me and the team, you are absolutely AMAZING!
Below are some links to the Nix Hydra team’s social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.