This week, we interview Christian game developer duo, sisters Melissa and Amy Lester. They are currently working on a unique visual novel/life sim called Artisan: Going Home Again.
The first part of this interview will cover how being a Christian affects their lives and work (along with advice for aspiring developers). The second part will focus on Artisan: Going Home Again.
Artisan: Going Home Again is a family-friendly title that emphasizes building relationships with the game world and its colorful characters. This all occurs in a realistically stylized, down-to-earth setting.
You can try the Open Beta for free here.
Video Games and the Bible: You are Christian video game developers.
How did you come to Christ?
Melissa Lester: Mom took great pains to make sure I knew about Jesus Christ from earliest childhood. I don’t remember a time I didn’t feel close to him!
Amy Lester: The same. Grew up together, you know?
VGB: How has your faith affected the way you make video games?
ML: Actually, my faith is the reason I went into making video games. I remember as a girl playing “Secret of Mana” with Amy and noticing how strange the little world’s religious system was. I complained to her about it:
“So the Women of this sacred village turn into trees and the men turn into swords? Man, if we made games, we could show people God!” That comment started us down the path that led us to our conversation with you today.
AL: The way you make games is affected by the kind of person you are. The way my faith affects my work is the way God has healed my heart; to have peace, to have clarity. In hoping always for the best, and in being ever stronger than the worst.
VGB: Have you had any difficulties being a Christian in the video game industry?
ML: I can’t really say I’ve had all that much exposure to the video game industry before the last month or so–too busy making our first game. I always thought we needed to prove that we were capable of producing a game before we could really get involved in the game development community.
AL: Difficulties? Not at all. I’m very blessed to say that everyone I’ve met has been open and kind. Even if we don’t have the same gameplay philosophies, or otherwise differ in opinions, I would say only the best about those I’ve come to know.
VGB: Do you have any advice for Christians who want to become video game developers?
ML: Don’t let your passion for games rob you of your relationship with Jesus, or your family. Take time each day for them. Also, take care of your body. A healthy spirit, soul, and body will make your games much better in the long run.
AL: I think God likes to surprise those who love Him. I can say that everything I’ve ever wanted, I’ve been given–but never in the way I thought I would find it. Having faith means playing things by ear. Plan your way, but let God show you your steps. And as soon as you can feel the worry of “forging your own path” starting to grip you, let go. Life’s for enjoying, not for figuring out. Let the One who sees the end from the beginning take care of that.
…Actually, he already sort of did, now that I think of it. Nice.
VGB: Can you tell me a bit about Artisan: Going Home Again?
ML: There are two game “worlds” here: The hero’s apartment and the world outside.
The apartment has two mini-games you can play to boost crucial inventory items, and a job system, which is essentially a time management game. The town is experienced as an interactive novel, with your choices affecting the heroine’s relationships with the townsfolk or even giving you new tasks to do back at her apartment. Some jobs you can do at home can unlock new areas in town. In a way, it’s kind of like a text-based adventure game.
VGB: Can you tell me a bit about the story?
ML: Since this is really my sister’s story, I think I’ll pass the mic to her!
AL: You play a sweet, slightly clumsy girl named Ellie. She tends to trip and drop trays when working at her parents’ diner, so she is relegated to napkin folding unless it is very busy. Even then, she mostly makes the salads and deserts, which usually end up being late and far prettier than they need to be.
So when her parents decide to sell the rental property they don’t need anymore (Ellie’s childhood home) she knows only a drastic change will give her any hope of buying it. She decides to leave her ill fitting job waiting tables, and pursue an unlikely career in the only thing she considers herself even remotely good at:
VGB: Would you consider Artisan a Christian game?
ML: While it’s not a direct bible study aid or evangelical device, I’d say His presence can be felt in the game by the way the characters speak, dress (in some cases) and how they treat each other.
AL: I agree. I love what C.S. Lewis once said:
“The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”
My first concern is to do a good job. I trust God to be strong enough to shine through that, without me worrying over Him.
VGB: Has avoiding common, potentially unbiblical clichés been difficult?
ML: Amy’d be the better one to discuss this, but I think the nature of this game’s play mechanic and it’s story’s subject matter kept it on the straight and narrow relatively easily.
AL: You know, it’s odd, but it seems to be something I do automatically.
Whenever I’m writing, and I feel I’m at a point in the story where you assume one thing, that’s when I stop and think about the best way to turn this idea on it’s ear. I get a lot of inspiration in writing against type, or even in reinterpreting motivation within type.
In that regard, I absolutely love clichés!
VGB: Visual Novels/Life Sims are usually known for being sexually provocative. Has avoiding that impression been difficult, and have the results been worth the effort?
ML: Eep! …Amy?
AL: Hmm… Well, some people seem to enjoy teasing me over poor Justin. He’s such a sweetheart of character though, and as the soul representative of the idealist aspect of the creative process, (as opposed to the enthusiast, or the professional) his part is vital to the game.
Even at that, I don’t really think those people assume I’ve written a dating sim game. The story is very much about who the characters are…About their own motivations, about the cares of their own lives. And it is very much the kindness in their own hearts that draws them into helping others–not romance or fairy dust.
Has it been worth it? Completely. A young man told me that he normally can’t identify with female characters in a game, because of the heavy-handed romance typically associated with them, but found our game to be relatable, enjoyable, and respectful to both the female AND male characters. To me — that means I’ve treated the characters, and our players, with the respect they deserve.
That’s worth everything to me.
VGB: What is the greatest inspiration for Artisan: Going Home Again?
ML: Since I was not the lead designer, the burden of exposition falls on the shoulders of my sister. Again.
AL: I love life sim games–but they’re almost always about academic fields rather than creative. We thought it would be fun to make a sim game about the arts, just as a fresh angle.
After a while in development, the game took a rather strong bend to a story driven narrative. The resulting game is somewhere between a visual novel and life-sim.
VGB: What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered in the game’s development?
ML: Ah, this I can talk about! Bar none, the job I hated worst was having to make any changes to the editors I built at the beginning of Artisan’s development. My old code was a mess!
VGB: What is your favorite aspect of either the development or gameplay of Artisan?
ML: This may sound contradictory to my previous answer, but I really am proud of those editors, and the data management classes that depended on them. They worked!
VGB: Do you have some sort of deeper message you want to communicate through the game?
ML: Since this really is her game, I think Amy would be the best one to explain that.
AL: That life is full of changes, and sometimes those changes are scary. Sometimes they’re unfair, and it’s OK to be hurt. That doesn’t mean nothing good can come out of your pain. Have faith, and be strong in it– be kind and reach out of yourself. And when you fail, even in being kind, have patience with yourself, knowing God will never leave you or take away your opportunity to try one more time to be good…
VGB: Finally, what do you want gamers to think about/feel after playing Artisan: Going Home Again?
ML: I hope they feel inspired to find balance in their lives and see how their acts can have a positive impact on those around them. Also, I hope they find the job descriptions in the game funny–I wrote them myself!
AL: To have hope, to have courage…Just to be happy. I think all I ever really want is for people to be happy.
VGB: Thank you so much for your time.
A: Thank you for having us! It was a real pleasure.
M: It absolutely was.
Support these developers by picking up Artisan: Going Home Again when it releases this Winter!