Well. Here I am again helping the Yuri Nation get psyched up for another highly anticipated Yuri title. That being the #YuriRoadTrip, #YuriGoldRush, #YuriTruckers North American road trip themed yuri Kinetic Novel, Alienworks’ Highway Blossoms. Join me as I interview HB developer, J. Kaplan. Once again, sit back and enjoy the read.
J. Kaplan: First off, thanks for the interview! It’s been a pleasure answering these. Please lemme know if you have any other questions – Alienworks and yuri are my two favorite things to talk about.
To introduce myself real quick, my name is Josh Kaplan, and I’m also known as Raithfyre, although I’m probably going to ditch that username sometime soon. I’m one of the writers and the producer for Highway Blossoms, an upcoming yuri kinetic novel. I was part of the writing team for Melody’s route (the draft) in “Starlight Vega,” and I’ve also worked on a couple other VN projects throughout the past couple years, though they never really got finished. Now I’m happily a part of Alienworks, and wouldn’t change that for the world.
Give a brief description of Alienworks as a company.
J. Kaplan: Alienworks formed in late 2012 or early 2013 – can’t remember which. Like lots of other EVN dev groups, we were pretty inspired by Katawa Shoujo and wanted to recreate that experience. Years later, we’re doing our best to have AW be a fully sustainable company within the next 5 years or so. We have two games currently in progress: “Highway Blossoms,” of course, and “The Human Reignition Project.” HRP is a really long, multi-route BxG game that we’re hoping to have out early-to-mid next year. As for the team ourselves, well, about half of us live in the United States, and the other half around the world: Canada, Australia, England, Germany, Philippines, and Singapore.
What was the inspiration behind making Highway Blossoms?
J. Kaplan: Honestly, it was a bit of a whim. Back in late ’14 or early ’15, Syon (the director and other writer for HB) and I were drinking and talking on Skype, and he asked if I’d be interested in writing a short yuri game with him. Of course, I agreed. Eventually, he suggested the idea of two girls on a cross-country roadtrip together, and I came up with the treasure hunt aspect. Syon did most of the outlining and chose the landmarks that they visit, but a lot of the story is drawn upon our own experiences.I live in the Western US and have been to a lot of the places that Amber and Marina visit, and I think he probably has too.
Highway Blossoms was originally intended to be a smaller title. What changed the minds of the Alienworks staff to make the title bigger and better? (I mistakenly thought this was a Yurijam entry by the way. My bad.)
J. Kaplan: HB was never a Yurijam game – maybe you’re thinking of the project I was working on, “Scattered Notes?” (Which is actually still gonna get finished sometime!, just very, very late!) However, you’re still right in spirit! The original scope we had imagined for HB was way smaller than what it ended up being. It was just gonna be a “test run” kind of thing that might not have even gotten released, simply as a practice run for HRP. However, we ended up with something way better than we expected. Mostly, I’d have to say that’s due to the generosity of our publisher, Sekai Project. Originally we were planning to just pay for the game assets out of our pockets, which meant that we had a budget of a couple thousand at best. Fortunately, SP liked our sample assets and what we had in mind for the game, and gave us the funding to actually make something pretty good.
Highway Blossoms CG
Besides the protagonists’ (Amber and Marina) blossoming relationship what else can everyone expect from Highway Blossoms’ story?
J. Kaplan: It’s a pretty fun adventure story, I think, because the girls visit a lot of famous national parks and landmarks. Some of them are the kinds of places that (to my understanding) you know about even if you don’t live in the US. Besides that, I think the side characters are pretty fun. They’re kinda cartoon character-esque; intentionally over-the-top and silly. Finally, totally not biased or anything, but the soundtrack is really damn good and I hope people enjoy listening to it outside of the game itself. I play it a lot, when I’m driving or writing or doing whatever. A lot of the music has an American-Western feel that works well with the story and on its own.
Mariah, her younger sister and stooge.
In the Highway Blossoms development blog a certain oddball trio were brought up. Give readers a small glimpse of the role the three will play in the story.
J. Kaplan: Ahh, the Trio. Aside from the two main girls, they’re the only recurring characters. The leader of that troop, Mariah, ends up being kinda like the girls’ rival. She’s a determined treasure hunter who will stop at nothing to get her hands on the gold – which kinda sucks for her, because she’s always two steps behind Amber. Aside from comic relief, they’re also kinda there to anchor Amber sometimes, and remind her of what’s most important. Within the dev team, I think the Trio tend to be the most popular characters. They’re definitely Syon’s favorites, and I don’t think he’s the only one.
You teased the appearance of one lovely lady codenamed “Waifu”. Should everything go well, what does the future hold for “Waifu”?
J. Kaplan: Oh man. Well I’ll spoil this for you: her name is Cassi, and she works at a candy store in one of the cities that Amber and Marina visit. Originally she was just going to be a one-off side character, but when I saw the design for her that Shiyun came up with, I fell in love. Most definitely the cutest character in the game (and I think pretty highly of Marina!). This isn’t a promise at all, but Syon and I have tossed around the idea of doing a content update sometime in the relatively far future, and I’d definitely like to flesh her out some and actually give her a role in the story if I can. If not, well, expect lots of fanfiction from me, at least.
Does it still count as fanfic if I wrote the game, too?
Voice acting for Highway Blossoms is something that is being considered later down the line. Since the game will also contain uncensored love scenes (DRM-Free via Denpasoft and in a later patch on Steam), how will these scenes be approached if all goes well?
J.Kaplan: That’s one of the main issues with VA at the moment, and part of the reason we’re not really pursuing it. I feel like having a fully voiced game but with unvoiced h-scenes would be somewhat immersion-breaking, so if we were gonna do it, we’d have to find VA who would be willing to do the adult content, too. At the moment though, voice acting is so far on the back burner that we haven’t really talked about compromises or solutions too much.
After Highway Blossoms is out and The Human Reignition Project is finished, are there future plans for a second yuri game?
J. Kaplan: Hard to say, because once HB is out, we’re just going to focus entirely on HRP until that’s done. We haven’t put a whole lot of thought into future projects, aside from confirming that we want to make them. That said, Syon and I are the only ones on the team who are really yuri fans, whereas everyone else is indifferent at best. On the other hand, yuri is pretty much all that I wanna work on for the foreseeable future, AND we’ve all kind of agreed that we’ll probably work on multiple smaller titles at once, rather than another massive project like HRP. So, who knows?
When I was in California visiting Syon earlier this month, we tossed around a couple ideas for a sequel to HB, and I’d like to see that happen, but probably not anytime soon.
Personally though, rather than Alienworks as a whole… Well, right now I’m working on a vaguely-Steampunk yuri game with Unwonted Studios, though we haven’t formally announced that yet. Also, I’m hopeful that I’ll be working on a yuri game with another well-known development group, though it’s too early to say for sure there.
What are your thoughts on the state of yuri media in the present compared to the past?
J. Kaplan: I think that at least as far as anime-styled yuri media goes, 2015-2016 are the best years yet. We’ve seen big titles like “Kindred Spirits” and “Nights of Azure,” as well as smaller ones like “The Reject Demon: Toko” and our own “Highway Blossoms.” One game I’ve been playing and enjoying lately is Hanako Games’ most recent release, “A Little Lily Princess.” There’s also been a pretty good amount of crowdfunding success for yuri games, like “Starlight Vega” and “Ne No Kami” (which is currently funding on IndieGoGo!). Considering that yuri fans were somewhat starved of content up until recently, there’s almost too much to keep up with right now. And that’s the best problem to have.
As far as more mainstream media goes, I’m a little bit disappointed that we’re still seeing a lot of the “tragic lesbians” and whatnot happening. It’s awesome that lesbian (and other queer!) characters are becoming more common on regular television and movies, but I really wish their stories had happy endings more often.
What is/are your favourite yuri series in media (live-action, anime, manga/comics, video games etc.)?
: Oh man, I dunno if I can keep this answer short. I don’t read a whole lot of manga, but last year Razz introduced me to Tan Jiu’s “Their Story,” and I’ve been following that pretty fanatically. I just bought the hardcopy off of Amazon, actually. As far as VN’s go, well, like I said, I’m currently reading “A Little Lily Princess.” Also, I tease Ebi-Hime sometimes about doing a more traditional or conventional yuri game, and I really hope that she makes one at some point. Lately, I’ve been reading a TON (like, a book a day) of lesbian young adult fiction, and there’s definitely some great stuff there. Everything by Siera Maley, as well as Kristen Zimmer’s “The Gravity Between Us” are some of my faves. Finally, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is an amazing movie, although it’s definitely… not for everyone.
Before we conclude the interview, what last message do you have for readers?
J. Kaplan: If you’ve been a longtime fan of HB and Alienworks, then thank you so much and I hope you’ll continue to support us. It sounds cliche, but it really does mean the world to us. If you’ve never heard of Highway Blossoms, I hope you’ll check it out when it’s released later this month, and I really hope you enjoy it.
Thank you very much to J. Kaplan for the interview and hopefully, like with Ne No Kami, this has helped ramp up the hype for Highway Blossoms. HB is scheduled for a June 24th, 2016 release on Steam (Censored with an uncensored patch coming later) and Denpasoft (Uncensored).