KO_OP's Marcela Huerta told us about Goodbye Volcano High, its interactive rhythm and lyrics system, and the work with Unity and the Ink scripting language.
My name is Marcela Huerta, the Community Director at KO_OP. I joined the games industry in 2020, with this position at KO_OP. Additionally, I hold the position of Poetry Editor at carte blanche magazine. Previously, I worked as an Assistant Editor at Drawn & Quarterly and as a graphic designer, both freelance and at studios. I am also the author of Tropico, published by Metatron Press.
At KO_OP, I’ve worked on the Community and Marketing efforts for Dépanneur Nocturne, Winding Worlds, and Goodbye Volcano High and Narrative Design on an unannounced project.
Goodbye Volcano High
The development story for Goodbye Volcano High has its roots in 2018 when the idea for a dating sim featuring dinosaurs was first floated by all of KO_OP’s co-owners. From there, the idea developed significantly, morphing from a dating sim that would chronicle 3 separate characters to a succinct story following one protagonist.
Since 2018, the development team has grown to include over 30 people, as all the different departments expanded to support the scope of the game. This includes a full-fledged art team with backgrounds, characters, animation, rigging, and storyboards. The technical department saw the inception of KO_OP’s QA team too. There’s an integration team, and programmers dedicated to audio development, dev ops, and more.
We wanted to make something that took our chosen medium to a new place. What made it interesting to us was being able to treat it artistically as a cinematic piece allowed us a lot of particular attention on the story we wanted to tell. We could put all our effort into creating an engaging story and presenting that to the player in creative ways. When we started the format of the game wasn’t the right match for our team - we had never made anything like this. As we gathered a bigger group of collaborators on the game we matched the team to the production. Our teammates range from people with experience in television to design to games. So we really built a unique space to make the game we wanted to make.
GVH stands out with its presentation most of all – there aren’t many games on the market that look, feel, or sound like it. We’re telling a queer story that’s filled with color and hand-animation and painted backgrounds. On top of that, our design really hones in on letting the player get inside Fang’s mind. Mechanically, everything is in service of the player experiencing the story. Lastly, our story is focused on a setting I don’t think we see very often: pre-apocalypse. It’s something I think is remarkably parallel to the world we live in and is worth discussing. I hope players see themselves in the characters and in seeing them develop and feel things about their world, the players also develop and feel things about their own world.
Ink Scripting Language
Our game’s story is all formatted in Ink, which has been used in various other games and was the best fit for our needs. We organize all the scripts and choices using Ink and then that’s used in Unity to create a unique video editing-style interface in Unity’s timeline system. This allows us to cut the game nearly the same way you might do for a television show or a movie. We time shots, music, everything on that timeline and we can make cuts or additions to dialogue seeing it in action. It really allows us to be creative and match the process to the final presentation of the game. Having that 1:1 in our work matters immensely in the day-to-day.
We are huge fans of anime on the GVH team – it was one of our primary inspirations when we first started developing the concept of the game. We always knew we wanted to take the visual style of an animated show or movie and put our own aesthetic spin on it. Everything that followed was in service of that original vision, even setting the framerates of our animations to the right amount and focusing on traditional methods to make the characters move. Our work with characters usually started with storyboards to get our character acting down. It would then go to animators to start the process of fleshing out all the animations in the scene in Spine 2D. Our rigs for the characters are extremely complex so the process of animating the characters was meticulous and required a lot of attention from our animators to pull everything together.
Rhythm & Lyrics System
Every music performance in the game is supported by the narrative and, in turn, supports the narrative. They are all placed in the story at particular moments as part of Fang’s journey and thoughts and ambitions. We wanted to convey that Fang is consumed by their focus on music and also uses it to release their emotions, especially in tumultuous times. Letting the player be a part of those performances with our rhythm gameplay was our way of putting the player closer to Fang in those moments. It was important to us to thin the space between Fang and the player as much as possible, so giving the player a sense of that sort of musical flow state was integral to that.
From the start we wanted our rhythm gameplay to be accessible and experiential. We focused on less traditional forms of rhythm gameplay to achieve an effect that engages the player but doesn’t overwhelm them. As for the lyrics portions, it is another way for us to place the player in the center of Fang’s hopes. For the player to fully understand Fang, they need to share in their creation and ambition. Letting the player choose certain lyrics for the songs that would then be performed was one way for us to further that effect.
As we developed the game we realized how important it was to us to tell a particular story. Our game has one ending – it reflects the journey we see for Fang. There are portions of that journey that change with the player’s choices and character moments that can be different. Mostly because we wanted to focus our story, our design went down a path of having additive moments throughout the game. With choices and actions, Fang finds themself building up an affinity with various characters – how that adds up expands the experience. By choosing how to respond to certain characters, the relative affinities between them necessitate that the player gain some rewards at the cost of missing others. Rewards can take the form of extra scenes, photos, flashbacks, and changed scenes.
Relationships are at the core of GVH both in story and design. The driving force of everything in the game is its characters and the gameplay experience is dictated by that. Our script is almost entirely focused on dialogue between various characters and how their relationships fracture, deepen, and mend at the end of the world.
With the characters of the game, we wanted to reflect how different personalities might experience a crisis and how they might pull together with others. What we started with were the character traits that we felt would be the most interesting in the story: the moody but ambitious musician; the chill, aloof friend; the excitable overthinker, among others. Seeing how these traits interact with each other makes up the whole of the game and it lets players deepen their understanding of the characters and themselves. By virtue of their limited time left on earth, our ensemble must face their own coping mechanisms and how they change their relationships. Everyone in the game gets their moment and their resolution.
The biggest challenge faced during the development of GVH was devising and adapting to new processes to support the scope of the biggest game the studio has made to date. There was a learning curve associated with how best to produce a game of this size, with as many moving parts as it has.
Since there are so many elements, integration has had to happen laterally and that meant for a long time, things weren’t really reflecting all the behind-the-scenes work that was being put in. But as departments caught up with one another, it all came together in an astoundingly satisfying way.
The multi-faceted and supremely talented team behind GVH was the biggest ‘success’ for the game. KO_OP’s atmosphere has always aimed to be one of collaboration where everybody’s voice has the support and space to voice concerns and ideas. This resulted in a much richer art style, story, and game design than what would have been possible otherwise.
We’ve had fans express interest in platforms other than PC, PS5, and PS4, but this is something we would have to consider at a later date. It would be awesome if that worked out though!
We’ve also been seeing requests for localization beyond English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Russian (which the launch will have support for), so a future update where we could accommodate this is on our radar as a hopeful item to tackle.