Along the Edge was a wonderful surprise for me; a captivating visual novel with choices that had weight and a main character that felt incredibly well developed. We had the opportunity to ask some question of Along the Edge’s writer, Geoffroy Vincens, both about the narrative and mechanical decisions made in Along the Edge, and his background as a game developer.
Our thanks to Geoffroy, not only for introducing Along the Edge to us, and giving us the opportunity to review it, but also for the chance to ask these questions!
Want to know what we thought about Along the Edge? Check out our full review here.
IndieHangover: What was the inspiration for Along the Edge?
Geoffroy Vincens: When we started working on Along the Edge, we were finishing an episodic point & click game for iOS called Echoes. Echoes was set in the United States, and we really wanted, this time around, to talk about something more personal. I was born and raised in a very rural part of France, an isolated area called “Limousin”, so I proposed to use this locale for our next game. Since I had in mind to put the concept of science vs faith at the center of the story from its inception, this seemed the perfect setting, with its very superstitious population and its majestic oak forests, far removed from the modern world.
As for our artistic intent, we were aiming for something midway between Claude Chabrol, with his vitriolic chronicles of the French countryside, and Polanski, for the way he handles supernatural stories and his mastery of suspense and ambiance. I’m also a big fan of the Basque director Julio Medem, and his 2007 movie, Caótic Ana was a huge influence in the way I fleshed out the main character of Along the Edge, Daphné.
IH: Meaningful choices that change the story are a corner stone of Along the Edge. These revolve around a four point system represented by The Globe, the Sun, the Star and the Moon. How did you settle on this system for conveying player choices?
GV: Well, we talked about this symbol feedback again recently, Nico (the artist) and I, and we still have diverging views about it. I feel like it’s a “necessary evil” while he thinks it’s a great addition to the game that provides a lot of depth to the experience. What we agree upon, however, is that we probably made the right call for Along the Edge, as the system is completely optional (nothing forces you to pay attention to these symbols), but also does a great job at reassuring the readers that yes, all the choices they make are taken into account.
During our play-tests, we noticed that people didn’t feel like they had a real impact on the story, so we realized we had to convey some sort of feedback to show them every single choice mattered. As the evolution of Daphné’s personality was defined on a two-axis map from the very beginning, we didn’t have to make any change in the narrative design itself in order to implement it.
I was strongly against the idea of doing anything that may lead to a “min-maxing” behaviour from the players (“I click on this symbol no matter what, rather than reading the all possible answers and picking the one I prefer”), so we chose to show this feedback only after a choice have been made (and auto-saved). That’s also why we were voluntarily vague about the meaning of the symbols, so that everyone could be free to forge their own interpretation.
Another side benefit is that showing these symbols encourages repeated play-throughs, especially when you couple it with our achievements system. When you get to the end of the story, we show you the variant of Daphné you’ve evolved into, along with the corresponding symbols. If you want to try for another path, you can safely guess which choices you need to make to get to a particular ending.
GV: It was one of the features we wanted to include from the get go. The story of Along the Edge is about a character who has to pick herself up after a major trauma. She’s not a blank slate for the player to use as an avatar, she’s a pre-existing character with her own personality. At the start of the game, Daphné is in a bad place, all of her plans and expectations about her life have been ruined and she feels like she has to go through some major changes to pull herself through. It felt natural to have her change her appearance gradually, according to the readers input, as she is “shedding her old skin”, in a way. However, these changes are not just skin-deep. The way she reacts and interprets the events of the story may also change quite drastically depending on your choices.
I personally enjoy character growth and transformative experiences in literature and popular culture, and I don’t think it’s something that has been explored quite in depth yet, in video games. The games that tried to include this feature in the past are usually strongly based on a Manichaean morality system. For example, in Mass Effect, you can either be a “paragon” or a “renegade” (with matching glowing “scars”). In the Fable series, you get devils horn when you don’t behave or an aureole when you’re nice to villagers. It’s a great idea, but it’s not a very subtle way to implement it, so we tried go for something a bit similar, but more nuanced. I like the idea that in Along the Edge, you don’t get to choose who you “are”, but you get to chose who you become.
IH: One of the things that most surprised me was that in Along the Edge, a game very clearly exploring magic and the occult, you can actually ignore these fantastical elements and handle the conflicts in the story in an incredibly pragmatic way. Why did you include this story path?
GV: Well, the core question we wanted to confront the reader with in Along the Edge goes like this: “if there was a magical explanation for everything that went wrong in your life, would you choose to believe in magic?”. It was very clear from the start that we would allow the story to go in both directions.
I feel that interactive fiction really shines when the author manages to refrain from imposing their own views. Asking tough questions and letting the readers sort through the alternatives on their own, without trying to impose your own ethics, seems way more interesting than punishing players with bad endings, unless they accept to be coerced into behaving like you, the writer, want them to, in order to unlock the “true ending”.
IH: Were there any unforeseen challenges you ran into in creating an interactive graphic novel with so many branching stories? Anything you would have done differently if you had the opportunity to start over?
GV: Sure, in hindsight, there might be some details we could have handled a bit better, but nothing that would have made a huge difference in the end. The only big error of judgement we made with this game was that we underestimated the time it would take to produce it, and by a long shot. We were planning for a three months project, and we ended spending nine months in production.
IH: Turning from Along the Edge to you; How did you get involved in independent game development? What is your Indie Dev Story?
GV: I’ve started the company, Nova-box, in 2007, as a sub-contractor for bigger game studios in the Bordeaux area. Ophir, the other founding partner, and I, both have a degree in Cognitive Sciences, so we specialized in artificial intelligence and ergonomics. We worked on a couple of Nintendo DS titles, such as Partouche Poker Tour and My Hero Firefighter, and that’s when I first dipped into writing for video games. I also started working with Nico back then (he was employed by one of our main clients).
In 2009, Nova-box got hit by the global economic meltdown, so we had to switch to more traditional projects to survive (mainly web and iPhone dev). Since 2013, we’ve been gradually getting back into the gaming industry, starting with Echoes until 2015, and then Along the Edge in 2016.
We’re currently working on two new games, and both of them are also interactive graphic novels. The first one is called Orphan Age Diaries, and it’s a collaboration with another indie game house from Bordeaux, Studio Black Flag. It’s a short interactive story set in the universe of their next game, Orphan Age, a crossover between The Sims and This War of Mine. The other one is still in pre-production, so it’s way too early to give out any details, but we’re aiming for a late 2017 / early 2018 release frame.
IH: What other games have been an inspiration for you, either recently or growing up?
GV: I guess some of the people you’ve asked this question have a very specific childhood memory in mind, maybe from the particular game that made them realise they wanted to make video games themselves when they grow up. I’m afraid that’s not my case. Sure, we had a Nintendo console in the living room when I was a child, but I wasn’t really into gaming before I started working in the industry, so most of my inspiration comes from cinema and literature. To be perfectly honest, what I enjoy most in video games are probably the non-gameplay parts, such as the story, the world building and the cutscenes. I guess that’s why interactive fiction is such a good fit for me.
IH: Finally, are there any indie games or indie development teams that are doing something innovative or creative that has really captured your attention?
GV: Well, there’s a lot of nice things going on with indie narrative games these days. Some indies are trying to break out of the mold of traditional visual novels, and that leads to very interesting prospects. For example, I recently spent a good time playing Lucy Blundel’s One Night Stand (we heard about Indie Hangover via one of her tweets, by the way). We also recently came across a project called Necrobarista, developed by Route 59, and it seems promising in terms of presentation, even though they’re going in the opposite direction from what we’re trying to achieve (we tend to think of our games as “interactive novels” or “interactive comic books”, while they seem to lean towards “interactive animated movies”).
There’s also a very active indie scene in our area around Bordeaux, in the south-west of France, incredibly innovative studios tackling a lot of different genres. To cite a few, I’ve already mentioned about Studio Black Flag and their project Orphan Age, but there’s also Glitch’r and Ebim Studio who are doing nice VR stuff, Manufacture 43 who’s working on a shoot ’em up, or our friends from Headbang Studio who are gathering some well deserved attention for their “rhythm game meets shooter” Double Kick Heroes, not to mention Atelier Sento, who are working The Coral Cave, a point ’n click adventure entirely crafted on paper, with ink and watercolours.
Again, our thanks to Geoffroy for answering our questions and sharing some insight into the development of Along the Edge, and his history as a writer and game developer.