[Interview] "Lovely Little Thieves" Blends the Feel of 80's Horror Movies and Visual Novels for a Tubular Combination
You wake up from a strange, terrifying dream, surrounded by those you have met before and yet you have no memory of their existence. You try to piece together your life, desperately trying to figure out what your relationship to the people around you was. That dream unfortunately has given you some disturbingly realistic hallucinations and it is starting to get harder and harder to brush them off when your dreams seem to be becoming dangerous.
Will you be able to find all you need to know about these people who are your “friends” or will you be too late to save anyone, including yourself from the oppressive forces surrounding you?
Lovely Little Thieves is a visual novel game created by PangoDango Games, which blends horror and visual novel elements in a delightfully 80s package. The game is currently on Kickstarter and was just recently fully funded but is still looking for support. A demo is available on the Kickstarter page for all of those who are interested in multiple choices and outcomes to each scenario.
The plot of the game is as follows: you are Dawn, a young woman who has a traumatizing nightmare and wakes up with very sketchy memories of her past. She is on a road trip with a group of people, most of which she knows and one that she doesn’t know. It is a spring break trip and while everything seems to be going fine at first, when the car stops it all goes downhill, forcing the group to go to a creepy old house for shelter for the night. Once inside they find they can no longer escape, leaving the player to help Dawn and her friends try to survive the night.
With a visual novel style, all of the choices in the game are important, and ultimately help determine which of the many endings the player will get. This gives the game high replay value as well and a sense of impending dread as to where your choices will ultimately lead you.
I recently interviewed Hope Chapman, also known as JesuOtaku, the founder of PangoDango games and creator of this “tubular” story to learn more about this intriguing entry into the visual novel genre.
GS: How did PangoDango Games come into being?
Hope Chapman: PangoDango came into being because I had a visual novel I wanted to make, that being Lovely Little Thieves, and I needed some kind of label to release it under. So the game came first, and the need for some kind of production name came after that. I thought hard about the name, because if I really did get to complete the first game and decided to make more after that, I wouldn't want it to be under a name I chose on a whim and really only related to Lovely Little Thieves. So pangolins and dumplings have absolutely nothing to do with the subject of our first game, but I thought it was a cute production name that I would be happy sticking with if LLT was not the first and last game or whatever.
GS: Is the entire team in the same area or do you contact one another via Skype?
Hope Chapman: Oh no, our team is global. In fact, when it comes to the demo team alone, I'm literally the only creator on the team who even lives in the U.S.A. at all! Two of our artists live in the U.K., one in Chile, another in Australia, and the guy who did the music is from Canada! So yeah, we use Skype and e-mail, that kinda thing. It works just fine for this kind of project.
GS: Where did the idea of Lovely Little Thieves come from? Is it something you’ve been pondering for a while or did it just strike you recently?
Hope Chapman: The idea came from an October movie marathon my fiancé and I were doing with friends online where we watched through every Freddy and Jason movie. Yeah, no, all of them. After a million Nightmare on Elm Streets and a billion Friday the Thirteenths, we were pretty goddamn sick of the formula, but the experience really stuck with me all the same. Just a couple weeks later, I had this really powerful urge to turn the slasher movie cliché into a visual novel taking place in a haunted house, where the people you weren't pursuing dating-sim style died off horribly. Ideas come and go but this one just kept evolving and mutating and making me want to get up and move around or write stuff down, etc. etc. So I decided I had to actually make this idea, once I figured out more about what the story and characters underneath the broad concept were. (I decided to make it a more serious horror story based around a complex cast rather than an ironic cheesy gimmick like it kind of was at the natal stage.) A year later, hey, here it is!
GS: What were your biggest inspirations for this game?
Hope Chapman: Well, 80s pop culture is the big one, of course. I wasn't alive in the 80s, (I was born in 1990) but it's a decade that kind of speaks to me with its shameless excess and popularization of the bombastic. I'm cherry picking aspects of the 80s when I say that, of course, but those are the aspects I love. So there are character archetypes and story devices from those slasher movies all over this thing, but it's all surface. It's not an "ironic" game, so I don't want to aim for a crass n' cheesy tone, or write characters literally as their source stereotypes. It's just a starting point for the premise and after that I just took it in whatever direction worked best for the story and made the characters feel like real people to me.
When it comes to deeper influences, like for the tone and plot, that broad anime flavor is kind of hard to deny. I love the way a lot of late night anime just throws itself full force into blood, sex, and high emotion while retaining this almost embarrassing sincerity that you don't see in things that are playing to the same demographic in the west. Once again, I'm cherry picking anime to say that, but the stuff that really sinks its hooks into teens like Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Attack on Titan have that great two-hit combo of pulp and passion that I would love to echo in something that I wrote too. All I can do is try!
Oh, and I unintentionally stole narrative ideas from Majora's Mask and Shadow of the Colossus, because those are two of my favorite games and they just wormed my way into my subconscious without me noticing. I didn't realize I'd done that until people basically showed me I had by pointing out similar aspects in Lovely Little Thieves. Whoops! I knowingly stole the villain's eyes from Catherine, though! I thought they were a great visual idea in that game, so I snatched them.
GS: From the demo, it seems that all of the characters in the game are going to get into various escalating conflicts; will Dawn be able to take sides during these events?
Hope Chapman: You'll have to! All the choices in the demo are 50/50, and this will continue throughout the rest of the game. At the beginning the choices are pretty inconsequential, but they'll get pretty damn brutal the further the story goes along. So yeah, if you thought the group couldn't get along before...
GS: Will these choices change her relationships with not only the conflicting character but other characters in the party?
Hope Chapman: It's really on a case-by-case basis there. Not everyone has the same personality or psychology, so "choosing to side with one person over another" in a conflict may not automatically make the sided party like you or the rejected party dislike you. It's strictly case-by-case, and why you make a certain decision usually matters a lot more than what the decision actually is.
GS: In what year does the story take place?
Hope Chapman: The game takes place in "198?"
GS: Is it possible for more than one character to die by the end of the game?
Hope Chapman: It's not even possible for only one character to die by the end of the game. Don't worry, there's also a way to save everyone in the true ending! But people are just going to have to die first.
GS: Do we get to learn more about the characters home lives as the story goes on?
Hope Chapman: Yes, depending on how you play and what happens, you'll learn a lot more about a couple characters in a single playthrough. Not all five at once, though! The demo does say at the end that thanks to your decisions, at least one of Dawn's friends won't even survive to see the next morning. So the demo is the only time all five characters will be together during that 72-hour countdown. (Hopefully that excuses the long buildup of road travel and woods escapades!)
GS: How long have you been working on this game?
Hope Chapman: I started work on the scenario and characters in November of last year, started commissioning art for the project last February, and started writing the script and coding the game as of April. Then it went to Kickstarter and full demo a month ago, so one year pretty much exactly!
GS: What software did you use to program the game?
Hope Chapman: Ren'Py, which is an open source engine made specifically for visual novel creation, that uses the Python scripting language. I'm not a programmer at all; this is my first time really doing anything like this, so it's a good thing Ren'Py has an active and supportive community of experts and teachers ready to help out!
GS: Out of all the characters in the game, which character would you rather be stuck in a haunted house with?
Hope Chapman: You know, all of them are good for different things and they kind of need each other to keep the group stable, so I don't know which one I would single out. Picking just one seems kind of dangerous. I guess if the haunted house was deadly and I was worried for my mortal safety, Russell would be the best protector. If it was haunted in more of a spooky-but-not-deadly way, I would want Colin around to parse through the mystery with me. If it was just a phony-baloney haunted house, like an attraction or something, I'd go with Randy.
Thank you Hope Chapman of PangoDango Games for allowing me to interview you. To find out more information about Lovely Little Thieves check out their Kickstarter, Twitter and Tumblr. Visual novel games are an interesting way to explore narrative in video games and with the team behind Lovely Little Thieves, this might be a game that is worth a look for anyone who loves great story and character development in games.