A good story does not need to depend on heavy visuals or excessive length to get a message across, and this is made apparent across the bountiful catalog nurtured by indie developers day by day through the format of short story games in libraries like itch.io.

While all of npckc’s games appear to be cute, compact titles that give players a space to find comfort, others brush upon and explore heavier topics, such as what remains to be troubling issues that continue to negatively impact the LGBTQ+ community in Japan.

On top of having developed a larger following through the positive response towards a game like one night, hot springs, npckc continues to make games whenever they can. They discuss what drove them to work on their first project and the real-life issues that needed to be portrayed. Working around and inspired by their own limitations in game making, npckc also encourages prospective developers to take a chance to finally make something whenever they are inspired.

How and why did you start to make games? What are your sources of inspiration? You have a very cute artstyle and aesthetic: Was that influenced by anything?

I think I just wanted to make something fun and interactable at first. I remember seeing the game engine bitsy and thinking, Wow! I bet I could make something with this—and that’s how I made the first game I ever released on itch.io, a short bitsy game called you have to go to work.

Usually when I release short games on itch.io, I’m doing it for game jams, so the themes for the jams are my sources of inspiration. I like to browse the jams page on itch.io to see what jams there are and if there are any interesting ones, I try to think of a short idea I can make and join the jam.

For my art, it’s just the kind of art I am personally capable of making. I don’t really think of myself as an artist, but I can handle simple drawings and it gets things done.

A top-down view of a building in a low bit, pixelated artstyle with various crates and shelves in its interior, rendered in a light blue against a light yellow background. A black text box on the top of the frame reads, "work harder."

What are some of your approaches when it comes to making a new game from start to finish? How do you come up with new ideas and how do you settle on what type of game it should be?

Since my games are generally on the short end, I don’t actually do much planning outside of having a general idea of what I want to make and then scoping it down into something I am capable of making on my own. I usually like to start with character sketches first if the game has characters in it, and then I decide on the art direction from there.

What led to the creation of one night, hot springs and later A YEAR OF SPRINGS? Was it drawn from any personal experiences? As one of your most known games, have your thoughts on the series changed since?

one night, hot springs was made because I saw an article in the news about somebody having the police called on them because somebody else thought they were in the wrong gendered bath at a bathhouse. It wasn’t so much the article itself but the reaction online to the article was really awful, so I wanted to make something that went against that.

The compiled trilogy A YEAR OF SPRINGS is the continuation of that story, though I didn’t originally plan on making any sequels. The second game in the trilogy is similarly based on a real-life event, starting off with the decision by the Japanese Supreme Court to uphold the requirement for sterilization and surgery before trans people in Japan can change their legal gender.

When I talk about A YEAR OF SPRINGS, I try to make sure to mention that this is the situation in the current day. Right now, as of May 2022, Japanese trans people still cannot change their gender without being sterilized and having surgery. Bathhouses and other gender-divided spaces usually do not have any guidelines on where trans and nonbinary people “fit” in these places. Gay marriage is still illegal on a national level in Japan.

I hope that in the future I’ll be able to say that A YEAR OF SPRINGS as a series is no longer a “factual” [depiction] because the statements I mention above are no longer true.

A young woman with long brown hair and a purple bowl appears in a mirror, holding on to a bundle of clothing to her chest with her eyes shut. Text within a dialogue box at the bottom of the image under the name, "Haru", reads, "Thank goodness the yukata are unisex..."

A lot of your games explore themes around relationships, identity, and learning to develop self-confidence. What do you hope to be the main takeaway for players of your games?

I hope that whoever plays any of my games feels better after playing it than they did before. I never want somebody to come out of my game feeling beaten down or defeated. While I do discuss heavy topics at times, I don’t ever want that to be the sole focus of any game.

I also hope that my games might encourage other people to make their own games and tell their own stories. All of my games are very personal to me because they’re about things that I personally care about, and I think the world would be better with more people sharing incredibly individual stories through their creations.

An illustrated scene in a cafe. A barista, who appears as an, black cat, stands behind a counter. Another feline-like anthropromorphic character has their back turned to the viewer, sitting in a chcair in front of the counter. A speech bubble with Japanese text emerges from the black cat, and dialogue options written in Japanese characters appear on the screen.

What advice can you give to people who are interested in making games and telling stories without a professional background? What can they do to start?

Just do it! You can say, “I want to make games” forever, but it won’t mean anything until you actually put that to action. I don’t have a professional background at all (I’m just somebody making games out of my kitchen) and my first game on itch.io is a tiny little thing you can play in your browser, but without taking that first step, I would never have made any of the games I’ve made after that.

Start with something small so you can get into the habit of releasing stuff into the world for other people to see, and don’t stress about getting it perfect. Join a game jam and make a tiny game in a couple of days. Just tell the stories you want to tell!

An illustrated parrot is perched against a solid, green background. A text box appears next to it, and text under the name, "Pronoun Parrot", reads, "Hello! This is Pronoun Tool, a simple tool for adding pronouns displaying them in your Ren'Py game, made by npckc.

one night, hot springs is available on both PC and Android mobile devices. A YEAR OF SPRINGS is available across multiple consoles and on mobile devices. The rest of npckc’s continuously growing body of work can be followed on their itchio, and on their main website.

About Elvie Mae

Elvie was conjured out of recycled materials sourced from New Jersey. She is the designated czar of the Gamesline socials, and is probably subtweeting about you.

See Elvie Mae’s Posts

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