Moral Anxiety Studios are indie visual novel developers from Poland. Their first game, The Tavern, gripped audiences with its immersive gameplay and complex story. This year, the studio is back again, with a new game – ‘Tales From Windy Meadows’. Over the last week I was lucky enough to chat to Maciej Aureus Gajzlerowicz, the main developer and writer of ‘Tales from Windy Meadows’, about what to expect from the upcoming game. I hope you all enjoy reading this interview!
I gotta ask, what was the inspiration behind the name ‘Moral Anxiety Studio’?
Actually, the term itself was created by Freud. Since humans are not perfect, he described most people as being unable to follow what they perceive as “the right path”. We tend to be anxious about disappointing ourselves, about betraying the person we should become. In some cases, struggling with these thoughts makes us depressed, or even paralyzed from the everlasting guilt and shame.
This feeling can’t be fixed with a good advice from a friend or by smashing a monster in the face – it’s something hidden deeply in us and creates a truly interesting struggle. It’s a good example of the concepts I find fascinating – I want to use our characters to offer our players new grounds for conversations, even if these grounds will confuse myself in the process.
‘Tales from Windy Meadows’ is about finding one’s path in life, with that theme in mind, when and how did you decide that you were interested in making games?
It was actually quite a long journey. Currently a lot of people make such a choice in a very young age and develop a lot of crucial skills. In my case, I started as an amateur writer, then a poet, then a hobbyist-board game developer, and finally I started publishing various tabletop RPGs. It took me all these steps to start seriously thinking about the video games I would personally want to play, even if I would be forced to make them myself first.
In result, instead of taking programming lessons I was mostly learning about story structures, writing techniques, movie directors, storytelling in video games and so on. Currently, I’m sure many video games out there are art, but there is still a ton of experiments we can use to expand their potential. The interactivity of video games makes a ground for completely new and unique experiences and emotions.
Which character has been your favourite to design / write?
Honestly, for me it’s impossible to choose a single person! In the village of Windy Meadow not only we have three main heroes, but also a bunch of important side characters and over a dozen of minor supporting roles. In my imagination all these people have dreams, fears, goals, struggles, decisions to make and sacrifices to live with… Even if they appear in the game only to support the general worldbuilding. The entire community I’ve created is my “favorite” one, because all the characters I’ve written are a part of the same coherent realm.
I wish I have a simpler answer to that. ; )
What do you think makes ‘Tales from Windy Meadows’ different from other visual novels?
I won’t claim that no no VNs tried to make the same things that we are doing, but it definitely looks like we moved quite far from the mainstream games, both with our aesthetics and the writing. The obvious point is that while most VNs use graphics inspired by Japanese manga drawings, we’re using pixel art with some unusually realistic, medieval details. What I think is even more important, we didn’t try to fill the world with cute girls or classic character archetypes that tend to use some basic character templates. We also avoided nudity or forced fan service, putting the story coherence first. It will scare some players away, but no game can please everyone.
We also don’t use the typical “route”structure, in which the player decides (or the game’s mechanics decide based on player’s previous decisions) which path the story takes in the second half of the game. Instead, the player has a chance to see the Windy Meadow from three different perspectives, which are concluded in the shared final act.
My favorite VN is VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action and you can see it had a strong influence on our project. Our guitar-folk soundtrack has a completely different vibe to it, though.
As there are three characters – Vena, Fabel and Ludicia – will players be going through their routes separately? Or will one route decide each character’s fate?
Every route has its own set of decisions and every one of them has its own conclusion. Since all of the heroes have their own point of view related to the themes of the game, I wanted to be sure that the player will see all of these routes before making the most significant choices.
Your previous game ‘The Tavern’ was quite dark and looked at the evil that humans can do, will ‘Windy Meadows’ be similar or have a more ‘uplifting’ look at humanity?
In The Tavern I twisted a lot of classic fantasy tropes, giving a new layer to ideas that many players take for granted. It indeed made my game an R-rated production with a pessimistic and dark feeling to it, but Windy Meadow is a very different production that brings completely new topics to the foreground. We don’t introduce any villains and even though the community of Windy Meadow experienced a lot of pain and maliciousness in their lives, it’s not something that would ultimately consume their lives.
After all, The Tavern is sort of an adventure game in which you, the hero, face the dangerous unknown. Tales From Windy Meadow, on the other hand, introduces you to a fantasy village in which we want you to feel like home – a home which you can embrace, but which also you need to be ready to leave behind. It requires the player’s trust, and we didn’t want to betray it.
What has been the most difficult part in creating this game?
It would probably be the programming, even though traditionally it’s the simplest part of making a Visual Novel. There is a lot of great tools to make VNs, including completely functional engines, but almost all of them struggle with supporting complex animations which we want to use. We’re using the GameMaker Studio 2 to build everything from scratch and it’s taking much more time than we expected, but if we’ll succeed, we’ll going to unlock some amazing storytelling tools.
I hope you enjoyed reading this interview. Make sure to check out Moral Anxiety’s website over here for more information on their games. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates! Their youtube channel also features some really interesting videos on their design process – make sure to check it out!
Thank you again to Maciej for participating in this interview, I can’t wait to see the full game when it’s released later this year!