Carrot Patch Games is a solo game developer who has made quite the name for themself with the episodic horror visual novel Our Wonderland. Today, we wanted to talk to Carrot a bit about themself, their development process as a solo dev, and their games.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into game development!
As someone who’s been hacking away at a controller since the tender days of my youth, making my own game had always been The Dream™. I remember messing around with RPG Maker 2K as a kid together with my sister, so sure I was going to make the Next Big RPG and get snatched up by some awe-struck studio (when, in reality, I never finished a single game I started and, instead, had a list five miles long of thrice-abandoned games with names like “Harvest Moon: Friendships Are Made”). This misdirected passion was then directed into Smarter Life Choices like going to school and getting a job and getting traumatically laid off. I didn’t start thinking about games more seriously until I began translating them (and also gained more writing experience in general, which I credit to my many moons of scribing mildly questionable fanfics and horrible novels that now only live on my hard drive lol). While working in-house as a localization editor for a game company that shall not be named, I discovered the so-called new wave of RPG Maker horror games like Witch’s House and Mad Father, which inspired me to Return to the Craft and try my hand at my own (cue the SEO-failure that was Easter), and from there, I rediscovered how much I loved people experiencing my stories, particularly in this kind of format, where I had so much control over scenes, vibe, aesthetics, etc. Our Wonderland was also going to be an RPG horror originally (well, it was going to be many different things, to be honest, lol). But somehow none of the ideas I had were v i b i n g, apparently, so I kept giving up on them until finally, as a VN, it stuck. And that’s, well, how we got to today, I guess.
Your first game was Easter which was released back in 2018. The game is a horror adventure game about Easter and his group of friends visiting an abandoned house. Since this was your first title, what were some of the challenges you faced? How did you overcome this and use what you learned (i.e. from development or player feedback) towards your newest title, Our Wonderland?
Fresh off the excitement of actually finishing a game for the first time, I quickly realized I knew jack squat about releasing games or the indie game scene in general. This, however, didn’t deter my ignorant gusto. I slapped together a game page on GameJolt, threw the game up there, and waited anxiously for the fame and acclaim to start pouring in. (They did not.) Then, I also discovered itch.io (this was how little I knew about indie games), and eventually RPGmaker.net, so I threw the game up there, as well. Zero announcements. Zero sort of pre-presence. Zero social media. However, despite my apparent desire to be World’s Most Blundering Game Dev, Easter… actually did pretty well at launch. Through sheer luck mostly (I got into the Hot Games on GameJolt and Fresh Games on itch.io by no skill or knowledge of my own). And probably the general popularity of RPG horror-style games in general. However, none of it was all that lasting (mayhaps because of the aforementioned lack of dev
savvypresence). Since then, I’ve realized this was a less-than-stellar way to approach things and have actually, you know, tried to learn and research and talk to people (which is a big deal when your anxiety gives you about as much social grace as a sun-dappled turd). DevTalk, for one, has been a great place for me to fill up my brain with tips and tidbits about marketing and audience building (even if I simply lurk there most of the time…), and I’ve also tried to, you know, actively involve myself in the community, which despite my initial misgivings has been a delight and I’ve made so many great friends through it. As meme-y as it sounds, the friends I’ve made since starting to work on and talk about OW—both other devs and fans of the game alike—are really what keep me going sometimes (you might even say the real dev experience is the friends you’ve made along the way…). I can’t imagine going through this wonderful yet so-oft-demotivating experience without them.
You’ve worked on both Easter and Our Wonderland by yourself. Can you tell us what your process is as a solo dev?
To be honest, I think my process is actually quite cHaOtIc, and I don’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to constantly be one step away from a breakdown. I never really… plan anything out? Like. At all? I just kinda… do stuff. Well, OK. I usually start with some good ol’ ideation. Just. In my head. Mostly at night while desperately trying to sleep but I CAN’T because oh god fuck this idea is literally PLAGUING me and it won’t release its CLAWING GRIP on my brain. This process can last anywhere from a few nights to a few y e a r s. I have to really Live™ with a story before I can do anything with it. The base stories for both Easter and OW, for instance, were conceived years before I decided to turn them into games. With OW in particular, I’d done some initial writing and sketching and started searching for music before the idea to turn it into a VN even blossomed within the folds of my brain (the music GUH music is my One True Source of inspiration fr). At any rate, ideation will (hopefully) at some point transition into writing. I had about half the first arc for OW written when the VN idea manifested itself, so I began brute-forcing my way into Ren’Py and created a barebones prototype using the music I already had and various stock BGs and sound effects I found. Seeing it come to life was Incredibly Motivating (I may have cried…), so I bought a tablet for the first time in my life like a True Artiste and began making tHe aRtZ. I’ve mostly followed this same process for every arc since: ideating → writing → scripting → arting. Though admittedly the latter two tend to go hand in hand since I mostly just draw What’s Necessary™ for each scene as I script them (with What’s Necessary™ ranging anywhere between 0 and 15 CGs *weeps*…). I don’t really plan out my assets beforehand… it’s more like a, a, a JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY. Which scenes will make me want to hurl myself into an active volcano? I won’t know until I reach them! Same with the writing process itself tbh. Since I don’t have an outline or anything (just some very amorphous yet visceral scenes playing on my eyeballs), when I actually sit down to clack my fingers on the keys, the characters often take the story in… extremely strange and mysterious ways. Which is both Fun and Frightening (the double-F syndrome, as it were). This is partly why Arcs 3 and 4 have turned out lightyears different than their OG forms. At any rate, the whole process is incredibly disorganized and ever-evolving! No one should ever work with me. Ever.
Our Wonderland is a horror-fantasy LGBTQIA+ story about a group of friends who opened a gate to another world when they were children and how that’s affecting them all the way to adulthood. Can you tell me how you came up with this fascinating story?
…cue my OTS (One True Shame). Much as I may attempt to deny it, I was once an avid writer of fanfiction for a certain JPOP group. And the original story “nugget” for OW was a kind of… AU… fanfic idea for them that I was someday—SOMEday—going to write (I did not, in fact, ever write it.) That original nugget was inspired by a slapdash amalgam of Thoughts from Alice in Wonderland itself, American McGee’s Alice, as well as the Vocaloid song Alice Human Sacrifice. This lovely nugget rolled and rocked for years within the pan of gold that was my brain, growing larger and smoother and more malleable. Until, at some point, it became separated entirely from the JPOP group itself and, instead, latched itself onto some amorphous initial OC character ideas that were also tumbling about the brain shoals. That’s the point where it really started to take off, I think. Because now I had so much ROOM to WORK WITH and CHARACTERS to MOLD and WREST. Also inspiration from other new stories I consumed over the years such as It and Umineko forged the idea further, eventually turning it into something tangible with Real Scenes I wanted to shellack down on paper. Originally, the whole story was just going to be that of Arc 1, and it was going to end there. S h o c k i n g, I know. Think about what a downer that would have been. Then, I guess because I knew I wanted to make some sort of game out of it? With player interaction? Is when the idea of “separate paths” evolved, which is what led to the other arcs. And that formed the initial basic story structure!
Our Wonderland is an episodic visual novel with each arc released separately. What made you go this route instead of releasing the game in its entirety? Would you do this kind of release again? Why or why not?
The episodic release was completely unplanned tbh! I began production under the (overconfident) assumption that I’d release the entire game when it was done (which was, of course, going to be within a manner of months, right? hahaha… hahaha…) This is also why I had a decent chunk of writing and art already done for Arc 2 (and even Arc 3 wtf whyyy) before releasing Arc 1. However, one of my friends suggested I release some kind of demo to get player interest. I hemmed and hawed for a bit (as I am wont to do). Then decided, you know what, what the hell! Let’s just release Arc 1! It’s mostly done anyway! This decision—WAS THE BEST DECISION I’VE MADE. Honestly, I couldn’t even imagine where I’d be sitting now if I hadn’t done that. Like, to still just be devving away in a vacuum, all alone, talking to myself, getting overcome with FEELS by myself, with no one knowing my characters or story. Especially given my, erm, interesting art style, I was finding it incredibly difficult to get much of anyone interested in the game before release (and honestly still do, my art can be quite a turn-off HOHOHO). And even since the initial release, it’s been an incredibly uphill battle (the Arc 1 release was… not great… the Arc 2 release was… even worse…*flies into the sun*). But somehow my rampant shouting and incoherent rambling
annoyed people enoughgot enough people’s attention that I started gaining a bit of momentum finally for Arc 3 (Hot Tip! Incessantly yelling “cannibal seduction” in all caps really is a good marketing strategy!). And now I want to cry sometimes because of how much people seem to enjoy (and, erm, enjoy…*wink wink*) my characters and their stories. It’s given me the motivation and inspiration to keep plowing forward like a beta caro-fiend straight outta hell! But none of this could have happened if I’d chosen not to release in parts as no one would know anything about them (incredibly tragic)! Also, having these smaller-chunked goals for releases was probably good for me and my (atrocious) dev process? It’s certainly made it less overwhelming focusing on a single arc at a time. AND! I’m pretty sure none of the aforementioned story evolution for later arcs would have happened without my getting to see pLaYeR rEaCtIoNs to the early parts of the story. So, all in all, it’s been a very positive decision that I’m glad I made. Would I do it again for a future project? It would perhaps depend on the type of project. Like the length, structure, etc. Who knows, though. I have no idea what I’ll end up working on next. My head is too plagued by OW right now.
The main character in Our Wonderland, Iggy, is asexual biromantic and his sexuality is explored in the story. As someone who is asexual, thank you for the representation! What was the driving force behind talking about Iggy’s sexuality?
The driving force was really just… ME, I guess. I don’t know!! Hahaha. OK, admittedly, when I was first conceiving the story and chars, it wasn’t included. Actually, there was a lot that wasn’t included in the original nuggety nugget… core… idea… thingie. Or, OK, things that were there but not really there because I was a bit Uncourageous and not quite sure how far I wanted to go with things? Like how it would be received? Especially as a horror game??? But I digress. I think I first started playing with the idea of it while Thoughting through the main story beats of Arc 1 and realizing how similar one of them was to an… experience… I’ve had myself. So this got me thinking of how I might be able to explore some of my own thoughts and feelings about the experience through it, which then inevitably led to HEY! Maybe Iggy’s asexual, too? And suddenly LiGhTbUlB mOmEnT—everything suddenly made so much sense??? And from there it literally just, like, g r e w. Asexuality permeating every fiber of the game. Seeping off the walls. FLOWING THROUGH ITS VEINS. Iggy’s sexuality went on to influence so much of the direction of the game, especially beyond Arc 1. And given me a chance to explore a lot of my own feelings, fears, moments of joy, and ~insecurities~, too. I still mark the moment in Arc 2 where Iggy is completely accepted and welcomed and loved for exactly who he is one of the most cathartic (AND SOB-INDUCING) moments I’ve ever written. And there’s a couple scenes in Arc 4 that make me pretty weepy, too, in both slash pos and slash heartrending ways (oh god whyyyy).
While on the topic of asexuality, what do you think writers can do to try make meaningful asexual representation?
THEY COULD TRY NOT “FIXING” THEM, FOR ONE. Also, please don’t use asexuality as the butt of your unfunny joke kthnxbye (looking at you, that one sitcom I watched last year…). But on a more serious note, assuming that most people with good intentions wouldn’t do either of those things—I think it’s important to know that asexuality and aromanticism are two different things. Some aces are also aro. Some aces are not aro. And while both aroaces and alloaces share a lot of similar struggles, they also face a lot of different struggles. So I guess, just, understanding those differences? And what they mean for your char? On a similar topic, even within asexuality, there’s so much variety in how aspecs think about and approach sex and sexuality. Not all aspecs are repulsed by sex, for instance. Or they’re only averse to sex when it involves themselves. Or they’re somewhat neutral to it and would be willing to with a partner. I guess, in general, I’d love to see a lot more variety in how aspecs are portrayed in media and stories. AND A LOT MORE ASPEC CHARS IN GENERAL, TOO. Please. P l e a s e.
With Our Wonderland arc 4 releasing soon, can you give our readers a preview of what to expect?
OK, sorry, SORRY, I can’t use that anymore, I APOLOGIZE. Actually there is still a teensy bit. Though perhaps less “seduction” and more…………
…anyway. Uhhhh, Arc 4 is going to be intense, that’s for sure. I would say it’s the most intense so far. At least from my perspective. Also a lot more different from the previous arcs. I think players will be (hopefully pleasantly) surprised at how much Arc 4 deviates from The Path established in Arc 1. I’ve come to think of it as the grand finale of the currently established “world,” with a lot of conflicts coming to a head all at once, a lot of drama (and a lot of build-up of drama). Multiple hearts will be broken. Grand shows of pageantry will be had. Characters will die horrendous deaths. You know. The yooj. After this one… everything will be different, hohoho.
Please no one kill me after playing it .
If you’d like to check out Carrot Patch’s games, you can do so by going to their itch.io page. You can also follow them on Twitter for updates!