Behind the Scenes with Fiendish Fiction

We sat down with the creative duo behind Fiendish Fiction to talk about their experience entering a game jam, creating their very first game, and the Up All Night Remaster that is currently in development!

With the game page for this year’s Spooktober Jam being released publicly, visual novel developers and fans alike are abuzz with what’s to come in September! Last year’s Spooktober Jam saw the release of so many amazing games like Up All Night, a spooky murder mystery game which we had the pleasure of reviewing

We had a delightful conversation with Johan Faulstich and Terra Babcock, the creative duo behind the game studio Fiendish Fiction. We got to talk about their experience entering a game jam, creating their very first game, and the Up All Night Remaster that is currently in development!

Tell us a little bit about Fiendish Fiction and the kinds of games you make.

Fiendish Fiction is a multimedia studio run by lifelong best friends and co-founders Terra Babcock (narrative design, writing, programming) and Johan Faulstich (narrative design, illustration, editing).

We have one presently released game — Up All Night, a psychological horror produced for the 2020 Spooktober Visual Novel Jam — and a slew of other projects in the pipeline which we’ve been slowly pulling together for the past year. These projects vary in media from visual novel to pixel adventure game, including an Up All Night remaster. We’re even working on a heist-themed Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Path.

Fiendish Fiction strives to cultivate deep and meaningful stories using a blend of unique art, immersive writing, and masterfully composed music (designed by Terra’s talented husband, Michael Cooper). With a penchant for fantasy, adventure, and perhaps a splash of horror, our goal as developers is to excite, fright, and downright delight. Hopefully you’ll be seeing more from us, soon!

What inspired you to begin developing games? 

The two of us have always been a fantastic team. Terra is a skilled and passionate fiction author, and Johan an accomplished freelance artist. In kindergarten, we co-created (and published!) a picture book about sharks and alligators, written by Terra and illustrated by Johan. It only seems natural that we would end up developing stories together on a much grander scale.

Now here’s where it gets weird.

Neither of us had ever heard of a visual novel, but in the early 2010s we downloaded yaoi visual novel out of sheer curiosity (we’ll keep the title private to avoid incriminating ourselves…). Our thought was to ‘play this tacky porn game’ and make fun of it. Turns out it was a solid game with a slew of branching narratives, interesting characters, and a surprisingly captivating murder mystery plot. It was the plot that hooked us. From there, we played plenty more Japanese visual novels, using archaic text-pull translations. Digging around, we realized that actually making visual novels was a real possibility… and a possibility we wanted to explore.

Up All Night technically began development in 2016 with a basic plot map and some simple character designs. Unfortunately life got in the way, as it so often does, and the project was shelved for the next four years. Learning about the 2020 Spooktober Visual Novel Jam, however, flipped a switch for both of us. We’d always wanted to finally get it off the ground, and Spooktober proved the perfect opportunity.

Up All Night was made in one month for the Spooktober Game Jam.  What was it like working on a tight deadline?

While Up All Night was developed for and during the Spooktober Visual Novel Jam, we never actually met the deadline. …Whoops. Instead, we released a short demo with the full game finishing production in mid-October. The tight deadline was equally motivating and frustrating. There was so much we wanted to accomplish, but so little time to get it done. Even after the deadline passed we were scrambling for a pre-Halloween release. That said, the pressure definitely drove us to make the most of our time and resources. Just making a game is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, and we remain unbelievably thrilled with how Up All Night turned out, especially as first-time devs.

Don’t worry though, we’re planning a much shorter entry for this year’s Spooktober Jam, and we’ll definitely meet the deadline this time! …Probably. Maybe. There’s a chance, at least.

Do you have any advice for people who may be interested in joining a game jam?

If you’ve ever looked up anything about game jams we’re sure this piece of advice has been smashed into your skull like a beer can into a frat boy’s forehead, but we’ll say it again — avoid scope creep. Keep your initial ideas small, and your final project even smaller. Remember that your goal is to finish something. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and you can always clean it up later (heck, we’re doing that with Up All Night right now). Just don’t let your ideas run away with you.

We’re sure that sounds a bit hypocritical coming from a team that didn’t meet the deadline of their first jam, but all the more reason to pay attention. Learn from our mistakes… we certainly have. Which leads us to our next piece of advice (one we succeeded at this time!) — even if you don’t finish during the jam, keep on going until your project is done. Ride the momentum that working during the jam created. When the group jam is over, it doesn’t mean your personal jam has to be.

You’re currently working on the remaster for Up All Night. What inspired the original concept and why have you decided to pursue remastering it?

To Fiendish Fiction, Up All Nightis more than just a Spooktober entry, or even our first game. It’s a project of passion which we had been sitting on for years.

The original concept was simply an idea for a short game to experiment with the programs and tools available to beginner developers. We’ve both always had a fondness for mysteries and horror, so it seemed the natural route for our debut to incorporate such themes. At the end of the day, however, Terra simply can’t control herself when it comes to running away with a story, and Johan will use any excuse to design a cast of visually compelling characters.

And of course, with the jam long since over and Up All Night receiving the amount of love, support, and positive reviews that it has, we wanted to give it the refurbishing it deserves. In preparation for its upcoming Steam release, we’re working with BaiYu, a much more experienced programmer, to port the game and all of its assets into Ren’Py from the original Tyranobuilder version. We’re also planning to package it with an OST and artbook, and the GUI has gotten a full accessibility makeover. Overall, the entire game has new features, looks sharper, and runs smoother. We couldn’t be more thrilled.

Now that you’re remastering the game, have you learned anything that you can take into future projects? 

  • Don’t use Tyranobuilder.
  • Accessibility is important.
  • Lower your in-game music volume.
  • Don’t write 27,000 words and also expect to import everything in under a month. Especially when your writer is also the programmer and is unable to clone themselves and/or time travel.

Is there any new information about your current or upcoming projects that you can share with our readers?

While we’re still working on remastering Up All Night for its upcoming Steam release, we’ve got a number of other projects in the pipeline which we briefly mentioned earlier. It’s sucking a huge amount of our creative energy right now, but once we’re fully through the process of remastering Up All Night, it’s time to buckle down and get to work on the many other projects we’ve been discussing.

These include a masquerade heist Dungeons & Dragons module, a ghost town horror pixel adventure game with puzzle elements, and a sequel to Up All Night. Yes, you read that right.

We’re also talking about a Spooktober 2021 entry that miiiiiight revisit Nick… in a very different capacity unrelated to the sequel. Terra says she won’t be thatmean to him in it, but we all know she’s lying.

Until then, thanks so much for the interview. We hope you’re looking forward to our upcoming releases, as well as our Up All Nightremaster… we promise they’ll be worth waiting for. In the meantime, check out our website, follow us on Twitter, play Up All Night (if you haven’t already), and most importantly, stay fiendish!

Be sure to follow Fiendish Fiction for updates on their current and upcoming projects!

Anna Mirabella