Behind the Scenes with Yangyang Mobile

We sat down with one of the founders of Yangyang Mobile, John Pineda, to discuss their various titles as well the struggles he and the team faced as a studio.

Yangyang Mobile is a studio based in the Philippines. You may know the studio for its breakout title, The Letter, a horror visual novel where you play seven different characters who fall victim to a terrifying curse. The studio has produced other titles such as Love Esquire and the GxG game Prefect Gold. Right now, they’re working on Saint Maker, another horror game that focuses on a girl named Holly who is attending a religious recollection.

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got into game development!

I’m John Pineda, one of the founders of Yangyang Mobile. I was always a big fan of video games since childhood. Our family situation back then didn’t allow for us to spend money on games, so it just added on to my passion for gaming.

Since gaming has always been my passion, you can imagine my enthusiasm when I found out that there’s a “Game Design and Development” course being offered at my choice of college, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. They were the first school to offer that course back in the day.

Going into it, creating games were harder than I imagined, but it was really fun. I also met my wife and partner in college. From then on, we’ve been a part of the game industry and eventually started Yangyang Mobile a few years after graduating.

The Letter was the studio’s first game and an incredibly complex one at that! Tell us, how did you and the team manage to tell a story with so many choices and branching paths? Were there any challenges that the team faced? Was there anything that got left out that you wish made it into the game?

The Letter was supposed to be our take on traditional Japanese visual novels, really long and complex. I think we’ve done a great job there. The Letter’s writing & scripting team pulled in months’ worth of hard work to finish the game. We were almost bankrupt too, always worrying how we’ll be able to make the next pay cut, since the game evolved into something bigger than what we originally pitched in our Kickstarter.

Given more time and budget, we would have been able to make the plot a lot stronger. We have several drafts that didn’t make it to the final game. We would have loved to see them added into the game, but I think the story is best left as it is. Our focus moving forward is to make (new) better games instead.

What did you learn lessons did the studio learn from The Letter that you all incorporated into Love Esquire?

There’s a lot, but the biggest change would be in our narrative style. If you’ve played both games, you’d notice a big shift in how the narratives are handled. Love Esquire has significantly lesser “narration” lines and has a faster pace.

Your studio makes two very different styles of games – what led to that decision?

We’re still learning and exploring different styles and genres to better understand our audience. While we love our existing fans, we also want our games to reach a variety of players.

Aside from that, it also helps the team from getting too bored! It’s boring if we always do horror games, so we try to explore new genres every now and then!

Do you have any advice for people who want to eventually to create their own studio and what challenges they can expect that comes with managing one?

Running a business is tough, but game industry is even tougher. We still get really worried every time we launch a new game. Will players like it or not? Will it sell well? Did we do a good job on this game? You have to be ready for any challenge that may come your way, and have the resolve to weather through bouts of depression. But it is also really rewarding when things go your way! When you read heartwarming reviews of your game and see fan arts, cosplays and fanfics by the players, everything will seem worth it!

Yangyang has managed to recruit high-level voice actors and actresses into their games such as Amanda Lee (AmaLee), Elise Lovelock, and Alejandro Saab just to name a few! What was the process of recruiting voice actors for your games and what advice can you give game developers looking to get voice talent for their games?

There’s actually a rather scandalous story behind our voice acting. You can read more about it here:

But the scandal was a blessing in disguise! Due to the incident, our project caught the eyes of Amber Lee Connors. She was a member of TeamFourStar, and she also runs her own voice acting studio, Sound Cadence Studios.

The good folks at Sound Cadence have been really nice and helpful! They are very understanding, supportive of our projects, are willing to work within our tight indie budget. We’ve been working with them ever since The Letter and we haven’t looked back since!

For indie devs that need help with voice acting their games, go contact them! I’m sure they’ll be happy to help:

You’re currently making Saint Maker, a short horror visual novel about religion. What inspired the team to tell a story like this? What can readers expect out of this game?

I’ve forwarded this question to our lead writer for Saint Maker, Carlos Valdez. Since this project was his pitch from the beginning, he’s the most suitable person to answer this:

“Horror involving religious imagery has always been fascinating for us — there’s just something terrifying when what we’ve come to associate with the divine is twisted into something dangerous and evil. Some members of the team have come from a Catholic background, and though there’s good that can come from religion, there’s a lot of trauma and abuse that our generation has endured by people who use it as a means to control and abuse others. In line with that, aside from being inspired by classics such as “The Exorcist”, we were also inspired by psychological horror series such as “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Midnight Mass” (Though the latter aired towards the later stages of the game’s production, it still served as an inspiration as we were writing the final parts of the script).

As for what to expect, Saint Maker will be our second short visual novel game that we’ll be releasing (The first one was Perfect Gold). Though we’re happy to say that Saint Maker’s length is about twice as long as Perfect Gold, it will not be as long as our previous horror title “The Letter”. Despite this, players can expect a great story that’s not just horrifying, but also focuses on the emotional journey of its main characters. The game will also be delving into complex themes regarding faith, fear, and trauma.”

Are there any plans to release more physical merch and Switch releases of your games?

We’ll definitely release more games on Switch, and hopefully physical versions of them too!

As for the physical merch, we’re a bit unsure about that. Recently due to COVID, there have been lots of travel restrictions and disruption to the global supply chain and shipping. It has been a nightmare for us to send physical merch to our fans, so we’re putting a stop to that for now until further notice.

Before we leave you, outside of Saint Maker, is there anything else that the team is currently working on that VN Game Den readers can look forward to?

Definitely! Aside from Saint Maker, we’re working on several unannounced projects that may be even bigger than Love Esquire. While they are still story-driven, we’re also adding a lot of gameplay in them. Please stay tuned! We’ll be back to announce them when they’re ready!

If you’d like to check out any of Yangyang Mobile’s games, you can do so by going to their Steam developer page. You can also follow the team on Twitter for updates!

Kristi Jimenez