Interview with ‘Our Fantastic Wonderland’ Developer Carrot Patch Games

Today, we sat down with Carrot Patch Games, one of the winners of Spooktober Jam 2022.

Carrot Patch Games is a solo visual novel developer whose games have made it into the hearts of many within the community. Back in August, we interviewed Carrot. Since then, they’ve released Act 4 for their horror romance game Our Wonderland and won the first place prize for Spooktober Jam 2022 with their entry Our Fantastic Wonderland. Today, we sat down with them to talk to them about Spooktober, their entry, and what it felt like to win the top prize!

Hello Carrot, welcome back to the interview chair! For those who didn’t catch our first interview with you, can you tell us a bit about who you are?

I am a litol carrot who makes silly games. And by “silly games,” I mostly mean absolutely appalling atrocities (AAAs) that threaten to rrrrrrrip your heart out and leave it in shredded bits of muck and goo and arterial tissue on the floor. But due to the fact that I’m generally so ~ l i g h t h e a r t e d ~ and uNhInGeD about it, you probably wouldn’t know it! (It’s how I keep myself sane tbh.) In all seriousness, though, I’m just a solo dev making (mostly horror) visual novels and games starring characters with ginormous ears and weird noses (because I can’t? Draw like a normal person?). My first game was an RPG horror I made approximately 3,000 years ago, and my second (and still ongoing) game is a horror VN I’ve been working on too long for a little over a year now. I’m older than probably literally everyone thinks because I generally act like a child who’s just downed 32.33 (repeating, of course) Pixy Stix, but I shall never reveal the space I’m currently on in the Game of Life™ (over 30 years of family fun!).

Our Fantastic Wonderland is a funny (and heartbreaking!) game where the cast from Our Wonderland play a very chaotic DnD session. What inspired you to do a DnD campaign for Our Fantastic Wonderland? Did you think of any other ideas before settling on the finalized concept?

CHAOTIC IS RIGHT. I mean it just really goes off the rails. I’ve admittedly never played DnD myself before (shocking as that may be)—but I am a card-carrying Sucker for RPGs, which is why OFW doesn’t really follow all the specific classes of the game and is more like a… a… a cluster-fied amalgam of RPG ~ i d e a s ~ rather than any one specific ruleset. However, DnD-esque is definitely the vibe I was going for with the little pop-ups and the banter and the fourth-wall-breaking brouhaha. The initial (corn) kernel of an idea came from a Spontaneous Moment of Serendipity™ some months back when my friends and I were discussing what the OW characters’ DnD classes could be. Fast travel to July when my sister and I were playing the DnD-inspired DLC for Borderlands 2 and having a blast with it—I was so tickled pink by the ridiculous running commentary and sheer irreverence of the whole sh-bang that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then that neuron must have brushed up against the DnD classes neuron because all of a sudden, born anew within the cockles of my brain meat, a revelation sprung forth—I did suck at this game! However, after pushing my Borderlands 2 skills epiphany aside, I realized I was sitting on a much shinier pile of piping hot bullion. A game idea! And lo and behold, a certain game jam was right around the proverbial corner! Such fortuitousness! And from there it evolved into the snarl of vagarious absurdity you see today. Though the final plot went through a few iterations in my head before blotting the page, the basic idea was pretty much set in stone from the start.

I need to ask, what kind of character would you play if you were playing DnD?

I’m gonna have to go with Iggy and be a cleric. It’s just?? Me??? I love the idea of supporting my ever-so-dear companions and providing them with healing sustenance as we get up to all sorts of escapades and shenanigans. Also I am very much Not a Fighter. I’ve always chosen cleric-style roles in the (admittedly small number of) MMOs I’ve played. Not that I was ever very good at them. But it’s the thought that counts, right? I JUST WANNA BE SMOL AND SOFT AND HEAL PEOPLE OK. Cue Carrot’s Tarutaru White Mage Arc.

One of the many reasons your game won first place (and why it won best cinematography) was because of its animation. How in the world did you pull off some of the stuff you did in the game? (i.e. the fight scenes, the pauses in narration, etc)

I-… IT WASN’T EVEN THAT COMPLICATED TECHNICALLY REALLY. I am literally the last person on This Green Earth who’d ever advertise themself as some kind of programmer or coder or whatever-the-heck else kind of term you’d use for a technical aficionado (me and magical concepts like “logic” don’t mesh well). So I can say with a high degree of certainty that none of what happens on the screen is powered by highly complex morasses of computational lexicon. Quite the opposite, in fact, probably 90%+ of every bit of animation in the game is just `ease`s. There’s just. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them…

So many eases

Moving and positioning characters on the screen? That’s an `ease`. Characters bouncing? That’s a series of rapid-fire `ease`s. Bunny body parts flying across the screen? `ease` `ease` `ease` (+ some `knot`s).

Thank you Carrot for this amazing meme

So if you’re worried about whether you, too, would be able to try your hand at Fun™ and Frivolous™ effects, just take it EASE-y! Haha… haha…

…anyway, it was less about Phenomenal Cosmic Powers and more about Itty Bitty Living Space. And by that I mean treating my characters like little action figures in a cruel and unusual miniature play of my own design. When writing and plotting, I tend to imagine scenes very viscerally in my mind—I can see the characters move and emote and the accompanying camera angles as though I’m watching a movie. So when I set to the proverbial scripting parchment that is my sunsetted copy of Atom, I try to recreate this as best I can. Obviously it won’t actually come anywhere near Cinematic Masterpiece as I’m not about to draw 50 gajillion poses for each sprite and I only have so much I can do with BGs when I can’t create them myself (maybe one day… *tear*); however, I’ve somehow gotten good at Making Do and attempting to deconstruct the effects I want down to their basics so I can manifest them using methods I can actually accomplish. With this game in particular, I experimented a lot with BGs and panning and those… whatever they are… black bar thingies to try and create different effects and moods. Also character positioning and grouping? I feel like that can play a huge effect in making a scene feel much bigger than it actually is. Like. Moving different characters on and off the screen to produce a sense of depth, grouping them in different ways that feel balanced or that provide focus on the key character(s) of a particular scene. That kind of thing. I don’t know, I just felt like I was moving characters constantly sometimes. Which is why scripting this honest-to-god monstrosity took like 80% of the production time (with a good chunk of that relegated to playing scenes over… and over… and over while tweaking one or two tiny little things each time until it looked Just Right™ like some kind of movie director from hell).

Four lines of actually seen text compared to 25 lines of the chars just flying the fuck around the screen doing who knows what. This is normal, I guess?????

The final product

What all that highfalutin fourberie actually looks like in game.

Do you have any tips for those who want to make their VNs more animated?

I feel like the biggest thing I can recommend is to just never let too many lines of text pass without changing something. Even the subtlest bits of movement on screen can do so much to help the whole scene feel more alive. Character says something? Change their expression. Characters are physically moving in the scene? Translate that movement into something. You obviously can’t recreate every little action a character does in the narration—but you can do something on the screen to emulate that and help fill in the gaps of the reader’s mind. My go-to for most things is my `hbounce`, which is just a custom transform with about twenty gajillion `ease` statements that rapidly offset the target by miniscule back and forth amounts. I use it when a character is being emphatic, when they’re doing something I can’t recreate more specifically, and, of course, for those wonderful moments of incredulous stupefaction that so often grace their guises. Positioning and repositioning is also fun—I love hurling my characters on and off screen to emulate camera pans or moving them in and out to help bring focus to the speaker(s). Also speaking of pans (not the frying kind)—BG pans? HELLO??? They are too much fun, I definitely used them way too much. OFW was my first time utilizing larger BGs that allowed for panning, so I just really went to town with them, experimenting with the way different styles of scene transitions could influence the whole vibe of a scene. A lot of this is getting more into scene direction-style stuff than simply animation, but I think they really go hand in hand given animation is such a big part of how you actually accomplish that direction.

While developing Our Fantastic Wonderland, did you face any obstacles? If so, how did you overcome them?

Despite the aforementioned admission of how actually EASE-y it was hacking together my smorgasbord of effects, there were still a few times I had to run to The Google looking for answers and/or sit long hours scratching my head in sheer befuddlement. The whole DnD commentary… screen… thing took me an entire day to finagle. Particularly figuring out how to reconfigure the dialogue box and settings. Also the aforementioned `knot`s for making arced paths, because for some honest-to-Betsy-and-her-little-dog-too confound it reasons I could not get them to work at first and had to spend a solid couple of hours experimenting before the heads of my rogue tomatoes would properly parabolize. OH and also my Most Proud Moment of the entire game—the synchronized stomps. That scene. THAT SSSSSSSSSSSSSCENE. For the love of all things holy, do not ask me how long that SCENE took to do. Nor how many LemmaSoft forum threads I dEsPeRaTeLy pErUsEd in search of a way to make dialogue that could NOT be CLICKED to make APPEAR all at ONCE because then it would lead to the SSSSSSLIGHTEST of delays in the carefully timed series of hard pauses that would UNSYNCHRONIZE THE STOMPS.

I am completely normal about that scene.

As for overcoming said ~ o b s t a c l e s ~, it was usually just lots and lots of Google searches, lots and lots of experimenting with code until for Some Unknown Reason it just worked. Also the one time I could just Not anymore and ran helplessly to the programming channel in DevTalk for help figuring out why my slide-in, slide-out menu was not slide-in, slide-outing. Fortunately, there is a veritable WEALTH of resources online and a pretty penny of wonderfully knowledged and kind people willing to lend a hand for those times you wanna Rip The Hair From Your Follicles /loving

I realize now I’ve talked about nothing but technical obstacles (which may or may not be Humdrum with a capital Hum). As a solo dev, I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to worry about potential team issues and/or delays and/or bottlenecks (I was the ‘I’ in team). With the obvious trade-off being that meant I needed to do The Entire Blighted Game myself. WHICH IS TIRING? Especially considering I just had a big launch for my main game a week before Spooktober began, so I didn’t really get much of a chance to rest my eyeballs (or my rapidly succumbing to cubital tunnel left arm). Then of course there’s the whole Deadline Looming on the Horizon and Leading to Constant Undercurrent of Dread thing going on. But. To be honest, everything combined and the whole rip-roarin’ feeling of the jam in general had me in such an Impassioned State™ for the first few weeks that I was never really worried about time since I was just constantly working (well, outside of my full-time job, at least). The GO-GO-GO energy of the jam did lead to a bit of a crash afterwards however once the hype dropped out from under my feet like a trapdoor leading straight to imposter syndrome. But doesn’t everyone go through that? Hahaha. Haha. Ha.

Given the amount of love that Our Fantastic Wonderland has received so far, will we see more side games featuring the Our Wonderland cast?

Gosh, I would love that for real. I’m admittedly already dreading the day I finish Arc 5 of OW given that that means the story is over? That my characters? My precious darling babies that might as well be (albeit strangely shaped) limbs protruding from my body?? Wouldn’t be filling the crevices of my brain like constantly percolating liquid hot magma anymore??? This thought keeps me up at night (along with every other social media faux pas I’ve made on any given day). So I’m just gonna hazard a guess right now that Future Carrot won’t wanna release their grippy-grip hands on them and will definitely do at least something else. And given how fun (and kinda freeing?) getting to do something short and sillay was with this jam, I can see myself making another short little side game, perhaps after Arc 5 is complete. As for what it would actually entail, though, that’s as up in the air as the Barbies I used to lob into our backyard trees. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the future (and my sanity) holds hohoho.

Congratulations on your win, Carrot! Has winning the top prize impacted you in any way? If so, how?

THANK YOU?? To be honest, I’m still reeling a bit, even a number of days later. Some part of me keeps thinking it must have all been something I made up. Or that there must have been some kind of horrible mix-up. Anything to rationalize what the whirling cogs of my brain are unable to finagle a proper explanation for. And then I have to go back to the results article to forcefully remind myself that YES it really happened. IT’S JUST THAT THESE KINDS OF THINGS DON’T NORMALLY HAPPEN TO ME?? So I suppose the biggest impact (though potentially one that will take a while to fully set in) is just greater confidence in myself? I am Not the Best when it comes to this. I couldn’t even write, like, a proper celebration post afterwards as I felt 50 shades of insecure about it. But I think the glimmer of unbridled aplomb is in my carroty confines somewhere. And this forced act of self-realization may be just what I need to uproot it and be Filled with Determination. (Cue the Song That Might Play When You Fight Fortify a Carrot.)

Also, uhhhhhh… my emotional state. It’s definitely impacted my emotional state. I’ve been a bit of a w r e c k since the awards.

Following your win, can you give us insight on what your future plans are?

The one thing I can say with 100% certainty is that I’ll be working on the fifth and final arc of OW! As it’s the grand finale that needs to, uh, tie up a lot of things, I’m both excited but also absolutely freaking terrified to finally be working on it (mostly because I hope to all things holy that I can do this thing justice GUHHHH I DON’T WANT TO LET ANYONE DoOoOoOoOWN). I’ve already begun doing a bit of writing and drawing for it, but my pace has been Less Than Stellar, mostly because I’m still just a bit Spent from the rapid-fire one-two one-two that was the last two months of launches. Hoping to get back into the ol’ groove soon, though, with the idea being that I could finish everything up first half of next year. Coupled with that, I’d like to do some general polishes of the game, particularly the GUI and things like that. Add some of those features I keep telling myself I’ll do later, later, always later (I’m looking at you, elusive CG gallery…). I’ve been entertaining the thought of doing a kind of remaster of the whole game at some point, too—fixing up early Arc 1 art that’s so bad it makes me want to hurl myself into the abyss, maybe revamp some scenes and animations using all the knew ~ k n o w l e d g e ~ I’ve gained in the lifetime it’s been since clicking the fabled Create New Project button in Ren’Py. But if I do, that won’t be until after releasing the whole thing. Maybe for like a… future Steam release or something. HONESTLY, I DON’T KNOW, I’m just needlessly rambling now because it’s the last question and just like Rose Dawson I will never let go. But that’s kinda my current thought process anyway. There’s also the aforementioned possibility of another side game. And of course other story ideas gamboling about in the ol’ noggin. There’s one in particular that’s been thunk-thunk-thunking extra hard lately after simmering neath the surface of the brain soup untouched for a few years. So that might be sitting pretty somewhere along the horizon, too. No matter what the future holds, though, I’m looking forward to plenty more shenanigans, laughs, emotional breakdowns, and good times all around! And I’m as excited as all get out to see what everyone else in the VN family gets up to, as well!

If you’d like to check out Carrot’s games, you can do so by going to their page. You can also follow them on Twitter for updates!

Kristi Jimenez