A sit down with first-time Vancouver game developer Oracle and Bone.
Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
There’s something about a soft summer breeze that has this magical ability to take you back to a place you’ve long since passed by. A memory, a feeling, a moment in time only half-remembered. It’s late nights under a midsummer’s moon, biking down a quiet suburban street or the refreshing feeling of dipping your toes beneath gentle waves. A Summer’s End is very much akin to that soft summer breeze. The story begins with a quiet thought: “When I think of my life, what I have, and what I’ve accomplished, I think I’m quite content with what it is.” But is anyone ever truly content? Or do we all secretly crave something… more?
A Summer’s End is a visual novel—essentially a mix between a novel and a video game—set in mid-1980’s Hong Kong. Multiple dialogue options exist throughout the game which affect the outcome of the story, leading to one of two endings. As a player, you navigate the story with limited control of where you’re going.
A Summer’s End was the first video game developed by independent Vancouver game studio Oracle and Bone. The studio is made up of two people: Charissa So and Tida Kietsungden. The two wanted to create a story that could represent and support the LGBTQ community while simultaneously celebrating their Hong Kong heritage.
The story was written by So, who also created the game’s soundscape. Kietsungden handled art direction, designing everything from the characters to the backgrounds. The duo set out to create A Summer’s End in 2018 and released it in April of this year. The two had previously worked together on smaller projects, but this was their first foray into game development.
“We both had similar interests together,” says So. “We did comics together and we looked at the next step of making games together.” The real difficulty in producing a visual novel is the sheer amount of artwork involved. A Summer’s End boasts over 400 unique art assets, all of which were designed, reiterated, and finalized in just two years. Kietsungden had to abandon her day job and work on the game’s art full-time to keep up.
“It just spiraled into something more and more and more,” So remarked. What started as a small scale passion project quickly grew into the lovingly made A Summer’s End.
The story of A Summer’s End follows the journey of Michelle and Sam, and how their relationship slowly unfolds in the British-controlled Hong Kong. From the neon-lit densely packed streets of the Mong Kok shopping district to the quiet beaches of Sai Kung, Michelle questions her relationship with her city, her mother and herself as her feelings for Sam slowly evolve. In the words of a mysterious old lady from Mong Kok, “Sometimes the road won’t appear until you take the first step towards it.”
“Our inspiration for this game came through our love of 1980’s to 90’s Hong Kong and Taiwanese media,” said So. “We were inspired by the scenes presented in these films and we wanted to do our own take of it to express the ideas of oppression and freedom of choice.” Although Kietsungden and So pay homage to visual elements from the eighties and nineties, the game doesn’t rely on nostalgia to hook its audience.
Instead, the neon-lit cityscapes and calming synth music blend into the background that seamlessly supports the timeless and heartfelt story. Kietsungden’s visuals are the perfect foil to So’s writing. Because of their chemistry, every part of the game works in tandem to create a visual novel about first love in a time and place where being a member of the LGBTQ community was difficult at best.
I definitely recommend picking up A Summer’s End if you have the time. The game costs $18 on Steam and takes around six hours to play from beginning to end. This well-told story is a genuine love letter to 80’s anime, Hong Kong cinema, and contemporary Asian literature.