ILSProductions, the developer of Now & Then, which is soon approaching its final updates, has sat down with us to answer a couple of questions about their development process.
Q: Let’s start off with the most important question: Naomi or Carol? (Or Sydney?)
A: Carol. When creating the cast for Now & Then, I fashioned the love interests after some of my favorite personalities/body types; the demure, pale-skinned brunette, the redheaded bombshell, the saucy MILF, the muscle-bound “bro.” But, at the end of the day, the story is about Jack and Carol and their unconventional romance, so it’s always going to be Carol for me.
Q: You have probably seen this question coming: How did you first get into adult games?
A: I’m not sure what came first: stumbling across Hentai High School or the eroges at The Asenheim Project, including True Love and Divi-Dead. Both of these sent me down the proverbial rabbit hole of adult gaming in general.
Q: What are your favourite adult games?
A: While I’ve always enjoyed narrative-driven games, the ones I find myself returning to are almost always slice-of-life games with multiple romances, like Aneimo Neo+ ~Second Sisters~, The Sagara Family, and Doki Doki Oyako Lesson ~Oshiete ♪ H na Obenkyou~.When it comes to the new wave of indie adult games, I’m a fan of Harem Hotel, A House in the Rift and Kindread.
Q: Was Now & Then always supposed to be an Adult Visual Novel or how did the idea first take shape in your head?
A: I’d been kicking around parts of the story for some time. In fact, there was a plot document in development about Jack and Carol’s history, sitting on my computer for over a year before the idea of converting it into a visual novel came to me. This document largely became the skeleton for many of the “Then” scenes [flashbacks]. When the first wave of lockdowns hit and I saw how empty my hometown had become, the rest of the story just came to me. I started thinking about how the characters would react to a similar situation. Eventually, I decided to throw a little zombie apocalypse angle into it to really amp up the “end of civilization” angle. Once that all coalesced, it took me a few months to learn enough Ren’py and Honey Select Studio to produce the first episode.
Q: Did you have any other ideas for Games before starting Now & Then?
A: No. Now & Then came together purely through opportunity and timing. I’d been a fan of eroges and indie adult games and was curious about their development, but it wasn’t until the onset of the COVID pandemic that I had the time and reason to try my hand at it. That it came together like it did was purely a bit of luck.
Q: What were your major influences for Now & Then?
A: I’ve always been drawn to stories told during what I like to refer to as “the breakdown of society.” As a teenager, I was a fan of King’s The Stand, Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Matheson’s I Am Legend. Of course, a lot of zombie fiction played into this same interest, spanning the likes of Resident Evil, The Last of Us, 28 Days Later and World War Z.
Q: Apart from being a game developer you work as a graphic designer and self-published author. How did those help you in creating your first game?
A: Having plenty of years of experience in both fields helped to inform many decisions I made about both the narrative and visual presentation. In terms of the game’s user interface, I wanted to present a clean, simple presentation that kept in line with the story’s atmosphere. Writing-wise, I’m always considering how best to present the tale, including when to dig deep into a moment or when to handwave certain details that might otherwise bog down pacing with needless over-explanation.
Q: Now & Then has been updating steadily every month since Version 0.06: How do you maintain such a strict deadline?
A: It’s a mixture of keeping a rigorous schedule and drive. I go into each episode with a clear plot map of what needs to be in the next update and plan my time accordingly. But, more than that, I’m the kind of person who likes to be busy with this kind of work. If it’s something I enjoy, it doesn’t feel like a burden and if I wasn’t developing Now & Then, I’d be focused on something else creative, be it writing or art.
Q: Apart from constant updates you keep your players up to date with your development process through many Screenshots on Patreon and Discord. How important is staying in touch with your fans for you?
A: I’m a firm believer of letting fans and patrons know where I’m at in the process. I’ve seen too many other developers go silent for months on end and how the lack of communication affects their public perception. While I would never be one to tell someone how to make their content, I personally feel dropping the occasional line – be it in the form of teasers or wallpapers – goes a long way towards letting everyone know I’m still plugging away.
Q: One of the things I love about your game is that it feels quite grounded and realistic. How much research does go into the process of writing Now & Then?
A: Let’s just say that my internet search history probably has me on a few watchlists. Plus, I watched an awful lot of Mythbusters when I was younger. I think more than anything, the fact that I focus on the more banal aspects of the character’s lives really sells the realism. How many games have you played where the cast goes to the bathroom? Or frets over finding clean clothes?
Q: What were the biggest hindrances and surprises you had to face during the development process of Now & Then?
Q: There have already been some changes regarding the number of updates we can expect until the end of the game. What else did change from the ‘drawing board’ to the full game?
A: There’s been a fair amount of shifting of scenes and conversations to better fit the pacing. I had initially toyed with the idea of having Naomi initiate her sexual relationship with Jack earlier, back at the apartment, but it both felt out of place and character, so I dropped it. Of a larger impact, in the original plot document, Alice was only supposed to turn up in one of the endings. If you never did anything with Naomi, her “bad” ending was that she would return to the Merilee’s haven to find her mother there. Between fan feedback and my own desire to expand Alice’s presence, I changed the end of Part Two for the better.
Q: Were you surprised by any reactions of your fans concerning certain characters or moments in the story?
A: I really had not expected either Alice or Sydney to be as popular as they are. Early on, Alice was only present in flashbacks, and she didn’t have a lot of depth beyond being Naomi’s mother, but the fans were begging to see more of her as early as chapter six. With Sydney? I’d gone out of my way to make her flawed and distant with the idea that not everyone would like her. But by the time the close of part two rolled around, people were clearly loving her and wanted more of her.
Q: Now & Then is approaching its end soon. First of all, congratulations for sticking with this wonderful project for so long! How do you feel about it ending?
A: I think, right now, because I’m so focused on the mountain of content still to be created to complete the project, it’s difficult to perceive of a time in which I won’t be working on these characters. I know there’ll be a day where I’m not, and I’m sure I’ll miss them. They’ve been a constant part of my life for the past two years. Even now, I find myself rooting for the best for them.
It’s difficult to perceive of a time in which I won’t be working on these characters. I know there’ll be a day where I’m not, and I’m sure I’ll miss them. They’ve been a constant part of my life for the past two years. Even now, I find myself rooting for the best for them.
Q: How much work is the ending shaping up to be? Is there anything else you would like to tell us about it?
A: There’s a ton of content for it, with nine planned love scenes (not counting variants), so I’ve been working on this content in my free time for the past four months. It won’t be a distinct one-person ending, but a chapter with scenes based on where you’re at with each of the relationships. So, if Carol is your main love, it’ll start and end with her, but the player will be able to see how Jack’s life with the other women is now that they’ve settled down.
Q: You recently unveiled your plans for a new game, what can you tell us about it?
A: The Interim Domain is about a man who wakes to find himself in a metaphysical limbo, set to the task of aiding others moving on to the next world. While the main story explores his experiences in this new role, there’s plenty of opportunity to delve into new relationships with those he must help. Rather than focusing on the omnipresent dread and horror of a zombie pandemic, players are presented with the strange and unfamiliar supernatural realm.
Q: Speaking about this new project: On Discord you told your fans that certain characters of The Interim Domain appear in the background of early updates of Now & Then. How long have you already been working on this new project?
A: The overarching plotline was something I’d been kicking around for years, even before the development of Now & Then, but I’d originally thought to write it for a traditional eBook/paperback release. When Now & Then took off, I started looking towards developing what might be the next project and the cast behind it. So, as soon as chapter three, I was sneaking characters in where I could.
Q: What are the things you take with you out of the development of Now & Then? What do you want to change with your new project?
A: A lot of what I would take forward is how to better structure the back-end code for ease of updating. Trying to pack well over 70,000 lines of code into one file was probably not one of my best ideas. Plus, there were a lot of little things I wish I’d done better when creating the first few chapters, from reducing the number of camera jumps in scenes to just cleaning up transitions so that everything flowed a little better.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to give new or aspiring developers?
A: Two things: 1) Always make the game you want to play. It’s how you keep yourself engaged in your project. 2) Have an idea of where the story is going and what the ending looks like. You may not need to know all the major beats (be willing to change things as necessary) but knowing the major arcs of your plot will help maintain consistency throughout.
Always make the game you want to play. It’s how you keep yourself engaged in your project.
Q: Is there anyone you would like to thank for their help during the development of Now & Then?
A: Lots, and I want to give credit where it’s due. The Illusion Discord modding community has been amazing. I’ve learned so much about Honey Select Studio from them, both from a functionality and artistic standpoint. Many of the users there have done amazing things with the program. In particular, the mods from Joan6694, metagraphy, hooh, Starlene, Lykanz, and Suteishi (among many others) have been invaluable to the game’s development. And content creators like 55b55 and Duck アヒル have been inspirational and instructive to me from day one with the work they create. Also of note, Zoey Raven and Mordred93, who’ve both handled the walkthroughs, have given me great feedback on code. Plus, the fans and my patrons have been wonderful in their support.
Q: Are there any goals you would like to achieve in the future?
A: Make more games! Seriously, outside of just creating new experiences and sharing it with others, I really don’t ask for much.
Thanks again to ILSProductions for agreeing to this interview and for giving us an insight into their creation process. Please make sure to go support ILSProductions for the awesome work they do.