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Talking All Things MINDHACK with Developer VODKAdemo?

The small team behind the upcoming visual novel MINDHACK sits down to discuss inspirations, design philosophy, and participating in LudoNarraCon.




Behind the Development of MINDHACK

Despite its longevity in the wider gaming sphere, there’s often not much of a spotlight shone on the visual novel genre. Fans have enjoyed some spectacular releases in recent years between 2020’s Necrobarista and 2021’s long-awaited The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles localization, and MINDHACK is shaping up to be the next must-play VN. A mix of striking character design and a mysterious protagonist who keeps players guessing about his true motives, MINDHACK made a splash at this year’s LudoNarraCon and for good reason.

GoombaStomp had the opportunity to chat with the three-person dev team behind the title and go over everything from the concept of a “mindhacker” to the inspiration behind MINDHACK’s incredibly distinct art direction. We even go into how the team settled on the visual novel genre for their debut game in the first place. If you’d like to play the demo first for more context you can download it on Steam here.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

GS: MINDHACK is one of the more unique game concepts we’ve seen. Where did the initial idea for a game where you play as a mindhacker come from? Was there any media that inspired you in particular? 

VODKAdemo?: In MINDHACK, we treat the individual human identity as the most important thing. Usually, the human mind changes gently with time and experience. In the real world, no one can say what is “good” or “bad” for that change.

Conversely, what would happen if, in a world where the answer was completely determined, it was allowed to force the shape of the human mind to change as desired by someone? It’s a kind of horror. That’s the [core] idea for this game.

Old sci-fi masterpieces, novels, and movies brought about such ideas. For example, “Fahrenheit 451,” “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” and “A Clockwork Orange.”

Image: VODKAdemo?

GS: MINDHACK’s visual identity is incredibly distinct, from the doctor’s hands displaying prominently on either side of the screen to the inmates being based on creatures and monsters rather than humans. Can you talk a bit about what went into the development of such a unique visual style?

V?: All three of us, VODKAdemo?, were born and raised in Japan, but we all love indie games and cartoons that have come from overseas! That’s why in our works there are unique non-human characters with various lives and appearances.

The doctor’s hands came from the style of the main character in FPS games, like Half-Life 2. The character’s visuals are naturally born from the styles we love. Each of the characters are designed based on the preferences of each of us.

GS: It’s not often that visual novels are as interactive and immersive as MINDHACK is. What about the visual novel genre appealed to you as a way to tell MINDHACK’s story as opposed to, say, making it a simulation or adventure game?

V?: We really love indie games. One day, someone said “Let’s make our own game!” That was how development started.

But, there were no programmers among us, and all three of us were more talented in drawing graphics and stories than the systematic part. We love to tell stories. For us to focus on the emotions, facial expressions, and complex stories of characters, the visual novel style of gameplay and animation was the best fit.

GS: Manually hacking the mind of Unid (the first inmate) was a thrill. How did you settle on making mindhacking interactive, and a typing exercise at that? It’s rare to see a mechanic that’s so uniquely PC-based, but it works remarkably well.

V?: The typing part comes from the original idea for the game, where MINDHACK would be about a genius hacker. When you think about a hacker, isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind someone who hits the keyboard quickly?

Also, since this story is drawn on a text basis, the soul of the character being hacked is included in the text. Rewriting it should lead to the feeling of “doing something irreparable.”

Image: VODKAdemo?

GS: Playing through the demo, it’s clear that the doctor is something of an unreliable narrator. This may be common in other forms of media, but it’s particularly hard to pull off in video games. From a storytelling perspective, how do you balance giving players just enough to feel like they’re in control without revealing the true nature of the protagonist? 

V?: The most important thing in this work is the character’s individuality. You, in front of the screen, are also part of the MINDHACK world and are one of the characters like Unid, Captain, and Rookie.

No matter what gender, physique, or appearance (even if you are not human!), we value the feeling that you are this character wearing the gloves.

But of course, you’re sitting in front of the screen, not there in the debug room. So you and the doctor don’t have exactly the same thoughts. Trying to get you thinking about, “What is common sense in the dystopian world of MINDHACK?” is key to closing that gap.

GS: What do you hope players walk away with after getting their hands on MINDHACK?

V?: We hope this work will give you an opportunity to rethink what you feel about what’s right, what you love, and what your own identity is.

Image: VODKAdemo?

GS: What’s the experience been like being a part of LudoNarraCon, and what does MINDHACK’s inclusion in the convention mean to you?  

V?: We’re big fans of story-driven indie games, so we’re excited about the amazing lineup! Some of these are wonderful works that we have already experienced, and there are also new encounters that will surely fascinate us. We are proud to have our work included here. We hope that people who love narrative games like us will enjoy it!

As mentioned earlier, MINDHACK was born from wonderful stories and art that came to Japan from overseas. Through LudoNarraCon, we hope that our love will reach across the world as a love letter to where our influences came from.

MINDHACK launches on all platforms later this year. You can wishlist it on Steam here.

Brent fell head over heels for writing at the ripe age of seven and hasn't looked back since. His first love is the JRPG, but he can enjoy anything with a good hook and a pop of color. When he isn't writing about the latest indie release or binging gaming coverage on YouTube, you can find Brent watching and critiquing all manner of anime. Send him indie or anime recommendations @CreamBasics on Twitter.