In the interest of “muh jurnaliztik integritty” I should say that I’m a massive Sierra fanboy and support her on Patreon.
Sierra Lee is the developer behind some of my favorite games including Ouroboros, a clever spin on the traditional RPG format, Crimson Grey; a game about boning a sociopath, and The Last Sovereign;
the objectively best adult game my personal favorite adult game. This week Sierra was able to take some time to answer some of my questions about her writing process and her work.
A lot of developers in the US and Europe shy away from the adult games business as it’s seen as a niche market. What made you choose to make lewd games as opposed to traditional ones? Was it something you set out to do or did it just kind of happen?
Some of both. I’ve always been interested in making games, but I ended up making NSFW games specifically because I was playing other adult games and I felt like I had something slightly different to offer. Right now it’s still a niche market, but we’ll see what happens over the next ten years.
I assume you’re referring to the writing quality of your work. Where does that come from? Do you have a literary background?
Well, people can judge my work’s quality or lack thereof for themselves, but I think most would agree my games are story-heavy. I’ve been writing for a long time, both novels and NSFW short stories.
A bunch of my work is up on the usual sites like Literotica, for those who are into text. I’m still fond of “Superman Fucks Gotham”, which was my chance to go both ridiculously over-the-top and also meta on the modern comics industry.
What’s your process for writing something long and complex like “The Last Sovereign”? Do you keep notes on characters and lore or do research before hand?
Basically, I play around with a variety of ideas for plot, characters, and worldbuilding in my head until a general concept forms. Then I start creating a massive document, which I find helps clarify potential issues before they arise. The two largest parts of it are a very detailed plot outline and lore notes, which expand as I think through the world more rigorously. Character arcs I tend to keep in my head except where they appear on the outline.
I assume TLS’s document must be pretty huge! Are there any limits to what you write into your stories based on what you can program into rpg maker? On the other hand, are there any elements of your stories you feel you can only pull off in an interactive medium like a game?
RPG Maker limits game mechanics considerably, but I’ve never felt it limits the story itself too much. The bigger factor is making a story that actually works as a game. Every plot development has to work no matter what past decisions the player has made – even minor choices quickly lead to combinatorial explosion. And there are often ideas that seem enjoyably complex in theory, but I realize would be a mess to actually play through. I think I overshot on the earlier sections of TLS where you have to manage travel/activity time in detail, for example.
One of the best things about games is making conclusions feel earned. For example, in TLS, you don’t get to see any of the content for remaking Yhilin unless you’ve put effort into doing well in the battle, investing in the capital, and so on. I try not to make the game require too much minmaxing, but if the player doesn’t care about Yhilin, it will stay in poor condition through the end of the game. I hope that makes the changes to the characters and world more satisfying.
The holy grail of games as a medium is branching narratives, of course. I took a narrow shot at that with the war event in TLS. I’m trying to give the player a higher degree of freedom in Kingdom of Deception while still leading to a meaningful conclusion, which should be an interesting challenge.
Where do you get most of your inspiration from? Do you play other adult games or read books or do things just pop into your head?
Reading is my main hobby, even more than gaming. I play a variety of games for fun, and I try to play some of all NSFW genres professionally. If I keep trying out new things, my brain keeps coming up with new ideas.
Now, I know that recently you’ve been releasing your games on steam and have been having trouble with that. Do you think that steam and the Western market in general is becoming more open to adult games? Do you ever see Western developers producing adult games with high production value aimed at large markets like in the East?
Barring some kind of mass censorship, I think Western developers releasing adult games with high production values is inevitable. It doesn’t follow that we’ll see a market develop similar to Japan’s, though. Enough factors are different that I wouldn’t venture a prediction.
As for whether Steam and the market are becoming more open to adult games, that’s hard to say. A year ago, I would have said Steam was becoming more open. Now that I have a lot more data, both personally and from other devs, I’m afraid that what might seem like a more open policy is just inconsistency. As for the market in general, I think we’re seeing at least some change in a positive direction.
With such long projects do you ever have scenes or plot points that end up getting written out? Any interesting ones?
It happens more than I’d like with RPGs, where I have two ideas for how something could go and have to pick only one. In VNs, usually I can do both ideas via variant paths. But sometimes you just have to kill an idea and hope it can be reincarnated in a later project.
For cut ideas… I completely finished a sex scene with Trin where she views normal sex as cruel and unusual. I still think it’s a solid scene with a funny premise, but it’s just never felt like there was a context where it made sense. Or for another example, I had a mindfuckier opening for Ouroboros starting with a final boss battle, but decided it would increase the amount of time before the twist by too much.
I think most would agree that Ouroboros is already enjoyably mindfucky. Without spoiling things, I’m going to say it also seemed to end in a very sequel friendly way. Do you ever plan to continue the story or was that a one time project?
As much as I tend to plan sequels, Ouroboros was meant to be completely self-contained. While there’s obviously more to the characters’ lives, the game covers their essential story. There won’t be a 2 Ouroboros 2 Furious or anything.
Having said that, I would do a sequel or spiritual successor if I felt I had an idea that was worthy of the core concept. But it may take a while before I come up with something that I feel is taking the cycle premise deeper instead of doing more of the same.
With the exception of Crimson Grey all of your games take place in fantasy worlds. What drew you to this setting?
Fantasy is my favorite genre, but that’s mostly a coincidence. I want to do a big scifi story eventually, and I have a “sexy zombie” concept that I think is fun, but I can’t start those any time soon because I have enough projects already.
Basically, I like settings that are unusual or imaginative in some way. With a lot of genres, there’s a sense of inevitability because you know the story can only play out a few ways. Fantasy has its own tropes and cliches, but there’s also the possibility that it will surprise you.
Well that about wraps up everything I’d like to ask. Thanks for taking the time to do this! I hope everything goes well with your steam releases and I can’t wait to see your next updates.
No problem, thanks for interviewing me!
Sierra’s Patreon along with links to download her games for free can be found here