Published on October 20th, 2023 | by Andrew Bistak

Ruqiyah of ub4q Interview (Amarantus)

POST PAX AUS 2023, we catch-up with Ruqiyah of ub4q to discuss gaming and the game Amarantus which won Excellence in Narrative at the Australian Game Developer Awards this year

Welcome to Impulse Gamer Ruqiyah! So tell us a little about your game Amarantus.

Amarantus is a visual novel about getting your friends together and going on a roadtrip to overthrow the tyrant ruining your country, except all your friends are disasters and the high-stress environment is destroying everyone’s ability to make good decisions. So sure, the revolution is important, but it’s the party dynamics that are going to command most of your attention. Who’s interested in who, who wants to avoid who, and how do your choices play into the push and pull of each character? I recently described it “a relationship simulator that fights you every step of the way”, which I quite like. It’s a pure visual novel, no gameplay beyond reading and making choices.

Where did your idea of the game come from?

The ideas underpinning Amarantus have been playing around in my head for going on ten years plus, at this point, so it’s hard to pinpoint an originator. I think originally I was interested in telling a story where the main character was navigating a few different relationships and exploring, say, what makes this platonic relationship different from this romantic relationship, how does what I want from each of my friends vary. I wrote a collection of scenes in prose – conversations, mainly – and then I remember having a break through moment of WAIT, I think this is a dating-sim-esque visual novel: something that plays with genre expectations, where romance can be ill-conceived and sometimes friendship is more satisfying.

So that’s what I made, though it took ten years to get there

What was your biggest challenging in its creation?

My answer to this question probably changes every few days. I’m not a great marketer, though I did have some success with Tiktok; emailing our character artist Syd and saying hey, I have this game script, and I want to start making it something real, was very scary. My answer today can be persistence. I’ve worked full-time in non-game related work for the last eight years, and that’s been eight years of getting home from work every day, sitting down at my laptop, and getting Back Into It.

Every now and then I’d have a self-indulgent moment of hey, what if I didn’t do this – particularly when “visual novels aren’t real games” discourse goes flying around again, or I thought too hard about releasing the game to a disinterested audience – but then I’d shrug and just get Back To It. What else could I do? It would have to get done eventually.

What did you find to be the most rewarding aspect?

Two answers here. One’s basic: getting it released and discovering that oh, people actually are catching what I’m throwing. They like the game, and more than that, they get it. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than an audience who gets it.

The other answer – just about everyone who contributed to Amarantus, the editor, the two artists, the music/sound team, are all personal friends who I asked would you please like to make some stuff for my game with me. Seeing them believe in the game,  take ownership of their work, and talk about what being involved has done for them, has been incredibly rewarding. Everyone got to try new styles and create new things! They get to put down worked on award-winning Amarantus in their resumes! We made something we’re proud of!

I want to leave everyone who’s put their skills and time and love behind Amarantus the better for it.

You won the Excellence in Narrative at AGDAs! Congratulations! How did it feel?

Thank you! Absolutely unreal, haha. It was such an honour just to get nominated, not feeling like a classic AGDA game at all – a pure visual novel, created by an entirely non-Victorian team, etc. etc. I didn’t think we had a chance at the actual award. I was standing in the audience, increasingly uncomfortable in my heels, and I said to myself when another game wins the Excellence in Narrative award, you can take off the heels. That’s your special prize.

More the fool me, I had to stagger my way to the front instead.

It was really incredible, to have the gamedev community recognising our art game hobby project like that. We’re all very grateful.

At the AGDAs, what were the top 3 games that stood out to you?

I’m really interested in Vactics, the…rogue-like chess-like mech builder? It looks and sounds incredible, and kept popping up all through the AGDAs. Final Profit, the shop-sim RPG, has been on my radar for months and I hope I’ll finally have time to dive in later this year. It looks like something that’ll take over my life. And The Flying Canoe, the interactive audio experience nominated for Excellence in Impactful Games – I love when something comes along in these sorts of events and wants to push around the idea of what should be considered a ‘game’.

PAX Australia is 10 Years old, can you tell us what PAX means to you and the Australian gaming scene?

I remember going to the first PAX back in 2013. I was so excited when it got announced we were getting our own PAX, I posted on Supergiant Games’ Facebook page asking hey, will you be there? (they weren’t). Does anyone remember how we had to queue up in the queue hall for panels, and then get marched in our queue through the halls to the actual room? Because they hadn’t been prepared for Melbourne weather and we were all getting drenched waiting outside.

I think the thing I like most about PAX is that the indie area is anyone’s game. There are games where I’ve thought can that really work on the showfloor? And then the audience is always there and eager and willing to get engaged, even in that crushing loud environment. Shout out to Draculesti, Quantum Suicide, Necrobarista and every other visual novel that’s taken on that challenge.

Can you tell us what’s in development for 2024 and beyond?

I’m tossing around ideas. Some being get more sleep and do other non-screen-based-hobbies instead. But some are definitely games.

I’ve released two games now in what I’m going to call the tragic dead hero series, and I’ve got thoughts on two more, one probably big, one theoretically small. I don’t think either are visual novels. I’ve always wanted to make something in RPG Maker. Let’s see.

About the Author

When he's not trying to save the world, Andrew enjoys travel (although loathes turbulence), going to the movies, reading and being a dad to his two dogs (and now twins) with his wife.

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