Postmortem: Writing the Hinterlands


It's been wonderful seeing the reaction so far over Build 0.5's Hinterlands 3 section. When we started on it I was aware it was a bold idea at best, a crazy one at worst, to interrupt the story we had going to tell a seemingly unrelated tale about a different duo of characters. We had a goal with that, but as we went on I was no longer sure my writing would be good enough to convey it.

Thankfully, the reaction so far has been great. We did get some very fair suggestions — mainly people pointing out that Hinterlands 3 dragged on a little and that its placement in the story could have been smoother. Those are fair points, and partly were issues we anticipated as possible reactions. Still, the sheer fact that these have been the main criticisms is a victory, as the very idea behind the Hinterlands was so alien and hard to execute.

Structurally, Hinterlands 3 is probably the most complex and intricate section of Minotaur Hotel. It was extremely challenging in a number of ways and a gigantic departure from our usual storytelling format. After giving it some thought I decided to write this DevLog to chronicle how we developed it, so we could aid other VN writers in similar endeavors. This post should, also, stand as a sort of celebratory landmark on its own as September 7th 2021 marks the 2nd anniversary of Minotaur Hotel's release.

Now, before we start the postmortem proper I have to establish a few things:

  • Spoilers ahead! Don't read this if you haven't finished the current build of Minotaur Hotel.
  • This postmortem will mainly focus on the "game design" of the Hinterlands and how we wrote it. I am making an effort not to talk too much about the themes, the twists, what this or that means because (as you will see) the process of interpreting what's being shown is part of "the game".

Writing the Hinterlands

I am a firm believer that stories benefit from mixing together emotions. To make a plot out of a single emotion is shallow, it makes the whole thing feel like a cardboard cutout, while a complex pattern of interwoven emotions can make give verisimilitude even to the most fantastic stories.

Minotaur Hotel begins with a lingering sense of sadness (the prologue), then plummets into a pit of sorrow (finding Asterion in the cold room) before climbing the way up to ever-increasing heights of joy. This, I hope, has been conveyed well enough with Build 0.5, and it was our vision all along.

For joy to be meaningful, however, we need the other emotions. Asterion's coming out of his shell could only carry the mixed burden of joy and sorrow for so long, and past a certain point we needed someone to take on that mantle while Asterion climbed up to a new height. We required something on the bitter side of things that would reframe things and reveal that, outside the titular Minotaur Hotel, the world is filled with lost people who still require help even if Asterion is doing well for himself.

Perhaps a better way to put this is that Asterion's story needed a mirror, or its negative image. That might be more descriptive.

And so we decided we had to write what, later, we would call "The Hinterlands".


The Goal

As I stated above, the Hinterlands provides Minotaur Hotel with a touch of needed bitterness, which in turn frees Asterion's story to climb up to a new level of joy. That is good enough a reason, but we had more going on that made it necessary for us to do something.

Another key element is that we wanted to iterate on the themes and threads we had established previously. We thought it was important to show more about the charms, the emotional state of being lost, the impact of being accepted into (and removed from) the hotel, what the world of Minotaur Hotel looks like, why Asterion thinks giving a home to the lost is so important, etc.

On another note, the Hinterlands carried an extraordinarily difficult burden: the introduction of Storm.

Going back to another topic for a second, why did we have to write the Ruthless Route? Why did we make Mintoaur Hotel, a story about treating Asterion as someone worthy of love and dignity, and then write a whole branch where that was thrown aside? The answer is that the story would be thematically incomplete without it.

It's the same with Storm. Asterion's personal conflict does not exist in isolation, it's not about him sitting on his hotel and doing nothing. No, he wants the hotel so he can provide a home to those who are lost — and the Hinterlands is the deep, intimate exploration of that concept. It's about Storm, a young man who was given no chance in his life, and his own personal valley of abuse. It's about showing that the abuse Asterion suffered, as fantastical and mythological as it was portrayed, is real and possible.

This sounds easy, but it isn't. Simply put, Storm's story has to be profoundly tragic because, well, there are people like that. Their story deserves to be told. But, at the same time, it's too tragic and runs the risk of becoming sickeningly so.

So we needed someone to counter-balance that. That's where P came from. If Storm is (like Asterion) the victim of abuse, we needed someone to take on the position of power above him. Someone who can either do good or bad. And together, inserted in the context of the Hinterlands, they make up the dark reprise of Minotaur Hotel.

The location itself was important. We were iterating on the relationship between Asterion and the Hotel's Master, but this time with the two in a much more precarious position. Storm and P are not afforded the power to create diamonds from their fingertips, they are not surrounded by flawed-but-kind people, they do not have limitless time, they are never safe from physical violence. They have much less to work with.

In other words, Storm was necessary for Minotaur Hotel to be complete. And for him to be complete himself we needed P, his guardian, and a valley wherein he was abused. Altogether they made up a beautifully complex tapestry of emotions when, in isolation, they were all flat and unengaging.


A Writer's Toolbox

In Stephen King's book On Writing he talks about the writer's "toolbox", which is one's collection of skills and techniques. For our own good, we writers should be continuously trying to perfect our tools and learn new ones, but at the same time we must be conscious not to go for the fancy techniques when the most classical, traditional and accessible ones would do just as well.

Coupled with the fact that the fancy tools can make things hard to follow for many readers, what this means in practice is that a writer can end up writing on a level of complexity that is below their true capacity. This can grind one's creative spirit down and make the whole thing a chore at best, and a regretful enterprise at worst.

This is relevant for the Hinterlands because it ties with one of my (personal) reasons for wanting to write it: truth be told, I felt that I generally was writing below my true capacity in Minotaur Hotel. I wanted something to spread my wings with and show a fuller pallet of skills, which would help with keeping the story from becoming monotonous.

More specifically, with this section of the story I wanted to go back to my roots and use more elements from Latin American magical realism, which is both very close culturally to me and a genre I wrote in a few years ago.

I suppose this desire to more strongly insert the spirit of magical realism into Minotaur Hotel came out of seeing some of the reactions we had to the game until that point. I don't think many readers realize that I'm not a native English speaker (in large part thanks to all the editing we do!), so very often people assume I'm American or that the whole team is coming from an American perspective. I can fully understand why this happens, but I couldn't help but feel a bit uncomfortable with it. I am proud of my Brazilian literary tradition and of the writers from which I learned, so the thought of being miscategorized as anything but Brazilian is unappealing to me.

And so I set out to write the most essentially Latin American story I had to tell... And I just happened to have an idea lying around, one that preceded Minotaur Hotel by a few years.

It was the story of a troubled detective who went into the hinterlands of Northeastern Brazil to investigate a series of murders, and the neglected young man he met on his journey. This story was largely inspired by places I visited, tragical local stories my family told me and my own reflections on the lives people lead in these places.

All I had to do was tweak the details here and there to adapt them to this new setting... And so I started writing the Hinterlands.


Limitations

The Hinterlands' main limiting factor was size. After an initial assessment of how much content it would require to make it work we figured out that it would be, inevitably, big — but how big was up for debate.

Right off the bat we understood that we'd have to drastically change our writing style and restructure our modus operandi for setting a scene. P's detective-like internal monologue was a deliberate choice as it, among other things, reveals his judgments and impressions about people and locations, which sets him up to be quicker and punchier than our standard narrator.

The car CG (where P and Storm are shown driving around) was another way we came up with to shorten things. If we could keep most of P's and Storm's character building dialogue in a single "location" we would save on backgrounds, scenario descriptions and we would greatly reduce the complexity of structuring the whole thing.

While sizing all of this up, we pondered how many in-game days this section should have to make it work. We figured out that 7 was the right number based on the following points:

  • We specifically did not want the player to have time to do everything in the Hinterlands. This was important to keep things balanced, to push people towards replaying the game, but mainly it is thematically necessary. Unlike the MC and Asterion, P and Storm do not have infinite resources and so must pick and choose.
  • We wanted the Hinterlands to have "quests" which the player could try to accomplish. With the previous point in mind we decided that having three quests with it only being possible to accomplish two in a single playthrough would be the smallest execution possible that still conveyed everything we wanted to.
  • What should these quests be about? For starters one would be about spending time with Storm, and if you hang out with him enough he'd develop a crush on P. That was simple. The other two quests were about the history of the Hinterlands per se.
  • How many days should it take to finish a quest? They are meant to be sort of like mini-puzzles. They should be long enough that people don't solve them by accident. But they don't have to be too complex that they become "Eureka!" moments in their own right — because the real puzzle box is the Hinterlands itself, as a whole. So, how long should they be?
    • One day: not a puzzle at all, people would "solve" them without even noticing there was something to think about.
    • Two days: still too little, could be solved by accident and that would feel very shoddy.
    • Three days: the smallest amount of in-game time wherein the chances of a player solving things accidentally was acceptably small.
  • We want three quests, each one requiring three in-game days. By this measure a player would need nine days to finish them all — and we can't have that. Six days would be too little as players would have just enough time to do two quests with no sightseeing. We went with seven days because two of the quests could be accomplished in five days if the player managed their time really well, so having eight days would allow them to do everything.

  • How many locations should it have?
    • 4 locations for the quests. The non-Storm quests would take 3 days each, but we went with the two sharing a location (Flooded Town) so only 5 locations were necessary at first. We reduced it down to 4 locations because one quest would reuse its starting point as the final one as well — we did this because that location was interesting enough to warrant a revisit.
    • 1 location to pick Storm's clothes (the Tailor).
    • 2 locations to explore P's and Storm's past (their families' homes.)
    • 1 joke location, exclusive to the Speedrunner route (the Anthill).
    • We wanted 1 location to be the Minotaur Hotel equivalent of a "harder, bonus level".
    • That's 8 so far. Considering there were going to be 7 in-game days, we felt that adding 6 more locations would make everything meaty enough that players wouldn't stumble on the second, hidden quest too easily (while also not making the whole area so bloated it became too much.) Over these locations we spread the other ideas we had.
    • Total: 13 locations for most players, with 14 for the Speedrunner.


Structure

The premise of the Hinterlands is that you can play detective, explore the region to try and find the Hotel, solve mysteries and get closer to Storm.

But how should we structure this content and keep track of all the variables going on? We already showed the rationale behind the number of locations and what role they had structurally, but that's only scratching the surface of what went on in writing the Hinterlands. Another important thing, perhaps the single most crucial one, was getting the chemistry between P and Storm right.

Once we figured out that the Hinterlands section should happen over 7 days, I came up with the idea of each in-game day having fixed morning and night sections. These sections would carry the largest load of exploring P and Storm as characters. To be precise they had to do the minimum work required to get their chemistry to work, and the exploration sections would do the rest... But let's take a closer look how this all was structured.

The Hinterlands section has a main set of "variables":

  • Did the player fulfill Nini's questline?
  • Did the player fulfill the second questline?
  • How many times have P and Storm hung out in situations that made them closer?

With this in mind, what I did was writing the morning and night segments with variations here and the accounting for those factors.

The most writing intensive of those was how close Storm and P were at any given moment. We measured this by checking how many times they hung out and had an emotionally intimate moment together — which could range from 0 (never did it) to 7 (did it in all the days in the Hinterlands.)

If P and Storm hung out 3 times or more by the end of the Hinterlands, Storm would develop a crush on P. That was our landmark: 3 was the threshold for Storm developing feelings. As such, the third night in-game was a particularly important point as it marked the first moment wherein the player could have reached that threshold. As such, it was a very deliberate choice having P mention his sexuality during that night. Placing Storm's attempt at stealing P's money on the morning before that was also deliberate, as it was an important trigger for the two of them to understand each other better.

The ritual involving salt was also important for the third night, as that served as a hint (right in the middle of the Hinterlands, when there's still time) pointing the player towards the Salt Plains.

Overall, however, writing the morning/night segments was a reasonably free-flowing process. More often than not I was seeking out genuine moments that captured P's and Storm's growing chemistry. Around those interactions I would just let all my themes and ideas flow freely. This is how scenes like P and Storm sharing a cup of coffee early in morning came to be — I was pulling from beautiful moments I had experienced myself. Same goes for the existential terror of seeing a young woman, no older than 13, pregnant in a horrifying house in the middle of nowhere.

It's been very interesting seeing people discuss the Hinterlands. For the most part it was built on top of very personal experiences and ideas that had been rolling inside my head for years. After so long the inspirations that went into it weren't very conscious anymore, as they all had melted together into a more flexible mix of ideas. So I'd say it's been very interesting seeing people interpreting this segment of the story, giving names to things that had become something like second nature to me.

P as the Narrator

We simply could not have our usual narrator for the Hinterlands.

...Well, we could, but it wouldn't hit as well if we did. We needed a snappier narrator, someone quick-witted and more likely to interject with his personal views. That's the kind of person who could make a setting as unpleasant as the Hinterlands come across like we wanted. P had to be the narrator for this reason — and also to reinforce the parallel between him and the player character back in the hotel.

As I said before, we were trying to juggle a lot of things with the Hinterlands. One of the first that had to be addressed was how to transition from the rest of the game to it, which was a tough challenge already. So, we didn't think people would be interested in P right from the get go, but I suspected that Storm would hook people in. Storm's story is, I hope, captivating, immediately so, and P becomes engaging by coming into contact with it.

Then we get P's internal monologue — and his self-hate. This was essential to build on the damage caused by Clément's actions, and necessary to reveal how P could be interesting in his own right. From that point we could then make the transition to showing how the Hinterlands and its mysteries are engaging too — only for it all to wrap back into P and Storm in the end, leading up to their arrival in the hotel.

So... There was a chain of interesting things. Asterion is interesting, and Storm inherits that by being a minotaur in a similar situation. Then P carries that engagement after we leave Storm point of view, and takes the reader's attention to the Hinterlands, which later returns everything to Asterion and Storm. It's a chain.

Or a spiral.


Managing Themes

I won't spell out what are all the themes of the Hinterlands, that would spoil the fun. If you want to find out more about this I recommend you check our Forum, where our amazing readers are discussing this and many other things.

What I will talk about here is how I managed the themes of the Hinterlands, which is a different thing.

For starters, I had a very well defined idea of what P's and Storm's stories are about. Recursion, of course, was one of them, and around the set of central themes I kept adding more and more ideas that fit together, like exploring the power play between Storm in his precarious position and P, who quite literally has power and authority over him.

Then, around them, I started placing motifs, threads, cultural influences, literary touches which I felt were connected to the larger context of the Hinterlands. It wasn't exactly some large mastermind-like work of tying all the threads together in an infinite web of ideas. It was about having compassion and trying to connect with the reality of what places like the Hinterlands are like.

With this I had the characters and I had the world around them. The last element was the chemistry between P and Storm, getting their banter to flow well.

Unlike Asterion, who is possessed by sorrow when the story starts, Storm is the kind of young man who rises to joy somewhat easily. He hasn't been through the depths of Asterion's abuse. P, meanwhile, carries more darkness than the player character.

It wasn't difficult for me to get the two of them to flow together. As soon as they did I could get the story to move wherever I wanted, which made showcasing all the context of the Hinterlands (and the themes hidden within) easy. Natural.


Mapping the Hinterlands

We only drew a map of the Hinterlands very late in development, if you can believe it.

First I decided what kinds of locations I wanted to explore, then wrote them. This was not quick, there was a lot of back and forth, cut content going out and new ideas popping in as we went on. During this time I had only a few firm ideas about how the map would look like:

  • The Hinterlands are a depression in the ground, it's below sea level. The entrance is to the East and you go down by going on a spiral pattern bordering the cliff wall.
  • Skinned Tapir is near the entrance.
  • At the bottom of the valley there would be the salt plains, and beside it a pond so polluted and salty it is largely incapable of hosting life. The pond is by a cliff wall. The salt plains should be close to the middle of the screen when shown in-game.

With those pointers I then drew up this map...


Which nanoff proceeded to develop into this one:


Literary Interpretation as a Mechanic for a Detective Story

I used to really like Ace Attorney when I was a teen. It was fun, I enjoyed the courtroom and investigation puzzle gameplay, the story was captivating. But over the years I largely lost interest in it (and in many kinds of games, to be fair). I had many issues with it, including the perception that the puzzles weren't really interesting anymore but mainly with the stagnation in the formula.

How many times can you do murder mysteries before it becomes boring by repetition? After so many years and cases, is the premise of a wacky whodunnit even enough to bring in people? At least it wasn't for me, and over the years I drifted off. For a few years I largely stopped playing video games.

As an adult I played Bloodborne then Dark Souls, which captivated me quite a bit. What really captivated me was that these were works with a very depth of literary touches to it wherein the stories were fragmented enough that they, in essence, became puzzles on their own right. If you look into it very carefully you'll find that trying to piece together everything becomes a more interesting game than the moment to moment gameplay itself.

To a large extent Minotaur Hotel is a game that tries to do exactly that. This is why we have the archaeological process of searching the valley for old texts and trying to piece them together. It's why we try to layer many mythological and literary influences on top of each other until they are difficult to pick apart one by one. But I wanted to push this to the next level with the Hinterlands.

Going back to the point about Ace Attorney, I envisioned the Hinterlands section as a sort of deconstructive detective story where the player would, in essence, be given the solution to the "whodunnit" right from the get go. Everyone starts knowing that P's grandfather was involved with the death of twelve mythicals, and it is known he was kicked out of the hotel by Clément. The "murder" is solved, but the "mystery" persists as the context and complete truth of the Hinterlands is yet to be understood.

It's the same with Storm. At first players might think that the point of it all is to take Storm to the hotel. Take him from Point A to Point B. But as things proceed they might realize that there are more mysteries here like understanding Storm's family life, which in turn opens a whole new chest of possibilities as it further sheds light on P's family being an even bigger mystery. Again, the player starts off with a somewhat clear idea of what "the goal" is, and they are left to figure out the context.

After the player is informed of the twelve tapir's deaths, they set off on their journey. Perhaps they'll be skeptical of Nini, but chances are they'll follow her proposed quest because the. If they do bury the remains of the tapirs then P and Storm will express doubt on whether or not anything worthwhile was accomplished at all. More perceptive players might raise the question that "giving a Christian burial" to the worshippers of a pagan deity may not be a good thing (have you checked the name of the Achievement you get if you do it?)

This, I thought, should be the truest and definitive "game mechanic" of the Hinterlands. The map, the exploration, the time management, all of that is a toy box in which we hid the real game — which is actually played outside of Minotaur Hotel, inside your own head.

Late in development we realized that this proposal had a logical conclusion to it: the game must not deliver all solutions to the players. There must be puzzles which P and Storm, as characters, cannot crack. The player must assume the role of detective if they want to understand it all.

This does connect back to Storm, mind you. In other games the player might have been punished by wasting all their time hanging out with Storm, but it's not necessarily the case here. Storm, too, holds mysteries, and even the act of spending time trying to understand his emotions is an investigative choice.

The more the player thinks about the Hinterlands, the more puzzles they will find, all the way to trying to understand the social and cultural context of the Hinterlands as a society — and, by extension, P's and Storm's as well.

In other words, Minotaur Hotel is a game that must reward curiosity. The drive to understand is a great thing indeed.


Cut Content

The Hinterlands is the part of the game with the largest amount of cut content. It was necessary in order to get the game out, we couldn't possibly let it keep going on and on any longer. Tragically, some of the ideas we cut were some of the ones we held dearest to us.

However, the very positive reaction to the Hinterlands (in particular to some of the most mysterious elements) has convinced us to release some of that content after our break. Still, in the name of revealing what the development process was like to help other VN developers, I will list here some of the content we cut.

  • "The Brothel" would be a location P and Storm could investigate in Skinned Tapir. By going there P would be able to interview his grandfather's mistress and learn more about some of his life and history. It was meant to give a better understanding on what kind of person Grandpa P was like.
  • "The Cave" was a location that players could access by going to "The Pond" after certain conditions were met, and it would take P down to a chamber where he would be shown disturbing things.
  • After burying the remains of the twelve tapirs, P and Storm would be able to return to the Colonel's Estate where a new event would play out. The widow would show them that a whole wing of the mansion had been locked off after the Colonel's death because of the many unexplainable and dangerous things that were happening there.
  • We wrote a whole scene where P and Storm investigated a truck stop but we cut it to avoid making the map screen too bloated. Nothing of note would happen there except for a comedic little scene where P would find the restroom colonized by a mass of frogs.
  • P and Storm were meant to meet Jean halfway through the Hinterlands. They were also meant to take in a hitchhiker. Both those encounters were cut halfway through and won't be restored.

Concept Art

The cranky boy.



The sweet boy.



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We Asked People to Send Questions, Here's What We Got

Which of the three main Hinterlands quests did you like writing the most (Pedro and Oscar’s relationship, skinned tapir or putting the souls to rest)?

The act of writing Oscar and Pedro getting closer was the most fun in the moment to moment sense, but the Skinned Tapir quest was the most fascinating to work on.

What was your initial plan for the hither lands? Did it change a lot as you wrote it?

Yes, more than any other part of the game. Originally we'd start it with P leaving his apartment in the city, travelling to the West and seeing things getting weirder, then going down to the Hinterlands, meeting Nini, searching for Oscar... Then I scrapped all of that because it just wasn't interesting and went straight to the moment which felt the most fascinating to me: Storm and P meeting.

Another thing that was scrapped is that, for a while, we planned on P meeting Jean in the Hinterlands, who would try get P to give up on the search. That was removed halfway through, but we still considered the idea of Dominikos being sent there to perform a similar function.

Zezé was a very late addition to the story. Nini also appeared more often and was a more present influence in the story.

What would you consider to be the ideal route in The Hinterlands?

That's part of the mystery, I can't answer that!

I think it's very interesting you chose to implement recursion as a core of the narrative in Hinterlands specifically, which takes place in LatAm, since generational trauma and "history repeating itself" is a very common topic in latin american literature, along with the setting of an unfruitful and almost abandoned town and the presence of rural superstitions and rites. Was this intentional? was there any kind of inspiration for this section of the game?

Yes. One of the first ideas we had that led us to writing the Hinterlands was of exploring the theme of recursion, which was absolutely fundamental for Build 0.5 as a whole. It's a cornerstone of the whole thing.

Latin America itself was also another cornerstone of the whole thing. The magical realism style for the story, the folklore, the socioeconomic struggles, the motifs... We absolutely went as far as we could in trying to make the Hinterlands an essentially Latin American piece of fiction.

By far the Hinterlands were inspired first by visiting places like it in real life, knowing people who grew up there, seeing the effects of generational trauma, having to go there as an adult and seeing how hard things are. Very often I was literally writing what I saw in my visits there while adding a thin layer of magical realism and mythology. But I was also inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I was also... negatively inspired by playing Kentucky Route Zero. I did not like how academic it became, which I find fundamentally incompatible with Latin American magical realism. This is a genre of fiction which, in my experience, "walks barefoot" and is very close to traditional folklore and poor people struggling to get by. I think that, to a certain extent, these stories are anti-academic in the sense that they should be accessible and enjoyable even by people without a deep literary experience...

Mind you, this is why P and Storm getting closer is, to me, important for the Hinterlands to be complete because that sort of very pure and emotional story, of two people getting closer and struggling with their emotions and positions, brings the kind of accessibility that is essential for magical realism.

Are the routes the player did in hinterlands gonna have a huge impact in minotaur hotel later on? For an example getting the salt from the god, doing a proper burial, (doing both) or just commiting fully to being nice to Storm?

Things will change in impacting ways depending on it but it won't necessarily be game-changing in scale. I'd say they will bring about changes similar in scope and impact as the tricking/not tricking Argos earlier in the game, which are definitely relevant for the plot.

What you do in the Hinterlands will also affect your hotel's staff. Unless you have the Leader background you cannot get both Pedro and Nikos to join your team, and P will be more likely to join the more you accomplished during the Hinterlands.

Was it intended from the start for storm and P to be able to have a relationship or was that something that was thought of later?

It was part of the original idea, it's one of the core pillars of the section. From the start we planned that Storm could confess his feelings, but P would softly reject him with the promise that things could change in the future. This was meant as a, let's say, repeat and exploration of what Asterion and the MC have.

What did Storm want to get at his house and didn't?

He never wanted to pick up anything, it was just an excuse to go and show off the charm to his family... But things didn't go as planned, did they?

Conclusion

Was writing the Hinterlands worth it? Absolutely! But, lemme tell you, that was such a crazy risk we took, it could have gone so badly. We went with it because we are crazy like that but I'd recommend developers to be cautious if they ever try to replicate something like this. It was extremely challenging.

And that's it! If you still have questions about the Hinterlands you can ask in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

To close it off, thank you for sticking with us so far! We are overjoyed with the reaction we've gotten so far. Thank you for your kindness, and I hope we will continue to provide with joy as the game goes on!

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Comments

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(+1)

After having not played since Chapter 3 came out and getting caught up to the current build this last week, this project is nothing short of incredible. I’m shocked at how emotionally engaging it is and it maintains this with a compelling story to boot. Great job to everyone involved.

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I can see how the Hinterlands 3 can come across as avant-garde to some since it does seem on face value to derail the plot. However I don’t find it that much different from when other writing does it (JRR Tolkien comes to mind) where the author cuts away from the protagonist to look at other pieces set in motion by the plot or to world build in a way. Though personally, I found the Hinterlands far more engaging and entertaining than in something like The Hobbit (I really couldn’t get through Tolkien’s writing). I think the team struck a good balance of creating a mini Minotaur Hotel (MH? Minotaur Hinterlands?) set in the “real world” along with building on how magic in this narrative’s universe works, reiterating on themes and giving the audience an extended introduction into a character or two who will likely be key actors in the main narrative. I would attribute that to keeping it simple for the audience to pick up on and follow the themes. Themes and concepts don’t always have to be couched in heavy symbolism or abstractions since that makes it harder for an audience to engage with but you also don’t lay it out too much in the open as to make it a bore and lose any sense of mystery and wonder. I also think you all did a great job at mixing the right amount of joy, darkness and hope to keep the narrative from becoming devolving into happy-go-lucky or from becoming doom and gloom.

I wouldn’t call the earlier writing in MH bad or lesser, it captivated me immediately the first time I played version 0.1 and I kept on thinking about it for the year before I revisited it. There is, however, a noticeable improvement with the writing with the Hinterlands and I would also say to the rest of the content in 0.5 though I don’t think I could really articulate what it is. Maybe it’s seeing more simple writer’s tools being implicated like the immediate notice in perspective change in the Hinterlands 2 with switch to P as the narrator rather than an omniscient narrator (which I wonder if, given the nature of the world of MH, they’re supposed be diegetic in some way or non-diegetic) to make the events more personal to being more obvious with the mystery aspect of MH and having an actual investigation occurring when in contrast, the MC is passively learning more about Asterion, the Hotel, the past, etc. The later parts are more to do with the nature of VN’s, it’s difficult to not make a player character be more reactive than proactive since you’re writing for a variety of personalities vs writing for a set character with their own motivations and goals. I can really see now how the Hinterlands section did provide more room to flex some writer muscles that may not have been getting enough of a work out with the main narrative. As far as the writing coming of as non-English speaking or American, I did have someone comment in chat during a stream asking if the writer was a non-English speaker because to them, the writing seemed too descriptive. I disagreed with the commenter that being too descriptive with writing is a sign of being of a foreign tongue necessarily. It may be a Visual Novel, but it is a novel and VN’s aren’t that dependent on their visuals like other visual medias. To me, the writing comes off as someone who is not American (or at the very least, someone who didn’t grow up in America or the UK) from small stuff like the themes being explored I’m not really used to seeing in much American media to bigger stuff like a lot of the details in the Hinterlands 3 seemingly coming from a place of personal experience that I feel like can’t really be found in a stereotypical “developed nation.”

One of the reasons why I found the Hinterlands sections so fascinating is because it hits me on a personal level, I’ve been to and grew up in a similar place and seen the same things. While my Mexican hinterlands was geographically thousands of miles away from the Brazilian hinterlands and don’t share the same landscape, they seem to share similar cultural similarities that I can only assume have to do with the effects of Catholic missions in the new world had. And, well, the darker side of humanity has no regional limits. To me, it’s so surprising to see a story set in an environment that I’ve rarely ever seen represented in any form of media, let alone in a furry VN and have it be so poignant especially with the dark themes, double for the theme of recursion. The poverty, the superstitiousness, the political criminals, the bigotry, the overall sense of hopelessness it all has and yet there is a sense of wonder and mystery to the land so isolated from the rest of the world. Even as someone as logical as me, it’s hard not to want to believe there is magic in the world when out under the stars surrounded by fireflies or monsters in the wilderness when you hear the dogs barking at wildlife to keep them away from the farm as you drift to sleep. Though most of the folklore I grew up was pretty much ghost tales and tales influenced by Catholicism, I think the only fantastical creatures in them were el Cucuí and la Llorona, nothing as cool as la Cabra Cabriola. But I digress; the fact that the Hinterlands invoked my Latin American past tells me that you succeeded in telling a Latin American story.

I really appreciate the work that went into creating this section that is more complex than the rest of the chapters. The change from narrator gives it a more personal feel to the stakes and mystery. The small touches are really good without being too on the nose (the sus salt was a good one to get me to go to a place I didn’t see a point to going originally.) The chemistry with P and Storm is so good. I love cuntiness of P mixed with the younger tough acting but very good at heart Storm. They're so much fun to see banter with each other. The take on mystery here is one of my favorite ones in terms of (despite it being a tried phrase) it’s the journey and not the destination. While regular mysteries can be fun, they do get boring and repetitive over time. Usually, the fun is finding out the how and the why something happened, especially if it delves into different themes of humanity. One mystery game that comes to mind with what you described is Her Story. For those who are unaware, Her Story has you look at a police database of various interviews with a woman over her husband’s death which were recorded decades ago and broken up into segments when it was converted digitally. You look up words based on what you might want to learn after watching one segment which will lead to others. Eventually, it becomes less about figuring out if this woman had something to do with her husband’s death and more to do about whom she is, what her history is and why things happened the way things happened. The game doesn’t end in any way either that makes it clear that you found the correct answers, it will just ask you if you understand why she did what she did and end the game when you click yes. It never confirms if the game you played inside your head is correct but it does leave a powerful experience of having interacted with it and the thought you put into it. Minotaur Hotel invokes the same feeling and it’s what makes it so interesting.

Despite reading it on stream, I’m having so much fun re-reading it on my own time at my own pace. It’s so interesting catching things in past chapters that come up again in newer ones and seeing the text from a new perspective. Something was hesitant on exploring is that Ruthless path and though it best to leave it unexplored similar to the genocide path of Undertale but there was quite a bit of interest from chat to have me read it on stream. Having read here that Minotaur Hotel would be incomplete thematically without it has me really wanting to read it. Another thing I’d be interested in reading is some of the cut content from the Hinterlands that didn’t make it in to the game but could still be canonical but not necessary like P’s adventure to the Hinterlands prior to finding Storm as sort of bonus material. Though definitely not if ideas may later be recycled into later chapters.

There is still so much for me to explore at this point with MH but I just had to make my feelings know about how much I love this section and how much it means to me. Thank you to the whole team for bringing a wonderful game like Minotaur Hotel to life.

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I love Storm’s and P’s banter soooo much. You did excellent work on the writing here, as always. Give yourself a million gold stars! The lore goes deeper as I follow its tantalizing scent. PxS for life, only slightly below AxPC. Rip Nina I guess.

i was surprised! i thought pedro and oscar would be the villains! i was.. pleasently surprised and got attatched to them soon after! i loved everything in this! every. single. thing. no matter where this vn goes i will love it till the end of time!! amazing work! would totally buy the game if i gotta pay to have the full thing once finished!

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oh yeah i didnt trust nini for a second. i found the skinned tapir first so it was pretty clear if he couldnt enter a church why would his followers want to be buried under that religion. so i either did 7 days of storm or lifted the curse.

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Will i get the option to let Pedro and Oscar stay at the hotel? ill be honest, i didnt like those two when they were introduced. i figured they were going to be antagonists, but your storytelling drew me in. I actually really like them, and while im not the best at guessing these things, theyd make a cute couple. As for Argos, hes clearly not the antagonist. Honestly? i dont think hed hurt a fly. If we do get an antagonist, i hope you can make him like Argos, in that he will try to deceive and out-think the player.

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Oscar will become a permanent staff member of the Hotel in Build 0.6. This will happen regardless of player choices up to that point.

About Pedro and Argos, most players will only get one of them. It's only possible to get the both if very specific circumstances were met and the player picked the Leader backgroud. You could say that getting the two of them to work together is the big perk of having that backgroud.

it just so happens i picked the leader background. guess ill have to toy around to figure out how to trigger the event.

as for the rest of the story, im excited to see where you decide to go with everything that just happened, primarily the fact that asterion just beat the hell out of a god.

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P and Storm are really living interesting times. There will be the possibility to go back to the Hinterlands? I'm mostly worried about a supernatural or another event.

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Maybe! But if Pedro/Oscar ever returns to the Hinterlands it won't be in another gameplay segment like Hinterlands 3, it'll be a linear story segment.

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I’ve always appreciated the devlogs you guys put out (seeing another person’s creative process is really fascinating!), and this is no exception. I’m not entirely sure how best to phrase this, but the sheer amount of intent in your work fills it with a ton of life. It feels like every section of the Hinterlands 3 chapter has some sort of purpose behind it, making it very satisfying to read and analyze, especially with how the different combinations of actions factor in to the text you see. Not only do you have to take the text at its own value, but you also have to consider why it’s showing up under a particular condition and not when you do something else— it adds a new level of depth to figuring out what’s going on, and it makes rereading incredibly rewarding.

Speaking of depth in the Hinterlands, I think that making it a story that is fundamentally Latin American adds so much to the work. I don’t really speak directly about cultural influences in the posts I make— not because I’m uninterested, but because I’m immensely uninformed (I’m extremely white and from the USA) and I don’t want to accidentally say some dumb shit. Despite this, it was clear to me how much Latin American culture shaped the Hinterlands, such as with the specific references throughout the section and the unique themes you discussed in the post. Making Brazilian culture integral to the story of the Hinterlands made it feel substantially more real to me, and it encouraged me to learn more about Latin American literature and culture! Truly, thank you for that. God, I really hope this whole bit doesn’t come off as disrespectful.

This visual novel about a cow (gay) has greatly influenced me creatively. That’s a good thing, I think. Thanks.

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One of the interesting things about art is that while you can have a precise interpretation and meaning for something, once someone else takes in the work their interpretation gets added to the whole. There may be things you missed due to how many influences are thrown at us subconsciously every day, or maybe things that only make sense to the reader and their life. However, together you make a tapestry of experiences to hopefully become greater than any of you alone formed from the threads being weaved in that invisible back and forth. 

Thanks for giving us a room in your hotel. The conversations and ideas shared being part of the game is apparent and vital. I hope we can be as guests and staff, and by sharing some of ourselves bring enjoyment and fulfillment to you, as well. Humans are storytellers by nature. It's our essence, whether one realizes it or not, and I feel incredibly honored to be around to experience one of your entries to this tradition. Hopefully one of more to come in whatever form that may take.

I actually never got the feeling you were American. There are themes in American literature that are fairly unique that are missing from the majority of Minotaur Hotel. Mainly how we live on land that was taken from others, destroying their monuments to build temporary ones of our own only to be abandoned and replaced with something just as temporary. We have a constant need for identity in a history that has shown it will throw away any and everything if it suddenly loses its original purpose. I think Echo is a fairly good example of something American, and that is something that is inextricably haunted. This is very separate from mysteries or the unknown, as our fears come less from gods, myths, or tradition and more from paranoia and ourselves. People who died unsatisfied damning us relentlessly, not poetically. Minotaur Hotel has shackles, hardships, and horrors, but likewise it has meaning and the chance to have your actions change things. Like you said, it's magical realism: taking something human and giving it impossible power through words and actions. Whether that power is good or bad is wholly dependant on what is trying to be said and how one reacts to it. 

My own culture lies somewhere in between the two, with my Spanish and American background, which I think the Hinterlands really captures despite leaning considerably in one direction. There's no denying its Latin American roots, but likewise it's haunted, which I think is part of what makes it so engaging and positively received. It allows people from multiple backgrounds to see things they might recognize and show how connected the human experience is, even if the specifics change.

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It's funny you bring up Ace Attorney. I've been playing the newly localized The Great Ace Attorney and it's addressing some of the things you've mentioned. It's a duology, to the point that there are cliffhangers and mysteries from the first game and cases in the second that involve those from the first, all trying to build up to core themes. They deal a lot with racism foreigners experience outside their homeland and what justice even means. They're considerably more somber and a bit slower despite having some of the most lovable characters in the series, as almost every case makes sure you understand why someone would commit a crime and how often it's formed from injustice they've experienced themselves. The verdicts can be unsatisfying because of how tragic they are or what's left in the wake, but unlike the episodic main series, nothing is forgotten and it's heavily serialized. Like a more extreme version of Trials and Tribulations. It wants to give you hope, but you have to fight your way through a system meant to crush it to find any. If you're ever in the mood for another, it's highly worth checking out.

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As always, thank you for your kinds words.

One of the interesting things about art is that while you can have a precise interpretation and meaning for something, once someone else takes in the work their interpretation gets added to the whole.

You know, what you just said here touches on the exact reason why I hesitated to write this devlog and the toughest part about it. I've been seeing such great discussions about the Hinterlands, and I was afraid that talking about it too much could stifle this discussion.

I'll just take the opportunity here, just for safety, to say that I actively omitted many things from this devlog with the goal of not confirming or denying any of the discussion past, present and future. I really hope pick up the Hinterlands and run with it in their interpretations.

It's funny you bring up Ace Attorney. I've been playing the newly localized The Great Ace Attorney and it's addressing some of the things you've mentioned. 

Yes, a few friends have told me a thing or two about it. I'm glad they took this new direction, from what I hear I think they're making the right choices to pull the storytelling back on a high quality track.

Chances are if my friends ever feel like streaming I'll watch, but I'm not sure I'll play it myself.

I actually never got the feeling you were American.

I suppose (or hope) that most readers came out with the same impression. People assuming things about us didn't come up often, but every now and then it did. Some readers jumped the gun and made many assumptions about us because of Luke, and also about Luke himself.

As always, thank you for your kinds words.

And thank you for giving me a place to express this side of myself. It's admittedly a bit uncomfortable, as I usually only show this side with people I trust in private. It's a lot, and I'm extremely self-conscious about the lengths of my posts, but my hope is that you get something out of them for all the massive amount of work you've put into both Minotaur itself and:

You know, what you just said here touches on the exact reason why I hesitated to write this devlog and the toughest part about it. I've been seeing such great discussions about the Hinterlands, and I was afraid that talking about it too much could stifle this discussion.

The comments and devlogs you write here. You've mentioned the original was a communal experience, and I imagine the forums are part of capturing that same essence in a way that's befitting of the tone this version of Minotaur Hotel has. I imagine it's hard to find the balance of participating yourself and being an observer with answers others are looking for. Obviously, writing is fluid and ideas tend to morph until they take on the form they need, as you've demonstrated with the main post here. That also comes with weighing saying something that might get changed and having to worry about how others could react. It's another potential chain. 

This is all to say that you're hitting a good balance. I don't want you to get caught up inside your head when you're doing a great job. (Or in general, as someone who has dealt with that spiral. But you're doing a great job.) Anyone who stops guessing because of this post or any future ones like it is severely missing out. This devlog doesn't have concrete answers and you've done a great job explaining the function of that, but even if it did there's still mystery behind what is known. Everything has hidden motivation and influences if you look for it. You've just made that process part of the design.

Some readers jumped the gun and made many assumptions about us because of Luke, and also about Luke himself.

I can see why people could see that. I know a lot of people mention being frustrated by Luke (I love him lol) but as far as the writing goes, there's an appreciation of Luke that is very removed from the American experience. I think that's why so many people don't like him. He's a lot of things Americans are wary of or have caused harm, but given a chance at being a real character (like how he rushes to help Asterion if you sent him out to the valley) that most characters like him never get. It feels very respectful in the way all of your characters have been. Yes, there's humor and parody but it's loving and curious. It is about as far from American as you can get, even if I also think you've done a wonderful job of capturing what could be without the religion and politics attached. 

I see a lot of my Harley-Davidson riding grandfather in Luke, who was born in 1937 but could care less about me being gay so long as I'm happy. He told me when he was a teenager he said the same thing to friends he knew and it's very easy to believe. He was, well, a bastard child, the only one in his family, so he had a rough time that he responded to with kindness toward others. He's not perfect, but he's more human than most of his generation and background. So I imagined it was either you knew someone like my grandfather or it was coming from the outside looking in. And basically everything else pointed toward the latter, although it's not impossible the former could also be true.

Chances are if my friends ever feel like streaming I'll watch, but I'm not sure I'll play it myself.

I hope you enjoy it if you do end up seeing it. I really wish the games had full voice acting as it would make streaming a lot easier. The game I would really recommend that did just that when releasing to console is Disco Elysium, one of my favorite games and stories. It's very realistic and can be off-putting as characters will use real and made up slurs depending on who they are, but the world-building built off what seems like a simple whodunnit is astounding. It basically uses one city block and a couple side areas to build an entire world. I am admittedly more of a platformer, adventure/VN hybrid, and turn-based RPG fan (The DS is my favorite system for a reason) than games that require you to learn patterns like the souls games, but I think despite this not being an action game you would still enjoy it. To be clear, because I don't want my passion to be misinterpreted, I don't expect you to play it. Just if you ever get an itch for an experimental story-heavy game keep it in mind if you haven't already played it.

Ooooookay, food time. :P

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This is almost entirely unrelated to your (very good) post but I JUST finished the final part of The Great Ace Attorney last night after having it recommended to me by a bunch of my friends. It really puts the overarching story and the characters in the spotlight, and while the wild murder mysteries are there, I feel like there’s substantially more focus on the motives and the overarching themes you brought up. Great stuff.

I'm close to finishing 2-3 and it's been a wild ride. This feels like it should be the finale, but it's the usually bad third case. I expected it to be good from all I've heard, but it's been so much better than I thought.

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the hinterlands is a very swag sidestory that i enjoyed alot when i first got to it
made me love P and storm's relationship alot despite how fucked up everything else was

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The commitment and work you all put into this project is nothing more than amazing, and to think the writer is a fellow Brazilian 

Um abraço meu querido

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That was very informative and it was a joy to see. I enjoy seeing how others work their stories and the way they change it. I certainly loved seeing a bit more of the LatAm way of telling stories, I've grown fond of it the last few years, even if I couldn't get into it as a kid. This may sound repetitive by now, but good work on all of it, it was a great experience.