INTERVIEW: ‘When the Past Was Around’ Art Director Brigitta Rena

INTERVIEW: ‘When the Past Was Around’ Art Director Brigitta Rena

Last year saw the release of Mojiken’s latest title When The Past Was Around, a narrative video game about falling in love, following your dreams, and how we deal with loss and heartbreak. The game tells the story of Eda and Owl through art and music alone; doing so takes us on a journey with no language barrier, allowing for an experience rooted in emotion and human experiences. As you solve puzzles to progress the story, it’s hard not to be swept away in the world of violins, house plants, and coffee dates.

I got to interview Brigitta Rena, Art Director at Mojiken, about why they made the game, what the process was like, and how pandemic affected their work.

When the Past Was Around Conversation

When The Past Was Around is a really beautiful game that deals with a lot of difficult life experiences. Why did you decide to make this game now? 

“As for why we make this game now, it is as simple as because we have the ideas and opportunity now [laughs].

I always love to see how creators explore the emotions of human beings in their works, and they inspired me to do the same. When The Past Was Around was supposed to be in the same mood as A Raven Monologue that explores sadness and gloominess. But then we decided we wanted to make something more encouraging; it has its heart-warming moments as well. I think it’s not just now when the pandemic rises, but I think people have their own problems they have to deal with all the time. I hope by playing this, I can encourage them to be happy, to have more hope that all of this will pass and we can move on from it.”

Workplaces have had to change a lot this year. Has Mojiken had to adapt the way they work at all? Did this have any impact on the game?  

“Yes, we had. Indonesia was affected by this pandemic around April 2020 if I’m not mistaken, and we’ve had to work from home since then. Luckily, since all of the designing and all the parts where we need to do meetings has already passed, we worked from home in the execution part. We only have to inform each other what we should do each day and all technical consultations are mostly done through instant messaging. 

The most impact we felt was because no one can leave their home, there are lots of online game developer conventions. Somehow it makes a so far away convention that usually takes expensive travel plans to open a table there, becomes much more accessible for us! We can showcase our game in a different country and that is good, though sometimes we still miss offline interaction.”

It seems like you have a strong sense of community surrounding your studio—I know you have Discord and released the prologue to play for free—is this an important part of the process for you? 

“It’s all thanks to our publishing partner, Toge Productions, that is doing a good job managing the community. Because of that we can understand what the community wants, get quick feedback, as well as endless help and support from them. As for releasing the prologue for free first, it’s more like we needed to know what people think of our game as fast as possible. Are people going to like it? Is it still worth it to be worked on? What are this game’s strengths and weaknesses? We can easily adjust the full game after knowing these things from our prologue chapter.”

Your studio has made lots of great narrative video games, what makes games a good way of storytelling for you?

“These are my own preferences, but I’m so character-oriented when I play a narrative video game. I like it when I can grow my sympathy for these (mostly) fictional character by seeing what they’ve been through for a whole game. I always come back to replay it just so I can interact with these characters, or even better, because I myself an artist, I mostly end up drawing a fan art of them [laughs].”

You’ve removed any language barrier from When The Past Was Around by telling the story through art and music, why did you decide to tell the story in this way?

“We are a game developer from a non-English speaking country and we believe there are a lot of non-English speakers out there that wanted to play the game without trying to translate the words into their own language. That’s why I think we needed to find some ways where we can make a game that can be enjoyed by any kind of people with minimal translating resources and time. At the same time, I was amazed by the silent storybook and silent manga that tells the story with just art and panels and I think it would be great to put the same format for a video game. We tried it first with our previous game, A Raven Monologue, and looks like a lot of people from different backgrounds could easily relate to the story because it has no dialogue. So, we tried to make the same approach for When the Past Was Around.”

Music is really important to the game, what was the process behind creating the soundtrack like? 

“Our composer and sound engineer, Masdito Bachtiar, usually takes inspiration from the game’s visual elements. In this case, we want the artwork and music to complement each other. It took us quite a long time because the music was composed following the direction of the art and design of the game. So, whenever there are changes in those two elements, our sound engineer had to tweak the music as well. When composing the music for When the Past was Around, we worked with a session violinist and guitarist. We found so many new ways to record violin and guitar sessions. It is important for us to understand those because the results from recording a real instrument with a digitally-produced one can be very different. We can say that we’re happy and satisfied with the end result.”

The art and environments give the game a really cozy feel, was there anything in particular that inspired the artwork? 

“We take references from many things when working on a new game. In When The Past Was Around we were inspired by the work from my personal favorite illustrators: Puuung, Yuko Higuchi, and Maori Sakai. They create heart-warming artworks that have a warm, homey feel, but at the same time feels mysterious and magical. We also take inspiration from comic books such as The Girl From The Other Side by Nagabe, and The Ancient Magus’ Bride by Kore Yamazaki. Of course, we also take references from video games like Florence and Rusty Lake series. I hope you can take a look at them!”

Lastly, what’s coming up next for Mojiken? 

“Right now we are working on our next title: A Space for the Unbound. It is a slice-of-life adventure game with beautiful pixel art set in the late 90s in rural Indonesia that tells a story about overcoming anxiety, depression, and the relationship between a boy and a girl with supernatural powers. Please check it out and wishlist it on our Steam page if you like it! :D”

When the Past Was Around is available for purchase on Steam, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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