Summer of Joy preview: tiny romance

In the UK, the nights are drawing in. Jumpers and cardigans are poised in drawers and wardrobes across the land, waiting to be freed. But in Summer of Joy, the forthcoming musical puzzler, the flowers are in bloom, and the sun still shines. This is the upcoming iOS musical-puzzler hybrid from Hypernova Interactive – a handheld game that’s less about challenge and more about evoking a mood: the first flourish of young love, and how our emotions change over time.

It’s a personal game for Tanya Jaiswal; not only is she serving as the animator, illustrator, and art director, but she’s also drawing on her experiences for its plot. “It traverses through the pleasures and pressures of young love, and ventures into the difficulty of growing up and discovering yourself,” Jaiswal tells us. “The story was inspired by events in my personal life that led me to realise how much our love for others can impact us, and make us dependent. Often when distance and time meet at a crossroads, where we finally have the chance to glance on ourselves, we then realise we no longer recognise the parts that make us.”

To tell its story, Summer of Joy serves up a series of simple minigames that combine music and light puzzling – tapping objects in time to a beat, say – with interactive storytelling akin to a point-and-click adventure. Tying it all together is Jaiswal’s artwork, which, with its clean lines and pastel colour palette, perfectly captures the whimsical yet faintly melancholy tone of her story: we watch as the game’s characters meet, play together, grow up, and how their relationships change over time. “The female protagonists of Summer of Joy represent a past self – an ever-radiant energy that I feel I may have lost as [I’ve grown] older,” Jaiswal says. “The male protagonist represents a jumble of people I’ve met, and how some of them, in order to help others, sacrificed a part of themselves. I would say the relationship between the two protagonists was inspired by my own friendships, and my own relationships.”

Jaiswal distilled all that into her artwork through a mixture of real-life reference, Photoshop, and Adobe Animate. “The art process for this game has been mostly digital. I’d research for the kind of moment I wanted to create – for example, kids playing in a beautiful field – that is meant to symbolise their childhood… I’d then start roughly drawing the elements – like the kinds of trees, statues, etc that would help bring the scene to life.”

Summer of Joy is built in Unity, with its graphics created using a combination of Photoshop and Adobe Animate.

Summer of Joy is already two years into its development – a period that has seen it grow far beyond its initial concept. In fact, the game started out under an entirely different title and premise: called Garden Sonata, it was a musical game about growing plants. While the concept was still a few grey boxes on a screen, however, a new direction began to present itself, Jaiswal explains. “The first time Garden Sonata become Summer of Joy was when I created a proof of concept in After Effects – a software used to create movies. I faked interactivity, with an animated mouse cursor clicking things and ‘interacting’ with them – and created the first 15 minutes of the game… honestly, it was one of the best ways for me to be able to explain how the experience would unfold.”

Since then, Summer of Joy’s development has been something of a learning process for Jaiswal, who’s more from an illustration background than game design. “I started thinking of how I could make my players embody a part of the story,” she says. “How they’d participate and choose to feel a certain emotion – and cause key incidents in the story. The learning process was quite fun. I started reading up on the narrative, musical, and social design used in games. I also spent a lot of time playing music- and story-based games and finding their creators’ GDC talks to understand their thinking.”

Minigames will involve simple tasks, like tapping falling objects in time to the music.

Development has stopped and started a couple of times, too, according to Jaiswal, with attention shifting to other projects with more pressing deadlines. But, says Jaiswal, the game’s scope has also increased over the past two years. “The game story is actually quite big – so big that we’ve had to cut it down to three different parts that would release sequentially at different times. So the work never really feels done.”

There is an end in sight for Summer of Joy’s first part, though: originally scheduled for release this year, it’s now pencilled in for launch next summer – when the sun’s out again, and those cardigans and jumpers are safely stashed away. “Part one focuses on innocent love, and the blissful childhood,” Jaiswal says. “Summer of Joy is definitely going to leave you with a warm heart and a bright summer smile – for all the childhood adventures you’ve had and the adult ones yet to come.”

Proof of concept

For Jaiswal, creating a non-interactive video was an ideal way of quickly communicating the game’s concept and tone to her team. “I made the first prototype for Summer of Joy in After Effects, faking interactivity using a PNG of a mouse cursor. When I was done with the first two chapters, it looked like a full gameplay playthrough video. I had a solid proof of concept that helped the developers plan for the kind of system we’d need – the kind of comic transitions, camera angles, interactivity, and so on. The whole process was quite exciting and new. It was definitely thrilling for my entire team to be able to exactly predict and see the final outcome – knowing that it can only get better from here.”

Genre: Musical puzzler | Format: iOS | Developer: Hypernova Interactive | Publisher: Hypernova Interactive | Release: TBA 2021

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