It’s our first ever Yinterview and I couldn’t be more excited – unless I won the lottery or that thing happened where you get two drinks instead of one from the vending machine, then (and only then) would I be more excited. For the feature debut, I got to talk with fire-bearded legend, Paul Franzen (@paulmfranzen), head boy at Oh, a Rock! Studios.
This delightful indie studio are behind visual novel titles such as Awkward Steve, The Beard in the Mirror, and their latest release, Internet Court, a self-described cross between Ace Attorney and Judge Judy. Let’s find out more about this creative bunch and their journey so far.
First of all, tell us the story behind the name “Oh, a Rock! Studios”.
I wish there were a funnier story for this! I usually like to tell people it ties into our design ethos. We make games about pizza delivery drivers, about college dormitories, about opening your front door for a stranger outside… We make games celebrating the everyday and finding joy in the mundane. Like a pretty little rock you found in the forest.
That’s what I like to say, anyway. But the name really comes from our first title, The Beard in the Mirror, when I was originally voicing the main character, and I said the line “oh, a rock!” in a really goofy voice. I’m still laughing about it now. I should never be allowed to name things.
How would you describe a typical player of your games? (i.e. likes cats, likes armchair sleuthing, wears mostly neutral colours but will sometimes experiment with a pop of colour, etc.)
People who like weird games and don’t mind doing a little reading. We make a lot of visual novels, and, actually—people who like visual novels tend to hate our games, because our graphics are weird and the stories aren’t about high school clubs. (This is an unfair characterization, I know. There are also many visual novels about high school sports.) I’d say our visual novels appeal more to people who’ve never heard of visual novels before. As for the rest of our oeuvre, I would say they’re for people who don’t mind things a little unpolished, a little messy, very goofy, but with a lot of heart and hard work.
Which of your games was your favourite to make and which is your favourite to play?
Anything where I get to act dumb in front of a camera, like Awkward Steve or Internet Court, is always a lot of fun. At least until I get to the part where I have to actually code the game, anyway. Awkward Steve took a day to write the script, a week to film all the scenes, and then about a year to edit and program all the fiddly little video files. Internet Court took about three years, from wrapping on filming to releasing on Steam. One of the actors was still in college when we started; she’s now an actual, real-life lawyer (which is good, because I said some things about Coca-Cola in that game that will probably get me in trouble).
But I digress. As for favorite to play…I love going back to The Beard in the Mirror every few years, because some of the puzzles still trip me up, and it makes me feel like we did something right. Same with Life in the Dorms, the first game I worked on. Ten years later and I was having to look up walkthroughs for my own game because I couldn’t remember my own absurdist logic; I love it!
Your latest game is called Internet Court, what’s it all about?
Internet Court imagines a fantastical world where minor court cases (like suing your friend because she unfriended you online) can be tried online using Zoom-like software. Of course, we wrote the script and filmed all the scenes way before the pandemic started, so we had no idea that basically all of real life would take place over Zoom for 16+ months. If we had, we probably would’ve included more jokes about people falling asleep and accidentally turning into potatoes during their calls.
We used real-life footage of ourselves, our moms, our friends, our kids, and one actual actor to stage these weird online court cases, and then the players get to make choices while watching it to determine how things turn out, whether you end up crying in a bed of stuffed animals or whether you triumph and get someone banned from ever accessing the Internet again.
What is the biggest internet crime you have committed?
…You said this website isn’t live yet, right? I’m not going to admit to anything once the website is live. But for now, let’s just say I still have a not-insubstantial amount of mp3s on my computer that came from Napster. Yes, Napster. You’ll have to delete them off my cold, dead hard drive; it took me like a day to download each one on our 56k modem.
I also used to have a bad habit of wanting to argue with people when they were Wrong on the Internet, but then I hit my 30s and I don’t really care anymore.
The Boomer demographic seems to contain the highest rate of internet criminals, should they be allowed to use the internet?
No. Nobody should be allowed to use the internet.
What is your all time favourite peaceful video game?
I don’t think I can narrow it to just one, but a few highlights:
- Playing Super Mario Bros. 2 (as Toad) is very meditative for me just because of the sheer number of times I’ve played through it (as Toad).
- Chrono Trigger, but specifically the map screen in 600 A.D. That music, my gosh. I’d just let my Super Nintendo run for hours with that playing in the background.
- Flower, which is a PS3 game about a flower petal floating gently through the wind that my wife earned her PhD writing about.
- Just levelling up and listening to podcasts in basically any Dragon Quest. Except for maybe Dragon Quest IX. …Or maybe especially Dragon Quest IX, because I’ve fallen asleep multiple times trying to play that game. Does that count?