Cautionary Tale Interviews! With Tristan "Cipher" Hallihan - Lead Editor

Cautionary Tale Interviews! Tristan “Cipher” Hallihan the Lead Editor!

Which one of the three games did you work on?

I worked on all three games as Lead Editor, and I wrote the Surrender Ending for “Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp”.

How did you get started in your field?

Due to my vision, I can’t drive. I remember being 16 and wanting a part-time job, but my house is outside the tiny town I come from; it wasn’t fair to my grandparents, since they were already driving me to and from school throughout the week - and cabs would have cut into my money significantly, on top of not being all that reliable.
At first, I used a freelance website called Guru to work on eBooks, but I had some serious difficulties and became really disillusioned with it. I lamented my (many) grievances to some friends, and one of them [an artist named Rozume, who might still be active?] mentioned that VN work can be quite lucrative. Being a fan of the genre, I decided to try my hand at it - and I was hooked from the outset!

Where do you write your first drafts? Do you like to outline, or just head in blind? Do you have any sort of writing ritual?

I write all of my drafts in Google Docs, because it’s easier to do that than to upload Word Docs afterwards.
I tend to do very vague outlines (if at all) when I write stories. For example, I’ll do each scene with a label and then a brief (1-3 line) summary of what’s in it.
If I don’t outline at all (which is often) then I still kind of do in my head. It’s more like “these are the things I want to see in this scene; here are the lines I want to include.” Otherwise, I don’t usually draft or outline - I just sort of write and present that first copy to whomever is in charge.
My ritual is to grab a cup of coffee or whiskey (usually both), put on some instrumental music, and do it. I don’t have a particular place I like to sit, but I tend to lay in a reclined position. I also prefer doing things at night rather than in the day - partially because I’m light sensitive, and partially because I do my best thinking in the evenings.

What was the most difficult part of the process?

I always find NaNo to be the most stressful time of the year, because of the time crunch and because I work for a few different studios. I also can’t say no when someone asks me to do something, so I was kind of swamped.
There were some communication issues too, since one of the teams was very hands-on. I didn’t really know if there was a polite way to step back and say “guys, the scripts are done; let me do my job now, since it’s what I’m here for.” That kind of ate me up inside, because I appreciated the help but would have rather done things on my own.
When it came to writing, meanwhile, I found the scene required I put myself in an uncomfortable headspace. I wanted it to be the best and most accurate it could be, but I didn’t want it to come across as purely autobiographical [due to the subject matter] or melodramatic.

What is it like writing in a team? Which do you prefer, team writing, or writing solo? Why?

Overall, I don’t think I have a preference.
As a perfectionist, working with a team is great because you get constant feedback and reassurance from other people. You can also do the same, and it’s a really supportive environment to grow and learn.

What advice would you give to someone entering your field?

Honestly? Learn how to use as many punctuation marks as possible, since they’ll save your life. In particular, I adore the dash.
Always ask for advice if and when you need it - no matter what your job is or what stage you’re at.
Learn how to give and take criticism, even when it might not be helpful or constructive in nature. In particular, you’ll want to identify what is criticism and what isn’t - since some people are just rude.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do NaNoRenO for the first time?

Only work on one thing at a time - especially if you’re starting out. The time crunch will really get to you, especially if mishaps happen in real life or on one of the projects.
If something goes wrong or you have an issue with someone, talk to your project lead.
Be open with people whenever you can be, because if the work is scattered then there will almost certainly be some communication issues. Don’t be passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive, but know that there are times where you really have to put your foot down.

Was there anything that didn’t make it into the game that you wish had?

If I’m honest, I couldn’t give “If in Your Dreams: the Flood” the attention I wanted due to our deadlines. I’ll say this now: Wolf [project director] really deserves a “Lead Editor” credit on that, because he stepped up to the plate and did 90% of the work. It’s even more impressive because of all the other stresses and pressures he was under.
Due to some communication issues, certain “Let Go” voice actors received unedited scripts. This meant that some of the lines had to be reverted back to their original format to prevent audience confusion. It’s not the end of the world, but I’m curious as to what they would have sounded like.

What was rewarding about being a leader? What was frustrating?

It was really rewarding getting to cooperate with other people and kind of guide them (when I was able). I got to see other people’s strengths and weaknesses, and kind of direct them; for example, one of the editors was really good at spotting typos but not confident in much else, so I had her double-check all the edited scenes.
It was frustrating because you’re not always privy to what your team members think. One of them, for example, had some concerns about his skills / didn’t know how to edit a certain type of error, but didn’t let me know until after he’d already finished combing through the scripts / I was doing them.

Was this your first time doing NaNoRenO? If so, was it what you expected? If it was not, how was this different from previous NaNoRenO’s you’ve participated in?

I worked on NaNo in 2017, but joined halfway through the month. The time crunch was ten times worse, since I couldn’t even do half of what one project asked of me.
Overall, I found this year’s NaNo was infinitely more supportive. One of my projects last year was a very hostile environment to work in compared to Watercress - to the point that I got slandered by a project lead when the month was over. The other project I worked on was pretty hands-off and it lead to some problems.

How are visual novels different compared to other forms of writing?

There are really a lot of answers to that question.
My favourite is that you have to really pick and choose how information is presented, since each line is displayed individually. Traditional paragraph structures don’t really work, and one misplaced word or line can really screw up a scene’s tone or pacing.

Which character is your favorite?

Don’t make me choose!
I don’t have one for “If in Your Dreams: the Flood”, if I’m completely honest.
Caelum or Alex for “Beyond Yesterday’s Grasp”. Both of them just have this really snarky, natural dialogue that flows so well.
For “Let Go”, Maya is really cute, but Eli has these really awkward moments that are super relatable - both in dialogue and in narration.

Hindsight is 20/20. Name one thing you’d do differently.

I would have probably accepted Wolf’s help a lot sooner than I did, because I wasn’t aware of certain issues my editors were having until they told me after the fact.
I would have prioritized certain scripts in my spare time, since the last-minute crunch was mostly my own fault.

What would you like to tell someone who is considering playing our game? 

Prepare to feel emotions you didn’t even know you had (in a good way).

Sound cool? Play Cautionary Tale when it is released, or check out Cipher’s twitter!

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