Developers at Sukeban Games lovingly call VA-11 HALL-A a "booze-em-up" game. It's set in a post-dystopian, corporate-controlled society where every citizen is infected with nanobots designed to oppress, and law enforcement agents called White Knights trawl the streets, ensuring no one breaks the law. And of course there are racist corgis with translation devices.
As a bartender in a small downtown joint called VA-11 HALL-A – or just "Valhalla" to regulars – players meet and talk to a wide range of people, hearing stories of this brave new world and helping customers through their issues.
"While the player can perform different actions besides bartending – changing the tunes in the jukebox on past versions of the game is a good example – the bartending will be the only way the player has to interact with the character," Programmer Fernando Damas tells Joystiq. "This is mainly because that format offers a more seamless experience between gameplay and story. It also offers a more complex yet easy-to-understand approach to the choices menu and dialogue trees these kind of games have."Papers, Please really is an inspiration for VA-11 HALL-A, Damas says: "While mostly from a gameplay standpoint, Papers, Please has been a good reference to refine the game's flow and polish some elements." Other influences include Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, Deus Ex, Cheers and Taxicab Confessions, as listed on the game's devlog.
Keeping in line with VA-11 HALL-A's quirky approach to future life, its official website URL is WaifuBartending.com. Damas and the Sukeban Games team are based in Venezuela, but they're longtime fans of Japanese culture – "Sukeban" is "the female equivalent of the 'Banchou' or gang leader," Damas says.
"As for the 'Waifu' part of the game: When you get down to it, Waifu (or 'Husbando' if the target's male) just refers to a character you feel particularly attached to, that's it," he says. "The game focuses on getting to know your clients, so at some level, you start caring about them. From another standpoint, the word 'Waifu' was enough of a filter for us to sell the game at first glance. Anyone that would be turned off by the anime aesthetic anyways would back down just by hearing the word. Meanwhile, anyone that would like (or at least wouldn't be bothered by) such a thing in the first place would find it interesting just by the name alone. And besides, waifubartending.com is easier to remember than va11halla.com."
They're also building a lineup of diverse customers, including constant complainer Ingram McDougal, tough news editor Donovan D. Dawson, and Streaming-chan, a girl who broadcasts every moment of her life (viewers pay extra for the premium package that includes access to her most private moments).
VA-11 HALL-A is in development for PC, Mac, Linux, Vita and iOS, and it will come to Steam eventually. For now, the standalone prologue plus the full game at launch is available for $5 via the main site, and anyone who buys the game will receive a Steam key. The prologue by itself is available for free – or for "what you think is fair" – as well.