12 min read

Behind the Scenes with Two and a Half Studios

Here's our Behind the Scenes Interview with Two and a Half Studios! Learn about their game The Divine Speaker, and point-and-click mystery game, Dreambound.
Behind the Scenes with Two and a Half Studios

Two and a Half Studios is a small Australia-based studio. They're responsible for the hit adult BL game The Divine Speaker and are currently working on two more games set in that universe. Not only that, but they're developing a much darker point-and-click mystery BL game called Dreambound. The studio has made other titles, such as Amelie and start;again, as well. Today, we decided to sit down with one of the members, Gabmag (Gabby), to talk about The Divine Speaker, her love for the fantasy genre, and a bit about the upcoming Dreambound.

Hello! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got into game development?

Gabby: Of course! My name’s Gabby, and I’m one of two lead developers at Two and a Half Studios. I live in Tasmania, Australia, far away from the usual areas where game development has a larger presence.

Getting into game development was actually something of a spur of the moment choice. It was something I’d always wanted to do, but I’d never taken the first step. It was an ordinary day when I turned to Emma, our other lead developer, and said we should make a game. That was the day we decided to start working on The Divine Speaker!

From there it was lots of reading and learning—I’d consider myself a programmer first and a writer… maybe ten or so points down the list, so as an indie developer who almost *has* to have skills in most/all fields, there was something of a learning curve.

You, alongside Cats on a Lilypad Studios, were the hosts for Phantasia Jam. What was it like hosting your own jam, as someone who has entered multiple jams herself? How do you two plan on tackling Phantasia Jam differently next year?

Gabby: Actually, it wasn’t my first time hosting a jam—Two and a Half Studios has also co-hosted YaoiJam for the last couple of years!

For Phantasia Jam, I mostly feel like we were lucky to be brought along—Cats on a Lilypad Studios brought their all to it and it was a fantastic first year for the jam. We also really wanted to join with our own project, but we were too busy with our current projects to participate. Still, seeing how hard everyone was working on their projects was fantastic.

Being a three month jam, I think it’s a really great chance for newcomers to make something within a timeframe without being *too* constricted. I absolutely love the hecticness of a one month jam, but that’s not always doable—life gets in the way. Three months is a lot more lenient.

We would love to look into prizes more for Phantasia Jam, actually! Fantasy is a genre close to both of our hearts, and we’d love to see even more visual novels in fantasy settings.

Your favorite genre is fantasy, with one of the reasons being that it allows for a lot of creativity. Tell us, when did you first fall in love with fantasy?

Gabby: Pretty much as soon as I could pick up a book. All throughout school I was glued to various fantasy novels, reading them back to back until I discovered video games. That’s probably why story-rich narrative games have always been my absolute favorite—it gives me the same enjoyment as reading a book.

When I moved into working on visual novels, it seemed like there weren’t many around that were actually fantasy—so it made sense our first game would be what we loved.

Image via Two and a Half Studios

Two and a Half Studios' first game was The Divine Speaker. It's an adult BL fantasy game where you follow Raen, a young man who was given an unfavorable judgment by the Divine Speaker at birth. Since then, he was orphaned and got expelled from his village after being wrongfully accused of a crime. From there, he meets a cast of characters who make him question everything he knows. What inspired the team to make such a fantastic and beautiful story?

Gabby: From the get-go, we knew we wanted to make a fantasy game—fantasy is our absolute favorite genre, and there’s so much room in it to create large universes full of interesting lore and stories.

We threw caution to the wind and decided to make it a long project. I know, I know, even I always suggest that newer developers start with a small project to learn the ins and outs of finishing a game, but I think starting with something so long let us make mistakes—which is a good thing! We learnt from those mistakes, we grew, we worked out what exactly works in a visual novel and what doesn’t.

We were really inspired by some of our favorite games—things like Final Fantasy XIV, Lamento, Dragon Age… you get the idea. We knew we wanted to reach that kind of scale. A world where you could tell a lot more is going on that you can’t see, but maybe you’ll be able to visit one day.

If by the end of the game, you’re thinking “wow, I want to see more of this world!” then I feel like we’ve succeeded in our mission.

As mentioned earlier, The Divine Speaker is a NSFW title and its R18 scenes are spicy! What were some of your favorite scenes to write? Were there any scenes you had trouble with? Why?

Gabby: Oh my gosh, I think I had trouble with about 90% of them!

As I mentioned to another question, I never really considered myself a writer. I’d never spent any time with fanfiction or personal writing, so it was an entirely new skill to pick up. As the story went on and I got more comfortable with writing, I felt like I was on something of a roll… then the first NSFW scene popped up.

Wow, I never knew writing could be so embarrassing!

I suddenly had ten NSFW scenes on my plate to write, which was a huge mountain to overcome at the time, especially as I was working full time and writing in my lunch breaks…

I think my favorite NSFW scene to write was probably one of the “hidden ones”. It’s a scene between Illran and Veras in the later half of the game, after a lot of angst and pining. I think it came out very beautiful and laid their feelings for each other bare, but it was also incredibly sad—to the point that even testing it afterwards made my heart hurt.

For me, I love the emotions behind NSFW scenes most of all. When you can tell how much one person means to another, even if it can’t last forever.

When writing a NSFW scene, what are some things a writer should consider?

Gabby: I think as a writer for a visual novel, writing NSFW scenes can be kind of tricky in positioning most of all.

You probably only have a limited budget for art, so you might have just a single CG per scene. It really limits how much you can have your characters do!

In a book, you could have a NSFW scene go on and on and on, switching positions, acts, anything and everything, but you don’t usually have that freedom when suddenly each thing needs a whole extra CG.

In The Divine Speaker, we actually ended up having multiple CGs per NSFW scene for some of them, just because I couldn’t hold my writing back…

The Divine Speaker has a prequel currently in development called The Sun and the Moon. In this title, we actually follow the Divine Speaker himself, Aemyl. Give a bit of insight into why you decided to focus on Aemyl and tell his story.

Gabby: Aemyl has a major role in The Divine Speaker, but there’s a lot more to his story that wasn’t told in the main game.

When we first designed him and Caspian, and wrote out how we wanted their backstory to go together, we knew there wouldn’t be room in the game to fully flesh it out. This was Raen’s story, after all—so we knew then that we wanted the chance to bring out a short prequel that would let players experience exactly what we had in mind.

Writing on The Sun and the Moon was actually started in 2019 and finished in 2020. This year, I decided to go over it once again to update some parts of the script… but also decided to add another storyline to the game. The secondary main character is Lucius, the main antagonist of The Divine Speaker.

He’s another character we wanted to flesh out, and he also plays a huge role in Aemyl and Caspian’s stories, so it made sense for his storyline to be added to the game.

That took the total from 35,000 words to… 80,000 words.

The theme for The Sun and the Moon is fated loss—take of that what you will!

Image via Two and a Half Studios

There's also another title being released in The Divine Speaker's universe. This one takes place after the main game and focuses on Soren and Nox. Can you give us the tiniest hint on what this story is about? Feel free to even tell us in cryptic emojis to make it fun!

Gabby: This project is probably what most people would consider a sequel to The Divine Speaker. It’s set shortly after the main game with a host of characters you know, plus a handful of new ones. While I can’t say much yet, Soren and Nox can’t exactly stay in the same body forever, can they? I wonder what complications would come from separating two combined souls…?


I feel like these emojis are very, very cryptic…

When you originally were working on The Divine Speaker back in 2019, was it going to be a one-and-done game or did you always envision doing multiple games (i.e. The Sun and Moon prequel, Soren and Nox story, etc) for this universe?

Gabby: We always wanted to create a universe that we could return to for future games if we wanted to, but at the time it was only The Divine Speaker on our mind. It was such a large project, and our first one, so we didn’t really have much capacity to think about what would come after… we weren’t even sure if we’d make more games, or if we’d just make the one.

At the time it was mostly a hobby. We didn’t expect to make any money, we just wanted to CREATE something special to us. Whether other people would also enjoy it or not mattered less than whether we loved what we created.

Of course, now we’re both working on our games full time and absolutely loving every second of it. I would say that making sure that we love what we create will always be our first priority, though.

You went from creating games as a hobby to a full-time job! First off, congratulations! Secondly, as a full-time game developer now, does your approach to making games differ at all from when you were just doing it as a hobby?

First of all, thank you! It was a big step for me when I stepped away from my day job earlier in April—one I was very unsure about at first, but I couldn’t be happier I made the leap.

My approach to making games hasn’t changed much. We do more market research these days, following what’s popular and seeing if it interests us. There’s also just a lot more work being done in general. Having a full time job really limits your ability to get as much done as you want to, and now I can spend a full day writing or programming and make big dents in our workload, which has been fantastic.

At Two and a Half Studios we try to keep a few things going at all times. While it would be nice to focus solely on one project at a time, due to the nature of visual novel game development, we have to start projects ahead of time to not leave massive gaps with nothing new. Things like art and writing can take a long, long time, so once one thing is fully written we don’t take a break—we move onto writing the next thing.

At the moment, I’ve finished up writing our very first The Divine Speaker after story—a Christmas themed DLC exclusive to our Patreon that follows after the ending of the Leos route. If I was still working full time, I definitely wouldn’t have the time to concentrate on smaller, exclusive projects like this, so I’m very thankful for the opportunity.

It's time for my favorite question. Who is your favorite character from The Divine Speaker and why?

Gabby: Gosh, that really is a hard question! I love each and every one of our characters… but I think if I had to pick a single one, then I would have to choose Veras.

Veras has a lot of depth to his character that really resonates with me. He’s a fallen god who is on a journey that would ultimately end in his demise, by his own choice. He doesn’t believe in himself as a god anymore, but that doesn’t stop his love for humanity whatsoever. He’s been through so much, but his heart is still so full… and then he’s stuck with Illran, the eternal gremlin, as his travel partner.

He’s smart, wise, considerate… but still strong. I like that in a character. I’m a total fangirl for him.

Runner up would have to be Lucius… just wait until you play The Sun and the Moon. You’ll understand (but probably still not forgive him).

Image via Two and a Half Studios

Earlier we mentioned you've participated in game jams with projects like Amelie, start;again, and The Ocean at Night. What have you learned from The Divine Speaker and these game jam projects that ultimately helped shape you into the developer you are today?

Gabby: I think we’ve learned a lot from every single one of our projects. For our jam projects, that’s limiting scope (or testing myself in how much I can write in a single month…). The Divine Speaker is such a long project, it was actually tough to work on game jams and create something short. But it was also our chance to experiment a lot, and we’ve brought a lot of those experiments back into our newest game, Dreambound.

From The Divine Speaker, I think the thing we learnt most was actually related to narrative, and that’s asymmetrical storytelling, which is something I picked up from a writer named Justin Keenan, and isn’t really reflected in The Divine Speaker.

In The Divine Speaker, each route pretty much reflects the last—we didn’t want anyone to feel as though one route was lacking because something similar didn’t happen in another.

In the future, we’d love to change our mindset around this a little. We want to shake up the narrative by not having each path “symmetrical”, and let players experience some paths that are short, some that reward you, some that go nowhere, some that lead to neutral endings, others that punish you… basically, making the game less “even”, so players truly don’t know what they’re in for.

The team successfully funded their next project Dreambound, an adult BL mystery point-and-click game. This time around, players take control of Noah, an introverted artist who can enter into peoples' dreams. What can players expect to get out of this title?

Gabby: Dreambound is a project that we absolutely love—a mix of fantasy and real world that really interests us.

You can expect a lot of drama and angst… it’s a lot darker and more painful than The Divine Speaker, but I believe if you enjoy one, you’ll still love the other!

You can also expect another handful of point-and-click sections, wildly differing routes, beautiful art… and, of course, a secret route that will be released in the future thanks to our wonderful Kickstarter backers!

All in all, please look forward to the same love and care that we gave to The Divine Speaker!

Image via Two and a Half Studios

When it comes to Dreambound, you mention how it'll be much darker and more painful than The Divine Speaker. What kind of content can the player expect exactly? Will you pay for their therapy bills?

Gabby: While you can expect a lot of anguish from, well, all of the characters in Dreambound, you don’t have to expect anything Nitro+CHiRAL level. We’re more interested in pushing our characters to grow from the bad experiences of their pasts (or presents).

You’ll find a list of content warnings on the Dreambound page as well, which will be updated to encompass the full game, so I definitely advise you to read that before playing.

The main character of Dreambound is a man named Noah who has shut himself off from the world after many bad experiences throughout his life from everyone around him. You’ll get to experience that firsthand, as many sections of the game are flashbacks.

Noah himself can be very harsh and uncaring because he's afraid of being close to people. Our three love interests also are working through their own problems—Ivan is quite manipulative and doesn’t care what other people think, Crow is secretive and jealous, and Kaine has a bit of a savior and abandonment complex… so each route will be painful in different ways.

Topics like depression and suicide will be mentioned, and the game has it’s fair share of death, kidnappings, breaking and entering, and character trauma. It’s the story of a broken man coming out of his shell.

As for your therapy bills, well… let’s get Noah into therapy first…

You can follow Two and a Half Studios on Twitter and itch.io for updates on their games! If you'd like to support them financially, they also have a Patreon. By supporting them on Patreon, you get exclusive goodies and behind the scenes content. You will also get their exclusive Patreon-exclusive material, such as The Divine Speaker: A Bounty Hunter's First Christmas.