Adrienne Bazir, creator of In Stars and Time

In Stars and Time is a game that immediately caught my eye with its artistic direction. When I discovered that Adrienne was a solo dev, I have to admit I was impressed. This game has probably one of the most original and impactful time-loop mechanisms of recent years. In this portrait, we look back at Adrienne’s career in animation, as well as the production and reception of In Stars and Time. This interview has been adapted from a call I had with Adrienne.

Point’n Think: Thank you for joining us today, Adrienne. To begin with, can you tell us a little about your background and how you decided to develop a game, particularly on your own? I see from your portfolio that you have experience in game development, animation and illustration. How did you come to juggle all these roles?

Adrienne Bazir: When I was in France, I took an STI AA program, which is now called STD2A, an arts program. Then I moved to Chicago and got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in animation. I first spent a year in game design, but as it was my first year in an English-speaking country, learning English and coding at the same time was quite taxing. I’d always had a passion for animation: I was the kind of kid who would record films on VHS and watch them frame by frame for hours on end. I worked in animation for a long time and have always loved video games. In 2017, while browsing, a platform that offers many independent games and game jams, I came across the Yuri Game Jam. I decided to try my hand at creating a game. I created a visual novel in two months, which was my first game. During the pandemic, I developed Start Again: A Prologue, which served as the prototype for In Stars and Time, released in 2023.

PnT: The artistic direction of your game reminds me of early Disney concept art. How did you go from Start Again to a bigger project like In Stars and Time? Did you work on it full-time, or was it initially a side project?

Adrienne: It started out as a side project. I quickly realized that In Stars and Time would be too ambitious for a first project. Having a background in comics, I followed a common piece of advice for webcomic creators: never start with your passion project, because you risk spending ten years on it without completing it. I didn’t want that to happen, so I created a small prototype to see if it was something I was capable of and interested in, and if it might interest other people. Even if no one had been interested, I would still have made In Stars and Time because I found the process fascinating. I worked on the prologue in parallel with my full-time job as an animator. For In Stars and Time, I worked on it part-time, with the exception of the last four months when I left my job to concentrate on completing the game without distraction.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: I can only imagine how much work went into it. How did you come up with the story?

Adrienne: Sure. Around 2016, I started creating a little comic every year about a character stuck in a time loop within an RPG. I thought it would be interesting to turn this concept into a game, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it at first. I found it interesting to explore the elements of a role-playing game in a medium other than video games, to highlight the unique aspects of role-playing games. During the pandemic, I revisited the idea and decided to try making a game out of it. The character of Siffrin and the concept of the time loop were already in the comic book. The comic book served as a kind of bible for the development of the game. For example, in one scene, I drew Siffrin wearing an eye patch, so I decided that at some point in the game, Siffrin would become a pirate. I used the comic strip to guide the development of certain scenes in the game.

PnT: It makes perfect sense. Your approach of starting with a comic book before moving on to a game is quite unique. Why did you choose an RPG for your game, given that it’s a genre full of tropes and complexities? What are your influences in the RPG genre?

Adrienne: Initially, I thought about doing a visual novel, as I had experience in that field. But I knew that combat would be an important part of the game, representing endless struggles that prolong the story, which wouldn’t fit well with the format of a visual novel. That’s why I chose an RPG. Fortunately, I’d bought RPG Maker on sale a year earlier, so I used it. RPG Maker has this reputation for being perhaps too accessible and easy to use, but I wanted to give it a try anyway because I wanted to make an RPG.. Initially, I didn’t want to code, which is why I gave up game design, but now I can manage with Google’s help. In terms of influences, Tales of Symphonia and Mother 3 are very important to me. I made the mistake of playing Mother 3 before Earthbound, and found it hard to go back to Earthbound because the gameplay seemed less refined. These two games were crucial influences, even though I’ve always played RPGs. I didn’t play Final Fantasy much, because it wasn’t really my thing.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: What are your influences in terms of art direction, and why did you choose to stay with black and white?

Adrienne: Animation didn’t inspire the game that much, actually. I’m much more influenced by comics and manga. The main reason for black and white is that it’s much quicker to draw. I did a lot of comics, often fan art, and I had to get them out quickly to react to recent events in fandoms. So I learned to work in black and white to save time. When I started the game, I thought I could do it in color, but that would take too much time. I like to give myself constraints, it makes the work more interesting. Black and white was an interesting constraint, because we had to find ways of making things contrasty and visible without using color.

PnT: Can you tell us about the importance of constraints in your creative process and how they shaped In Stars and Time?

Adrienne: Constraints force us to be creative and find innovative solutions. For example, black and white was not just a technical limitation, but a way of visually distinguishing the game. Today’s AAA games often seem bland to me, with no clear identity. On the other hand, older games, such as those from the Gamecube era, had to be creative because of technical limitations. For In Stars and Time, the repetitive combat and time loop are essential elements. They create a frustrating experience that reflects the temporal trap in which the characters find themselves. It’s not just to entertain, but to evoke a specific emotion. Video games are an art form, and art isn’t always there to please or entertain.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: Can you explain how you incorporated the time loop idea into the game and how it affects the protagonist, Siffrin?

Adrienne: The idea of the time loop comes from my comic books and my passion for Time Travel Fix It fan fiction. I love the concept of going back in time to fix things. One of the first things I learned to code was a screen that showed the number of loops completed. This was crucial to show progress while keeping certain aspects unchanged, such as Siffrin’s level continuing to rise while that of his companions remained stable.

PnT: Now let’s talk about the emotional depth of the characters and the main story. How did you develop these elements to resonate with players?

Adrienne: Much of the emotional depth comes from the repetition and suffering Siffrin experiences. Each time loop adds a layer of complexity and despair. The challenge was to maintain the player’s interest while repeating the same events. Fan fiction was a great inspiration for developing these emotional and narrative aspects. The idea was to take video game themes and concepts, such as game over and lives, and make them real. Imagine if Mario knew he had several lives. It would be traumatic for him to do it over and over again when he’s just trying to save Princess Peach. That’s what I wanted to explore, the psychological impact on a character who is aware of these mechanisms.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: How did you organize and track the various loops and paths taken by the characters?

Adrienne: I used OneNote, a tool similar to Notion, to organize all my notes. The game is structured in acts, so I knew what was happening in each act and what emotions Siffrin was feeling. For each event, I had predefined reactions from Siffrin based on the act and his previous experiences. It was quite simple to code because I know Siffrin well by now.

PnT: How did you conceptualize the characters, especially Siffrin?

Adrienne: Siffrin was born of a simple design where I wanted a character with a hat. For the other characters, I drew inspiration from RPG archetypes, particularly from Tales of Symphonia. For example, Mirabelle is “the chosen one”, Isabeau is the slightly stupid but sympathetic character, Odile is the wise teacher, and Bonnie is the young child. Siffrin is the mysterious newcomer to the group, a character we initially doubt, but who eventually proves his loyalty. Odile and Bonnie were the hardest to conceive. I spent weeks drawing and redrawing until I was satisfied. When I finally found their design, it was a great relief.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: It feels like you wanted to put a twist on the classic RPG trope of the chosen one. Was this a deliberate decision from the outset?

Adrienne: Yes, right from the start, I wanted to do a twist. I’ve read so much about the “hero’s journey” that I know it by heart. A game can’t end simply by beating the king, otherwise it would just be a normal game. What’s interesting is to see how players react to this subversion of expectations. Watching streamers play my game gave me a lot of perspective. It was fascinating to see their reactions and how they interpreted twists and time loops. It confirmed that my design choices were working and that the game was succeeding in surprising and engaging players.

PnT: I think it’s really interesting. A lot of people think the game ends when you beat the final boss. And when they it then it goes on, they’re really shocked.

Adrienne: Me, I was… I don’t know. I thought we all understood that it was a tragedy, literally. I really wanted to do this kind of twist, and it’s been really interesting to put clues in the game as to what’s going to happen. And I was very afraid of thinking, “well, will people, if I put clues in, figure it out too quickly and will it spoil the whole game for them?”

PnT: Yes, it’s true that it’s always tricky to measure out clues.

Adrienne: Very early on in the game, there’s a scene that happens where, if you know me or if you like the same kind of story as I do, you can see straight away what’s going to happen. And so, when it was time for me to move on to playtesters, I asked several friends, wouldn’t you like to play my game for a while and tell me what you think? One of my friends who was going faster got to this scene and she went, “ah, so this is what happens at the end of the game?”

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: And she was right?

Adrienne: Yes, and I was like, “oh no, you can’t tell me that, no, no, no”. And I was stressing out. I started quietly saying to the others, did you get to that scene? Did you think anything of it? And most of them hadn’t seen anything special, she was really just my friend. Even though she found out immediately what was going on, she had fun playing the game because that’s what I was hoping for, is that even though she had realized where it was going to go, it made the game a tragedy from the start, even before it started to be a tragedy for the other people.

PnT: LGBTQIA+ representation seems to be an important aspect of In Stars and Time. How does the game address queer themes, and why was it important for you to include diverse representation in the narrative?

Adrienne: I played a lot of RPGs when I was young, but now I’m more drawn to indie games, especially when I’m looking for queer themes. Indie games are really the only ones to offer queer themes in a way that’s authentic and not simplified for a lay audience. In non-independent games, it’s very rare to find queer characters well represented. For example, it’s exceptional enough to play a woman, but if she can also kiss another woman, it’s presented as something extraordinary and optional, often barely visible.

I expect more than that. In indie games, there’s less commercial pressure to make things more heterosexual, so you’re more likely to find themes and characters where queer experiences are authentically represented. It feels like real queer people have written these stories. Personally, I’ve been greatly influenced by visual novels. I find that this kind of game allows queer themes to be integrated without fear of homophobic or transphobic reactions, as these games are often perceived as games for women, who would rather read than fight or kill characters.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

It was this creative freedom that inspired me. Visual novels, even with a smaller budget, manage to tell more down-to-earth, queer stories. Being queer myself, I wanted to create queer characters in my game. When I see the feedback I get from players, many of them appreciate this aspect, even if some dwell on details like the use of pronouns, which makes me smile.

For me, the inclusion of these themes is not for the critics, but for me first, and then for all queer people, especially those who are aromantic and asexual. These identities are still very little represented, even in LGBTQIA+ media. There are a lot of people who don’t even know what it means to be asexual or aromantic. It’s very touching to see streamers and viewers discover these terms thanks to my game. Seeing people realize that there is a word for their experiences and that they are not alone is incredible for me. I hope my game helps people understand each other more quickly and feel less alone. That’s really why I included those queer moments. Personally, I prefer to say I’m queer, because that means “I’m part of the LGBTQIA+ community” without going into details. But making this game has pushed me to talk more openly about my asexuality, even if I don’t go into details. It’s rare to see aromantic, asexual characters in games, even indie ones, and I wanted to change that. I wanted it to be explicit and central to the story, not just hinted at. I really wanted players to learn and understand these experiences through the game.

PnT: And on the solo dev front, how does it feel to have made a complete game like In Stars and Time?

Adrienne: It was much more successful than I had expected. Throughout development, I kept a development diary in which I recorded my progress and impressions. For a long time, I didn’t know if I was ever going to finish the game, I couldn’t see the finish line. Then, at a certain point, I started to believe in it, I could see the end approaching. I told myself that selling 10,000 copies would be good enough. In fact, I sold a lot more, which makes me extremely happy. To be honest, I think it was a way of protecting myself. The game was like my baby all this time, and when it came out, my mind decided that this baby had gone off to live its own life. It was as if it had gone off to university. I had anticipated this feeling: the game, after so much time spent with me, now belongs to everyone. My brain chose not to be overwhelmed by emotions, positive or negative, and simply say to itself, “Ah, that’s good. He’s doing well.”

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

This was difficult, and I put a lot of work into this aspect before the game was released. Having been in fandoms and on platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, I knew how much fans can love or hate works. They can appropriate characters to the point of altering their personalities to suit their own preferences. I’ve done this myself with other works, so I knew I had to accept that people would reinterpret my characters. I wrote a lot about what each character meant to me, but now the players’ interpretations are part of the game too.

This may sound negative, but it’s also incredibly positive. I think it’s fantastic that fans love the game so much. On the game’s Discord, people are still talking about it and creating their own stories based on my characters. That’s what I used to do when I was young, and it’s incredible that my game is being used as a basis for others. I can’t wait to see if other budding developers, inspired by In Stars and Time, create their own games. Some have already started work on their projects, which is wonderful. It shows that making a game is possible, even if it takes a lot of hard work.

PnT: It’s a really healthy approach. That’s exactly what we want to convey with this format, to show that everyone has the tools they need for free. You need a computer, but then there’s software like Godot, Blender and lots of other free resources to get you started.

Adrienne: Absolutely. I learned by buying RPG Maker, spending two or three weeks figuring out how it works, watching YouTube tutorials and Googling. I chose RPG Maker because I wanted to make an RPG and because, unless you want to go really far, you don’t need to know how to code. You can simply use plugins created by others and integrate them. For the prologue, I didn’t code at all, I just used plugins and credited their creators. With a good idea, you can really create something.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: You mentioned that you’d done some devlogs. Is this the type of content you’re looking for as a solo dev? I have the impression that more and more of them are being done in newsletters, especially with Substack. Do you like this type of format?

Adrienne: I really like devlogs. I used to have two types of devlogs: my private devlogs that I did every week and, from the moment we announced the game on Steam, every month I’d put out a devlog saying, “Well here’s what I’ve done, here’s where I’m at, here’s some drawings I’ve done to show you where we’re at.” And then when I didn’t have anything special to say, I’d say, “Today, I’m going to show you how I use OneNote, how I thought of such and such a thing.” And I know that people really appreciated this devlog because, on the one hand, it shows them that the game is still in progress and that I’m still working on it, and on the other hand, for the fans, it allows them to see a bit behind the scenes, to realize how we draw this, how I thought about this. Since I used to give tutorials from time to time where I’d explain exactly how I worked on something, it was just interesting to see people talking about their expertise, I think. And me, personally, I read a lot of devlogs because I find it similar, I like to see behind the scenes, how people think. I follow a lot of the written word, but I know that there are also quite a few who do it on video on YouTube. It’s something I’m seeing more and more. I prefer writing, but that’s just me, personally.

PnT: The game was published by Armor Games Studio. How did you come to meet them?

Adrienne: It didn’t even occur to me that I could have a publisher. I don’t think I was even aware that it was something you could do. So what happened was, I released the prologue and a week later, I got an email from the person who became my producer at Armor Games, whose name is Dora. She’d been following me on Tumblr for a few years with my comics. She saw that I’d released a game, saw that it was called a prologue, and went, “If it’s a prologue, is there going to be a sequel? Maybe you’d be interested in working with us?” And I said, “Yeah, okay, why not.” I hadn’t even thought about it, but why not. I’ll say it anyway, and I’ll say it to everyone: I really enjoyed working with Armor Games. Even if you find someone else and you think they’re perfect, they’re great, you always have to look at the contract. You always have to. In fact, what I did was, when they gave me the contract, I went, “So, does it exist?” I didn’t know there were lawyers specifically for video games. I found one and said, “Can’t you take a look and tell me if it’s okay?” Even if you really like someone, you still have to, because it’s just logical, especially when it’s my baby, even if…

PnT : … there’s money at stake, unfortunately.

Adrienne: You always have to look. But yeah, they really helped me find people. In fact, again, I don’t know how to code very well, so they helped me find a programmer for the things I didn’t know how to code. They took care of all the contact stuff with a marketing team, a localization team to put on consoles, so they took care of all that and I didn’t have to deal with it, which is wonderful. They also gave me a lot of advice on how to make the game better. There was one thing Dora said to me that I thought was absolutely brilliant, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. It was about random combat, because I’d taken the combat from the prologue and put it in In Stars and Time. The prologue battles were a bit long, the enemies were a bit too difficult. A whole minute to beat a random enemy is far too long, but I didn’t know that at the time. So she said, “Adrienne, this is the way to think about it. Random enemies, you need Goombas, like with Mario. You need enemies that you can beat in 10 seconds and some enemies that are a bit more difficult, but you need Goombas.” I said to myself, “When you have random battles, you need Goombas to make it quick.”

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: It’s something I’ve seen in Souls-style games, to see if you’ve got the level for an area. If you can beat the enemy in three moves, you’re perfectly in the right zone. If you need more hits, go somewhere else, you’re not ready yet. But you’ve got a bit of a duration thing going. It’s interesting.

Adrienne: I think this was perhaps one of the most complicated parts for me. It was everything around coding the battles, because there’s so much math and so much finishing to do, to make sure that it’s not too complicated, that it’s not too difficult, that it’s not too long, that it’s not too short either. So it took me a long time. The same goes for figuring out the type of attack I’m going to give each character, and how I’m going to balance the characters against each other. That’s what took me the longest, dealing with the combat.

PnT: And did they also help you, for example, to put together a demo? I mean, to find playtesters and give feedback on the game, or a demo to bring the game to life at festivals? Did they help you with this, or did you say to yourself from the start: “There’s such-and-such a festival where I know I’d like to present the game”?

Adrienne: It was something I wasn’t particularly aware of, so they took care of it too. They said, “Well, we’ll need a demo, we’ll need you to make a demo that lasts about this kind of time so we can put it at this event, that event so we can show it.” So, they were the ones who were very busy telling me: “We’d have to finish this kind of thing by such and such a time,” because as far as the game itself was concerned, it was good. I had a good rhythm, I had a good schedule, so I finished it on time, I finished it just right. But everything around it, I had no idea. So working with them taught me a lot about events on Steam, which are important and which are a little less so. Steam Next Fest, for example, I didn’t realize how important it was, maybe the people to contact, all the types of jobs there are in the video game pipeline. Because it was something for me where I was like, “I don’t know.” So yeah, it helped me a lot there.

Solo Dev In Stars and Time

PnT: Can you tell us a bit about your future projects?

Adrienne: I’m currently making another game, which this time will be a visual novel. When I finished In Stars and Time, I got my animation job back. But in January, they fired everyone because there’s not much work there now in Canada. The jobs will only come back towards the end of the summer, if we’re lucky. I’m taking the opportunity to try and set up my own studio for real this time, and see if that’s something I’ll be able to do for the future. This time, I don’t think I’ll be working with a publisher. Now that I feel comfortable enough, I think I’ll try to do it myself. And create a small team, maybe. I like working on my own, that’s the thing too. That’s why I did everything, from the story to the code, as best I could. It’s because I really like working in my own corner. Working with people is a bit complicated. But the problem is that In Stars and Time has done very well and is quite popular. That puts a lot of pressure on me. So it’s something I force myself to say… When I announce the next game, I’ll tell everyone… “Please don’t expect In Stars and Time 2, where it’s going to be exactly the same, it’s going to make you cry in exactly the same way.” That’s for me. Okay? This is for me. My games, they’re for me. If you don’t like it, that’s not my problem. 

That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to do a second In Stars and Time. It was a question that came up a lot. Is there going to be a sequel? I said no, there’s not going to be a sequel. Don’t expect a sequel. That’s because, when the game ends, the player is bound to have a lot of questions. This is deliberate. It’s done on purpose just because I like this kind of story where you keep thinking about it. And also, because again, I was raised on Tumblr, and I know that if you have a story that ends with all the questions that have been answered, there’s never fan-art on that kind of thing with stories that are completely over. Fan-theories and so on. And I really want people to keep thinking about it. That’s why I left it open. And also, because I’ve played a lot of games where I loved the first one, and the second one a lot less. Right from the start, I said to myself, I don’t want to be like Tales of Symphonia, I just want to have one!

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