Sleuthing, Seducing: Kendal Crawford’s Sorority Sister Sleuths
As a devotee of all things visual novel and a self-admitted sucker when it comes to a good mystery, one glance at the plot summary for Sorority Sister Sleuths: London Calling had me salivating over my keyboard. Quester Entertainment’s most recent mystery/romance adventure tells the story of three young women: Veronica, Anna, and Tatyana. After graduating from the University of Washington, the three sorority sisters embark on trip across Europe, where they find themselves entangled in a series of romantically-infused encounters that lead to a vacation filled with mystery, intrigue, and, if they’re lucky, summer love!
According to our source on the inside, Quester Entertainment writer Kendal Crawford, Sorority Sister Sleuths was originally created by Jeff Hendricks as a “sort of a cross between Charlie’s Angels and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with a travel/romance/mystery motif.” Kendal was drawn to the project by “the idea that the three main characters NOT be considered femme fatales, but rather knowledgeable, sensible, and ultimately heroic young women–subverting the stereotype of the old-fashioned sorority girl attending college only to socialize or find a man.” It was that attitude that drew the staff of Women Write About Comics to their table at SakuraCon 2017, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to email Crawford some questions about Sorority Sister Sleuths: London Calling.
Of Sorority Sister Sleuths‘s three featured heroines, which one do you identify most clearly with? Are there parts of yourself in each of the heroines?
When I came to the project, the three main characters were already designed and written into the first storyline. It was up to me to get to know their personalities and backstories via what Jeff had already written and ultimately explore and expand upon the characters and their existing canon authentically in a new storyline and script. Veronica probably was the character I instantly felt the most kinship with, the arts major girl surrounded by science and engineering students (story of my life!). Also, on a more personal level, of the three girls she’s the one most inclined to wear her heart on her sleeve. Like her, I’m pretty much an open book when it comes to love and friendship.
Which heroine do you feel was the easiest to write and which was the most challenging? Likewise, was one of the two scenarios included in Sorority Sister Sleuths more challenging to write than the other?
Well, the two scenarios in London Calling–Ian’s pathway and Gordon’s pathway–were written consecutively. So, when I was brought in to write the storyline and script for Gordon, Jeff challenged me to write a more complex narrative based on the lessons that had been learned while creating the first one. As for which of the heroines was the most challenging to write, it probably took me the longest to get into Tatyana’s head, merely because she is a bit more restrained and measured in her words than Veronica (who tends to be more chatty and effusive) or Anna (who tends to be more teasing and snarky).
What made you decide to split the game by including three separate protagonists and two different plot scenarios? Do you think that structure made it easier to write than one long, drawn out mystery with a single heroine?
Organizing the game this way had two great results: the first being increased user choice and re-playability and the second being the ability to tell a larger story in a nonlinear way. During each of the storylines, for instance, the Sisters at some point split-up Scooby-Doo style to go after different leads. While players get a hint as to what the other two Sisters were up to when the three reunite, its only by going back and playing through the storyline as a different character that you can uncover the full picture.
Veronica and Anna both come from stable, possibly even privileged families; Veronica’s father is a state legislator while her mother is superintendent of school district, and Anna’s father is a Captain in the U.S. Marines while her mother is a nurse. Tatyana, on the other hand, was raised by a single mother and is an immigrant to the U.S. How did these socioeconomic and cultural differences affect writing for the characters in Sorority Sister Sleuths?
An important component in Jeff’s character design that I really appreciated when joining the project was his motivation to create a diverse cast of female leads. And while none of their differences have come up as a major plot points yet, SSS is written so that you have insight to the player character’s thoughts, so players will notice how each character’s background and family history influences their internal dialogue, and occasionally the kinds of conversations they have with others.
All three characters have an athletic background (Veronica is in ballet/Tae-Kwan-Do, Anna is in sharpshooting/fencing, and Tatyana is in swimming/water polo). What made you include these athletic backgrounds, and which one of them would win in a fight?
Giving our protagonists varied backgrounds (both academically and physically) was a great way to plant the seeds early on for exciting storylines and plot points. Some of these skills are leveraged by Anna, Tatyana, and Veronica in their current storylines–either as talking points or via a physical demonstration of their skills–while those that don’t have a strong potential to become relevant later.
As for who would win in a fight? I think Veronica and Anna would be pretty evenly matched until Tatyana pushed them all in the pool. Then it’s no contest who would win! In all seriousness though, their sisterly bond is such that they all would probably all end up pulling their punches. One major theme of SSS is the sisterly bond between our main three and the power of women supporting women.
Sorority Sister Sleuths pegs itself as a mystery/romance. What’s the ratio of mystery to romance? Is the focus mainly on sleuthing or seducing?
I would estimate it’s probably 70% sleuthing to 30% seducing. The nature of these stories is for the player character to develop a crush just in time for the man involved to be swept up in a mystery. As a player, you’ll meet up with your beau periodically while spending the rest of the game working with your Sisters or exploring our version of London and its people, all in order to solve the case and secure date #2!
How did your own college/post-college experiences help to shape the narrative of Sorority Sister Sleuths?
Probably the number one experience I drew from was how much I rely on and appreciate my female friendships, especially when we get the chance to travel together! Even though SSS is a serial romance, the core relationship of the series is the unbreakable bond between the girls, so how that kind of relationship looks/feels is definitely something I drew from my own experiences.
This part of the story is set in London, but since our heroines are on a summer long trip across Europe, do you have another venue planned for the next game?
If sales warrant it, we definitely have plans for the Sisters to travel to many of the major cities of Europe, continuing to encounter mystery, romance, and intrigue along the way. The next city isn’t chosen yet (I believe Paris is in the running), but the possibilities are nearly endless. We can even envision the Sisters doing trips through the famous cities of the other continents someday.
What type of research did you do to prepare yourself to write a story set in London?
I have not been to London, so in prep for writing my storyline I definitely did a lot of research, geographical, lexical, and even academic/institutional. That’s not to say SSS is a highly accurate version of London per se, but we did try to ground our setting, food, art, and character backstories in something that was recognizably London in look and feel. The idea was to explore London through its people, so that the Sisters could interact with a cast of characters at a more earthbound and intimate level (a local pub, an English flat, the tube, etc.) rather than spending their time only seeing the sights everyone knows about.
If you had to peg each of Sorority Sister Sleuths’s romanceable characters as one of the eight romance hero archetypes, which ones would they be?
On top of its mystery/romance story, Sorority Sister Sleuths also includes mini-games and puzzles for players to solve. Was it a challenge to balance storytelling with game-like elements? Were these elements included because of audience expectations or because they enhance the story?
This is a great question; it was tricky at some points for me to conceptualize and integrate mini-games and puzzles into Sorority Sister Sleuths in a way that felt organic. Sometimes these elements came together seamlessly, other times it took some creative thinking or revision. I think these elements do ultimately enhance the story, however, because they allow the player to have an intellectual/dextral role in solving the mystery. They also provide a fun break from the reading component that visual novels can be heavy on.
When I’m feeling down, I like to watch Disney movies, like Lilo & Stitch and Beauty and the Beast. When the heroines are in need of a movie/ice cream marathon, what films do they pick to watch?
Anna is all about action comedies, Tatyana prefers the old romantic comedies, and Veronica brings the Disney movies and movie musicals.
What made you choose to join the Quester Entertainment team?
Jeff Hendricks, the creator of Quester Entertainment, is a former co-worker of mine, and at a work conference I happened to notice him debugging the first storyline of Sorority Sister Sleuths in between presentations. As a fan of visual novels and creative writer myself, I asked about it, and Jeff eventually requested I beta-test the first storyline. Jeff’s background is in casual game scripting and children’s book writing, so he was happy to recruit someone onto the project who knew how visual novels ticked (at least from a fan-perspective!). This collaboration ultimately evolved into me being asked to write the second storyline, and I was excited to accept the opportunity to work creatively in the very medium I so enjoyed consuming.
How does Sorority Sister Sleuths compare to previous projects that you’ve worked on?
This is the first opportunity I’ve had to write for a visual novel, so it’s been a fantastic learning experience, very different from the straightforward prose fiction I was used to working on. First, I needed to thoroughly outline the events of the story on a global level, three times over for each of the girls. In the process, I also had to be careful to develop all new characters and settings in detail and on their own concept sheets, so I could collaborate with our wonderful artist, Kristel Raymundo, who brought the story to life visually. Similarly, I needed to come up with appropriate puzzles and mini-games concepts and rules to integrate into these storylines, and run their feasibility by our programmer. And finally, after these broader-scale tasks were complete, I had to write the script for each of the character’s pathways, a task which included branching dialogue options and required denoting character expressions, setting transitions, and sound effect cues. There were so many factors to consider at each stage of the process, but that’s the wonderful thing about the visual novel medium. It has the potential to become so immersive. Getting to play around in that kind of a sandbox was a wonderful challenge!