Back in 2020, Oracle and Bone debuted as a game development studio with beautiful visual novel, A Summer’s End: Hong Kong 1986. Set in the titular city and year, the story (written by Charissa So) follows two young women who meet in a chance encounter and find themselves wrestling with the complicated feelings that arise from their mutual attraction.
Combined with gorgeous, evocative art from Tida Kietsungden, So’s writing brings this story of love and choosing your path to life so skillfully, it’s surprising this was the pair’s debut work as a studio.
This made the prospect of another game from Oracle and Bone set in the same version of Hong Kong extremely exciting to me. On April 23, 2023 — the third anniversary of A Summer’s End — the duo announced that they were officially working on their next project: In the Ocean I Learned to Float. This game picks up two years after A Summer’s End in Hong Kong, though it follows different protagonists. A young woman named Kay returns home to Hong Kong, only to find out that her childhood friend, Grace, has gone missing. While trying to discover the truth about what happened, Kay meets a businesswoman/disco dancer. Together, the two start to piece together their stories and memories to discover the truth of what happened to Grace.
According to Oracle and Bone, In the Ocean I Learned to Float is a “romance story about resilience and hope in the face of uncertainty.” To learn more about the game, its development, and their growth as storytellers, we spoke with So and Kietsungden.
Gayming Magazine: How has development on your second game been different from the first?
We have been spending more time researching and collecting references and information on the background of locations that we want to portray with our next story. If A Summer’s End is a story inspired from the personal stories of many, In the Ocean is a deeply intimate and personal story based on true accounts of lived experiences unique to the time and place. As for gameplay, we have been experimenting with platforms and engines in order for us to better facilitate the storytelling within the game.
What made you all decide to create a story within the same world of A Summer’s End, but not quite a direct sequel?
We felt there was more to the setting that we could explore in greater detail in our upcoming project. There are more stories to tell about Hong Kong and the people who lived there. Michelle and Sam’s story is standalone in A Summer’s End, though that is not to say that we won’t add more to their story in the next game. We hope to explore more in the next story the diversity and vibrancy of the place and time, as well as further illuminate the history that is deeply reflected in its people.
What was the appeal of making a more investigation-based game this time around?
Memory and place is an important element in A Summer’s End and again in our next story, In the Ocean. We want to emphasize this element by having the player take an active role in uncovering the mystery of the story. We also want the player to explore locations connected to the story of the characters to better understand the places that has either stayed the same after all these years, has changed, or has already vanished.
Why is In the Ocean a project where you want to examine the colonial history of Hong Kong and the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality more than you did in A Summer’s End?
A Summer’s End was our introductory work. We wanted it to be a conclusive and uplifting story that celebrates queer love and an individual’s right to self-determination. We touched upon some of the topics related to intersectionality and Hong Kong’s colonial history in A Summer’s End, but we wanted to explore it in greater depth with In the Ocean I Learned to Float. We felt the framing of Hong Kong’s colonial history, especially from the perspective of marginalized peoples, can be invaluable in a work of fiction. We want to share from a perspective that may often be overlooked in general media. This is why we want to dedicate a longer, more intricate game and story that examines these topics.
What is the importance to you two as creatives to tell stories about Hong Kong and queer people who are from there?
As creators with a personal connection to a certain place, we want to share our heartfelt desire to depict a time and place special to us. We cannot speak on behalf of the experiences of everyone, but we want to share in our next title personal sentiments that relate closely to our memories of Hong Kong and Asia. We hope our next story would resonate with those who also lived through similar experiences or would like to understand them.