Speakeasy Tonight’s Neil Route Impressions and Review – Spoiler Free

If you’re looking for a general opinion on Speakeasy Tonight, here you go.  This review focuses solely on Neil’s story. It may sound scattered because at the moment I’m spaced out on cold medicine.

Positives:

  • The main character is the sharpest I’ve found in the past year. She knows how to handle people and business while still feeling like a twenty-something.

  • Thomas Joyner (the author) obviously knows his Bible references and philosophy. I grinned throughout the Plato discussion as the MC held her own and called him on his bull.

  • Joyner’s dialogue is funny. Some of the conversations sound like a screwball comedy; the temperance meetings in particular made me laugh.

  • The MC treats Neil as a person, not a project. I loathe stories where an individual has to be “fixed” by someone else. *cough* Kyosuke *unconvincing cough* Neil is both a doctor and a war veteran, but that’s not ALL he is.

  • The mystery plot kept me intrigued.

Negatives:

  • A couple of “wait-a-minute” moments. In the prologue, the MC tells Uncle Charlie and others that she graduated from secretarial school. One minute into Neil’s route he asks if she graduated, and she says “no.” In front of the same group. And no one calls her on it. Neil also manages to be 30 on the character screen and then 32 in his storyFixed in the most recent patch.

  • The story’s best ending has Neil much chattier about his past and the MC than in the regular ending. It didn’t break my suspension of disbelief, but the regular ending felt more in line with his behavior from the previous chapters.

Overall: Recommended.  The main character alone makes it worth trying.

Voltage’s Speakeasy Tonight is available on iOS.

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20 thoughts on “Speakeasy Tonight’s Neil Route Impressions and Review – Spoiler Free

  1. Thanks for your kind words. Glad my efforts at replicating the witty dialogue of the screwball comedies played well. A couple of thoughts: I’ve been a big advocate, since my earliest work for Voltage, for creating MCs who are active participants in the stories … more like the modern, American women I assume to be the bulk of the audience for these games. (I have no data to back that up, just an assumption of my part). I also want to give credit to the editors at Voltage, who plot these stories for the writers. We get very complete and well thought-out “bibles” that detail the characters, the world in which they operate, and the plots of the individual episodes. As writers we then flesh everything out with dialogue, character choice moments, etc., but the characters and situations originate with the main Voltage team and let me tell you, they are working very hard to create games that will appeal to and satisfy their audience. I really enjoy working for them and Speakeasy has been a particular pleasure, since I believe it’s the first Voltage USA game to largely originate on this side of the Pacific AND is set in one of my favorite eras of American history. Best, T. Joyner

    • You’re welcome. I enjoyed it enough to try Hunter’s and Noah’s routes in Intimate Business, two characters whom I normally would have skipped. I wish more of the Voltage authors made their work as easy to find as you have.

      I do prefer active main characters, though now that I reflect a bit more, it’s not just that this one’s active. You gave both her and the player credit for diversified interests and mental acuity. I’m likely reading too much into it (curse of an English major), but I appreciated that she could enjoy pop culture and pick apart an old philosopher both.

      Thank you for the insight into the Voltage “bible.” I assume it does not dictate the particulars of the main character’s personality. The MC in Donovan’s route (for example) felt much different than in Neil’s route.

      • In regard to the differences in the MC in different routes: we are given some basic parameters of backstory and general traits but, of course, different writers are going to handle her differently and she’s going to interact differently with different male protagonists. With this game, I’ve experienced the editors having a strong awareness of this last aspect of things, guiding the development of each relationship with each individual guy more closely. This is, I think, a good thing for consistency and shows that they really have a clear vision of the game going in. They’ve intentionally developed a diverse group of male protagonists … so diverse that it’s unlikely exactly the same woman would fall for each of them. So, in some routes, she’s more intellectually inclined, in others, a little more worldly or more naive, depending on the needs of the story. On the whole, I think we try to keep her backstory consistent (within reason), but other things will change. I’m not a fan of (how shall I say this?) a more “traditional” (in otome terms) treatment of the heroine, but that’s not to say there’s no room for that. They just don’t ask me to write those stories.

        I can’t abide dim wits, so I don’t think I could write a whole story with an airhead or even a passive MC as the central figure. In think of them all, in one way or another, as Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn or Lizzie Bennett or Kristen Bell. With the guy characters, they don’t tend to give me the strong, silent types to write since the verbose, smart aleck-y types are more my style. This goes back to my first work with Voltage writing Henri and Julius for KoMH. Even Vince himself, who isn’t the best-educated crayon in the box, is still darn sharp in his own way. Neil was a challenge more because he was a bit of a rake hell and a cynic. Finding a good Noel Coward voice for him was fairly easy, but they didn’t want him “melting” too soon, and I was always too anxious to reform him. You’ll notice, he doesn’t reform much, even by the end of the happiest ending.

        Another thought on consistency: Something I think a lot of readers/players aren’t thinking about here is that, by the time the five basic story routes are done, you have five 50-60K word novels … or one 250-300K (Rashoman style) novel, written by several authors. Some inconsistency is intentional, some is inevitable … the trick is to make it difficult to discern which is which. 🙂

        Finally: glad to be in a conversation with someone who enjoys these games. I find that an actual dialogue helps me to discover what the reader/players like and helps me hone my own thoughts which, I hope, translates into better scripts.

      • I’m pleased you find this helpful. I’ve always enjoyed talking with writers. Before the forums and messaging system became so hostile, I kept up with the Bioware Dragon Age team a good bit.

        That’s what I figured about the differences in a game’s MC. Maybe I should wait a month or so before trying different routes so I can forget the niceties of each route? I kept wanting to transplant Vince’s MC in Julius’ route.

        You were very diplomatic about the traditional otome heroine. I’m always thankful for a trial first chapter so I can gauge the MC. Last month I realized the routes I enjoy most are the ones with heroines I can respect rather than what guy I personally would find attractive.

        I played Knight of My Heart this past week. I’ll save most of my thoughts for a separate post, but the first half of Jacques’ route mirrors so much of my husband and myself (personalities and book discussions, not the princess plot) that it was a little unnerving.

        Glad you pulled back on reforming Neil. The MC felt like she’s helping rather than magically fixing him. (I’ve also added a few Noel Coward movies to my library list to borrow after finishing a couple of operas I was lent.)

        Random question of the day: Does Voltage USA require the MC and whichever guy was purchased be a romantic couple in every ending? I know of at least one Voltage route that has the normal ending in which the two are friends rather than lovers. I wanted Jacques and Isabelle together, dangit.

      • Regarding the traditional otome heroine … yeah. Though I’ve never been a manga or anime fan, I’ve studied some Japanese history and drama. I knew the culture was sexist by American/Western standards (not that American standards are all that high), but I will admit to being stunned by the representation of women in the early plots I received, all adapted very directly from the Japanese originals. In the original Jacques track, he literally (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) puts a BELL on the MC to keep track of her! I’d already written the Henri route by then and turned the Princess into a proto-feminist, so I wasn’t going back to the stone age or the Meiji Empire or wherever that little moment of demeaning condescension came from. At that point, I wasn’t sure how far I could go in altering the material I’d been given, so I contacted the editor and basically said “I can’t do that, but I can do this … ” and suggested he give her a whistle (keeping a duplicate for himself) so they could call to each other if necessary.

        To Voltage’s credit, the American editors have been very receptive to my input and, I presume, to the input of the other writers on issues like this. I’ve seen a huge transformation as they have moved from note-for-note remakes of the original material through loose adaptations to nearly-original material. Speakeasy is inspired by a Japanese original having to do with the yakuza, I think, but the characters were recrafted with American archetypes in mind and the stories plotted from scratch, from what I know about it.

        RE: Noel Coward. Read the plays. Design for Living, Hay Fever, Present Laughter, and Private Lives come to mind as the late comedy-of-manners plays I’m trying to capture in some of my dialogue. (Also, as you point out, the screwball comedies of the Thirties). Anyway, Coward’s plays are far racier and more daring than most of the movies made from them.

        Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about KoMH.

        As to your last question: I don’t know if Voltage has done that or would consider doing that. It seems to me that it would disappoint some reader/players to purchase a route for a particular romance only to have it go south for the happyily-ever-after ending. I can see a “bad” ending (something new for Speakeasy) going that way … or, as you say has been done previously, even a normal ending where they end up as friends. To my mind, it would be more interesting to have an ending where there remains a clear rivalry in place fo the guy’s affections between the MC and a significant supporting character like Isabelle, a plot point to be pursued in a sequel. (SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T PLAYED KoMH/Henri: I do pair up Jacques and Isabelle in the Henri route, and continue using that relationship in future Henri sequels). I do, however, appreciate that I did a good enough job establishing the connection between Isabelle and Jacques in KoMH that you were rooting against your own interests there. 🙂

        I’d also say that, if you want to see something like this, you should float it on some Voltage forum on FB or Tumblr or something. They watch that stuff pretty carefully and I think Noah’s route in Intimate Business shows that they’re willing to try something new, if they think the audience might respond. You could look at many of the routes in Speakeasy and say that the male protagonists are pretty unconventional by otome standards. The envelope is being pushed as they seek to establish themselves with a Western audience who haven’t played games like this before.

      • On the traditional otome heroine and Jacques’ original route: that’s appalling. I expect to wade through misogyny in older plays, books, and operas. I don’t want to find it in my modern, zippy reads as well.

        On non-couple endings: The rivalry story sounds interesting, but that would still require the MC to be actively romantically interested in the guy. There have been a few male leads I wished the MC could either stay friends or flat-out ditch him (Leo springs to mind).

        On Jacques and Isabelle: Jacques’ route is one of the very few that felt like *I* was the main character; usually I view the MC as friends I’d invite over for coffee. And, oddly enough, this is why I wanted Jacques and Isabelle together. I already have someone who teases and discusses Shakespeare’s tragedies and critiques Kierkegaard over breakfast. Isabelle’s awesome and deserves the same.

        Okay, those last sentences sound both saccharine and pretentious. It’s still true though.

        Thanks for letting me know Voltage actually looks at social media; I’ll poke around. The last time I really ventured onto one of their outlets was to let them know exactly what I think of Kissed by the Baddest Bidder. At the time, most of the posts were misspelled squeeing. I left my opinion and bolted.

        The plays may have to wait a month or so. The only Noel Coward book the library owns is piano sheet music. At least I’ll have something new to play.

        I know you don’t love the medium, but have you tried Ouran High School Host Club? I’ve watched a grand total of three anime series and still found this hysterical. The brainy heroine is surrounded by flirty boys and couldn’t care less. The Shinsengumi episode had me crying I was laughing so hard.

        I should have one of your Knight of My Heart routes reviewed within the week.

        –Lydia

      • I’ve never been one of those people who completely identify with the protagonist in media that I’m consuming or creating, so I’ll admit that the whole Player-as-MC/Heroine aspect of these games came as a bit of a surprise to me when I first started writing. I had one of the editors ask me once if I had a name for her when I was writing that I just kept in my head, or if I just thought of her as “Heroine.” I somewhat sheepishly admitted, that I go with the latter. Never occurred to me to go the other way with it … until I downloaded one of the games to play through, just to see what the final product looked like. THEN I made up a name for her.

        It’s not gender-specific. It would be the same for me if the MC was a hero and not a heroine. They are characters to me and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I used to write superhero comics, but never so totally identified with my characters that I was willing to go through what I put them through, superpowers or no.

        On the other hand, I really like that you so wholly identified with the MC in the Jacques route. Makes me feel like I did my job well. The initial guidelines when I wrote a try-out script for Voltage included discussion of what I call the “blank heroine” — passive, no strong personality traits or expressions of personality/opinion that would interfere with player identification. Maybe it’s an idea Japanese men (from whom the original otome first emerged) have about Japanese women: that they 1) desperately want to place themselves into lives created by others, 2) have no needs or desires that are not defined in relation to men, 3) some slightly less insidious but equally demeaning notion of the feminine that would be equally offensive to my refined sensibilities. Anyway, I couldn’t write that character and didn’t get the job, initially, but they did contact me a few months later and I did a couple of epilogues for My Lover’s a Thief that somebody must’ve liked, because I started getting more work after that. KoMH’s princess MC on the routes I wrote is my first attempt at creating an MC I recognize as possessing some characteristics of a real, human woman. She’s still a genre character, but she has a personality, I think … and I think she’s pretty consistent between the Henri and Jacques routes, because that’s how I was thinking of it then — she stays the same, but the circumstances of her intial choice of male protagonist alter her story. Now, I think that the initial choice of male protagonist reflects something fundamental about the MC that should be explored through her reaction to the ongoing action in each route. In other words, the woman who would choose Henri is not the same kind of woman who would choose Jacques or Vince or Neil or Julius or Kieran or Xavier or whoever. She’s going to have different likes and dislikes, different ideas about the world, and different behaviors under the stresses of the story in which she becomes involved. Not sure I’ve completely grasped the implications of this new way of thinking about the MC, or if that’s really the direction the games are moving in … but we shall see.

        Wow. Rambling. Sorry. Nothing most writers like more than discussing process. It’s a very sophisticated form of procrastination. I should be working on one of my own projects right now.

        Side note: we are all entitled to be both saccharine and pretentious from time to time. Especially if we are sentimentally and intellectually inclined, and possessed of refined sensibilities (this time, the refined sensibilities of Jane Austen characters). 🙂

        I don’t really understand Tumblr, but I’ve poked around there a bit recently looking at the stuff Speakeasy fans are saying about the game. It’s been educational. And I see that Voltage staffers are directly responding to some of the posts, even going so far as to create little .gifs from existing art at fan request. So … yeah, they pay attention.

        Most libraries outside of universities are sadly understocked with plays, so it’s not surprise that your local doesn’t have any Coward drama. And reading plays is an acquired taste once you get past Shakespeare, I’ll admit … still, Coward is sadly underappreciated on this side of the pond, I think. Due for a revival. You can probably get cheap used copies via Ebay or Amazon, if you’re so inclined.

        I may check out the anime series you suggest at some point, but will admit I have a LONG list of other shows and films on my list first. Not opposed to the idea of exploring other genres, just kind of want to actually watch stuff like Breaking Bad and The Americans first.

      • I’m happy to read your rambles (though I feel like I shouldn’t encourage them too strongly after your procrastination comment). My natural inclination is towards analysis or researching and writing on history so it’s interesting to peek at how others create fiction.

        On the writing process: at a conference, I heard Richard Peck explain that, no, stories just don’t come. He spends two years researching a particular place and time, then creates the characters. An hour later, I listened to Kimberly Willis Holt explain that the characters “just come to her” and she builds the plot around them.

        I hope the MCs continue to have more opinions and personality. Sticking solely with the blank heroine seems like limiting the audience. To be fair, I can see how dictating personality or preferences could turn off some players. I didn’t care for some of the MC’s little prejudices in one of the White Lies & Sweet Nothings routes, but that was more because she was saying she didn’t like people like me, not because I couldn’t inhabit her.

        It seems like the games’ “selection moments” could help strike a balance, such as:
        –express differing opinion
        –express agreement
        –whatever the “blank” option would be (possibly: stay silent as conversation continues around her and then apologize for something not under the MC’s control)

        Both the Japanese and US branches seem to be open to variation. I’ve found several MCs in the original Voltage brand who are decidedly not the “blank heroine” you were advised to write. I’ll keep contacting them and encouraging them to pursue that vein.

        On Coward: After I read the lyrics of the sheet music, I ordered a collection of his plays. I’m currently reading up on the Freedom Summer murders and need something lighter.

        I should have Henri’s review up by next Wednesday. His route made me wonder: Are you sparse with physical descriptions just for mediums that will have artwork accompanying them or does it carry throughout your work?

        -Lydia

      • There are few things writers like more than talking about their “process”. It’s one of the best procrastination tools out there. I can talk process until the cliches and contradictions accumulate in drifts. The truth is, sometimes a writer says something that I really like and that helps me. More often than not, hearing about someone else’s approach makes me wonder a) what’s wrong with them that they could practice a method that is obviously so wrong or, b) what’s wrong with ME that what they’re saying doesn’t work for me.

        I have a flippin’ Ph.D., so I share your fascination with research and analysis. It’s hard to keep my fiction writing from sounding like a treatise on whatever subject or setting I’m working with. Just read Dan Simmons “The Abominable” and felt like it was piles of research notes on the history and techniques of mountaineering looking for a plot and some characters. (SPOILER: the notes never found a plot that made them more engaging than a nonfiction book on mountaineering would have been.)

        For me the fundamental problem with the “blank” MC is that no personality IS a personality … and not a good one, in dramatic/narrative terms. It’s saying, whether this is intentional or not, that women are, by default, passive figures, pushed and manipulated by the larger (male) personalities around them … that they have no needs, desires, ideas, or opinions of their own. So even giving them a choice option that suggests this is, to me, problematic.

        Enjoy Noel.

        As to your last question: we’re actually encouraged to not include much in the way of physical description in the scripts because they already have illustration. Coming from comics and theatre as I do, I suppose my personal style has evolved to be very dialogue heavy. I’m working on a novel right now and the hardest part is writing descriptive passages that aren’t wooden and filled with cliche. Also challenging to know when to just short-cut a conversation and outline the gist in narrative form. I just haven’t exercised these muscles enough in recent years.

        The medium dictates the method, to some extent. Not to compare my work (or comics/otome games in general) to Shakespeare — just the opposite, in fact — but you will notice that his plays contain a great deal of dialogue that sets the scene, because there was little in the way of scenery used in his theatre. By the same token, the audience for otome games, comics, video games, movies, tv, etc. are all visually-literate to a degree unknown in Shakespeare’s day, plus, we have the attention spans of hyperactive gnats. Give us something visual and not too chatty and that’s out sweet spot.

      • Ha! Whenever I read someone say “just write!” I wonder whether they have a toddler. It can be done, but it slows one down considerably.

        On research and fiction: It’s a hard balance. A few years ago I read Larson’s The Devil in the White City. The history of the architecture, politics, and world fair preparations fascinated me, but the serial killer sections put me off. For a book purporting to be a history, there were several “Holmes felt/did _____” sections that Larson could not have known from research. Edinger’s Africa Is My Home (classified as fiction) hits a sweet spot. All the events and the principle actors are real, but Edinger adds a few reasonable lines about how different characters felt.

        On medium and attention span: that’s fair. I read or listen to lectures/podcasts than I watch a screen (when not working anyway), but that doesn’t require the same focus and commitment as going to see a three-hour performance.

        Do you recommend a particular graphic novel or comic omnibus? I’m slowly venturing into the graphic novel section after a friend’s prodding.

        -Lydia

      • Well, it’s been awhile since I posted. Felt like we’d exhausted what I could say about these games/interactive novels without giving the game away completely, so to speak. And then life happened, too. But I know you’ve seen that Speakeasy Tonight is coming back as a Free-to-Play through the new Lovestruck app. Just wanted you to know I’m back on board. I reworked the prologue, have so far written a whole new route for Gerald O’Fallon and a Season 2 route for Vince. Am currently working on a Season 2 for Gerald with Neil to follow. I don’t know who’s working on new material for the other characters but I imagine they brought the best talent available to the enterprise. Assuming the re-release goes well, the plan as I understand it is to proceed through ongoing “Seasons” for each storyline. Hope you’ll check us out, review the new format and the new material.

      • Thank you for the update. I’ll be back once full seasons are out. My life has become busier than when I first began my review site, but I still keep up with Voltage USA.

  2. I should also add, as a tag to the first paragraph of the response above, the one thing all writers say to other writers/aspiring writers that never fails to both inspire me and tick me off is: “Stop talking about writing and just flippin’ WRITE!”

    • I just finished Design for Living. While I enjoyed it, the mood and ending were more oppressive than I expected based on his sheet music. Are most of Coward’s play like that? Reading six of those in a row would make me start drinking like the characters.

      • Got very busy with a deadline and just life in general, so I haven’t been on in a while.

        RE: Coward. Well, I hope you persist with some of his other plays. Certainly there are lighter plays in his canon than Design, but you are certainly familiar with the emotional price literature can exact from us. 🙂 I would suggest the liquor consumption of Coward and his generation would not be considered healthy by contemporary standards, and may account for some of his excesses … also: inadvisable to imitate. 🙂

        Babies/Toddlers v Writing: Completed my dissertation while acting as stay-at-home dad for my son. Took four years. I know whereof you speak.

        Research in fiction. As someone who spent years as an academic writer, I’m finding it hard to rediscover (if I have had it) the balance. With fiction, you usually have to throw out or completely disguise your research to make it palatable. One of my favorite examples of invisible research is Edith Pargeter/Ellis Peters, who wrote some beautiful ficiton and mysteries set in medieval England and Wales. But she was an academic who studied that period all her life. She was so totally immersed in the period that she could write of it effortlessly and in a language that evoked the era without being of the era. I really admire that. As opposed to the examples we’ve both cited above, where the research sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

        I’m going to demure on recommending graphic novels for you. There’s so much good stuff out there, but I am so out of the loop on graphic fiction these days. I’ve been out of the business for fifteen years and really don’t keep up with the latest stuff at all. Most of the stuff I read and enjoyed in that vein date from the 80s and 90s: Maus, Watchmen, Contract with God … I think they all hold up, but I don’t know what’s good these days. I do heartily recommend Love and Rockets by either of the Hernandez Bros. Both of them do very different stuff, but equally complex and wonderful … Gilbert’s stuff is magical realism, I suppose. Jaimie’s somewhat more grounded … but again, I haven’t read these guys in years. I just know they both have a large body of work behind them and that it’s still highly regarded.

      • I’m definitely not giving up on Coward. I just wanted to know if I needed to space his plays out between lighter books. Right before Design for Living, I read Things Fall Apart and Hidden Girl and wanted something less taxing.

        A friend lent me some of Pargeter’s titles several years ago. I don’t remember much besides being impressed by how believable and individualized the characters were. They fit in their setting without whacking you over the head with the author’s modern pet viewpoints.

        I’ve read Watchmen and have the other two on hold. I’ll ask my younger relatives for modern recommendations. Thanks!

        -Lydia

  3. Pingback: Speakeasy Tonight Neil POV Impressions and Review | myladylydia
  4. Pingback: Speakeasy Tonight Elliot Route Impressions and Review – Spoiler Free | myladylydia
  5. Just wanted to mention that I’m being allowed to post some of my earlier Voltage scripts on my website as samples of my writing. You can get an unedited look at early Knight of My Heart scripts and the first version of the prologue to Speakeasy Tonight with more to come.

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