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Tattoos and Tulips BL Visual Novel - Interview with Meant to Bee Studios

Hey there, fellow BL and visual novel enthusiasts! Meant to Bee Studios, the brilliant minds behind the visual novel "Tattoos and Tulips", have given us an insider's glimpse into their world. Born from the love for Yaoi/BL fanfiction, this game is so much more than your run-of-the-mill visual novel - it's all about heartfelt stories, inked passions, and the unyielding beauty of love. So buckle up, because we're diving head-first into an exclusive behind-the-scenes chat with the studio!

Can you tell us more about the decision to make Tattoos and Tulips a Boys Love (BL) story and the role it plays in the overall narrative?

Tattoos and Tulips was based off of a BL fanfiction (at least the initial idea was). I’d have written yaoi/BL fanfiction for years before getting into visual novel development.

So when the time came to write something of my own for a visual novel. I wanted to do something I was comfortable writing. As the rest would be a learning curve.

How do you think ​our upcoming company ​Boys Love Universe (BLU) can help support and uplift the visual novel Yaoi community?

I believe that Yaoi/BL only appeals to a limited group of people. But those that love BL/Yaoi, love it, and are constantly seeking out new titles.

Having a central hub like this, should make it easier for not just creators, but fan’s of BL/Yaoi (like myself) find what they’re looking for.

What can we do to support independent creators?​

Bringing attention to Indie creators who all are either marketing poorly, or barely marketing at all. I can only really speak for myself, but marketing has been one of the biggest obstacles when working on Tattoos and Tulips. I’ve been blessed by it gaining traction in the past, and I think it’s a decent spot now.

But my goal, and I imagine a lot of creators’ goals are to get as many eyes on their stuff as possible.

You guys could help find the target audience, and deliver all our stuff to them. Maybe we aren’t using the right hashtags, or a great bulk of our audience is on another website, or scattered across the world wide web.

How did you approach the representation of Boys Love relationships in your visual novel, ensuring they were authentic and respectful?

Tattoos and Tulips

Obviously there are a couple key differences between queer couples and straight couples. I happen to have been in both (as a bisexual woman), but when you really boil it down, all romantic relationships are the same.

Have similar issues, wants, approaches. So my strategy is to write the main couple of any romance story the same. I don’t think too hard about the fact that Tattoos and Tulips is a BL story, cause it could be told the same if one of the guys’ was a girl, or they were both girls, or somewhere in between.

Love is love after all.

Although, this does not excuse not getting sensitivity readers, or at the very least an extensive beta reading process. Writer’s should already know how we can accidentally offend people, and misrepresent concepts in stories without trying to.

I made sure multiple people of all backgrounds, ages, and gender expressions looked over TNT including openly gay men, and queer men like Chrys and Shay.

And I’d advise that all creators should seek out extra eyes for their project, if you don’t want to risk hurting anyone.

What challenges did you face when incorporating Boys Love themes into the story, and how did you overcome them?

I guess a big thing is that the ‘gay experience’ isn’t really touched on too much in Tattoos and Tulips, the problems the main couple face are problems that relate to all new adults. Working jobs we hate, maintaining friendships, maneuvering through the dating world.

Some of those experiences overlapped with my own experiences dating a woman. But overall, nothing too specific to gay men exclusively is a heavy theme in Tattoos and Tulips.

I do believe that these sort of themes can be touched upon, but themes involving sexuality told in said story should be either highly, highly researched and sensitivity read, or told by people of that sexuality.

Can you tell us more about the creative process behind developing the characters and their relationships with one another?

When it comes to characters, especially ones in the contemporary fiction genre, it’s super important to me to base them off of real people, for two reasons. Relatability and it’s easier, but has the added benefit of capturing complexities and nuances only real human beings have.

When building relationships it’s much the same, just thinking of how two individuals can build a platonic or romantic relationship in the way that feels the most natural to them and their experiences.

Tattoos and Tulips is just as much about the relationships Chrys has with Bea and Granny as it is with Shay.

Often in romance, the platonic/familial relationships are cast aside in favor of the romance. (which is important especially if it is a romance) but, abandoning these other relationships only makes the protagonist feel more like a caricature than a real human being. And that their life revolves around the love interest.

How do you think your visual novel contributes to the diversity and inclusivity of ​your genre?

What Tattoos and Tulips contributes to diversity and inclusivity is relationships between people of different backgrounds, colors, and gender expressions. As well as different types of living situations, family backgrounds, and approaches in life.

Tattoos and Tulips is a contemporary story that takes heavily from reality. The main character Chrys suffers from severe anxiety/panic attacks (just like me), his best friend Bea is based off of my irl friend to a certain degree.

Every character has a job history, a specific relationship with their parents, diets, etc…

What do you hope players, especially those from the BL and Yaoi community, will take away from your visual novel?

My biggest hope is that Tattoos and Tulips can start a trend, of telling real human stories, via cute boys falling in love.

Tattoos and Tulips is one of a very select few SFW BL/Yaoi titles. Yes, sex is a part of the main relationship but it isn’t a plot point, or means for the main two to get together.

Not that there is anything wrong for that of course. Just, sometimes BL/Yaoi have to use sex to get the guys to either realize they like guys in the first place, or keep the audience engaged.

I think that Tattoos and Tulips’ strength is in the fact that it still manages to be interesting and engaging as a love story without falling back on a lot of Yaoi/BL tropes. It’s refreshing. I think we all need something both realistic and wholesome. I believe a lot of wholesome stories come off as unrealistic. Tattoos and Tulips was made to bring comfort to reader’s. It doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict, there definitely is.

But, it shows you healthy ways to cope with real life problems.

Can you share your thoughts on the current state of the visual novel Yaoi community and how your project fits within it?

The visual novel yaoi community is small, even when you include triple A yaoi studio developers like Nitro + Chiral, and Parade. The indie community is even smaller.

There are 272 titles (including Tattoos and Tulips) on currently- compared to Visual Novels + Otome games, at 872, nearly four times the amount.

I think Tattoos and Tulips stand’s out as a yaoi that feels like real life. It touches on real world aspects, and the characters fall in love in a natural and organic way.

It’s still fiction, so drama is also a part of it. But less off the wall compared to N+C titles. That’s for damn sure. (I love those games, Dramatical Murder especially).

But it’s nice to have something grounded (pun intended).

How important was it for you to create a story that would resonate with Boys Love fans while still appealing to a wider audience?

I can’t say that I am trying to pave the way for BL/Yaoi stories specifically. Kinetic novels, definitely yes. I wanted to show that kinetic novels can still be interesting.

Yaoi/BL fans exist, and lot’s of them. Just, they seem to be everywhere on places like AO3 and Tumblr, but on Twitter and, they are more spread out. I think a lot of yaoi fans stick to manga, webtoons, and fanfiction.

I think a lot of them don’t consume visual novel media for BL/Yaoi as much. I think they just don’t know about it.

Hell I didn’t know about the indie visual novel scene until 2021. So maybe just awareness is what’s missing. That there is a whole world to consume, and make your own yaoi/BL titles. Or support creators that only make yaoi/BL stuff, or mostly do (like us).

How did you ensure that the​ relationships in the story were developed naturally and believably?

Okay, so I am a nearly married woman, I will be in August of this year (2023), and I’ve been with my fiance’ for 5 years almost.

I drew from real feelings in relationships I’ve had, as well as got lot’s of input from other people in their relationships. Chrys and Shay’s relationships shares a lot of building blocks, as my own.

Since I set this precedent early on, when my beta readers and team were able to read the story they very often added their own ideas of what would improve the formula, or what felt more organic, less generic as a romance plot.

Basically, drawing from your own experience and listening to other people’s lived experiences, is the best way to ensure a natural or believable story. Tattoos and Tulips has no magic or secret spy organizations. But even if it did, the way to maintain believability is to draw from the real world.

Nothing is truly original, everything takes from everything, and people love to relate to characters and situations.

Like an artist uses a reference to draw a hand or an apple. I reference real world couples, dialogues, and experiences.

Tattoos and Tulips

Wh​at type of visual novels do you focus on and create under the Meant to Bee Studios​ brand? Do you have a specific focus?

Meant to Bee Studios only has one focus and that’s to make Romance visual novels, they can be yaoi/yuri/otome/amare/etc… They can be kinetic/dating sims/simulators/etc… but they must tell a satisfying love story, and be a visual novel (at least mostly). To me romance is the best genre ever. I don’t write anything that doesn’t have at least a romantic subplot.

Consuming media is different, but I also came from a long history of shipping and head canon-ing characters. So even if it wasn’t romance, I found a way to make it so lol.

‘Meant to be, the phrase’, is something said in romance. We just turned it into a pun. It also relates to a phrase we’d say every time something just worked during development.

Can you tell us more about the creative process behind developing the characters and their relationships with one another?

When it comes to characters, especially ones in the contemporary fiction genre, it’s super important to me to base them off of real people, for two reasons. Relatability and it’s easier, but has the added benefit of capturing complexities and nuances only real human beings have. When building relationships it’s much the same, just thinking of how two individuals can build a platonic or romantic relationship in the way that feels the most natural to them and their experiences. Tattoos and Tulips is just as much about the relationships Chrys has with Bea and Granny as it is with Shay. Often in romance, the platonic/familial relationships are cast aside in favor of the romance. (which is important especially if it is a romance) but, abandoning these other relationships only makes the protagonist feel more like a caricature than a real human being. And that their life revolves around the love interest.

What inspired you to create a visual novel with a mix of romance, humor, and drama, and how did you balance these elements in the story?

I just love romance- for Tattoos and Tulips since is was a soft story in the perspective of a grumpy florist, the steps all came naturally. Why is he grumpy? What kind of partner would the tattoo artist have to be, to fall for a grumpy florist man? So on and so forth.

Tattoos and Tulips just started soft, and we wanted to keep the hurt/comfort story that naturally came from the early development of the story. I think emotional beats hit the player/reader harder when they’ve laughed with this character, saw how nice things could be. And then you rip it away, or you play on the negative traits that character has.

I wanted to have a scene where Chrys is upset with something, and though it’s not how you, yourself would react to the situation. It still made perfect sense to you, why he would be upset. Etc…

Balancing the elements is just making sure you aren’t always happy go lucky every chapter, a good rule of thumb when starting out is to have a story with good pacing, and flow is:

If the chapter starts with Chrys in a bad headspace, end the chapter with him having some nice thing happen, or some form of relief. And vice versa.

You want to make sure your fans aren’t miserable that nothing good/funny is happening, nor do you want them to be bored that nothing serious/interesting is happening.

How did you approach writing the dialogue for the characters, making it sound natural and engaging?

Listen to real people, talk to people. I know there is this stigma amongst artists that we are supposed to be cool hermit people. Who create worlds in the safe and comfort of our own 4 walls, with no lights on in front of our PC.

But like, you have to interact with humans to know what people sound like. Talking to yourself, or AI isn’t going to get you there.

I have the opportunity to talk with people all the time in my life. (as I am also an ambivert). Also, if you can’t talk to people outside, hop on voice calls with strangers, or in my case teammates, online.

I talk to my team a lot. I am naturally a huge chatter box, so talking is something I hardly ever struggle with. And writing dialogue seems to be the same.

How did you decide on the length and structure of the visual novel, including the number of chapters and the epilogue?

The structure and length was actually a struggle for us back in 2021 when we developed Tattoos and Tulips originally for the Yaoi Jam of the same year. I usually can judge how long something will be in the outlining phase.

Tattoos and Tulips needed a more slow burn-y story cause Chrys is just that stubborn. So the title ended up totalling to 60k words. Or 5-6 hours to playthrough depending on reading speed. Though I make sure to let players know to read chapter by chapter, and take your time with it <3

Knowing what I know now, I’d have shortened it by half, but I don’t think it’s length is filler-y or unfitting, just maybe I could have challenged myself to write the same story in a more brisk way.

Can you share more about the process of creating the game's gorgeous CGs and the artistic vision behind them?

I think what helped were two things: First, have a super talented artist on your staff, (easy-peasy I know lol) which our team has multiple!

But our Sprite/CG artist, Ms. Veryfatcat herself, also known as @Terrpos on twitter, is just a phenomenal artist, who takes direction exceptionally well, and often does little creative things to add to what is already great.

The second thing is to have strong imagery for all your characters, backgrounds, and scenes.

The CG’s were all ideas I had in my head while writing (but please if you are developing a VN, ask how many CG’s your artist can do, and then build a story around say 5 CG’s.) (Don’t work in reverse)

I can’t write a scene without seeing it in my head like a movie. So, I ended up making checklist for our backgrounds and CG’s with all the things the scene must have, but leaving plenty of room for the artist to add any flair, cute easter eggs, etc…

How did you work with your team to ensure that all aspects of the project, from writing to art to programming, were cohesive and well-executed?

Meant to Bee Studios is ran by me the creative director, writer, and casting director, everything else was volunteer work. I reached out to talented individuals, talked to them on call, and made sure they knew what was expected, and how much.

Basically, you have to communicate every step of the way, even updating everyone on your current process is super motivating. Every time something was dropped in the server, be it a script or early demo for the music. Everyone would cheer them on, and if no one did- I sure as hell did.

Later on, I was able to fund a couple things, mainly programming and UI. But almost the entirety of Tattoos and Tulips was done by volunteers/super passionate people.

I think what has helped is learning from mistakes made during development, and figuring out what you’ll do next time to avoid similar mistakes from happening again.

So far, we have been pretty successful in coarse correcting and our Yaoi Jam 2023 project is coming along swimmingly. ;)

How did you manage the casting process for the voice actors, and what qualities were you looking for in the auditions?

I had never done any sort of casting before TNT, it was all brand new territory, but the VA community is filled with the brim with the nicest, helpful, and talented individuals.

I had help from my dear friends: Rita Amparita (also the voice of Zoe) early on in order to structure voice lines and help from Olivia, the creator of Lunamakaio studios, and my beta reader to help me with a casting call, and how to go about that process in a professional way.

When it came to ensuring the right voices, we had members of my team who wanted to participate get in a google spreadsheet, and vote on the voices as we listened to them for each character.

The one everyone liked the most (myself included) was chosen.

We really hit the nail on the head. Our cast is incredible and they all delivered!

Basically, involve your team in all stages of development, even in parts they aren’t directly related to. Getting people’s opinions ensures that your audience will also like those decisions.

What role does partial voice acting play in enhancing the overall experience for the players?

Voice acting was not originally planned at all for TNT, but we’d made great progress from July to September, and felt confident including voice acting in October of 2022. It’s one of the best decisions we made (again voted by my team), it just brought everything up a notch.

The voice lines helped deliver the jokes, make you swoon and kick your feet, as well as tug at your heartstrings.

I owe a great deal of Tattoos and Tulip’s current success to the voice cast. (That casting call was one of our most popular tweets and got a whole lot more eyes on TNT).

Are there any plans for future expansions or sequels to this visual novel, possibly exploring other characters or storylines within the Boys Love genre?

Yes to all of the above. Tattoos and Tulips is the start to an expansive universe, where other stories of side characters, original characters, etc… fall in love in the town of Cloudville a fictional United States town, where things are generally much nicer. (But not without drama ofc)

We are participating in Yaoi Jam, which at the time of writing this is exactly one month away!

In addition to that, we want to make dating sims, and have people of our team develop their own stories under Meant to Bee- as long as it fits the requirements (Being Romance and a Visual Novel).

There’s so many stories I want to tell, and we are just getting started!

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring creators who want to develop their own visual novels or interactive stories, whether they are focused on Boys Love or other genres?

My biggest advice to creatives is that you should create! Make what you want, be self indulgent, be your project’s biggest fan. As that is the only sure way to ensure others will love it.

I was Tattoos and Tulip’s biggest fan from the start, and that infectious enthusiasm for the project spread to my team, and now our readers.

The sooner you start, the sooner you can learn all the intricacies of creating in visual novels. But the community is growing, and is filled with the most helpful people imaginable.

One of my favorite parts of making VN’s so far is the community. The creators and the players. Making friends in this space, is being surrounded by excitement and love.

Also, reach out to me! I’d be more than happy to share more of my experience and give advice to anyone who needs it.

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Boys Love Universe <3

From a spark of an idea in BL fanfiction to an extraordinary visual novel, we love everything about Meant to Bee studio's journey. Until next time, keep the love for BL burning bright, and remember: the stories we tell are as enduring and meaningful as a well-inked tattoo.


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