The finale quest of Pixelberry's very first game, High School Story, will come out later today. If you've played this far, consider us both impressed and endlessly grateful. Over the years, our team has released hundreds of quests and over three thousand poll questions -- getting to Level 36 in the game is no small feat.
Last week, we took a look back at the early days of Pixelberry and High School Story. (If you missed it, you can read it here.) The game launched in August of 2013. A year later, our team launched a game similar in style, but different in setting: Hollywood U. When it was time to decide what would come after HSS and HWU, we took what we'd learned from the two games and combined that with our team's prior experience in interactive fiction to make Choices.
Creating Choices felt like coming home. Many on our team got their start in mobile narratives games way back in 2004 with Surviving High School, and later with Cause of Death. The team was excited to go back to our roots with Choices. At the same time, HSS (fondly known as HSS Prime around the office) and HWU left their mark on our team...
From Vince, our go-to HSS Prime QA team member: "High School Story was the first game I ever worked on when I started at Pixelberry Studios (and the only game the studio had) back in 2014. It’s been one heck of a ride. Having stayed with HSS for this long, I feel a sense of pride, the kind a parent would feel watching their child grow up, seeing the many milestones HSS has gone through – the Library, the Fantasy Photo Booth, and much more. The past 4 years have been special working on HSS. A part of me will always live and breathe this wonderful game. I’ll continue to blast “First Day” by Laura Shigihara even after the final day has passed. Farewell, High School Story."
Even as this chapter of our Pixelberry story ends, the spirit of High School Story lives on in Choices in more ways than you might think. Two of the new writers that joined our team after Choices launched were also High School Story fans: Rachel and Wendy. Wendy started out writing on The Freshman, while Rachel wrote for HSS Prime. Eventually, Wendy and Rachel, along with Max (the original writer for Surviving High School), brought High School Story to Choices. For a look at HSS Prime in recent years and how it made the leap to Choices, keep reading:
How did you go about bringing HSS Prime to Choices? Were there any particular highlights or challenges?
Wendy: HSS Choices does have its differences from the original app, but it was important to me that we kept the same heart that made me fall in love with the app originally. I hope I’ve succeeded, and I’m so, so grateful for the opportunity to try.
Max: In the original HSS, it was up to the player who they wanted each character to date. For example, Autumn could be dating Julian, or Wes, or the player, or basically anyone in the whole school! When we started HSS within Choices, we had to make some tough calls about who was canonically dating who at the start of the new school year. Ultimately, we tried to do what was best for the story without upsetting existing fans of the series (sorry Mia/Katherine shippers, but we wanted to give Mia a fresh chance at love with Sydney!)
The ending of HSS Prime is fairly open-ended. After all, aside from the main storyline, you could be anywhere in other quest lines! But, in HSS Choices, the seniors did graduate. Where do you imagine they will go from here?
Max: I have some ideas about this... but I also don't think this is the last we've seen of Autumn, Julian, Wes and the rest of the crew, so I'll hold my tongue for now!
Jessica: None of this is canon, but... I like to think that in college and beyond, the HSS crew gets together whenever they can. They have a group text going. Payton posts cute animal pictures 24/7, and discusses Silly Little Gossips theories with Julian. Autumn texts inspirational quotes every morning, and Kallie sends the Word of the Day. Nishan and Sakura are locked in a never-ending gif war. Ezra drops links to his music, which Katherine thoughtfully critiques. Koh spams everyone with memes. Mia vents about her classmates, and Wes suggests ways to prank them...
For our fan-turned-Pixelberry-writers, how did you end up here at Pixelberry?
Wendy: Well, it all started back in August of 2013. I’d just gotten my first smartphone and I was looking for games for it and stumbled upon a recent release called High School Story. Within ten minutes of playing, I was in love. Three years later, I was poking around Pixelberry’s website for information about their new app, “Choices,” and spotted a little link at the bottom called “Careers.” I figured, hey, I’m looking for a job, might as well try my luck. Three weeks later, I got hired to work on The Freshman and, eventually, High School Story for Choices.
Rachel: Oh boy. My journey to Pixelberry dates all the way back to high school when I first downloaded Surviving High School. I was immediately hooked and downloaded Cause of Death when it launched. When those ended, I learned the team was moving onto a new game: High School Story. I downloaded it on Day 1, and did the same with Hollywood U, always playing every quest as soon as I could. When Choices launched, I happened to be on the job hunt. After playing through the first three books multiple times within a week, I decided to see if Pixelberry was hiring. I applied, and I got the job!
What was it like going from being an HSS fan to a Pixelberry writer?
Wendy: I’m still not sure I’ve totally wrapped my head around it, honestly. HSS Prime was such a personal thing for me when I was a fan. My own little world inside my smartphone. Then, suddenly, I had the chance to expand that world, and share it with others. That’s just… insane.
Rachel: It was a surreal experience going from fan to writing on HSS and HWU. I loved these characters, and now I was getting to write them myself? I loved creating new stories and adventures, or little nuggets of backstory. When I went from HSS Prime to HSS Choices, it was like stepping into a new world. My favorite part was adding little cameos and trivia for the keen HSS Prime fan. Like, did you catch that The Golden Griddle is from the Logan All-Star quest? Or the quote on Ollie the Tiger is from Friendsgiving?
Do you have a favorite memory from your time writing on HSS Prime? What about a favorite quest that you wrote?
Rachel: The one memory that stands out was the brainstorm for the quest V is for Victory. It was a quest I got to write after a fan with Myasthenia Gravis sent us a letter about what High School Story meant to him. The team decided to dedicate a quest to him to raise awareness for Myasthenia Gravis. The day of the brainstorm, I pulled out all this research I did on MG, and everyone gave me this look, like "Whoa. You did your homework." That quest was the point when I realized that what I was writing was bigger than me. I could bring joy to people, help them cope through some dark days, and maybe bring awareness to something they've never heard of before. Writing that quest was truly a humbling and amazing experience.
Eshani: Working on the final quest arc has been really exciting, because we've been able to wrap up some character arcs from the very beginning of High School Story. In these last quests, we got to see Payton embrace her wide-open future and visit her sister in Paris. Wes finally reunited with his brother. And the whole gang starting to understand Hearst students a little better. I loved writing "The Transfer Student," which features Hearst High student Derek. Derek really grew on me as someone who seems like he might be a bully, but is really shy and just wants to do good. He became the symbol of what Hearst could be, given the chance.
What does High School Story mean to you?
Eshani: I think High School Story shows us that we can have all sorts of families, especially ones made of friends. I love seeing the gang come together and have wild adventures, take care of each other, and even fight and make up. Once we come to trust other people, we can make it through anything.
Wendy: High School Story is something that’s meant so many different things to me over the years. But I think the biggest one for me is that High School Story is the way the world could be. It’s easy to look at a story where good always triumphs and your friendship is an unstoppable force and say “that’s not realistic.” But when you look closer, you see that there are little moments that feel surprisingly real, from tempestuous friendships to cyberbullying to sexisim in gaming. It’s not a perfect world, but it’s a world where these problems could be solved. And that’s very special.
Do you have any final messages for High School Story players?
Rachel: It’s a bittersweet feeling to close this chapter of HSS… This was one of the first games I ever wrote on, so it’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been along on the journey from fan to HSS writer to HSS Choices writer, but when one door is closed, another one opens. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.
Wendy: When I was in high school, I thought my life would be over once I turned eighteen. Turns out, that was when the best parts of my life started. To any high school students reading this: Work hard, have fun, do your best, but don’t take any of it too seriously. The world is so much bigger and better than you think.
Eshani: Just as I'll always look back on my own high school experience fondly, HSS will hold a big place in my heart. Thanks to all our players who have given so many energy and love to the game. Together, we've been able to make something really special.
Jessica: I've worked on High School Story longer than I was in actual high school, so in a way, I relived my high school years alongside all of you. I couldn't have asked for a better community to write for. It's always sad to say goodbye (I may have cried a little writing the finale quest), but to be honest, it doesn't feel like a true goodbye, because these characters and this story will always be a part of me, and a part of Pixelberry.
Thank you again to everyone who has come on this High School Story journey with us. You mean the world to us, and we'll always be grateful that we got to share High School Story with all of you.
Love, The Pixelberry Team