Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Katawa Shoujo Act 1 Preview released!


Direct Downloads:

So, we finally let the world see something concrete of our magnum opus, a preview of what's to come. I wonder what people are expecting when they open the game, especially the ones who are familiar with the project. The concept, when explained in the shortest possible manner ("a cripple dating game") sounds like something no sane man should have anything to do with, but hopefully the treatment we are giving to RAITA's idea is a satisfying experience. At the very least, I hope you have as much fun reading it as we had making it. From now on, we'll be working to finish the full version that contains the path stories.

Honestly, this much already feels like an achievement, looking back to all this time and the things that we've been through. There is no way I can concisely describe all of what has happened. There are a lot of things. Sediments of fossilized developement material on top of each other. Silly anecdotes about the daily life of a virtual game developement studio. People come, people gone. Blood and sweat and tears. You know something has been going for a long time when you can feel nostalgic about the early days, and this project really has been one big journey. But we have gotten somewhere now. We can look forward to the end of the road. It's still some way ahead, but it's there, somewhere.

See you all there.

We welcome feedback and comments, feel free to visit the forums or the IRC channel.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Imitation is the insincerest form of flattery

No man is an island, and much less a creative man. We all draw inspiration from somewhere, influence from the works we consume.

The OELVN scene, being even younger than its also very unripe Japanese counterpart, has for most of its existence been not just influenced by, but I daresay even copying and cloning the central elements of Japanese visual novels. Settings tend to be highschools (in Japan) or thinly veiled proxies thereof, plots and events follow the cliches of anime, manga and such, techical solutions follow "the standard". We, too, are inside this sphere of influence and lo! KS is a fairly average highschool ren'ai game. The reason for the generic blandness of the scene is its young age and general inexperience with the medium. Most makers only manage one project to completion, if that, and they invariably tend to be just as original as you'd expect from a first attempt at anything creative. Monkeying things you have seen/watched/read/heard of is the modus operandi for almost everyone on the first go. The rare few that move past that first project can grow to create something more original, as they gain confidence and skill with the medium. Not many do. This barrier is hard to pass, and it prevents the scene from moving forward very swiftly. If the OELVN scene grows more into something that can support itself, new creators can look at the pinnacle games to draw inspiration from, instead of going back to Japan and reinventing the wheel for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, different yet somewhat similar mechanics are at works on the other side of the globe. The tight commercial requirements of the Japanese market forces many companies to fall into a vicious circle of milking their popular franchises, while the customer base is vary of anything too far away from the center. Every now and then something refreshing emerges (sometimes from the doujin circles), but more often than not it's forgotten. I'm not saying that VNs don't have a future, but currently the medium seems to be in a stagnated state for the most part.

That aside, there are some wonderful visual novels out there already that deserve to be looked up to. The English-speaking community has not yet produced anything that I'd be impressed by, so Japan is where we are looking at. I decided to ask the rest of the devs about their VN inspirations as well.

For the writing style, the biggest influence is likely to be Romeo Tanaka's Yume Miru Kusuri, followed by Tomo Kataoka's Narcissu, both classic visual novels though completely different in style. Tanaka really has a good grip over the visual novel medium, standing on the no man's ground between a screenplay and straight prose, one foot in both camps and with brass-balled confidence. He weaves the rhythm of the lines neatly, while keeping the non-linear storytelling firmly in his grasp. On the other hand Kataoka writes subdued, almost frugal text that has a very unique feel. Narcissu is the classic tear-jerker story, pretty much custom-made for its purpose without any unnecessary bells or whistles.

Outside of these, we all read a lot, VNs and otherwise, but listing the works and writers we hold in high regard would get tiresome.

The artists have taken Leaf, especially their ToHeart series and the emo game December When There Is No Angel as their main influence. I asked them why this is the case:

<Aura-> artists, why do you like Leaf style
<Aura-> describe
<Ambi07> moe
<moekki> moe
<Aura-> fuck you

Further along, Delta credits Fate/Stay Night as his biggest inspiration for the directing. F/SN really makes the most of its fairly simple toolset, creating adrenaline-filled fighting scenes while keeping the quieter, slice-of-lifey scenes alive too. This direction was a conscious choice, as our "budget" would go only so far. Things like Quartett or School Days sure look great, but that kind of production values in a volunteer project? No. Something like F/SN is within the reach of the amateur developer, after all, that's what Type-Moon used to be not too long ago.

Finally, Nicol says Initial D and Frederic Chopin are his guiding stars for the soundtrack.

KS is our first project so inexperienced as we are, we took the safe middle road on many core design decisions. The long arc of developement has given us time to mature, but the true fruits of this growth won't be shown unless we make more games. KS has its roots deep in the ground of unoriginality and that's where it will stay. Yet, it's always good to remember that unoriginality does not mean "bad", execution counts for 90% of the end result and that's where we aim to excel.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Polishing the Stone

As someone who pretty much lives and works "behind the scenes" I still find it fascinating to watch something being made, and the differences between what I'd call "amateur" and "professional". I really don't think that those two terms should be separated in terms of "receiving payment". You can pay an amateur to do a job, and you can also find professionals that work for free.

I suppose the defining factor for me is "attention to detail".

An amateur will do something, take a step back from it, and say "Yeah, that will do". Content with their work, and having something to show for it, they say that it is "complete" and that is that. This doesn't only apply to Visual Novels, either. It could be model building, running in a marathon or designing a car.

A professional, however, will take a step back, view the "thing" as a whole, and say "How can I make this better?"

Having been away from 4LS for a few weeks due to holidays, I can appreciate the professionalism of this team. Before I left, I was musing on the first act of the game. The writing was done, the art was practically done, and the directing was almost finished. So, that meant that Act 1 was pretty much finished, right?

Last night Delta pointed me in the direction of our Redmine (our job-tracking tool).
There I found a huge list of things that I will admit that I never thought of.
Things like "One-line summaries for each scene" or "Manual/Readme file". It's easy to forget about things like these until you realise that you're the person that has to do these things.
But, with each closed job, the progress bar creeps ever onwards, and that is such a cool thing to watch.

Monday, April 6, 2009

PxT Russian Translation

Four Leaf Studios would like to say thank you to Honyaku-Subs for their translation of PxT. In no time they've translated the entire game and released it for download on their blog. We hope those who read the translation will have fun with it.

Congratulations on a job well done.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools: Technology Prevails

An important and delightful announcement: Katawa Shoujo will be fully voiced, including all characters with sprites and the protagonist Hisao himself.

I know that this is probably a surprise to anyone who has been reading the blog even cursorily. Well, what can I say? It's not the first and probably not the last time we do an about-face with a fundamental design decision, but there you have it. Perhaps some clarification would be appropriate? As previously stated, organizing the voice acting has been the impregnable wall that prevented us from pursuing a voiced game (not to mention the time it takes to do all the recording, sheesh). However, with the advance of voice synthetisation technology, new avenues have opened. We recently found out that with relatively little effort, it's possible to attain results that are almost on par with your average amateur voice acting. This immediately struck us as a potential gold mine: no organizing human resources, easy re-recording in case of script changes, fast and efficient all around. Sounds good to me. There is still work involved, after all everything has to be recorded and cued into the game, but delta agreed to go the extra mile to deliver voicing. This means he now takes on the mantle of Voice Engineer in the KS project.

With the biggest hurdles thus conquered, there is pretty much nothing to stop us now, apart maybe the yet again bloating game size (I wouldn't be surprised if the full, final game were to chase the 1 Gb limit). Anyway, it makes me very happy to think that KS will now truly have full, commercial-scale and if you don't mind me saying, commercial-quality assets in every department.

Here are short voiced script samples, please enjoy!

(click name links for the samples)

In other news, we are also looking for a music person who is also very competent with the Vocaloid software to compose an OP song for the game. Please contact us at the IRC channel, by e-mail or at the forums if you are interested.