Monday, July 27, 2009


When you submerge into the viscous, milky translucent ocean of cripple porn for a year or two, the question of social acceptability tends to fade away. "Cripple porn" (I really like that phrase) raises eyebrows even amongst people accustomed to the trends and oddities of modern Japanese or Japan-derived media, but in a context where showing 13 year old school girl's panties is actually not a standard practice, the concept of KS (when put in crudest possible terms, like I did) seems like an equivalent to shock image sites or something. That's why it's cool when people who are almost completely outside of the anime/manga subculture meet Katawa Shoujo.

So the thing I've been wondering about is how a person with practically no exposure to our subculture would receive KS. The odd thing here is that it even happens, but the explosive popularity of Act 1 almost guarantees that it actually does happen (a mindboggling thing in itself). In fact, I even know of one case, because one of the devs gave Act 1 to his father so he could see what his son's been up to lately. I haven't heard back what dad thought about it yet though, so maybe he is now disowned or something. As for the rest, I think almost everyone on the planet is aware of Japan's reputation as some kind of a horn of plenty of weird and creepy things. Similarly, a lot of people on the internet are aware of 4chan's reputation as some kind of a horn of plenty of depravity and mindless comedy. So when "people from 4chan" make a "japanese style porn game" about disabled people, the ingredients for a catastrophe seem to have been thrown in one pot. What does it taste like to you, normal person?

What made me write something about this was a bunch of (in this context) normal people meeting KS, in other words a quick post about KS on (an American sociology publication) "sociological images" blog. From what I gather, people stick labels on KS very quickly (having not played the game, obviously), though do not condemn it at all or anything like that. Still it hit me that the labels and preconceptions are almost solely negative, or at least cautious. "4chan", "fetisistic", "exploitative", "ridiculing" and so on. It's sad that KS does have a glass ceiling that it will never be able to break through because of what it is, but that is the road we chose. Anyway, the big question is whether KS is abusive of disabled people or not. Unsurprisingly, the question arises from the fact that the game focuses on portraying disabled people, and that there is graphic sex in the (full) game with said disabled people.

The portrayal of disabled people and their sexuality is a tough nut to crack. Apart from Hanako, the KS girls don't really pander to the "protect me" -moeblob category and are hopefully a bit more than just their disabilities. As for the sex, expectations vary wildly. KS is expected to be both a fetisistic porn fantasy game, and a story that feels true, with romantic feelings and tender, if a tad awkward teenager sex. Can't both have the cake and eat it too, so we have to place ourselves somewhere in the rainbow of the sex-spectrum between these two extremities. It's quite well known that we are gravitating away from the "porn" angle, and KS never was a true fetish project (as in, abusing the disabilities in a sexual way). The reasons for that are weird and tangled, but basically what can be said is that porn is terribly bland, boring and out of place in your average visual novel. Thus, not obliged by a sales department, we are free to try to do things in a way that feels more natural to us. Mind, being exposed to visual novels probably has brainwashed us at least partially to abide by the convetions of the medium, even without realising it. Still I do think we at the very least keep from abusing the disability aspect in the sexual scenes.

Meanwhile in the deep end of the pool, what if all sexual themes would be dropped from KS? Would it still be fetisistic, ridiculing or exploitative? Some people say that the mere fact that KS focuses on disabled people, spotlighting them as "others" can be interpreted as fetisistic and disabled people as subjects to ridicule. Sure, there might've been ways to deal with the disability theme better and lift it into central role through something else than a cripple school, twist threads of sharpest social critique inside the text and all that jazz. But you know, we are really making a romance game here, a story about a guy and few girls and their emotions and happiness and sadness during one summer of their life. For a long time now, I've thought it doesn't matter one bit whether they are disabled or not.

-Aura, art by Doomfest

Friday, July 24, 2009

Something Missing

Boys in visual novels are boring.

Writers tend to overshadow these beings with their main star – the love interests. The female always gets the attention in order to doll her up to make her appealing to the audience, while the protagonist, his best friend and any other form of testosterone gets the short end of character development.

If a male just so happens to get some personality, it is always a gimmick or some other cop-out.

Perhaps this is so that the player can imagine himself as the main character, but why do this when everything else is essentially spoon-fed.

Take our Hisao and Kenji. Hisao has been long defined as the generic male protagonist only with a kick with his heart and defined only as well as the audience wants him to be. There have been discussions to make him something more, but ultimately little was done in the long run.

Kenji was originally supposed to be the basic loser who dreams of a girl to sweep him off his feet. In hopes of breathing life into the boy and flesh him out, I wanted to write a Kenji path, but was shot down due to technical issues. Soon, though, the other members saw some potential in what to do with him.

Perhaps Kenji could become something more than the best friend who gives moral support. Instead of using a concept of making him serious or giving him real plot relevance, he turned into a joke character just like many other men before him.

Males can have much more potential in visual novels without sacrificing the properties or interaction with the girls. However, doing that requires craft on writer and an open-mind on the audience. Perhaps one day, visual novels will see the value of strong male characters who could breathe a little life into the industry.

- Losstarot (Guest Art by Kamifish)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Bullshit

I find myself pleased in belatedly realizing that during Katawa Shoujo's development, we managed to completely avoid bullshit so far.

...Well now, let me clarify that before my fellow devs, random strangers from the Web and probably people off the street that happen to be walking by me all start pointing and laughing, with good reason too.

KS doesn't contain any entirely fictional element in its makeup. Oh sure, there are some amazing coincidences in there, but we don't have bridge trolls, little green men from Mars, psychic powers, anthropomorphs, ghosts, intelligent self-aware computers, talking animals, drop bears, therianthropes, FTL engines... the list can go on and on.
Considering our chosen setting that might look like a given, but I think it's really not. It's a very large trend in VNs to introduce one or more elements wholly born of the writer's or of humanity's imagination, and to worldbuild around those, exploring the "what if". No points for guessing whether I'm talking about your favorite author, software house, or title - odds overwhelmingly favor that I am, nowadays.
So is that a bad thing, or a good one? Neither, really, as long as it's done well. We're all writing fiction, not documentary - as long as the tale gets its point across, is enjoyable, and keeps the reader engrossed until the end, I'm not going to sneer at "fairytale hacks" or "unimaginative slicey bores". I reserve the right to quibble about the category a piece belongs in, but that's another story.
I do, however, draw the line at bullshitting the reader out of nowhere. When the author pulls out what is politely called "deus ex machina", or more commonly "plothax", it's time to raise eyebrows. And with completely made-up story elements, there is a constant temptation to just up the ante, up the stakes, step on the pedal, and call it a day.

"Because I made up my mind that reality worked that way, and since it's my fantasy, nobody can say otherwise."
I mean, who'd complain, or even notice, right?

If the response to KS is anything to go by, YOU would. The amount of details in the demo that got reported to us as feeling odd, pushing hard on coincidence, or being just plain wrong was staggering. Some of those we knew about and couldn't/wouldn't correct (the dreaded "artistic license"), some of them were false positives, but some made me facepalm and wonder why I never thought of THAT before.
Which brings me to the flip side of the coin: having to do your homework. If you can just decide how things work, you save yourself a whole lot of trouble, because you don't have to check if your idea is actually possible in the day and age you set your story in.
Like raspberry flavoured popsicles in Japan. No, I'm not kidding. But that's a story for next time.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Little Function That Could

KS operates on a couple of design principles. One of those is that all movements should seem natural. This means that they should accelerate and decelerate smoothly; thankfully, Ren'Py has built-in support for so-called "time warp" functions. These are Python functions that, over the course of a movement, receive a number between 0 and 1 that indicates how far along the movement is, and returns an adjusted number in that range that the display system uses to actually determine the new position. In a basic linear move, in and out value are the same, but for more natural moves, the Ren'Py standard is the "ease" type, which works like this:

def _ease_time_warp(x):
    import math
    return .5 - math.cos(math.pi * x) / 2.0

This is a rather simple cosine wave section, normalized so the peaks are at 0 and 1. KS uses this kind of movement for almost everything.

However, only almost; there is a small set of very slow-moving, long-range pans. And if the moves take very long, the above function becomes a bit undesirable; the speed is never constant. What would actually be perfect here is a function that accelerates, then stays constant for a time, then decelerates at the end. So, I set out to write my own.

The problem is, I'm no good at mathematics. With only a vague idea of how this would work, I added bits to my function until it did what I wanted it to do. And the result is... not exactly an example of elegance. To the point where I don't think I actually really understand what it does anymore.

def acdc_warp(x):
    import math
    n = 10.0
    if (x < (1.0 / n)):
        res = (((2.0 / n) * (0.5 - math.cos(math.pi * (x * (n / 2.0))) / 2.0)) / 2.0) * (n / (n - 1.0))
    elif (x > (1.0 - (1.0 / n))):
        res = (((2.0 / n) * (0.5 - math.cos(math.pi * (1.0 - (((x - 1.0) * n) / 2.0))) / 2.0) / 2.0) + (1.0 - (2.0 / n))) * (n / (n - 1.0))
        res = (x - (0.5 / n)) * (n / (n - 1.0))
    return res

100% organically grown code, warts and all. But hey, it works. This governs the movement of all slow pans, like the one over the classroom CG. Frankly, I've come to quite like this disfigured little function. It may be terminally ugly, but you can almost imagine it struggling to do its best every time it's called. And that is quite moé.

— delta

Friday, July 17, 2009

No, We Cant: The Power and Necessity of Doubt

A while ago, I joked that my next blog post could be an essay on the power of doubt. Lately, there's almost been a resurgence of this gung-ho, can-do spirit that would put Rosie the Riveter to shame, and it made me think about how this game would never have gotten this far without doubt.
Aura was the first to point out that doubt is almost the credo of KS. And it's true.

The point of all this is that doubt, for lack of a better word, is good.
Doubt is right. Doubt works. Doubt clarifies, captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Doubt in all of it's forms, doubt for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed, mark my words, will continue to play a large part in the production of this game.

All of that seems like it runs contrary to the definition of what doubt is, but I can assure you that doubt, properly applied, is the best shit ever.

When this game was first being brainstormed it was an absolute mess of ideas, some good, some bad. Over time, these ideas were pared down, eliminated, and refined, according to the amount of doubt that was had as to how they could work or if they were workable at all.
At first, this game seemed like it would be ludicrously enormous. It was made shorter, tighter, and better as a narrative because of the doubt that in it's current form it would be enjoyable to read. Lilly's dog was removed because of doubt that he would contribute anything. Rin is not a mafia princess because of doubt that that could be made not fucking retarded.

The current Act 1 would not exist without doubt. The old Grid 1 was long, convoluted, and sloppy. Aura doubted that it could stand on it's own, and it took three months to do it, but the current demo is the product of reworking Act 1 until there could be no more doubt to be had about it.

Some people might say "I disagree, people should be confident about what they do." This is wrong. There is confidence, and there is arrogance. Confidence is fire and passion, arrogance is being a dumbass.
If you want to get anything done, you have to doubt yourself, or you'll end up screwing yourself. In writing you should be thinking, am I being too overambitious? Can this be done? Is it bloated? This is a healthy amount of doubt.
In art, you should constantly be reflecting on whether the proportions are right, the coloring and shading natural, the pose and movement fluid.
Of course there has to be a point when you say "this is as good as it gets," but unless you doubt yourself as to whether you're doing something that works well as a whole you're effectively running blind into everything. At that point you might as well be jacking off.

Doubt has saved the world. During the Cold War, Stanislav Petrov awakened to alarm bells ringing and saying that a nuclear missile had just been launched from the United States and was speeding towards Russia.
Instead of pressing the panic button and causing World War 3 as we know it, Petrov doubted that the US would launch a missile for no good reason and would stop at only one if they did. He was right.
There is no reason to ever not doubt yourself, because 9 times out of 10 it will be for the greater good.

I say 9 times out of 10 because I doubt it will always be the case. This should prove that doubt will always be a part of this project, which works out better for everyone, because it ensures that in the end the product that we end up with will be something we can be proud of.

I love Blazblue.

- Climatic A22

Monday, July 13, 2009

how did i get here i'm not good with computar

Crud wants everyone in the dev team to try their hand at a blog post, so I guess this is my turn to do one. I'll try to keep it short, I'm not really very good at these.

Lately, I've been thinking more and more about the final game.
Specifically, the expectations people have for it that I can see based on the reception to Act 1 and what people have been saying about their expectations for the full game.
I'm a little disappointed people don't like Shizune as much as I'd hoped they would, but I had a feeling she would end up being disliked. Aura joked that she was the antagonist of Act 1, something I found kind of disturbing.
It's weird to say that now, because I don't really like my characters as much as I think the other writers do. But I try to make use of this and write them objectively with flaws.
Suriko and Crud have gotten some ribbing from the dev team because they love their characters a lot. Lilly is more or less Suriko's ideal woman and Crud was putting all his favorite fetishes and quirks into Hanako.
It seems to have paid off, because they're doing well as far as popularity is concerned. Maybe that is the route I should have taken. It really is limiting to write a character who can't speak, and one who is supposed to have a very forceful personality.
I'm soured on the tsundere archetype in general, because I think it is basically making apologies for bitchiness. So I tried to make Shizune not really a tsundere, just strong willed. The problem is that when there's character interaction there usually has to be conflict to be interesting, and Shizune ended up being a character at the center of some of this conflict.

Looking at this as I write it, I realize I sound a little bitter, but I'm not. If I could, I don't think I would do things differently. This is a visual novel, and I think that in this genre, it's best if the girls are divisive. The beauty is that there is a girl for everyone. Frankly, I think it is bad if you like them all. That means that the characters are generic, and written to be as wholesome as possible. That is kind of boring.
You should be able to make up your mind that you like a girl, or hate her, almost immediately. Either is good. At that point the game should cause your love of a character to grow, or your negative opinion of them to change.
There's nothing wrong with a moeblob type character like Hanako, which I see is the most often used criticism against her. It's fine if the relationship deepens, and she can become more.
And along that line, I'm fine with the fact that people do not like Shizune. I hope that when the full game is out, they will grow to like her.

Let's face it, these games are all designed around hooks. In that way, KS is not innovative outside of it's concept, but few VNs are.
The point is that while most VNs are formulaic, they are all built around their characters, even the story-driven ones like FSN and Tsukihime.
Stories, you see, must end, and speculation of them can only go so far. But characters and the feelings people associate with them are forever.
Because of this I'm proud of how we have handled our characters, and their interactions with each other and the player, and it will be interesting to see how they are received in the final release of the game.

I guess to close this post, which turned out longer than I expected, I want to talk about Molly, the cameo character featured in the classroom CG.
Me and Climatic, the artist who did the paintings and Rin's mural featured in the game, wanted to make a short game somewhat in the vein of KS to pass the time, and he designed Molly for that game, Measuring Shadows.
Around this time the classroom CG was being done, so Molly found her way into it. A cameo character for a game that is practically vaporware, pretty weird.
The reason I'm talking about it is partly to announce it. Molly has her own game. But for the most part it's to ease Climatic's asspain, because he has been bawwwing about Molly being in KS for months.
Normally I hate plugging anything, but Aura thinks that by announcing it, it will motivate me and Climatic to work harder on it. That's good because recently he just threw out all the sprites. Fucking Climatic.


So, since I'm writing this too, I hope that when it's out, you will enjoy it, although it will probably be some time for that as well.



Friday, July 10, 2009 problems

Just a short notice this time:

As many have noticed, our website sometimes appears to be down, or working at extremely slow speeds. This is due to the unexpected popularity following the Act 1 release, greatly exceeding what our webhost is geared for so the connections to our site are being throttled currently. We are working on a solution to allow the site to handle the amount of traffic it's getting without trouble. Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for the patience while waiting for the situation to resolve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Folding @ Home Team

Just a quick update for now.

An official Folding @ Home team has been created for Katawa Shoujo. Folding @ Home is a small program that runs in the background and uses unused CPU cycles to analyse medical data. More on the program itself can be found here.

Katawa Shoujo's team ID is 167809 and the team page is here.

- Suriko

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Waldo World Arena

Hey guys, delta here. For those who don't know, I'm the technical guy ("programmer", if you will, even though I don't actually do a lot of that) of this project, which means I do the engine side of things, installers, websites, etc. I also do most of the actual scripting of the game, as in cueing sprites and the like, which we call "directing". Crud apparently wants everyone in the dev team to try their hand at blogging, so here I am. Since I don't know if anyone would like to hear about some dreary technical things, I'm grabbing one of the good general topics before anyone else does (also, I can't really think of anything substantial to say, apart from how the pseudo-ban kerfluffle regarding eroge in Japan is a good thing, which would just lead to a shitstorm). If you still want to be bored with technical things, feel free to ask, and I will address them in a later post. Maybe.

Anyway, I'll talk about something people have been incessantly wondering about, much to our surprise: The infamous classroom CG. Now, I'm not going to explain it fully, because the writers will strangle me for limiting their options of rewriting everything once more, and also because people blogging after me need some emergency thing to write about too. But I will start with a bit of general info.

Now, the classroom CG. It has a rather interesting history. It wasn't even in the originally planned CG specs, but it became apparent soon enough that it would be one on top of the list of CGs to be done after the first batch. So the artists drew up a plan, added some old scrapped characters, some new ones, and a couple of cameos, and made a draft. It turned out that that was a good idea too, because in directing it turned out that scene without a CG at this point would have been very lame.

However, because the unofficial motto of KS is "we can't have nice things", the next step was the realization that drawing so many characters is actually a lot of work, and the CG was, in that order, scrapped, replaced with another one, and then finally after some heated discussion done after all. But that's just an anecdote, it turned out fine, a couple of people disagreed with a couple of cameos but in the end pretty much everyone thought that it wasn't a big deal at all, and we saw that it was good and used it. For the record, there is not copypasting of anything external involved in that image.

Then we made a fatal mistake: We released a demo.

Suddenly, everyone was wondering who those people were (that is, when they were not wondering what Misha's disability is. But that is a story to be left for another day). There were many speculations, some of them right, some of them wrong, all of them baffling to us. Why did people even CARE? It's not like we really had plans for any of them. Still people were mistaking original characters for cameos, cameos for original characters, cameos for other cameos, and so on.

That got us thinking. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all to at least establish who these characters are, if not for plot reasons, then at least for universe consistency and flavor? So we sat down one afternoon, put our official KS Bad Idea Slippers on, and got brainstorming. And I can now announce that somewhere in the deepest recesses of our internal reference material is a list of who they are and what they're doing in Yamaku. And as soon as we had them, suddenly fanart started cropping up. Funny how that works. Maybe we'll even actually use them in the game again, but don't bet on it.

Well anyway, here's two of them.

This is one of our originals. Naomi Inoue. She's sitting in the back row, second from the left. The reason she's in Yamaku is that she has a rather dramatic form of epilepsy, which means that most of the time she's rather normal - except when she's not. Friends with Natsume, who sits beside her. To her right is Hanako, but in practice that's no different than sitting next to an empty seat or a wall. Her looks are based on an ancient design that's been floating around in the dev channels for ages, and I won't go into detail what it is. You know who you are.

In the same row, second from the right, is a girl with a distinctive hair ring. Now that one's an interesting one. She is, in fact, a cameo of Ritsu from K-On, but she wasn't always. She started out as Aoi, who was a friend of Miki from the front row, but when it came to sorting out the classroom list we were really tired and couldn't be bothered to come up with more. Since she looks so similar to Ritsu (even though she was designed looking exactly that way long before anyone had ever heard of K-On), we gave up and just made her a cameo. A retcameo, if you will. The first time I ever heard of such a thing. Who said KS wasn't original? And I can almost hear someone starting a tvtropes page about retcameo now.

Well that's pretty much it for now, hope you weren't bored too much by this. If you were, blame the people who ask so many questions, not me. Or just blame crud. Because that's what we do.

-- delta

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tangible Outcomes

"So, how's your cripple-banging game coming?"

I have a strange relationship with my friends. From what I've heard, many people are too afraid to mention KS to anyone but their most trusted Buddies.
Two of my friends were beta testers for Act 1, and another discusses it with me openly.

"Good. We got like 100k hits and we must have about that in downloads. You played it yet?"

"No. Gimme a copy when we get back to your place."

"Sure. Dev version or the release?"

"I was joking."

Actually saying the words out loud feels totally different to typing them out for a blog or on the forums.
About 6 months ago I was bored, so I was looking up KS on Danbooru and Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, there was nothing there.
Now there are tags for all of the characters and our Wikipedia article hasn't been deleted.

And yet I'm at a loss as to what to blog about. I'm looking at 4 days off, all to myself and my keyboard. This is mainly just a "clearing of the pipes" so I can crack straight into writing tomorrow morning.

I don't want to feed you the same shit we've been shovelling at you for the past 6 months. Yes, we're still working on the game, but no, you won't see anything changing for some time. The response to Act 1 has affected all of us in one way or another.

For me, checking the KS forums and trying to pay attention to the IRC channels have become the only thing I do in the evening. Sure, there aren't five thousand requests to translate Act 1 every day anymore, but trying to pick out the threads worth reading now takes time. And there's time to consider a response to the ones I do read, even if that involves posting photos of inappropriate swimwear.

In early 2008, one of the devs proudly and succinctly stated "Why are you trying so hard? Not even 50 people are going to play this!"
We've now easily surpassed 1000 times that many downloads that we can trace, and who knows how many downloads via mirrors.
Even if we wanted to "stay cool" about that, I think all of us are, in some way, excited about how popular Act 1 was. There is a lot of disbelief, and a lot of "But why do they care, it was only a demo?"

Anyway, I think this ramble has gone on long enough. I'm not sure if anyone cares, or if you all really just want to hear us say "We're in post production!" every month for the next year or two. If that's the case feel free to flame me here and I'll hand the Blog keys back to Aura and Suriko. Right now there is a conversation about Black Holes and Camera Lenses that I have to go and win.

PS: Today's image is from weee, but I decided to steal it to make this boring post interesting.

- Crud