Friday, January 20, 2012

Katawa Shoujo Soundtrack Up for Download

The Katawa Shoujo original soundtrack is now available for download. It can be accessed on the official site in the Downloads section, or from this link:

DDL: Katawa Shoujo Enigmatic Box of Sound

All music pieces used in Katawa Shoujo are inside, including the animated cutscene music. Well done to all the musicians who contributed music to Katawa Shoujo, especially our main musician, NicolArmarfi.

- Suriko

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2 000 000 blog hits!

That's a whole lot of people. Thank you for reading

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Season of Goodbyes

While this is the last part of the Memories series, and my last post about creating KS, it won't be the last post on the blog. We'll use it for future news and announcements, and maybe the other 4LS members still have something they want to write about. Either way, thanks for reading.

Here where I live, it's winter right now, darkness, snow and freezing temperatures. I have to stretch my imagination a bit to conjure the spring of Northern Japan into my mind. A chill wind prickles my skin through my shirt. Cherry blossoms, of course those god damn cherry blossoms have to be there too. It's spring, after all. A walkway lined with blossoming trees, people going somewhere. It's the graduation day at Yamaku High School. And I'm there.

The graduating students walk towards the school building for the last time. It looks just as perfect as Mike's illustration above. We go inside, the hall is packed full of people. Dozens of excited conversations, even in hushed whispers, create a veritable cacophony (so happy I could use that word). The tension is palpable. I can see all the faces that are so familiar to me. Hisao, Shizune, Misha and Hanako. Rin and Emi. Lilly and Kenji. The teachers. They're all there.

And maybe we're all there too. The 4LS members, standing somewhere in the back without anyone realizing it. Graduation is a good metaphor for what we've been going through for the past week.

Maybe Shizune would hold the valedictorian's speech, that sounds like something we would do. I've been to quite a few graduations, and I think speeches are the most important part. A good orator can grip the audience and really move them, while a poor one will make the long ceremonies feel like torture. I wonder if Shizune's speech would be good.

Everyone receives their diploma. One by one, they are called to the front. Would Hanako be comfortable with a couple of hundred of eyepairs on her? How would Rin receive her diploma? All kinds of little questions.

The ceremonies are over. People shuffle outside, and all that tension is released in a flood of emotion. Teary eyes, yet happy faces. Hugs and promises to keep in touch are exchanged. The schoolmates you barely knew are your best friends forever today. Some of them you will never see again, some you might by sheer coincidence, years and years later. Still, even in that distant future, this day will connect you to each other. You might feel an emptiness inside, where the part of your life that is now over used to be. That feeling is familiar to me.

Releasing Katawa Shoujo was our graduation day.

Every day of our lives, we stand at the edge of the future and the past. Events like this just make it much clearer. They are milestones too, markers of the sharp turns your life can take. You dress up for the occasion, tie flowers in your clothes, there will be an audience too. You leave something behind. You head for something new. The future is an open road. From here where we stand, you could go anywhere.

The journey of creating Katawa Shoujo was a long one, but now it's over. I'm happy we could make it together. Thank you everyone.

- Aura

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Opening Up

If you've followed the KS project at all, you're probably more familiar with me than any other 4LS member. Over the years, this blog has more often than not been a soapbox for me to talk about stuff that comes to my mind and I have made more posts on the public forum than some of 4LS members have forum posts in total. It doesn't mean by any means that I'm the voice of 4LS (Suriko, if anyone, would be that), most of my talking is just opinions and thoughts of my own. Since I enjoy doing this kind of thing more than most other members, it just often has ended up being me who does most of it. Thinking back about the stuff I have talked about, a few key points come to mind.

The early posts on the blog actually did contain stuff pertinent to KS development progress, but the blog soon started evolving into a chronicle of what it was like to make Katawa Shoujo. Many entries contain thoughts on a very general level, some not really pertinent to KS at all, some about all sorts of fringe stuff. All of it, however, is marked with some sort of openness about what we thought, and many of the entries got a mixed or even crushing reception. Still, we were a lot more comfortable with (and thought it more interesting) being open and honest about this stuff, even some of the ugly parts, than the mechanical details of development. I realize that this stance is one that a whole lot of people don't share (we did make quite a lot of people frustrated by our lack of progress updates), and also that it's one that we have the luxury to afford (more on that later). Either way, I hope that the people who've read the blog have found it a reasonably nice experience. I certainly had a good time writing it.

But why write a blog at all? I guess mostly because it was something I, and we, wanted to do. The days at the 4LS "office" weren't hardcore, ball-busting slave work all the time. We did fool around, chat about silly things, watch movies together, did KS stuff that wasn't development (blog, "fan" art, events like Secret Santas), that kind of thing. Though seemingly a waste of time, stuff like that helped us bond and engage ourselves more with the project. Having fun was important.

Speaking of engaging with the project, we weren't the only ones to do that. KS has been marked by a really active fan following, especially since Act 1 release. I mean, at the time of our release, Mishimmie had over 2000 pieces of fanart, our public forum had 8 times more posts than the dev forum and there were dozens of  fanfics and other fan creations on our forums and elsewhere. That's a huge amount of fan material for a game that didn't actually exist. The truth is that KS wouldn't be nearly the same without all its fans. We've had some great times with not only between the guys of 4LS, but also the IRC regulars, people on our forum, translators, everyone. We've drawn a lot of strength from everyone who followed the project. However, we've also always had a bit of a problem with fans of KS: we don't know what to do with them (the other, other white meat?). A commercial team has a clear incentive to get as many fans as possible, and make them as happy as possible: revenue. We don't have anything like that, so our experience with internet fame and adoration has been a little awkward. I guess we sought to connect with the fans by being open on the blog and the forum, and anyone could always come on IRC to chat, but I don't know how the relationship worked out from the point of view of a fan. On the other hand, the lack of an incentive to please absolutely everyone has also the positive flipside of us being able to conduct ourselves as we pleased, and we never had qualms about being straightforward or even blunt to unreasonable people, or making unpopular decisions that might've cut into the hype and following around the game. So, I guess our thoughts could be summed up as us not caring whether we had fans, but trying our best to care about the ones we did have.

Fans of course make us massively happy, even if we can get kinda weirded out at times. Fans can also surprise us. Something that has really blown us off our feet has been the large amounts of incredibly emotional response to Katawa Shoujo that we've seen. I've seen people confessing having cried after playing KS, or otherwise feeling moved. I've read touching stories from people who feel that playing KS gave them an impact to change something in their lives, maybe something as simple as starting to jog, or something as deep as contacting a long-lost friend or loved one, or trying to resolve one's own issues. I can't possibly express what reading feedback like that feels like. I mean, if even one single person's life is actually changed for the better as a result of KS, we've done something objectively good. That's a possibility that never crossed our minds until a bit over a week ago. The suddenly realized implications continue, and get stranger. The chances of something like KS happening to any one of us again are astronomically small. So, it's very likely that nothing any of us ever does in life after this will matter as much to as many people as this cripple porn game. That gives some really strange perspective to the past five years.

Tomorrow's post will be the final part of this series.

- Aura

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You're Doing it Wrong (But That's All Right)

Since the release we've gotten quite a bit of questions from people who want to make a VN of their own. Can you tell your secrets? Any tips for beginner creators? Well, sure. We really have gathered a ton of collective know-how about making VNs, plus another ton of theory on the subject. KS was a very unique project, and many of the lessons we learned probably are applicable only to a project like KS, or even more specifically, only the 4LS. Other things are so very fundamental lessons that they are not really worth regurgitating every time someone asks for tips. Of course, between these two extremes is a ton of useful stuff we learned (mostly about how not to do things). Based on this one project, there's really not much we have to teach to anyone, only anecdotes of what worked for us and what didn't, so I'm not going to even attempt. I think though, that if we were to do another large-scale VN and actually manage to apply all the lessons we've learned, it'd definitely be a lot smoother ride than KS was, and would likely (hopefully!) be a considerably better production.

Anyway, to give some examples I'll try to explain some design and development decisions we made, and now with perfect hindsight, maybe figure out if they were good or bad ones.

Five writers, one game

Every path in KS is primarily planned and written by a different writer. We of course collaborated heavily and helped each other, but that is the basic setup. Doing this gave us a couple of advantages, at a significant cost for overall consistency. The diversity increases the likelyhood of any given reader liking at least some part of KS. Some people love the romantic and soapy Lilly path, others really get deep into the cerebral Rin path, and so on. Of course, the diversity also increases the probability that any given reader won't like all of KS, but there's nothing wrong with that. The primary advantage however, is the increase in focus for the writers. Being able to concentrate mainly on one story definitely improved the quality of each of them, and made each individual's writing process more independent of the rest of the writing team.

I think our solution worked really well for a project like KS, but it would be nigh-impossible to pull of with many other kinds of stories. Something we probably should've done was improve our scenario planning before actually writing anything, to bring the stories a little bit closer together than what they ended up being. With Act 1, we experimented with one writer coming up with the entire scenario and everyone else writing scenes to fit into the overall framework. That worked okay for us too and resulted in a more coherent story within Act 1. Still, I'm not sure if we'd want to make a full game with that writing production concept and ultimately, having just a single writer is almost always superior to any other number.


The first year of KS project was a real struggle. We kept losing people, especially artists, and getting a full stable team was just seemingly impossible. Even after the 4LS team got stable, there was always the risk of losing people to random circumstances. Nothing ever tied any of us to the project, except our desire to work on it. A huge amount of projects like KS fail because of people quitting, so we wanted to minimize the risks.

If you look at the art in KS, you can fairly easily see it's done by multiple people. The artists were distributed similarly to writers, one per each girl, but they all also collaborated across paths and on single images, and every path has art from each of the artists which sometimes can make the reader do a double take at the style shifts. Production-wise, a more optimal distribution would've been to have one artist do all the design and lineart, one the digital inking and the rest be colourists, with maybe one doing the final effects. This would've made the art in KS a whole lot more consistent. So, why did we do things the way we did?

Because it gave us a fail-safe with the art. If one of the artists would quit, the others could pick up the slack with less trouble than if we had put all our eggs in one basket. Putting ourselves in a situation where a critical job is down to one person would set us up for a gigantic failure. Imagine, our sole character designer and liner getting run over by a truck after 2 years, her work half-way completed. That'd mean that ALL the art up to that point would need to be discarded and started again from scratch. We simply could not afford that possibility.

We applied the same approach elsewhere in the production as well, and generally, thinking like this was a big part of why 4LS stayed alive and why KS got released despite the insanely long development cycle and all the difficulties.We always tried to put the project first, the product second, and the egos last. KS is by no means perfect, but it's a great deal better than having no game at all. From mid-2008's onwards, the structure of 4LS was such that we could survive any single person quitting, though an event like that would obviously make things harder for us.
The above two points maybe illustrate what lead to KS's maybe most immediately "amateurish" aspect: its internal inconsistency. A lot of it was simply a result of us trying to ensure that the game would get finished, and maximizing certain parts of the production.

Keeping it real 

We wanted to make a Visual Novel, but we also had some ideas what we'd want our VN to be like. Getting our ideas to mesh together and develop took its own time, many nights of long discussions, false starts and brainstorming. I guess the main goal could be described as some kind of "toned down ren'ai story". We wanted the story, characters, relationships, the role of sex and so on feel more natural and less plastic than it often is in these kinds of game, while still keeping the feel of the genre KS is in. We had both successes and failures with that, but overall I don't think anyone is unhappy with how KS came out. Presentation, art and music followed the same school of thought.

Meritocracy and herding cats

4LS did have people with titles like "producer", "head writer" and "director", but we did not have strict hierarchy. Nobody was anyone's boss, everyone had a lot of autonomy over their own work and disputes were resolved through gentlemanny discourse and wit (and sometimes other things). Having no strong leadership was a part of the "failsafe" line of thought, plus we worked more comfortably without the necessary bureaucracy that comes along with it. It had downsides too. Organization and communication was something we did struggle with a lot throughout the project, and never really managed to get it down. I'm sure the lack of anyone to enforce us to communicate better and follow deadlines was a part of this. If we were to do another production, this would be the area we'd have to improve in the most, and possibly change our methods.

5 years

KS took way too long to make. However, much of that time was sort of hot air. Roughly: It took us 1 year to get our core team together (4LS was formed half a year after project started and delta, SC, Nicol, Suriko, and all the artists joined within the following 9 months), 1 year to learn the ropes and figure out what to do and how, and 3 years of actual production of which maybe 1 year or so was wasted time because of real lives, us scrapping and redoing content and whatnot. So, a more optimized 4LS that does everything right might only spend as little as ~2 years to make something like KS. That feels acceptable to me. We had to learn a lot of things, mostly through trial and error, and doing this only as a hobby on our spare time made the development really difficult sometimes. There was just no way around these things, and while we might've been able to get the game done faster, I don't feel too bad about taking so long.

So, if we had to do these decisions again, would be go about making KS the same way? In many cases, probably not, but I would like to think that we managed to pull off some parts of the production pretty well, for a ragtag bunch for first-timer novices at least.

- Aura

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Who We Are

I call myself Aura. But that's not who I am.

Aura is nothing but a name for me compartmentalizing myself. There's nothing special about that, of course. Everyone does that every day, in many different situations. An internet persona is just a very concrete example, one that I like. Most people who know me as Aura don't know much about my "real life", and most people I deal with in real life don't know who Aura is. Look at my twitter account. It's not mine, it's Aura's. People who follow it are people who know me as Aura, and I follow only people I know as Aura with it. Look at the illustration above. Aura even has a face of its own, a cute anime girl, the result of our capricious artists thinking that I definitely should be moe.

Identity and the separation of "personality" from "person" are some interesting things to think about. This project brought together a lot of different people from different walks of life, all around the world. We've had to get accustomed to each other, to cooperate, to meld ourselves into a team instead of a collection of random people on the internet. Along the way, a whole lot of things have happened.

We've graduated from schools, enrolled in new ones, found new jobs and gotten promoted in old ones. The youngest of us have grown up, the oldest have become even older. We've fallen in love and had our hearts broken. We've made new friends, we've gotten married and had children. We've seen seasons change and celebrated birthdays, Christmases and New Years.

We've also written scenes, drawn CGs, composed music, coded functions. We've debated, argued, discussed, theorized. We've fought with each other and we've made up. We've seen people depart and we've seen new people come aboard. We've celebrated milestones and releases, worried about setbacks, tracked progress and pushed ourselves forward endlessly.

For five years we've lived parallel lives. We've shared some bits of these things with each other, and shared some bits of our experiences with KS with real life friends. But our two lives are still parallel. Being in 4LS has been a part of my life, yet somehow apart from it. Maybe it's been a similar experience to the rest of us, maybe not.

So, who are the Four Leaf Studios? These people I've been with for five years and done all these things with? We've traditionally been quite private about ourselves and stayed out of the spotlight. So it might be that maybe even I don't really know, but I can share some of my impressions.

Hivemind is an interesting mix of intellectual and everyman. He has constantly this relaxed air around him, but every now and then he'd bust out his scholarly side and engage us in most interesting discussions. His writing style is the most unique of the 4LS writers, something that we feared would cause trouble, but eventually just rolled with. Hivemind was the writer our head editor Silentcook got along the best with, probably because he was the only one who didn't constantly troll SC with ineptitude.

Every now and then Suriko carried the entire project on his shoulders. He always placed the success of the project above everything else, and when nobody else could, it would ultimately be down to Suriko to keep our shit together. He is a shy romantic (ladies!) who tended to get teased about everything we could use against him, but also a honest, stand up person who could hold his own against anyone and never give up.

A22 is really, really smart. He's also immensely combative and prone to obsessions, and simply talking with him could often be a struggle. As a writer he's something like a word sculptor, carefully shaping sentences until they are perfect to his liking. This could sometimes take quite a while to happen. He and moekki had a stormy writer-artist relationship that went to absolutely ridiculous extents at times, including art sometimes dictating the writing, instead of vice versa (as was the case with the other writer-artist pairs). I don't even try to understand their friendship anymore.

Cpl_crud is of very opposite nature to writers like me and A22. He is extremely intuitive and easily gets into the "flow", but sometimes frustratingly indiscreet and careless. Nevertheless, working with him is an absolute blast. Crud's vocabulary is hilariously wide and he's not afraid to use it, to the point that we had to use the standard 4LS mass mocking tactics to get him to write in 2000's American English instead of 1800's Victorian English, like he occasionally tried to (Suriko is also guilty of this, there's something wrong with our Australian writers).

Silentcook was the voice of common sense in the writing team. Or that's what he'd like to think at least. It's true that when people started getting too ambitious ideas, or too unfeasible plans, he'd be the one to throttle us down. Sometimes with threats of brutal violence. Aside from that, he worked like a machine. Nobody ever had to worry about SC's throughput or quality of work, and that is quite something in a project like this.

Delta demanded a lot from everyone, but the most from himself. The problem was, while he frequently could do the seemingly impossible, the rest of us couldn't always follow suit. Delta is a man of principle and incredibly headstrong, so getting into arguments with him could be exhausting, and nobody wanted to make him truly angry. Delta is also a visionary, the true force behind many of the things that make KS as great as it is, and likely one of the most capable VN directors in the world. He and I always got along really well, and many of my favourite memories of the past years are of things we did together.

Moekki worries a lot about everything and everyone. When things were not going well, she was the first one to get stressed over it, and when things were going well she'd invent something to worry about anyway. Moekki has a huge heart and she put all of it into the project. Like Suriko, she always would hold the project first and everything else second. Moekki was the unofficial art supervisor (easily the most ungrateful job in 4LS), probably the most productive artist, and a sort of a counterbalance to delta. Of all the people in 4LS, she's easily my closest friend.

Due to her busy real life, kamifish stayed aside from most of the development, really only participating in the production side and keeping contact down to minimum. This spawned a running joke about her actually not existing at all. As my partner in crime in creating the Rin path, we did spend time together visioning the imagery of the CGs, Rin's looks and so forth. These sessions were remarkably one-sided. I would spout ideas, references and concepts in a full on torrent of my stream of consciousness, and kamifish patiently listened, asked for clarifications, and finished with something curt like "I can do that". That meant that a decision was made and she'd go on to draw it, sometimes in insane 12+ hours art marathons.

Raide is infinitely curious and industrious. He wants to learn everything about everything and  is never too lazy or careless to not search for sources, confirmation or further information. He keeps track of a huge amount of stuff, and has his fingers mixed in quite a few things outside of 4LS. I have no idea how he has the time and focus for all the stuff he does. While the entirety of 4LS likes being self-deprecating, Raide is sometimes too serious about it (like he is about many things).

Pimmy is the conscience of 4LS. She had zero tolerance for what kinds of assholes we could be to each other at times, and really dislikes fighting. She really just wants everyone to be friends with each other, and could get somewhat upset at times by the rest of us. Prone to anxiety and fretting, with tastes that got her A LOT of flak from the elitists, Pimmy is the most in touch with her inner child out of us. When she grows up, Pimmy will be the princess of a magical kingdom.

Weee has grown a lot. It's odd that it's the first thing that comes to my mind, but she really has grown remarkably both in character and in talent from when she joined the joined 4LS, at the young age of 14. The other remarkable thing about weee is her incredible passion for art. Do you want to get good at drawing? Do what weee did, spend a couple of hours drawing every single day for 5 years.

Climatic is the official 4LS curmudgeon. He played the devil's advocate in pretty much every discussion, or if not, ruthlessly mocked anyone who was even cautiously optimistic and/or enthusiastic about anything at all. Of course, he's also a true artist in a team of artists, in both good and bad.

Mike Inel is a professional. He has absolutely insane work ethic and endless enthusiasm and ambition. There was simply no way to suggest something that was too difficult to him, he'd not only happily do it, but always would try to one-up the suggestion by making it just a little bit fancier. Mike is way too humble for his own good, and he calls everyone else in 4LS "sir" or "ma'am".

Kagami is Silentcook's underling, probably the only direct hierarchy in all of 4LS. He's unassuming and quiet, but attentive (as a good editor should be), and has a habit of coming up with really sharp-eyed commentary out of nowhere, because he speaks up so rarely.

You know those people who are called "gifted" because they seem to excel in what they do completely effortlessly? That's Nicol. Give him a few words of description, a couple of hours and he'll compose something really nice for you. He was so productive that for several years, he went from project to project in the OELVN scene, leaving behind vast amounts of compositions and soundtracks (he was mockingly called "bike" for this). Nicol likes being abrasive, but is actually a nice and smart guy.

Yujovi is the mercenary of 4LS. Somewhat akin to kamifish, he appears in time of need, does the job he's required of, and disappears. Forever remembered for his (mis)adventures with women and uncanny ability to find pretty much any location we needed for the backgrounds.

And then there's me.

- Aura

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Long History of Katawa Shoujo: part 2

Back when we released Act 1 I decided to write up the history of the project, mostly for posterity. I recounted all the stuff that had happened between RAITA's pic being posted on 4chan and Act 1 coming out in one long, long writeup. It felt like something worthwhile to do, and the post has since been referred to countless of times. Though I already dread to take this up, I'll now tell the latter part of the story of Katawa Shoujo project.

So, let's go back in time to 30th of April 2009, the day after Act 1 was released:

The release of Act 1 spawned a whole lot of buzz. We got kind of caught off guard by the huge popularity and overwhelmingly positive reception, none of us expected anything like that. Instead of getting discussed only on 4chan and some other places we expected KS to spawn vague interest in, it spread like a wildfire through the internet. For some weeks afterwards, we spent a good deal of time trying to keep track of feedback and such, and try to learn from it as much as we could. After all, Act 1 was meant as a litmus test, to see if our ideas seemed to work with our audience at all. We were glad they did.

After getting over all the release hulabaloo we got back to work. There was still a ton of work to do to get the full game finished. The positive reception of Act 1 gave us a big motivation boost, but also raised the expectations on the full game. We definitely didn't want it to be a disappointment, and it added some stress to some people. At any rate, it was clear that we were on the right track, we'd just have to keep at it.

Something else we didn't exactly expect was a flood of translation projects spawning from the Act 1 release. People wanted to translate Act 1 to dozens of languages, even ones that either had incredibly small potential readerbase or a only a small minority of audience not comfortable with English. Chinese and Japanese were the first major projects, and they would also become the two translation projects we'd grow the closest with. It was obvious there was no way we could actually manage or supervise all these translation teams so the decision was made to have them be autonomous and self-organizing, with the exception of us handling the actual releases of the translations. This arrangement has worked exceptionally well in my experience.

Crud had to quit his active developer role in the project in September. We did have a complete Hanako script (though it was later rewritten almost completely), and Suriko took up the various producer duties, but it was still unfortunate and put work on Hanako's route on backburner for a long time. We decided to rework significant parts of the game script across all paths, mostly a result of the growing ambitions and the sharply risen skill levels pretty much everyone exhibited compared to what we could do in 2007-08. It was a calculated risk of a kind, one one hand the longer we'd spend on the project the better it would become, on the other it would also increase the chances of failure. In 5 years' time a lot of things happen in the lives of 20 different people, and we've had to struggle with all sorts of hindrances that we haven't been able to predict or control at all. Scrapping large amounts of work was a big risk, and like with the final rework of Act 1, we debated it heavily.

December saw the completion of the Chinese translation project and thus, the release of Act 1 version 2. The decade changed to 2010's, after what was a very productive first half of 2009 and a very up and down latter half.

We did not have enough active artists to work on the huge amounts of art the full game required, so we headhunted Pimmy to join 4LS in early 2010 as the Emi CG artist. Actually, it's possible that at this point we were generally undermanned to deal with the sheer volume of work that had to be done, but adding new people to 4LS would've been so unwieldy and likely even detrimental that we just slugged on with who we got. We had gotten that far already after all, if nothing catastrophical would happen we could manage with the people we had. The difficulties we had communicating between directing, art and writing created a host of problems, most of which fell down to the artists having to draw a ton of extra art.

The Japanese translation completed almost exactly a year after Act 1 release, and was a part of Act 1 version 3 along with the redesigns of Emi and Yuuko, followed by version 4 a month later for the French translation. Later that summer, crud and Suriko did a panel on KS in the Australian anime convention Manifest. It was pretty exciting, the first (and to date, the only) time any of us have done anything like that.

The 4LS roster saw its final changes around this time. Mike Inel joined 4LS in July as an animator, Blue123 quit in September and climatic from active role in November, though both of them had been fairly inactive for longer. We were starting to get weary from all the work, but on the other hand we had steady progress, and for the first time in the project's history, we could actually see the end of the road looming somewhere ahead. All in all, from summer 2010 onwards 4LS probably was the strongest we ever were. We knew what we were doing, we had relatively few serious setbacks and kept hitting progress milestones one after another. There was no question that we would finish the game. It definitely was going to happen, the only questions were how long it was going to take and how much we could push ourselves.

The year turned once again, and on the project's fourth anniversary we decided we'd try to push the game out within the year. It was a very realistic goal, though we ended up missing on that by 4 days.

Near the second anniversary of Act 1 release, a whole bunch of translation projects completed: Hungarian, Russian and German. I've gotta give to these guys, they have real tenacity. The fruits of their labour were released in Act 1 version 5 that would become the final released version. Our Japanese translation team, perhaps frustrated that we hadn't released the full game yet, decided to attend a variety of conventions, including big name ones like Comitia and Comiket. This was really cool, we thought, and commemorated the events with artbooks that were exclusive to the cons.

I had to take some leave from active developer role, unfortunately, but step by step the todo list twindled down to nothingness. The mad dash of the autumn culminated in the beta test in December that drove everyone crazy with its intensity. A release date was set, nothing could stop us now, it was actually going to happen.

The new year and the 4th of January rolled in. We were ready. We had been waiting for this for five long years. All lights were showing green, every single thing had been taken care of, the culmination of such an insane amount of work, all that blood, sweat and tears (literally all three), was going to happen. And then it did.

5 years, to the day.

It's a long time, a long story. What I've written here really tells only tiny parts of the things that happened along the way, but maybe it is some kind of a picture of what we've gone through. We can look back to this, remember all that craziness, remind ourselves why we did it (or why we should/shouldn't do it again) . We set out to make something special, but what is truly extraordinary is the story of how it all happened. However, while KS (hopefully) remains in the memories of everyone who played it for quite some time to come, we reached our last stop that exact same moment the game was released. With our purpose fulfilled, there is nowhere for this story to go on anymore.

So, that is the end of the story of this project. It's the end of all ends. Thank you for making it this far.

- Aura

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Curious Case of Mike Inel

There always was this delicate balance and control over what about the project was transparent and what was not. We were open and very honest about what it was like to make KS, but never wanted to really explain what exactly we were doing. Not having our work under constant scrutiny from the outside made it easier for us to work, and left all the actual content in the game a mystery up until the release.

So, when we unexpectedly got the chance to really surprise everyone with something super fancy, we decided to keep it a complete secret. This however lead to us having to hide one 4LS member from the public spotlight completely up until the release, which has been hard. To remedy that, I'm going to tell you the story of Mike Inel.

It all began from an e-mail... 

Mike contacted us out of the blue, offering to animate an opening sequence for KS since he was a fan of the game. Now, there's something you have to understand here. Since Act 1 was released, we've gotten dozens, possibly in the hundreds, inquiries from people wanting to join 4LS to work on KS. We've accepted none of them. The reason for some of the declinations was that we didn't want to add features like voice acting, but in most cases we already had all the people we needed, and we had galvanized into a working unit. There was simply no need to recruit more members who we would've needed to somehow find a niche in the team for, and then get them up to speed.

But Mike could do something none us could, animation. He also was exceptionally good at what he does. And animations are something that was easy to add in the game, as they only require the technical implementation. So we got interested. We wanted him to work with us. However, we really liked the OP sequence from Act 1 and didn't want to replace it, so we started thinking if there was some other good place for animation in KS. A credit/ending animation could've been ok, but it's not really where you put your most visually impressive stuff. Animating parts of the story didn't feel like a good idea. So, we ended up with a plan for 5 short animations for the beginnings of each of the paths, sort of like second OPs. It was more work than what Mike initially offered, but he was happy to take it up. And so, Mike became the only ever member of 4LS who applied and got accepted post Act 1 release.

I can't remember how it ended up like that, but Mike worked differently from other 4LS members. Instead of the usual IRC/forums/MSN, he and I corresponded through e-mail, with the normal 4LS feedback/iteration loop going through me to both directions. Anyway, that style of communication worked nicely for everyone, as it allowed me to distill the feedback to Mike, which increased his efficiency, and on the other hand, the rest of 4LS only had to bother themselves with the bits of the animation production that were pertinent to them. I don't know if the arrangement was actually better than if Mike had just worked similarly to the rest of 4LS (likely not, at least not significantly), but it worked out so there's no problem.

We originally envisioned that the animations would be maybe like 15 seconds long at most, just little interludes that are visually striking and serve as a good way to communicate the beginning of the girls' stories. When Mike completed the first animation, Shizune's, it was something like 51 seconds long. That was, of course, amazing, but I was thinking in horror whether Mike would be able to pull off making all 5. If he couldn't, we'd have to drop them all and his work would go to waste. He wouldn't let me down, however.

Months flew by, we mailed back and forth every day, storyboards, sketches, concepts, ideas, progressing forward stage by stage. Mike's own ambitions grew as he worked, and the animations became much longer, much more elaborate and much more impressive than anyone originally thought they would be. At that time the act title cards were not done, as they were right at the bottom of the artist TODO list. We thought it would be fitting that Mike would illustrate them, to have visual uniformity, but he already was doing way more work than anyone expected. Regardless, he took up this job too.

It took almost a year for Mike to complete all 5 animations and 16 title cards. But even after all that, he wasn't done. Nope, he wanted to revise and expand some of them, and when delta suggested he reimagines the OP sequence in his own animation style, he did that too.

And so, almost 13 months, 337 emails between him and me, and the longest ever thread on the development subforums later, Mike had completed the 5 story animations, the reworking of the opening sequence and all the act title cards. All by himself.

Overall, I feel that the production of the animation sequences was easily the cleanest and most succesful part of the KS project. The unique communication style, Mike's professionalism and us having learned our lessons all made me feel really positive about our capabilities. Generally speaking, many things in the KS project were dragged down by the baggage accumulated through the years, but with the animation production we all started from a clean table, and it was a smooth, fun ride for the most part.

The best part about working on KS to me has been the people I've been working with. To me, 4LS is something really extraordinary. Exceptional individuals who I've befriended and stuck together for years, working together towards a common goal, figuring stuff out together, growing as creators together, having fun together. We always said that even if nobody would ever read KS, making it would still be worth it, and that still holds true.

Tomorrow will be the second part of a long, long story that I probably don't remember half of anymore.

- Aura

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Monday, January 9, 2012

One Week's Worth of Memories

Lots of things have happened in the past five years, good and bad and everything in between. I thought I'd write about some stuff I've been holding out on, about looking back to all that has passed, and about what I feel now that we're finished. This will be a series of writings on all of these things, one post per day, for every day this week.

First of all, the aftermath of the release has been, in a word, insane. We've been absolutely flooded by all the response to the game release. Forums, message boards, email, IRC, blogs, social media... thousands and thousands of comments, thoughts and discussions. It's been completely impossible to keep track of everything, not to mention reading all the feedback and comments and whatnot and we've managed to respond to only a microscopic part of it all. There's no way we can ever take in all of that, so here's something of a response:

Thank you, everyone who wrote a comment, or a piece of feedback, or words of thanks. Thank you, everyone who waited for KS and followed the development. Thank you everyone who played the game and were touched by something in it. Thank you everyone, for all your support and love.

As for ourselves, I suppose we are trying to ride the wave still, and getting used to the feel of the project not being there anymore. It's a strange feeling, to not have to care about any of the things that were such a big deal for years and years. No pictures to draw, no words to write, nothing to review or discuss. It's all finished. Maybe it is a kind of a momentary emptiness. Some of us turn to self-reflection because of it. Some of us quickly pass through it, without worrying about it too much. Some seek to aim themselves somewhere else. Either way, I think we are quite satisfied, right now.

One other thing I'd like to comment on is the unfortunate choice of words in the release post. The announcement that we are "disbanding" has caused a lot of questions and confusion. A better word might've been "frozen" or "hibernating" or something. So what does it mean? Making KS is what we set out to do, it's what brought us together and it was our only goal. Now that we've accomplished that, the future is open. Some things are for certain, however:

1) There probably won't be any more KS. No sequels, no extra disks, no content patches, no side stories, no spinoffs. We've always felt that KS was this one game, this one project, and it seems unlikely that we would change our minds.
2) We have no plans to make other visual novels. That doesn't mean that we never will. We might, or some of us might, at some point in the future, but for now there are no plans.
3) We are not just going to disappear, and neither are the KS sites. You can still contact us just as before. It's possible that some members eventually depart permanently, but for now we all are still together.

Anyway, we are not disbanded, as in "we won't see each other ever again", we just don't have any current plans to work together.

Tune back tomorrow for the next part of this series, which will be the tale of a certain member of Four Leaf Studios.

- Aura

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Important: Hotfix for the Linux version available

ATTENTION: The Linux version has a faulty and potentially dangerous (as in, it might change permissions of more files than it's supposed to if called from the command line) launcher script. Until the full download can be replaced, please download and replace the one in the full download (see previous post) with it.

UPDATE: The torrent in the release post has been updated. Users who have previously downloaded the Linux version may use the hotfix linked. New users should use the torrent from the release post (and will not require this hotfix).

Katawa Shoujo Released

After 5 years of development to the day, Katawa Shoujo is now complete.

Katawa Shoujo download links:
Torrent: Windows | Mac OS X | Linux x86
DDL: Windows | Mac OS X | Linux x86
Do not download this content if you are not 18 years old or over.
Direct download links coming back soon

The Internet, January 4th 2012 - Four Leaf Studios is proud to present the full release of Katawa Shoujo, free of charge. It's been five long years until this day, with a multinational group of twenty-one developers working on art, music, writing, programming, and direction, to say nothing of the innumerable contributors to the project both past and present, but it's finally here.

Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel set in the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located in modern Japan. Hisao Nakai, a normal boy living a normal life, has his life turned upside down when a congenital heart defect forces him to move to a new school after a long hospitalization. Despite his difficulties, Hisao is able to find friends — and perhaps love, if he plays his cards right. There are five main paths corresponding to the 5 main female characters, each path following the storyline pertaining to that character. The story is told through the perspective of the main character, using a first person narrative. The game uses a traditional text and sprite-based visual novel model with an ADV text box.

The story of Katawa Shoujo is a long one, spanning over a decade. In December of the year 2000, the doujin Schuppen Harnische was released by the artist RAITA of circle Zettai Shoujo. One of the pages in the extras section of the doujin contained a sketch imagining a game about disabilities set in a Japanese high school. If not for later events, that may well have been the end of it. With the sticky in 4chan's anime board in January of 2007, though, interest was suddenly sparked in the idea within, and the idea of creating this game came about. After months of brainstorming, but little progress, a core development team by the name of Four Leaf Studios was formed in April of the same year. With this, Katawa Shoujo was set on the path to its final creation.

Four Leaf Studios is a volunteer group of twenty-one developers from around the world, having come together for the sole purpose of developing Katawa Shoujo. Hailing from many different countries, backgrounds, and professions, Four Leaf Studios became committed to working towards Katawa Shoujo as an entirely free game, with no money involved in the project.

With that, the story of Four Leaf Studios is finished. As a single entity, we will not be producing another game. But even though our story has ended, you will now be able to experience a new story; the story that Four Leaf Studios existed to create.

We hope you enjoy Katawa Shoujo.

Contact Four Leaf Studios:
  • Email:
  • WWW:
  • IRC: irc://