Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Present: Katawa Shoujo Artbook PDFs

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Four Leaf Studios, together with the Katawa Shoujo Japanese translation team, would like to give all our fans a christmas present this year. And that christmas present is .pdf versions of the currently released artbooks; the Katawa Shoujo Player Guide, and Fragments of Summer.

We plan to release a .pdf copy of Midwinter, the third Katawa Shoujo artbook, around mid-March. Those who buy Midwinter at Comiket will have the exclusivity of a physical copy, and be able to view it several months earlier than anyone else.

This was all made possible by the very hard work of the Japanese translation team, who were responsible for Comiket organisation, all physical printing and publishing work, and translation of the artist and writer comments contained in the artbooks. A big thank you from the 4LS team goes to all of you guys. And of course, a big thank you also goes out to all the artists who contributed, both developers and fanartists.

Without further ado, here are the artbooks. Have a very merry Christmas from Four Leaf Studios, and a happy new year!

Katawa Shoujo Player Guide (Japanese)
Fragments of Summer (Japanese)
Fragments of Summer (English)

 - Suriko

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Katawa Shoujo Will be Released on January 4th

Katawa Shoujo will release on January 4, 2012.

Of course, 2012 is not 2011, and we do apologise for that. The date of 4 January was selected in order to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the /a/ sticky that started this project, and will see the release of the full version of the game.

We thank you for your patience in waiting for the game to be completed, especially those who have contributed to the game's development. It's been a long ride, but the end is finally near.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Katawa Shoujo Artbook at Comiket 81

Hi all,

The Katawa Shoujo Japanese translation team got a desk in the coming Winter Comiket, Comiket 81. The location and dates are: Dec 31 (Sat - Day 3) East "Pe" (ペ) Block 15a (East-5 hall).

Our new doujinshi is a B5 sized artbook of 20 pages, just like the summer artbook. Artists from the development team as well as the Shimmie regulars contributed their masterpieces.

The book is titled "Midwinter", in contrast to the previous book, and will be distributed at 400 JPY.

They will be bringing additional stock of the summer artbook "Fragments of Summer" to Comiket as well.

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Monday, November 14, 2011


Hello this is Moekki and today I'm writing about Shizune. I have enjoyed drawing her alot and I think working on her design really helped me develop my style!
here is a diagram

Anyways, in chronological order:
A) Raita's initial design, coloured by some anonymous dude. Although many aspects of her design were drawn from this image, the teal coloured hair was scrapped almost immediately because it's ugly and only works on Miku.

B) 2007, the first game design adopted after the beginning of the project. This design was probably more influential on future designs than Raita's.

C) Wooooow what shitty art! This was after I first joined the project and it's completely horrible. However most of her design is set in stone now

D) I don't remember drawing this but I found it in my KS folder. This was during the intervening period before Kamifish kicked my ass, most of the artists were very dead for about 5 months. I think i tried to give her twin ahoge like hideaki but luckily it never came to fruition. I was still struggling to draw her hourglass figure

E) Her current design, I'm kind of impressed how much I improved that year! I didn't draw any concept art for this design and thus determined that concept art is useless for moeblob school girls. Zettai ryoiki has been discovered and things are good

THE FUTURE!) things are mostly the same but over time her bangs have slowly turned into cat ears

Guest art by VCR

Thankyou and good night
XOXO Moekki
(PS: This means the direction is done)

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rin's Path Direction Complete

Rin path direction is now complete, so it's time for second-last heroine art recap.

Rin's art has stayed fairly tethered to RAITA's original design, with her personality reflected in her relaxed posture and roughly-cut short hair visible most of the prototype designs that have been made for her as well as in her final in-game art. With Kamifish coming on board as Rin's path artist, her talent for very clean linework and sketching gave her designs a great amount of consistency very early on once she began work for KS.

The two most notable differences from RAITA's art are Rin's hairstyle being change from a bobcut to short and splayed-out, and a change from wearing a skirt to wearing trousers. The former change came after most of the current artists came on board at the same time in 2008 - Moekki, Weee, Gebyy, and Kamifish - and began working on new designs. It was at this time that Aura gave the artists a task to try and work out the best way to develop Rin's appearance; each artist would draw Rin sleeping against a tree. By showing her in what felt like a natural activity she would do, it could be worked out what design best fit the way she acted. The result of this was for some aspects of Weee's image to be incorporated into her look - namely, the back of her hair being splayed out slightly messily, and her front bangs being separated from the back of her hair to show her ears.

The second change, with Rin's uniform being switched from the blouse and skirt to the boy's uniform shirt and trousers, is primarily a matter of practicality for her. As Rin paints with her feet, wearing trousers simply allows her to do so without the chance of people catching a glance at her panties. The blouse being changed for the boy's shirt was mainly a matter of aesthetics to match the trousers. Relatedly, Rin typically wears sandals rather than shoes, in order to allow quick access to her feet to manipulate objects without getting them dirty through going entirely barefoot. And the answer to any question about clothing that starts with "But how does Rin..." is still "Emi."

And that's Rin's art. Look forward to the final heroine's recap, Shizune's, sometime soon!

 - Suriko

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Big in Japan, part 4: Comiket 80 Report

We had the honor of adding another page to the history of KS, attending the Summer Comiket and Comitia with the new KS illustration book titled "Fragments of Summer". This time the pics are all in full color for your eyes to enjoy. We sure made a serious jump in quality.

The book was made possible again by the KS devs along with the Shimmie regulars, plus 4 guest participants from Japan as well. This is a historical collaboration of KS fan artists around the globe.

- Himeno, a doujin artist who creates KS fan comics frequently. He has posted his works in the forum numerous times.
- Sukaponta, a doujin artist and an overseas cartoon enthusiast. He has been following KS development since its infancy.
- Yamada, who responded to our call for participation. You can find his arts in Pixiv.
- EEE boy, one of the translation team member, and shows very good skills in dot arts.

So the big day was August 13, the second day of Summer Comiket. We brought a few hundred copies of the new book and the remainders of the Act 1 CD / Players Guide combo from the previous Comitia.

This was how the desk looked like just before the event's opening.

The big surprise was that we sold out the Players Guide within the first hour. (The stock was low though.) The new illustration book was selling very fast. We almost saw lines forming in front of our desk. I've been doing doujin stuffs for about 10 years but I have never experienced anything like this in my life. It was astonishing. I never thought that KS became this popular in Japan.

In the end we sold more than 200 copies of the illustration book. A remarkable number. We saw lots of positive reactions afterwards on twitter.

On the following Sunday, August 21, we had another event which was Comitia 80, specializing in original doujin creations. We sold another 100 copies or so, proving the popularity of KS yet again. One person claiming he's from New York dropped by, and bought 10 copies in bulk so that he can distribute them back in US. It turns out that the person was Lansan1ty...hope he's doing ok.

We are aware that there are lots of requests for distributing the scanned data and all. We are seeking the possibility to fulfill these needs in one way or another. We appreciate if you can give some time for this.

We thank you for all the support from KS devs (especially Aura who coordinated the whole thing), the artists and all the fans out there in Japan and worldwide. There are new plans going on so please stay tuned to the dev blog for further development.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Five Stages of a KS Dev

Stage 1: Enthusiasm

Making KS is a blast. Seriously, it's pretty damn fun. Applying yourself to something with other people is a great pastime, and all the side effects of it, like the great community that's built around KS, or getting our work in events like Comiket are just frosting on the cake. I like the people in 4LS, and talking and theorizing and working with them. I think they like me too, most of the time at least. Sometimes, simply taking a step back and realizing "holy crap we are actually doing this" is a big motivation booster.

Stage 2: Frustration

Making KS is hard. We've had to climb over a whole bunch of totally unreasonable hurdles to get stuff done along the way. The goals we have set for ourselves are completely unrealistic, and it's taken way too long to get there. The amount of stuff we've scrapped from KS could be bigger than the amount of stuff that is in the final product. The ways things can go to hell have surprised us time and time again. These kinds of things wear people out horribly, but this still is just the beginning of the descent to madness that is visual novel development.

Stage 3: Desperation

Making KS is suffering. The dumb shit we've had to go through with this project is unimaginable, a whole bunch of it self-inflicted. We aren't a well-oiled machine by any means, and sometimes some cogs don't work well at all. Getting the 4LS engine to work properly is a constant uphill battle including surprises, fights, begging, threats and bribery. The people who have to fight that battle go to some pretty ridiculous lengths sometimes. You wouldn't believe me if I told you.

Stage 4: Scorn

Making KS is the worst thing ever. Everyone has a point where they just can't take it anymore. The final straw will land on your back, and it will snap. Everyone reacts to this kind of stress differently. A22 rolls on the floor, delta yells a lot, and so forth. However, because we are professionals, we usually get over this pretty quickly and move on to...

Stage 5: Acceptance

Making KS is worth it. Because if it wasn't, we'd have called it quits years ago. To hell with the questionable artistic merits or a cripple porn visual novel, the adoration and wrath of all our fans, the massive though untapped potential that our project has built up and all that. There is worth in simply being together in this for so long and trying to reach that elusive goal. Once you realize that, you feel awesome, at least until the project kicks you in the nuts or ovaries the next time. Because rest assured, it will.

And I guess the kicker here is that once you reach stage 5, you don't stay in that blissful state. Nope, you go back to stage one, and the cycle goes on from there, again and again and again.


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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Skill Gap

First, as you can see there's not been much stuff on the blog lately, that's mostly because of me. Sorry. Nevertheless, it's not very nice to spam us just because I haven't been whining on the blog for a month or whatever. Keep calm and carry on, we are doing our best.

A perpetual problem with this blog is, I'm sometimes very unsure what I want it to be. Most of the posts I've written (in fact, most of the posts written period) are just sort of random musings with only nominal cohesion. The thing is, we do more than enough random musing on IRC already, so the drive to write on blog relies on the presumed willingness of someone wanting to read all those words. I am not all that convinced that we are doing this blogging thing right at all because the way we do it leads to very weird update schedule and topic spectrum. So a question to you, reader: what sort of stuff would you want to see on the blog? The obvious content, project progress, is out of bounds for reasons we've talked about before – unreliability and so forth.

Anyway, that's that.

What I actually wanted to talk about is in the post title. The skill gap is the difference between your outlook on what is "good creative work" and the quality of your actual output. The skill gap is always there, it's in the gnawing feeling that something in what you do is wrong, in the urge to throw out your hard work and start over, in the jealousness you might feel over someone more talented than yourself. If you are a creative person, you have to deal with it in one way or another.

The skill gap ebbs and flows as one evolves as a creator. The more you study, analyse and think, the more the top line rises, growing the gap. The more you practice, practice and practice, the more your output improves, shrinking the gap.

For me personally, acknowledging my skill gap leads to a very uncomfortable anxiety. Essentially, writing is about putting thoughts out into the real world, into words and phrases and idioms and references. Some are better at it than others, but I don't think anyone can match in writing what they have in their imagination. I certainly can't. None of you will ever read the real story I've imagined, of Rin and Hisao and all the things that happen between them, just the crude translation that I was able to vomit out onto my keyboard. I feel a little saddened by this realization. All things considered, my skill gap is wide, and the effect it has on me is equally vast. I tend to revise my text a lot, write iterations upon iterations, I'm prone to getting writer's blocks and so forth. Every word is a battle.

On the other end of the spectrum, delta has probably the narrowest skill gap in 4LS. He is not only extremely good at what he does, but the nature of his job allows him to stay very close to his potential. Whereas us writers and artists are limited only by our own capabilities, he has additional limits such as those of our engine and the quantity of assets our team can produce. Further, while there are millions of pieces of art and literature for us to compare to, there are not very many visual novels. The full extent of what delta could do might not even be a known factor here, but it shows that skill gap is not only an inner quality.

I'm not sure if there are better, or even any other ways to deal with the skill gap anxiety than trying to beat it into submission. You just have to keep trying to do your best every time you pick up your medium of choice, and not get discouraged by the fact that objectively, you are terrible. It's important especially when starting, but acknowledging your limits is always important. For any given work, you have to decide when it's pointless to try to improve it further. It's all right to tell yourself "this is enough". Don't be afraid to suck, because you always will suck, kind of (unless you are cheating yourself to believe unrealistic things). Acknowledging your shortcomings honestly and working hard to improve are the path to growing as a creator.

The final 4LS anecdote about this is about weee. Most people think she's pretty good at what she does, and she is. However, take a look at her older drawings. When we started out, she wasn't all that great. In fact she felt a bit disheartened at how much better especially moekki and kamifish were back then. But you know, she stuck with drawing, and with KS, and look where she's at just a couple of years later. Weee has shown true growth in what she does and along the way she's become a fantastic artist.

I think the bottom line here is that to be a good creative person, you have to understand yourself. If you can view yourself honestly (and not be discouraged by the truth about how bad you are), a whole ton of avenues for improvement open ahead of you.

- Aura

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Big in Japan, part 3

Continuing their 2011 tour of Japanese doujin events, our translation team got a spot for attending Comitia 97 on 21st August at Tokyo Big Sight, just a week after Comiket 80. Exciting! If you are around Tokyo in mid-August, make sure to visit at least one of these events and say hello.

Speaking of the summer doujin events, we've been working on a new book:

夏の欠片, or Fragments of Summer, is a full-colour Katawa Shoujo illustration book with works from the 4LS staff and several prominent fan artists. You will be able to obtain it at either Comiket 80 or Comitia 97, along with the Act 1 hardcopy and KS Player's Guide book.

- Aura

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Hanako's Art Complete (Update: Also Rin's)

All of Hanako's art assets are now complete. Congratulations to all the artists who've helped in this, especially to Weee who is Hanako's path artist.

Edit: Whoops! Forgot about another piece of news that didn't get announced when it was done... 

Rin's art is also complete.

Congratulations to Kamifish, and the other artists who have helped with Rin's path.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Katawa Shoujo in Comiket

Our Japanese translation team was accepted for circle participation in Summer Comiket this year, you can meet them on Saturday August 13th at Tokyo Big Sight, in table Y01b of East Hall 2 . Stay tuned for more details, but naturally they'll at the very least have the Act 1 hard copy and Player's Guide set for sale, as in Comitia96. Congratulations for making the cut which is no small feat these days, and hope you'll have a great time!

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

After Comitia

So, Comitia 96 was today and as per the previous blog post, the Japanese translation team attended. Here's a translation of their post on their own blog:

We were at COMITIA!

This is the report blog post for attending Comitia 96 on May 5. Two from the Japanese TL team (hir and a-park) sat at the desk. It was amazing to see the work of over 1-2 years have actually materialized into actual CD. Being able to hold it in your hand makes it feel very special. Unexpectedly many people came by to pick up the booklet and Act 1 CD. That was very encouraging for us. Even some Comitia staff members purchased a copy. I guess KS is better known than we initially thought.

Box full of CDs (that's 100 copies per box)

This is how the desk looked like. We put some thoughts into making the display more attractive.

We aired the "SPIN" trailer on my laptop PC. The event goes on for about 5 hours so the battery wouldn't last... We used a-park's PC afterwards.

We tried to post live report on the blog from the venue but some trouble with the network connection prevented us from this. Bummer. There weren't many copies left over so we'll likely sell them out in the next summer Comiket. We may be able to think of other distribution methods after that. We don't have any further doujin plans as of yet, but it would be really cool if KS picks up some momentum in the Japanese doujin market.

We'll keep you updated on our activities so please stay tuned...

- hir

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Katawa Shoujo in Comitia 96

On 5th of May, the Katawa Shoujo Japanese translation team will attend Comitia96 doujin event at Tokyo Big Sight, at table た12a. Their offerings for the day are:

1. Katawa Shoujo Act 1

A pressed CD of Katawa Shoujo Act1, including v4 installers for Windows, OS X and Linux. The disk is packaged in a DVD case along with a reversible jacket that has Japanese texts on top side and English ones on the reverse side.

2. Player's guide for Katawa Shoujo

From the beginning of the project and the foundation of Four Leaf Studios to the release of Act 1 and its Japanese translation, this doujinshi book will guide you through the brief history of Katawa Shoujo to date. In addition, the book features foreword by Aura, and illustrations of each of the heroines in the game, some drawn by the staff artists of Four Leaf Studios.

Greyscale with coloured covers, 20 pages, B5 size. The book and CD together will cost 500 yen.

"This venture is a promotion attempt in Japan by our team to utilize the time while we wait for the release of full version. The content may be too obvious for the folks eagerly following the dev blog. Please consider them as more of a memorabilia or fan item. Of course this would be a good starting point for anyone who comes across KS for the first time. If by any chance you're around in Tokyo then please drop by.

We've applied to Summer Comiket as well. If we're lucky we'll get a seat there. Will post updates on other progress.

We're kind of hoping to see some more KS doujin actions in Japan following our trail...we'll see about that on the way."

4LS is of course super excited about this as well, we hope the translation team will have a great deal of fun at the event and keep our fingers crossed for them to make the Comiket cutoff.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Katawa Shoujo Act 1 v5 released!

Have we ever mentioned how awesome the KS translation teams are?

Katawa Shoujo Act 1 v5 adds three new translations: Russian (courtesy of Honyaku-Subs), German and Hungarian. This brings the translation project success rate to a fairly respectable figure, and Act 1 to 9 different localizations of 8 different languages. That is pretty amazing.

The only additions to V5 are the three new localizations, so the release is not recommended to those who have played a previous version and can't speak one of the new languages. There are some typo and error fixes in the English and other language scripts, but they are not major. See the changelog for the full list over all versions. We hope everyone enjoys this release and warmly congratulate the three translation teams for their completed projects.

Download Act 1 v5 from one of these links:


Like before this release supersedes the previous ones, so any help seeding the new torrents is appreciated. Also, big thanks goes to Davis for hosting help.

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 » Give feedback!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Words of Gods

People love canon. At least people invested enough in a work to argue about it on the Internet do; and sure enough, there's nothing better than to add to the content that is indisputably canon since it is source material, because if there's something better than a good thing, it's MORE of a good thing, and if this additional material is not canon it did not "really happen" and as such is sadly useless... right? Personally I happen to disagree (if you couldn't tell already), but this blog post is not about that.

More to the point, this thread on our forums, and especially my snarky impulse reply within, got me thinking - why does "Word of God" matter so much to people? Sure, I wasn't being nice*, but what does "we've (...) been known to troll, lie, change our mind, and make stuff up on the spot" actually mean?

1. Trolling

The ability to play with the fanbase's expectation is one of the perks of what we do. In all honesty we think that the product will include everything it needs to, and any additional information will have to be taken with a grain of salt. As a side note, trolling is not effective if you're ALWAYS trolling or even just too often. So we try to not overdo it.

2. Lying

Now that's just mean, but I know I've done it before to protect actual information or just out of spite in response inane questions. In the end it mostly comes down to point #1 anyway.

3. Changing of mind

This does happen a lot, hopefully not so much in content that is actually already out (and as such has the "highest canonicity" if you care about such a thing). We don't intend to change Act 1 in any meaningful way, but we will if we think we have to. And in the unreleased part, well... I'll just say I'd be more than happy if we changed our mind less often. Thankfully it does not seem to happen as frequently as it used to at this point.

4. Making stuff up on the spot

If I get asked a question, or even if it just strikes me by accident, I may make a statement about some thing that is not relevant to the story at all. This will, for all intents and purposes, be "canon" until someone else on the dev team cares enough to contradict it; but does that matter? In fact, if it mattered, would it not be in the game narrative in the first place?

So to summarize, I see two big problems in here, apart from the (in my opinion, overblown) obsession with canonicity people have in general:

• It's not like Katawa Shoujo is an exercise in world building like other franchises. We don't really care whether there is a bigger universe outside the story we tell; if we did, we would surely have made said world more interesting. This is not Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings, or even Fate/stay night, it's just a little story. We do care about canon as far as consistency within the work is concerned, but not a lot beyond that.

• It's not like the story this supposed world is built around even exists in any meaningful capacity yet, so everything we say is subject to change.

For example,  I have said before that Richter Bromont's depiction of the Yamaku principal as a Luchador wrestler is actually true. I know that there is nothing to contradict it in the game at this point (because he does not appear, and nor is mentioned in enough detail to make the call), so I'm not even outright lying. I just think it's funny, but does this make it "canon", an in-universe "truth"? I guess so, but I'm also aware that if we actually did decide to show him, he'd be something less... random. In fact, the principal did appear in an early draft, and in there she was a woman. Maybe THAT is more canonical than my offhand remark? But it's not in the game anymore either. The fact of the matter is that there is no objective reality beyond what is shown in fiction, and even for that you have to trust the writer. Seems obvious, but I've read Umineko no Naku Koro ni recently, and I've seen that fans of Umineko have a real problem realizing that even a universe designed at least with some degree of worldbuilding in mind is still made up and does not necessarily have to make sense in the way reality has to**. Whether that still constitutes good writing is up to the reader, of course. And even if something is not stated to be one way or the other, "undefined" can be perfectly canon. See the ending of Inception, and how a part of the audience refused to accept that as well.

Then there is the matter of fanon; Touhou is a franchise that is mostly fanon, and if enough people believe something is canon in that one, that definitely makes it "true" eventually. Fandom can take matters into their own hands, and if that is more enjoyable than the core narrative, who would argue against it? So, I will not condemn people pulling together various remarks and trying to build a bigger universe if they consider it fun; it's just we ourselves don't care enough to keep track of it because keeping track of actual core material is already stretching it. I am of the opinion that everything that matters is/will be in the game, and would take a small cheap laugh of the moment over building a greater universe than we need - It's not like we're forced to have sequel or spinoff hooks like a lot of commercial franchises. If we're lucky, all of these side ideas might in fact combine to one emergent fictional universe. But don't bet on it.


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* I find it slightly absurd to call writers "gods", yes I know it's a tvtropesism, but that doesn't make it any better, can't get into any decent discussion without tvtropes and their CamelCase puns infesting every single one these days, don't care if it was around before but tvtropes codified it into a nuisance, get off my lawn, I mad, etc.
** In fact, now that I think about it, Umineko made "trolling, lying, changes of mind and making stuff up on the spot" a core part of the narrative, and people seemed to actually like it specifically for that - I kind of did, to be honest. Not much else, but that's beyond the scope of a simple blog post.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools: Announcement - Future Plans

So now that we are getting closer to game release it's maybe a time to talk about some of the things we've kept secret so far.

As anyone who has followed our development process knows, we are committed to releasing the entire game free of charge, and this will never change, since it is one of the incorruptible philosophical foundations of our group. However, it has come to our attention that the modern internet environment offers many opportunities for monetization, and we would be foolish not to take advantage of this. So, we are proudly announcing a subscriber model for people who really take Katawa Shoujo seriously and want to enjoy it to its fullest.

Players who want to go beyond the ordinary can sign up for an account, which instantly gives them access to extra features and also makes them eligible for expansion content.

So what are these extra features the subscribers get? Here are some of the more prominent ones:

1. Access to expansion stories

This is the big one. In addition to scenes unlockable through the extra options (see point number 2), we will be making bigger stories that feature characters not seen elsewhere in the game. They won't be quite as long as the main character paths, but will feature things like romanceable characters with full plotlines and multiple endings, just like the 5 main paths. These stories will be offered as downloadable patches through the subscription system, likely going online some time after the release of the full game. There are four such stories under production, and we're going to reveal the main characters of two of them here:

Rika Katayama

A second year student at Yamaku, Rika has heart condition not completely unlike Hisao's, called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The condition is fatal if untreated, but Rika has gone through a reconstructive heart surgery as a toddler. Even so, she still left physically weak and at a constant danger of complications. A string of hospitalizations has made Rika a loner, but not a lonely person. She is sometimes hard to get through to, and tends to get lost in thought even in crowds. People sometimes mistake this for shyness, but in reality Rika does get along with most people, although she rarely actively seeks social contact. Hisao meets Rika by chance at the school infirmary and the two find something to reflect themselves from in the other. Rika's aloof attitude and ostensible comfort with her condition might challenge Hisao to grow as a person, but trouble arises when unpredictable circumstances take their relationship to a surprising direction...

Rika's story is written by Silentcook and her character artist is moekki.

Saki Enomoto

Saki suffers from Spinocerebellar ataxia, a degenerative disease that makes her gradually lose muscle control, amongst other issues. She uses a crutch to help her balance, but is going to lose the ability to walk and eventually, all daily tasks and even eating and breathing. Fated to die with no hope of a cure, Saki is a conflicting figure. She has to live with a horrific, degenerative condition every day, yet she is outgoing and fashionable just like any high school girl. Saki takes the clumsiness caused by her condition in stride, even going against it by taking up activites that require fine motor control such as joining the Yamaku art club, where Hisao meets her. He finds Saki an engaging but troublesome person to deal with, due to her incredibly frank and complex personality. One moment she might be giggling about the new spring fashion line, the next, stating her bitterness for her crippling illness, yet never dropping her dazzling smile. But even Saki, for all her openness, holds things inside she would never tell anyone else...

Saki's story is written by Aura and her character artist is weee.

2. Bonus content

Some of the choices in KS will have options that are exclusively available to subscribers for a minor one-time fee. The unlockable options usually provide small changes to scenes, often extra event CG, sometimes extra scenes or background information that would not otherwise come up. Of course, they have no bearing whatsoever on the main storyline and are entirely optional.

3. Exclusive Merchandise

Simultaneously with the subscriber system we will open the Four Leaf Studios webstore, providing fans with Katawa Shoujo and Four Leaf Studios merchandise such as shirts, hug pillows, posters and more. Subscribers gain faster processing and access to freebies and items not available to others.

4. Premium features

The basic game will no longer offer saving/loading functionality. Instead, you can jump to scenes via the "Library" option. Both saving and loading will be available exclusively to subscribers through a micropayment system. Additionally, rolling back a line will be available for minor charge per line (of course, readback will remain available free of charge).

5. No advertising

Premium customers will not see "sponsored lines" that are inserted into the game text in random intervals. They also get the privilege to block a subset of the in-game product placement.

The KSPremium account will be available at the time of KS full release for most regions of the world for a very competitive monthly or one-time pricing, at various subscription levels. Extra features and the merchandise at 4LS webstore will be charged with Katawa Points associated with your account, available separately or through an automatic monthly fee. 100 Katawa Points is equivalent to approximately $5 (depending on your subscription level and location). This will all be made possible thanks to the cooperation of Valve, with Katawa Shoujo releasing on the Steam platform.

You might be wondering why we are making an about face with the deal about money and KS. This is because we finally have a good use for it. Many of us have found themselves in a good place in life to do something big, something cool, and that's exactly what's going to happen. Four Leaf Studios is going to become an actual studio, continuing with our adventures in the world of visual novels beyond Katawa Shoujo. We are planning to get ourselves a physical studio office in Copenhagen, Denmark, found a real company and move most of the devs there to work on further projects once KS is completed. That is to say, we are taking the big step forward and really going to make a splash in the indie game world. Stay tuned for further developments on this, both before and after KS is released. We have some pretty neat ideas in store for the future.

Thanks for reading and hope you are as excited about these news as we are.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

1000000 blog hits!

One million blog hits. That's actually kind of a scary realization.

Thank you for reading so far.

- Aura

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Monday, March 7, 2011

If You Want Something Done

Sup guys, delta here. It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, so it's about time to get technical once more.

Visual novels, seen as computer programs, don't have a lot of "features" you really need to think about. There may be slight differences, but all in all they're really similar as far as user experience goes; and that is perfectly fine, since they are not wildly dissimilar things to begin with - "visual novel" already pretty much defines the experience. In fact, one reason you would use a pre-existing VN engine is that they come with the full feature set you would expect from the medium. VNs are not the most difficult things to program but in a field so narrow there is little reason to reinvent the wheel. However, that does not absolve a developer from thinking about what they are doing. A lot of design decisions in the VN user experience are like they are by convention, and convention are not necessarily right (or wrong) - if the developer decides that they don't want to live with the usual, they can and should do it the way they want regardless what the engine or convention says.

One of these features is "some way of rereading text you have already read". This has to be possible in some way, and there are indeed conventions about how to do that. The method I have seen in most VNs is to show a backlog in list form that you can scroll up or down, or page through. Ren'Py, the engine we are using, solves the problem in a different way, which is calls "rollback" (and the method described above is described as "readback" in contrast to that). Rollback lets you "roll back" the whole interpreter state to a previous point. This is definitely the technically superior method, and a lot harder to implement, and it's one of Ren'Py's selling points. The reader can not only read the prior text, but they also get context - the whole screen, with character expressions, sounds, animation, everything.

Now there is a problem with that - out of the box Ren'Py supports only this method, and developers want choices. The reason for this can be manifold; maybe they want an "authentic Japanese feel" to their game. Maybe there is some narrative reason for doing it a different way. And more importantly (for me), Ren'Py rolls back the entire interpreter state, discarding any player input that happened prior, including choices. This is where a design decision comes in - what does read/rollback actually mean? Ren'Py assumes that the engine is just a tool to display the game to the player and leave as much choice open to the reader as possible - a "reader application" as opposed to a designed experience. An argument frequently brought up in favor of rollback is "the reader can just save and restore the game, you surely are not not going to forbid that too?" In my opinion, that is not a valid argument. For starters, yes, a game designer may decide to indeed forbid what is called "save scumming" in more general video games. KS does not do this, but there may be narrative or other reasons that nobody has yet thought of for it (As an aside, KS also includes a tweaked save/load system, because by default Ren'Py works with a "slot" system directly lifted from Japanese VNs, which in turn lifted it from battery-backed NES games. Not something entirely contemporary, so KS uses a system that Source games ca. 2004 use - hooray for at least living in this century)

What it comes down to is this: I consider the text backlog in KS a form of protagonist memory, and memory is immutable. When you roll back, you don't "roll back an interpreter", you retread what you have already seen. This implies not being able to redo choices. Sure, you can still save and reload, but saving and reloading is a far more conscious, weighty thing, a lot less casual than just scrolling your mouse wheel.

Whatever the reason is, there is no reason to restrict the game developer just because something is "inherently superior". It's like saying that you should not make a film in black and white when color is available. Restricting the player interaction can be a design goal, for whatever reason, and if the developer wants to do that they should be able to. And while Ren'Py does not offer any other method of backlogging, it is open and flexible enough to allow custom solutions.

Act 1 of KS included a custom implementation of readback of my own design. It still allowed rollback (because it is indeed a nice thing to have), but it blocked rollback after choice points, yo you could never roll back beyond a choice. That way, you could not change a choice you had previously made, and if you wanted to access the text displayed before rollback was blocked, you had readback available. I never found this completely satisfactory, because it was an obvious crutch. I felt that the version I want was full rollback without the ability to retake choices. So I went and did that.

The solution is slightly elaborate and I won't go into all details here. I'll just say that what makes this hard is that Ren'Py has no concept of a "per-playthrough" memory independent of rollback, which is exactly what this is all about. It just has the "store" (which stores per-playthrough data, but also gets completely rolled back), and "persistent" (which does not get rolled back, but is global for an installation of a game). I ended up generating a unique ID at the beginning of each playthrough and save it in the store, then using this ID as the index in a database of values that is stored in persistent. Not actually all that complicated, but it was still something I had to think up and implement. It may not even end up being the thing KS eventually ships with, but it had to be done to be evaluated. So the lesson here and the reason I am writing this up is, think about what you want and at least try it out. Don't let yourself be limited from the start by what the engine or convention says, even if it's just in a small way that may not matter to anyone but you. Don't do something because everyone's doing it, but be ready to pick and choose the best from conflicting approaches. And in the end, maybe you will come up with something that is "better" or at least more fitting than either.

At least until everyone dislikes it and it's back to the drawing board.

P.S. Aura was faster with the art but climatic wanted to be part of it as well. So here's his effort as a reward for reading all the way to the end.

— delta

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hanako's Path Direction Complete

A one, and a two, and a three: Hanako's script and path direction is now complete!

That means that it's also art recap time for Hanako's art.

Hanako's art has, compared to the other characters, remained relatively stable. Since joining our art team in January 2008 alongside Moekki and Kamifish, Weee has been Hanako's artist and worked on her sprites and CGs since then. As can be seen in the above image, Weee also did a sketch of Hanako before joining, during the time that the game was in its brainstorming phase on the original now-defunct forums. She's been around for quite a while, with her art constantly improving (to the point where she has been selected to illustrate part of a Touhou doujin at Reitaisai 8! Go Weee (aka raemz at the site)!).

When compared to Raita's original design, Hanako is not too different compared to characters like Lilly and Shizune. In Ke^4's sketches, a lock of hair was added to cover the scarred side of her face to give a little uniqueness to her design, and her hair was lengthened. These have since become staples of her design. Her stockings were decided upon to be black, both due to Raita's sketch and to create a ying-yang contrast with Lilly's white stockings.

This touches on one aspect of Hanako and Lilly's designs; a desire for contrast. Not only are Lilly and Hanako very different people in personality, but their looks are used to further present their contrasting lifestyles. While Hanako is somewhat tall with a vaguely Asian beauty of long, dark hair, dark clothing, and a light frame, Lilly is taller, and fits a more Western type of beauty with long, blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. Their expression sets, poses, and clothing all reflect their personalities and lifestyles.

And so, that's Hanako. Thank god Crud and I can stop writing her path now, and good job Delta on finishing the direction. Please look forward to Rin and Shizune's updates in the future.

- Suriko

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Premature Nostalgia

Is the journey more important than the destination?

I wrote the rather worn saying down, describing the development of KS. Then I started doubting its validity. KS has been a long and meandering journey, and we've done and come across a lot of stuff that's secondary to the development of the game itself. We have oekakis, fan arts, side projects a lively community that we try to participate in, plus our own insular circle in which we watch terrible movies over the internet or attempt to talk shop about the visual novel medium. What value can be placed to these secondary things, assuming that they don't directly bring KS closer to completion? Is it a waste of time to do KS-related things that are not developing KS, such as writing this blog?

As for the biggest secondary thing, I think the community, both 4LS's own and the greater KS community, are terribly empowering for the project itself. People often wonder how come the project hasn't died yet. It hasn't died because we are stubborn, but more importantly, it hasn't died because people care about it. Community is important.

Ultimately, the journey and destination are inseparable. Without that game release to aim for, we'd just be jerking around pointlessly, but after all the stuff that's going on, that release is a pretty sweet reward at the end of the road. One gives meaning to the other.

- Aura

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Your Children Are Not Yours

I found this pretty strange rant about how fanfiction is an abominable thing, by a fairly popular author. I hadn't really thought about fan creations before, apart from whatever copyright issues we've had to handle. After thinking a while I found that it's actually a kinda strange phenomenon - but so is the whole fan phenomenon in the first place.

It's no secret that I am sort of bewildered by KS's popularity (and so are the rest of us) and that we tend to be sometimes uncomfortably - and maybe unwisely - honest about our uncomfortableness. But the fact remains: I absolutely did not expect to ever have to wonder about what I think about the fans of a work I created. I've never identified as a fan of anything and feel kind of distant from the phenomenon, but being in the receiving end is something really strange. I say that publically talking about this could be unwise because it could easily be interpreted as dislike of fans (which it is not, I like the fans more than the rest of 4LS, at least on weekends), especially combined with the notoriously short patience for stupidity many of us share.

Anyway, Hobb apparently is (or was, seeing as the rant is 5 years old and not up in the original location anymore) awfully hurt by the existence of fanfiction of her works. I can kinda see why, but I can't really agree with her position at all, plus I think the arguments she's refuting in the rant feel kinda handpicked. Fan creations have both pros - they engage fans more, creativity is never bad etc - and cons - they do violate copyright and whatnot. It all comes down to what weight one places on each of the effects and whether the sum comes up as net positive or net negative. So am I pro fanfiction or anti fanfiction? I suppose that's what I wanted to find out.

The first explanation is that fanfics are simply bad, and insulting to the original creator, or at least a majority are. I doubt the validity of this explanation but wanted to include it for later use. This blogpost counters the argument by presenting a huge list of acclaimed literature that could be classified as "fan fiction". Well, the definition has to be extremely broad, far more so than what I'm wlling to do, to call all of those "fan fics", but anyway. There is good fan fiction too, but it's true that fan fics do have a certain, somewhat negative general reputation surrounded by a thick coating of stereotypes.

A quick poll revealed that none of the irc regulars read KS fan fiction (okay one does but he is not straight in the head in many ways), but everyone visits our fanart imageboard more or less regularly. Why is this? The quality explanation is valid here, and most cited one: because most of the fan fics are bad. But so is most of anything, including fan art and non-fan fiction. Two things that fanfics have against them though: fan art takes a second or two to parse, reading a fanfic takes a long time and published fiction has a vetting system called "publishing". Anyone can post a fic they wrote on or our forums but to publish you need to meet the standards of your publisher. It's likelier that a book you bought is of greater quality than a random fic you are reading. Thus for the consumer, it's a simple risk/reward ratio analysis that makes them choose doing something else over reading fanfics, and also explains neatly why fanart gets an easier treatment than fan fiction.

But that still doesn't explain why Hobb is so angry, or why I am writing a stupidly huge blog post about this issue. I doubt Hobb cares whether fanfics are good or bad, and I don't read KS fanfics so the quality theory doesn't fit. Saying that fanfiction is bad because it breaches copyright is pretty weak in my opinion. Legislature only reflects morals, it doesn't dictate or explain them. From Hobb's rant I gather a sense of moral ownership that is breached when someone else uses (steals) her settings or characters. I guess that is a deeply subjective issue, how much a creator is attached to his or her creations probably greatly correlates with their opinion of this question. A creator feels that her work is something of her own, a personal aspect of herself, and gets offended at observed violation of that personal space. You can look, but you can't touch.

So the final question is, why does a creator care more about fan fiction than say, fan art? The quality argument, again, is false, and the sense of moral ownership should be as strong for both. I think it's because of the transformative characteristic of each. Art is generally only stylistically transforming of the original content, but fiction is by necessity a transformation of the content itself. As proof, delta suggested a hypothetical version of Katawa Shoujo's opening scenes, written by the great Kinoko Nasu. I thought the idea was awesome. He has a characteristic and... interesting writing style, I'd love to read that if it existed. Thus, a stylistically transforming fanfiction got my instant approval. So there's the answer to the art vs fiction question.

One thing where I think Hobb is absolutely on the money is that writing fanfics is a terrible way to learn to write. By writing a fanfic you bypass one of the most critical aspects of storytelling: making the reader give a fuck about your story. For a short story it might be convenient and you get an audience for free, but it teaches you awful habits and is NOT a stepping stone for becoming a "real" writer. Like copying artwork, you do learn some things though, so it's not like I'm saying that writing fanfics is a waste of time. But you are not gonna learn to build a house by thinking up new furniture. At any rate, creating fan works is most definitely leagues better than doing nothing at all, so by all means, do it.

As for myself, do I believe I have a moral ownership of the words I write? Maybe, but my words are not only mine. I read and hear things, ask for commentary, and find ways to put down words that I might've not thought of by myself. I reparse, reflect, repurpose and refer, I collect influences, I take what I can from the canon of writers before me, so it's only prudent to be willing to do my share of giving too. Besides, what do you care what I think?

- Aura

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In case of trolls, read this post

Since it's the second time someone comes on our IRC, links a 4chan thread with posts from someone claiming to be one of 4LS and revealing "tidbits" about KS and asks whether it really is us holding a question and answer session, I thought I'd make some sort of pre-emptive reply you can refer to in the future:

If you believe anything said about the game or the project without verification, especially in a place like 4chan, you totally deserve to get fooled by a clever troll. We don't talk about KS or 4LS outside of our own blog/forums/irc.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Could Be So Much More

This post was originally a reply to a forum thread with OP that I felt was very thought-provoking. You can access the thread itself from the bottom of the post.

The topic of portayal of sex has been subject to a lot of discussion, speculation, prejudice and expectations ever since this project was created. Though there are forces pulling to different directions, all of us have had to pick their stance a long ago.

Generally speaking, I think that KS is not trying to make a statement about disability. Sure, the angle we chose is that disability does not define a person, and we think a lot about how we portray disability, but there is no moral in KS, apart from a subjective one a reader might find.

While the fact is that there are things that are inappropriate for youngsters, there is a bigger issue behind it. Does the inclusion of sex, possibly explicit, possibly even something one might call "porn", into something that might be called a "serious" work devalue the latter? While this depends on a lot of factors, I think the answer is more likely to be "yes" than "no". It's simply a part of a more universal issue. Just like a heartwrenching drama might be ruined by an inappropriate slapstick comedy moment, a work can be ruined by an inappropriate sex scene (and it's harder to not make sex scene feel inappropriate). A concrete example that comes into mind is Saya no Uta, a decent horror visual novel that was completely ruined for me by the explicit porn and rape scenes it had. Notable is that the fact it had sex or even rape didn't spoil it, the way those scenes were handled did. From this I conjecture that it would've been possible to display those events in a way that would've felt appropriate to me, and to extend, appropriate to most mature audiences. The leagues of movies that have sex scenes support this observation. Speaking of movies, another example I think about often when I think about portrayal of sex in visual media is the lovemaking scene in Zack Snyder's movie 300. It's basically as close to porn as you can get in a Hollywood movie, but I don't think it necessarily devalues the rest of the movie for me. I admit though, considering how often I wonder about that scene it very well might've ruined the entire movie for me. Still, it seems that there is some invisible, intangible line where "sex" turns into "porn" (here I use "sex" as shorthand for acceptable portrayal of sex and "porn" as shorthand for unacceptable or distracting, devaluing portrayal). If we go to Katawa Shoujo from here I'd say that the sex (not porn!) scenes that I made for KS do not devalue it for me, because I took EXTREME care that the scenes and their visualization would not cross the line of acceptability for me. I expect that others disagree, after all this kind of thing is awfully subjective. My developer colleagues have different opinions as well, and they have made their points of view come alive in the parts of the game they made. However, my stance is that just like I try to portray disability in a humane and compassionate way, so do I try to portray sex and sexuality too. I do encourage you to give me a chance to show it.

There are some things here that I can't talk about now, when the game is not released. After everyone has had a chance to read the sex scenes and see the stylistic choices, I might write something about the thoughtwork that has gone into making them.

As for younger audiences, the problem is a bit difficult. That KS appeals to you (and you are not the first) as an instrument to instruct or communicate acceptance of disability speaks to me of the sad, sad state of portrayal of disability in our culture. And for once, I'm not being self-deprecating. It's evident that KS, or at least Act 1, somehow managed to do at least something right with the topic, however it is greatly lacking in its treatment of the themes, because it's really about something else. To create a haphazard analogue with a reference already used before, it's like using the movie 300 to communicate appreciation of ancient Greek history. While the movie might've gotten some things done right and because it's less boring than a history text book, it feels appealing for the purpose. It is quite possible that someone, having seen the movie, is inspired to read about the real history of the city state of Sparta, maybe even all of Greece, but that's not what the movie is for. Similar line of thought goes for KS. That aside, I do understand that the inclusion of sex closes the door for KS from having parents recommend it to children, teachers to students or even just simply anyone to their friends. Still, with the exception of the sex scene toggle, KS is made with no considerations for the reader's sensibilities, be they due to young age, cultural background or moral norm set. That is because we can't decide what we should conform with and what not. To illuminate the issue further, let's say we made a version with the sex scenes completely removed. Now, some parents might feel concerned that the swearwords KS has cross the line for their kids, so we have to make a version with no sex scenes and no cussing. Enter the people who are offended by Kenji's rampant misogyny and antifeminism. So, we have to make a version with... See? Sex is the obvious big one and we made that toggle, but that is where it ends (unless we decide otherwise). KS comes as it is, if you can't handle some of the content we can't bend backwards to make it palatable especially for you. While it's possible that sex is the only issue that is big enough that people start drawing lines, I'm not at the moment inclined to go down that path. Further, even if we made a "clean" version of the game, it would only take one Google search for an industrious youngster to find out that they are getting a censored version from their parent/teacher/whoever.

From your choice of words, especially "it could be so much more", I interpret that this aspect strongly devalues KS for you, and I think that is very unfortunate. Someone thinking that a work I made is good is wonderful, but to consider recommending it to another person is a great honor for me, and I feel sorry that KS outgrew for you the box it is in. Similarly, the prejudices surrounding the visual novel medium (and to some extent the entire otaku subculture) close some doors from KS. I guess, in a world devoid of compassion for disabled people, maybe KS could be more than a simple love story, a story that speaks of humanity and the world of disabled, of the grief of otherness and exclusion. But a bit idealistically (you can laugh), I object: KS is exactly what it is, nothing more. It is the world that should be more openminded and accepting.

- Aura

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

In a romance game setting, Valentine's is kind of a big deal. Emi and Rin know what the most important thing is: sweets for sweethearts.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lilly Path Direction Complete

Lilly path's script and direction are now complete and final. Hooray!

To round out the blog post, it's time for another character art recap, with Lilly being the one covered in this installment.

Lilly's design is somewhat divorced from Raita's original sketch, which depicted her as young and quite frail, with the tagline "a bit cliched". For some reason this was forgotten almost immediately, in liue of a reserved and motherly personality. This change was primarily seen in the early written character concepts for her, but would also all but set how she would be visually depicted in the future.

Time passed, and Ke^4 became our artist. His version of Lilly drew its colour scheme from the anonymously coloured version of Raita's sketches; blonde-haired and blue-eyed, in very typical "anime foreigner" tradition. Her hair was simplified, becoming wavy rather than having many loose strands, and her black ribbon became a staple of her design thereafter.

Gebyy-Terar, Lilly's next artist after Ke^4's leaving, produced the second set of Lilly sprites. These used the new version of the Yamaku uniform, switched her to wearing white stockings, set Lilly's front lock of hair, and also made her bangs somewhat thinner.

Finally, Raide was hired to take up the mantle of Lilly's artist after Gebyy left. Through extensive discussion, Lilly's bangs were simplified into their current form, her hair was lengthened, her proportions fixed to fitting her 171cm height, and her skirt lengthened to accentuate her reserved nature. It was not until now that her poses and expression set were finalised, her walking cane added, and her alternate outfits decided upon and drawn.

So that's the evolution of Lilly's art, and the state of where her path is at.

- Suriko

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Big Genesis Fan

Hey guys, it's been a while.

I realized there hasn't been much public talk about the music of KS, so I thought I'd take the time to give you a brief run down.

When I joined the project back in 2007, the soundtrack was basically nonexistent. The earliest devs made a handful of concept tracks that floated around the old forums for a bit, but they never really got off the ground. I ended up writing something like 20-25 tracks from scratch from between 2007-2008. I left the project for personal reasons, and Blue came just in time to take over for me. After about two years of being away from the project, I rejoined again in September of 2010.

With most of the soundtrack already done, my job switched over from being a composer to being a janitor. My old work just wasn't good enough anymore: it was just too far below the standards I had built up while being away from the project, so I remade it (you ever see Gundam 0079? it's like that part in Gundam 0079 where Amuro has become more powerful and his gundam is holding him back, so they customize it for him. I am Amuro. I am gundam). Believe it or not, I've been paying attention to the feedback we've been getting on the soundtrack. I addressed a lot of the issues people have been bringing up, in addition to completely rewriting several tracks. On top of that, there are several new tracks that weren't part of the Act 1 soundtrack. The end result is -- hopefully -- a soundtrack that meets the standards the rest of the game has set up.

I've always been a firm believer that, if you're releasing something to the public, you need to take them into consideration -- at least a bit -- rather than just throwing something at them and expecting them to like it. Thankfully, a lot of people seemed to enjoy the Act 1 soundtrack, but this made it a bit tough for me when I had to clean it up. In the end, I made a lot of big changes, but I'm certain you'll all enjoy it even more than the original (and if you didn't enjoy the original, hopefully you'll like this one).

Thanks for all the support you guys have been giving me and the rest of the team, and watch Gundam.

- Nicol

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reach for the Stars

As so often, people with interesting opinions spurred conversation on IRC, which inspired me to collect my (and our) thoughts into a blog post. Basically, various people seem to be unhappy with the state of western-developed Visual Novels. They are not good enough and what's more, they are not even as good as the originally Japanese ones are. Being a group of non-Japanese people who are making a VN, we of course feel somewhat interested in the topic, but the subsequent discussion pretty fast derailed away from that because none of us really is keeping a finger on the pulse of OELVN scene anymore. Instead we talked about what could be done better. It occurs to me that unlike my usual subject of the kinks of KS development, this time I'm not a sovereign expert of the topic. I've gone through a certain arc as a consumer of culture, just like anyone. People who have had radically different experiences from mine might not agree with my views at all. I've read a lot of VNs. Less than some, more than others. I've read great many of the ones often cited as the cream of the crop. I've liked some VNs I've read. I've found some VNs really good. These experiences shaped my view of the visual novel medium, and from what I have seen and learned about this niche of this subculture is the following:

VNs, such as they are, don't actualize the immense potential of the medium. They don't come even close. In fact, even the top tenth percentile predicted by Sturgeon's Law are awfully bad when you compare them with other storytelling media. And this goes not only for OELVNs as decried in that discussion thread but for all of them. Here's a fun fact: out of the fifteen or so of us, I can name only one 4LS member who is still actively interested in newly released visual novel translations. A couple of the artists follow new Japanese releases but only for the art they contain. We do take note of new releases every now and then, Japanese, western and translations alike, but it's always with this certain kind of apathy. Yet we all love the medium itself very much. We can imagine a VN we'd love to read.

Broad and generalizing conclusion: the VNs that get made are a gret deal worse than the VNs that could be made. Much more so than plays, novels or movies. Now, the immediate argument that kindasorta tries to defend VNs is that it is a young medium: people have been writing books, doing theatre, even comics, movies and animation for a long long time compared to the short decade and change that VNs have. There is definitely some truth in that, I believe, on the basis of comparison to the evolution of other relatively recent media like video games or comics. To reach a greater height, VNs have to grow out of the cave of lameness they're stuck in (and from what I can see, only descending deeper into). Here's four points that I think are pretty important in that:

1. Get rid of the dependence on genre conventions
This is the biggest issue, so big that it could be cut into like four or five bullet points by itself, but that'd bore the crap out of anyone reading this and I'm not writing an academic paper. Visual novel is a medium, but just about every single one of them falls into some sort of anime type genre, both story- and artwise. Conventions of that subculture, or tropes I suppose I should say, are the cancer that are killing visual novels (as they say). Portraying sex pornographically, hyperadolescent themes, archetypal characterization and so on keep VNs tightly locked as a niche that has no hope of ever appealing to anyone outside the incredibly tiny number of diehard anime fans that basically shape the limits of the potential audience current VNs have. Comics have grown up a bit already and broadened their horizons, arguably even video games have. VNs could try, too.

2. Stop with the word diarrhea
With a couple of exceptions, every VN I've read has had completely inadequate story for its wordcount. Writing longwindedly can be justifiable, but it seems to be more of a rule to drown your sparse good ideas into a swamp of forgettable dialogue or templated events. Visualization (proper kind, the one I'm talking about in point 4.) makes a lot of words even more unnecessary than they would be in an equivalent non-visual novel. Consider the difference in wordcount of an average visual novel and an average theatre play script. Nowadays VNs seem to be overtly long mostly because they are expected to be so, but what started this trend? Maybe VN writers are paid by the word? Maybe competent editors are too expensive to hire? Who knows. Either way, artificially extending the script beyond what it has to offer makes for a terribly boring reading experience.

3. Develop the theory of interactive storytelling
This is the single hardest part to do well when writing a VN, and the one that sets them apart from other storytelling media most clearly. I have never seen a VN that does branching/interactivity in a way that'd satisfy me, and I feel that this is only because there hasn't been enough time and thought put into developing the way interactive stories should work. For a really satisfactory interactivity the choices the player has to make lead to such different directions that the sheer amount of content gets out of hand very fast. Notable is that western video games have had their parallel path of progression in interactivity, and while some of them have attained the broadness I like, it's unfortunately often at the cost of narrative coherence (I'm talking about stuff like Mass Effect where the weight of any given dialogue choice is miniscule and ultimately pointless sidetracks are lurking behind every corner). At any rate, this is the only area where western game developers (but not western VN developers) would actually make better VNs than their Japanese counterparts. There are some video games that tell their stories very nicely and inject the interactivity equally well.

4. Up the visualization
This is a tough one. Though delta sort of disagreed, I feel it's a vital point. Like in other visual storytelling media, the writing is much more important than the visual part, but only through the visuals you justify using a visual medium at all. With the current trends, even the best visual novel will be the rough equivalent of Dinosaur Comics. It's funnily written at best, but very pointless as a comic. Delta used video game cutscenes as a demonstration of the opposite, specifically this which I hadn't seen before but immediately liked. Even if the opening is (sparsely) animated, it's not really all that far from the basic structure of a visual novel. Pictures and narrative, that's all they are. So that's what a VN at its best could be like, all the way. Imagine the best video game cutscene you've seen, cut it into still frames in your mind and insert the story. Blows this sprites + bg + hentai CGs standard out of the water. Now this is something where I actually see constant evolution even now. The most innovative VNs are becoming more and more impressive visually, and I don't mean that the plastic moeblobs are drawn better, I mean that they use the visual aspect of a VN better. For a recent-ish example, Eden* by Minori comes to mind. Minori's visualization team has always been top notch, but Eden*, in my mind, marks a somewhat more concrete step forward. There's still a long way to go though. At the other end of the spectrum, the best OELVN I can think off the top of my head, The Dreaming, would've been better if the branching (good idea, horrible execution) and art (terribly unfit of the game) were stripped off, the story rewritten as a novella and read while listening to the soundtrack. That sort of defeats the point of it being a visual novel.

So that's what I think is needed. Now some of this stuff means you need a budget to make a high quality VN, and a budget is something current VNs don't have. Because the thing is, VNs are not all that popular, and the audience they have is very narrow. The visual novel I'd want to see is not really the kind of visual novel most of the audience would want to see, likely for a wide variety of reasons. VNs are a very tiny niche market, getting tinier every year but that has nothing to do with the medium itself. Obvious solution is that VNs would need to invent a new audience, but evolving from a delivery platform for cartoon porn and adolescent fantasies to a serious form of art is a thorny path (as proven by all the forms of art that have managed the feat, my hat's off to them).

Finally, to get in the personal aspect into this story, I guess I'll think about where KS stands. Or maybe not. I do have a set of opinions about how KS performs in each of the categories outlined above but I'll leave specific talking about that for after we release the game. Let's just say that my general sentiment is "not so good". And unlike with the scene as a whole, I know exactly why I think so. KS is totally an offender in all of the above, for the fundamental reason that we are terribly amateur - often outright bad - at this. Nobody had any clue about any of this stuff four years ago when we started. The project is a hodgepodge of experimental things, constantly evolving development paradigm and learning creators trying to live with the consequences of their bad decisions. It's pretty safe to say that about half to two thirds of 4LS don't like KS much at all. That's not to say that we aren't proud or happy about what we do when we get together, just that if we had known in the beginning what we know now, KS would be very different, probably not as approachable as it is and likely released a year ago already. I do like KS for what it is on some level too, but for me the actual merits of the game, if any, will be that it's made at all, the community that surrounds it and the, dare I say it, epic journey that is its birthstory. Now if we were to continue as a team, trying to find our own voice and way to do these things, we might eventually manage to get something actually cool out. However, making even a single VN is a huge investment, which is why evolving as a creator is kinda hard. We aren't likely to stay together for a decade or two, just to see where we can go. Neither is any current OELVN team. Japanese commercial teams are somewhat more likely to, I think, but their innovative drive might be bound in other ways. I don't know. For VNs to evolve as a medium, it'd need a lot of creators that are in for the long term, interact and strive to extend their boundaries. For these creators to emerge, they'd need an audience for their creations, to reflect and learn from them.

Eggs are not going to start spontaneously appearing, so what the scene needs is some chickens.

- Aura

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

State of the Shoujo, 2011

Greetings to one and all, and happy new year from everyone at Four Leaf Studios.

Well, it's a new year. I liked the sound of "twenty-ten" better, but maybe "twenty-eleven" will grow on me as the year progresses. And progress it will, just as the game has been. It would be nice to say the year was rosy and friendly and we all got along and hummed lighthearted tunes while happily working away on KS... but I don't think any staff member could say that with a straight face. But despite the fights, the bitching, and the tantrums, we've managed to stick together and make steady progress.

As far as notable events during 2010 go, we've lost developers, regained developers, were extremely lucky to meet a certain person who's been working with us on some special surprises for the game, and Crud and I did a KS convention panel (which some reading this may have even attended). Things have happened in every developer's life outide of KS, some good, some bad, but KS itself has more or less kept trundling along with more writing, more art, more music, more editing and more direction being done nearly every day.

But all that pales in comparison to what this new year will bring, if only for one reason:

Ten years ago, almost to the day, Schuppen Harnische was released by RAITA at Comiket 59 on the 30th of December, 2000.

Four years ago, in January 2007, a post was stickied on 4chan's /a/ imageboard with the idea of making a game out of the concept on one of its omake pages.

Six months hence, in June 2007, Four Leaf Studios first arose as a named entity and work on the game began in earnest.

Almost two years ago, in April 2009, the Act 1 preview was released.

And within months from today, after four years in development, Katawa Shoujo will be released.

It feels somewhat strange to think about the game being released, from a personal perspective. It's been a part of my life for such a long period, it's certainly something I will never forget, and I would imagine that much the same is true of most of the other developers. Nor will I ever forget some of those who I've worked with closely during its development. Time marches on though; word by word, line by line, and argument by argument, the game is progressing towards its final state and the eventual release.

We've have a lot of progress status requests over the past year (and the year before that, and the year before that), and unfortunately, we've had to knock them back for quite a number of reasons. For those that asked reasonably, we did at least try to state why. With the new year though, it feels pertinent to give a good rundown of where the project is to the best of our ability. As such, here is a more detailed status update than the usual, including direction status. This is included because it's the best indicator of "final" portions of the game; that is, a directed act will be subject to no further changes. It's because of this that direction only takes place after all writing for an act has been completed (first draft -> second draft -> editing by editors -> direction).

Emi path:
Writing: Path script is finalised.
Direction: Path direction is completed.

Lilly path:
Writing: Path script is finalised.
Direction: Act 3 out of 4 complete.

Hanako path:
Writing: Path script second draft finished, Act 4 in editing.
Direction: Act 2 out of 4 complete.

Rin path:
Writing: Act 4 second draft in progress.
Direction: Act 3 out of 4 complete.

Shizune path:
Writing: Act 4 second draft in progress, Act 3 in editing.
Direction: Act 2 out of 4 complete.

Direction of Act 1 and Act 2 is complete, and Act 3 is most of the way towards completion as well. Emi path is now finalised as far as script and direction goes, aside from small-scale edits and direction tweaks to account for specifics of the art assets as they're done. The current hope is that with the game assets being in the position that they are, direction should hopefully be able to continue without stopping and waiting for acts to be written and/or edited. Art is, as usual, largely under wraps as far as progress goes. All sprites are complete for every character (barring the odd expression or two that's sometimes needed during direction), so the artists are working on completing the remaining CGs and cutins. On the CG side, there are very few CGs that require drawing from scratch, with most of those remaining requiring colouring before completion.

So that's where the project currently stands. The coming months are going to be a busy time in preparation for release, but rest assured that Katawa Shoujo will be released in 2011.

To celebrate the new year, here is a picture from Weee. We at Four Leaf Studios wish to thank everyone who's remained patient throughout the game's development, and hope that everyone will have a safe and happy year ahead.

- Suriko

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