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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