Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A magical girl with an "Errant Heart."

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Ron and Mike from Pseudomé Studio who are here to talk about their visual novel Kickstarter, “Errant Heart.”   Thank you both for joining us!

Ron: Our pleasure.
Mike: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

As an occasional player of visual novels I’m pretty interested in your project.  Would you care to give us an overview of your project?  

Ron: Errant Heart is a story that has the seed of its creation during our comic-making days. As you noted (in one of your later questions), we worked on a comic/manga title, Van Von Hunter. It was the sort of title that relied heavily on observational comedy—observations of idiotic logic flaws or other bone-headed concepts found in anime, manga, comics, TV shows, movies, etc. For some reason, we both tend to latch on to those sorts of foibles and exploit them.

As a result, we both enjoy deconstructing high-level concepts and reconfiguring them or otherwise subverting them. Errant Heart started out as a way to subvert some of the most obvious tropes found in the Magical Girl genre. You know—stuff like the cutsey talking animal side kicks, the evil baddies disappearing in a burst of sparkly stars, etc. But, as we were hip deep in Van Von Hunter, it was the sort of thing that had to be shelved.

Once we discovered the visual novel medium and wanted to undertake a project utilizing it, we searched through our archive of old ideas and dusted off Errant Heart. It's evolved quite a bit since the original concept. And it's definitely not a comedy, nor a direct subversion of the Magical Girl genre anymore. In fact, if anything, I'd say it's more of a combination of some of the traditional story-telling techniques one might find in TYPE-MOON visual novels, crossed with a Shonen Jump title, like Bleach.

In short, the story takes place in a fictional 1940's European city and follows the exploits of a young, uncertain painter named Lira Moretti. The people that she meets once she moves to the "big city" presents her with challenges to not only her career, but her personality and her fundamental way of life: Does she ignore the crazy, bizarre events that take place during her arrival in the city, or does she follow up on them and potentially find something she'll regret later?
I notice you’re using Ren’Py as your game engine.  How easy/hard has it been to use?  How much does it cost to use for this project?  

Mike: It's a bit tricky to answer that, since Ren'Py can be as easy or as hard as you decide to make it. It's built to make putting together a large visual novel pretty simple; placing backgrounds and sprites, setting up characters and dialogue, and playing music and sound effects are all about as straightforward as you could want. There's a bit more to learn for doing things like overhauling the look of the user interface, and, since it's possible to use Python code to really change things up (people have even made RPG combat systems in Ren'Py games) it can be, well, as difficult as learning Python.

In our case, it's been a bit challenging, since we wanted to make a fairly unique-looking interface, along with a number of other little customizations like a system for skipping entire previously-viewed scenes, and a paper doll system that lets us change character costumes and lighting easily throughout the script. Fortunately, Ren'Py has an extremely friendly and helpful community at the Lemmasoft forums that's helped us significantly along the way. Ren'Py is free for commercial use, which, along with its capabilities, made it the obvious choice for our project.

Your story is set to follow Lira Moretti does that mean you’re playing as her or as a “3rd person outsider” view of the story?  

Ron: Yes! And then some!

Actually, as I mentioned previously, we have a natural tendency towards deconstruction. As such, we don't want to be held to the conventions of traditional visual novel story-telling, which is generally described by viewing a story in the first person perspective, with tiny "ADV" windows popping up at the bottom of the screen in order to convey text.

Instead, we want to leverage the flexibility of the visual novel format to help facilitate the story. To that end, we have sequences in which there are third person perspectives looking in on characters, as well as first person perspectives from multiple characters, with both the small "ADV" windows and the full screen "NVL" dialog options.

That being said, the majority of the game is played first person from Lira's perspective.

So with the writing and code done you’re mostly looking for funds for the music and the editing is that correct?  

Ron: And the background images.

Owen Carson is the background artist, and given his speed, quality and reliability, we think the game will benefit greatly if he can complete the rest of our needed BG images.

But yes, music and editing are the other two key components that we would dearly like to outsource to more talented individuals.

When the novel is complete how do you plan on distributing it?  Are you on Steam’s Greenlight?  

Ron: One step at a time. It's gotta get funded first. Although, Greenlight would be an excellent choice. Not the only choice, though.

I’m glad you’ve included a demo in your listing.  How important do you think a demo is for a successful campaign?  

Ron: I think it's important to show potential backers just how far along the project is. If you tell people that the engine is done and working, and all you need are the funds to complete artwork, well, you better darn well show people a working engine.

So what makes a visual novel different than an eroge?  How are they similar that people seem to always connect the two?  

Mike: An eroge/ero-ga is an "erotic game". A visual novel is, well, essentially a novel with visuals; a piece of mixed-media literature. Not all eroge are visual novels, and not all visual novels are eroge. However, I believe, in Japan, the vast majority of visual novels do have erotic content, which would explain the connection. But visual novels are a medium, and needn't be restricted to a single type of content, just like how not all comics need to be about superheroes.

Van Von Hunter?!? That was you guys?!

Ron: Well, everything except the "movie". <facepalm>

Mike: Yeah, we have to take responsibility for everything else, though. A 200+ page webcomic, a short story/manga contest entry, a "trilogy" of graphic novels, a six-month run in newspaper syndication, and an unfortunate lack of jokes to get us through the conclusion. Now we're making a visual novel!

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Ron: I vaguely recall hearing the term bandied about years ago. But I think the first time I ever associated the concept of Kickstarter with funding a visual novel was when the creator of Ren'Py mentioned the possibility on a Lemmasoft forum post. That was probably a couple years ago, now.

Mike: It was a bit hard to miss. I read Kotaku and Joystiq regularly, and they frequently mention notable Kickstarter projects.

A recent Gamasutra article points to the results of the latest GDC attendee survey shows some 44% of those surveyed are planning to try crowdfunding in the near future.  Do you think crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular is going to become more of the norm when it comes to game development?  

Mike: My gut tells me that it's probably going to change a bit from the way it is now. It's still pretty new, but as time goes on things will likely settle down a bit, and it might not be quite as easy for just anyone to crowdfund their game. Still, I love that it's really opened the doors again for less mainstream games, so we can actually see things like visual novels or space combat sims, rather than just another Call of Duty or Madden. Hopefully crowdfunding will continue to allow developers to take chances with the type of games they make.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Ron: Most of our updates have been in regards to to our dev blog—giving potential backers a deeper insight into the details of the game engine, the sprites, the story, etc.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

Ron: Including you? You. ;)

I wish I were kidding but I'm not. Despite the fact that we've had experience in the world of paper publishing, that doesn't mean squat in the world of gaming. Our's is just one more voice among the din of unproven creators with a Kickstarter, vying for attention.

That being said, we've created a Facebook page to act as a central information point once the Kickstarter ends. And we're doing a little bit of paid advertising on anime-related sites, though not all of that has kicked in yet. And obviously, we're trying to set little fires here and there at various anime/VN-related forums, emailing VN-friendly gaming sites, etc. But it's a tough road to hoe. I can only imagine that the contributors and editors at these various gaming sites see a message with the word "Kickstarter" in the title, and their eyes just roll back in their head.

And yes, Kicktraq is a very handy site.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Ron: Well, I'm not sure our experience is directly translatable to others. However, I will say this much: despite Kickstarter itself stating that it's not a store, and despite receiving advice before launching that potential backers are there to fund the idea, not to buy a product, we've found that they are, indeed, there to buy a product. In fact, the vibe I've picked up on is that a lot of backers are indignant at the thought of giving money to help complete a project that might result in a product that is released for "free" afterwards.

Mike: I'd say, be sure to plan ahead! Read up on how other people have done it, what works and what doesn't. If at all possible, build up a large community of supporters before you're ready to Kickstart, and have them help you raise awareness of your project.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Ron: Again, it was our pleasure.

As for a final thought? While Kickstarter may provide people with a wider range of products and projects than would otherwise be available from mainstream sources, do keep in mind it's no guarantee that it will present "you" with exactly what you're looking for. Even if that's the case, go ahead and take a chance to back projects that are a close match to your interests. If you help support all of us up-and-coming creators, who knows—maybe one of us will then get a chance to follow up with a new project that DOES match your tastes exactly.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Ron: And to you. Yours appears to be a very helpful endeavor not only for those looking to gain exposure for their Kickstarter, but also to those looking for a good Kickstarter to back.

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