Saturday, December 26, 2009

Am I Going to Be Popular Now?

Hello and hope you all had a great Christmas. Here at 4LS, we love to redo old work and throw dozens of manhours worth of production material away, if it's for the sake of art and ultimately, a better game. A lot of that stuff doesn't really strike the eye because you never see the old versions that have been discarded. However, one change is definitely going to make some waves, so I thought I'd announce the fruits of a couple of weeks of hard toiling by moekki and delta:

We upgraded your loli.

The new Emi has a bit more mature air than her earlier design, perhaps more appropriate of a teenaged girl  rather than a REALLY 18 YEAR OLD pseudo-loli. She grew almost 3 inches, but is still the shortest of the characters (so we can make bad jokes about it) and still of the same general build and shape. The reasons for redesigning a main character had mostly to do with stylistic consistency, we felt keeping the old design drove her too far away from rest of the art that features her (as you can see from the 100% completion CG in Act 1). Anyway, apart from maybe promo pictures and such you won't see more of her until full releases, any further Act 1 versions, released mostly for various translation projects, will retain the old sprites.



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Reimu wears red and white, that makes this a Christmas image.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Act 1 V2 Release

Four Leaf Studios would like to announce the official release of Act 1 V2.

Windows Act 1 V2
Linux Act 1 V2
Mac Act 1 V2
Help in seeding these would be greatly appreciated, in lieu of the previous Act 1 torrent.

Direct Download:
Links will come later if/when we find volunteers.
UPDATE: Thanks to Eksopl and magz, DDLs are now available from the download page.

This updated version of the previous Act 1 game preview includes:

* Traditional Chinese localization
* Simplified Chinese localization
* Italian manual
* New Windows installer, KS now by default starts up in the language the installer was run in

* No longer raises DEP errors under Vista
* Should now at least start on low-resolution displays
* Various typo and grammar fixes
* Flow fixes, all scenes should now unlock properly

This release is not recommended for those who already played the initial Act 1 release - the changes to the English part are minimal. However, for archival or new players, this effectively replaces the old release.

We hope that everyone, especially Chinese speakers, enjoy this updated release and will be looking forward to the full game.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Status and Backgrounds

Hello, everyone. Blog post time.

As far as general status goes, there isn't a lot to report; paths are still being written, scenes are being directed, art is being drawn, and music is being composed. And vitriol is still being flung, but nobody really cares about that.

So I guess to give this blog post some point other than "we're still alive, and still working", I'll prattle on about backgrounds.

Artist's rendition of Delta working on a game background. Image by Moekki.

Here is an example of one of our backgrounds, for context:

This is the result of a somewhat longwinded process that came about due to many experiments in different styles, varied and vitriolic arguments, and tears. But in the end, it all finally coalesced into the result above which we were all happy with.

It all started with... it not starting. As people began to write and the first of our artists began to produce sprites, one large omission was made. Expecting that, in the fullness of time, they would be done.

That said, a few months saw some movement. To be precise, a very basic tech demo.

The less is said about this, the better.

After a while, with the game proper in development, the first batch of actual game backgrounds were produced. Created largely as placeholders, they were inserted into the early prototype of what would become Act 1.

Pretty simple - an oil effect and colour wash on a monochrome image. These backgrounds were grabbed from around the internet and therefore generally lacked any consistency, and were also taken from a variety of heights and angles. These held us over while we waited for a background artist.

Which, as you can see from our current backgrounds, never materialised.

Well, they did, but not for a long time. Backgrounds were for months entirely passed off as a future consideration as writing progressed on every path, which seemed to be fine. Until we took stock of what would be needed after we were done writing. What had happened is a complete explosion in the sheer amount of art assets required, especially in terms of backgrounds. A certain amount of rewriting has helped, but the fact remained that we suddenly found ourselves requiring a ton of backgrounds we simply didn't have.

It was then that we made the hard call to give up on the prospect of drawn backgrounds, and have a hard look at how we could accomplish our needs via modified photos. This lead to a couple of blog posts you may remember.

This decision wasn't made lightly. Everybody on the developer team wanted drawn backgrounds. The problems though were many; we needed over one hundred backgrounds, which were going to be an absolute hell to get even with photography, it would have meant growing the developer team even more when communication was already an issue, going back and changing things is simply not really possible for drawn backgrounds, we wanted an artist (or artists) that could make relatively good looking backgrounds, rather than accepting drawings of any quality just so we could say "we have drawn backgrounds!", and there was the simple fact that we didn't have any offers until far too late.

Even then, after deciding on photographic backgrounds, we were in despair about the sheer number of backgrounds needed, some of which would be quite hard to get. That is, until the heavens parted and a dedicated photographer joined our development team: Yujovi.

While a number of public domain photos from the internet and photos from developer's trips to Japan helped supplement our needs, Yujovi took a large majority of the photos we used for backgrounds. For the first time in a long time, the background situation seemed solvable.

But one question remained: How to modify the photos to suit Katawa Shoujo's art style the best?

This lead to a few weeks of experimentation, arguments, and general fuss. In the end, the decision came down to two candidates:

Crosshatch Hell:

We decided that these were too dark, the enhanced object outlines didn't really bring out the sprites very well, and that the crosshatch effect just didn't look very good in general. Vibrating trees: not so good.


Proposed by Moekki, this was the general process we decided on using (albeit with some tweaks). It gave the backgrounds a flatter, more simplified look whilst keeping the eye directed towards the sprites. Note that wasn't a game background, just a general example image.

Several other ideas were proposed, and thrown out in quick measure; A simple cutout filter messed up the background outlines too badly, and made expanses of colour (such as skies) look awful, while paint daubs and other such single-step filters looked 'cheap'.

But filtering is not the end of it, as there were a number of other obstacles to overcome.

The next step in the saga of backgrounds was the fact that, despite having a bunch of photos and a modification process, backgrounds still needed to be selected. For this, some standards were put forth.
* All images must be at least 1000x600, to allow horizontal panning and background manipulation.
* All images had to be taken at a close to horizontal angle, from normal eye height. This is pretty much common sense, as the backgrounds and sprites, at least within KS, simulate seeing the world through the protagonist's eyes.
* All images had to be reasonably clean, without too much blurring or distortion. Some of this can be covered over during the BG-ification process, but too much and the background will simply look bad.

And so, selection began. After a few weeks, most of the required backgrounds that had popped up during writing were selected from the available pool, and a naming scheme was devised - location_place_time.jpg (for example, school_dormhisao_ni.jpg).

With that sorted, the modification of each photo began to take place. With Delta and Moekki's skillful work, the images were not only filtered, but also prepared beforehand to look the best they could (via adjusting saturation, brightness, removing people, fixing image tilts, changing and removing signs, fixing of vertical lines, etc), and had variants made for different times of day. This often took much more time than making the photos into backgrounds, as many photos required quite heavy photo manipulation.

The conveyor belt of background requesting -> photo taking -> selection -> image preparation -> background-ification -> game insertion cranked to life, and soon we were in business.

And that's the story of how Katawa Shoujo's backgrounds are made, and the history of how they came to be this way. Thanks for listening, chiiiiiildren.

Oh, and Dragon Age: Origins is a great game.

- Suriko

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

# need another event cg here —δ

One of the big realizations during the work on this game was that while consuming a lot of a particular media does help, it does not actually give you the experience in creating it. While this seems painfully obvious, it's also disheartening, and even if you try not to think about it it will hit you eventually. And it's not like you can go around and ask professionals or read an authoritative book on the topic of VN creation. So all of us are just trying things and hoping that they will work out for the best. I'm not even talking about the big things — it's obvious that a good story needs to adhere to a few well-known ground rules like pacing, and what kind of art is pleasant to look at, because those are pretty intuitive. The devil is in the details.

So today I'm writing a bit about event CG. But you can't start talking about event CG without considering what the alternative to event CG is, and that is almost always sprites in front of backgrounds. These are the foundation of virtually all VNs, because they "only" require initial effort, and then can be used for the rest of the game. Sprites and backgrounds will, in a long, not ridiculously-budgeted game, always be your basic bread and butter.

Of course, when everything is the same sprites and backgrounds over and over again, it's hardly exciting. That's where event CG comes into play. Basically, an event CG is something that is specifically created for an event in the game, something that is not universally usable or modular. But as we found out, determining when to use and when not to use an event CG is not as easy as it sounds.

We had two lines of thinking in the dev team: One saying that event CG should be less specific and more universally usable, and one saying that it should be very specific to get maximum impact from them when they happen. Much discussion was spent on this, and we ended up trying both. As always, it became apparent that both had their downsides as well - the real "bulky" scenes in the game are dialog scenes, and spending event CG on those seems less than ideal, because you could have done them with sprites. However, the other way, making an event CG for every "non-generic" happening, is just not possible — Ideally, you would do the entire game with nothing but event CG, and it would always fit without ever getting boring (and some games indeed do just that). But event CGs are "expensive", if not in money, at least in effort. So you will never have as many as you would like.

Basically, there are two types of scenes that are even considered for event CGs: Important ones that deserve the additional visual impact, and ones that just cannot be visualized otherwise. If those were always the same, it would be easier. However, the smaller the amount of CG you want to spend, the more they drift apart, to the point where you have to cut corners for the sake of feasibility. So some kind of abstraction, instances where something in the text is just impossible to visualize, will definitely happen. And sadly, eventually you have the choice between doing something that "deserves" an event CG but could be done without it and something that will have problems with the visual representation but isn't really important enough - and in this case, the latter will probably be the one that gets chosen.

Now, what did we end up with? We did not even have the (not that deep, to be honest) realizations above early on, so what we decided on was to let the writers decide where they want event CG. Which sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. But what can you do? Basically you only really realize you need an event CG when you try directing a scene with sprites and it just doesn't work. Then again, directing only happens when the scene is written, and the artists should already be working on the event CG. And sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and even drop text, as good as it may have been, just because it's not feasible in a visual novel. Of course, an experienced VN director could see those things coming (and an experienced writer would not write scenes that lead to the dilemma above), but I think all of us are more than ready to admit that we're just barely entering a level of experience that makes this possible. This is, in fact, a big part of the reason why the development process seems unrealistically slow sometimes.

But it's the way it is. We're still learning and trying new things every day. Not thinking in absolutes and theories, but in the compromises and realities of actually creating something. It's not always easy or fun, but it's what makes this project so interesting in the first place.

Today's blog art by our man to go to for emergency event CGs, climatic.

— delta

Thursday, October 22, 2009

開発ブログ日本語版 開設のお知らせ




En translation
title: We now have Dev blog in Japanese

We created a new blog dedicated to Japanese translation of the Dev blog posts.

Japanese viewers can refer to this blog as well.
(Future translated articles will only be posted in JA blog.)


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Up your Date.

ince you're all still checking here daily, and since we haven't bothered posting anything here in the recent past, I thought I'd do what all of you are dying to hear and do a LOL status update.

Two of the five paths have their second drafts written, and have had low-level critique from the editors and other writers. There will be minor additions to them from the writers and then they will start the long churn of the editing process.

A third path is well on its way to completion of the second draft, and a forth is starting to pick up the pace.

On the art side of things there are now a number of new CGs that have been made, however as we head into the exam season for a number of the artists we are expecting a slow down until December. This should then, hopefully, result in a rebound once the shackles of education are released from their heels.

I wish that I could add more, but in reality, that is about all the progress we have made. Sure, to us it's a lot more dramatic. I can say "two parts are finished" here, but that equates to about 200,000 words worth of keyboard bashing on our side of the fence.

Since this has been woefully short, I'll mention something that I noticed the other night.

Due to various, unforseen consequences, I have been away from the project proper for about 3 weeks. When I came back there were a number of scenes for review, and a couple of comments on a couple of my scenes.

One of the biggest complaints that we've had internally (especially with the first drafts) was that Hisao was a bit of a non-entity. There were debates about just how much attention we should pay to him taking pills, their side effects (you would not believe how many "nightmare" scenes we threw out) and so on.

There were also attempts at making Hisao more of a reflection of the player. At one stage the first decision in Act 1 was "You are about to enter the door to Yamaku Academy. How do you feel?" This failed on a level never seen before, and that is why you now introduce yourself or have Mutou introduce you.

But with this new wave of scenes, it's like everything has changed. One of the comments on my scene was that it was "Hisao-centric – you're writing the Hanako path, not the Hisao path". In the other scenes that I was reviewing I felt a similar effect; Hisao was no longer a penis attached to the psyche of the player; he was a character. And, not only that, he was a different character in each path that shared commonalities at his base level.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that we have, at least partially, forged a character out of Hisao.

Either that or the lack of sleep and KS was playing tricks on my mind. I suppose both are plausible. Toda'y Blog Art comes from Doomfest (albeit a little late).

- Crud

Monday, October 5, 2009

命名秘話 (Behind the Name - Japanese)

This is a translation of the "Behind the Name" blog post for our Japanese readers.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Behind the Name

It's always fun to talk about names with Katawa Shoujo. Why, even the name of the game itself is the source of quite a lot of controversy. What about the rest of the names? In accordance with the spirit of chronicling the history of our project, I'll shed some light to the origins of some of the names in KS. Most of these names were given before 4LS existed, when the project was still taking its first steps because character names are one of the most important things in a visual novel, and because people were tired of calling everyone {insert disability}-tan. In fact, the names were one of the first issues that was decided upon.

The character names of the main cast were decided by the best method known to man: a poll. As a result of clueless weeaboos with no fact check throwing in their suggestions, we were stuck with some stuff that has since caused quite a bit of headache. As an aside, crud also fucked up a great amount of the names given afterwards (and nobody else thought of fact checking after him either). Names like Iwanako and Yamaku are from his beautiful imagination. Anyway, names that don't really exist were not a big deal as long as they could be written with kanji, but impossible names or terrible names were a much bigger problem. In some cases, we have retconned stuff, in some we've succumbed to the fact that the characters were known by the names they were originally given.

Hisao Nakai

There was a grand battle over our protagonist's name. Many people wanted to leave him anonymous as a homage to, well, the Anonymous who were the driving force of the project while others wanted to give him a fixed name and personality. The end result is a schizophrenic combination of the two extremes, a fixed character with a fairly substandard personality. We later found out that a famous psychologist has the same name as Hisao.

Rin Tezuka

In the name poll, Rin was contending against suggestions such as Moe and Samori, but prevailed in the end. Her last name is a homage to the grand master Ozamu Tezuka, and it contains the kanji sign for "hand" as well, as a reference to both her disability and artistic ability. Because Rin is such an uncommon person, her name is written in a somewhat uncommon way as well. The sign for her name means "jewel" instead of the usual "cold" and when said aloud, it does sound a little like the tinkle of jewelry.

Lilly Satou

Lilly was given a foreigner background (all blondes are foreigners; black, blue, green and red are the only natural hair colours in Japan) so her first name is foreign. Lily, or yuri is the symbol of lesbian romance in manga/anime subculture and a lot of people wanted to make her nomen an omen. Lilly's last name is very commonplace, much like Smith or something in English.

Shizune Hakamichi

Shizune's first name is written with the symbols for "silent" and "sound". Nuff said. However, she was originally name Rosa, as in the flower rose and a silly pun for the japanese word for deafness, rousha. We decided that one girl with a flower's name and a foreign name is enough, so Shizune became Shizune. Her last name is annoying, because it's not a "real" last name, but it also is naturally written in a somewhat morbid way so we had to come up with an unnatural writing that wouldn't sound as stupid.


This is a very unusual name, it's written with the signs for "char", a fish relative to salmon and "child". Interpret that as you will.


The school nurse was originally referred to as Nurse-kun, a reference to a series of threads on 4chan that were about the experiences of a real, nameless nurse who was in charge of a then 7-year old multiamputee car crash victim. The story that those threads wove was considered very human and touching (apart from that special 4chan flavour any thread there has; the initial post starting the story ponders whether he should rape his patient or not). To this day, Nurse's and Emi's relationship still reflects the relationship of the channer nurse and his patient in some ways.

The origin of the name for Yamaku High School is alluded to in this forum thread. Tea house Shanghai (which is actually more like a cafe) almost became another Higurashi reference, but a timely intervention made it a Touhou reference instead. So much better, yes? The city our game is set in will remain nameless, but it's loosely based on a real, existing city in northern Japan. Crud even has taken a photo from the approximate place where the main building would exist.

The rest of the names have mundane and/or uncontroversial origins, or I just couldn't come up with anything funny to say. Ask if something interests you and I might explain it.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Thousand Paper Cranes

The Katawa Shoujo Folding@Home team is now in the top 1000 of all teams. This is quite remarkable, since it only began little over two months ago. It's also comfortably inside the top 200 by daily progress, with a rising tendency. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Here is a picture for the occasion, drawn by pimmy:

— delta

Thursday, August 27, 2009



Update on Japanese Translation

This is a progress update from KS Japanese translation team.

We have 4 stages in the translation process.

1. Initial translation
2. Translation check (to correct translation errors)
3. Editing (to make the translated text look more natural)
4. Proofreading (to correct spelling and other errors)

The translated scripts will be submitted to the development team after proofreading is done.

We have recently completed the initial translation of entire Act1 script after 4 months of its release. We think this is our first major milestone.

In the meanwhile, we are performing translation checks on already translated scripts. 20% completed, 60% in progress, and the remaining 20% are still to be examined.

We are still not able to give a concrete schedule, but we will keep you posted on this blog.


Monday, August 17, 2009

A View from the Gallery (Season 5, Episode 4)

Because the whole dev team is currently living the big life in the glamorous OELVN jet set and all the cocaine snorted off the breasts of high-class hookers has severely addled our brains, we find ourselves unable to come up with good blog posts at the moment. This is why I decided to give the word to one of our more persistent IRC lurkers, name redacted:

Oh no you don't, this blog post sucked. Enjoy your Shizune, who does not suck, courtesy of Weee.

Name redacted (Mood: quixotic, now playing: Peter Gabriel - Big Time)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Am Cooler Than Climatic

This blog has been getting too preachy lately, so today, I'm going to talk about how I am cooler than Climatic. We were having a debate about this the other day, when I said that he was not cool. He countered with the claim that I am far less cool than him.

buckingham> I have drawn since then anyway
buckingham> it's not my fault
NicolArmarfi> upload some
buckingham> if you don't remember
buckingham> no
NicolArmarfi> why not?
buckingham> I am too lazy to upload something
buckingham> just to satisfy your weird compulsion
NicolArmarfi> oh i see, so you didn't draw
buckingham> you are free to believe it
NicolArmarfi> what happened to you, man
NicolArmarfi> you used to be cool
buckingham> you are the one
buckingham> who became uncool
NicolArmarfi> explain
buckingham> why don't you ask a psychiatrist
buckingham> why you are uncool
buckingham> the problem is probably in your head
NicolArmarfi> they would just say i am as cool as i believe i am
buckingham> how cool is that
NicolArmarfi> somewhat cool
NicolArmarfi> but not really
NicolArmarfi> cooler than you though
buckingham> terrible
buckingham> what
buckingham> no way
buckingham> you play videogames
NicolArmarfi> yeah i'll ask weee
NicolArmarfi> which one of us is cooler
NicolArmarfi> just admit i am cooler
buckingham> no
buckingham> you are not
buckingham> maybe you should make a poll
NicolArmarfi> g4 video game awards were today
NicolArmarfi> best strategy game = halo wars
buckingham> don't care
buckingham> see
buckingham> this is why you are uncool
buckingham> you care about shit like this
NicolArmarfi> i am not saying i care
NicolArmarfi> it's just weird
buckingham> so did you ask weee
buckingham> who is cooler
buckingham> so did weee tell you who is cooler
buckingham> sup dawg?
NicolArmarfi> i asked her again on MSN
NicolArmarfi> and she dodged the subject and went away
buckingham> [04:03] a22 is cooler
NicolArmarfi> yessssssssssssssssss
NicolArmarfi> how does it feel nigga?
NicolArmarfi> suck it down
buckingham> I don't mind
buckingham> it is cooler not to worry about this stuff
NicolArmarfi> bullshit
NicolArmarfi> you cared

Some might say that this is not conclusive enough to decide who is cooler, so I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of other reasons why I am cooler than Climatic:

1) He eats quiche. Not even just Lorraine quiche either, but artisan quiche with goat cheese and fruit marmalades. wtf?

2) He wears a brown sweater. Seriously, a brown sweater? It's unacceptable to wear a brown sweater unless you're in elementary school.

3) Climatic does not know where da hood is at.

4) I am a baseball fan, and there is nothing cooler or more American than a game where 18 men run in a diamond on artificial grass. All Climatic has is the lowly cricket, a game that was only cool in the smash Bollywood hit "Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India." In contrast there are many more great baseball films... like Major League.

5) He does not like hypotheticals. Hypothetical questions are the high point of human cultural advancement. This shows that he is a plebe.

- A22

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Concerning Self Satisfaction

Having ventured through various depths of the sick, depraved amateur video game making crowd on the internet, I've come to realize something. Now, one might assume that it is a good event when he puts out the final product of a days or weeks, or months labor. This is total bullshit.

Having written soundtracks for several visual novels (very, very few of which I enjoyed), it astonishes me that I ever allowed myself to release those tunes which have been haunting me for months, and even years. Only on looking back to I realize the great flaws of my work; the cause of this is spending an amount of time writing something out from start to finish, believing that the end was the end, when in reality it was just the beginning of a long phase of kicking myself in the ass.

When writing any sort of story, music or drawing any picture, it is important to realize that it is not only your initial perception of your art that matters, but the opinions of others, as well. Before releasing anything, one must pass it off to several others and edit it according to their respective opinions, combining them with your own outlook on it. After that is put together, you must edit it even more, tempering it into the most solid, unbreakable alloy within your abilities.

This process can take a while. Depending on the volume of work your putting out, it could take months, years, or so long that you no longer give a shit and pass it off to someone else. But in the end, it must be done, and this is where I, and many of my contemporaries, failed.

This is not the case with Katawa Shoujo. This game appears to be taking an incredibly long time, putting out very little active content and etc., but in reality it is being taken at that careful, calculated pace that few others have the balls to work at. I left the project in the beginning of this year, and things that appeared to have been done then are still, months later, being fervently edited and discussed. Not to mention, the testing stage for the demo alone: the first act itself was subject to several edits, and entire rewrites, before going through another few months of extensive editing, by a team specifically assigned to this task. I find this quite admirable; it gives me the utmost confidence that KS will be a universally enjoyable game of the ballinest degree, and it should for you, too.

Unless you're a dick. Now, I'm going to go finish watching The Debt Collector.

-Nicol Armarfi

Monday, July 27, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

-Aura, art by Doomfest

Friday, July 24, 2009

Something Missing

Boys in visual novels are boring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Losstarot (Guest Art by Kamifish)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Bullshit

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Little Function That Could

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— delta

Friday, July 17, 2009

No, We Cant: The Power and Necessity of Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Blazblue.

- Climatic A22

Monday, July 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Friday, July 10, 2009 problems

Just a short notice this time:

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Folding @ Home Team

Just a quick update for now.

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

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

- Suriko

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Waldo World Arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well anyway, here's two of them.

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

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

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

-- delta

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tangible Outcomes

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

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

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

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

"Sure. Dev version or the release?"

"I was joking."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Crud

Thursday, June 18, 2009

State of the Shoujo, June '09

Hey all.

It's been a while since the last status update, so it's time for the first post-act-1 report.

The release of Act 1 saw a lot of things happening in a very short amount of time, which disrupted devlopment for a good few weeks as we all came to terms with what we'd wrought. Every developer took different things from this period of time, but the most resounding was surprise at just how popular our Little VN That Could ended up being. However, this also brought with it a number of new things to learn such as forum moderation, dealing with a deluge of help offers ranging from translation to writing to art, and how to manage an exponentially growing IRC population. The experience though, in the end, has been a big morale boost. Now that we're getting back into the thick of work, the feedback we've recieved as been very helpful and at times surprisingly insightful.

All paths have their first drafts complete, and writers are now refining their paths through the second draft. Feedback of the paths is given by all developers, especially the other writers and the path's respective artists, with each draft recieving a different level of rewriting and editing. Scenario is first and foremost what is scrutinised between drafts, with characterisation and overall writing style also being under strong consideration.

As with the writing, art is also once again starting up after the Act 1 release. Sprites and CGs are being worked on, with good progress being made. Every side character has a sprite set now, with Meiko's set having recently been completed.

- "When's the game coming out?"
"When it's done" is the stock answer. However, please do not expect it this week or this month; it is still a long way off.

- "Fandisc/expansion/sequel where?"
Woah there, we haven't even finished the game yet. None of us have much idea of what we'll do after Katawa Shoujo is finished, and are paying little heed to the answer of that question until we finish this game first.

Finally, as blog posts without pictures are boring, here's an in-game screenshot of Hideaki.

- Suriko

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

200K Blog Hits

In a startlingly short amount of time, we've gone from 100,000 hits on the blog before the demo release to 200,000. Thank you to everyone who's contributed, played, or even just taken an interest in Katawa Shoujo. In celebration, a picture of Akira Satou from Raide.


"Listen up guys! I have this great idea!"
"Go on."
"You know how in anime when there is an epic moment of clashing wills, they always put some fierce animals in the background? Like tigers and dragons."
"It symbolizes their killing intent and ferocity, and their personalities. The clever guy is always the dragon, and the rough one is the tiger. The retard sidekick is the monkey."
"Go on."
"Yeah, so I thought, since we have a moment like that in Act 1, with Shizu and Lils fighting, we should do that too."
"So we'd put a tiger in the background? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, except we should put some animals that are appropriate in context. You know, something that would fit the girls better."
"Oh, okay. So what animals would symbolize Shizune and Lilly?"

Sometimes ideas just don't work out the way you think they would. The idea was funny and the picture is really cool, but it just didn't work out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bad End lol, better luck next time

I don't like bad ends.

I haven't met a single VN bad end that would feel somehow meaningful, and they are almost always quite contrived, to get over the game over as quickly as possible. Not dragging on what eventually will be some lame way to kill one or more of the characters is not a bad idea, but I can't help feeling that the whole concept is completely lame. They are the literary equivalent of the shaggy dog story (or Bel-Airing, for the meme-savvy), the only point is making the reader feel bad and disappointed. It sucks. Adding bad ends to a VN feels like intentionally fucking over anyone who might stumble on it. It's bad writing.

Or so I thought. I had an epiphany the other day, and now I have thought about it a little. I thing I might've been approaching this from a wrong angle. The writer of a visual novel can easily start thinking of his product as more of a novel, but that's not what a VN is. You could think that bad ends are just game overs of a pseudo-game, nothing else. This seems simple and obvious, but it's not exactly so when you are trying to tell a story. Stories have rules, storytelling has certain principles, and good stories either follow them, or break them so brilliantly that nobody notices. However, many of the traditional lessons of storytelling can't be applied as such to the kind of branching, semi-interactive flow that a visual novel has. You think that your story should be made of exposition, tension, climax and resolution (in that order), and adding a sudden death by being eaten by a magical shark or tumbling off the roof (cough) breaks this holy tradition so it feels wrong. But it's not necessarily so. Bad ends are, or can be useful tools to create contrasts and to titillate the what-if sense. They can be used in a meaningful way, even if they are just some lame way to off your protagonist.

But I still don't have to like them.


Saturday, May 16, 2009


This is a translation of the "Long history of Katawa Shoujo" blog post for our Japanese readers.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Q & A at FAKKU

A few days ago Aura went over at FAKKU for a public Question and Answer session. There's also some insight from Blue and crud in there. Hop over to look if you are interested in what kind of things people wanted to know, and what answers they got.

Warning: FAKKU in general is very not safe for work, but the Q & A thread should be SFW.

Some idle sketches here:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Long History of Katawa Shoujo

This is something I've been meaning to do for a long time, and every time I look at the sidebar of the blog I'm reminded of it. The dev blog was originally intended as some kind of semi-official chronicle of making KS, to be saved for posterity, and I became the semi-official chronicler. However the blog covers only the period from its inception, many of the posts are not really that interesting in retrospect and the short history on the website is rather curt. So here, a long history of Project Katawa Shoujo:

The seeds of KS were sown almost ten years ago, in the Comiket 61 held in December 2000. Doujin circle Zettai Shoujo and its artist RAITA released a Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind doujin called Schuppen Harnische, centered on the amputee warrior princess Kushana. On an omake page RAITA drew concept art for a disabled girl dating sim which he dubbed Katawa Shoujo, drawing the five main heroines and writing short descriptions in the margins. Notable is that there were two other omake pages next to it, describing two other ideas RAITA had. Why these two became forgotten and KS survived, time and coincidence will tell us.

Fast forward six years. A western fan translates and colours the KS omake page (but not the two others), becoming not only the person who sets the project moving like the first stone of an avalanche, but also unknowingly becoming one of the biggest influencers to the visual appearance of the game, singlehandedly deciding the colour scheme of the school uniform and the hair and eye colours of the main heroines. The exact date of this event is unknown, but the doujin page is posted on 4chan /a/ on the 4th of January 2007. In retrospect, what happens next is the most incomprehensible link in the improbable chain of events leading to what project KS is now. For no apparent reason at all, the entire /a/ board goes batshit over the concept page and the thread starts filling with ideas about what the game would be like and calls for actually making this game a reality. Several threads about KS are made and filled, until a moderator stickies one of them, a rare occurrence on 4chan. At this point the momentum of Anon is too big to hold back, so they collectively decide to go forward with this idea of making a game based on nothing but the single omake page RAITA did. A person who we will call P arranges a development forum, since 4chan is a rather poor development platform due to the impermanence of any content posted there. For the following weeks, this forum works like a Petri dish of creativity, as swathes of completely unorganized raw ideas are born, fight each other, evolve and die. The most active users, P included, attempt to structure and organize, with varying results. Most of the heroines gain some semblance of personality and names, and the setting is explored a little bit though it eventually sets into a very very basic Japanese high school, except with disabled students.

The interest of a large portion of anonymous eventually withers and dies, as it always does, and the most active users now try to figure out how to proceed. Core Group, a de facto leader cabal, has been formed, aiming to give the project some structure so it actually could get some work done. They try to trawl the visitor base for contributors of sufficient quality, but nothing seems to be moving forward much despite good effort. There are arguments between people who want KS to be kind of an open, free-love community project where anyone could contribute, and those who want it to be more in the style of a closed developer group who make the game from start to finish. Eventually infighting and clashing egos lead to drama and P leaving the project, with the leadership left in the hands of cpl_crud and someone who we call T.

At this stage (April 2007) almost the entire contributor/userbase of KS has been demolished because of the lack of progress, disillusionment from the regulars and waning interest from the fickle anon. The entire project is in severe danger of dying off. Crud decides to start anew, and arranges new development forums on another webhost. These forums literally start from scratch and the few remaining devs move there with only the ideas that they have collected and distilled over the first four months of project KS. They deal the responsibilities between themselves, ending up with crud writing Hanako's story, A22 writing Shizune's story, someone we call S writing Lilly's story and Hivemind becoming the head editor. K will work the character art with F doing background art and being the art director. T becomes "director", essentially starting to learn to use Ren'Py, the VN engine of our choice. I rejoin the project in June after coming back from hiatus, becoming the Rin path writer and eventually Hivemind agrees to write Emi path in lieu of the editor mantle. Thus, the first iteration of the Four Leaf Studios has been assembled, and we take on that name for ourselves, as a kind of a joke and a reference to the origins of the project. Even though the name is there, at this point we hardly could be called a studio, as nobody has any experience in VN making and the professionalism of the endeavour is laughable at best.

The summer 07 passes in learning the ropes and trying to plan the game. Even at this early stage, the project plans to make a full length visual novel, which is crazy ambitious to say the least. To this day I am not sure how the hell anyone could think it was a good idea to make a amateur full length VN on the first attempt at the medium. But there we are, going along with it anyway. Unfortunately A LOT of bad decisions are made during this period due to inexperience, and this will be costing us dearly in the future as you will notice. Ignoring the importance of good planning (I (unfairly) blame crud for this, as it's one of his strongest characteristics as a creator, even to this day), the dev team starts forging half-blindly ahead, churning out text and pictures which are then assembled in Ren'Py into the first playable version of KS. Many of the side characters are created in this period, and the main cast gains more personality. Many, many things from this period form the concrete base of KS as it is today, and the dev team refers to them as "the stuff we want to change but we can't". The playable alpha demo of the first day of KS, called Grid1, is leaked to 4chan in August and it generates a slight renewal of interest for some time. NicolArmarfi joins the team, giving us a composer who can produce an original soundtrack for the game.

Sometime in the early Autumn 07, the first occurrence of what will later become some sort of a sad pattern, comes to pass. The dev team realizes that pretty much everything so far was a horrible mistake caused by lack of foresight and planning, and is going to lead to problems of apocalyptic scale unless everything is scrapped and the writing work started again. Unwilling to waste the work, the dev team decides to salvage what it can, and I proceed to stitch the existing writing into a newly structured framework of my design, with the writers filling in the holes. The basic structure of KS is formed here (and it's going to persist all the way to the final, full release). The first week, Act 1, is shared between all paths and written in collaboration between all writers until it splits on the last day into the path stories of the girls, written by their respective writers alone. After the work on Act 1 is finished, the writers move on to their path stories. In late Autumn I realize what a shitty and hasty job I did with the restructuring, and do it all over, this time all by myself. Thus we are up to the third iteration of Act 1.

Delta joins the dev team in September and starts to learn Ren'Py and Python from scratch, planning to code a proper UI for the game. Meanwhile, K quits the project, unhappy with his own capabilities and S gets into a serious accident, leaving Lilly without a writer and the project without a character artist. However, December sees Suriko joining the devs, replacing S as Lilly's writer. The art proves to be a bigger problem. Though we don't know it yet, throughout the autumn, winter and spring we are going to chew through a number of artists, all of who join enthusiastic but end up quitting the project for one reason or another. This period is indeed marked by the awful problems the project had with artists, as not a single background image had yet been finished (in eight months of working!) and the lack of character artist spelled uncertain future.

Despite this, the project moves on in other fronts. Through the spring and summer 08, the writers finish up the drafts of the path stories and delta increases his proficiency with Ren'Py, customizing the engine itself, working under the hood and tweaking the UI until it starts looking something like the highly tuned version you see in Act 1 release. A group of editors, including Silentcook, Losstarot and Kagami, join the team because there finally is something to edit properly. We have them and a small group of proofreaders go over the script of Act 1, and consider releasing it with the old art by K (but end up not doing so).

During late spring, a ragtag group of artists who are friends with each other offer themselves on the altar of project KS, and thus moekki, Ambi, weee, gebyy-terar and kamifish become the people whose handiwork you see in the character and CG art of KS. They split the workload in a similar way we writers do, giving each character to the sole responsibility of one artist. They spend a few months practicing getting their art to be sufficiently consistent with each other and decide an art style for the game (moe-moe in the fashion of Leaf's games). In summer, the real art production begins, starting from the sprites. At some point Nicol quits project out of boredom, as he considers there is enough music. T and F are fired from 4LS. Realizing that the lack of backgrounds is going to be a problem, we call out for contributors who could get appropriate photos we could base the bgs on. Luckily Yujovi and his trusty camera come to help, and soon we have more photos than we need for two games. Me and crud visit Japan, conveniently enabling us taking photos that require native flavour such as the festival backgrounds to complete yujovi's work.

Since the entire script of the game has now been finished, it's time to look back and see what we got. AUGH. We decree that the script of Act 1 is of unacceptable quality due to its form still being a FrankenAct, stitched together from dozens of incoherent pieces of a year-old first attempts at KS script. The art production being unfortunately but conveniently behind, I redesign and rewrite the Act 1 scenario and it's written from scratch. Despite using the same collab method as the previous one, we are able to produce a lot better script due to our improved skills, and it's the one you see in the game.

In November, Raide joins as the newest artist of the team, going through some tribulations when he tries to match his style with the rest of the artists. Blue123 starts composing some additional background music for the game as well. You can hear his work for example in the opening movie and the track that plays during Hisao's hospital scene, Rain.

The artists complete the art needed for Act 1 in spring, we assemble a release package, test and proofread it and send it out.

So in the end, it took us almost a year of learning things the hard way until the dev team set down into a (hopefully) "permanent" form that could produce something we were confident enough to release. Act 1 is not as good or bad as it is by accident. It's a product of a lot of hard work from everyone involved. We are neither prodigial geniuses or lazy tards, making a VN of KS's scale is just so hard that first timers are bound to stumble and fall down a few times. With my perfect hindsight, I now can look back, acting like I'm pro VN dev rock star and laugh at the clumsy mistakes we did, not knowing any better back then. There are so many things (almost all of them) that I'd do differently now. Anyway, not only learning to make VNs, it also took us time to learn how to act as a group of visual novel creators because this kind of free collaboration project is not a trivial work environment at all. I won't talk any more about that, except noting that we sure have learned to get along, if nothing else.

As you can see, while KS has had a two-year long development cycle so far, everything that you actually see in Act 1 was done in a bit over half a year, apart from the UI/engine code and music that carry over from older versions. While we are in better shape than ever, the future is daunting. The full game will be at least four times longer than Act 1 and at least as complex. It will be interesting to work on it. But, that story is for the future and this is where this story ends, the Wednesday of last week when Act 1 went live. That is where history ends for the time being.

So, there you are. I wrote this history mostly for myself and for the rest of the developers so that we wouldn't forget where we came from, but maybe one of you found it interesting enough to suffer through. Longwinded, full of failure, bad luck and idiotic adventures in the world of visual novels, this story has no moral, no climax and no end in sight for now, but that's how this story of ours is.


Friday, May 8, 2009


(The following is a call for Japanese Translators. Sorry for the Moonspeak, but feel free to skip it). There are also translation projects for KS in Hungarian, Lithuanian, French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Chinese. Most of them organize themselves at least partially through our forum, feel free to drop by if this kind of thing turns you on!




1: フォーラム(にメンバー登録する
2: こちらのスレッドを確認する
3: cpl_crud氏宛にPM(プライベートメッセージ)で参加表明する。


Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Seven days later...

I don't know what we were expecting prior to release. Maybe we knew that something like this might happen, but deep down, I'm surprised and happy about how Act 1 has been received. Act 1 has been downloaded somewhere in the ballpark of 15 000 - 20 000 times in a week's time and most people seem to think we did all right on this one.

For a few days now, we've been looking at the wasteland of unfinished things and gigantic TODO-lists that should be shaped into the full version of KS, and most devs have started chipping away at their workloads. We have talked a lot about the feedback we've received, and discussed what lessons we have learned from this release. Act 1 set a bar for us and I guess now it's time to do even better.

Thank you for the support, words of encouragement, offers of help, translation projects, feedback, critique, improbable comments, fanart, bug and typo corrections and all the other things that have happened in the past week. It's been the best, if also busiest, week I've had as a KS dev so far.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Some Short Questions, Some Short Answers

  • Will there be sex/H-scenes?
Yes. There will also be a togglable option in the configuration menu for the game to skip the H-scenes.
  • Will there be voices?
No. We decided on this a few months ago for a number of reasons, including (but not limited) to: Sheer amount of dialogue, the need to freeze scripts once voicing is done, need for VAs for every character, and bloating of the already somewhat large number of developers. Please don't apply to be a voice actor, because won't accept any. Sorry.
  • Will there be episodic releases?
No. The next release will be the full game (ie. there will not be Act 2, Act 3, etc, releases).
  • Will you be charging money for the full game?
No. If you really want to monetarily help us, please give the money to a charity. They need it much more than we do.
  • Will you be adding drawn backgrounds?
No. Neither will we accept offers for people to make them. This is due to both the sheer number of backgrounds required, and the fact that the photographic backgrounds meet our needs as-is.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Katawa Shoujo Act 1 Preview released!


Direct Downloads:

So, we finally let the world see something concrete of our magnum opus, a preview of what's to come. I wonder what people are expecting when they open the game, especially the ones who are familiar with the project. The concept, when explained in the shortest possible manner ("a cripple dating game") sounds like something no sane man should have anything to do with, but hopefully the treatment we are giving to RAITA's idea is a satisfying experience. At the very least, I hope you have as much fun reading it as we had making it. From now on, we'll be working to finish the full version that contains the path stories.

Honestly, this much already feels like an achievement, looking back to all this time and the things that we've been through. There is no way I can concisely describe all of what has happened. There are a lot of things. Sediments of fossilized developement material on top of each other. Silly anecdotes about the daily life of a virtual game developement studio. People come, people gone. Blood and sweat and tears. You know something has been going for a long time when you can feel nostalgic about the early days, and this project really has been one big journey. But we have gotten somewhere now. We can look forward to the end of the road. It's still some way ahead, but it's there, somewhere.

See you all there.

We welcome feedback and comments, feel free to visit the forums or the IRC channel.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Imitation is the insincerest form of flattery

No man is an island, and much less a creative man. We all draw inspiration from somewhere, influence from the works we consume.

The OELVN scene, being even younger than its also very unripe Japanese counterpart, has for most of its existence been not just influenced by, but I daresay even copying and cloning the central elements of Japanese visual novels. Settings tend to be highschools (in Japan) or thinly veiled proxies thereof, plots and events follow the cliches of anime, manga and such, techical solutions follow "the standard". We, too, are inside this sphere of influence and lo! KS is a fairly average highschool ren'ai game. The reason for the generic blandness of the scene is its young age and general inexperience with the medium. Most makers only manage one project to completion, if that, and they invariably tend to be just as original as you'd expect from a first attempt at anything creative. Monkeying things you have seen/watched/read/heard of is the modus operandi for almost everyone on the first go. The rare few that move past that first project can grow to create something more original, as they gain confidence and skill with the medium. Not many do. This barrier is hard to pass, and it prevents the scene from moving forward very swiftly. If the OELVN scene grows more into something that can support itself, new creators can look at the pinnacle games to draw inspiration from, instead of going back to Japan and reinventing the wheel for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, different yet somewhat similar mechanics are at works on the other side of the globe. The tight commercial requirements of the Japanese market forces many companies to fall into a vicious circle of milking their popular franchises, while the customer base is vary of anything too far away from the center. Every now and then something refreshing emerges (sometimes from the doujin circles), but more often than not it's forgotten. I'm not saying that VNs don't have a future, but currently the medium seems to be in a stagnated state for the most part.

That aside, there are some wonderful visual novels out there already that deserve to be looked up to. The English-speaking community has not yet produced anything that I'd be impressed by, so Japan is where we are looking at. I decided to ask the rest of the devs about their VN inspirations as well.

For the writing style, the biggest influence is likely to be Romeo Tanaka's Yume Miru Kusuri, followed by Tomo Kataoka's Narcissu, both classic visual novels though completely different in style. Tanaka really has a good grip over the visual novel medium, standing on the no man's ground between a screenplay and straight prose, one foot in both camps and with brass-balled confidence. He weaves the rhythm of the lines neatly, while keeping the non-linear storytelling firmly in his grasp. On the other hand Kataoka writes subdued, almost frugal text that has a very unique feel. Narcissu is the classic tear-jerker story, pretty much custom-made for its purpose without any unnecessary bells or whistles.

Outside of these, we all read a lot, VNs and otherwise, but listing the works and writers we hold in high regard would get tiresome.

The artists have taken Leaf, especially their ToHeart series and the emo game December When There Is No Angel as their main influence. I asked them why this is the case:

<Aura-> artists, why do you like Leaf style
<Aura-> describe
<Ambi07> moe
<moekki> moe
<Aura-> fuck you

Further along, Delta credits Fate/Stay Night as his biggest inspiration for the directing. F/SN really makes the most of its fairly simple toolset, creating adrenaline-filled fighting scenes while keeping the quieter, slice-of-lifey scenes alive too. This direction was a conscious choice, as our "budget" would go only so far. Things like Quartett or School Days sure look great, but that kind of production values in a volunteer project? No. Something like F/SN is within the reach of the amateur developer, after all, that's what Type-Moon used to be not too long ago.

Finally, Nicol says Initial D and Frederic Chopin are his guiding stars for the soundtrack.

KS is our first project so inexperienced as we are, we took the safe middle road on many core design decisions. The long arc of developement has given us time to mature, but the true fruits of this growth won't be shown unless we make more games. KS has its roots deep in the ground of unoriginality and that's where it will stay. Yet, it's always good to remember that unoriginality does not mean "bad", execution counts for 90% of the end result and that's where we aim to excel.