[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t seems like every month we now see a smattering of visual novel projects jumping into crowdfunding. This is hugely exciting for fans of the genre, especially considering how rare visual novels had previously been in the west. Lupiesoft were one of the earlier developers to arrive on Kickstarter and brought Dizzy Hearts with them. The campaign was successfully funded in March of 2013 to the tune of $16,691. This was quite frankly awesome given the actual goal was set far lower at $5,000. It just goes to show that even a few years ago visual novel lovers were ready to pledge heavily for something catering to that niche.
Of course, as any crowdfunding connoisseur is aware, projects take time. Heck, the oldest successfully funded Kickstarter video game project ever – High Strangeness – just launched this year! What we see occurring less frequently, however, is when a developer releases other games in between the period of crowdfunding a project and getting that project to market in some form. To most, it seems like an incredibly confusing decision at best, and as disingenuous and insulting at worst. Backers can’t help but wonder what it all means. After all, if there’s not enough time to complete a crowdfunding project then how on Earth is there time to put together a seperate game? Beyond that, don’t backers have some sort of expectation of the game they backed being the priority of said development studio?
Lupiesoft is still developing Dizzy Hearts two years later. But along the way they have launched an updated version of an episodic title they made for a game jam. The Reject Demon: Toko – Chapter 0 is a raunchy, engaging visual novel to be sure, but it most definitely isn’t Dizzy Hearts. The developer has also made no secret of their other project titled The Menagerie. Although that’s not quite hit the market yet, a demo already made its way out which suggests a lot of development work has already been poured in. These events have caused backers to worry far more than they likely would have if the game were taking years but seemed to be the main focus. Is Dizzy Hearts on the backburner, and if so, why?
There are so many questions which an outsider such as myself cannot answer. That’s why I posed a handful of questions to Lupiesoft themselves. Backers need not agree with everything they say, but they should at least be aware of the company’s reasoning for this development behavior. And although I did not back Dizzy Hearts myself, I too happen to have my share of questions for the team.
Cliqist: How did the successful Kickstarter for Dizzy Hearts affect your team? Did it grow, did development begin in earnest, was it an extremely stressful situation, or a mix of things?
Lupiesoft: The Kickstarter for Dizzy Hearts also Kickstarted Lupiesoft as a company. We were only a couple people at that point, it allowed us to have confidence in the game as well as what stories we were telling. People wanted to read them and at the time I was not sure if there was an interest in the subject matter of my games. Sometimes I’m surprised because I’m always thinking up weird shit and people are interested in reading about it.
Cliqist: At what point did you realize that Dizzy Hearts was going to be a project of such large scale?
Lupiesoft: The suggested release date for Dizzy Hearts was 2014. But I think what people glance over is that this date was ‘before’ stretch goals, and I must legally put down a date on Kickstarter. The fans chose overwhelmingly to have Dizzy Hearts increased from 50k words to 200k words. The difference between a 50k word book and a 200k word book alone is huge. Factor in that originally the 50k word game was going to be kinetic, and this new 200k word game has branching stories, MANY new characters, the story the way I always wanted to tell it. VNs don’t really grow in difficulty linearly but exponentially, so it naturally would take much longer to make this game.
Cliqist: Why was the decision made to remake The Reject Demon: Toko and turn it episodic as well as create The Menagerie alongside development of Dizzy Hearts? Were practice or a need for more funding factors in this decision?
Lupiesoft: The Reject Demon: Toko was always going to be episodic, but we debated just what medium was best suited for it. In the end Menagerie and Toko act as ways to push us as a team, to develop necessary skills in order to complete Dizzy Hearts, so in a way they were practice. This was because during Dizzy Hearts development, even before the Kickstarter we had to redo the assets multiple times.
The scope of the game was huge and if we continued to work the way we were, it would be like a bird trying to peck a mountain into a grain of sand. It would take forever. We would have collapsed under the futility of it and the game would never come out.
As many Kickstarters that move onto different projects, there are those that collapse under their own weight such as Dysfunctional Systems. Because we wanted to release Dizzy Hearts, because it was important to us we felt it was necessary to practice so we were not crushed by the project, and we didn’t grow to hate it because of the sheer scale of time grinding on it to now effect.
Cliqist: What are some issues that occurred during Dizzy Hearts’ development which may have delayed its launch?
Lupiesoft: There’s been no issues that have delayed Dizzy Hearts, we don’t have all writers working on the same projects at a time. But we’re all self funded, I draw everything by hand and it often means staggering raw man-hours compounded into single month increments. As a team we probably produce material at a enormous rate, but some people need to be fed, $16,000 in game dev terms isn’t much money, and while it paid for the most expensive aspects of Dizzy Hearts, very little of that goes to keeping us alive.
Cliqist: Do you feel that your team could have been more transparent about the development decisions they were making to backers? Has this been a learning experience?
Lupiesoft: I’ve been saying generally what’s above for two years now in one form or another, and I don’t think we could be more transparent than we have been without publishing our devlogs. People will think I “canceled” Dizzy Hearts. It’s a sore issue because Dizzy Hearts and the creation of this universe of Dizzy Hearts represents the bulk of my adult life and it’s essentially what I think about from sun-up to sun-down.
Cliqist: How far along would you say Dizzy Hearts is at the moment?
Lupiesoft: We’ve been having meetings very recently as we prepare to move into full time development. That said significant chunks are written, the story is outlined. The development of visual novels while simple on the surface are logistically very complicated. Other than writing, all the art that was present on the Kickstarter will need a new pass (or be redrawn) to bring it up to the quality of our current releases.
Cliqist: Would you consider using Kickstarter in the future or is Patreon your preferred method of fan funding now?
Lupiesoft: We’ve refrained from using Kickstarter for things like Toko or other projects we have in mind because we don’t think that it’s good for us to do so until Dizzy Hearts is released to the public. For Kickstarting other games after Dizzy Hearts we might consider it, but it might be for something far larger, maybe as a more gameplay oriented game.
We’ve also considered whether we should, if fans are adamant on having it, using Kickstarter to fund things like full voice acting (rather than partial) for Dizzy Hearts, as well as for Toko too, this would be something with very clear cut budgets.
Lupiesoft brings up the interesting point of how easy it could be to grow to “hate” a project if that’s the only thing your team focuses on for a great deal of time. The concept of needing to gain practice before tackling a massive project also makes sense, but if I were running a Kickstarter personally I’d hope to already have a great deal of this practice under my belt before asking for funds. But hey, there’s no rule saying this isn’t allowed, as tons of campaigns launch their business/etc alongside their product in the crowdfunding sphere. I wish I could know even more, but thanks to Lupiesoft for even answering these questions. Another developer initially slated to be a part of this article (who was in a similar situation to Lupiesoft) declined to answer.
But really, at the end of the day my opinions are a moot point as well. What matters most is how the backers feel. Did you back Dizzy Hearts? Do you feel these responses (or their most recent update) quell any anxiety or frustration? Do they actually add fuel to the fire? Considering the Lupiesoft Patreon makes somewhere around $900 a month, it seems most don’t mind the wait for Dizzy Hearts. Regardless, please share your opinions in the comments!