We’ve talked about Seymour Butts, once called The Black Hound, before. We’ve tried to figure out the rationale behind this meltdown, if it wasn’t a prank from the beginning. In videos we examined what The Black Hound was before it became a punchline. That’s what it’s been so far for us: a joke. However, when you look beneath the surface, you’ll find this is so much more than that.
The story behind The Black Hound’s transformation is no routine story of a Kickstarter scam, or another random guy asking for you to buy them a videogame. Nor is this your typical troll campaign, not really. It’s something more than that. It’s a tantrum in part, and a sign of a systemic problem on Kickstarter.
July 27th, 2013 saw the launch of The Black Hound on Kickstarter. Here I have to take responsibility for my own mistake. I thought there was no way we were going to ever know much of anything about the Kickstarter other than its original title, and that it was a visual novel. I say as much in both the Suspended by Kickstarter article and the Top 10 Worst Suspended Kickstarters video. I recently remembered the WayBackMachine. I simultaneously cried tears of joy for remembering, and kicked myself for forgetting it.
Here’s my chance to make amends.
Looking at the original campaign like this is refreshing. None of the pictures or videos survived the purge. What’s left is a lot of text dedicated to the story, gameplay, characters and talk about similar games. The Risks and Challenges section is a sight to behold, and there’s a monetary breakdown about what the $15,000 goal is for.
“A dark fantasy visual novel inspired by tokusatsu, mythology, and folklore,” reads the opening description. Tokusatsu is any science fiction or fantasy film in Japan that relies on special effects and monsters. It’s the typical campy stuff you’d find in a Godzilla movie or Ultraman.
It doesn’t take long to notice Einherjar Productions doesn’t take The Black Hound or it’s Kickstarter very seriously. According to a post on the LemmaSoft forums, 4chan (yes, I know) suspected the project was an elaborate prank from the beginning, and it’s easy to see where that idea came from.
“It’s most definitely a cross between your favorite game and your second favorite game, so you should throw money at it right now without even looking at anything.”
This “joke” is just that; an attempt to lighten the mood and set the tone for a project that has no intention of keeping a straight face. It models itself after cheesy Japanese b-movies after all. The rest of the campaign is straightforward and devoid of any further attempts at humor until the end.
The page goes on to explain what a visual novel is before diving into the story of The Black Hound. After that, there’s a novella’s worth about the plot, explanations about key plot points and the developer explaining why they made certain decisions. It’s not something that reads like a prank, rather someone trying to pitch a story they care about without knowing how to do so.
“In the coastal city of Viol, strange anomalies are beginning to appear in the nighttime. This metropolis contains the headquarters of two competing media conglomerates—Lighthouse, and Clock Tower. Their skyscrapers do, in fact, serve their implied functions as well. Both companies have been frequently accused of conducting shifty R&D beyond the scope of their entertainment roots. With a city-wide curfew in place for safety, the supposedly empty streets provide an able stomping ground for our newly christened hero to meet degenerates…and things people have heard of but don’t believe in.”
After going into more detail about the game’s Japanese influences, they go into yet another semi-rant that’ll come to define the Seymour Butts post later.
“In terms of story decisions, I refuse to include meaningless ones. I’m not going to pad the game with fluff choices, unclear route directions, or death resulting from arbitrary options. It’s not going to be the type of VN where you ought to have a guide open and a save file for every possible branching point.”
The developer goes out of their way to insist they’re better writers than most, without doing anything to support that claim. They decry clichés while using those very same clichés themselves. “I want the story to have a non-traditional look at light and darkness” is followed straight away by “I want to avoid clichés entirely.” They say they’re not going to “infodump” while swaths of the Kickstarter page are just that. When they mention similar games, they say things like “I’d rather not list 10-20 titles from each kind of media in existence, so let’s leave it at that,” after comparing more than 15 different franchises from film and games to their game and listing more in the next sentence.
This was the kind of campaign you could have appreciated. The developer tells us a lot about the game, the game itself at least sounds interesting, there’s a financial breakdown, and they’re upfront about their lack of experience as a game developer. Even if you don’t “get” the humor, you can at least respect that it’s there. The reward tiers – except for the first two – are well thought out, if you can get past the rambling attempts at jokes.
That’s where things fall apart, and further down in the Risks and Challenges section. These two areas are where you could make the case that the whole thing was a prank from the start.
“There are very few risks. A plane could crash into my house, so there’s that. I hope I didn’t just jinx that. I’ve heard that many beginning independent game development teams, especially for visual novels, end up disbanding.”
There’s a small taste, suffice to say it continues on the same level. That quote isn’t taken out of context either, it’s the opening line, and it informs the rest of the text. Einherjar Productions didn’t put much stock in the Risks and Challenges and it shows. Either they were too arrogant to think there were any risks, or yeah, it was a troll move the whole time. Either way, what was otherwise a solid campaign falls apart here.
At some point around August 13th, the day Kickstarter suspended the campaign, everything changed. That same day, a commenter left a post saying they backed the project because it was a visual novel without looking at the details. When they did look into the specifics of the campaign, they were shocked to find it had turned into the nonsensical mess that it is today: Seymour Butts.
On August 3rd, 23 days away from when the Kickstarter was supposed to end, The Black Hound collected $281, but by the August 13th, that number decreased to $86. We don’t know when that number changed, but since The Black Hound was so far from its $15,000 it doesn’t matter. Einherjar realized that fact, and that’s when they had their tantrum.
“Naysayers really ought to lighten up, especially when they can’t tell what is and isn’t satire. Play it safe next time and keep quiet,” the new opening line reads. The top video, whatever it was, was replaced with a picture of the Joker, and the category of the project changed from videogame to fiction.
Now the entire page is a “critique” of other successful visual novels on Kickstarter. It complains about backers having poor taste in games and laments that their project failed despite it being better than all those others. They seem to take a particular disdain for the visual novel Driftwood, which was successfully funded earlier that year.
“Someone called this professional. You were trying to help, but please no. Kids, if you’re gonna learn a lesson from Driftwood, it should be what NOT to do. Here’s a project started by a guy with a hilariously Wapanese handle who looks like he didn’t just shop at the Broheim Boutique, but intends to major in Douchebag Hipster Fashion at #SWAG #YOLO University. The fusion of the frat/hipster/Abe Lincoln look is simply unparalleled. The art is, let’s say, slightly poor, which means it’s about 9/10 pretty good by EVN standards. What really gets me is that the only screenshot uses a photo as the background.”
Einherjar breaks out the old internet standbys: sexism and homophobia, blaming their failure on not “pandering” to “homosexuals and bisexuals” or “feminists.”
“So with those two you got the G and T out of LGBT. Looks like I’ve just found the real ticket to success. I won’t just go back in time and make a webcomic, it’ll be for lesbians and bisexuals.”
“Fair enough, but let’s get one thing straight (pffft), it’s successful because it’s catering to homosexuals. There are not many games (oh wait, VN, “games”) specifically for gay people, although give it a bit and probably every game EA makes will be.”
The page says that it was “satire” the whole time, and that they tried to fail to make some kind of point. They picked a high number for the goal to teach people a lesson about budgeting, because everyone is just so dumb. It goes on like that for quite some time, covering how people need to learn English, talk of Martha’s Vineyard, and a general smugness that goes beyond anger-inducing and into cringe-worthiness.
They part with what really seals the deal as this being the internet version of an angry baby throwing shit at the wall.
“So, we might do this right instead of joking around in the future. Don’t wait up though because it wouldn’t be for money, so it’s not a priority. VNs are hardly lucrative. Then again, it’s not exactly difficult to outclass the typical genre fare. If you’re not making low-budget porn, poorly written tripe that can’t hang with real big boy books, or just cliche weeaboo fodder, you might actually make a VN worth reading. We might visit you on that lofty peak sometime.”
“I’m better than you and I only failed cause I wanted to! I could easily do better than all of you!” they shout before they take their ball home and cry long hours into the night.
All these years later and Einherjar is still around. They’re now called Team Einherjar, and their website contains one hilarious anecdote. Under their ‘About’ section they have a quote referencing the Kickstarter.
“Team Einherjar was originally founded back in 2012. But due to unforeseen events the team was eventually shut down.”
Those “unforeseen events” are referring to The Black Hound of course. After the Kickstarter was suspended, everything about Einherjar Productions was scrubbed from the internet, save for a single post on a forum in 2012 about their first game, a Mega Man Battle Network fan game. In that sense they’ve gone back to their roots. Their upcoming game is another Mega Man fan game, Mega Man ZX Genesis Alpha.
I reached out to Team Einherjar but, to the shock exactly no one, they didn’t respond.
What is there left to say about The Black Hound, or even Seymour Butts? It’s a great portrait of what a childish collapse looks like. We can’t say with certainty this was a developer meltdown and not a prank from the start, but I’m willing to bet it was. It’s the kind of entitled, embittered meltdown an ignorant and hateful child would only have on the internet.
That’s assuming this was run by an adult, but who knows? It’s not that hard to imagine a teenager cobbling random ideas together, slapping a name on them, and hoping to pitch it on Kickstarter by comparing it to their favorite media.
Whatever the case, Einherjar Productions and Seymour Butts are no different from Dark Day Interactive. They’re not the disease, they are but a symptom of a larger problem. Whoever turned The Black Hound’s Kickstarter page into what it is now, and for whatever reason, knew the campaign was going to be shut down. They wanted their message displayed on Kickstarter forever, and that’s exactly what they got.
You don’t have to use the WayBackMachine or search through old archives and screenshots to witness Seymour Butts. It’s still available to everyone to find through a search or any number of links online. Kickstarter has done nothing to remove it, or hide any of the messages there.
Imagine someone walking into the middle of your local grocery store and spray painting racial slurs on the back wall. That person is escorted out, but the store manager decides to leave the graffiti there. There’s a rule that states store managers have to go to the corporate office for permission to paint or redecorate the stores you see, and as far as that store manager is concerned, he did his job by kicking the vandal out.
Einherjar hijacked part of Kickstarter to air their personal beliefs, and Kickstarter allowed it, and has continued to do so. We’ve discussed the problem with Kickstarter’s hands-off policies before, but if there was ever a case where they needed to step in, this would be it. Instead, they only ever completely remove a campaign when a copyright claim is filed, or more accurately, when they risk a lawsuit.
The number of fraudulent Kickstarters, and Kickstarters that are nothing more than pranks and trolling attempts has risen over the years, and it’s going to keep happening until Kickstarter stops it before they go live. Until then, it’s going to continue to be the Wild West. In that since, it’s only a matter of time before someone pulls a Seymour Butts after they already take people’s money. It’s only a matter of time before someone throws up a Kickstarter with graphic images or death threats. When that happens, it’s going to get more attention then one guy whining on Cliqist.
We’ll save the best quote for last. This is from the original Black Hound campaign page.
“It’s important to me that every character be a believable human being, and that none of the scenarios are contrived. I need everything to make sense. I’m a huge fan of logical consistency.”