Just mix it up a little
Lupiesoft is a small developer who recently published their first game, Toko: The Reject Demon on Steam. After finding their hidden gem of a VN, I reached out to them to see if they could talk a bit about the business of making Visual Novels in the west. Here’s what they had to say:
VGCC: I guess first off, would you all like to take this chance to introduce yourself? Who *is* Lupiesoft? What do you folks do?
Lupiesoft: We’re just a small dev team. Right now we’re focusing on Visual Novels like The Reject Demon: Toko but we’re not strictly a VN developer.
VGCC: You guys are a pretty off the radar sort of company. I found out about you when I played the Toko sample Taosym posted on the Lemmasoft forums back in 2014, but I was totally surprised when I found you again in my steam recommended list. How can I keep track of what you guys are doing? Inquiring minds need to know!
Lupiesoft: We’re very active on twitter and we have our own website at http://lupiesoft.com/. For the most part however we don’t go around advertising ourselves, we like to give reviewers keys and we figure that it’s a good way to spread by word of mouth. We’re also a very small team and what money we have we’d rather spend on game assets then on advertising on websites.
VGCC: You guys are a small team and you’re working on four different games at once. Isn’t that a ton of work? How do you manage it?
Lupiesoft: Three technically: There’s Dizzy Hearts, The Menagerie and The Reject Demon: Toko. Both Dizzy Hearts and The Menagerie are set in the same universe during the same period, whereas Toko is a modern fantasy set in a fantasized Earth. There are other games we’ve talked about like The Vagabond, a title set in the same city/time as The Menagerie, but we’ve not actually started working on it yet. But we like to keep to ourselves and we just focus on writing fun stories.
VGCC: You guys make yuri VN’s in the west. That’s a small sub-genre in a genre that’s already pretty small. Do you ever have concerns about the size of your market?
Lupiesoft: We can get pretty niche on top of that in regards to The Menagerie, since It’s not a typical eroge(editor’s note:Visual novel with adult content). Not that those games are bad, but that our ideas are often unusual. I think most publishers would probably think the ideas are far too outlandish if we tried to propose them.
I think our fans realize the risk we’re taking, and if we didn’t take those risks we probably wouldn’t attract the people who see what we’re doing and want to encourage us in it. We don’t want to appeal to people if it means changing who we are or the games we make.
VGCC: Why yuri? I’ve heard at least anecdotally that otome (editor’s note: Romantic visual novels targetting women) stuff tends to do better over here.
Lupiesoft: We like it! We’re not opposed to otome, and we’ve often wondered what our idea of an otome game would be. We’ve not ruled out that idea at all. But at the moment yuri games are what pique our interest.
VGCC: VN’s have made a lot of headway recently in the West lately. Why do you think that’s happening now?
Lupiesoft: People are beginning to branch out and not just copy Japanese games now, or copy Katawa Shoujo. The games popular now are games that are interesting in their own right, they’re themselves and don’t try to be anything else.
VGCC: Usually when I think of Western VN authors I think of Christine Love with the Digital/Analogue series, or something like Sunrider, so in a way seeing you guys making such traditional games is a bit interesting. Have you ever had any concerns about trying to match up to the kind of interface stuff you see other authors making?
Lupiesoft: I don’t think much in the way of UI. I like things to be very minimalistic in games. In MMOs I like playing with as minimalist of a UI as possible, so those are the kinds of UIs I would like to make. Simple, but evocative of the setting.
VGCC: What do you think of the current state of western VN development?
Lupiesoft: As you mentioned above it’s growing. I think people are leaving insular dev clique communities and growing out into the internet, and VNs are gaining mainstream appeal. I think that will lead to a wider variety of games in the future.
VGCC: How’d you get in touch with Sekai project? They’re a very translation-oriented publisher, so it’s a bit surprising to see you get picked up as a western developer!
Lupiesoft: It was after the Kickstarter for Dizzy Hearts, they were just getting started too and they were going to bring Dizzy Hearts to Steam. It was later that we decided to do the same for Toko as we worked on this much bigger game.
VGCC: What’s it been like working with them?
Lupiesoft: Great! They’ll be down at Anime Expo, and I’ll be there to walk the floor and talk to folks.
VGCC: I know they’re often very concerned with licensing voices, songs, etc. Did you have to go through that sort of thing?
Lupiesoft: Well they’re concerned with licensing the original songs from the game, and without that they couldn’t legally publish in the US, but for us we own the rights to our assets.
VGCC: I noticed you put Toko through Greenlight on Steam even though you had a publisher. Why was that?
Lupiesoft: We opted to go through Greenlight rather than straight publishing because for us it was a way to connect more with the fanbase, gauge interest and all that.
VGCC: Was Greenlight your idea or Sekai Project’s?
Lupiesoft: It was an option when talking about things we could do. For the reasons above we decided we were going to do it that way.
VGCC: So you’ve put Toko out on Steam, but I know you guys also work on some more erotic titles like The Menagerie, and I was wondering what it’s like finding a place to sell those.
Lupiesoft: It’s difficult. People in the west are often very outspokenly close-minded towards erotic content of any kind. It’s always been around however, and for us it’s a matter of being unashamed about the subject matter.
VGCC: I noticed that the link for The Menagerie demo goes to Mangagamer(Editor’s note: NSFW link). Why Mangagamer for The Menagerie?
Lupiesoft: They typically don’t license western games, but I think that many publishers are seeing that it’s a growing thing and are capitalizing on that. Mangagamer has been pretty welcoming towards The Menagerie and we’ll be sharing something special regarding The Menagerie at this year’s Anime Expo.
VGCC: Did you consider doing direct sales over your website?
Lupiesoft: We did, but we don’t have a large enough fanbase to support that and opted to sell on other sites.
VGCC: I know that Sekai Project recently put a censored version of the game Nekopara out on steam, with a NSFW patch easily found on the forums. Was such an approach considered for your other games?
Lupiesoft: In retrospect to Nekopara and Huniepop I believe that Steam has said devs are not supposed to make uncensor patches to skirt the erotic content rules.
VGCC: There’s not a ton of western-made VN’s, but there’s even fewer Western eroge. What got you guys into making them?
Lupiesoft: We like porn!
VGCC: So, I know you’ve mentioned before that you’re concerned with exploring affirmative sexuality and empowering the characters in Toko. Do you have similar concerns with character agency in some of your more erotic titles? I could see that sort of thing being rather difficult in a game like The Menagerie, where so many of the characters are in captivity.
Lupiesoft: Well The Menagerie it’s a story that can be incredibly lewd but can at times be dark, and at times can be empowering. But overall it’s a challenge especially when you’re tackling a game set in a brothel and the protaganist is a sex slave.
People tend to hear sex positivity and they close their ears. It’s almost become a bad word to the general public. It conjures visions of sex or sexuality robbed of everything that makes sex ‘fun’. In reaction to that people who are sex positive often react to that angrily instead of with understanding/compassion.
Fundamentally this is the fault of the people advocating for sex-positivity that they treat people who don’t understand it as intentionally acting terribly, the unknowing person is confused, gets attacked and they’re left with a terrible impression of what it means to be sex positive.
VGCC: That kind of sex positivity can be rather hard to find in a lot of Japanese eroge. Does that bother you at all?
Lupiesoft: I think there’s a tendency among the western media to generalize every eroge and say “this is exactly like Rapelay”, It’s a confirmation bias. Those games are the type most likely to be translated to english, because either they’re most requested or have the broadest appeal due to fetishes, but there definitely are sex positive eroge in Japan. it’s not even all that rare. Tsukiakari no Raspberry and it’s prequel are examples, but there are lots more that I’ve never had the opportunity to play due to both time and the language barrier.
I’m just scratching the surface however. I think that Japan if anything tends to be more open to meeting every interest, and typically the west is very selective in what gets imported, mainly due to cost-effectiveness. (Marketability?)
VGCC: So, your games tend to have rather varied body types which is really refreshing. Nadia for instance was really exciting as a character for me on a personal level. Is that something you intentionally go for when casting out a game, or is it just something that happens when you’re designing different characters?
Lupiesoft: I try to mainly think of characters that are distinct from each other. It’s not just body type but every facet. Just by looking at a character you should be able to get a surface-level grasp of them, the clothes they wear and how they’re posed should be able to tell the reader what kind of character they are.
So usually, long before I design the characters I tend to figure out what kind of character they are, how they’d act and talk. Then while I’m designing them I’m thinking of the scenes they could be in, the kinda faces they’d make, etc.
There are people who thank me for making bigger girls like Nadia in Toko and Jouya in Menagerie. But there are just as many who say same the same thing about doing a very boyish and lanky Ginxhou.
VGCC: Are there any less obvious ways that sex positivity impacts the games you make?
Lupiesoft: I’m not sure. We mainly strive to make things fun, and we don’t want to ever preach anything, or make our readers feel dumb, get on a soapbox. It’s been the bane of so many games where they forget they’re telling a story a ornd instead they’re telling a lecture.
People don’t play games to be lectured, they play them to be taken to different worlds where alternate realities, events and beings are possible. Making things sex positive in The Menagerie or Toko are design choices of things we like, like Elves and Demons, but they’re not like a subject of a thesis we’re delivering to a class. People can tell when they’re being talked at, rather than talked with.
VGCC: OK, last question. I need to know: How is Toko so damn cute? How’d you do it? What’s the secret?
Lupiesoft: I always wanted a fun, stubborn and hot-headed protagonist, but one that wasn’t always right. Toko is a fun character because she can be really stupid sometimes and she can be really honest and a character with flaws that’s a good person at heart is really endearing to me.