SMegatokyo, the story of two Americans trapped in a hilariously over-the-top portrayal of Japan, is one of the world's most popular webcomics. Now, through the power of Kickstarter, it is making the leap into the land of video games in the form of a visual novel.
Last weekend I sat down via Skype with Fred Gallagher, writer and co-creator of Megatokyo, from his home in Michigan to talk with him about the project.
The idea of making a visual novel based on Megatokyo is actually a rather new one. When Gallagher first began thinking about doing a visual novel, his first idea was to base it on “Sight,” the visual novel inside the Megatokyo webcomic that one of the characters is working on. But a few months ago, he began pondering turning Megatokyo into a simple linear visual novel that followed the comic's plot instead. Soon that idea blossomed into the multiple-character, branching-path project up on Kickstarter today.
Gallagher likens developing the visual novel to writing a doujinshi—a fan-fic—of his own work. “You're taking your own set story path and you're actually doing all those little stories with other characters, other combinations, other craziness—that's just not part of the main story,” he said.
When writing the webcomic, Gallagher always has a plan in mind for where the story is going. However, on several occasions, these plans have been changed at the last minute to fit more organically with the characters' developing personalities. “I'm going to take some of these points where I know that this has happened and give the players the choice and let them see what would have happened if I had gone in the other direction,” Gallagher told me.
And unlike the more than a decade old comic that is still going strong with no end in sight, the game promises to have an ending—many actually. Thanks to the visual novel's multiple-ending format, Gallagher will be able to explore the wide variety of possible conclusions to the story. “I'm really enjoying the idea of writing a lot of endings and just trolling people with what those endings could be,” he joked.
Gallagher is no stranger to visual novels. Before he began work on the Megatokyo comic, he was already a big fan of games like True Love Story 2, Kanon, To Heart, and Sentimental Graffiti—and Megatokyo reflects that. “There're a lot of the comics that show that visual novel format. Piro actually thinks in that terminology,” he said.
The game itself will be built using the Ren'Py Visual Novel Engine—the same engine that was used for the amazing Katawa Shoujo. And to take this visual novel from dream project to reality, Gallagher will not be alone. He currently has a team of eight helping on the project who are tasked with everything from programming and path development to art and writing assistance. Gallagher hopes this will allow him to focus on the script and the art—leaving the programming in more knowledgeable hands.
For the Kickstarter, the team produced a playable proof-of-concept demo (which can be downloaded on the Kickstarter page) to give a rough idea of what the final game will be like. However, beyond that, little has been done so far. The team is still working on the story path development and determining which ones to expand into full storylines. This has not stopped the project from getting funded though.
Within three and a half hours of posting, the project reached its $20,000 goal. Now, with just over a week to go, the project has over ten times that—over $200,000.
Because of this, the project has reached all but one of its stretch goals—and thus tripled the scope of the project. Originally planned with two scenarios—one following anime/manga fan Piro and the other following hardcore American gamer Largo—the game will now have seven main characters' scenarios and six additional shorter mini-scenarios following the supporting cast. Moreover, instead of just funding the first third of the game as originally planned, all three parts—a year and a half’s worth of work—are fully funded. “It's much more daunting, but it's going to be a much better game as a result,” Gallagher explained.
The only stretch goal not yet reached is one Gallagher actively hopes is never reached. Should the Kickstarter fund reach $500,000, he will add optional “Excessive Romantic Content”—something common in visual novels—to the game. “I never expected it to get to $200,000, that's way beyond what I was expecting,” he conveyed to me. “So I thought the $500,000 level was pretty safe. Hopefully, it's still safe. But having said that, if you make a challenge—'if I bring in this much'—I won't back off. I'll do it.”
That said, he hopes, if the goal is reached, he can do the content in a tasteful way—and as a humorous aside, plans to have one of the two conscience characters berate the player should he or she turn the feature on.
But even with the additional amount of work that has been already added to the project via stretch goals, Gallagher is still aiming to release the first third in February of next year.
Among fans (and haters) of the webcomic, however, Gallagher is infamous for missing deadlines. When I mentioned this, Gallagher jokingly responded, “Which is why it'd be the biggest troll in the world that I could do to get this game done on time.”
Because of Kickstarter funding, he no longer has to worry about much of the day-to-day demands of securing funding as the project goes along. And thanks to having a team behind him, he is able to delegate much of the other work. “For me it's a lot easier to have one big thing I can focus on. So I really feel like once I can really sink my teeth into the production side of this, it's going to go like gangbusters—because that's how I work best.” he told me. “I really just want to be able to spend my life chained to my desk drawing and writing,”
Moreover, thanks to a successful heart surgery this past May, he is healthy again for the first time in over a year.
The production process will be very open, with backers and fans alike able to watch him work on the project via his Justin.tv channel. And despite the ambitious scope of the project, Gallagher still plans to release a comic a week in addition to his work on the game.
All in all, Gallagher has been blown away by the support the project has received on Kickstarter. He never expected the project to do so well and is grateful to Megatokyo fans for their support. “Now I have to make a game that lives up to their expectations. I know that's a challenge but that's what we've got ahead of us. I'm excited about it. It's going to be fun.”
The first third of the Megatokyo visual novel is set for a Feburuary 2014 release with the other thirds coming in six-month intervals after that. For more information or to make a pledge yourself, head over to the project's Kickstarter page.
You can check out the comic as well at Megatokyo.com.
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