Don’t be fooled: the image above is not from Goodbye Volcano High, the yet-to-be-released queer-representing visual novel from indie studio KO_OP. It is in fact a screenshot from a fan project, Snoot Game, created by an anonymous developer, and released last November. Although “fan” might not be the right term to use.
It’s an extraordinary situation where a bigoted and angry response game has come out over a year ahead of the game it was “inspired” by. This anti-LGBT 4chan project has created consternation for both Goodbye Volcano High’s original developers, and its community.
In between the bigger titles announced at a 2020 Sony digital showcase, a small indie game was given a high profile reveal. It stood out to Kotaku writers straight away—Goodbye Volcano High was described as a narrative-focused 2D game from a small Montreal co-operative called KO_OP.
Goodbye Volcano High drew wide attention online at the time of its announcement, thanks to its distinctive apocalyptic setting and its centering of a non-binary character. In the visual novel, players will take on the role of Fang, a dinosaur in high school, who learns that the entire world is about to come to an end. Given this stark realization, at such a pivotal time in their teenage life, Fang has to make choices about how to spend the rest of their abruptly shortened life. Will you focus on family, friendships, or crushes?
Alongside this, the game promises an “interactive rhythm and lyrics system,” in which Fang will be able to play instruments, write lyrics, and perform songs. And throughout this, Volcano High will focus on queer narratives, offering under-represented communities the focus of their story.
This all comes about from a Canadian development studio, KO_OP, working as a co-operative. Artist owned and run, it has previously created the joyous GNOG. For the team, their relationship with fans, especially via Discord, has appeared to be an integral part of their process.
As Goodbye Volcano High picked up steam and started developing a fanbase—and spawning many positive fan side-projects—it also simultaneously drew the attention of a rather less enthusiastic audience. Users of 4chan’s video game board were drawn to the game as their latest subject of ridicule. Driven by its art style and the developers’ pro-LGBT values, topics about which the message board frequently espouses its backward and disturbing perspectives, some there decided to create their own rival version. That would become Snoot Game.
The dynamic between 4chan and KO_OP—a studio whose political leanings couldn’t be more different—is a strange and unpleasant one as far as GVH’s developers are concerned. This only became more nasty with last year’s release of Snoot Game. A parodic visual novel developed by anonymous 4chan users under the name of Cavemanon, it used modified and repurposed art assets from Goodbye Volcano High to create a sort of bizarre, alt-right-leaning “fan game,” packed with anti-queer messaging, made by people that aren’t actually fans at all.
“This game was developed as a critique of Goodbye Volcano High’s characters,” reads a statement at the bottom of Snoot Game’s website.
Volcano High’s original genderqueer protagonist is depicted in Snoot Game as a confused teenager who eventually de-transitions with help from the player, leaning on the laziest alt-right themes during a time when trans rights in the real world are ever-more threatened. One playable ending also has them shooting up their high school—a reference to a Goodbye Volcano High meme that gained traction on 4chan after the game’s announcement. It’s not exactly subtle.
This was just the latest in a long string of targeted harassment that the studio has faced since the 2020 announcement, KO_OP tells Kotaku. And as Snoot Game became increasingly popular online, mention of it inevitably started bubbling up in KO_OP’s community Discord. In conversations we’ve read, one user finally asked the development team what was going on in June of 2021.
KO_OP put its foot down. A member of the development team replied, saying that Snoot Game “wasn’t made in good faith,” and that “any discussion about it has no place in our server.” Following this, and the inevitable 4chan attention it provoked, KO_OP made its Discord private, invite-only, and locked behind an application questionnaire that same month. In July’s email newsletter, they explained that this was done to limit “Discord raids,” which they acknowledged had been happening regularly.
“The reality is,” KO_OP’s email continued, “that if you are making a game with queer characters…you will face harassment no matter where you go, including on your Discord.”
The issue is, Snoot Game is not a tiny aside, but rather has formed its own community, which KO_OP members say they believe are responsible for the Discord raids they’ve been experiencing. It even has its own dedicated fan art website, with over 6,673 posts at the time of writing—much of which is NSFW.
In a statement to Kotaku, KO_OP expressed its dismay at the situation, and mentioned the sustained harassment they had been facing since 2020.
“When Goodbye Volcano High was announced,” the studio told us, “it reached a lot of people, many of whom decided to create their own fan works in response to it. Some of these creative responses were made to mock and attack us and our work. As a result, the team at KO_OP experienced a significant amount of direct transphobic and homophobic harassment that persists to this day.”
“We are not interested in attacking fan work,” the developers went on. “However, we want to make it clear that those works and the subsequent response to them has taken a toll on the individual people—many of whom are queer and trans—who are working hard on Goodbye Volcano High.”
What complicates policing the discussion of the game in the KO_OP Discord is that fan art for both projects is nearly indistinguishable. What may seem like a harmless image of one of the game’s characters could actually be Snoot Game fan material, something which, according to KO_OP’s rules, shouldn’t be posted. This has created a very confusing environment for fanart creators—and even just people who want to be fans of the original game. It also makes it easier for bad-faith users to troll.
The rest of Goodbye Volcano High’s development hasn’t been simple either, involving a one-year delay due to COVID and the complete overhaul of the game’s narrative midway through production after the departure of a major member of the game’s staff.
In the face of those difficulties, much of the discussion around Snoot Game on 4chan tends to paint their unpleasant project as some sort of bizarre political victory over the team at KO_OP, as if merely existing makes it a “better game.”
There have been few major updates about Goodbye Volcano High of late—although KO_OP is remaining active on social media, staying in contact with a broader, safer fanbase. It still reports a 2022 release date, but it’s unclear if this can be hit, given the lack of recent information.
Meanwhile, Cavemanon seem to be taking advantage of the situation and, according to its website, has already started working on non-Snoot projects. Discussion of both games still rages on at 4chan. The community Discord remains private, although accessible to those willing to answer some personal questions and promise to behave themselves.
In a PlayStation market crowded by triple-A titles and highly detailed open worlds, Volcano High still has a great chance of standing out with its visual novel presentation and focus on personal queer narratives. In the face of all this, KO_OP remain positive about the game’s release.
“Goodbye Volcano High is being made by members of the communities represented in it. We care deeply about the work we are doing and are excited to share it with the world,” a representative said to Kotaku.
“We’re happy that people enjoy our characters,” they add, “and we can’t wait for everyone to experience Fang’s story when Goodbye Volcano High launches.”
Goodbye Volcano High is currently scheduled to come out in 2022.