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Published September 5, 2013
What’s about to happen in this update, I think, is unprecedented in this medium.  Many English Visual Novels do not make it out of the beta stage, but when they disappear from the public eye they are forgotten. But after studying the case of Mitsumata, I believe it deserves a bit more time on the autopsy table before we shove it into the ground. Why? Because, unlike other EVNs that never make it to full gestation, whether we like it or not, it’s a part of our history now. Why? For that one we only have IGN to thank.

I know it is unseemly but I am a type of person who believes everything happens for a reason. And although it was, at one time, a game I was looking forward to playing, new evidence revealed in the past few months have not only made this particular feature inevitable, but also enjoyable. I am ashamed to admit it my friends: but the fact that Mitsumata is vaporware doesn’t bother me one bit. So join me, will you? Let’s not let this one, who had so much promise, go silently into the night. Let’s remember this one the best way I know how…by dancing on its grave. Trust me, it’s fun…and there is a larger point in the aftermath.

IN THE BEGINNING

A quick history lesson for those new to the class. Mitsumata was originally conceived in 2010. It was originally handled by a collective called Kinou Games before the project transferred over to a group called  Rosegold Games in 2011…we’ll get into them later. It’s fair to say that the two groups had different ideologies when it came to the project. When Rosegold took over, all of the platforms that originally covered the game’s development were erased. Then in Summer 2011, the DeviantArt page for Kinou popped back up re-branded and with this lovely synopsis:

The story starts off with a 17 year old boy named Riku, who, though raised as a human, finds out that he is actually one of a humanoid, language capable species called Majin when he is one day attacked on the street. Like most 17 year olds, the discovery of this underground world of fantasy appeals to him, and he willingly leaves with his saviors, Roman and Soume, to a rescue where they will train him to use his abilities and hide him from would-be capturers. He meets the cranky owner of the rescue, Susa, as well as the creepy, paranoid librarian, Doctor Osamu, and all the other trainees. It’s different from his privileged life, but he can shoot fireballs from his hands, so who cares! ~Sept. 11, 2011

While the general public had a brief overview of the world, a solid description of the pot had always been at arms’ reach. So, being a young and intrepid cub EVN reporter, I decided to try and sneak this mysterious group out. And me being me, I found a way. Now to be transparent, I’m still not complete sure exactly WHO did the interview and no personal information was shared. Yet, I got it done….yay? Here’s a little of what I got:

VNs Now: What’s the current status of Mitsumata? Last we heard things were close to being done.

Rosegold Games: At this point, we’re doing all the little end-game things that need to be done. Making sure every scene works. Making sure every scene works in relation to the other scenes. Doing screen effects and finishing up CGs, doing Photoshop effects on any remaining sprites so that they fit well into the backgrounds, and seeing if there’s any other art that would benefit the final look of the game. Tinkering with mini-game code and battle stats to make sure they’re not too hard or too easy. Making sure that the player can easily get in and out of each screen, adding status messages everywhere we can think of, checking  and editing the script so that each piece fits together without odd transitions, making sure the instructions are understandable, making sure that not only does everything work individually, and scene-by-scene, but altogether. Because the game is so long, we have to play the entire thing through quite a few times, and in between work and school, and 20+ hours of game, you can imagine that can take quite a while with so many endings.. ~March 2012

On the surface, everything seemed to be running smoothly after that interview. The general audience was getting regular updates on the progress of Mitsumata and it looked to be closer and closer to a release in 2012. Then, in August of that year, all updates once again stopped.  It was, honestly, a bit baffling. After all, they raised expectations pretty high, so to suddenly disappear again was almost insulting. Then, in November, we got this update on their DeviantArt page…which would prove to not only be the death nail for Mitsumata, but also the moment where the Wizard has the curtain pulled on him;

We’ve mentioned before that we have been looking into some bigger ventures, and after months of going through them, one of them has actually hit.

We’re all actually in shock about it, we didn’t expect it to amount to anything and it did!

That said, this will put a delay on all of our planned releases until next year. Part of the agreement is to work on someone else’s time schedule, and we’re not allowed to say anything at all about its nature until they determine it’s okay, which is going to be approximately Spring 2013.

Thanks so much for sticking with us and supporting us…it’s gotten us to this point and we’re really proud! ~November 2, 2012

It would later turn out that the ‘bigger venture’ was IGN’s The Next Game Boss: an online reality program that promised $10,000 to the winner for game development. Rosegold entered the competition and went out on the second episode of Season 2. And that is their history, but what does it mean? Let’s take a deeper look at the events surrounding The Next Game Boss and what would become the inspiration for this report.
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NOT MEANT FOR PRIME TIME?

The episode of NGB where Rosegold appeared bugged me for a long time.

For those unaware, the format of the show is that the lead developer has one minute to pitch the game and the judges have two minutes to play through a small demo. Some have complained but this is fair. While you’re not going to be able to judge the entire game, you can get a sense of its direction and potential in two minutes. So it is fair overall, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

Then, last month, it hit me. During the two minute presentation, the judges weren’t shown any of the promised platforming or RPG elements the game was supposed to have. Now, these are professional game developers for the most part who are used to producing Western games. One of the judges flat out asked Reina, who I now know is the lead for Rosegold, if he would get to the one of the platforming sections before the time limit. Her response, and I’m quoting here, was, ‘You can try’.

What?

That response is like serving Scott Conant raw onions on Chopped. You just don’t do it. From the outside looking in, it seems that the demo wasn’t made with that consideration in mind. If you purposely give someone something you know isn’t enough to get you to win, then you’re not actually playing to win. So, what’s do you gain from entering a contest you have no intention to win?

Well, that’s actually simple to answer: exposure.

If I had the bit of experience in that March 2012 interview as I do now, maybe a lot of what happened could’ve been avoided because I would’ve been much tougher and it would’ve grounded them. Despite my glibness at the beginning, in a strange way I sympathize with them. In the beginning, before Rosegold, I truly believe the simple goal was just to release a good EVN. But that goal has mutated into something else now: something too bloated and unwieldy to just be ‘released’. Now it needs a stage and an audience that can ‘truly’ appreciate it and clearly nothing else will be accepted.

And that audience is not coming. I found it interesting that during the minute pitch, Reina spent her time talking about how different Mitsumata. is ‘Japan loves these kinds of game.’ ‘It’s very popular in Japan.’ were the best examples she could give to Wester game designers and journalists. If she had focused in on what made Mitsumata different for a visual novel and not just what made it otaku fodder, maybe the project would’ve stood a chance in the competition. I’ve chosen to believe that she knew when she said it that she wouldn’t be able to attract the audience she clearly was after. But it took standing there, outside of her comfort zone, to see it.

So, if I am so sympathetic, why am I doing this feature? The short version: you.

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TIME

Let me be clear here: there is at least a demo version of Mitsumata complete. We’re not idiots here at the HQ. The judges had to play something and the show had to get game footage from somewhere. And as I said above, if the goal was still to just release a decent EVN, they could. But they won’t: hence the title of the feature. I’m sure there are logical reasons why, but I believe that Reina sees what I see and that makes me smile.

Remember, the original idea for Mitsumata was formed in 2010: three years ago. The landscape of English Visual Novels has changed a lot since then and you really have to be on the outside looking in to see that. The former gold standards are being challenged and that challenge is creating a generation of games that can stand toe-to-toe with indie titles and that is great. EVNs are beginning to get recognition on Steam and I truly believe we are only five years away from EVNs (for those who will still be making them by then) to being allowed onto console marketplaces for download. If anyone actually considers my opinion to have weight, the medium has already gotten the attention of mainstream gaming with The Walking Dead game. This is amazing progress in such a short time, unless you want your game to lead the way for EVNs to the future…and that was one of Reina’s stated goals for Mitsumata.

It isn’t anyone’s fault; not really. Time just has a way of passing you by if you’re not careful, and in most industries it’s actually a sign that you’re getting better. With this genre, is is a great sign because what had originally been hyped for Mitsumata we can either get for free (except the platforming…for now). The genre is now better than Mitsumata could’ve ever been on its own with a level of skill and ambition you wouldn’t have believed three years ago. And while I would’ve love to have seen the vision they promised, it isn’t necessary anymore. It isn’t neededanymore.

This community I stumbled into is really becoming something interesting and that, in the end, was the final nail in the coffin. I doubt that after this anyone will kick up any dust over Mitsumata; which is pretty much how life goes. Hell, you guys probably hadn’t thought about it until I said I was going to do this feature. But, it was worth it just to make a sort of benchmark and show where the EVN community has been and how far it has come in just that time.

And Mitsumata? Yup; still dead. Shall we dance? JP3: Out.

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