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Published April 3, 2015

This week, War Girl Games announced a new Kickstarter campaign for their next project, Over The Hills and Far Away. This surprised a few long time fans who have been eagerly awaiting the first project the group successfully Kickstarted in 2014; My Little Dictator.  My Little Dictator was funded to the tune of eight thousand British Pounds: nearly twelve thousand dollars here in the US. So, as this new campaign got underway, I reached out to ‘Desert Fox’ of War Girl Games to get a better picture of what was going on behind the scenes. These conversations have gone different ways, so I kept my mind open. What I got was a candid, in-depth look at what War Games wants to accomplish with their work as well as some refreshing thoughts on Kickstarter at large.

I hope you guys enjoy our conversation!

VNs Now: Can you give us a progress report on My Little Dictator? Where does everything stand today?
Desert Fox: My Little Dictator is still being worked on from a day-to-day basis. As a project, it has expanded somewhat since it initially started, with additional characters, additional artwork, an expanded world and backstory. There are more choices for the player, more missions, more information, more interaction, more fun side-stories, more historical references. This is all good since it adds depth to the game and makes it more expansive – it does mean that development time has been increased however. I’m very happy with the style of the game and the artwork and atmosphere – the main thing right now is the bulky work side. Coding, writing, designing, compiling. Work, work, work. Sometimes boring, but it needs to be done to make the game happen. There’s still a lot to be done and a lot that is being done on a daily basis. Luckily backers have been very supportive when it comes to delays, and many of them are happy to see additional characters and animation included.
So far the things that have been completed include the main sprite artwork, the majority of the storyline scripted in the engine, CG artwork, Background artwork, OP theme, ED theme, some tracks in the OST, the majority of pixel artwork, the majority of the map system and the groundwork for the battle engine etc. The things that are being worked on currently include additional sprite artwork, additional pixel artwork, the rest of the OST, line art for animated sequences, the map system, the rest of the script, GUI, the battle engine, special effects artwork etc. And there are things that haven’t been started on yet, such as coloring and shading for animated sequences, voice acting, final coding and compiling, rewards artwork (T-shirt designs, posters etc.), rewards printing and shipping etc.
VNs Now: Considering the extended development time, what do you believe is a fair expectation for My Little Dictator?
Desert Fox: There’s a good chance of a release before the end of 2015, based on how progress is going. I wouldn’t want development to extend into 2016, so I’m working as hard as I can to ensure more is completed each work day. But it’s hard to say with these things.
VNs Now: Your latest project is quite different from My Little Dictator. Tell us about the conception for Over the Hills and Far Away.
Desert Fox: My Little Dictator generally doesn’t have a serious tone to it, and often I found the comedy and character writing would lag after a good few hours. After trying to make a joke out of the occupation of Denmark’s fictional counterpart, or trying to make parody-Stalin look as cute as possible, I’d need a break. So I decided I wanted to work on something a little more serious, to take my mind off the silly stuff going into My Little Dictator. When I got some spare time, I started writing a short story as a side project over the course of a few weeks. I knew I wanted to write something about a mysterious girl on a rainy day, and went from there. Eventually it grew into the story we see in Over The Hills And Far Away. I’ve always been fascinated by the 18th and early 19th colonial era – redcoats, Napoleon, the New World, Trafalgar, Egypt, and of course, Sharpe’s Rifles. However, the War of 1812 was new territory for me. So I started researching and forming the story more with some historical knowledge, learning more about the conflict, the battles of the Northwest Frontier, Shawnee myths and culture, the American revolution and so on. Soon it formed into the story it is today, with Mai and Aubrey. After consulting some backers and supporters of My Little Dictator to see what they thought, I decided to push and make a kinetic novel from the story.
VNs Now: You have this listed as a ‘nakige’ game; or ‘crying gaming’. What inspired you to go this route?
Desert Fox: Possibly because they’re the first contact I had with visual novels, and certainly the ones that I’ve engaged with the most. When I first played Jun Maeda’s Clannad, it was a struggle to complete 100%, but the writing and pacing were very moving. The formula is simple enough, with a comedic slice-of-life beginning before a decline into a very sad and tumultuous ending, sometimes with a happy reversal of fortunes. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but anime series like AnoHana and Angel Beats are memorable because they follow this formula, despite their flaws.
Perhaps my favourite nakige is planetarian by Key. The atmosphere, the music, the art style, the setting – I don’t think there’s one thing I dislike about the game, although I’m certain there are flaws to be found with it. I think it’s the combination of a simple scenario, and placing something innocent and playful in a rather depressing situation. It pulls at your heartstrings and makes you care for the characters, and above all, I wanted to make something where the player really wants to save the game’s characters from their situation.
VNs Now: Some people will be concerned that this new Kickstarter denotes a change of focus, so can you tell us what your development schedule looks like going forward for both Over the Hills and My Little Dictator?
Desert Fox: My Little Dictator and Over The Hills And Far Away have separate development schedules. The artists and musicians involved in both projects are separate teams, so they work on different schedules. The amount of time that I personally work on My Little Dictator in a week will be the same. The time I spend working on Over The Hills falls on different hours on different days, in time that has been freed up from other commitments. So for instance, the current focus on Over The Hills is the Kickstarter project, whilst the focus on My Little Dictator this week is sprite artwork and writing some new scenarios for the middle section of the game. In a month’s time, the focus on Over The Hills will involve working out final contracts (based on the success of Crowdfunding) with the musicians and artist, whilst the focus on My Little Dictator around that time will most likely be continued writing and coding, with some more pixel artwork coming in. I wouldn’t consider Over The Hills as a change in focus but rather a secondary project with its own timetable, its own development team and its own style. Both games will continue to put out updates and My Little Dictator isn’t being put on hold in any way.
VNs Now: There have been a few public incidents involving visual novels that have gone through the Kickstarter process including issues with communication between backers and developers and developer teams mismanaging the funds they raised. As a developer Kickstarting their second project on the platform, what would your advice to other developers considering Kickstarting their own works be?
Desert Fox: Consistent communication and honesty is key; whether through backer updates, social media, developer forums or your own web domains. When it comes to backers, I’ve often found that they can be quite forgiving of delays or issues so long as you let them know ahead of time, and you keep yourself open for commentary and discussion. I finish every backer update by telling people they should feel free to get in touch with me if they have any queries, comments or concerns. When they do get in touch, I make sure to message them back as soon as I can. I think it’s very important to keep up a professional persona, but I’m also quite aware that I’m no AAA developer, so I do like to keep in touch with backers/supporters. I think you need some self-awareness, particularly with rather novel ideas like My Little Dictator. You’re never too professional to admit mistakes and communicate these to those that support you.
Mismanaging funds is a tricky one, but it really comes down to being business-minded. Your Kickstarter project isn’t just a hobby when you have other people’s money involved. You need to be aware of what backers want their $10-$1000 to go towards. I’d recommend getting reliable quotes from your artists/musicians/coders before you begin your campaign. Most KS projects when they begin will have concept artwork, or initial assets completed, along with a demo. So in those instances, I would expect the budget to already reflect the cost of the assets. When My Little Dictator was funded successfully, the project took an immediate blow when the main artist pulled out to accept a job offer elsewhere. A budget had been raised based on a particular quote, and that artist had disappeared. So I communicated this to backers straight away, and tried to work out what to do next. Luckily I found Collateral Damage Studios, worked out a contract and soon had the main sprite and CG art, and the rewards, sorted for the game. However, the cost went over budget for the art, so from then on it was about looking to get the best deals I could. Some quotes have been extremely favourable, others have been less so. If you shop around for decent quotes, you usually find a balance between cost, reliability and quality work. And so far, My Little Dictator has stayed within its budget, with any additional work being paid for through my own money.
I personally feel that the main problems begin when Kickstarter campaigns get into stretch goals. What may have started as a project you’d complete in your free time very quickly turns into full time work, as you earn more and more from people backing stretch goals. You see several success stories of projects that started with an initial goal of a few thousand dollars and pushed until they reached over ten times that amount. And it’s in these cases that I think you’re more likely to see funds mismanaged and wasted. Rather than budgeting for assets, developers are more likely to think about paying themselves a high wage or hiring extra members for their team that can turn out to be unreliable. That’s not to say that stretch goals are inherently bad. They can be great boosts to a game’s development; so long as you focus on getting more assets and ensure that backers get more for their buck.
I think that My Little Dictator has been pretty grounded, in that all the budgeted money is being spent on assets and rewards. I don’t get a wage for the work I do. The extra assets involved such as animation, extra artwork etc. come out of my own pocket and from some generous donations from supporters. Over The Hills also has a budget purely for assets. All the money in the initial goal goes towards art, music, rewards and Kickstarter fees. While a living wage is important, I don’t feel that Kickstarter is about that. I think it’s about helping to give developers a leg-up to afford the assets they need for a project they love and want to make. Which is why you can’t forget about your backers; they’re the ones helping you to make something creative that you care about. Keep them informed, let them know what’s going on, if you mismanage then apologize and work out how you’re going to solve the problem, and above all, don’t give up at the first sign of failure. People will forgive delays, setbacks and problems, so long as you keep at it and eventually release a product.
VNs Now: Thank you very much and good luck to you!
Desert Fox: Thank you for the opportunity to chat!
Whether or not Over The Hills and Far Away will be a success remains to be seen as it is still early in its campaign for six thousand British Pounds. We’ll be keeping an eye on its progress as well as My Little Dictator’s future release date. You can find out more information about War Girl Games and My Little Dictator on their website here. And if Over The Hills and Far Away interests you, you should check out their Kickstarter page here!