Guide: How to Recognize a Review Key Scammer

To start with some background: we receive requests for review keys from scammers nigh daily, especially around new releases, so I figure there has to be a pretty substantial industry revolving around it. With hundreds if not thousands of small developers on PC, and more appearing all the time, there is probably always new prey to be found. As such, I figured sharing our experiences might help someone out, especially on the long term.

Why would anyone want to bother scamming a key from us?

I’ve often seen the opinion “the benefit of getting a review from a legit source outweigh the risk that it’s a scam” or “if someone goes to all that trouble just to get a free game, let them have it“. I’m here to show you otherwise.

It’s my belief that this attitude is exactly why the scammers are so abundant. Their motivation shouldn’t be underestimated, since most of them aren’t looking for “free games” for themselves, but rather money, plain and simple. One scammer often operates several fake accounts, and every key they receive (possibly from the same dev) will turn into real currency on the P2P key marked. I don’t have any estimates for how much money they are actually making off this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some were making more than a good living wage off it.

A real jackpot for them would be something like 4 review keys for an unreleased game, and being added on your reviewer mailing list to receive all of your future games too.

But I’m not getting fake review key requests,” you say? This may change very quickly. Or perhaps after reading to the end you realize that you have, in fact, been getting those already.

If you give a scammer a key, you may first realize you made a mistake when you almost immediately receive half a dozen similar requests from other fishy accounts. (If it’s a Steam key, I recommend revoking it at this point – this has recently been made possible in SteamWorks). You’ll however almost certainly stay on scammer hotlists ever after (and these lists are quite possibly shared/sold between scammers) and be subject to every new type of scam they come up with.

So, let’s get to the real meat of the topic.

How do you recognize a review key scammer?

If you were hoping for a simple mistake that marks all scam emails, I’m sorry to disappoint. However, there are a number of clear warning signals that you can evaluate. When in doubt, I would recommend taking an extra step to verify their business, or if you don’t have the time for that, just ignore them. If you’re a small developer, and not a full-time PR person, you should have better things to spend your time on. I’ll go into ways you can verify their identity later.

Tip #1, which will get you most of the way, is to have a healthy dose of skepticism. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. If something looks a little fishy, it probably doesn’t stand the light of day.We all get these mails. There are countless variants depending on how brazen/stupid the scammer is, and some of them have enough effort to look legit. Some things to look out for:

They tell you they are sure to give you a very positive review. Read no further. A legitimate reviewer would never tell you this. Whether the contact is real or not, you don’t want anything to do with them.

They advertise in the mail how many subscribers they have. A real channel typically wouldn’t be so crass about it. They’re just trying to establish their importance and make it look like they’re doing you a favor by taking some keys off your hands.

You got several similar mails in a short period of time. This usually doesn’t mean you suddenly got popular. It means a single person entered your email onto their list and activated the automated scam accounts they operate. The emails may not be same word for word, but their structure (greeting, body, signature) is very similar, including how they for example link their channel and twitter account at the end of the mail.

Some text appears in a different font in the email. Usually your company’s name / game name. This doesn’t necessarily mean the email is a scam, but it does show it’s a copy-paste job at best, not someone writing you a personal email in their own words.

They have 3 million subscribers. These guys wouldn’t email you for a review copy. No harm in checking their contact info of course, but I’d put the odds any such mail is legit at roughly around zero.

They are requesting multiple keys for their “friends” to help review the game, or for “promotion”. Especially for streamers, unless you personally know the other party, you can just write all of these off as scammers. Legit review sites may occasionally ask for additional keys for giveaways, but they would never present it as a condition for reviewing the game.

The channel they are linking to doesn’t list a contact email and the email doesn’t provide any other way to verify it’s their channel. How convenient. Don’t take a leap of faith, either ignore or take an extra step to verify (see later section). Any legit YouTuber who would take it upon themselves to email developers for keys ought to have their contact info on their channel’s ‘about’ page.

The linked channel’s ‘about’ page actually mentions that they will never mail you for a review key. This is because they’ve gotten contacts from other devs who were targeted, so it means someone is posing as this channel. It may even explicitly mention the fake email the scammer uses. Always worth reading the ‘about’ page.

The YouTube channel’s contact info matches the email, and their videos have a nice amount of views. This is where things start to get more interesting, let’s take it up a notch.

Tip #2 – A mail from a “YouTuber” requesting a key has a 90% chance to be a scam (not an actual statistic, but it doesn’t hurt to think so). Bear this in mind, and you may realize that the channel that looked OK at first glance has some glaring issues.

The channel’s last video is from a year ago. Probably not the original owner of the account, or even if they are, this channel is now only used for scamming devs.

The channel displays videos with a massive amount of views, but their more recent videos have only a handful of views. Something sketchy in the channel history. Maybe a few videos’ views were boosted with bots to make the channel appear more popular, but it doesn’t actually have any human subscribers.

The channel’s front page isn’t actually listing their own videos but favorites or some such. Just trying to bait people who only give it a cursory look.

The channel seems relatively active, but all the videos are F2P games / FPS footage / MOD reviews (and this has nothing to do with my game’s genre). Uploading generic videos to give the appearance of activity, possibly with views boosted by botnets.

The videos have 50k views but no comments. This isn’t normal activity. Probably a bot channel.

The email came from [channelname]@yahoo/hotmail/gmail.com. Just a statistical factor, most scammers use something like this for their email address. Exhibit more caution.

The channel’s in a non-English language. Obviously not exactly a sign in itself, but a very high number of these scammers use non-English channels to make it harder to look up information on the channel and get an idea of what it’s about. Usually combines with the features above, and is just an extra reason to discount the mail.

The channel doesn’t list an email address, how can I verify the mailer’s identity?

If the channel itself looks real and relevant enough that you’d want to be featured there, but you can’t verify the email address of the person who contacted you, and you want to go the extra mile to make sure, there are a few things you can do.

Use a social media profile for verifying them. If their ‘about’ page doesn’t list an email address, but does link to social media like Twitter, Facebook etc, and you have an account on one of those, email them back and tell them that to verify their identity you need them to follow your account on chosen social media with the associated official account. If they’re for real, they should have no problem doing this.

Use a 3rd party review key distributor. There are services such as Keymailer that do their own screening of streamers, and you need to only add your keys and send them to people requesting them at will. When in doubt, you can tell the person that you hand out review keys through this service, and direct them to the relevant page to request a key there. You will see whether the streamer they are claiming to be appears on the list. This saves you a lot of headache (and also allows you to reach other actual streamers).

Well, this section was mostly about streamers requesting keys, but what about review sites? Much of the same critical evaluation applies, but here are a few specific points to consider:

Recognizing a fake game review site

There are 2 general types of scammers, those impersonating a representative of an established site, and those faking the site itself.

It’s an established review site. Verify the email address from their contact information. Even if there isn’t an email listed, they should at least have a contact form where you can ask if this person really works for them. A larger site’s email address is unlikely to be “sitename@gmail.com” and more likely to have the same domain as the site itself.

It’s an unknown review site. Again, this is where things get juicier. The site may list a contact email that matches the one that approaches you, so it should be legit, right? Well, most likely it isn’t. Check against the following criteria:

The review site is based on a blog platform. You can tell these apart pretty easily by the simple scrolling design. Though this may change in the future, at the moment most fake review sites are built like this. Of course there are perfectly OK review sites that are hosted on blog platforms, but this is a strong warning sign.

There is no user interaction. The site doesn’t feature any kind of forums, and has no comments or other interaction on any of its articles.

The review articles are ripped off other review sites. Copy paste a bit from the middle of a review on the site into Google, and see if the same review pops up on an established review site. You might be surprised.

The site is in a foreign language. This is a pretty devious variation of the above. The whole site and reviews have been google translated into language X. If you speak that language, you will be able to tell right away, otherwise you can ask a friend who speaks that language. They will almost certainly tell you that the text is google translated. Of course there are review sites in all languages, but this is a very popular scamming tool since it obfuscates your attempts to verify the legitimacy of the site. When combined with other warning signs (especially getting several similar review requests for similar blog-hosted “review sites” in different languages within a day), you may just ignore these with a good conscience.

An example:

or…

The site actually posts unique reviews, but they are completely generic. This final point is a bit tricky and somewhat a gray area. The site may have real interaction with you, and they will write a review for the game, but when you read it, it only uses stock screenshots, and only speaks in generalities, without citing any detail that wouldn’t be obvious from a few minutes of research into the game. In other words, it does not appear they used the review key you sent for writing the article. I’m not sure if I should include this as a scam, but beyond lazy writing it’s possible they do not act honestly either. The end-game for them may be to give you a review that will satisfy you, and be included on your reviewer mailing lists to receive all of your future games. They will keep writing generic reviews to avoid suspicion, all the while selling your review keys. This behavior can be hard to even identify, but if you suspect this is happening, you can try to track the activation of the review key you sent from SteamWorks (if it’s a Steam key, obviously).

This turned into a longer article than I expected when I set out to write it, but I hope I was able to give you some good tools for recognizing scammers. I may update this later if I run into some especially interesting or innovative scam attempts. Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments.

If this article was able to turn your bubbling excitement over receiving a review request into brooding cynicism, good. Instead of hoping for reviewers and streamers to approach you, you need to actively look for new contacts yourself. Because all review requests you receive are more likely to be scams than not. Sad but true.

Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation Coming to the West Through Kickstarter

Fruitbat Factory is bringing you Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation

We’re  happy to be announcing a highly anticipated new title: Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation: Time After Time is heading to the west via Kickstarter.

Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation is a new all-ages visual novel by Studio Beast, famous for the cult classic “J.Q.V Jinrui Kyuusai-bu ~With Love from Isotope~“. It was released in Japan in August 2016 as an HD wide-screen release.

Chuusotsu is a fun, colorful story of three girls brought by their individual circumstances to live under the same roof and being forced to tackle existential questions to win their place in society.

Fruitbat Factory is now bringing Chuusotsu to fans all over the world in dual language (English and Japanese text, characters fully voiced in Japanese). We are committed to making the release the best it can be, and with your support we will be able to do many exciting things that we otherwise could not.

We are working closely together with Studio Beast on the project, and hope to hear from you what you’d like to see added to this campaign before launching it on Kickstarter.

Please head over to our Prefundia page to see the campaign we are pitching for Chuusotsu, and to give us feedback!

Let’s do philosophy!

Fruitbat Factory ローカライゼーションプロジェクト 『Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation』

Fruitbat Factory ローカライゼーションプロジェクト 『Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation』

『ちゅーそつ!1st graduation』は、セカイ系ビジュアルノベル『J.Q.V 人類救済部 ~With love from isotope~』で知られるStudio Beastが手掛けた、全年齢向けビジュアルノベル作品です。日本語版は2016年8月にHD解像度で発売されました。

『ちゅーそつ!』は、ある理由からルームシェアをすることになった3人の少女たちが、社会の中で自分たちの居場所を獲得するために哲学的課題に挑戦する波乱に富んだ物語です。弊社Fruitbat Factoryは、『ちゅーそつ!』バイリンガル版(テキスト:日英、キャラボイス:日本語)を世界中のビジュアルノベルファンへお届けします。最高の形で本作品を発売するため尽力しておりますが、さらに素晴らしい作品として世に出せるよう、今回キックスターターを通してファンの皆様からご支援を募りたいと思っております。ご支援いただいた資金は以下のように使用させていただく予定です。

・『ちゅーそつ!1st graduation』の英語ローカライズ費用
・Studio Beastによるバイリンガル版の内容強化費用
・同サークルの今後の作品制作資金

また、支援者の方へは本キックスターター限定のグッズをお贈りいたします。

本プロジェクトはStudio Beastとの共同プロジェクトです。
キックスターターにて実際にプロジェクトを公開する前に、どういった内容を追加してほしいかなどのご意見をこPrefundiaで皆さんからお聞きしたいです。

**********UPDATE***********
Kickstarterキャンペーンを4月25日に開始いたします。
ご意見をくださった皆さま、誠にありがとうございました。今後詳細を詰めてまいりますが、まだまだご意見は募集しております。また、Prefundiaアカウントを作成されると、KSキャペーン開始時に通知を受け取ることができます。

**********UPDATE***********
BackerKitを利用いたします。それにより、リワード送付にかかる正確な送料や、KSキャンペーン終了後でも支援増額によるリワード内容の変更やアドオンの追加などが可能となります。なお、BackerKitは支援くださった方全員が利用可能となります。

<ちゅーそつ!1st graduation~ちゅーそつの Time After Time~について>

新時代の統一国家・[世界人民連邦]によって定められた[P3法]にもとづき庁人シールの等級が人生を左右するこの世界。シールを与えられないちゅーそつは、すなわち[無能力者]を意味する。

長きにわたる闘病生活の末、まんが大好き少女・毬須川アルエは、この春からちゅーそつとして生きていくことに相成った。庁人硬度、たったの[5]。若くしてお先真っ暗なアルエの前途。

『わたしには、やるべきことがあるのに……』

自分に課した目的の為、この絶望的状況を打破し、人生をリカバーするために応募したのは――――

[ちゅーそつを集めたルームシェア生活!?]

<目標額とストレッチゴール>

今回の目標金額は、ローカライズ費用として20,000ドルです。
これは本作をより洗練された作品へすることを可能にする目標額です。

もしたくさんのご支援により目標額を超えた場合は、Studio Beastによる新規CGやその他の追加要素を加える予定です。最後に、本プロジェクトで頂いたご支援は、ローカライズ費用以外に、限定グッズの制作、Studio Beastの今後の作品制作、弊社Fruitbat Factoryが将来より多くの素晴らしい日本産作品を海外で販売するための資金としても使わせていただきます。

<リターン>

■支援要員
1ドル以上
・パーティへご招待!: キックスタータープロジェクトページの『Updates and Comments』にて、最新情報の確認や弊社スタッフ・他の支援者(全リターン)とやり取りができます。

■庁人シール
15ドル以上
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー

■アーリーバード
18ドル以上(限定数:200)
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』

■ちゅーそつ
25ドル以上
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット

■シンクロ
50ドル以上
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載

■お隣さん
75ドル以上
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載
・スティックポスター: アルエ、あらら、恋色のスティックポスターを各キャラ1枚計3枚(約48x18cm)

■ホログラム
100ドル以上(限定数:100)
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載
・スティックポスター: アルエ、あらら、恋色のスティックポスターを各キャラ1枚計3枚(約48x18cm)
・OST(ディスク版): 昼王氏と葛飾太子氏のサイン付きディスク版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』

■セカイ系
200ドル以上(限定数:100)
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載
・OST(ディスク版): 昼王氏と葛飾太子氏のサイン付きディスク版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・スティックポスター(サイン付き): アルエ、あらら、恋色のスティックポスターを昼王氏のサイン付きで各キャラ1枚計3枚(約48x18cm)
・ポスター: 新規イラストを使用したB2ポスター1枚

■白兎
500ドル以上
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載
・OST(ディスク版): 昼王氏と葛飾太子氏のサイン付きディスク版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・スティックポスター(サイン付き): アルエ、あらら、恋色のスティックポスターを昼王氏のサイン付きで各キャラ1枚計3枚(約48x18cm)
・ポスター: 新規イラストを使用したB2ポスター1枚
・タペストリー: ビーチシーンを使用したB2タペストリー1本
・抱き枕カバー: 両面印刷の抱き枕カバー1枚(印刷されるキャラクターについては『抱き枕カバーについて』をご参照ください。)

■1st Graduation
1000ドル以上(限定数:10)
・ゲーム: DL版ゲーム(DRMフリー)+Steamキー
・OST: DL版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・アバターセット: キックスターター限定壁紙とアバターのセット
・クレジット: ゲームクレジット欄に特別支援者としてお名前を記載
・OST(ディスク版): 昼王氏と葛飾太子氏のサイン付きディスク版公式オリジナルサウンドトラック『Sound Disc』
・スティックポスター(サイン付き): アルエ、あらら、恋色のスティックポスターを昼王氏のサイン付きで各キャラ1枚計3枚(約48x18cm)
・ポスター: 新規イラストを使用したB2ポスター1枚
・タペストリー: ビーチシーンを使用したB2タペストリー1本
・抱き枕カバー: 両面印刷の抱き枕カバー1枚(印刷されるキャラクターについては『抱き枕カバーについて』をご参照ください。)
・色紙:お好きなキャラクターがモノクロで描かれた、昼王氏のサイン付き色紙1枚。

※グッズ送料は別途かかります。

<アドオン>

■25ドル(75ドル以上を支援した場合に選択可)
・ポスター: 新規イラストを使用したB2ポスター1枚(200ドル以上のリワードに付いてくるものと同様)

■60ドル(75ドル以上を支援した場合に選択可)
・タペストリー: ビーチシーンを使用したB2タペストリー1本(500ドル以上のリワードに付いてくるものと同様)

<抱き枕カバーについて>

500ドル以上の支援でのリワードに含まれる『抱き枕カバー』に印刷されるキャラクターは、皆さんの投票により決定いたします。
下のページからお好きなキャラクターを1人選んで投票をお願いいたします。投票数が最多のキャラクターを印刷いたします。

◇投票ページ◇
https://strawpoll.com/79xg39f

なお、抱き枕カバーの人気が高いと判断した場合は、さらにキャラクターを増やして、お好きなキャラクターを選べるようにしたいと考えております。
キャラクターはアドオンから選択できるようにする予定です。

<スケジュール>

本キックスタータープロジェクトは、2017年3月下旬~4月上旬に開始し、その後1ヶ月間ご支援を募集いたします。
ゲーム自体の英語ローカライズは既に着手しており、2017年終わり頃の発売を予定しています。

Studio Beast_logo

Studio Beastは日本を拠点とする同人ゲームサークルで、『J.Q.V 人類救済部 ~With love from isotope~』などで知られており、質の高いシナリオと美しいイラストで非常に高い評価を受けています。

『ちゅーそつ!1st graduation~ちゅーそつの Time After Time~』はStudio Beastの手がけた4作目です。
現在は、サークル設立10周年を記念した作品『Suicide Fence』を鋭意制作中です。

C1_KS_FB_Logo

2012年の設立以来、日本で制作されたあらゆるジャンルのゲーム作品をパブリッシングしています。

オンラインボードゲーム『100% Orange Juice』は弊社が取り扱う作品で最も知名度があり、その他にも『Eiyuu Senki – The World Conquest for PlayStation 3』、『ENIGMA:』、『War of the Human Tanks』シリーズなどが知られています。
また、VisualArt’s様が制作した『リトルバスターズ!』の英語ローカライズでは弊社が主体となりました。

<リスクと挑戦>

『ちゅーそつ』の英語ローカライズは既に着手しており、キックスターターの成否に関わらず、英語版は発売予定です。そのため、余程のことがない限り、ゲーム自体は確実にプレイしていただけます。

今回のプロジェクトは、弊社が初めて手掛けるキックスタータープロジェクトとなります。そのため、その過程で予想もしていなかった事態が起こる可能性があります。それでも、他のサービスを利用してクラウドファンディングを成功された実績があるため、プロジェクト開始から実際にゲームやグッズをお届けするまでの過程についてはある程度予見できているとも自負しています。
本作を最高の形で発売したいという理由から、現時点ではっきりとした発売日を発表することは残念ながらできません。また、ローカライズ中に何か改善点が見つかれば、当初のスケジュールを押してでも取り入れます。本キャンペーンの成否により、Studio Beastによるゲーム内容のアップデートが予定されており、それによりさらに開発時間が長くなる可能性があります。
また、グッズの制作や発送については予見できない遅延が生じる場合もあり、そういった場合には関連業者の変更などが必要になる可能性もあります。
要約しますと、本プロジェクトで1番起こり得るリスクはグッズの配送遅延です。そのため、本プロジェクト内で記載されている日付については、あくまで目安とお考えください。

哲学しましょう!

Status Update

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since our last post where we talk about the status of our various projects. Since we have an extraordinary amount of games in the works at the moment, I figured it’d be good to give a bit of an update on them all.
So if that interests you, buckle up and read on.

100% Orange Juice
100orange
I’ll start with a game that’s not coming out any time soon. In fact, it’s been out for 3 years now. Still, it’s our best-selling title, and we’re constantly working to keep improving it, so it feels natural to talk about it first.

We employ a full-time programmer, and most of his time goes to developing 100% Orange Juice, it being the most technically demanding of our games. Over the months and years we’ve kept improving the infrastructure of the game to the point that if you watch the Steam trailer for it now, you’d be hard pressed to find a single detail that hasn’t changed in some way since making the trailer (and yes, we have a new trailer in the works!).

The latest major undertaking was changing the rendering of the game so that almost every text in the game is now stored as plain text instead of graphics, allowing us to support multiple languages in a rapidly changing game. It was the wish of Orange Juice to add support for Japanese, and with the most recent update, we can now also support any number of custom languages. It’s cool to see many people working to translate 100% Orange Juice into their native language!

On our recent trip to Japan, we sat down for a good chat with Orange Juice about the game’s current development, and the things we’d like to do with it in the future. It was heartening how they were completely on board with all of them, so we have a ton of exciting news in store for 100% Orange Juice in the coming winter. A keen observer may have observed some spoilers for some of them on the Internet already, but we also have some ideas that we’re confident will surprise everyone.
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Moving onto our upcoming releases…

ENIGMA:
enigma
Although our background in the industry comes strongly from visual novel translation, Magical Eyes – Red is for Anguish was the first pure visual novel we released as a company (putting aside the two 99 Spirits fan disc stories). However, it won’t be the only one. With all likelihood the next one will be Uzumeya’s mysterious fantasy ENIGMA:, which has an interesting narration style and tons of endings.

The translation, courtesy of Conjueror, is now at 100%, and the game is moving into editing. The project’s slated for release this winter, either late this year or early next year.

Lionheart
lionheart
This cool new RPG comes from Shiisanmei, and is packed full of cute character art and tongue-in-cheek humor. As a fairly massive RPG, there’s a lot to QA in Lionheart, and I can foresee that process taking a while.

Translation itself is at 95%, and same for editing. What remains is mostly combat data. Although it’s possible we’ll be able to release the game this year, it’s more likely to happen early next year, since playtesting is expected to take some time.

Miniature Garden
miniature-garden
Translation is now beginning on Muzintou’s dark mystery visual novel Miniature Garden. Not much else to say about it yet, but look forward to the finished game! The production values (including Korie Riko‘s art and the top of the line anime voice actors) are pretty amazing. We’re aiming for a release around Spring 2017.

Dungeon Girl
dungeon-girl
Inu to Neko is a hard-line developer who’s been making gameplay-heavy games for well over ten years, a major feat in itself. Dungeon Girl is our first release from them, and we’re looking forward to bringing many new fans to the game universe. Did you know that all Inu to Neko games share the same world and many characters? Working on Dungeon Girl has been fun so far, and there’s a ton of depth to the gameplay mechanics.

Translation of Dungeon Girl is currently at 78%, and editing at 72%.

Acceleration of SUGURI 2
aos2
We had a slightly unusual reveal for Acceleration of SUGURI 2 this summer, and one that was a ton of fun for us. Since then, we’ve received countless requests for status updates. Well, I’m happy to say that the translation and editing of AoS2 is 100% complete. However, the biggest challenge we’re tackling for its release is programming, since we want to handle its multiplayer right. As with 100% Orange Juice and 200% Mixed Juice, we plan to support Steam lobbies and possibly add some extra multiplayer features.

We will start the Steam programming shortly, but it will likely take several months, so I can almost guarantee it’s not coming out in 2016.

Seven Days
seven-days
While not really an ongoing project on our part, those who follow our social media, or visited our booth at Tokyo Game Show, saw us promoting LIFE0‘s upcoming visual novel, Seven Days, and made the correct assumption that we have the rights to an English release.

Seven Days is currently raising funding on CAMPFIRE, a Japanese crowdfunding platform, and has so far raised a hefty 4.2 million yen out of its 2 million goal. There’s still a few days left if you want to support it, though please note that CAMPFIRE is for Japanese users only. We are also co-funding the game’s production, so naturally our expectations are high.

Seven Days is coming out in late 2017 and we’ll have more updates and an official reveal closer to that time.

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…And more?
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That’s the end of this status update. You should take any release estimates with a grain of salt, as you may note that we don’t list an actual release date for any of them yet. There’s always a chance that some aspect of a game takes longer than expected, or that we run into an unforeseen issue somewhere along the way. Or conversely, we may finish our work on a game a month earlier than initially estimated. That’s why we avoid committing to any dates until a game is virtually ready to release, and the estimates you see here are just that, rough estimates.

Sora – A Development Story

It’s been a while since we’ve posted one of these, but we had a lot of fun working on Sora and making it look good on modern systems, so we decided to give a little blurb on the technical changes we’ve made to Sora during the localization. Without further ado I’ll give to floor to Tony, the man behind the code.

Sora-Logo

Tony: I had only played Sora briefly in our meeting with Orange Juice in May 2015, but when I actually got to spend more time with the game, it really clicked; the fast gameplay, setting, soundtrack and presentation were amazing. I was also aware of the fans’ wishes for a new release of Sora, and felt it very important to do a good job with our localized version.

When we start localizing a new game, we evaluate its customization options such as screen settings and discuss what technical improvements we could add to make it more enjoyable for the players. Basically we ask ourselves “What would I like to see in this as a gamer?” and then check how feasible it would be to add it. Sometimes the engine the game runs on makes this impossible, but usually we’re able to add fancy things like higher resolution support.

The first thing we wanted to improve with Sora was the game’s resolution. The original version of Sora runs at 640×480 resolution which feels rather small in modern HD era. Since the base resolution was so low, simply adding resolution options to upscale the graphics to a higher resolution would leave the screen looking blurry and pixelated. I had some concerns about changing the rendering resolution because in shooting games every single element’s positioning is very important, but there’s no harm in trying, right? I set up the necessary changes to launch the game in 720p as an experiment and we got this:

first720p

First higher res shot of Sora running at 720p (16:9 aspect ratio). Notice how the action is centered on the screen because the game area is supposed to be 4:3!

The first tests revealed that the essentials were already in place thanks to Orange Juice’s smart coding, but there was still a lot of work ahead. The view was too far, allowing the player to see more of the game area than they were supposed to, leading to problems like enemies appearing out of thin air. Some of the backgrounds and effects were broken, some boss positions were off, and of course all 2D elements were still happily in the 640×480 land.

Yet even with all the chaotic results, we could see that the game’s visuals got a noticeable improvement from the resolution increase. We went through the graphics assets we were given and found that many images had more detail than the original game resolution could show. Our graphics guys Ozhan and Yulay were on board for creating high-res versions of the menu elements. After some gameplay / image comparisons our minds were set.

As a side mention, we experimented with making Sora’s gameplay fully widescreen while deciding on the new target resolution. We had a lot of fun with it and even had some back and forth with OrangeJuice, sending different builds! However, it was clear from the onset that it would break the game too much. Let’s put aside the stage 1 opening cutscene continuing forever because the missiles never hit their target, and ignore enemies popping out of thin air, how about being able to move behind bosses like Nath and getting some free shots while she’s stuck firing at nothing? The amount of undesired behavior the change would generate was overwhelming.

I’m over here!

I’m over here!

We decided to set the resolution to 1280×960 which doubles the original dimensions, the main reason being that beyond that even the higher resolution graphics wouldn’t benefit much. While our previous attempts at full widescreen were doomed, we were able to add support for widescreen menus and cutscenes specifically. As an added bonus, since the fight against extra stage’s last boss is in a special type of area, we added widescreen support for that too!

widecutscene

Jakke: After upgrading the resolution everywhere else, we were left with the game’s opening (at 640×480 resolution) looking strongly pixelated, not to mention all the Japanese text in it. Unsurprisingly, the original project files for the opening were gone from existence. Luckily, we received most of the original graphics used in the opening, and pieced them together with newly recorded gameplay footage to recreate the opening identically at a 1280×960 resolution with English texts. Our friends at Interweave Productions pulled some miracles with the video.

Sorathumb

Tony: We also changed the texture format. Sora uses a Japanese engine called Luna3D, which is also used by our earlier title 100% Orange Juice. The engine handles a lot of things well, but its texture handling has problems. There’s an issue with texture drawing that causes all textures to appear blurrier and the engine’s own texture format is somewhat slow and also takes up a lot of space. We changed 100% Orange Juice’s texture format some months ago and brought these changes to Sora as well. As result, our version should have faster load times despite having bigger images and the required hard drive space for textures is down to less than 100mb instead of the original’s 1gb.

As for input, the original game only supported DirectInput controllers, but similarly to what we did with QP Shooting – Dangerous!!, we added XInput support to support all types of controllers, as well as added keyboard bind options. Thanks to some helpful feedback from our testers / reviewers, we also added visible keybinds in the tutorial to help new players.

We had a lot of fun with making the achievements. When we started Sora, we were terrible at the game. Back in Japan, I couldn’t even get past the first stage! However as we kept playing we got gradually better and many “How am I supposed to beat this?” fights turned into satisfying victories. We think the game does a very good job at that and that’s why we had no qualms with making the achievements challenging.

Jakke: It took me well over 20 hours to clear the original Japanese version of Sora on easy difficulty. While playing and testing the game, gradually feats that had first seemed impossible, turned possible, then probable, and ultimately felt only fair. I’m not great at shooters myself, so I largely used myself as a guideline for deciding on the achievements – if I can do this, most people can be reasonably expected to be able to. My personal favorite is ‘Dance Like a Flower’, which drove me to near madness before I finally cleared it (with controller burns on my thumb).

 

Finally, go ahead and enjoy these screenshots of things gone horribly wrong during development!

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