My reaction to the demo (long)

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My reaction to the demo (long)

Postby LateBlt » Mon Apr 23, 2018 9:34 pm

So, I recently played through the demo. Afterward, I felt a certain compulsion to post my reaction to it. I realize that the game is already well underway and that you folks have had a lot of feedback already, but I figure I might as well add my voice to the pile of responses you've already gotten. Also, I'm not sure if I'm posting my response in the correct place. Sorry if this isn't the correct place to post "what I think of the demo" threads; I can put this somewhere else if there's a more appropriate place for it.

First of all, I want to congratulate the team for still being here after all this time. I know how many ups and downs there have been; it's been about 5 years since a small flurry of "spiritual successors" to KS poofed into existence, and most of them died out fairly quickly because it's just so incredibly difficult to get a good team together and produce a project like this all the way to completion. I'm really happy to see that you folks are still here all these years later, and with a substantial set of assets to show for it. Congrats on getting this far, and I hope that what you've wrought thus far gives you the momentum to keep going.

That said, I think the demo does a good job of feeling like its inspiration while also breaking away from it. In particular, the look of the background photos and the tone of the music is spot-on: the photos replicate that hazy, pastel-colored sort of look that characterized many of the scenes in KS, and the music is wonderful and mostly fitting. In fact, the music might be my favorite part of the demo, just because it's so good at both reproducing the musical mood of KS while at the same time producing original melodies that are both catchy and soothing. So great job on the graphics and the sound. Just one thing on this front: the cafeteria scene has a drink bottle right in the middle which has what is very clearly the Gatorade logo on it. Wouldn't it make sense to airbrush this out? On the one hand, it seems unlikely that PepsiCo is actually going to go after the makers of a small indie freeware game, but on the other hand, those corporations often get pretty crazy about defending their copyrights and trademarks. Maybe this could be replaced with something that is similar but kind of a parody instead? It's a small thing, but it stuck out for me somehow. It also breaks the immersion a bit, as Gatorade is not widely consumed in Austria as far as I know.

Speaking of which, the choice of Vienna is an interesting one for the game setting. Vienna has long been my favorite city in the world, so the game has a lot of expectations to live up to in terms of how the city is represented. ;) But to be fair, it seems like most of the game will take place within the walls of a fictional institution rather than in the city itself, so I guess the geographic setting is mostly fairly irrelevant. The mix of students from different countries is also a nice idea, but can I just suggest that it might make sense to have subtitles for the handful of non-English lines in the game? I happen to understand some German, French, and Russian, so I was able to understand those lines when they came up, but I doubt that most of the people who play (or will play) this demo understand all three of those languages, and without subtitles, they're kind of left in the dark about what's being said. It doesn't make sense from an in-game perspective, because Erik speaks German as a native language, and he also speaks some French, so having these lines untranslated in the game confuses the player rather than the player character which is a kind of dissonance that doesn't make much sense here.

Indeed, my one big complaint with the demo is that it just doesn't seem very satisfying in terms of the writing itself. There are a lot of things which are clearly set up for the purpose of making the player wonder: Just what gender is Fran, anyway? (Incidentally, Fran's last name reveals that Fran is of Serbian descent, which I thought was a nice touch as an acknowledgment of the high population of Serbians and other ex-Yugoslavians living in Austria.) What disorders do the other students have that caused them to attend this school? Why is Lena, who seems friendly enough, wearing that Hannibal Lecter mask? I realize that the demo doesn't answer any of these questions specifically because it wants players to wonder these things and look forward to finding out the answers; presumably we will find out these answers in the final game (for example, Hamadyne implied in another post that Fran is dateable, so I assume we'll find out what's under those trousers eventually...) but you can't just incessantly tease people the whole way through. You can tantalize them to some extent, but there's got to be some payoff at the end or they'll just feel cheated out of having the satisfaction of getting some of their questions answered. So yes, it's okay to build up some mystery, of course, but you need to reward people for having the patience to wait for those answers to come. There needs to be some kind of punch at the end, a climactic conclusion that makes people feel like it was worth the time they spent with the experience. Leaving people without any answers isn't very satisfying.

And I'm sorry to say this, but the writing itself often isn't very satisfying either, particularly because it seems to get stuck on a couple of themes over and over. In particular, I can't get over how whiny and self-absorbed Erik is. In KS, Hisao was already intolerable because of his constant moaning about having to take medication and consider his physical health: "Oh no, I feel so hopeless because I was prescribed medication. Waah, I feel so abnormal and strange because I have a cardiac condition. I just want to be normal, why am I so strange, oh poor, poor me!" At least in Hisao's case, he had a heart condition which could potentially be life-threatening, so he had some basis for feeling uneasy about it. By comparison, it really felt to me like about three-quarters of this demo is Erik moaning about his leg. The entire demo can be summed up as: "I hate my leg and feel so weird because of it. Oh look, I met a new person. I'll listen to them talk for a while before thinking about my leg again and feeling terrible and guilty because I can't walk as fast as the others. Oh hey, there's another new person. Let's talk to them for a few minutes before I go back to thinking about my leg for 20 pages. Have I mentioned my leg yet? Because I really feel bad because of my problem with my leg. I really really feel bad about my problem with my leg. I met some nice girls but I'd rather think about my leg. Leg leg leg. Also, I have a problem with my leg. Oh look, the demo is already over, but my leg is still giving me trouble."

Someone over on the game's subreddit also mentioned that the game focuses a bit too much on brother Gustav, and I think the same applies here: yes, it's kind of sad that Erik is not as close to his brother as he wants to be, but having seen several families where some members of the family were not always in close contact, I can attest that people don't spend hours every day feeling bad because one of their siblings is somewhere far away; they're grateful for the family they do have, and a guy in Erik's position would likely be grateful for the support of his two loving parents and his two kind-hearted sisters. It's not necessary for Erik to repeatedly go back to the theme of his distant brother and stop the flow of the game while he mourns about Gustav. Honestly, the writing just kind of drags on a lot of the time; even parts of the demo that should be highlights are mostly underwhelming. The conversations with Katja are supposed to show off what an erudite and intelligent woman she is, but while they start off strong, after a while they just seem to get bogged down in a jumble of words that sound like someone trying too hard to sound intellectual. In fact, most of the characters seem very much written to emphasize their one-dimensional character trait: Fran is ambiguously-gendered but sexually voracious, the Russian twins seem to exist mostly to justify comic relief from their silly and stereotypical Russian Engrish, and Annaliese is so much like Hanako that it's like there wasn't even any effort to make her into her own character. Bizarrely, Lena, who initially seems like she would be the most disturbing and messed-up character in the game, ends up being so normal as to be quite unremarkable. Perhaps this is also deliberate? Maybe they deliberately took the most disturbing-looking character in the game and made her the most outwardly-normal character, in which case, I admit that that is kind of funny. (Reminds me of how Steve Buscemi's character in Con Air turns out.)

The thing is, I think this is a pretty good cast of characters--I really think you're on to something with some of these characters--but the writing doesn't use them to their best effect. The concept here is good, but the execution doesn't really hold up all the way through a demo that takes an hour or two to play through. I had the feeling more than once while reading some of the passages in the game that what I was reading hadn't been written for any other purpose than to fill space in the game, since the game wouldn't be much without its writing. And I realize that this is a demo, so the point here is to give us an idea of where the game is going rather than to provide a finished product, and as a demo, this works just fine: it introduces some of the most important characters, gives us an idea of what the setting will be like, and gives us a handful of ideas to start our imaginations with. There's the start of something good here. I just worry that there isn't enough substance in the mix to produce something really satisfying right now. A visual novel should have nice visuals, but the heart and soul of it is the writing, and it's precisely the writing here that's lacking.

I'm sorry if I'm coming down hard on what I know is the product of several years of hard work and collaboration. I just feel the need to speak up because I see the amount of work that's gone into this project, and it would be a real shame if the end result turned out hollow, packaged in beautiful wrapping paper but lacking anything worth exploring inside. I agree with the already-posted plans to bring together the writing and make the writing in the game more cohesive, because the game does need a bit of a reality-check in terms of tone. The greatest masterpieces are masterworks because they end up being more than the sum of their parts: a visual novel like KS becomes great because it doesn't just have some nice assets thrown together, but because they are united in such a way that they capitalize on each other's strengths. From where we stand now, it's clear that Missing Stars has some brilliant talent behind it, people who are already turning out great assets, but if these assets aren't united into a cohesive whole, if those parts clash with each other rather than fitting harmoniously together, you could end up with a lot of wasted potential, and that would be a shame. I get the feeling that the team isn't working together enough, that each of them is working on their own little part but that they're not contributing to the whole of the game. Maybe I'm wrong; that's just how it seems to me based on what I saw in the demo. (Insert Kermit "but that's none of my business" meme.)

Again, I want to both thank and congratulate all of you for all that you've done so far, and to wish you all the best of luck as the project continues to take form. There are a lot of people whose hopes are resting with you folks. I know that you have the talent to do great work. I eagerly await more of it, along with the rest of the Internet. :) You folks are stars indeed!
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Re: My reaction to the demo (long)

Postby Likhos » Mon May 14, 2018 6:16 am

>The Gatorade bottle

Yeaaaah that was an oversight, it wasn't supposed to be there.
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