Devlog #49 - Brassica Update, EGOLOGIC + Future Plans!

Hello!

A lot has happened since our last devlog in August, so to keep you up to date on what's been going on here at BL+ we just posted our second video devlog!

Just as last time you can find a transcript at the end of this post, and subtitles will be added to the video over the coming days.

Thanks for your interest in our projects, and without further ado, here's the devlog:


Transcript

Rohan: *yawns*

R: [in German] It’s recording?

Felix: [in German] Yes

R: *waves at camera* Hello


[BL+ splash screen]


R: Hello

F: Hi

R: Welcome to our second video devlog. We are Boys Laugh +, BL+ for short, and we are indie narrative game developers

F: I'm Felix

R: And I'm Rohan

R: As you can see by these beautiful dividers in the back, we are in an office again. Germany is currently under its second lockdown, but we are allowed to enter the university again under certain restrictions. And we are currently alone in this office which is why we are allowed to remove our masks

R: Usually we would share this office with another indie team, they're called Indieburg, they're really cool people and if you'd like, you can check them out, we'll put a link to their homepage in the description box below

[on-screen text: by the time you see this video we're all probably in home office again tho...]

Topics for today

R: The topics for today: we'll look back at what happened since our last devlog from August, then we'll take a really spontaneous deep dive into an issue we were confronted with Brassica back then, we'll update you on the progress of our latest project EGOLOGIC, and then we'll tell you about what we're currently working on and afterwards what our future plans are

Brassica 0.7.3 update or a small lesson about racism

F: On July 31st we released a small update to Brassica with some changes to the first two acts and with those updates we already released statements on what changed and why, but we would like to explain in a little more detail what happened and what we learned because this was an issue that we hadn't expected and that we had to deal with for the first time

F: Okay, some context: because Brassica was part of itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, a lot of new people played it and we got a lot of new feedback. And some of that was criticism that it played into harmful stereotypes of people of color, which came as a surprise to us because we of course don't support such harmful stereotypes in media and in general

F: So what exactly was this criticism? It was mainly about Ode, one of our characters and that he played into the stereotype of the black man who's always big and muscular and angry and ignorant, and this wasn't helped by the fact that especially in the beginning, one of the other characters is relentlessly poking fun at him and not showing him in the best light. Which turned out to be kind of ironic then that we added this game to the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. But yeah, as I said, we want to expand a little on what was going on, what our thoughts were, and what we learned and changed

Stereotypes we intended to use

R: So what we thought as creators about the topic: so initially we planned to have two romanceable characters in Brassica. One would present the perfect Prince-sama you would encounter in the Shoujo genre, and the other would be the brutish, kind of dumb guy you could find in the Bara genre. Well, this shows in their names. We have Hans of Auxtome [pronounced Otome] and Ode of Barah. If you ever wondered how to pronounce these names, that's how we thought they could be pronounced

R: And the twist with these two is that Hans seems like the perfect gentleman at first but he really doesn't care about a perfect track record when he isn't politically motivated. And you have Ode who seems brutish and kind of dumb at first, but then he turns out to be the most sensitive and artistic one from among our characters in the game

[on-screen text: almost spoiling :D]

R: Ode is also the case of someone who has grown used to being bullied from his experience in his past

[on screen text: *not based on personal experiences at all]

R: Opposite to this, Hans dishes out provocations all the time because of his own insecurities, this makes Ode a really good target for Hans, especially in the beginning of the story where they don't know each other yet. And so we have the holy constellation of the Nerd vs. the Chad but fortunately our heroes learn to redeem themselves with the help of our protagonist and you as the player eventually in the story

Player's knowledge vs. our own

F: So, that was what our plan was for the characters and how we saw them while writing the story and the dialogue, and through this feedback we realized that there was a gap between who we thought these characters were and how they came across when you first meet them. Especially in Ode's case, because you don't actually get to learn much about him from his perspective until a little later in the game, so your first impression of him is very severely colored by what Hans says about him, which isn't actually who he is. So in this update we changed some of the dialogue to make Ode a little more confident and speak up and not just let every comment from Hans slide

[on-screen text: *we also changed Hans' attacks to be more about Ode's political status]

Rohan's design choice

R: Okay, so that's the psychological and interpersonal side of the issue, but why is Ode literally dark-skinned, Hans white as a paper, and Saffron brown as a biscuit? So, as the visual character designer of our little team, I wanted to design a cast which is diverse and choose color tones which move away from the fair default skin tone you see so much in Japanese manga and anime inspired media like visual novels are

R: In the end I picked the skin colors depending on what they mean to me in regards to the characters' traits. So we have Saffron who's brown because he is very much inspired by Indian culture and Buddhist views. And then we have Hans who is white because he is inspired by fantastical beauty standards of men in Shoujo manga and anime; the stereotype of the prince hailing from a western country. And Ode is dark because I wanted to break with the default representation of black characters in mainstream media. I wanted to see a dark-skinned character who isn't a macho or disloyal

R: Another important factor here is our background as creators

Our cultural background

R: Because we both grew up in German cities. Yeah, there's a difference between like a small town and a city; cities are more diverse. Where we grew up rather colorblind to skin tones and I don't want to say that Germany is kind of a paradise for minorities, eh, we have our own history, people might have heard, that's different from the US. Because I think many of our readers are from the US, or like, we have an international audience, and it's just that racist people here in Germany, they're more focused on people from certain countries who are also majorly white

What we learned from this

F: So, what we learned with this, especially as people who release games for an international audience, is that we have to be a bit careful with what we write because most people who play our games probably won't have the same background that we have. And at the time we weren't aware that what we wrote would be uncomfortable or hurtful to other people, and of course that's not what we want our games to be so going forward we'll definitely try to catch these problems before they happen and make sure that such insensitive issues aren't part of our games. And we are thankful for any constructive criticism that tells us when something we did was wrong or plays into stereotypes that we don't want to reinforce

Recap!

R: So in August we made the previous devlog and we took a break from actual BL+ work, somewhat, and prioritized our individual freelance work. Also Felix was away for some time from late July to late August, which didn't change much considering our home office situation back then. Then we were slowly getting back to EGOLOGIC towards the end of August

R: In the first September weeks, we put our freelance work to the side and focused on BL+ work again. We had some long meetings, like overhauling the story of EGOLOGIC, adding to the *logic* of the game. Accidentally we expanded the scope as well. So the scope for both writing and art increased as a result. Like always. So then we just crunched EGOLOGIC until the first week of October—

[on-screen text: advanced project management ö-ö]

R: Aiming to release it on September 30th, but there was so much that we had to push that back to the first week of October. So yeah, we just crunched EGOLOGIC until the first week of October

[on-screen text: we do have anti crunch rules though and don't support unhealthy work ethics]

R: This was also one of the occasions where we set separate deadlines for the actual release of the game, so we had like a production deadline and a release deadline, and was there an earlier deadline set just to check in?

F: I think in this case we knew that the production deadline wouldn't be the actual production deadline because there was so much to do

R: Yeah, it was so tight that we were glad in the end that we had put these two deadlines into our calendar but we still had to delay the actual release by a week. I think compared to our projects in the past, I think we got better at managing this so it's recommendable to have like a deadline which isn't the actual release but much earlier than that, like at least I think a week, two weeks or, depending on the scope of the project. So you'll have time to actually playtest what you did and check for any issues or add some extras but—

[on-screen text: don't]

R: Nice-to-haves are always kind of a trap. Be strict with your nice-to-haves

F: In practice these changes to the scope meant that we added a bunch of new scenes and expanded others that we had already planned. The endings were changed and adjusted many times to better fit the central themes that we wanted the game to convey. In general our approach to writing this game was different to our previous projects because this time was the first time that we started with a core theme and idea in mind that we wanted to build the game around. It wasn't just about plot but about thematic storytelling and to have the game work as a whole

F: The revisions and changes were a lot more drastic than just an editing pass or two. A bunch of writing was scrapped. Especially the second half of the game went through multiple versions of the outline before there was even finished dialogue

F: Something else that we did differently with this project was how character sprites and expressions were implemented. We used a pretty neat feature from Ren'Py that basically links character images and characters in the script so that you can just say what expression they are supposed to use in the same line where you write the dialogue, which saves a lot of writing when you basically just have to add an additional word or two to say that this expression should be used for this line than just write the whole command to show this character at this specific moment

F: Because this meant less effort to add the character images, that meant that we had more time to actually focus on the writing and could more easily change the script without having to also completely change how the characters are displayed in the game. On the flip side this also meant that adding the expressions was practically the last thing I did for the game. Up until a few days before the release and I think for some scenes even just a few hours before the release there were— weren't all— the expressions weren't all implemented and this was a bit of a struggle to get everything done in time and also meant that there wasn't time to test everything and see everything in the game before we published the update

R: Yeah, so about lot's to do and not enough time to do that. We had more sprite variations in the end and more backgrounds than we initially planned to do. Which meant that there was less time in general for special illustrations we have planned from the get-go. So these were pushed back as well on their list of priorities. And the long production time for writing and implementation also didn't leave us, or rather Felix, much time to work on the audio and the UI. So we had to re-evaluate our priorities for the release of the update because we really didn't want to push the release date further back than the beginning of October, as Brassica was still on our schedule it would consequently be pushed back as well. Which would have been really unfortunate because Brassica had gained a lot of traction during the last months and yeah, we wanted to deliver it to the lovely audience that was waiting

F: So from the middle of October until now we first took a short post-crunch break for I think two weeks or so, just to recover. And then we took EGOGLOGIC and the release as an opportunity to try out something new with our social media strategy and made a calendar for October where we planned when we were going to do posts and what posts we were going to make. Because before that it was kind of just, post whenever we have something to post and having this structure was kind of interesting because while it didn't really increase our sales magically, we definitely saw a more constant reaction and got more followers, which is kind of obvious in hindsight because when you post more you are obviously going to get more engagement

F: After that we took part in itch.io's Halloween Sale. Then, on November 7th we released the first polishing update for EGOLOGIC with some additional audio and editing

Current work

R: So what are we currently working on? So as BL+ we have returned to working on Brassica and that would be our priority for the upcoming months. There's still a lot of writing and art to do for Act 3 so that's what we are going to do. And EGOLOGIC isn't done— [in German] No wait... EGOLOGIC is done. EGOLOGIC is finished at this time in terms of its story and the general content of it. But there's some polishing work left to do, like missing pieces of art assets and audio. We would work on that too, but more on the side of things

R: Another thing is that over the past couple months we have prepared a //TODO: today Steam release. The actual release really depends on how much time Felix has to prepare the version that is going to be uploaded there. You could look forward to //TODO: today playable on Steam

F: Aside from BL+ work, we also have some personal work as well. For me that's work as a freelance composer for a few other visual novels, most of which haven't been announced yet. That takes some of my time as well

R: I'm busy with a part-time job and freelancing as a designer and illustrator at the moment. So that's more of a focus on the financial side of things too, because we don't earn that much as game developers yet, hopefully in the future but at the time we finance ourselves mostly by other means

What's next

F: As Rohan said, Brassica is our main priority for now again. Starting from November, well, now, we are working on Act 3. That will most likely be the longest act in the game so far and probably in general unless something happens to Acts 4 and 5—

[on-screen text: don't]

F: Although we've already locked down the story pretty much, but... well

R: Very loose locks, my friends

F: So yeah, Act 3 is going to be a long one and hopefully exciting. In December and January we are going to take a break from BL+ work again because we kind of need a break and also for personal reasons and to focus more on our financial situation and our freelance work for a bit. So Act 3 will probably be released some time in early Spring. You can look forward to that then. And around that time in February or March, we are also going to change our working situation a little and be working remotely from different cities

R: So the both of us plan to move away but at that same time our contract to use the offices here would end by the end of January. Some big life changes are about to come for us next year

R: I think that was it. You can check out our social media links down below in the description box. We also have a Patreon with a connected Discord. You can even enter the Discord without being a Patron. Join us there and chat a little bit. While we're at it, thanks to our patrons, thank you very much for donating and believing in our projects

R: Is there anything left to say? Say it now

F: Or be silent forever

R: Felix will be silent forever from now on. Thank you so much for watching and being interested in our work. Bye bye

F: Bye

Bloopers

R: Okay, so you might have noticed that I look really tired. Felix, are you tired?

F: Yes

R: Okay

F: Always

R: Al— *laughs*


R: [...] see in the Shoujo manga and anime, [in German] what... Sentence structure. Oh man

F: [in German] Who needs sentence structure when you make narrative games


*both drinking*

R: Drinking break

F: Stay hydrated

R: Stay hydrated


R: [in German] I don’t have any recollection, but—

F: [in German] You talked about the release

R: [in German] Oh, did I. Okay. What am I doing here?

F: [in German] We are both empty husks


R: We are allowed... okay. [in German] Maybe— It’s always this, when I remember the text and I can say it, but then I’m looking at my laptop and it doesn’t look good and I’m trying to keep looking over there [points to camera] but that’s...


F: [in German] So we uploaded something right after the game jam

R: [in German] Yeah

F: [in German] What happened in between the game jam and August? Do we have to watch our own devlog now?

F: [in German] We’ll make a reaction video for our old devlog

PECTIN + eZombo

The core team of BL+