Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten questions with one of the main dudes at Dudedle Studio

I had such a blast playing through Dudedle Studio's Sugar Shooter a few months back that shortly after I finished my review of it I reached out to Punipen, the studio's chief designer, programmer and scenario writer, in an attempt to get to know the guys behind this boss-rush, bullet-hell shmup that's aimed at the bara-loving set a bit better.

Thankfully, he wasn't at all turned off by my (completely honorable, I assure you) advances and graciously agreed to answer a handful of questions--I know only nine appear below, despite the promises of the headline above, but the first one originally was split into two--about the company's background, what prompted him and his colleagues to create the sexy Sugar Shooter and why they make gay games in general.

The Gay Gamer: Can you tell me a bit about Dudedle Studio's back- ground? When was the company founded, for instance? Also, why was it founded? What were your goals for the company?

Punipen: First of all, I think we're more of a studio or group of indie developers than a company. We started making games as a hobby, just for fun. And since we're all gay, we [decided we] would develop erotic games for gay people.

If you know about H-games, you'll see that there are literally tons of them on the market in Japan. Many of them are very good and were turned into animation afterwards, such as Air, Kanon, To Heart, etc.

Sadly, the gay audience is neglected [by the makers of these games]. If you're talking about gay games that feature manly men, they hardly exist. The only company that stands out [for making such games] in Japan right now is Underground Campaign, which is led by Senga Migiri-san.

When we checked [the availability of these kinds of games] outside of Japan, we found that the scenario wasn't so different. While there are Flash games that target gay people who prefer manly men, none of these are big games like the ones Underground Campaign has made. Also, there are many people who wish these kinds of games were available for English speakers.

So, you could say that we've been toying with the idea of making a gay game [for a worldwide audience] for a while.

We didn't actually start making one, though, until Takezamurai-san, the main artist for Sugar Shooter, tweeted me saying that he wished he could make a game. He's a great artist, and I've always been a big fan of his, so I was like, 'Why not?' I got in touch with him and that's when we started working on Sugar Shooter.

So, you could say that our group was founded on November 14, 2010--which is when Sugar Shooter was first released in Japan.

TGG: Is Dudedle Studio based in Japan, or somewhere else?

Punipen: I think it won’t be fun if there are no secrets, so let's just say we're based in Asia and that our team consists of Japanese people.

TGG: Do you make all of the games that are sold via your website (Sugar Shooter, Bukkake Party, etc.), or do you just translate games that are made by other developers? (Or is it a mixture of the two: Some games you make, others you translate?)

Punipen: We have made all of the games that are available on our website. We have no plans to translate games made by other developers, since [we already have] so many ideas that are just waiting to be made into a game.

With that said, now that Take-san sees that there are people outside of Japan who appreciate his work, we are helping him translate his new doujinshi and make it available to English-speaking audiences.

TGG: How do you decide which kind of game to make? For instance, with Sugar Shooter: Why did you decide to make a gay adult/ero bullet-hell shooter?

Punipen: The basic idea is that it must not be ‘just’ a visual novel. This is not because we hate visual novels or anything like that (I’m a big fan of this genre, actually, since I love bishoujo games), but because, as we’ve seen with the H-game market, there are so many [things that can be done with] the genre, ranging from visual novels to action RPGs. This drives us to explore genres outside of visual novels.

Another reason is that we want to make a game in which the gameplay is as enjoyable as the erotic content. Simply, the game should be fun even after you've unlocked all of the erotic content. [It should be able] to be played as a standalone game.

With Sugar Shooter, we wanted to make a game, but we didn’t want to make one that was too complicated, since we were afraid we might lose motivation and give up. So, we decided to go with a shooting game--mostly because I’m a Touhou fan. Anyway, many modern shoot ’em ups follow the Touhou formula of flying magical girls, so we thought we’d like to do something similar but with a theme that would be more suitable to our tastes: Cute muscular guys!

Producing an erotic game in that genre, though, presented an interesting problem: How do you design a danmaku/bullet-hell game that integrates a shoot ’em up scoring mechanic with erotic content? In the end, I came up with the ‘Armor Break’ system [for Sugar Shooter], which I think is pretty satisfying solution.

TGG: Why have you decided to focus on gay adult/ero games in general?

Punipen: As I mentioned earlier, we feel that this audience is being neglected. We are part of that audience as well, and if no one’s going to do it, we might as well do it ourselves!

With that said, at some point we might make a game that isn’t erotic but is still targeted at a gay audience. Some gay gamers aren't interested in erotic games and would prefer to play games with characters that better suit their tastes. Many H-game studios are like this, too, by the way--switching back and forth between erotic games and non-erotic games. So, I don’t think it would be surprising if some of our future games, while still being gay-oritented, might have non-erotic content.

TGG: Have you found that there's a market for such games in the US (i.e., have your games sold according to your expectations so far)? Also, do you sell your games in other regions? 

Punipen: There certainly is a market [for these kinds of games] in the US. However, the lack of payment processors [willing to accept payment] for adult software makes it hard for people there to buy them. In Japan, getting adult digital content is very easy, thanks to digital content providers like Digiket, Surpara and DLSite. In the Western world, it’s more restricted. There aren’t many payment processing companies that will accept [payment for] adult software.

In terms of Sugar Shooter's sales, they were lower than we expected--five times lower than what we sold in Japan, actually. We expected [the game's US sales] to be similar to or more than that. This is probably due to the fact that not many people in the US have heard about us or our games.

TGG: I'm not sure if you know this information or not, but I'll ask anyway, just in case: Are gay men the primary buyers of your games, or are they bought by heterosexual women and men, too? I'm guessing gay men are your target customers, though, right?

Punipen: Unfortunately I have no idea about this information. I’ve never thought about it before now, actually, but now that you've brought it up it would be interesting to know. While I don’t expect to see any straight guys playing our games, it would be interesting to know if there are any! Maybe I should put a poll on our blog about this.

TGG: Do all of Dudedle's staff members work on a game together, at the same time, or do some work on one game while other staffers work on a different game?

Punipen: It depends, but mostly we work together on the same game. Basically, if one project gets stuck and we have to wait for something, the other team members switch to another project.

Currently we are focusing on two main games, which are Kemo Coliseum and Sugar Shooter 2--with around 30 percent [of our time being spent on] Kemo Coliseum and 70 percent on Sugar Shooter 2.

TGG: Speaking of Sugar Shooter 2, how is that coming along? It seems it will differ from the original in a few ways? If so, can you tell me about those changes and why you made them? Also, when do you think it will be released?

Punipen: It’s coming along really well, and we can't wait to release it! There are a lot of changes to the game. The biggest change is that the game is now a full-stage shoot’em up and not just a boss-rush one like the first Sugar Shooter was. The game will feature five stages and four difficulty levels.

The ‘Armor Break’ system [has been retained], although with some tweaks and modifications. The game will also feature a new partner system, where you can choose the boss from the previous installment as your partner. They will change your status as well as your sub-weapon type. They affect your play style greatly, so you can choose the one you’re comfortable with instead of having to rely on one weapon like you did in the previous title. For example, Souffle will give you a homing bones attack and make your hitbox smaller, making him a suitable partner for beginners or people who want to focus on dodging bullets. Sugarless, on the other hand, will give you a strong attack and more mobility, but his attack is very narrow so it’ll be harder during the boss fight.

The partner system also ties to the scoring system in the game. How well you play the game will affect the relationship between you and your partner. This will change your ending, too. With four partners to choose from, the game will feature at least four different endings and a lot more CGs than the first one.

We are also going to re-design the scoring mechanic, which is one of the most important elements in any shoot’em up game. We can’t reveal it yet, but we promise that we’ll make it much better than the last one. I find the last one to be pretty flawed. There is no reward for finishing off the boss early, so you can sugar-farm and use 'Sugar Burst' to build up your score until time runs out.

Apart from the game system, Sugar Shooter 2 will feature an original soundtrack by Woofle.

Note: If you'd like to see for yourself how Sugar Shooter 2 is coming along, check out the recently released demo of the game here.

See also: Previous Sugar Shooter/Sugar Shooter 2 posts and previous 'ten questions with...' posts


Chris said...

This is great. Thanks! I'm definitely gonna go check out this team and also that one studio he mentioned.

I have one thing though. I think some of the brackets you put in were a bit unnecessary. I personally don't have a problem with them, I just worry that maybe the interviewee might be a little put off by the corrections.

No biggie, though.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Chris! Yes, check out their games -- esp. Sugar Shooter (if you're into shmups). I've yet to play any of Underground Campaign's offerings, so I can't say anything about them, but hopefully I'll change that soon.

As for the brackets/changes in this Q&A: I honestly struggled with them, but in the end I decided it was best to show where I made edits. That said, I do think that maybe I went a bit overboard in terms of the brackets.

Bryan Ochalla said...

One more comment RE: my potential over-use of brackets in this Q&A: The interview was conducted via e-mail, and I have to admit I'm a bit wary of changing quotes obtained in that manner.

Interestingly, I have no such problem making slight corrections/edits -- and not highlighting those corrections/edits -- to quotes obtained in person or via phone conversations.

Of course, the latter is pretty much accepted, although not entirely, these days in the journalism world. How to properly deal with the former situation, on the other hand, is less clear, or at least it is to me.

So, I think at this point I will leave things as they are. I know the brackets can be a bit annoying as a reader, and I certainly didn't include them to put off Punipen (the interviewee), but I think I'd rather highlight the changes that I made than hide them.

SUIKA said...

Man, my lack of knowledge of journalism aside, this is.. So good! 'aint it exciting? I mean, taking about a neglected or target audience, and even they're not sure of their demographic, etc. It's like an entirely new domain for us. Us as in, the consumer, the producer, etc. I think this at least one dynamic advantage to our sexualities, or something. Like, stuff like this really hasn't been done before. Y'know? I dunno'. Good work and stuff.

Bryan Ochalla said...

I agree, SUIKA, this is exciting! And how great that folks like the guys at Dudedle Studio are helping pave the way for such games? Admittedly, their games aren't for everyone, but that's what I love about them -- they're different from pretty much everything out there that's aimed at the LGBT community.

Viewtiful_Justin said...

I love these inside looks that we might not otherwise get! Thanks for providing stuff like this, Bryan. Dudedle Studios seems like the kind of game company I want to keep my eye on!

Bryan Ochalla said...

You're welcome, Justin! Dudedle Studio definitely is one to keep an eye on. I'm especially interested in seeing what they do when they try to make a non-erotic game. That's not to say their erotic games aren't worthwhile, of course -- Sugar Shooter would be just as fun and interesting w/o its fairly adult intermissions.

Bryan Ochalla said...

BTW, I've decided that this will be my last "ten questions" post. In the future, I'm going to break them up into two posts called/labelled "five questions with," as these "ten questions" posts are just too long, in my opinion.

Unknown said...

Man, this was great to read, Bryan! (as a quick aside, thanks for your email! I'll be getting you-know-what up next week)

I'd be interested in seeing how many female yaoi fans would be into these types of bara games. Personally, I am, but I think in general the aesthetic is a bit different... That said, maybe the yaoi fan crowd is an untapped market for Sugar Shooter, at least in the west?

It's a bit disheartening to hear that it didn't sell that well in the US, but honestly, I hadn't heard of it before you started talking about it on your blog! Maybe Dudelde might consider distributing through JList or some other Japan-oriented online store, as I know they sell a lot of ero games (mostly heterosexual male-oriented, though). Hmmmm

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Anne! Glad you liked it :)

Yeah, it would be interesting to see ho many females -- yaoi fans, especially -- would be into these types of games. I kind of think there might not be much crossover, though, since the aesthetics of the two genres are pretty different. Still, who knows?

As for Sugar Shooter not selling all that well in the West: Yeah, it's definitely disheartening. They're still getting their name out there, though, so hopefully they'll achieve the success they deserve soon.

I'll certainly do what I can to promote their efforts, although I know full well that my reach is pretty limited. Still, it can't hurt, right?

Oh, and I'll mention your idea of distributing through JList, etc., to Punipen tomorrow. Who knows, maybe he/they hadn't thought about that yet!

SUIKA said...

Oh. Re; what you said about their endeavors to make a non erotic game; what would that be like? As in, would it still be something gay positive? As in, if you recall any instances of fan service or whatever where a female character will be scantily clad, or shown in a shower or whatever, I'd imagine it'd be that but.. With guys. Like, the ending of the first Alien movie where Sigourney Weaver strips down for no reason. But if a guy did that. Y'know? I'm not making any sense, I'm sorry u_u

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hello again, SUIKA! You know, I'm not exactly sure what a Dudedle Studio-made game w/o erotic content would be like, or if it would still be gay-positive, to tell you the truth. I would guess it would still be both fun and gay-positive, though, but that's just a guess on my part. I mean, they could still depict/show that the characters in the game are gay, and the game's stories could still be centered around that, but they just wouldn't include sex scenes in them as they do now.

Dudedle Studio said...

Hi everyone! I'm Punipen from Dudedle Studio. First of all, thank you Bryan for the opportunity! And I'm really glad to hear that you guys are interested in what we do. It's really encouraging :)

Thanks for the suggestion! Though I've heard of JList, I have an impression that they only take physical product. Our product is digital download so I'm not sure if they'd take it. I've never really asked though. But I'll definitely keep that in mind :)

If we were going to make one, it'd be similar to what you said, I think. Basically, if something like fanservice or woman clothes are destroyed for no reasons is acceptable, then why not male? :P Or it would be something with gay-friendly content that is not overboard. We don't want stereotypical or over-the-top gay character like in the mainstream media, so it should be subtle :)

We were thinking of a clean version of Sugar Shooter too. Maybe just a little naughty like how girls clothes are destroyed like in Queen's Blade, but nothing explicit. Still, these are all just ideas since we have to finish the games we plan first.

- Punipen

Random J said...

Arthur's jockstrap and iffy tan made me drop my cup of tea all over my damn carpet.

Great interview! A really insightful read. It would be interesting to see if these games began to surface and become more widespread. I have a lot of straight friends who would download some of these games just purely because of how off the wall they are.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Punipen! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few commenters' questions.

I don't know if you've ever thought of it or if it's even possible for you, but have you ever thought of offering a limited edition boxed version of Sugar Shooter or Sugar Shooter 2? I'd *totally* buy something like that if the packaging were nice. I don't know if that would be popular with others, though...

Also, I like your thoughts on how you could or may make future games less explicit. Have you ever thought about putting two versions of your big games out there -- one explicit and one just kind of naughty?

Personally, I like that your games are explicit, and I'd probably always buy that version of your games, but it's possible that offering less-explicit versions could be beneficial to your sales.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what you guys come up with next -- after Sugar Shooter 2 and Kemo Coliseum, of course.

Thanks again for being willing to answer my questions, Punipen. Maybe we'll have to do another Q&A next year after Sugar Shooter 2 and Kemo Coliseum are out!

Bryan Ochalla said...

Random J: If Arthur's jockstrap and iffy tan made you drop your cup of tea, I'd love to see your reaction to the game's intermissions/end-of-stage scenes ;)