I don’t know if you boys and girls still remember it, but way back in 2017 we published a post about ds-sans romantic visual novel “Chemically Bonded” (which at the time had just launched its crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter).
Well, long story short. Ever since 2017, I’ve had this great desire to land an interview with ds-sans (especially now since they are highly relevant with their upcoming 2021 release of “Thawing Feelings” for PC).
Well, guess what? Just recently ds-sans picked up on our request to do an interview with them =) So we ended up talking about everything from “Thawing Feelings”, erotic game development, their past games, to ds-sans thoughts on censorship and cancel culture.
So without further ado, please enjoy our interview with ds-sans!
Thank you so much for taking your time doing this interview with us =) And we’re going to start off this interview by letting you introduce yourself to our readers. So please, go right ahead and do so 😉
Thank you for offering the opportunity to do this interview as well! I’m ds-sans (most people just call me ’ds’ at this point). I’m a 22-year old student from the UK who’s been dabbling in visual novels and graphic design for around the last six years. Besides that, there isn’t really anything interesting about me – basically just your average Joe.
Could you perhaps tell us a bit about how the ds-sans studio came to be? (how, when, where, and why) And what you’re all about?
Like most English visual novel devs, my backstory is rooted in playing VNs and getting inspiration from that to try making them myself. Early 2010 EVNs like ’Katawa Shoujo’ and ’Homeward’ really gave me the drive to experiment with producing them myself.
I’ve stuck to romance VNs so far – mainly because I just like the genre and I’m more comfortable with writing it as a whole. As for the ’studio’ itself, I mainly work solo on the writing and programming aspects and then hire freelancers to work on the more attractive aspects (art, music, etc).
The name itself doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve had people joke that it comes from Japanese honorifics, the Nintendo DS, or even the character from Undertale, but as far as I can recall, it’s just a jumble of letters I came up with when I was 14.
My main goal out of all of this is to inspire people with my work and make games that people can enjoy – money and ’fame’ isn’t all that paramount to me. I want to show people that English VNs are more than just a medium for ’memes’ (i.e that KFC VN) or porn, and can be up to par with Japanese VNs in terms of quality and the impressions such stories can leave on readers.
You don’t happen to remember how it all started for you in terms of getting into video games and game development?
Around the start of 2014, I tried to develop something with a few friends, but that project was ultimately a failure before it ever got off the ground. I took a small break from the idea until the summer of 2015 when I began experimenting with Ren’Py and graphic design again.
My second shot, “Lost Impressions” took some of those ideas from that failed attempt, and I worked on the game from late-2015 to its release in July 2016. Those early years really taught me a lot when it came to working with others on a project and what worked/didn’t work when it came to producing a VN.
”Lost Impressions” was a huge flop that pushed me to develop more realistic, heart-warming stories instead of anything too ambitious plot-wise.
From what I understand, ”Sounds of Her Love” was your very first commercial visual novel release? Well, how did that game project come to be? And are you happy with how that game turned out in the end? And what has the response and feedback been from the gaming media and gaming community since its 2017 release?
For what it was, “Sounds of Her Love” ended up being a big success in my eyes. It really turned out well and gave me the drive to pursue VN development as a serious interest.
The concept itself stemmed from the poor performance of “Lost Impressions”. I wanted to make something that more than a handful of people would play. I saved up the money to buy some higher-quality artwork and took a more ’fluffy’ approach to romance which I think paid off in the end.
The approach I took was a rather nuanced one. I wanted to stick with one heroine as the focus and emphasize the immature feelings of love experienced at high school age. I think that approach allows the reader to connect more to the character and I think I pulled it off pretty well.
Most of the feedback on the game has been positive. People seem to love the character of ‘Ceri’, enough so for me to add her into “Chemically Bonded” as a cameo. Given that it was my second VN, I couldn’t be any more thrilled by the reception it had when it was released.
And here’s a follow-up question on the same subject. About one year later after the release of “Sounds of Her Love”, you released the “We’ll always be together” DLC. Well, did the DLC turn out as you wanted it to? And how was it received by the players and your fans?
I think the DLC went well. It was more of a stop-gap to release some content in 2018 whilst I was working on “Chemically Bonded”, but overall I think that people enjoyed it as much as the main game.
It’s a nice extension to the story and gives readers a peek at what the relationship between ‘Ceri’ and the player continued to be like after the main game.
I’d like to do more DLC’s like that in the future. We did one for “Chemically Bonded” called “Sae-entific Hearts”, so expect to see one for “Thawing Feelings” as well.
And after the release of the ”We’ll always be together” DLC, you followed-up with the Japanese high-school-themed romantic visual novel “Chemically Bonded”, which managed to become fully funded on Kickstarter back in 2017, and saw a release to PC via Steam in November of 2019.
So, could you perhaps walk us through the Kickstarter experience/success, development process, up to the Steam release (how did the game come to be? What was the journey like to go from a Kickstarter campaign to a full release via Steam?).
Moving towards commercial/Kickstarter-backed releases was a very nerve-wracking experience, in all honesty. I came up with the idea for the project shortly after “Sounds of Her Love” as I moved towards working with multiple love interests and fully original assets.
Much of the game is based on my own experiences and emotions at the time – exploring the ideas of ‘self’ and how we connect with others socially and emotionally.
Moving to Kickstarter was a big risk at the time for me. I was still a relatively unknown developer, so it was a big gamble spending the money to prep the campaign. The campaign itself only managed to reach the goal by an extra 9%, with most of the money coming in during the last few days of the campaign.
I was trying my hardest to post content on social media daily to drive up interest, but I think luck was a huge factor in the project succeeding, especially for a game with no NSFW content.
The development itself was a rather extended process. We had a few delays in producing some of the writing, art, and the vocal lines, which pushed back our release by about an extra year. Overall though it was a very moving journey.
So not only did I make the VN I had dreamt about, but I made new friendships and gained a lot of experience over the two years it was developed.
Getting to the point of release was an uphill battle. Many personal issues also contributed to the delays, but all in all, there was a huge sense of relief and happiness once the game finally launched. It hasn’t performed as well as I would’ve liked, but that’s just another reason for me to continue making new titles and to improve myself as a developer.
Now, as for your latest visual novel project, ”Thawing Feelings – their latest adult visual novel”. It’s said to be a bittersweet, romantic, adult 18+ visual novel, and it’s off to a good start for sure since got over 200% funded on Kickstarter back in August last year (2020).
So, with that said. What could you tell us about the game? (what is it all about? How did this game project go from ) How lewd will it be? Will it be censored on release? And can you give us some reasons why fans of adult visual novels should be excited about “Thawing Feelings”?
“Thawing Feelings” should be quite a familiar experience to anyone who’s followed my works, but I also want to bring something new to the table. I’ve moved away from cliched high school love stories and want to present players with a slice of early adulthood.
A lot of the themes follow the beginnings of a quarter-life crisis, the complexities of love triangles, and ultimately the freedoms we lose as we become adults and what exactly we gain in exchange for them.
The university setting comes from my own experiences as a student and I want to reflect that through the characters and their relationships with one another.
As for the NSFW content, my focus is making sure all lewd scenes emphasize and serve a purpose for the story. We aren’t going gung-ho with sexual content, but we’re not holding anything back either. Our artist RyThae does an excellent job at producing the sensual style of art which suits the game perfectly.
My hope is that it will be uncensored upon release, although it’ll depend on the attitude of Steam (and other platforms) at the time it comes out. We will be making the R18 content optional regardless of players who’d rather avoid that or people streaming/recording the game.
I’d like to think that fans of adult visual novels will enjoy what “Thawing Feelings” will offer. My goal is to bring both the positives of story-rich content and lewdness into one package, and I hope to do that in further releases too.
I’m also rather curious to know what thoughts that went through your heads when you realized that “Thawing Feelings” had become fully funded on Kickstarter?
Happiness would be the biggest thing that went through my (and the team’s) heads at the time. The original goal was a very conservative estimate which would’ve meant scaling down our ambitions for the game, but I think the amount we raised is just the right amount to produce something special.
Everyone involved had worked very hard to see the campaign through, and it’s an honor to work with such a talented selection of people.
One big surprise though was the speed in which we were funded. We hit our goal in just over a week, which really gave a big boost of confidence and motivation in the game.
Is it really correct that “Thawing Feelings” is coming to PC this November? (2021) If so, do you got something special planned for the launch day? (pre-order bonuses, collectors editions, etc.)
November 2021 is probably the earliest possible release date, but at the moment, it’s hard to tell if we’ll be able to meet that. I’ve always been more than open to push back releases if it means producing a better overall experience for players (or if any issues force our hands).
Assuming all goes to plan though, I hope to see “Thawing Feelings” release as soon as possible. Once I have a concrete release date, I’ll push an announcement out everywhere I can.
As for specialties, we should have a few physical editions spare after we ship them to KS backers, so expect to see a few giveaways or opportunities to buy any related merchandise. I posted a sample of these on Twitter a while back.
To my knowledge, you have not released any of your current games to consoles or mobile, why is that? And is that something that might change in the future?
As of right now, I don’t really see the interest in porting any of my releases to consoles. I don’t think they’d do all that well and I haven’t done much research into the viability of publishing on those platforms – that’s something I should probably ask other devs.
I did experiment with the idea of porting “Sounds of Her Love” to Android though, so we’ll have to see where that goes.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this or not…But not so long ago Top Hat Studios made a public statement about their and Suzaku’s waifu-themed 2.5D cyberpunk/horror/ adventure game ”Sense” we’re they stod up against censorship, cancel culture, and the SJW/PC madness.
Well, what’s your take on that matter? And do you think that Top Hat Studios did the right thing in this case?
I’ve only heard about it through others in the industry, so I’m not super familiar with what happened. I think any developer/publisher standing by their right to make the content they want to is a good thing though.
People have the right to make content of a sexual nature (if it’s within the bounds of the law) as much as people have the right to be offended by these types of things.
The most effective form of censorship is to just avoid content like that in the first place. If anything, the attention that such censorship campaigns bring is usually a big boost for the game and does more to make it a success with its target audience.
And speaking of censorship, cancel culture, and SJW/PC madness…Not too long ago Inti Creates and PQube announced via Twitter that their lewd rail shooter “Gal Gun Returns” won’t be coming to the Xbox nor Playstation platform at all..
So, with that fresh in mind, what’s your take on that and censorship, cancel culture and the SJW/PC madness in general?
As a whole, I have a very neutral opinion on the matter. As I said above, people have the right to be offended by such things as much as people have the right to make them, and I can honestly stand behind justified forms of activism.
I think it’s a good thing that we live in a society that allows freedom of opinion (as heated as things can get at times). There are many places in the world that still don’t offer such freedoms.
Though in this case, the trend of trying to get things ‘banned’ or ‘censored’ only alienates people and pushes people away from constructive dialogue, and most of the time, those campaigning against a game aren’t anything remotely close to the target audience.
I don’t see it as constructive to force a game to be changed or censored that these people would’ve never ended up playing regardless. The gaming industry is diverse enough that there are so many titles that anyone can enjoy – there isn’t a need for games to be changed to suit audiences they weren’t designed for.
And while at it, do you think that it’s about time that people (especially game developers and game publishers) take a stand for creative and artistic freedom?
I think so. I think everyone has the right to take a stand for what they believe in. It’s inevitable that someone, somewhere will be unhappy with what you’re creating.
So no matter who that person is or what world view they have. I’d like to see more developers and publishers stand up for their rights as much as the people standing up for their rights to oppose one type of content or another. Penn & Teller did a good sketch on this topic.
And since you just happen to be a lewd game developer, I got the perfect question for you. So, here we go! Why do you think that so many people and big-name companies in the comic, movie, and video games industry are so afraid of the female form nowadays? Because I sure don’t recall that it was anything like this in the 80s, 90s, or even in the early 2000s…
I think that mostly comes down to the corporate side of things. Big companies can see the appeal in aligning themselves to viewpoints and manipulating them to sell their products.
I find it hard to believe that these companies stand by what they are doing over how much profit they think they can make from following social trends. Every business decision is ultimately a financial one and times have changed to the point where appealing to perversion doesn’t sell as well as it used to when comics, games, etc were considered as a relatively niche male-oriented hobby.
Now, as for my last interview question for this time. What are your expectations, hopes, and plans for the rest of this year? And is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
I hope to show more of “Thawing Feelings” to the world as the year progresses. Honestly 2020/21 has been tough for everyone, so I hope to provide some amount of joy through the game at a time where things are hopefully returning to normality.
I hope that readers will look forward to the release and our plans for this year – I’m always active on Twitter with constant updates and cool things to share. J
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
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