Sometimes a game crosses our path that we can’t hold ourselves back from; where every part of it calls out that we need to play it. To stream it. To talk about it. And of course to talk to the people who made it.
ValiDate is in every way that kind of experience for us. From the vibrant aesthetic to the relatable tone we knew after streaming the demo that we had to get on a few of the creators in to talk to us about how this visual novel came to be, and what it means to the folx who are making it.
Kaiju: Today on Digital Diversity I’m lucky enough to be interviewing three developers of the incredible visual novel ValiDate, a game that pulls no punches with its stories or its characters.
Thank you so much for joining me today Dani (they/she), Alexis (she/her) & Kevin (he/him). I had a heckin good time streaming the demo of ValiDate so I know I had to get some of y’all in to chat about the game.
Before we get started please introduce yourselves and tell us what parts you had to play in making ValiDate a reality?
Dani: Hi! I’m Dani, the head developer of ValiDate and the one who brought this all together with the help of my amazing team of 24 awesome people!
Kevin: I’m Kevin, music director for ValiDate, and I am one of 24 people, probably.
Alexis: Heyo, I’m Alexis, the head designer for ValiDate.
Kaiju: The best place to start this interview I guess is from the beginning. Where did the idea of ValiDate originate, did you know going in how big a set of stories you wanted to create, and how did everyone get involved?
Dani: ValiDate originated last year in June when my friend and I wanted to make a little dating sim and I started crafting these characters with him and we just kinda set sail from there. When it was just the two of us it was going to be short and sweet but one of my friends actually pushed me to do more because they knew I could create something bigger and better. From then around…. Octoberish I started hiring more people onto the team and it just kind of went from there! We didn’t have an actual name for the game until January of this year. We launched publicly in February and here we are in July with a lot of support and people who really want us to succeed!
Kevin: Watching the project go from something small made on a whim to a big production has been wild, but I think we’ve managed to make the transition pretty well.
Kaiju: Well the name is perfect, and from what I’ve experienced of the game so far everything else is too.
I’d love to know more about each of your personal contributions to ValiDate. Are there elements in it that you feel very strongly about, or have a lot of pride in? Have your own experiences in life shaped what you’ve put into the game?
Dani: I think what I take pride in the most is my team. I really love my team and how we have all sort of become friends and really close because of it. I love how our work environment is safe and everyone feels comfortable being themselves and talking about things that they’re passionate about. A lot of passion and love is going into this game and a lot of my team have told me personally they enjoy working on ValiDate and sharing their stories.
For me personally, I’ve always wanted to create video games. I’ve been very vocal for years about the severe lack of black women in video games and behind the scenes. I wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
Kevin: Most of my contributions were on the back-end game design side of things, and I feel pretty good about the kind of game that the full release is panning out to be. We put a lot of work into making a game that props up the aesthetic and the stories we want to tell, diverse in content but consistent in quality.
And since this is a game about being a brown kid in jersey, AS a brown kid in jersey, boy did I have a lot of fodder to throw into it from the writing-side of things. Mostly in the sense of bad jokes.
Alexis: I’d say my most concrete contribution to ValiDate has been Ashlie’s design, next to working with Adrian at the beginning to fine tune the visual style of the game. Designing Ashlie was a lot of fun, as I got to pull a bit from people I knew and playing with the the image of “gamer girls.”
I’m also personally a “concepts guy,” with my background in graphic design. We’ve all had a lot of discussions around what ValiDate will be as a whole, and how we wanted to build it out. I get really passionate about thesis.
Kaiju: So much passion in one game! And that definitely translates into the presentation & narrative the game shows. I think you’ve got the biggest team of any I’ve seen working on a single visual novel so it’s impressive as heck to see how it’s turning out.
Digital Diversity is as much about the devs as it is the games, so with that in mind I’d love to know how you all got into gamedev. Is it something you all knew you wanted to do?
Dani: I mean I’ve always cared about video games from even when I was younger and I wanted to be in video games and work in the video game industry but I kind of tabled it for a while because I didn’t think it was realistic for me so I got into sports, fashion and other medias. And then I got older and realized that it is something I can do if I put my mind to it.
I spent the entirety of last year doing zines and other community projects and I even made a fan game. ValiDate was the next step for me so I just kind of went for it! This is my first game and yeah I’ve made some mistakes but I’ve also learned from my mistakes and will use my knowledge in my future endeavors.
Kevin: When I was a child I was really into Sonic the Hedgehog, and that fan-community is buckwild. I didn’t even know game design was as simple as “just do it” until I saw how many people were making their own fan games. So from the second I was old enough to be on the computer, I’ve been trying to do that kind of stuff. To… varying degrees of success. ValiDate is my first collaborative project of this scale for sure, though. And the first monetized project.
Alexis: I’ve always been interested in working on games and visual development, but I’d never officially gotten into it before Dani asked in chat one day if I wanted to help them with a project and I said yes!
Kaiju: Getting into something a little more serious, because this seems to pop up a lot when I’ve been mentioning or streaming ValiDate so I figure it’s good to cover it.
This is a visual novel that has easily the most diverse set of characters I’ve seen from years of playing them, from ethnicity to sexuality to gender, however there seems to be a lot of folx getting more than a little hostile by the lack of white people included. All from people who seem to think it’s not diverse if there’s no white folx in it. ValiDate has the sort of diversity I’ve been craving to see show up on the project pretty much since the start, since even the queer game dev scene under-represents people of colour.
How do y’all feel is the best way to handle to obvious racism in the industry right now? Be it at an indie level like the game you’re working on now or on a larger scale? Do you think the way ValiDate is dealing with it (which I love BTW and have been applauding since the beginning) is helping fight the hate we’re seeing?
Dani: It’s really hard for me to not just reply to every single hate thing I see because I am so used to defending myself from whenever people deface my character but I kind just realized I can’t take any of this so personally because they’re mad at the game mostly. And even if I didn’t make that cry-typing tweet we still would have been hit with harassment because people see a game that doesn’t cater to white people and have issues with it.
Personally I’m cooling. And I know it makes me sound like an asshole sorta but at the same time I can’t do anything. There are people who love and support our game and really wanted a game like ValiDate to come out for a very long time and this is who I continue to do it for. I do it for the people who show us love and support and ignore those who show us hate.
That being said, I’m not against any critique of the game. I think all media should be able to be critiqued or at least analyzed for the somewhat iffy parts about it. I know ValiDate is going to tackle some issues in the full game that people are going to be a little about but at the same time I can only listen and learn. That is, when critique is actual critique and not people being just racist and rude.
I am a trigger happy person but I have stopped and learned over the years that being trigger happy is Bad in a lot of situations and dealing with trolls is one of them. I kind of just log off lol. There is no point of fighting and engaging with people who don’t think you or anything you create should exist.
Alexis: A lot of what we’ve been doing is blocking and moving on, and continuing to engage with people who are genuinely interested in the kind of content we’re creating. A lot of the time white, cis, and straight men are so used to being the main demographic of video games that when they see something that doesn’t appeal to that, they don’t know how to deal with it. They want to bring the discussion back around to being about them and their wants, as opposed to acknowledging that either they can enjoy something about another person’s identity, or just not be the intended audience for it. We know we don’t really have to appeal to these people that wouldn’t be interested in this game anyway.
At the same time, the same people who might lack that self awareness tend to also be those that can get… more aggressive. We have to be careful sometimes, because people in the past have gotten insane amounts of harassment, so we occasionally have to divert and bunker down during waves.
Honestly though, many of the people on our team have been On The Internet for a bit, and have existed in these spaces as LGBT people of color for a while, so we’re hardy. A lot of the harassment is easier than others to blow off, especially when you know their game. We’ve been sticking together and communicating to make sure everyone’s safe and sane, which is what matters the most at the end of the day!
Kaiju: This is some major mood going on here, and I’m glad you’ve all taken such healthy attitudes to how to handle it. As with most of the hate we see online right now the best response seems to be report > block > move on with life.
You definitely make a good point about critique too, Dani. With so much being slung around social media we need to make sure that what folx do is an critique, not just pile on the hate.
We’ve only seen about a half dozen of the characters in ValiDate so far of the dozen that will be on offer in the full game; with 4 playable characters and 3 romancable ones. Do y’all have favourite characters yet? Are there any that you feel particularly close to?
Alexis: I love my wretched daughter Ashlie with all of my goddamn heart.
Dani: Saying a favorite character is like a mother picking her favorite, these are all my kids ahaha.
Alexis: Dani’s just embarrassed their favorite character is Malik.
Kaiju: Is that why Malik is the romancable option for 3 of the paths in the demo?
Dani: No omg, it was just the only routes fully written at the time. But now we have more fully written routes with the other characters. This is not the Malik only game.
Kevin: I really like all of the characters too, but if I have to pick, Malik is the most fun to make fun of. Yolanda is the best person by far. And Rocky is my unfortunate, unfortunate son.
Kaiju: Most of those faces we’ve already met and they all seem pretty damn cool. Playing through the Ashlie-Yolanda route was fantastic, those two have such great energy to throw at each other.
This is one question I’m dying to know the answer about: The Kickstarter stretch goal for the fishing mini-game. Do you already have a plan on how you would put that into the game, or is it one of those “It was funny and we’ll figure it out if we get that far” kinda situations?
Alexis: Oh we have so many plans.
Kevin: Just so many plans.
Dani: So many plans.
Alexis: It started from memeing, but we really were enamored with the idea of having a fishing portion, that we got increasingly excited about. Fishing rules and is the perfect overlap of chilling, occasional excitement, and acquiring food. It’s self sufficient and a meditative experience. Also I personally happen to be good at it so I have a high opinion of it.
Even if we don’t make it all the way to 80k, depending on how much we do make we still hope to make a smaller shoutout to fishing.
Kaiju: Cryptic, I like it. And proof that memeing is a powerful force.
The content in ValiDate swings a lot between funny & lighthearted to heavy & confronting. Are there elements that you all knew you wanted to include in the game around the stories and how they are told? Be them struggles that the characters have to overcome, or personal issues they need to work through? How did you find balancing a game to make it both enjoyable and relateable?
Dani: A lot of the struggles in ValiDate have nothing to do with race and I want that to be known that this isn’t a race allegory or whatever the fuck game. It’s mostly about being in your twenties, being not just a person of color but an LGBT person of color. Every character in this game will be LGBT by the end of this, they will learn more about themselves, their sexuality and what it means to navigate relationships. There is a severe lack of personal media and we wanted to bring that to the world. That being said, there are still going to be jokes and friendly and silly things in the game. But this isn’t like a parody or anything, its a real and honest game.
Kevin: The demo has been a good example of the sort of mood we’ve been going for, with eccentric characters interacting with more grounded characters, and joke moments coinciding with, and sometimes even mixing with, more serious moments. All the characters are people, and while some of them are more humorous than others, they have their own balance of comedic and dramatic elements.
Besides, the relatability is arguably a large amount of the enjoyability. Relatable doesn’t always mean grounded, even though this is a “realistic” game, life is pretty wild sometimes.
Kaiju: Damn strong feels about all this. Honestly I think this is the game I’ve been waiting to see; I’m glad it’s being put together by such a passionate team.
We’re coming up to the end of the interview so tell me what other games you think are doing representation well right now, especially in the LGBTQIA+ spaces? Anything that’s really clicked with you as doing things right that you think folx should try? Or is there something you want to see but haven’t yet?
Dani: PLEASE check out LoveShore, the people behind LoveShore are very kind and their game is amazing. Their demo is out now you can find it if you just look it up. Skate N Date is another good one and so is Arcade Spirits!
Kaiju: Thank you so so much for coming on the project today, Dani, Alexis & Kevin. ValiDate really is an incredible visual novel and I’m so looking forward to getting my paws on the full experience when the time comes. I think this is gonna be one of those games I just don’t shut up about.
So before we finish up tell us where folx can find you & your work, and if you wanna make any shout-outs to people now’s the time.
Alexis: Thanks so much for having us on!