Monday, 11 August 2014
Sweet Christmas, ZUN Went and Did It
I've typed out and deleted about four drafts on this subject now, so I'll be brief today. Touhou 14 is getting a digital release. This is a significant moment in the history of doujin game development. Small publishers have been making deals with devs to release their games digitally and reach a wider audience, but ZUN was proving to be quite stubborn. It may seem like a no-brainer to just set up a digital store and sell the games, but he still refused to do so. Why is that?
We need to understand the mindset of the doujin scene, particularly the people who've been making games and selling them at events like Comiket since the 90s. Most doujin developers make their games in their spare time. They treat it as a hobby, and print the discs to sell as much because it's a part of their hobby's process as any other reason. Doujin game development's about self expression as much as it is constructing a robust video game. There's a lot of mix-and-match that goes on with game ideas, particularly with fangames and a great deal of messy experimentation that you don't see amongst the high profile Western indie devs. There's a prevailing sense of "make games because it's fun to make games, and hopefully learn what makes a game fun along the way".
ZUN is all about these sorts of attitudes. Touhou plots and characters draw from strange musings ZUN's had while testing out scoring systems and bullet patterns (or perhaps more likely his heavy alcohol consumption). I've gotten the impression in his interviews over the years that he didn't want to sell millions of copies because it would feel a bit like mass copy/pasting parts of himself out there.
ZUN's also very big on doing things himself. He designs the games, programs them, writes and records the music and draws the art, no matter how bad it may look. When the idea of foreign distribution comes to mind, he doesn't really care if there's already fan translations. It's not truly a Touhou release unless he's handled the localisation himself as well. This might well be what he's doing with Touhou 14. That might concern some, but I honestly don't think his translations would be any more coherent than when native speakers have gone through the bizarre dialogue that makes up each of his games.
ZUN is the most well known doujin developer, and has done the most interviews. When he makes comments about game design, philosophy or gives advice for making games, people listen. Him deciding to sell games online sends a big message to people. That it's okay to make games you find fun and take a punt seeing how many others enjoy the same thing. He's been making moves to encourage the growing Professional Indie Dev scene, and embracing digital sales is only going to help things grow in the long run.
I'm excited to see where things head with this release, not least of all because I really enjoyed 14. It's got a lot of ideas from Raizing shooters while still maintaining the good game feel that Touhou games have nailed since Perfect Cherry Blossom. Now we just need Double Spoiler on steam so I can gift people that bundle of ass-kicking misery.
There's another possible reason it's taken until the 14th game to get a digital release: ZUN lost the source code for 6-9 (the ones that introduced all the famous and popular characters) some time ago. That's not as fun to write about as mystical gamedev philosophy though.