Visual Novel ValiDate Tells Stories Most Games Ignore

ValiDate is the first game from Veritable Joy Studios.
ValiDate is the first game from Veritable Joy Studios. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

The video game industry is as prone to systemic oppression as any other. Developers of color, and perhaps particularly Black developers, face an uphill battle for employment, let alone creative expression. With this series of features, DBLTAP hopes to highlight the creations of Black developers working to tell their own stories through games. New entries in the series come out the second Tuesday of each month.

First up is ValiDate, a visual novel and dating simulator with a punchy voice and a vibrant visual aesthetic. Players take on the role of any of the 12 characters, each with a distinct identity, as they search for love in the fictional Jercy City in more than 60 narrative routes. DBLTAP spoke to head developer Dani, head designer Alexis, and head composer Kevin about the importance of stories by and for the marginalized, workplace insurrection and memes. Our conversation has been edited for clarity, length and the protection of the participants.

ValiDate is slated to hit PCs in the first quarter of 2021. The developers launched a Kickstarter to help fund the game July 9 that is ongoing, and players can try out the demo on Itch.io.

DBLTAP: Tell me a little bit about what ValiDate is — what kind of game it is, and what its hook is.

Dani: ValiDate's a game. It's a game.

Alexis: Dani, I'm going to ask you to do better than that.

Dani: [Laughs] It's a visual novel. It's sort of a dating sim and sort of not. I mean, yes, it is a dating sim, but it isn't. It's a little complicated. The whole point of ValiDate is to vibe, to have fun, to enjoy playing a game with characters that you typically don't see.

Alexis: You have to have a pretty high IQ to understand ValiDate, actually.

Dani: Mhm.

Kevin: [Sighs]

Alexis: I'm a graphic design major, but not in the sense of practicality, but in the sense of, I actually enjoy writing artist statements and concepts in general. So, a lot about ValiDate is empathy. One of the major themes in it is looking at others and experiencing others, as well, that you don't normally get to experience. Every character is a main character. You take turns experiencing things through different characters' perspectives as you meet these other characters.

Everyone is a person of color. Well, there's one Italian. Maybe.

Kevin: Yeah, we don't talk about him. He doesn't exist yet.

Alexis: Everyone's a person of color, and it's about people whose stories we don't get to see, who don't get to share unless the whole big deal is, and their whole character is, "This is the one person of color." You see in some other story-based games where there's a character whose [whole] personality is they love racial justice.

Dani: You can just say Fire Emblem, we understand.

Alexis: I was thinking of, like, three different games [laughs]. But it's taking that and flipping it. Which is also why, conceptually, we get one Italian character — because we can have a white character, for that little oregano spice. [ValiDate] is a community project, and it's showcasing communities. And even communities that aren't necessarily the forefront of what you get to see. I repeat things sometimes, so I'm sure you're going to have a really great time editing the transcript.

DBLTAP: I was going to ask about the cast, and you sort of started to address it there. I guess this Italian character is not a full thing yet?

Dani: He's a secret.

Kevin: We can get into that in a bit.

Alexis: It's a Kickstarter extension goal. If we get a certain amount of money we will add one white character.

Kevin: He is written, he is designed, he is just living in the void between existence and non-existence until people give us money.

Alexis: He's being held hostage.

DBLTAP: I thought that probably there would be people who would look at ValiDate's cast — probably white people would do this — and they'd be like, "Where are the white people?" In the universe where you don't reach that funding goal and this character doesn't make it into the game, what would be your response to that question?

Dani: Who cares? I'm going to be a little mean here, but the gaming industry is meant for white people. Every game, every popular title, has a white person in it. [If you're disappointed] if you can't find a white person in ValiDate, this game's just not for you. If you want that white representation so badly, then go find it somewhere else. There are hundreds of visual novels that you can find and play as a white guy, or a white girl, finding your waifu. What's the opposite of waifu?

Alexis: Husbando.

Dani: You can play other games. If you don't see a white character in ValiDate and that hurts your feelings, oh well! That sucks to say, but at the same time, if you're going into games looking for white characters, you have to check what your priorities are, because ValiDate is meant for everyone. And if you are so mad that a white character isn't in it, I don't know what to tell you other than… kumquat.

Kevin: Addendum: If you want a white character so bad, give us enough money.

Alexis: Exactly. It's in your hands. This is basically your fault, when you think about it. Again, when you look at other games, as Dani said, some of the time they'll have a couple of people of color in them. We were actually looking at other visual novels when we did research for production for ValiDate, and some of them were very interesting, especially in terms of how they treated their characters when they were people of color. As I kind of said earlier, it'll be a mostly white cast, or even a mostly light-skinned, ethnically ambiguous cast, and there'll be maybe one black person, or one darker-skinned person, and that's their personality. That's their shtick. Or sometimes more heinously they'll be a bad guy, or they'll be the "wild" character, and it's kind of disheartening to see. So we want to make a place where it's not about white people. Even in the intent of making this, it's not like "Oooh, we're gonna get the whites!" It's, "We're going to make a game for people of color to enjoy."

DBLTAP: Have you seen this interview between Toni Morrison and [Charlie Rose]? She answers that question. She talks about how it's kind of a ridiculous question. Because you would never ask a white author "When are you going to write about black people?"  So I just wanted to hear you guys' take on that.

Dani: Toni Morrison is an amazing person, and I'm very sad that she is no longer with us, because she is one of my inspirations for writing. And she always has been, and she always will be. And when I saw that interview — I saw it when she passed — [I realized] she's right. You would never ask a white author, "When are you going to write a person of color?" It's always towards people of color because people think that we, as people of color, have to bend to white people's wills and create media for white people. That's not our job. White people have created media for white people since the beginning of time. Now we're able to create media for people of color, and white people are just like, "What about us?" Y'all have a bunch of other media. Go deal with that.

Isabelle and Malik are two of ValiDate's struggling singles.
Isabelle and Malik are two of ValiDate's struggling singles. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

DBLTAP: Speaking of inspirations, what inspired you guys to create ValiDate?

Dani: Ace Attorney.

Kevin: [Laughs]

Dani: You will understand as soon as you open the game why this is an Ace Attorney knock-off! I'm just kidding.

Kevin: You make that sound like it's going to open on a murder.

Dani: Well, we can! The demo might drop in a week but we still can! I can write up something real quick.

Alexis: None of [the characters] have a law degree, even!

Kevin: We just shifting gears now? Because I'm down.

Alexis: That will be ValiDate 2.

Dani: ValiDate 2 opens with a murder scene?

Alexis: Malik dies. That's what happens.

Dani: [Laughs]

Alexis: I got on when Dani asked me like a year ago. Talking about it was like "Hey, do you want to be head art dev?" I was like, "Sure Dani, I'd love to do that!" And now here we are.

Kevin: Yeah, same over here. I actually wrote a song for one of Dani's earlier projects, and she was just like, "I'm making this full dating sim, you want in?" And I was just like, "Yeah, sure, I'm down. I'm bored." And then it became this.

Alexis: I had also worked with Dani on other art-based projects.

Dani: Yeah, Alexis is like my right hand, my buddy on the side, and Kevin —

Alexis: Buddy on the side?

Dani: Because you're on my side, you're always —

Alexis: Your side buddy!?

Dani: All right —

Kevin: We've already litigated this, just keep going Dani.

Dani: All right, I didn't come here to be antagonized by my friends. Every day it's something new and I don't appreciate it!

Alexis: I think you appreciate it a little bit.

Dani: No, fuck off. So ValiDate was originally supposed to be a free project that was supposed to be really chill. A lot of it was supposed to be free, take a couple months, with me doing most of the writing, and then one of my friends doing most of the sprites. And then, I had talked to a lot of people and they were just like, "You can do a lot better than what you're doing right now." Which is why we decided to take it a little more seriously. Because we felt like ValiDate, a game like ValiDate, is really needed in the market right now. If you think about it, there really isn't a game like us. I really cannot name a game that has nothing but people of color, and explores the stories, and our stories, and explores how we navigate through life. Realism in visual novels is a very niche part of it. It's not very big. Which is kind of what makes us stand out. We are a realistic game. There's no fuckin' dragons or monsters. Well, not yet.

DBLTAP: ValiDate 2.

Dani: Yeah, ValiDate 2 is when aliens come and attack the Earth and all these struggling singles have to come together and actually talk to each other.

We just decided that there's a need for what we're doing, and we should just do it and have fun doing so. And we are! I'm having fun doing this. I know a lot of our team is having fun doing this. Kevin, are you having fun doing this?

Kevin: I'm having a good time.

Alexis: I think there's also the idea that for a story to be based off of people of color, there has to be a "reason" for it — for stories to be based around people of color. There's this idea that the most interesting thing people of color have to offer is their suffering. And a lot of the time it's racial-based suffering. Which is voyeuristic, kind of. It's not productive, a lot of the time, and it's been done.

Dani: Over, and over again.

Alexis: Of course, many of the times it's been done very thoughtfully (when people of color are in charge of it) but it's not something we wanted to make. We're making something where people of color deal with — I don't want to say people of color having white people problems because they're not white people problems. They're problems everyone has. And it's not necessarily based off of race. How they experience that might also, of course, be affected by culture, ethnicity, et cetera, but everyone has very special stories to share, and very special experiences to share, that aren't just racism.

DBLTAP: "White people problems" really being default problems, but whiteness being treated as the default.

Alexis: Yup.

Players will be able to choose from dozens of routes in-game, each focusing on a different character.
Players will be able to choose from dozens of routes in-game, each focusing on a different character. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

DBLTAP: You mentioned that the team is pretty much all non-white, right?

Kevin: 100%.

Alexis: We weeded them out.

DBLTAP: I also noticed that you guys assign different writers and artists to specific characters. Why did you choose to do that approach?

Dani: Just a heads up, that's not necessarily the case for every writer, but for most of us [it is]. I am a Black woman writing a Black woman. I'm also a Black woman writing a Black man. Most of our writers and artists are writing someone that reflects their race. One of our artists, Nasr, is drawing Emhari, who is... Emhari's something...

Alexis: Wow!

Dani: Why don't I know this right now? Jesus, lord.

Alexis: That's ok, there are 12 of them.

Dani: But Emhari is Middle Eastern and Nasr is Middle Eastern, and Nasr is always talking about how excited he is that he's drawing Emhari because he never really gets the chance to draw characters that reflect him. And there's also not many Middle Easterners in gaming. So when Nasr was telling me that, it really put in perspective how important a lot of our characters are to our staff. These are characters that you typically would never see in a video game. A lot of people were really excited. [Artist] Ace is Native American. Ace was just like, "Drawing Anoki who is also Native was just one of the best things I've ever done because I'm so excited to do things I've never gotten to do before." And I think that allowing my team to do things they've never done before is really important because if I don't allow that possibility for them, who will? Because people of color are typically just not hired in a lot of the gaming industry. By opening this avenue and having an all-people of color team, it makes it a lot — I don't want to say easier but — it makes it more welcoming for them to explore their ideas, not get whitewashed by a corporation. You know what I mean? It's tough.

Alexis: This has been a point of contention sometimes, but we also make sure that the artists have freedom in how they design the characters. Thus, a lot of the characters look pretty different. Some characters are painted, or drawn in a more painterly way, some are more cel-shaded hard lines. We want each character to look different because they're different characters, and with the story being focused on their stories, we're not trying to have every character look like one big branded set. Because they're not. Like Isabelle wouldn't be branded by the same company as Malik, or as Ashlie. They're very different characters, they're very different people. Styles sometimes "clash," but people clash. You're looking at them next to each other and you're like "Whoa, these are very different people. These are very different designs. They're styled differently, and they're written by different people." Whoever's character you're in the point of view of is going to be a very different experience versus the next character. That's a benefit, because this is a community project and we want to use that to our advantage. Because it is an advantage. Every artist has something really incredible to offer, and we want to take advantage of that, and we want to emphasize that.

Kevin: And if I could add on —

Dani: No you cannot.

Kevin: OK.

Alexis: What's on your mind, king?

Kevin: It's very much an active choice we've been making to try to have every character as distinct as possible in their individual aesthetics and interests and design. It even comes down to each character's character theme [being] a completely different genre from each other.

Obviously we've been trying to tailor every theme to each individual character, but then to go through each character, which — our music team is considerably smaller than our writer team and our artist team. There's three of us [on the music team] as opposed to having one for every character, so we do kind of have to spread out. There's a lot of genre mixing that a lot of us haven't done before. For example, for Isabelle's theme, we wrote a string quartet piece, but then I immediately had to turn around and do Ashlie's theme, which is bad EDM.

It's been interesting and it's been fun, branching out.

Jercy City in all its glory.
Jercy City in all its glory. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

DBLTAP: So if all the characters have their own visual and aural aesthetic, has it been hard to make a single unified vision out of that? Like a unified aesthetic for the game? And is that something you're working toward? It seems like you're sort of celebrating the differences, too.

Alexis: Yeah. I don't know if you've seen the trailer, but we have pretty much all the UI kind of set out. We have a pretty strong visual theme, which is thanks to Adrian, who's doing most of the actual UI design, and it's honestly kind of mind-blowing. I'm obsessed with it. I guess in my opinion we've switched out different sprites, we've put them up to see how it looks on the different backgrounds, and on the different screens, and with the different visual backgrounds for actual scenes, and, I mean, honestly it hasn't been a huge issue making things compatible. We've kind of been considering the UI almost as a sort of 13th character, almost. But it's been working out really well thematically, in my opinion.

DBLTAP: Going back to the individual characters having their own writers, how does a scene actually get written if it's between two characters that don't have the same writer, for example? What does that actually look like?

Dani: When we first started writing, we originally were going to have every character meet every character. Which is insanity.

Alexis: It's 144 routes.

Dani: Yeah, 144 routes. Which is insanity! [Now] we have 69.

Alexis: Wait, I thought it was 64?

Dani: I don't know, it's a number in the 60s.

Alexis: Oh jeez.

Dani: It's a lot. But when we originally had it we had one writer write the route completely. They would plan it out, they would write all the scenarios. They would talk to the other writer, obviously, about it before writing it out, and then they would write it. For example, I'm the writer of Malik, and then Zaire is the writer of Isabelle. I wrote all of Malik's and Isabelle's dates, from top to bottom. This is before I hired Zaire. But Zaire would write the same date, but from Isabelle's point of view. So it's essentially the same route, but you're seeing it from a different lens. You're seeing it from how people feel, how people react to things. You get different endings. Like, you know how people are different. If we are going on the same date, I'm going to talk about it differently than you are going to talk about it. That's kind of what we wanted with ValiDate.

At first we feared that things would get repetitive, but then we realized that people are different and they view things very differently, no matter what interaction they had.

DBLTAP: I'm curious about the dialogue itself. Do the individual writers have the conversation as those characters? Because the narration I can understand, that's a little easier to visualize: how the two writers could input differently. But then when you're actually writing a scene where these two characters are talking to each other, how do you manage to stay true to those two voices with two different writers like that?

Dani: We've had some issues with figuring out the voice of a character, because we're still fleshing out these characters even though our demo is going to be out soon. We're still fleshing out. The only person who probably has a key set down of how they want their character is myself and probably Oscar with Arihi. As we go on, we allow writers to go into the original route and re-write some things that their characters would say, or how their characters would react. Every route is a collaboration between two writers, no matter what point of view it is. I really push our writers to be like, hey, if you feel like this is out of character, go in and fix it. Make sure that you are standing up for your character. If that makes any sense.

Kevin: It also helps that we make it a point to try to hash out what the routes to be ahead of time. It helps that Dani are both writers on this project. For one of the routes between our characters, I literally just came up to Dani and started pitching her ideas. We talked about how Malik would react to certain things, and what would be interesting between our characters, and I try to keep her updated on the writing process on my end so that at least I get her seal of approval. It mostly just comes down to communication.

Dani: Yeah, and I think that communication in writing, especially video game writing, is super, super important because it's often something that a lot of people mess up on, especially with new IPs, different people writing the same characters. You have to communicate with your writers and with your past writers on how things are going, because fans notice that shit. If a character is written out of character, they notice. They'll be like "Oh, this character's not valid," or whatever. All of us are Homestuck [fans] so we've seen this firsthand.

Alexis: Oh God.

Dani: We don't want it to happen with ValiDate. I've been really careful with it. I've tried to be like, "Hey y'all, make sure we're talking to each other," stuff like that. But it is very hard when I have six other writers — we're about to have seven — seven other writers. We do the best we can. None of us are professionals, we're literally just doing this because we want to.

Alexis: A lot of this has been built from the ground up. Obviously we have pre-planning for a lot of the writing, and I think the art and sprites and the music and stuff has been added later, so that's been like, "Ok, so this is set," but some of the writing was started earlier than others. So it's been a lot of going back and having discussions about the writing and fleshing it out, and going back over time. As Dani said, if the writer for the other character in the scene, whose point of view isn't [the focus], they come and read it and they say, "Well, I think this would happen instead. I think this character would actually do this," then they go in and make those changes. Again, it's all about communication.

Players can choose with which characters they want to hang out.
Players can choose with which characters they want to hang out. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

DBLTAP: Has coronavirus actually impacted development for you guys? Has it changed anything? Made anything more difficult or easier?

[All three laugh]

Alexis: Well, Kevin, if you would like to share your experience...

Kevin: [Laughs] So, um, the coronavirus thing started right when we started getting down to brass tacks with the game. Unfortunately, I got it pretty early on, and I was laid out for, like, a month. So I really had to play catch-up on a lot of things. You'll probably end up noticing that I actually don't have too many songs in the demo, because — I wrote a lot of songs for the demo, but just with the way that things went I had to pass along some responsibility to the other music team members because I was not functioning whatsoever.

Dani: We've had to push our demo back like three times because of coronavirus. We feared that people wouldn't be able to donate to our Kickstarter because, what, like half of America is unemployed right now? And they still are. The government sucks, I don't know what else to say. People are getting their jobs back, but at the same time we're still dying. It really sucks. I think the one saving grace is — and this sounds like a scumbag shit to say, but —

Alexis: Don't say it then!

[Laughter]

Dani: I'm not going to, but we just got very lucky with our timing and how people seem to care more about Black things, now more than ever. And I'm very lucky that I'm a Black woman, and a majority of our team is Black. So people care more about things we do now than they do ever, so people are really excited about ValiDate and it's giving us a lot of exposure. Not just to Black people, but to a lot of people of color in general. A lot of people are really excited for what we have to show y'all, and we're excited to show y'all what we have to do, and what we've done.

I feel like an asshole saying that, but at the same time it is true. People are starting to care now.

Kevin: Yeah, you know, arbitrary disclaimer that it sucks that it took a bunch of compounded tragedies to make people want to take an interest in Black art, but we are not complaining about the spotlight. 

Dani: I mean, I've already voiced my frustrations about this on my main [Twitter] account so it's not a secret. It literally does piss me off. It really does piss me off that this is what it took for people to care about Black art, and for people to notice that Black people are disproportionately [not] paid attention to in many art and gaming fields. I saw a tweet by a really popular white game dev who was just like, "Oh, how come I've never heard of all these Black game devs before?" And I'm just like, "Because you're not looking." We're here, we have all of these resources where you can find us, and you're not looking. If you really cared, if you really cared about Black people, you would make the effort to allow us to join your teams, to give us opportunities, and all of these things.

That being said, every white person who has reached out to me and given me advice, I appreciate you greatly because — I wish that I had known this before I started ValiDate, because I've learned so many valuable things about being a head developer, and just being a game dev in general, and how to steer carefully in this industry.

DBLTAP: To that point: I'm curious how you guys put together your team. I don't think it's necessarily something that would be applicable to development teams that already exist and that are suddenly realizing that they are shockingly homogenous, but I'm curious both in the story of how you guys came together and in whether or not you do have advice for teams like that, in that situation, that want to improve it.

Dani: Most of ValiDate are my friends, or friends of friends. We all knew each other somewhat before we all came together. Which is not how the gaming industry works. There's a few people I've never met before, like they're friends of friends. I interviewed them, I read their writing, and the work they've done, and I hired them on. Because I did all the hiring. That's not going to be the case the next couple of months past this point.

I guess any of the advice that I have is just to pay attention. If you see that your team is looking a little bit too much like a frat house, you should probably change that. Don't be afraid to ask around. Don't say "Do you know any people of color who are looking for this?" But [instead ask] "Do you know anyone who is good at this?" and look at what they've done before. I don't want to say look if they're white or not, but kind of do so? When someone's a person of color you can tell, right off the bat. It's very easy to tell — well, maybe for me because I am Black, obviously — but it's very easy to tell when someone's a person of color and when someone's white. Not everyone has that radar, but at the same time, still be aware of who you're talking to and how you're talking to them. Because at the end of the day, even if you do hire people of color on your team, is it a safe environment? Do they feel like they are able to speak in their normal way? Or do they have to censor themselves to mask their feelings so people won't get hurt in a team? Is your work environment safe, and is it ok for marginalized people to come into?

To go back to the Ubisoft thing, that's how it failed. Ubisoft created a work environment that many women did not feel safe in. Many women, many people of color just did not feel safe in [it]. As of right now, I still don't see anything from Ubisoft addressing any of it, it's mostly just people who work for them who are just like, "Yeah, this is fucked up, but it's been happening for years." [This interview was recorded before executives began leaving Ubisoft.] Do you want that reputation? That you are a bad company? And that people do not feel safe in working for you? Or do you want to be known as a good company where you treat your workers right, you pay them correctly. It's all about your perception and how you want to be seen. And then also, do you care?

Alexis: We've been also seeing with a lot of pushes, like with the case with the person mass emailing everyone on a Black creator's list about a likely underpaid, one-off freelance job. Obviously that's now how to do it. But there are [Twitter] hashtags every few months about people of color creating work. And it's very easy to seek these people out. It's very easy to look and find these people. It's also frustrating seeing how often it's framed as "You have to get people of color in your workplace so you're not racist." It's this idea that, again, people of color have nothing else to offer except a "not racist" card. But it's a whole new perspective, an oftentimes very thoughtful perspective, and it's just kind of mind-blowing how this half measure toward quote-unquote "wokeness" is just having these people be a commodity again. As opposed to someone that is actually welcomed into a workforce.

Dani: You have to create the environment you want to be in. At the same time, I am a very firm believer that people of color should go out and create their own studios. I did it! I did it and I think everyone else should do it. Being indie is awesome.

Alexis: I think this is also one reason why ValiDate is so important. Regardless of how "well," quote-unquote, ValiDate does, this is an experiment in a way. Just looking at how ValiDate was made, how the group was made. Pretty much everyone working here is someone that Dani knew, or someone Dani knew knew. You can reach out to your circle and find people of color, if people of color are in your circle, and there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to look around you, and look at your friends, and see people of color. Dani didn't go into those threads and have to look very hard to find very talented, very skilled people of color that are perfect for the jobs that they're doing. It's not hard. If you're in a place where those people would be working for you, it's not just that Dani turned on... I'm trying to think of a way to phrase it exactly how I'm trying to think of it. This shouldn't just be, "Oh, I need to find people of color for this job." White people shouldn't just hang out with white people. I don't think it's very good for them as a whole.

So it's something that's not hard, and it shouldn't be considered this special thing. It's not hard.

ValiDate's characters are people first and workers second.
ValiDate's characters are people first and workers second. | Courtesy of Veritable Joy Studios

DBLTAP: How do you guys see the intersection of capitalism and then identity in your game? How do all these diverse identities, and the different ways in which they're marginalized, play into your game? Or, maybe more generally, your understanding of the world?

Alexis: There's this idea, and this kind of culture, that comes from around the time of a lot of workers' rights movements, where there was this idea that your work was your life, and that was somehow a good thing. That your job was your identity in itself. That's also how you got things like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," where you were a soldier first and you couldn't be anything that quote-unquote "threatened that culture, or that identity, or facade of being in the military." The game is anti-capitalist, pro-personal identity, in that sense. Your job shouldn't be your life, and it shouldn't have to be your personality, and you shouldn't have to force your life around it. Because everyone as a person has a lot more to offer than that, outside that.

Dani: We are more than our jobs. Every character in ValiDate is more than their job. Your job might take a bigger part of your time, but it's not your entire personality. These characters are more than their jobs. You know how businessmen, their only personality is being a businessman? That's no one in ValiDate. It's not that important. Because people are people regardless of the job they have.

DBLTAP: Are you all working other jobs in addition to working on ValiDate? And what is the structure of the development team actually like? Is it an LLC, or is it just you guys working together in a cooperative? Is there a structure there?

Dani, Kevin and Alexis: Well...

Alexis: Ok, so, we can go down the list, we all say our job, and then we talk about ValiDate. Go. Dani you're on top [of the Discord list].

Dani: Ok, I have a full time job, like, IRL. Well, it's part-time technically. [...] I do social media for sports teams. It's kind of quiet right now, so I don't really have — due to the coronavirus, I don't really have a job! It's kind of quiet. So I've had a lot more time to focus on ValiDate. That's kind of why I created my own studio, to host ValiDate. Because, a) tax purposes, it makes it a lot easier, b) creating my own studio is something I kind of wanted to do for a while because ValiDate is definitely not about to be my only game. I have other visions, and so does Kevin. We both have other visions about our games that we want to make in future. But right now, the majority of the team, most of us have part-time jobs and we're just doing this on the side.

Kevin: Yeah, before coronavirus I was a full-time student that also did landscaping and furniture moving on the side. Now I'm kind of getting back into that now that everyone's not deathly afraid. But, you know, it's definitely not a living.

Alexis: I'm a front-end web developer. I think also with Dani making their own LLC for ValiDate — it's not necessarily a quote-unquote "experiment," but, making a business is very intimidating for a lot of people, especially those that are more in the arts section and are used to working for someone else. But it's very doable, and it's very manageable. Trust me, there are people that are dumber than you that have made a business and are fine. You can do it.

Kevin: That being said, I'm glad that Dani is doing it for me.

Dani: Oh God, making a business is hard. Well, honestly, no it's not. It's easy. It's just — you have to know someone who did it before so you can learn from them, and that's what I did. I talked to the creator of Love Shore, another visual novel, one of our sister visual novels. We love Love Shore so much, shout out to Love Shore! Shout out to Son [M., co-writer of Love Shore], they're amazing. They pretty much gave me the ropes. They taught me everything I needed to know in under a day.

But a lot of people don't have the resources. A lot of people don't have mentors who are looking out for them. And that's what makes it very hard for a lot of people of color, because we're not typically handed these opportunities, or the ideas to do these things, and how to do it. I guess I'm very lucky that people have helped me. I would like to help anyone else. This game industry is not going to change unless people of color change it. We have to stick together. If any Black, or any young person of color developer wants to talk to me and ask me questions, I'm very open to it. The visual novel community, we've got to stick together, because a lot of Western visual novels — there's not that many of us. Most visual novels are Japanese, Chinese, and sometimes Korean. It's not really a field for Westerners. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Japanese visual novels, I love them as much as anyone else, but at the same time it's just like, Western visual novels are not really taken seriously. Which is a really big issue when it comes to how things are put out. Dream Daddy, for example, was not taken seriously. People thought it was a gag joke, and people are looking at ValiDate the same way. And ValiDate is not a gag, it's not satire. The only satire is that we don't have a white person, because that's a whole joke. Other than that it's just a game.

DBLTAP: I noticed in the Meet the Dev Team posts that you guys don't share last names for the people. Is that an intentional choice?

Dani: Doxxing is scary! I don't want to be doxxed.

Kevin: Yeah, I mean, I can't speak for Alexis, or, really, a lot of the team — we have a couple of people on the team that want to use their full names. But I can't blame anyone for not really wanting to attach this fully to their identity, especially since we're doing something relatively controversial in this day and age that, not to get into it, some people are not happy with us for.

Dani: I understand why people would not [share their last names], because a) the internet is very scary, b) getting doxxed is very scary, and c) people are fucking weirdos. I don't know what else to say than people are weirdos. It's so easy to find out where someone lives just off their last name. That shit's scary. I understand why a lot of people on the team don't want that attached to them. It's not because ValiDate's a bad project, it's just that people on the internet are fucking weird. And there's no way of avoiding that. Even if we make the perfect game someone's still going to be mad. Someone's still going to want to have a whole ass hate campaign for us, or whatever. But we're vibing.

Alexis: There are sort of phases of the internet, where there was [the era of] "Ok, never use your real name online. Only use aliases." Now we're almost at this second wave of "Your online identity should be the same as your real life identity," for some people. If you basically aren't on Reddit or something, you should be who you say you are, exactly. But for some people, especially in the LGBT community and especially sometimes for people of color that's not safe or practical. We also want to be a space where people don't really have to worry about that. Having to put themselves at risk like that by other people. Pretty much everyone on our team has a distinct online identity. They're not ghosts. But there doesn't necessarily have to be this kind of, like, government identified person attached to art.

Kevin: Besides, a lot of our careers are very heavily rooted in our online brands, for lack of a better word, and we got these jobs based off of that in the first place. Nowadays, you can get work without people even knowing your full name, which is convenient for us.

Alexis: Especially in the art field, too.

DBLTAP: Speaking of online presences: ValiDate, you guys seem to love the memes, which I think is awesome. How did you guys settle on your social media voice, and then also why are memes important to you?

Alexis: Our social media voice is that none of us can control what Dani posts.

Dani: Yeah. But it's mostly just me and Kevin. Sometimes I log off the account for the entire day and I come back and I see Kevin tweeted like six things. I'm just like "What did you do? What the fuck did you do?"

Kevin: Yeah.

Dani: But it's mostly me. I mean, I do this for a living. I have a whole ass degree in this. It's easy. I know the trends, I know when to post, I know what gets people going. A lot of our popularity has stemmed from me trolling. And our memes. People love the memes, and I never expected people to love the memes as much as they do, but they do.

Kevin: Yeah. To take you behind the curtain: one of our early head dev calls, we were pitching ideas about advertising campaigns. We settled on, "What if we just started badly Photoshopping our characters onto —" You know those bad advertisements that pop up on websites that are like "Hot singles in your area?" And then it devolved into this.

Alexis: Struggling singles. But a lot of the memes are also made by people that are working — pretty much all the memes are made by people on our team. We have two whole text chats dedicated to memes. People want to do it because they love these characters, and the characters are funny. It's fun, especially for the artists, to do that and to share them as well. We just come up with silly ideas and we're all like, "Hey, we could actually do this." And then we do it.

Dani: We just do it. I literally don't tell people now [when I'm posting a meme]. And this might come — Actually, it probably won't because everyone seems cool, but if they want to do something I'm just like "Go for it." I don't care. Unless it's something where like, "This might get us in trouble so I'm going to say no." We have a whole channel called "Promo Memes" where we just post a bunch of Twitter posts. That's very common amongst fandom, and that's really how we attracted so many different fandoms. Our core fandom is Homestucks, which is fine. Whatever. They're dedicated. They will buy our game. But we've also really teetered into K-pop territory. I don't know what happened or who quote tweeted it, but someone quote tweeted one of our things and we got a bunch of K-pop followers. And I'm just like, "Y'know? K-pops are fucking awesome. Please buy my game."

Kevin: Glad to have them!

Dani: I love K-pops. I will put [BTS member] Jungkook in the game, y'know what? We will get a Jungkook sprite.

Kevin: We will get sued.

Alexis: A lot of people are coming from fandoms we're in, or been in, and a lot of our friends. Because a lot of ValiDate has been word of mouth. And memes, and who's retweeting the memes, who's seeing the memes, who thinks the memes are funny. And who's interested in this kind of game, as well. That's a lot of different kinds of people. So we're excited to meet them.