Hi everyone! Ethan here, at the newly formed Tanuki-sama Studios! (more about that in a bit!)
With the release of Chapter III now firmly in the rear view mirror, and as a whole new wave of people discover Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, I thought it was a good time to talk to y’all about the future: where NALE is going and what that future holds for us.
Chapter 3’s launch & our recent accomplishments
Chapter 3 launched on November 6th, 2020, and has already outpaced our expectations. The downloads are already in the hundreds, reviews sit at near-5-stars and the game has been the top seller in various categories on itch. Not only that, but the release revitalised interest in Chapters 1 & 2, leading to more players of those games too.
We recently launched Chapter 1 on Newgrounds, to a near-4-star rating and several accolades, including “daily 3rd place” and a frontpage feature. We also launched on GameJolt, seeing a feature on their official channels too.
We’ve seen coverage from a range of media sites and streamers, and while it’s true that unfortunately, coverage on the bigger, mainstream sites eluded us this time round, we’re incredibly thankful to those of you out there who have taken an interest in NALE for your streams, YouTube channels and news publications. No matter if your following is 1 person or 10,000, your signal boost makes you an equally valued part of the NALE family, and I hope that featuring the game will bring you new viewers and readers.
Thanks, all of you, who have been part of NALE’s story leading up to this point.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that indie development isn’t an easy ride (nor did we expect it to be). Still, despite Chapter III’s success, building on the prior chapters, we still are not “in the black”, and NALE has cost more to make than it has made back in earnings.
To give you all a bit of a window on the operation; we’re strong believers in that we should pay artists a fair wage for their work.
We take home around $2 from each sale of a NALE title; however, each large illustration for the game can cost between $60–200. Consider this; the final illustration for Chapter 3, alone, needs around 100 sales to pay for the art.
And that’s just one image; forgetting about the other custom art elements that exist in the chapter. We’re still not selling near the numbers we need to cover these expenses.
We want NALE to be the best it can be for our players, and if we’re going to do that, it leads us to an uncomfortable conclusion — we can’t finance that purely in the way we’ve done so far. To this end, we’re looking to take bigger, bolder steps, and that’s going to require something entirely new:
A new studio!
If we’re going to have more commissions, perhaps paying people on a retainer to produce a large amount of artwork, as well as dealing with more complex matters of tax, perhaps even pursue outside investment…
… it gives us pleasure to inform you all that NALE is now published by Tanuki-sama Studios, a company formed directly by Ethan Fox, who takes up position as the company’s director. This is a new, distinct legal entity, initially tasked purely with handling NALE.
TSS will allow us to lay the groundwork to bring NALE to new platforms and a larger playerbase. This came about because we’ve explored other avenues for publishing and none of them are suitable for NALE, so our only option was create our own. It’s our hope, also, that in the future, TSS will grow to publish titles by other creators that are in a similar situation.
This won’t change much in a practical sense, at least for you, NALE’s players, but I’m giving you fore-warning because you’ll start to see new logos, new branding and a new name associated with the games.
Please don’t be alarmed at this. The new studio will initially be wholly owned by me, Ethan Fox, and it’s intended that even if we pursue investment, I retain absolute creative oversight over the NALE project. NALE is, and has always been, what I want it to be, and made with a specific audience in mind — if you’re reading this, that’s probably you, and we don’t want to change that.
In practical terms, the following will occur/may have occurred by the time you read this:
- WEBSITE: The TSS website is live at http://www.tanukisama.com
- ITCH.IO: Our itch.io account will rebrand from https://ethan-fox.itch.io/ to https://tanuki-sama-studios.itch.io/. There’s no need to change any old links; they will redirect auto-magically.
- MEDIUM: We have a new blog over at https://tanukisamastudios.medium.com/, but this is primarily going to be company news.
- GAME UPDATES: Over the next week or so, new builds of the NALE games will be released which feature updated credits etc.
Also, a couple of other things to know:
- DISCORD: The NALE Discord will not be rebranding. This will only happen in the future if/when TSS grows to the point of publishing multiple games; for now we’re keeping it as-is.
- TWITTER: The @NinaAquilaGame Twitter will not be rebranding; it’s staying NALE-themed. We do have a new studio Twitter, @tanuki_studios, but this is going to be very focused around studio news.
- MERCH: The NALE TeePublic store will not be rebranding, though we will feature some Tan-chan merch in the future.
But with those practical things out of the way, what should NALE fans have to be excited about?
Time for a refresh
NALE, as many of you know, was built on a strange chimera of RPG Maker MV’s provided assets (sometimes called “the RTP”), freely available community assets, some commissioned artwork, some of Ethan’s own sprite-work and, in a few cases, public-domain photographs and illustrations. This was never by design; rather, it was a necessity in order to get NALE off the ground within the limited budget we had available.
While this has served NALE well so far, it’s created something of a “glass ceiling”, which we can’t break through. The visuals of a game in screenshots and videos are so important, and while so many of you have contacted us saying you love how NALE is written, unfortunately that only reaches people who actually play the game!
It was always intended that we would, when it became possible, explore a “refresh”, where we would replace NALE’s artwork with a new, consistent visual style. This is potentially a very exciting change, and a chance to explore what NALE could look like given more visual polish.
Changing all the tiles/sprites is not on the cards at this time. That’s because this is simply impossible at present. NALE has around 40 maps and nearly 100 characters and key object sprites; we would need to actually employ an artist full-time, for somewhere in the region of 12–18 months to replace it all, and there’s simply no way for us to fund that. We would still love to do this in the future, but that’s something which will remain firmly “in the future” for the time being (though still something we would want to do, if the situation ever permits it).
We’re looking at what we can do to refresh NALE’s visuals in other ways. This process is almost certainly going to involve bringing in outside expertise to assist with NALE’s art. The existence of Tanuki-sama Studios is going to open up new ways for us to bring about those changes.
So what’s the first thing fans will see?
“Nina Aquila: Season 1” — NALE’s first Steam release!
We’re excited to announce our plans for our next big release — a brand new version of NALE for Steam! This version will roll Chapters 1, 2 and 3, along with revamped visuals and other new features, into one 10-hour experience, and we intend to fund this via Kickstarter.
At the present time, we want the new version to include the following:
- All 3 chapters will be playable as one program, with a Chapter Select function
- A revised user interface with a fresh, more professional visual style
- Nina, Chad, Dylan, Anya & Tawny will use VN-style character busts, with all-new art
- Steam Achievements
- Complete removal of all remaining RPG Maker RTP sound FX, replacing them with new FX
- Updated intro sequences that use the new in-game art
- An unlockable art gallery
- (Stretch Goal) All named characters will use new face images, with brand-new art
- (Stretch Goal) New CG illustrations will be sprinkled throughout the chapters
- (Stretch Goal) Every single character, even ancillary characters, will have unique face images
We are also going to explore localising NALE into other languages; however, this is not in the above list as we are still assessing the practicalities of this.
These are in addition to many smaller improvements that we’re still trying to assess.
Where possible, these improvements will “flow back” into the versions of the chapters available on itch and other services, as a thank-you to the fans that have stuck with us this long already. We can’t guarantee that this will happen for everything, but we intend to revise what we can.
We will also revisit the idea of a Mac version of the game, as well as a potential Android release on the Google Play Store. We will also explore partnering with someone to produce a Nintendo Switch version, though this will be a stretch goal.
At present, we are still doing the research to put a number on the goal, in $, of this Kickstarter; the primary cost (massively outweighing everything else) is the cost of the large quantity of unique art assets, and we’re currently speaking to a number of artists about their confidence and availability, but we’ll have more details in the coming weeks and months.
However, NALE isn’t “moving off” itch — and that’s our next bit of news…
Chapter IV and future plans!
It’s also our pleasure to announce something we have never previously revealed: NALE is intended to have 6 Chapters, and that Chapter 6 will conclude the major arcs that have already kicked off in Chapters 1–3.
However, Chapter 6 will not be the “end” of Fledge City or the end of the franchise; just the conclusion of this particular story. So we can reassure those of you who are looking for the “complete” story that you’ll be satisfied, and those of you worried about NALE coming to a close that you need not worry.
Chapters IV, V and VI will initially continue in a manner similar to Chapters I, II and III, with an RTP artstyle, released in chapters on itchio, with the intent of a later “refresh” for services like Steam of all three chapters (a hypothetical “NALE Season 2”).
However, we will have a brief hiatus before proper work begins on Chapter IV. This is because NALE originally started in 2018, and in that time, a great deal has changed. NALE was built on a version of the engine and a set of plugins to produce certain behaviours; these were great at the time, but they also place limits on what we can do, and it’s our fear that if Chapters IV, V and VI each take a year, the MV engine upon which NALE is based may be highly deprecated by 2023.
RPG Maker now has a new release, MZ, with new plugin releases anticipated, and we need to take some time to work out the best course of action; whether we stick with what we have, or move onto newer software with new challenges.
We wanted to present you all with a timeline, but at present, the time estimates would be pure guesswork, so instead, I’ll just summarise what to expect.
- Exploration of the art refresh & localisation
- NALE Season 1 kickstarter
- Work on the art & localisation changes
- “NALE Season 1” Steam release
- Chapter IV development & itch release
- Chapter V development & itch release
- Chapter VI development & itch release
- “NALE Season 2” Steam release
2020 has been a busy year, but in spite of all the things that have happened, we hope to look back on it, through the lens of the Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle project, as a good one.
We’ve been through a lot in this update, but we’re excited about what’s coming up, and we hope that you, who have come along on the NALE journey with us, see things the same way.
Enjoy your end-of-year festivities, and here’s to a great 2021!