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Successful Kickstarter campaign to back student-developed visual novel
Kelly Foss
Dysfunctional Systems

It’s a good chance that not many undergraduate students will cross the stage in May at the head of their own international interactive media development studio, and with the support of a number of individuals ready to finance the next phase of their life. 

Jeremy Miller, who will be picking up his degree in computer science, is in just such an enviable position. He founded Dischan Media while in high school in New Brunswick in 2009. The virtual company, made up of writers, programmers and artists from around the world, collaborates online to create visual novels – interactive fiction games which resemble mixed-media novels, often featuring static graphics, live-action stills and video footage. The games have multiple storylines and endings and in them, players come to decision points where they must choose which direction to take the game.

Just over a year ago the company released the sci-fi fantasy visual novel Dysfunctional Systems – their first for-profit venture.

“The plot centres around a world which is a utopia,” explains Mr. Miller. “It’s aware of other worlds and dimensions and sends people called mediators to those places to help keep those worlds stable. The stability of these other worlds is connected to theirs – if a lot of worlds ‘go bad’, their world will suffer as well.”

The main character, a girl named Winter, is just entering mediator school. The first episode sees her shadowing Cyrus, an older and more experienced mediator. Mr. Miller says subsequent episodes will have the duo visit other worlds and get to know more about those places and Winter’s home world.

It’s done fairly well, but not well enough to fund a sequel like we had hoped, which is why we started a Kickstarter campaign,” said Mr. Miller.

Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform, which brings developers of creative projects together with potential backers. Developers set up an online profile for their project with a specific funding goal and a deadline. If friends, fans or random strangers like the idea they can pledge money to make it happen. An all-or-nothing affair, Kickstarter projects only go forward if the funding goal is met within a specific time period.

“We were unknown when the first episode came out, so we had to cut the price a lot to raise interest and get people to try it,” he said. “The game was intended to be a series of five. But since the first didn’t perform well enough to fund the second one, we cut the project down to three for the Kickstarter proposal, so we could guarantee our backers a complete story.”

On March 24, Dischan’s 30-day Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded by 1,457 backers for a total of $67,450, well above their $49,000 goal.

With graduation upon him, Mr. Miller is now thinking about the future. He’s looking forward to taking the skills that he’s learned during the course of his degree and putting them to good use with his company.

“I’ve been able to make our website a lot more impressive than it would have been,” he said. “We’ve also custom built our store and our forum, which allows us to give a much more user-friendly experience than a lot of other developers who don’t have those skills.

“I never programmed much of the first episode, because we used an engine which took care of lot of it for us. But moving forward we want to use a more basic model that would allow us to do more customization and give us more flexibility. My degree is definitely going to help with that.”

He’s also hoping to branch into standard video games with a strong focus on blending gameplay with story, and is working on a short cartoon for another of the company’s games, Juniper’s Knot.

In the meantime, with funding confirmed, Dischan will be working on Dysfunctional Systems, episode two, which they expect to deliver in September, and episode three, set for release in March 2015.

Jun 30th, 2014

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