Smooching Swords & Dwarfing Fortresses with Kitfox Games

Boyfriend Dungeon is coming along and other notes from GDC 2019

Kitfox Games is about building bridges these days, it seems. Explicitly, they’re building bridges between hunks and cutlery with upcoming action/dating sim Boyfriend Dungeon. More subtle (and surprising) are the bridges they’re building between communities in fandom. We discussed both at GDC 2019.

Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of discussing Boyfriend Dungeon with lead artist Xin Ran Liu after spending ten minutes with the game at The MIX (Media Indie Exchange). For the uninitiated, Boyfriend Dungeon deftly combines a visual novel-style dating simulation with an isometric action game. How it weaves the two together is something unexpected: each of the player’s weapons can be dated. For the demo I played, only Sunder (a Talwar) and Valeria (a dagger) were available to me.

boyfriend dungeon

Even in its early state, Boyfriend Dungeon has a lot going on. Your cozy-but-swanky apartment features the trappings you’d expect from a video game home base. When you want to check quest statuses, you’re treated to a smartphone interface that would feel played out if it weren’t so perfectly executed. The writing staff is flanked by narrative designer Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story and Ladykiller in a Bind) and writer Meg Jayanth (80 Days), and it shows. Their collective talent (not to mention Kitfox’s core staff) provides a solid core of dialogue and narrative progression I was interested in continuing long after my short time with the game.

There’s enough weaponized meat in this corner of the game that it could stand on its own if Kitfox desired. Instead, dating your weapons provides implicit and explicit value by improving the player’s abilities in the action-packed corner of the game. Boyfriend Dungeon’s procedurally modular dungeons felt a lot like a less-painstakingly-crafted version of Bastion. Isometric combat isn’t the only similarity; getting into a rhythm with combos felt positively Supergiant-esque. It feels more weighty than combat in Moon Hunters, one of Kitfox’s previous action titles.

Overwhelming hordes and some interface clutter suggest there’s still some iteration to come, which Liu confirmed when we spoke later in the week along with community developer Victoria Tran. For Tran’s part, she agreed that there has been a noticeable logjam of virtual novels and dating sims hitting the collective consciousness for the past few years. When asked how Boyfriend Dungeon will set itself apart aside from theme and combat, she indicated a focus on diversity both within the game and with who is making it will be the difference.

Even with a small vertical slice, inclusiveness is a key tenet for the game. From choosing addressed pronouns to entering a squarely jealousy-free zone with dateable weapons, I felt like I could carry my specific status into the game. Though not revolutionary in and of themselves (especially for modern dating sims), it all combines to feel very progressive for a narrative-based action game.

dwarf fortress

Boyfriend Dungeon doesn’t have a release date, yet Kitfox is disinterested in keeping to one project at a time. Aside from an unannounced project, Kitfox made headlines earlier this month with the discovery that fabled modern classic Dwarf Fortress was being brought to Steam by the studio. The key ingredient to the arrangement is trust, Tran asserted. “[Kitfox studio director] Tanya X Short and [Drawf Fortress creator] Tarn have known each other for a long time,” Tran noted.

I asked Tran and Liu which side decided to update the tile set for the Steam release–the original features charming but visually confusing ASCII art and little else–and neither were entirely sure. Kitfox definitely has conversations with the Dwarf Fortress team about best practices for a wide release, they suggested, but Tran said they’re essentially sticking to contracts, logistics, and PR.

Such a “good get” as a new publishing partner might surprise me and others in the industry, but Kitfox might just be its own most hushed secret. They’re getting louder in 2019.

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John Warren

I miss Texas sometimes. Wheelchair person. Professional wrestling is humanity's greatest achievement. He/his, y'all.

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