Updated: Mar 30
Romance can be magical, intriguing even. But sometimes, it's downright spicy. Comic artist Babs Tarr (Batgirl, Overwatch: Tracer) and former Buzzfeed engineering lead Sam Thurman are coming together to bring fans a brand new dating simulator, KISS U. Announced back on Valentine's Day this year and launched on Kickstarter today, Tarr and Thurman spoke to Comic Book Yeti about the game, the campaign, and how it all started more than a decade ago.
"This manifestation of what we wanted, which was to create a cute dating sim, but a niche cute game," Thurman said. "The first time I remember us talking about it was when we were in college ten years ago and Babs was playing the game Chulip, which is a Playstation game where you're supposed to kiss this entire town of people."
Thurman continued by saying even though that game was confusing at times, the conversation about doing their own game came from that encounter. The two would have on-and-off talks about the idea with Tarr coming up with characters and Thurman giving ideas on how they would work in the game.
"All I remember is that I was thinking I would be perfect to do art for a dating sim, how come nobody is asking me," said Tarr. "I guess I'll just do it myself with Sam."
The duo brought on Kendra Wells, comic creator of Tell No Tales and Fiero, to handle the script and dialog for KISS U. Tarr talked about the excitement she had adding them to the team and how perfect they were for the task at hand.
"I feel like Kendra's whole IP brand is 'high fantasy,' so I knew they would get that part of it, but also 'mildly horny' as well. They just started a spicy Patreon of their own and I know from being friends with them, I knew they wanted to get into writing video games and I think studied under Sam Maggs in order to learn more about that. They were such a spot-on, perfect fit."
The realm of dating sims isn't exactly new but expands more and more each year. Indie hits like Dream Daddy and most recently Dungeon Daddy and even Speed Dating for Ghosts have added different elements. Thurman talked about how he wanted KISS U to stand out among these games.
"So the guiding ethos for me for this game has been 'life is hard, kiss an elf' and KISS U is a game that leads with this joyous energy. The art is fun and poppy, the backgrounds are super beautiful and the writing is fun and engaging," Thurman said.
Thurman continued with how he wanted to feel this type of energy out of media and thinks this sort of accessibility will bring in people to enjoy.
"It's really for the people who don't play these types of games, but once we get them here, they'll see there's some really layered storytelling as the game goes on."
Tarr added that she thought the appeal to the game would be more than the usual handhold and a kiss that most simulators give you at the end.
"A whole lot more," she teased, but said that the romance aspect is still very much at the center of the story. "You come for the spice, but you stay for the heart."
Going through the different romanceable characters, there's a varied spectrum of possibilities including King, the jocky humanoid tiger (that's also a subtle Tekken homage) and Ronnie, the demonic cheerleader. Running down the list, Thurman and Tarr talked about the design and type of lover they are.
"Visually I always thought I wanted to have characters that were non-human and not really seen in these types of games," Thurman said. "What we wanted to do for these characters were to take tropey stereotypes like the fratboy jock and think about who that person and the foundation of their personality. How do they end up as this person and crushing beers? That's the type of journey we took with King."
"We also lowkey wanted to grab that furry demographic," Tarr added. "I was never really into that, but after drawing King, I get it."
Pivoting to the orcish tech-savvy Hexamillian, simply referred to as Hex in the game. Tarr mentioned the earlier concepts for him were something more brutish and more introverted originally.
"I feel like we still have those aspects, but shot the confidence through the roof," Tarr said. "Hex is kind of lame, but he thinks he's so f—---g cool, so it works. He's a big exercise in what confidence can do for a person." Tarr explained that Hex's look was primarily based on the Sailor Moon R villain, Alan, with bits of Jareth from Labyrinth sprinkled in.
"For what I wanted was Hex originally was that if there was an intense anime nerd in college, then they would probably be somebody who is obsessed with our human culture, and a pre-fantasy world that we live in now," Thurman said. "This is a post-human civilization setting and Hex is obsessed with the Internet and old-world tech of the previous civilization."
Hex is also the one who introduces you to the concept of the Cherry Phone, that's the game within a game. It's similar to erotic games from the '90s that you can collect pinups of characters and allows for a greater progression of lore in the game as well.
Talking about Lapis, the goth fairy, who originally started as an orc, but some of those elements eventually went to Hex. Tarr said that she became a fairy character because she "wanted to draw some cute wings."
"I feel like I'm seeing a lot of that in the zeitgeist right now and it became a perfect chance to put a goth fairy into this game," Tarr continued. "Lapis is our resident goth fairy and head of the art frat. We only get a little bit of her with the demo, but you do get to meet her and can't date her…yet."
"There are a lot of people who want to be crushed into dust by a giant demon and Ronnie is there for that, and for you."
Thurman also said that Lapis is part of the counter culture and adds a nice contrast to the rest of the poppy colors so she really stands out.
Finally getting to Ronnie, the semi-mascot of the game that even bears the name of the game and school across her cheerleading outfit, Tarr and Thurman said she's the holy grail of KISS U and a personal favorite.
"Ronnie was the first character Sam had on the list and I got this. Seeing the hype from Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil, we're just riding that wave," Tarr laughed. "She's bigger and thicker. She works super hard and expects everybody else to."
"There are a lot of people who want to be crushed into dust by a giant demon and Ronnie is there for that, and for you," Thurman added.
Talking about the actual tiers of the Kickstarter campaign, both Tarr and Thurman realize that asking for the funding goal of $85,000 sounds like a colossal feat and a lot for this type of game, but they think it's a realistic goal.
"This is enough money for the game and [to help] afford rent on our apartments," Thurman explained. "Babs isn't taking money from the initial funding, either."
The first tier starts at $10, which is a thank you on the credits, and it jumps to $16 for early backers for the game for the first 24 hours. From there, backers can get a digital artbook as well as a soundtrack, with everything including pins, cellphone backgrounds, and more of the usual fare, but the higher tiers get more extreme including a KISS U Varsity Jacket.
"That's about $420," Tarr said. That backer kit includes a jacket, sticker sheet, a stuff-it-yourself Ronnie pillowcase, King mousepad, beer coozies, and everything else below. At $1,000 Tarr will do a KISS U-style commission included with everything. At the $6,969 pledge, you are drawn in as a KISS U student on top of everything else. That last pledge amount is limited to only one.
"I would do my very best to come up with something that really goes with your vision of a character, but I might have to set boundaries just in case," Tarr joked.
Should KISS U prove to be a success, Tarr and Thurman talked about sequels, spin-offs, and other dating sims they would do, including some office romance game with a wild spin on it. With the flex goals, they want to bring in voice actors for characters, and maybe even an animated intro.
"We've talked about a few ideas for some DLC, maybe a beach episode, and seeing how people react to the characters," Thurman said. "During production, you're going to see the teachers of the school and more of the environment. Also, KISS U 2 is also a great name for a title."