This is gonna be a loooong one, so just scroll down for a nice little Effera sketch and an exciting announcement (which totally isn't given away by the title)!
It finally hit me. At long last, I figured out how I could reignite Artificial Selection's spark from 2019.
What really kept me going back then was to do a few weeks of high-intensity work, and then have a 1-2 hour long prototype I could show around and get feedback on. The thing that killed my motivation was doing months (or years, by now...) of high-intensity work, and still having nothing to show for it because there is no such thing as a 8-hour long demo - only a complete game would be good enough.
But then I realized... there is such a thing as a 8-hour long demo, although it's not typically referred to as such. Rather, people call it "Early Access"!
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Seriously, it took you three years to figure out that early access was a thing?" And on the one hand, I completely agree with you. But on the other, I do think my version of it will be a little bit different. Hear me out:
Most early access visual novels fall into one of two categories: Either they are fairly linear and chapter-based, and creators just add the continuation to the story in its logical chronological order. Or they are heavily route-based, where there is no particular chronological hierarchy, but different routes are largely independent and can be enjoyed in any order. Therefore it's no problem to release them one at a time.
Artificial Selection is neither of those things. It's as far from linear as it could possibly be (did I already share that it will have 14 canonical endings?), and most routes are connected to various others, but I still think I can make this work - after all, I've done it before! Remember in the demo, when you could choose who to leave behind, but it was actually no choice at all because only one of them could actually be selected? That's what I'll do, repeatedly, until all routes are written and available for you to explore.
So what does that mean? You will be blocked from seeing things that I actually do want you to see - they just don't exist yet, so I won't be able to give you that option. The early access version will therefore be inherently crappier than the full version and won't give you the full experience I want you to have. But I'm willing to make that tradeoff if it allows me to actually finish the damn thing.
"If it's worse, then why would anyone buy it", you say? I do think at least some of you are curious and/or crazy enough to go for it without any additional incentive. But there's the added bonus that you can help me shape the game. Because I've explicitly marked the game as a work-in-progress, I won't be afraid to go back and change anything. You think one more cute interaction will make a character's later betrayal a lot more impactful? That's a great point, I'll add it! You want a shameless fanservice scene for your favorite character? Sure, what the hell, I'll think about it. You want your OC, DarknessLord88, to be the new protagonist? Okay, uh, I'll see what I can do...
Either way, I don't think a lot of people will be interested at first, because the amount of content won't match the game's price tag at all. And that suits me just right because the first few versions will be the least polished, and I don't want too many people to see that. But, the way I imagine it, people's interest will organically grow alongside the maturity of the game.
On the technical side, this early access version will also be exclusively available on Itch.io, and not on Steam, since 1) I'm scared of Steam users and 2) I'd like reviews to reflect someone's opinion of the final game, not the first few iterations.
TL;DR: Artificial Selection is coming out as early access this summer, initially containing only Effera's route with 6-8 hours of content. It will be available on Itch.io for $25* (and all future updates/expansions will obviously be free).
*This price tag won't go down, but it might go up when the playtime approaches 30+ hours...