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📣 The Hiveswap Fiasco

Posted by Gio in fandom

The real story of Hiveswap isn’t about the game or the universe. Rather, the conversation “about Hiveswap” is dominated by stories about the development and history of the game as a project — starting as a Kickstarter success story but then bouncing from scandal to scandal for years. The story of how Andrew Hussie burned through a $2.5 million dollar investment over eight years to produce almost nothing is fascinating, convoluted, and poorly understood even among Homestuck fans.

Right now, this meta-story mostly exists in the form of oral history. This is probably due to the fact that a lot of the key sources are ephemeral — and most of them have been deleted — but it’s also because it feels premature to write up a “postmortem” on a game’s development before it’s even an eighth of the way finished.

I’m documenting the story so far so that the Hiveswap Story isn’t lost to time, and so there’s a decent summary of events so far, and maybe even so new Hiveswap fans can catch up. I dug through every page, announcement, interview, blog post, FAQ, and tweet I could find, and the culmination is this the most comprehensive — as far as I can tell — explanation of Hiveswap to date.

NOTE: This article is currently under active revision, so note that details here will change once the additional writing and checking is done. All changes will be posted in Appendix IV. This is v1.7.1. Last edited 2020-11-20.

Throughout this article, emphasis within blockquotes is usually mine. I may in some cases add anchorlinks (dotted) as cross-references.

Disclaimer: While I have done my best to verify everything in this article, it’s entirely possible I got something wrong or missed something significant. If so, please let me know so I can make the relevant corrections. All changes will be posted in Appendix IV.

Neither What Pumpkin nor Viz Media would respond to requests for comment. Snake Solutions did respond to comment, but only to tell me to stylize Homestuck^2 as “homestuck 2”, which I am not going to do.

As part of my research I had the opportunity to speak with employees from What Pumpkin Studios, but they wished to remain anonymous. There were also tips submitted anonymously, each authenticated.

Executive Summary

This is a long article, so if you’re looking for something you can read in a few seconds, here it is.

The Story

September 2012

The Kickstarter Campaign

On September 4, 2012, Andrew Hussie launched a Kickstarter project for a point-and-click adventure game based on his comic, Homestuck.

Homestuck Kickstarter

MSPaintAdventures had always been inspired by adventure games (like King’s Quest), even in its stories before Homestuck. As the Kickstarter campaign post explained:

Homestuck, like all other stories on MS Paint Adventures, was built on extensive parody of video games, most notably classic adventure games. The “mock adventure game” format has driven the creation of every page in the story, often with readers supplying commands for what the characters should do next. So for the project after Homestuck, I think it would not only be fitting, but quite exciting to present the story in the form of an actual adventure game.

The scope of the game was drafted out very roughly; it would be “like a spinoff” “based on homestuck” in a “shorter, self-contained story”. What Pumpkin (the company that handled homestuck merch) would be “working with an experienced game developer” for the development of the actual game. Once game development began, backers would get weekly updates.

The total funding goal of the project was $700,000. For $15, you could get a digital copy of the game, which was set to release some time in 2014. (Remember those numbers.)

(If you go to the live link on Kickstarter and scroll down to “Risks and challenges”, the field is empty, which is humorous in retrospect, but that’s just due to the Homestuck Kickstarter predating that field. No issue there.)

There was a very wide range of tiers available that included various combinations of merchandise (some exclusive to the Kickstarter, some not), the game, and the soundtrack. I’ll note a few of them here that are representative of the selection:

  • $15: A digital download of the game
  • $25: A digital download of the game plus the game soundtrack
  • $55: Game, soundtrack, and a physical print
  • $75: A limited-run physical edition of the game, signed by Andrew Hussie
  • $100: The game, a shirt, some stickers, and some enamel pins
  • $250: The game, a plushie, a tote bag, a shirt, some stickers, and some enamel pins

This was also the literal peak of the famously passionate Homestuck internet fandom. It was the perfect storm.

The project made its entire $700,000 goal within 32 hours.

As the project kept generating interest and support, they introduced stretch goals for the game, promising the extra funds would go to “higher production values.” As the project got more and more funding, they passed several stretch goals, adding more platforms, translations, merch, and an art book to the project. This was all fairly standard.1

Andrew made another news post on the main Homestuck site on September 24, expressing extreme gratitude, going over a few logistics, and adding the option to back directly with PayPal.

Pledges per day

On October 4, 2012, the Kickstarter campaign finished at 2.48 million dollars, plus an undisclosed amount of additional direct backing through PayPal that put them over the 2.5 million mark2. (Andrew later confirmed this.) This number is noteworthy because it met their $2.5 million stretch goal, which added a digital copy of Homestuck (the comic) to be shipped with physical copies of the game. They made more than three times their original goal, and were the 6th most successful Kickstarter project of all time. Andrew made a news post and things were looking good. Andrew had been producing great content for years now; imagine what he could do with resources!

A congratulatory note

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

A quick note here about how Kickstarter works. When a Kickstarter project succeeds, backers pay the creator directly, not Kickstarter — Kickstarter takes a cut, but the transaction is between the backer and the creator. For this reason, Kickstarter doesn’t guarantee refunds.

However, Kickstarter is not a blind donation based on trust alone: creators are legally obligated to fulfill backers. From Kickstarter’s own accountability FAQ:

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?

Yes. Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don’t. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

This is a summary of section 4 of the Kickstarter Terms of Use3, which reads:

When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward. Once a creator has done so, they’ve satisfied their obligation to their backers.

Throughout the process, creators owe their backers a high standard of effort, honest communication, and a dedication to bringing the project to life. At the same time, backers must understand that they’re not buying something when they back a project—they’re helping to create something new, not ordering something that already exists. There may be changes or delays, and there’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.

If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers.

The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.

Now, if a project fails and goes bankrupt, they obviously can’t fulfill their obligations. Kickstarter projects fail all the time. However, there are concrete, legal obligations on creators of successfully funded projects, as long as they’re capable of doing so. Or, if there’s a reason that the final product can’t be completed, (non-bankrupt) project creators are obligated to refund their backers. Note that there are two obligations here: between the creator and Kickstarter, the company, and between the creator and the project backers.

So, in the case of the Homestuck Kickstarter, “MS Paint Adventures” is legally obligated by both Kickstarter and the project backers to deliver the promised game and merchandise to the project’s backers. But hopefully it won’t come to that, right?

But first, merch.

Before the game, though, came merch fulfilment for the Kickstarter rewards. An enormous amount of people contributed to the campaign, so the process of sending out backer surveys, collecting addresses, and doing the actual work of shipping items to 11,000 people was a significant amount of work.

Andrew signed prints.

Many prints in cardboard tubes.

Regarding the merchandise, the Kickstarter campaign says

…the reward bundles here are so nice, that they actually still represent a pretty good value for the pledge. I think the scalemate plushes came out especially great. They are of almost impossibly high quality for something produced in bulk. This item is in very limited supply—note the finite number available for that tier. There are a couple more hidden bundles to be revealed later, but once they’re gone, that’s it! That’s all we have. But if the response to the scalemates turns out to be strong, we’re going to look into making more sometime next year.

It’s been noted that most (if not all) of the merchandise4 was, in fact, resold in other places since the campaign, but personally I’m glad it was, as it is very nice.

The signed physical print is a beautiful piece by Skeptic Archer. Oddly, it’s only credited in a small footnote at the end of the Kickstarter page, and the beautiful 36”x24” print is only signed (initialed) by Andrew. Odd art crediting is a minor note, but something to keep in mind going forward.

(This is unconfirmed, but according to a now-deleted comment, Rachel from What Pumpkin estimated the actual production budget for the game after merchandise and backer rewards as $1.6 million.)

Announcements about this came through Kickstarter project updates.

According to the FAQ,

A backers-only blog will be going up and weekly updates will tell you about behind-the-scenes work not only with regards to this game project, but also about how we choose, develop, and deliver the merch that you see in our store and in these paks. If you don’t become a backer, you will not receive access.

Future updates were meant to take place on a “backer blog”, which was to be a subforum on the MSPA Forums exclusive to Kickstarter backers, where What Pumpkin would keep backers updated on progress. The Kickstarter promises to give detailed weekly updates until the full game releases. This is, of course, entirely appropriate and expected for a project that was given $2.5 million — transparency is expected, and opacity is cause for suspicion and alarm.

The only news out of the Kickstarter was shipping updates until 2013.

Comic Gigapause

There had also been a brief note in the October news post for the latest comic hiatus that mentioned working on the Kickstarter project:

I also have to allocate some time to work on the Kickstarter game. That didn’t stop being a thing I have to do. It’s coming along. I’ll probably have a more substantive update on that before the end of the year. There hasn’t been much to report yet since it’s mostly been in a high level planning and writing phase. And firming up tons of legal minutiae. Stuff like that.

Firming up tons of legal minutiae” here presumably describes doing legal footwork for the IP and setting the appropriate contracts with the “experienced game developer”.

December 2013

Update 1

Update #14 (Backers only)

Greetings, and Happy New Year. Welcome to the First Annual Homestuck Kickstarter Update of 2013!!!

On December 31, 2013, MSPA released the “First Annual Homestuck Kickstarter Update“. This was a much-anticipated behind the scenes look at the game design and high-level planning. This post mostly consisted of notes about how things were actually coming along, while trying not to spoil anything about the game. A few plot elements were confirmed or disconfirmed: it was revealed that Sburb would not be in the game, but trolls would be included. Stuff like that.

See below

One new human character was shown, with rough sketches and a 3D model.

Andrew also teased the “experienced game developer” they would be working with for development, but did not reveal the company in the update. (This would later turn out to be The Odd Gentlemen.)

There was no news yet about the backer blog or how the weekly updates would be handled.

Namco High

December 2013 was also the release of Namco High, a dating sim developed by What Pumpkin Studios with Andrew Hussie as the game’s Creative Director.

Namco High is a simple visual novel. It’s primarily about characters from Namco franchises, but there are some stories about Homestuck characters mixed in as well that you could purchase and play. There are quite a few newsposts on the MSPA website.

June 2013: Undertale Kickstarter

Undertale kickstarter promo that’s not an edit, that’s the actual Kickstarter graphic. sic?

In June 2013, Toby Fox (known for his work on the music team) launched his own crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for a role-playing game. His goal was $5,000, and he ended up raising $51,000.

The Undertale Kickstarter very much piggybacked off the success of Homestuck’s; Toby Fox was best known from his work on Homestuck, and the Kickstarter campaign referenced Homestuck directly in a few different places. Toby Fox was friends with Andrew Hussie and would end up doing at least some of the work literally from Andrew’s basement:

Actually, yes, he literally spent a period of time developing Undertale in my basement. I have always assumed this is why he titled the game as such. (from Update 22)

June 2014: Update 2

Update #15 (Backers only)

Greetings again. Welcome to the Sequel to the First Annual Homestuck Kickstarter Update of 2013!!!

On June 20, 2014, MSPA released the second annual update.

This update was loaded with concept art of Alternian-looking environments, plus another 3D render: a troll this time. Andrew also teased that there would be some contributions from Ryan North.

There were also major updates about development status.

Aside from a bunch of dialogue, the writing and design work is all pretty much done. The game design documents comprise dozens of files, and around a couple hundred thousand words in total. There was a lot to think about besides just a story. Puzzles, game mechanics, the exact way every little thing works. Bringing such documents to completion involves a lot of effort. I assembled my own little team independently of the game developer to help me get this done.

Apparently, the writing and scriptwork are pretty much finished, and the game design is done too. This is great, and sounds on-track for a 2014 release.

Significantly, this update officially revealed the development studio: The Odd Gentlemen:

While we were still in the high level planning stages of this, I thought it would be better to keep the developer out of the limelight for a while, so we could all have some breathing room to get the project off the ground. I think this was the right decision. But I also think it’s been long enough keeping the backers in the dark on this. So,

The name of the developer is The Odd Gentlemen. It is a solid outfit, and I’ve enjoyed working with them so far. A lot of good stuff is happening behind the scenes. Expect to hear more from them about this project in the future.

Odd Gentlemen had the right combination of availability in their schedule, and the fact that I liked the people there and felt like they could deliver a good product. I am still confident this will be the case.

The Odd Gentlemen is a game studio run out of LA, California, and was noteworthy for also being in the process of developing an episodic King’s Quest adventure game from around 2014 through 2016 as a follow-up to the hit Sierra adventure game series.

The next day on June 21 The Odd Gentlemen released a very similar blog post confirming their involvement. Later in July they made another blog post about Hiveswap cosplay. (Both of these posts have now been scrubbed.)

2014 was the year Hiveswap was slated for release, so they were cutting it close — Andrew addressed this concern directly:

2014 was the year we were shooting for release. Note there was no target month given, because I really didn’t know what the timeframe was down to that level of specificity. I expected there would be bumps in the road, because there always are for big projects like this. When the Kickstarter ended, that is not really when development began in earnest. That’s when we began getting a lot of boring legal stuff in order, which took a while. Probably around six months I’d say. After that, planning began for real. So if we are behind schedule (which may not even be technically true), I guess it could be by that amount of time. But I’m anticipating a major surge in development in the latter half of 2014. So we’ll see where we are as we approach the end of the year.

Thanks for the patience!!!

This update could also be interpreted as the first of the weekly updates the Kickstarter promised, except it was not followed with another update the next week. In fact, the commitment for weekly updates was never honoured — not ever. For the rest of the project, there would never be development updates posted within a week of each other. This was the first of a very, very long string of broken commitments.

October 2014: What Pumpkin Studios

Update #16 (Public)

There are some updates to mention. Some changes to the plan. Exciting changes!

On October 30, 2014, the Kickstarter received an extremely significant update about the game and the project lifecycle that made major changes to the structure of the development process and the game:

What Pumpkin is now the development studio

Over the last several months, we’ve been shifting the development operation from the previous studio over to What Pumpkin. We have both agreed it will be the best move to continue production in-house, given the future game development plans for the Homestuck property (more on that further down). So this means exactly what it sounds like. As of this moment, in addition to everything else What Pumpkin does, it is officially now a game dev studio as well. Pretty cool!

Setting up a game dev studio from scratch is fairly tricky however. Hiring new people, getting them up to speed, and setting up the infrastructure represents a bump in the road on our previously devised rollout schedule. The original plan had us testing the game by this point. Looks like testing within first half of next year is more likely.

But given that we have decided to pull a game dev studio out of thin air over the last couple months, it has gone alarmingly well. All the hiring was done quickly, and people have been cranking out great stuff (see samples above, all of which was done in-house). I’m pretty psyched about the new team!

The game is no longer being developed by The Odd Gentlemen, allegedly due to “the future game development plans for the Homestuck property”. As far as I can tell, The Odd Gentlemen never mention Homestuck again after the two blog posts already mentioned. What Pumpkin will now expand and, in addition to its existing responsibilities handling the merchandise for Homestuck and Hiveswap, become a game studio “out of thin air”.

There will be two games

So as a result, from the start I conceived of a story that revolved around the idea of there eventually being two games

The second game is not intended as a sequel though. It is meant to be a story told in parallel with the first. So when both games are finished, people will be able to play them in either order.

There will be two games with parallel storylines. They will be produced sequentially, but can be played alternating once both are released to get the full story in sequence. (This seems to be a similar concept to what would become the Homestuck Epilogues, years later.)

The entire first game would be considered the “Homestuck Adventure Game” that was funded by the original crowdfunding campaign and owed to backers. Presumably, the second game would be funded by profits off the first game and the rest of the franchise, or perhaps by a separate Kickstarter. Regardless, backers would not be entitled to the second game.

The first game is called "Hiveswap"

This is the title of the first game.

The first game, Hiveswap, is the Homestuck Adventure Game that the Kickstarter supported. The second game (which will later be titled Hauntswitch) will be released later.

Hiveswap is now episodic

When I say “first game” and “second game”, I mean those will be two distinct storylines that each consist of several episodes to be released in sequence. Four episodes per game is looking likely. The fact that there will be multiple installments won’t change much for backers. Anyone who backed will be entitled to each download for the first game. I’m sure there will be other questions that come up as a result of this release model, such as how physical copies are handled, but just keep in mind that we’ll be working things out to stay favorable to backers. We’ll have more answers as things take shape.

Designing the story around two games is an old idea, based on having a plan in place to continue the series if the demand is there. But releasing each one episodically is a new idea, based more on the emerging realities of production. I think it’s the right call, both to get something out sooner, but also I think it will add some dimension to the story itself and the way it’s received. Much of the fun for Homestuck readers was in following an ongoing story, getting together with other readers and discussing new developments. So releasing the game like this should preserve that part of the experience somewhat. Leaving some space between episodes should build some anticipation for what happens next. I suspect a lot of people will enjoy the story more this way.

Instead of releasing a complete game, Hiveswap will be released in (probably four) episodes, due in part to “the emerging realities of production”. Hussie also seems to believe that the serial nature of the comic will translate well to the game, and actually enhance the experience for players.

Episodic game development is known as being especially high-risk for developers. Quoting from Wikipedia here:

Essentially, the business model of the episodic gaming is still considered high-risk for developers… Experts cite that this can be demonstrated in the limited number of successes of episodic game ventures. Specific disadvantages include the following:

  • Some developers choose the episodic model because they lack the resources to complete a full-length game, and hope the sales of episodes will fund further development. If earlier episodes fail to sell, then funding for future episodes may suffer or disappear, forcing developers to renege on promises of future episodes and cut storylines short.

I’m quoting from Wikipedia here to emphasize the point that this isn’t an industry secret; the disadvantages and risks of the episodic business model are well-known. Just saying the phrase “episodic” immediately brings to mind that one example you’re already thinking of.

Andrew assures everyone that “The fact that there will be multiple installments won’t change much for backers” and “we’ll be working things out to stay favorable to backers.” He will not follow through on this.

Concept Art Dump

This update was frontloaded with a “concept art dump” that closely resembles the game that would become Hiveswap: Act 1, including designs for the manor, attic, treehouse, Alternia, and portal.

B/w concept art

This post also included 3D models rigged with animation! Very exciting stuff.

The Odd Gentlemen

King's Quest and The Odd Gentlemen

NOTE: This article is currently under revision due to new information, and this section in particular is likely to change. All changes will be posted in Appendix IV.

or, The Odd Gentlemen robbed us, as ipgd put it.

In July of 2015 (the future), ipgd, friend of Andrew’s and general insider published a post (alt) that was the culmination of their research into the Kickstarter:

i’m sure that everyone has noticed by now that the homestuck game is very, very late. boy, do i have a fun reason why!

you may remember that what pumpkin announced that the game studio “the odd gentlemen” was originally attached to develop the game, and you may also remember that they quietly moved to in house development in 2014. what they didn’t tell you: the reason they did this was that odd gentlemen stole kickstarter money and spent it on king’s quest.

i imagine most of us who backed the homestuck game kickstarter are pretty curious about what was going on there. i’ve done some work on the comic and talk to andrew from time to time, so i tried asking about what happened and got some very cagey non-responses. eventually, he tells me he actually can’t tell me anywhere but through kickstarter because of a settlement he signed (already fishy). so, i sent in an inquiry through KS and what i got was a big steaming load of bullshit worse than anything i could have imagined. i’m talking multiple counts of embezzlement and fraud.

according to the timeline in the doc i got, WP gave 788k to TOG in 2012 to develop hiveswap. they then proceeded to do next to nothing, completely blowing off the dev schedule that they agreed to. (the game was supposed to be done by oct 2014. instead, that was when WP ended up having to switch to in house development and start from scratch.) the doc included a detailed rundown of everything TOG actually did. in summary:

Over 8 months of development, TOG produced exactly one “playable build”. It is a single room, involving one character, no animation, and almost no other key features. Virtually nothing works properly. It was submitted in February of 2014, and no improvements or additional versions were submitted beyond that date.”

a link to it was included in the doc. it’s… probably the worst thing i’ve ever seen in my life?? if you try to click on ANYTHING, joey runs into a bookcase and flies into the air and the demo gets stuck. the only thing that distinguishes it from an out-of-the-box adventure creator demo is its very subpar models and the fact it is unplayably bugged.

at some point TOG apparently just completely gave up working on hiveswap, because they were tapped to develop king’s quest (you can see them admit this in public here at about 1 minute into this video). however, instead of dropping out of developing the game, they decided to just… not tell WP, and proceeded to spend the money they were given on KQ’s development instead.

eventually, after months of platitudes and refusals to communicate (at one point andrew even moved across the country to be able to visit TOG’s offices and get the ball rolling on development, but they wouldn’t even let him come in), WP realized that they’d have to drop TOG, so they terminated the contract in late 2014.

at that stage, TOG said they had 390,000 dollars left of the money WP gave them that they hadn’t spent on “development” or taxes. but, get this – in the 7 months it took them to agree on a settlement for returning the money, they spent 170,000 of it on king’s quest. seriously. like, they didn’t even try to hide it – they straight up spent it after they’d already officially stopped working on the game, and were just like, haha, whoops? pay you back later i guess.

this isn’t acknowledged in a binding settlement like the king’s quest embezzlement is, but i’m pretty sure most of the 190k they claim they spent on hiveswap’s development before they picked up KQ went into neil gaiman’s wayward manor. they picked THAT up at around the time they were supposed to start working on hiveswap, and admitted the workload was conflicting with their ability to devote time to hiveswap. given the egregiously overstated man hours claimed for how little work they actually did, and the fact they admittedly stole the money for another game, i think it’s a pretty obvious conclusion to reach.

it doesn’t look like there was ever a point where TOG wasn’t funneling homestuck’s KS money into another game. it’s unclear whether they EVER actually intended to seriously develop the game. they straight up signed up to steal money from us.

andrew mentioned that this was one of the biggest reasons for the gigapause, and that all the logistics of dealing with TOG’s incompetence meant he couldn’t get much work done on the comic in that time.

why am i posting this? well, king’s quest was developed with stolen money, so it’s probably in your best interest to know this before you buy it. all things considered, it’s a miracle that hiveswap is doing as well as it is – at this point, i think hiveswap has moved past this fiasco and isn’t in any danger of falling through. it’s uh, pretty late, but from what i’ve seen, they’re well on their way to an Actual Game that may be Actually Good despite getting jerked around by a circus of incompetent clowns for 8 months.

at this point, i’m not sure what to DO about this. what pumpkin is bound by the settlement they had to sign if they wanted to get any of the money back at all, so there’s not much that they themselves can do to retrieve the money TOG stole from us. i actually tried messaging sierra, the company that licensed KQ to TOG, but they don’t seem to care that KQ was made with stolen money. maybe activision might want to know. in any case, it’s important that this info get out there so people know what they’re dealing with when buying something from the odd gentlemen.

The key allegations ipgd makes here are:

  • What Pumpkin paid The Odd Gentlemen ~$800k to develop Hiveswap by October 2014
  • The Odd Gentlemen did not meet the agreed-upon schedule
  • The only thing The Odd Gentlemen produced for Hiveswap was an awful and unusable demo
  • The Odd Gentlemen being horrible forced What Pumpkin to switch to in-house development in order to produce the game at all
  • TOG spent a significant amount of What Pumpkin’s money on King’s Quest instead of Hiveswap
    • Even after they were told to stop entirely, they kept siphoning money
  • What Pumpkin eventually got a formal settlement
    • Including admission of wrongdoing from TOG
    • But the details of the settlement were kept secret even from the development team and other insiders
  • As of late 2014, What Pumpkin was left with ~$200k and no game

Andrew Hussie himself later explicitly “no-comment”ed on the allegations:

(Archive copy)

Of particular note is the sentence “i have no comment on matters between WP and TOG”, which is exactly what you’d have to say if you had settled with a binding NDA, as is the claim.

What Pumpkin not only forced ipgd to take down the original Tumblr post. Since then, someone (either WP or igpd herself) submitted a special request to the wayback machine to manually prevent the post from being archived. (See here.)

Fact-checking ipgd

NOTE: This article is currently under revision due to new information, and this section in particular is likely to change. All changes will be posted in Appendix IV.

There isn’t actually a way to request an “inquiry through KS”; Kickstarter doesn’t know anything about the internals of the project other than updates the creator posts publicly. From what I can tell, if this account is true5, Andrew Hussie voluntarily send ipgd this information through a Kickstarter private message, in order to circumvent some provision in the settlement. Given that this information is essentially leaked by Andrew himself, it’s worth being sceptical.

Some of ipgd’s accusations fit in neatly with other accounts, and fill in a number of holes. These are all thoroughly supported by later events and accounts:

  • What Pumpkin paid The Odd Gentlemen ~$800k to develop Hiveswap by October 2014
  • The Odd Gentlemen did not meet the agreed-upon schedule
  • The only thing The Odd Gentlemen produced for Hiveswap was an awful and unusable demo
  • What Pumpkin eventually got a formal settlement
    • But the details of the settlement were kept secret even from the development team and other insiders
  • As of late 2014, What Pumpkin was left with ~$200k and no game

Each of these points fits neatly with all the other available information as I understand it, and I haven’t found any reason to think that any of them are untrue. Later events will explicitly confirm many of these points as true, creating a lot of circumstantial evidence supporting the full list of allegations. It’s confirmed that What Pumpkin did get a formal settlement with TOG, for example. As another example, an anonymous source who used to work at What Pumpkin confirmed the point about the broken prototype:

Personally I think it was that Hussie was in over his head. When we took the reins after odd gentleman, you should have seen how bad the demo was. It looked like an intern had made it.

I don’t know the details about the court case, bc that was secretive, but I believe they settled. They had spent I think almost a third of the money and it was total garbage.

Another account about the prototype:

We were given an unusable piece of garbage to work with.

There is also some evidence of similar behavior from The Odd Gentlemen, where they began developing Wayward Manor as a third party but then seemingly bailed and scrubbed their name from the records before release.

While I’d love to speculate as to why What Pumpkin didn’t have the legal leverage to demand restitution, or why What Pumpkin chose to sign the NDA instead of staying accountable to the project underwriters, I don’t yet have the evidence to do so meaningfully. (I don’t know why they kept it a secret because they kept it a secret.)

Some of the allegations, however, haven’t been corroborated since:

  • The Odd Gentlemen being horrible forced What Pumpkin to switch to in-house development in order to produce the game at all
  • TOG spent a significant amount of What Pumpkin’s money on King’s Quest instead of Hiveswap
    • Even after they were told to stop entirely, they kept siphoning money

As mentioned previously, these were leaked together by ipgd and Andrew. These details are protected by the settlement, so even if they’re not true, there’s likely nothing TOG could do to refute them. These could well be false.

February 2015: Hiveswap is Coming

Update #17 (Public)

This update features more concept art (mostly just coloured versions of art seen previously) and what appear to be game renders.

The game is 3D

Notably, the game is still 3D. All the character assets we’ve seen up to this point have been 3D, and presumably all the animation was done using 3D models too, so this all makes sense.

There are then a number of links to a new Hiveswap website and social media accounts. We then get another look into the development going on:

Being privy to all the work being done, I can tell you it’s not only looking great, but it bears mentioning how FAST all this work has been materializing. To put this in perspective, recall that last Fall I mentioned we switched tracks and brought all game development in-house, under the What Pumpkin banner. We thought this was the best move for the future of the project, but realistically it also meant nearly a total production reboot. The move involved some risk, requiring an entire dev operation to be assembled from the ground-up almost overnight. Back in October of last year we hadn’t even bought, like… computers. There weren’t even computers yet, ok? You kind of need those, people kept telling me. But in the few months since then, somehow this crazy game making machine appeared out of thin air, caught fire, and now most of an episode has been drawn, modeled, textured, animated, all that. And the weird thing is, not just how quickly it’s coming together, but considering the speed it’s like… freakishly good? It shouldn’t be this good.

(This seems to imply that the previous update, including the models and animations, were leftover work from The Odd Gentlemen — though that may not be the case.)

All I can do, aside from mumble to myself like a wizard just played a trick on me, is give credit to the fantastic people on WP’s dev team, and James and Jess (senior producer and creative director) who brought all these people together so quickly and are keeping everyone on task.

It’s concerning here that all we’re getting about the now-late game are these brush-off “it’s fine” pacification answers. I get Andrew is trying to be cute here, but given that Hiveswap had officially missed the Kickstarter release date of 2014, and Andrew is already behind on delivering on the project, this is pretty unprofessional.

Besides that, this mostly looks okay. What Pumpkin NYC is doing impressive work, which is to be expected from the talented team What Pumpkin managed to assemble. James here is James Seetal, a game industry veteran with an impressive resume. They are slated to be the senior producer of Hiveswap. Jess is Jess Haskins. She is Paperback Studio. This would be the first Homestuck credit for either of them.

The release date for Hiveswap is delayed to Spring 2015.

March 2015

Hiveswap Friends

Update #18 (Public)

    ![Hiveswap 3d turnarounds](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVEQ3v9RRR0)

This update is another asset update. The main piece is a video, featuring high-quality views of the 3D character models. There are some more character designs, also with 3D models. This is going to be a 3D game.

Andrew reveals the music team for Hiveswap: James Roach (known for his fan music as part of The Homestuck Fan Musicians and tracks on coloUrs and mayhem and Toby Fox (known for his work in the music team and Undertale, which would release in September 2015).

We also hear something about more troll symbols:

The original Homestuck trolls corresponded with zodiac signs, of course. You can see these ones are wearing different symbols. We ended up making quite a few new ones to create an “expanded zodiac.” Around 250, actually. The majority of which won’t appear in the game, but we made a bunch of extra ones I guess in case of an emergency. This can be considered the canonical extended set of troll symbols. I’ll let you see them later, in a more meaningful context. If there is really such a thing as a meaningful context for 250 fake zodiac signs.

Emerald City ComicCon

There is another post shortly after about What Pumpkin having a booth at Emerald City ComicCon. We get this interesting tidbit about a playable demo of the game:

If you’re one of the thousands of comics and gaming fans who’ll be hitting the Seattle Convention Center this weekend for ECCC, don’t miss your chance to visit What Pumpkin at booth #305 to try a preview segment of Hiveswap. Bear in mind this is an early preview of a work in progress. It’s one room, with some features disabled, but it’s playable, looks very good, and gives a strong sense of what it will be like to play it. It’s not the sort of thing we can put online anywhere yet, but we’re more than happy to let people visiting the booth try it out on our machine.

There is some footage of this version:

    ![Hiveswap 3d demo](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZWzT8q12Vk)

It’s a fully-3D version of Joey’s room, with an inventory, and pointing and clicking. Great!

Hiveswap Press Sheet

Around this time, What Pumpkin Studios NYC released a press sheet about Hiveswap. This is a one-sheet that just lays out the basics: developed by What Pumpkin NYC, four acts, releasing throughout 2015, “describing what an adventure game is”, that sort of thing. It also compliments how good the game is, as press sheets are liable to do.

GDC Italian Interview

A GDC interview given in Italian revealed a few more details about the game.

Some translations from a reddit thread:

  • It will be out on MAY, split into four parts and available for PC, Mac and Linux.
  • the graphics are a bit outdated, but recall the webcomic’s drawing style and upgrade it to 3D”

There were also a few plot details that were confirmed by later updates.

April 2015

Jess Haskins Gameplay Preview

        ![Hiveswap Homestuck Gameplay Preview](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbugSSpC48c)

        ![Hiveswap Story Gameplay Walkthrough](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-GEVf1UjV8)
(These names are somewhat misleading: the “Gameplay Walkthrough”, doesn’t feature gameplay, but is rather a narrated slideshow of concept art and renders.)

These two videos of “Prototype 1.1” were posted to “GamerHubTV” and are narrated by Jess Haskins. The gameplay looks very similar to the Emerald City ComicCon demo.

The prototype version has multiple playable characters (Jude, Joey, and Xefros) with 3D models. (Joey is wearing a dog shirt that has not yet been seen in any other media.)

The Gameplay Preview includes a sample of the 3D intro cutscene with Joey and Jude, and some 3D adventure game gameplay with adventure game commands and a sylladex inventory. There are several 3D maps available, including Joey’s room, Jude’s treehouse, and a basement. It ends with another 3D cutscene featuring the cherub portal in the attic.

Kickstarter Update & Trailer

Update #20 (Public)

Have you noticed that we’re posting more updates lately? That’s because things are really moving on the game right now, and there’s a lot of exciting progress to report.

        ![Hiveswap Teaser Trailer](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptSacF8xb8k)

This last trailer was also posted on the WP NYC Tumblr.

Gameplay!

There was some criticism of the gameplay trailer for the low framerate and lack of a specified release date. But we have the makings of a game here! And don’t worry, it’s definitely still in 3D. Why would it not be in 3D? Everything is okay.

(We’ll later learn that this trailer was posted to YouTube by the office manager before it was ready, and without the go-ahead from the art team or anyone involved, which could explain issues like the low framerate and unfinished textures.)

Backers are encouraged to pay attention to What Pumpkin Studios’ new YouTube channel, “since we’ll be posting more cool stuff there in the coming months as we get closer to the game’s release.” The two videos from GamerHubTV were never uploaded to the official YouTube channel. (In fact, nothing was uploaded to the YouTube channel after this point.)

What Pumpkin’s acting Creative Director, Jess Haskins, also gave several interviews about the making of the game at Review Fix, Tap Repeatedly, and Hey Poor Player:

Review Fix: Jess Haskins talks Hiveswap

Review Fix

Review Fix: What has the development process been like thus far?

Haskins: It’s been kind of crazy, but going really well so far. The game is a spin-off of the Homestuck webcomic and was funded a couple of years ago on Kickstarter. After that, the script was in a sort of gestation period for a long time as we worked on building up the world and filling out and refining the story during pre-production. Back then I was working on it as writer/narrative designer/game designer along with Andrew Hussie, the creator of the webcomic, and our assistant producer Mike Christatos, who helped develop the characters and story. Last year we founded a game development studio basically from scratch here in NYC to launch into the production phase, and since then we’ve been plowing ahead full steam. Since going into active production it’s really been coming together in quite a short time.

Day one in the new office we had a skeleton team of me, our senior producer, our lead artist, and one animator. We were still waiting for our lead programmer to serve out his two weeks’ notice at his last position so he could come in! The team grew very fast from that point, though, up to a current total of 12 full time here in the office.

When we all saw the very first test animations come back, Joey walking around and wielding her flashlight, we were just floored. After designing and writing and talking about these characters for so long, actually seeing them alive and moving across our screens was like a revelation. Since then we’ve been moving forward in leaps and bounds, and the first episode (out of four) should be out this spring

Review Fix: Lets [sic] talk about the visuals. How tough as it been to capture the look that you wanted?

Haskins: It’s been interesting translating Homestuck’s 2D aesthetic, or I should say the many different 2D aesthetics as they evolved over time, into a 3D format. We wanted something that was visibly grounded in the comic’s visual style, but with a 3D environment we had some room to play around with the way it was rendered and create something unique.

We didn’t want to be slaves to the look of source material, which was very informed by its methods of production – heavy photomanipulation and stark colorization on the backgrounds, copy-paste static sprites, wacky 2-frame Flash animations. We couldn’t just copy that and have it look right. So we have things like 3D modeled characters with animated 2D textures for their facial expressions, and a toon shader that gives a light 2D outline effect to the characters, walking around in a slightly cartoony, stylized 3D world. But we always go back to the comic for reference, and find ways we can bring elements of its visuals into this game.

Review Fix: How important was the fans’ support in the creation of this game?

Haskins: Absolutely huge. This project wouldn’t exist without the enthusiastic outpouring of support we received from our fans and backers on Kickstarter, so thank you! We took to Kickstarter asking for $700,000 to make a small little adventure game, and wound up with $2.48M in pledges. So it’s no longer a small little game! We were given a license – no, a mandate! – to go out and create something really amazing, so that’s what we’re doing.

On another level, many Homestuck readers and fans actually go on to work for us professionally, contributing to projects like the Paradox Space series of spin-off comics, or lending their skills as artists, musicians, and writers to the game. Like Mallory Dyer, an insanely talented artist who makes these incredibly detailed plush dolls of Homestuck characters – fabric sculptures, really – and now works for us doing a bunch of our concept and 2D art. Or Phil Gibson, who’s worked on the Paradox Space comics and does double duty as both dialog writer and artist concepting our NPC designs. In addition to the full-time staff who are part of our New York studio, we have a big team of remote contractors and freelancers all over the world who are passionate, talented fans and were just so amazing at what they did that we had to hire them.

Tap Repeatedly: Hiveswap

Tap Repeatedly

Andrew Hussie is, according to Haskins, highly involved in storytelling for the project and creating high level vision. Drafts are sent to him, and it’s “very collaborative,” but the project isn’t micromanaged by the creator either. Experienced game developers on the What Pumpkin team have a lot of input. Haskins also mentioned Ryan North, of Dinosaur Comics fame, as an early collaborator on the game’s high level story. Haskins herself was brought on to the Hiveswap project as a game designer after the Kickstarter ended along with the New York based studio. Haskins has worked on a variety of games, from puzzle platformers and social games to the multi-player shooter Guns of Icarus Online.

Hey Poor Player: Hiveswap's Jess Haskins

Hey Poor Player

Jay: Hiveswap got its start as a Kickstarter campaign, which saw monumental success. Did the projects crowdfunding success expand the scope of what you could do with the game?

Jess: It definitely did. What we would have been able to achieve with the original funding goal would have still been neat and fun and interesting, but much more modest in scope. There’s a certain kind of epicness that’s part of the feel of Homestuck, not just in the cosmic sweep of the story but in the sheer amount of content and attention to detail. It’s wonderful to have the budget to be able to think a little bigger and make the game feel grand and epic as well, and we’re touched and grateful for the outpouring of support the project received to make that happen.

Jay: We know the game will be episodic in nature. How big, both in time and scope, will the episodes be? And what made the team decide on an episodic format?

Jess: The episodes themselves (which we call Acts; there will be four Acts in total) will be pretty hefty – a fair bit longer than, say, a typical Telltale episode. That was one of the reasons for breaking it up, because each Act will take a good chunk of time to play and spacing them out will make them a little more digestible. There’s room to play, discuss, mull it over, maybe replay and try some different choices, and have something left to anticipate and look forward to. That’s part of the structure of the webcomic, as well – big, action-packed Acts with a lot of drama and twists and turns, and then a pause to build up excitement and anticipation before the next content release.

Plus, we’re really excited to share the game with the world, and releasing it episodically lets us get it into players’ hands that much sooner.

Jay: Hiveswap was originally announced to be a collaborative effort with indie studio The Odd Gentlemen, but has now been moved to What Pumpkin. What made What Pumpkin a better choice?

Jess: Forming a game studio and bringing the project in-house was a big development for us, obviously! We have a bunch of game ideas for the Hiveswap universe and beyond, so it just made sense to move all production in-house. It opens up the opportunity for us to work on other game projects in the future once Hiveswap is completed, if all goes well. It’s been nice to have a direct line between the creative vision of Andrew Hussie and the writers to the rest of the development team.

When we started the studio I was the sole What Pumpkin employee working full-time on the project as writer and game designer, and we were fortunate in that there’s a great pool of creative talent here in New York City. That’s where I’m based, and where we established the game-development branch of the company. We were able to very quickly put together a wonderful team and dive right into production work, and since then we’ve been making great progress. It’s been really exciting to see the game come together.

(Again, Jess’s answer here to the question about in-house production was a lie, as explained already.)

Jay: It was said in an update about the game that development was going “alarmingly well.” What have some of the biggest surprises and challenges been along the way?

Jess: A lot of it is just the basic challenges of any software development, but especially games – establishing our tools and pipeline, building out the core features of the game, and getting it all working seamlessly and bug-free. We’re developing the game in Unity, and we’re building our own adventure game engine on top of that. We looked at a few off-the-shelf options, but apart from some piecemeal plugins and tools, none of them really offered what we needed. Apart from the game engine, we’re also building our own custom tools for managing data, since everything we looked at was either overpowered for our needs or really lacking in flexibility.

The first and biggest hurdle has been just getting the first playable room, which requires basically the whole asset integration pipeline and all the game systems and features to be in place and working together. After that, it’s all just content creation. This is a huge game with a lot of content, but we have a bunch of brilliant writers and awesomely talented artists cranking out loads of funny jokes and beautiful art. We might be going faster if we didn’t have to stop all the time to goggle at the new assets or laugh at stuff in the script as it comes in, but it’s that good.

Jay: Hiveswap is planned to be the first in a pair of games that will round out the original Kickstarter-funded project. What then? Are there plans or ideas floating around for future game projects once this is done?

Jess: There are always tons of ideas, but nothing concrete after Hiveswap and the companion game, which we plan to make if the first one does well. At that point we’ll have two big games spanning eight episodes under our belt, and be ready to take over the world. Obviously we would love to keep working on stuff and keep making projects after that. So we really really want Hiveswap to do well! We hope people have as much fun playing it as we’re having while making it.

"King's Quest in Good Hands"

While seemingly not directly related to Hiveswap, The Odd Gentlemen gave a video interview with Polygon about the King’s Quest project, which contained this quote from Rob Thompson, The Odd Gentlemen’s lead engineer:

When Lindsey [Lindsey Rostal, Producer at The Odd Gentlemen] came to me, she actually gave me a choice; we had another project going on and she’s like “You want this or you want King’s Quest” — King’s Quest, no doubt, give it to me, I can’t wait, I can’t wait to get started.

This is noteworthy here because, as far as I can tell, the only other project The Odd Gentlemen had going on at this time was Hiveswap. With that in mind, it makes it seem like the staff at The Odd Gentlemen was very excited about King’s Quest and relatively disinterested in Hiveswap, which is obviously concerning. Are they just openly saying here that they’re not interested in Hiveswap and are happy to keep their best people off the project? And if they’re not interested in Hiveswap — or working with Andrew — why?

What Pumpkin NYC Tumblr

Andrew Hussie at WP NYC offices, june 2015

What Pumpkin NYC makes their first introductory post on their Tumblr (now deleted), kicking off a few introductory posts about their offices and the apparently compulsory homestuck references.

What Pumpkin NYC would continue to post aggressively and interact with the fandom.

Offline, WP NYC would also do some miscellaneous work for Homestuck that wasn’t related to the adventure game, like commission track art for Volume 10.

There was also a remote team of developers who did work for the game but weren’t physically colocated with WP NYC, as mentioned briefly in the Review Fix interview. This team included people like writer Cohen Edenfield, animator Angela Sham, artists Shelby Cragg and H. “Rah” Esdaile, and musicians James Roach and Toby Fox, to name a few.

May 2015

GameNews.ovh Interview

In May 2015, yet another interview with Jess Haskins came out on now entirely defunct website gamenews.ovh confirming that “Hiveswap Act 1 is due to launch in Q2 2015”, which was imminent.

There were a few questions about the new episodic direction of the game, but Jess insisted that there was no cause for concern:

The game is due to launch a full year after the date in the initial Kickstarter pitch, but Jess assured us that the project is otherwise running smoothly, and that its episodic structure is no cause for alarm.

One: We are not running out of money. We are not splitting the game in two. The game is planned to be episodic. We’re releasing it in four acts, which will be evenly spaced. This isn’t: ‘Oh crap, we only have money to make a quarter of the game! Let’s raise some more!’ We feel that the game is better enjoyed and digested in chunks, sort of like the comic itself, which has a big rush of content, and then a long pause, while the audience can read, absorb, speculate, theorise, tear it apart, dig in, and then anticipate the next instalment.

Jess Haskins makes a few key assertions here. Allegedly, the team is not low on money and they will not need to push out interstitial content to make money to reinvest into the rest of the game. That concern is denied outright. (Various reports, evidence, and behaviour suggests that this is all blatantly false, that What Pumpkin is and will continue to be low on money and continue to be unable to fulfil their commitments without interstitial fundraising and other gambles.)

There was also the standard interview stuff:

Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie has been involved in every aspect of the writing and production, from the outline level all the way down to the final text and finishing touches; yet it’s been a highly collaborative process. ”en to really he’s open to really good ideas, and mostly really funny jokes, wherever we can get them. So if you throw something in that makes Andrew laugh, then it’s in.”

Hiveswap is being developed in Unity, and the production process has been surprisingly fast. “The game has been in pre-production for quite a while. Working on the script and the story at a really high level. It was back in October when we actually started up the studio here in New York, and really got the team together to dive into production. Since then we’ve been tearing through it at a really fast clip. It’s been really nice to see everything come together after it’s been gestating for all this time.”

If this first game, once it’s out, it does well, we’d like to move on to do a second, companion game, also set in the world.

[sic]

This last line is a reference to Hauntswitch, the planned sequel to Hiveswap, which will be required to tell the full story.

Meet James Seetal

WP NYC posted a bio on James Seetal, their Director of Production (mentioned briefly earlier).

I’m responsible for both Hiveswap’s production as well as the maintenance, management, and operations of the game studio. I also function as the Lead Producer for Hiveswap. I manage and run team meetings, create schedules, organize production pipelines with the senior staff, and meet with dev team members individually if they are blocked from completing a task. We use an agile software development process and I organize everyone’s work to insure the project and the studio is running smoothly.

James is responsible for the actual production of the game. He says they’re using an agile development methodology but doesn’t specify which one, which — speaking from personal experience as a developer — is a red flag.

There’s also a humorous(?) tidbit about how James isn’t familiar with the source material.

BigShinyRobot interview

BigShinyRobot had a rare interview with both Jess Haskins and Andrew Hussie:

What inspired you to make the game? Were you surprised that your Kickstarter was able to get as much money as it did?

Andrew Hussie (creator): I wanted to make another story that took place within the already very big Homestuck universe, to help develop that universe further. I also wanted to do so in a different medium. The stories on my site, like Homestuck, were all adventure game parodies, so why not make a real adventure game, right? And: was I surprised by the funding? Kinda! But kinda also not really, because Homestuck is pretty popular. We did some math in advance, and figured hitting a mark like that was pretty feasible. And that turned out to be true. But getting there was still pretty cool!

What do you think people will like most about the game? Do you think not just fans of Homestuck, but others will like the game as well?

Jess: Hiveswap will appeal to classic adventure game fans and anyone who enjoys a deep, story-driven game with rich character interactions and a detailed world to explore. Players familiar with Homestuck will find a lot of connections to the comic and will definitely recognize the world and style of Andrew Hussie, with his trademark storytelling and humor.

This last answer from Jess is interesting, because it implies that the story is going to be written and scripted by Andrew.

What are the challenges in making a video game Vs. a web comic?

Andrew: A web comic is a huge solo effort. Homestuck has art and music contributors for some Flash animations, but that content is like 1% of the comic. The rest is a huge one-man grind, for thousands of pages. Over the course of years that gets pretty arduous to make, given how much content there is. A game is much more of a team effort. It’s also very challenging, for different reasons. It’s less about doing every little thing yourself, more about generally conducting the efforts of a team of creative people. As the team grows, it’s more about conducting the conductors. It’s pretty complicated, as a lot goes into making a game. Thousands of art assets and such. One major difference is, with my comic, there weren’t many limitations. Any idea I had, I could write and draw and it could be on the website the next day. With a game, with how complicated and expensive production can get, the sky isn’t really the limit. You have a budget to consider. If you throw every crazy idea you have into a game, you’ll burn through all your money very fast.

More info

We also got a 3D render and name of another character from the game.

July 2015

3D world of Hiveswap

What Pumpkin NYC made a blog post about their design process:

Building the world of Hiveswap is becoming a finely tuned system: we rely on a lot of different people to transform an idea in Andrew Hussie’s mind into a finished 3D model. From artists to modelers to painters, everyone involved adds a bit of their personality and perspective to make the game feel like a fully realized place.

The post talks about the general process of building a 3D game environment, from concept art to modelling to lighting. They’ve developed a finely-tuned system to convert designs and concept art to the 3D models used in the game.

Changes at What Pumpkin

July 20 2015

Update #21 (Public)

There are a lot of changes taking place at What Pumpkin. These are mostly good things! But one consequence is an inevitable delay in Hiveswap’s release date.

As you may know, What Pumpkin has been primarily concerned with selling merchandise related to Homestuck. Recently, we’ve partnered with We Love Fine to handle all future merchandising, and have been taking steps to put the company’s focus solely on game development. This little restructuring phase means soon we’ll be able to put all our resources and attention into games

This update is about What Pumpkin’s shift from merchandising to game development. WeLoveFine, a third party retailer, had been announced as What Pumpkin (the merch store)’s replacement earlier that month. (WeLoveFine is another complicated story that deserves its own article.)

Meanwhile, What Pumpkin Studios (now possibly just What Pumpkin? but definitely a game development studio) has been expanding so much that they need a bigger office space:

Meanwhile, as our warehouse winds down, things at the studio are trending very much in the opposite direction. So much so that we’ll be moving to a bigger office. What Pumpkin NYC launched last fall with just a handful of people in a tiny office on Wall Street, but since then we’ve grown so much, we literally can’t fit everyone in the room anymore. So an office upgrade is definitely in order. We’ll be moving somewhere that not only can sustain our current operation, but accommodate future growth as well.

Hiveswap is delayed again, this time indefinitely, but they promise that the final product will be polished, fine-tuned, and a deep adventure game experience. The new release date will be announced sometime later.

Meanwhile, What Pumpkin NYC says they’re doing so extraordinarily well that they’re planning to invest in a bigger office space to accommodate their growing staff.

August 2015

FemHype Interview

Femhype interviewed the UI designer and texture artist at What Pumpkin NYC. You’re welcome to read the interview for yourself, but I’m actually more interested in the screenshots throughout the article (credited as “Courtesy of What Pumpkin Studios”) of the prototype version of the game, as these were never shared with backers are some of the very few existing screenshots of the NYC prototype:

Joey with UI

Stairs cutscene

Portal cutscene

These screenshots (and a few others) were later put on Paperback Studios’ portfolio page for Hiveswap (although the format makes them hard to see).

September 2015: Undertale Releases

Undertale, Toby Fox’s kickstarter project from 2013, released in September of 2015 on Steam for $9.99. It would later get ports to other platforms.

Although Toby Fox had no game development experience other than doing a few simple ROM hacks in high school, he wrote and programmed the entire game himself (with some artistic and design contributions from others, including Temmie Chang). He also composed the game’s entire musical score, a 100+ song soundtrack. The soundtrack was especially praised, and got a limited edition Vinyl printing which is now a highly sought-after collector’s item.

Undertale Reception on Wikipedia

The game itself received extremely high critical acclaim, and was ranked #4 by metascore on Steam for 2015, just above Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and several spots above Crypt of the NecroDancer, Fallout 4, and Prison Architect. At time of writing, the PC version of Undertale has sold between 2,000,000 and 5,000,000 copies on Steam.

In the credits of the game, he gives special thanks to a number of people, including Andrew6 and ipgd.

December 2015: WP NYC Dissolve & A New Look

Update #22 (Public)

We’ve been taking the last several months to pause production on Hiveswap and revise the overall approach to the game, as well as the visual direction, to make things a little more cost-efficient, and more rapidly producible over the full span of the series.

A 2D Joey stands in her bedroom

So. You may have seen this one coming. Maybe my language gave it away, or you just know what Hiveswap: Act 1 looks like.

But Hiveswap’s artstyle is 2D now. This means that all the previous assets for the characters and items that were made, shaded, and rendered in 3D won’t be used, including everything shown in the preview video, trailer video, and the rendered 3D screenshots.

Let’s hear more from Andrew(?) before we rush to judgement, though:

The original 3D approach to the game began a few years ago with some high-level discussions with the original developer. Back then, before any work was done or money was spent, the main advantage we discussed about using 3D models related to efficiency. We talked about the ability to reuse character model templates and animation rigs for a big cast, and thoughts along these lines were what led to the 3D direction, even though it was kind of an aesthetic departure from the Homestuck look. Which at the time, I thought was fine! I’ve always liked to mix things up, try different styles and work with different kinds of media, so I welcomed that approach if it meant a more efficient production. I was sure there were some cool things we could do with that look. (And, in fact, we did!)

When we moved the project to our own studio, and as the budget situation continued to evolve over the previous year, some weaknesses in that approach started to become evident. Some additional engineering challenges were starting to pile up that would not have been present with a 2D system. The modeling demands were also racking up, and over time the production started getting pretty heavy, in terms of both cost and time. So, rather than continue down that road and burn through the remaining budget, I thought it would be better to pause, reassess, and make some changes to make the production faster and less expensive. This seemed like an especially important call to make, given that we have an entire series to develop beyond the first episode, and I’d rather there be as little waiting time as possible between episodes.

(Andrew now calls the process of producing models and 3D assets “heavy”, even after a previous update bragged about how the team had developed a “finely tuned system” for producing assets in an efficient production pipeline.)

The new approach should accomplish this. Not to mention, it’s looking pretty great! I have a lot of incredible 2D artists working on this game, who have all been instrumental in making art for Homestuck itself at some point.

Would this have been a better direction to pursue from the start? Maybe! Hard to say, since initial circumstances were so different from what they are now. It’s been a pretty wild ride! Game development is very challenging, and strikes me as a big exercise in rolling with the punches. That’s pretty much all I’ve been doing for the last few years. It is a shame it’s gotten so delayed, but the most important thing to me is that the project is still alive, and is looking as promising as ever.

Also, while it may seem like a shame to let go of the 3D assets that were made during the previous iteration, I would point out that over the last year we have actually stockpiled a massive amount of incredible 2D art assets that are still perfectly usable, and will still make it into the game. So we aren’t missing that much of a beat, aside from the last few months of reorganization.

They interrupt this with some concept art, and then more give more important notes:

NYC STAFF: Most of the people who worked on the game in New York unfortunately are no longer with us, as the studio has been restructured to be more of a geographically distributed operation, to help save costs. We really appreciate everything they did for Hiveswap, and the passion that they put into the game. I would like to sincerely thank them all for the great work they did for this phase of the project. Running a studio in New York for a while was actually a lot of fun. They were all wonderful people and I wish them the best. At some point I think I would like to gather all the 3D stuff that was done and present it as an interesting behind the scenes look at the history of this project, so people can appreciate the work the NYC team did. Perhaps at the very least this could be some nice bonus material for backers when the game comes out.

What Pumpkin Games has been “restructured to be more of a geographically distributed operation” to help save costs, which was a complete reversal of the July plan to significantly upgrade What Pumpkin NYC’s offices. The “geographically distributed operation”, meanwhile, included a lot of people from the same remote team that had been working with WP NYC.

The entire NYC staff was fired, including Jess Haskins, James Seetal, and everyone else I’ve mentioned so far. According to reports from WP NYC staff, this was completely out of the blue. Development on the 3D version was going extremely well, the team was testing a completed Hiveswap: Act 1 and working on Act 2, and the team was even told they were fielding multiple interested investors, including PlayStation(!). Then, out of the blue, the entire staff was let go with no warning, no severance, and no healthcare.

Now, it seems to me that moving from a physical office to distributed work doesn’t seem like it necessitates firing the whole team, per se. Geographical distribution doesn’t mean you have to fire your team; that explanation doesn’t hold up. It seems to me that “to help save costs” is the primary motivator here, although it’s not clear that there was a desperate need to do so.

TO RECAP: Hiveswap is still moving full steam ahead, despite pausing a few months to do some highly necessary project reorganization. It’s looking very promising, and I’m probably as excited about the project as I have ever been. Thank you as always to our backers for their ongoing patience and understanding. Happy holidays!

(This was not true.)

Insight into NYC Team Firing

There was extremely poor communication between What Pumpkin and the staff about all of this. According to conversations I had with a member of the remote team, they actually found out about the studio closing through the public Kickstarter post:

then when the kickstarter post about wpny closing and the game switching to 2d got posted i thought ‘holy shit do i even have a job anymore’ because this was the first time i was seeing anything about either of these things

Gio: did you actually find out through the kickstarter update?

yeah

thats why it felt so jarring to me seeing that update, because as far as i knew, 3d hiveswap was still ongoing

A journal post that will have been published by an ex-WP NYC employee in March 2016 gives us a little more insight into how brutal the WP NYC firings were, and confirming the other stories. (Source NSFW).

The Shit Storm that started this all

… I LOVED working there. I had taken so many SHIT jobs, working with creeps for bosses, not getting paychecks, working two jobs sometimes, that I felt like I finally made it! It was backed with some money, we had a popular/funny IP, and it seemed like we had a solid team. But in late October, the entire office was laid off abruptly.

Aside from one very incomplete trailer video, which was released onto youtube by our office manager without telling the art team, no one has really seen any of the game that we made in action. And that hurts. To think people believe we worked on this game for over a year, and made garbage really fucking hurts. The finished trailer with proper textures, lighting, FX, frame rate, etc, looked like an actual polished product. Hell, the last month I was working there, I was working on the second game already, because there was nothing to do on the first one! We already had an alpha of the first game, and were hoping to reach beta in a little over a month. The fans really don’t know how close we were…it’s insane.

Because [my husband] worked there too, working there went from being the happiest time of my life, to the worst…Now we were both unemployed. Everyone in the office was losing their shit, rightfully so. We had issues with the owners of the company (aka the web comic creator) and them being transparent with us. We had known 2 months prior to the layoffs that there was a tightening of the budget, as we had to let go of an animator, and two writers/data people. A few others, myself included had their hours cut. The night before we all got laid off, we had received an e-mail from our investor recruiter that we had interest from angel investors, and things were looking good! Hell, we might even get pay raises! Talk about mix signals. :) The owners didn’t talk to us. They didn’t tell us when we were in trouble, and we trusted them.

We were a real team. Like a family. We saw each other more than our significant others, we had so many crunch nights at the office prepping for cons together. The day after the layoffs, we all went into ‘work’. We had planned to just pack up and leave, but we all ended up spending the day together. Playing games, drinking, and watching a hilarious homemade mockumentary one of our programmers made like 10-15 year ago. It was awesome. I couldn’t help but feel hopeless….I had worked with so many idiots, I finally had a well oiled team, and no one willing to fund us. We were given an unusable piece of garbage to work with, we remade an entire game from scratch in months, with a limited team, and my old boss decided to reboot the project again for a third time. What a waste of time, talent, etc…

My boss never helped. Repeated, friendly e-mails were ignored. Once I was fired, it’s like I didn’t exist. This was the same experience for my other team members. We thought things were fine, then one day, we were told we were all fired, and our health insurance would expire at the end of the month. No severance.

According to this report, things were going well, as reported, or at least that’s what What Pumpkin told its own team. (Also, more details from ipgd’s story are confirmed, and we learn that the amusingly bad trailer was apparently released without approval.) Then, in a complete act of betrayal, the development team was fired without warning and left without severance or health insurance.

Why Andrew killed WP NYC

NOTE: This article is currently under revision due to new information, and this section in particular is likely to change. All changes will be posted in Appendix IV.

All of this begs the question: if WP NYC was doing so well, why dismantle it? The above story and other sources affirm that the 3D version of Act 1 was nearly finished, and the team was even making considerable progress on Act 2. Why fire all these good people, and why throw out all the work?

We know WP NYC was doing well and making excellent progress. The dA journal notes:

I was working on the second game already, because there was nothing to do on the first one!

And another source concurs:

at the end of 2014 the first act was in a shippable state, act 2 was nearly done. andrew decided to go another direction and scrap the work.

It’s hard to imagine how much this cost them. Years of work discarded in order to change the art style of the project, and it’s still not clear why. We can rule out a few possibilities — there didn’t seem to be any legal issues with rights, for instance, or technical issues with the engine — but the truth is, only Andrew knows exactly why he made the decision.

According to a conversation I had with an ex-WP NYC employee, the studio was badly mismanaged towards the end:

Personally I think it was that hussie was in over his head. … I don’t want to put it all on hussie tho, despite my coworkers being super awesome I think we were also mismanaged in office and our game designer was all over the place

Towards the end of WP NYC, maybe like 4-5 months before, our art director and tech director took the reins, and started managing stuff…I mean for months we hadn’t even worked towards a vertical slice.

Like I said before, our manager and lead designer who oversaw the NY company were really nice people, but they didn’t know how to manage a game studio. I think they were also over their head.

January 2016: Secret side-channel fundraising

In January 2019 (the future!), Daniel Kelly (thewebcomicsreview.tumblr.com) will make a tumblr post detailing how, in January 2016, What Pumpkin contacted him asking for more money.

He signed an NDA that expired, so they were legally allowed to share their experience.

…this is what I was told after I signed it, on January 4th 2016

Hello again!

First of all, thanks for being a Hiveswap backer! We’re working really hard to make sure your patience is rewarded!

As you are well aware, the production of Hiveswap has been mired in a stream of delays. Believe me, it’s been a source of major frustration for us. Partnerships with outside developers didn’t pan out for several reasons and created a budgetary strain on the project. The high quality we expect for the project didn’t materialize with outside developers, either, which leads us to the in-house development structure we have today.

Since making the moves Andrew referred to in his Kickstarter update, development for Hiveswap has been incredibly efficient as well as refreshingly exciting for all of us involved. We’re seeing an amazing game take shape that’ll be at your fingertips in 2016.

In fact, we’re all busy making moves that’ll ensure Homestuck sees a content resurgence next year and beyond. On top of Hiveswap, we’re working on a slate of games to come out in a steady stream over the next five years. Hiveswap is just the beginning!

Outside of games, we’re working with Rufio ((Rufioh??)) himself, Dante Basco, on a suite of digital content so cool it’s hard to keep quiet about. He’s officially a member of the What Pumpkin team while we work on this content.

My job since the beginning has been to bolster this plan and raise the money to execute it. That’s right, we’re raising money. We don’t want to go back to the crowdfunding well. People have already been incredibly generous with their support and have waited a long time for results. This fundraising round is different and includes the potential for investors to share in the success of the company whenever we release a game. We have to put the situation on our backs and move forward.

We’re in the midst of raising these funds (relatively) quietly and creating What Pumpkin Games, a company dedicated to the creation of all this digital goodness.

We’re doing what’s called a Series A round of financing. We feel like we bypassed the typical seed round of funding by virtue of our amazing Kickstarter and the fact that Homestuck is a proven brand. We’re raising $2 million right now to execute the first part of our plan. To be clear, the money we’re raising goes beyond the funding of Hiveswap.

First, I have to interject here: this “proven brand” notion is outright false. All Homestuck had managed to do at this point is delay their game 2 years, lose 2 million dollars, and lie about it to the stakeholders. Nobody had managed to develop even a single successful game, let alone ship it or show profitability. What Pumpkin’s track record consists of lying to the people who paid them and then not delivering a product, which seems like a very poor foundation for asking for more money.

We’ve been focusing on outside investors and investment groups and it occurred to us that our upper tier backers should absolutely be made aware of this campaign in the hopes you’d be excited about investing. It’s not a pledge situation like Kickstarter. You’d be investing in a corporation for equity stake and benefiting directly from the profits of What Pumpkin Games. You’re under no obligation to invest, but we want to make the option available to you!

We’re selling 800 shares of What Pumpkin Games stock at $2500 per share. If you are an accredited investor (link explains what that is, exactly) and are interested in investing, let me know and we can schedule a call or keep the thread going here. Even if you don’t meet the accredited investor criteria, if you know someone who does and would be interested in investing in What Pumpkin Games, please give them my contact information and we’ll talk.

Thanks for your time!

Since I did not have $2500 to blow in 2016, I never responded which probably robs me of some JUICY DEETS I could have held on to until now.

Then Daniel summarizes and cross-references this information. Here’s my summary of that summary:

  • The Kickstarter update referred to is this one, about how the game had gone 2D.
  • The “outside developers” are probably the Odd Gentlemen, who were originally supposed to make the game. That they “created a budgetary strain on the project” is probably the closest thing we’ll get to an official statement regarding the “The Odd Gentlemen stole all the money for King’s Quest” story ipgd came out with, but this is yet another indication that ipgd’s post was true.
  • We’re seeing an amazing game take shape that’ll be at your fingertips in 2016”. Hiveswap: Act 1 released in September 2017 and production on Act 2 stalled out in favour of Friendsim
  • Dante Basco being involved in Homestuck was a secret at the time. Whatever he was working on (“Homestuck 2.0”) never panned out and he left. There is no indication that Dante Basco was involved in Hiveswap, nor is he credited anywhere as such.
  • I don’t know a lot about investing in businesses, but skipping the seed funding phase because “Homestuck is a proven brand” seems like a bit of a red flag, as does the fact that they were asking Kickstarter backers for more money in the first place.
  • The game has been delayed to 2016

So, yeah, that’s the big mystery of the Hiveswap NDA of 2016. They were trying to raise money for Hiveswap and other projects. I have no idea if they were able to raise that money, but the fact that a bunch of people left WP a few months later hints at “no”

This is yet another reminder that Andrew and What Pumpkin continue to be deliberately opaque to fans and backers, and treat Homestuck as a cutthroat business. They literally, unapologetically went back to people who backed the Kickstarter to try to squeeze them for more money, even as Homestuck continued to be a profitable franchise.

February 2016

Forums offline

In March 2016, the MSPA Forums went permanently offline. The only explanation or announcement was this message, which displayed when you tried to access the forums:

MSPAforums.com is temporarily offline for maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience-- see you soon! Untrue.

According to the MSPA Wiki:

Since March 29th 2016 when Homestuck’s Omegapause ended (two weeks away from the comic’s end), the site went abruptly offline; its main page was initially replaced with a plaintext page claiming that passwords had been compromised, but the forums could still be accessed by typing the urls of the individual subforums. Users flooded the questions subforum looking for answers, but received none. The main page was then replaced by one claiming the site was down for maintenance and a few days later, the entire forums vanished from the website. The site was shown to be closed for maintenance until February 2018, when the domain now redirects to the MS Paint Adventures’ website. In October 2019, it was revealed that the forum’s data got corrupted during one of the many server transfers, and thus all non-archived posts are virtually gone.

Many fan adventures, community projects and miscellaneous posts got lost in the process. After its passing other unofficial communities took its mantle, albeit with smaller userbases. [sic]

What Pumpkin and Andrew Hussie aren’t interested in explaining what happened. For years, the site simply read “Forums temporarily offline”, with no indication as to the problem. The main comic page still linked to the forums all that time, with no indication that they were decommissioned or given up on.

As far as I can tell, Andrew himself never made any official comment about the forums, the issues that led to the entire history and the backups being destroyed, or the choice to not replace the forums in any capacity. Until late 2019, it wasn’t even officially confirmed that the forums were permanently deleted. As for Hiveswap, the guarantee of the backer subforum hasn’t been addressed in any capacity, and won’t be in the future.

The only insight we have to what Hussie currently thinks of the forums, in retrospect (besides Makin’s post here) comes from a dramatic set of emails8 linked by /r/homestuck moderator Drew (no relation to Andrew) in which Hussie calls interest in the forums “obsession” and “agonizing over every little bit of minutia”. Andrew writes:

Creators usually let go of old sites and outdated work deliberately. Intensive curation of old things like this, while sometimes interesting, can also carry an obsessive energy7

For the purposes of this article, though, the important point here is that the promised subforum for backer updates never happened, and since the MSPA forum was permanently destroyed in March 2016, it never will.

May 2016: RJ 4chan post

According to this post from rj on a 4chan /co/ homestuck thread:

I love how opaque they are about the development process. This means they have spent years doing literally nothing save maybe hitting dead end after dead end

This game is beyond doomed

ok yawn im staying up all night i guess so i’m going to rebuke this because whatever.

i can’t say a lot, but i can say for a true fact that the game has been solidly worked on the entire time at the very least since it moved in house. lots of really insane roadblocks happened along the way, and i’m at liberty to talk about none of it. i can say this: the man gives a shit and the team is putting heart, soul, and a+++ work into something that you’ll probably like.

it’s obvious that the final game is vastly different than what was originally hoped for. that’s not the team or hussie’s fault. maybe there will be a tell all in the future, ala the whole lionhead thing. you’d probably find it fascinating.

point is the game will at least be -good.- do you like point and clicks? did you like broken age? you’ll probably dig it, even in its current form. maybe it won’t be an earthshattering experience the likes of which the world has never seen before, but it’ll be worth playing, at least.

god i wish professional and human courtesy (there are things i know even i shouldn’t know) didnt keep me from telling you all some things because what’s going on is, again, entirely not wp’s fault. nobody on the team is really to blame for the hardship. at this point, including money that’s been lost due to merch cost and other reasons, the game has gone way over its 2 million budget and is being funded basically out of pocket. the fact that it wasn’t straight up cancelled is a testament to the sheer fortitude of what pumpkin.

for the record: i’m not directly involved in the making of this game. nothing is personally at stake here, even career shit. i could probably shit on the game if i wanted. but i don’t. i just want to set this straight i guess.

it does fucking suck for everyone, backers especially. at the very least i learned some important mistakes to avoid when i crowdfund from it, so that’s cool?

This is signed by “rj”, who is probably Robert J! Lake (“rj lake” or “spellbang”), known for his work on the music team.

RJ is one of the few people who doesn’t blame What Pumpkin or Andrew for the issues. He does, though, reveal that the game has gone over budget despite being funded at more than three times the original goal, and implies that Andrew (and What Pumpkin) have been funding development at a loss. While that would be impressive if What Pumpkin didn’t have obligations to fulfil and were just developing a game for profit, it does at least confirm that the money from the Kickstarter is definitely used up.

This still doesn’t make sense, though, since Homestuck is still a multi-million dollar brand that’s continually generating revenue from merchandise, books, and music. Maybe when RJ says “funded basically out of pocket”, he means it’s being funded with that money. That’s somewhat misleading, because it’s still not like Andrew is “in the red” from Homestuck.

June 2016: Hiveswap leak

    ![HIVESWAP: ACT 1 Oct 6, 2016](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GxDtnq2JiI)

There was some leaked 3D hiveswap material put on 4chan. It’s an animation demo reel, similar to Hiveswap Friends, showing some lower-resolution 3D characters and some of their animations.

August 2016: Homestuck 2.0

John Warren (from Fanbyte) promises a bunch of “Homestuck 2.0” YouTube content that never happens. Assuming John isn’t lying here, that means the content was produced and written, but never published, for unknown reasons.

October 2016

New release date edited into website

The Hiveswap website quietly edited so a newspost contains the following announcement:

Hiveswap: Act 1 will be released January 2017. Follow us at @hiveswapgame for further updates.

Hiveswap: Act 1 is delayed to January 2017. There was significant confusion over the roundabout nature of the announcement:

After almost a year with very little updates (I think, I wasn’t paying too much attention during this time), hiveswap.com edits a years-old newspost to say that the game will be released January 2017. No one has any idea if it’s legit. A What Pumpkin employee seemed to confirm the news but later deleted their post.

Chuck Tingle Dating Simulator

Cohen Edenfield in interview

At some point in 2016, Cohen Edenfield (Hiveswap writer) and John Warren (Homestuck 2.0, Fanbyte) were working on Chuck Tingle Dating Simulator, a full motion video visual novel directed by Zoë Quinn (of gamergate (in)fame) revolving around the stories of Chuck Tingle, who is probably not secretly Andrew writing erotic novels behind a pseudonym and elaborate fake persona, as some have speculated9. Chuck Tingle Dating Simulator was funded on Kickstarter in 2016 with a release date of 2017. As of writing, the game never released, but it also hasn’t been formally cancelled yet either.

New trailer

    ![HIVESWAP: ACT 1 Oct 6, 2016](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGk7CEA-O_s)

The Homestuck Official Youtube account posts a trailer for Hiveswap: Act 1, featuring the new 2D art style.

Homestuck Ends

End of Act 7

The credits page is posted to mspaintadventures.org. Homestuck is officially over, except for the epilogues, which Andrew says will come eventually.

In theory, the hard copies of Homestuck that Andrew owes the Kickstarter backers can now be produced and distributed, although as far as I’m aware there has been absolutely zero official mention of this. That backer reward technically isn’t due until all four acts of Hiveswap are finished and the hard copies are sent out. Hard copies were due to ship in 2014 but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.

December 2016: Steam Greenlight

Update #23

Please head over to the page and vote YES so we can get the game approved for Steam as quick as possible, since our planned launch is still January 2017—next month!

Because Steam Greenlight was still a thing (it wouldn’t be fully discontinued until June 2017), What Pumpkin put Hiveswap: Act 1 on it and invited people to vote to let their game on the Steam platform. The targeted release date was January 2017, next month. (This was not a delay, as it matches the information from October)

The page features the recently-released trailer for Act 1, which should have been posted here first, but wasn’t! An unfortunate oversight on our part.

This was also the release of an updated game trailer that used the new 2D art assets. In theory, the trailer would have been posted to the Kickstarter feed some time in the last year, but that wasn’t done (possibly because the trailer was only recently completed?)

There were also a few previews of new music tracks by James Roach (Toby Fox did not contribute to this selection) and an announcement that Hiveswap merch was available on the WeLoveFine store.

Finally, we just want to thank everyone for sticking around. Lots of ups and down, but we’re ALMOST THERE. We’ll be posting another trailer before launch, and this time, backers will see it before anyone else. We promise we haven’t forgotten who made this all possible. We’ll also be answering queries about changed emails and addresses soon, so have no fear!

The game was successfully greenlit before the end of the month.

The very next day, a second post was made mostly announcing an extra album (with the James Roach music) would also be available for Kickstarter backers.

As of this post, we’ve reached #2 (and climbing) of all projects on Greenlight…ALREADY! And HIVESWAP is on the front of the Steam Community page! Wow. Thank you all so much! Where doing this, man.

We will be answering queries about changed emails and physical addresses soon! And we’ve seen some other questions, so just to clarify: When the decision was made to release the game in multiple Acts, backers were assured that they would still be getting ALL episodes of HIVESWAP and each episode’s official soundtrack. This hasn’t changed!

Because it had been several years already since the Kickstarter target date of 2014, address changes were becoming a frequent issue. (There is no mention of long-term shipping goals, like the physical edition of the 4-act set or the physical copy of the Homestuck comic.)

Well, that’s not true. It has changed…for the better. Backers will also be getting THE GRUBBLES ALBUM, announced here for the first time, before it’s available anywhere else!

The Grubbles Album is a small five-track game tie-in album with re-recorded “troll” garage band music. Originally, The Grubbles was available on Bandcamp for $5.00, and its tracks were not included with the $7.99 soundtrack album. This would change.

January 2017: Update, from Andrew

Update #26 (Backers only)

(Confusingly, this update was explicitly marked as “From Andrew”. The first few updates were signed “Andrew” at the bottom, but some subsequent updates weren’t, which may have been written by other What Pumpkin staff. Also confusingly, this was first posted on the MSPA news feed in January, but only released as a “backers only” Kickstarter post in February.)

Status of Hiveswap: the game is just about done. It could still use some more testing to be absolutely certain we are not releasing a buggy piece of shit! To that end it will be worth waiting another several weeks or so.

This is to say that the (very ambitious) release date of January 2017 hadn’t been met, and Hiveswap is again delayed indefinitely.

Thank you as always for your legendary patience.

Regarding questions about physical addresses, for those who backed at the relevant tiers: Physical mailing address updates are not necessary at this time. We will be releasing HIVESWAP: Act 1 in digital form soon. The physical version of HIVESWAP will ship after all Acts are complete.

April 2017: Trailer 2

Update #27 (Backers only)

        ![Hiveswap trailer 2](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOtZJL2cwDY)

Hey everyone, Cohen here, creative director and head writer for Hiveswap.

This update is brought to us by Cohen Edenfield, the (new) Creative Director and Lead Writer/Scripter for Hiveswap. It’s another trailer in the new 2D artstyle, plus minor notes.

August 2017: Release date

Update #29

Hiveswap: Act 1 is delayed to September 14.

        ![Hiveswap launch trailer](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAEs-NlcRtU)

There is also a new launch trailer.

September 2017: A busy month!

PAX West Demo

In early September, there is a playable demo of Hiveswap available at PAX West (at the WeLoveFine booth, for some reason.)

Act 1 Release

Update #30 (Public)

HIVESWAP: Act 1 goes live on the Steam and Humble Store at 2PM EDT!

September 12, 2017: A Kickstarter update reminds everyone that Hiveswap launched on Steam. They also remind backers that signed, physical copies of the game will not be mailed out until all four acts of Hiveswap are finished and released.

Hiveswap: Act 1 (possibly subtitled “Kansas City Shuffle”??? this is never made clear) was developed and published by What Pumpkin Games, inc. and released for $7.99. A version that included the game soundtrack was also available for $11.99.

Act 1 received positive reviews on Steam and from reviewers like MetaCritic. In my opinion, it’s a solid game, and the new 2D artstyle is gorgeous and suits the material well.

To date, Hiveswap: Act 1 has sold between 100,000 and 200,000 copies. Of Steam games released in 2017, Hiveswap ranks #4470, above Doki Doki Literature Club, just under Bendy and the Ink Machine, and several spots beneath SCP: Secret Laboratory, Creativerse, and Realm Grinder.

In the announcement when WP NYC was dissolved, there was this note about the 3D work:

At some point I think I would like to gather all the 3D stuff that was done and present it as an interesting behind the scenes look at the history of this project, so people can appreciate the work the NYC team did. Perhaps at the very least this could be some nice bonus material for backers when the game comes out.

This certainly never happened.

Crediting and Art Theft

The release of Hiveswap: Act 1 is also the biggest Hiveswap scandal that nobody talks about. The full in-game credits for Hiveswap: Act 1 is this single bitmap texture:

i'm not captioning this, it's a lot for a fun game you can play at home, count how many times Andrew Hussie credits himself

This list only includes people who worked on Hiveswap after the December 2015 restructuring. No credit is given to any of the employees of What Pumpkin NYC (except for the single employee who stayed) for any of the work done, even though a lot of that work was used to make the final version. In some cases, assets What Pumpkin NYC designed are used in the final game directly, but still none of the work done by ex-employees is properly credited to them.

For instance, see how the level and environment design10 in the final game matches up with the WP NYC prototypes almost exactly, just redrawn in 2D. It’s pretty blatant, it’s basically the game development equivalent of traced art:

Bedroom, prototype Bedroom, final

Stairs, prototype Stairs, final

Portal, prototype Portal, final

Tetra's hive, design Tetra's hive, final

Xefros' hive, prototype Xefros' hive, final

(Left: prototype WP NYC designs. Right: final game.)

Significant portions of the cutscenes were also written and choreographed by WP NYC and simply redrawn by the later team. These environments, levels, cutscenes, UI, and more were designed by the What Pumpkin NYC team and simply re-stylized in 2D, and yet Andrew denied all of the original artists and designers credit. And, of course, WLF sold Hiveswap: Act 1 merch with designs done exclusively by the WP NYC team, again, completely uncredited.

According to a source from WP NYC, this wasn’t something that flew under the radar: this was brought up multiple times with Andrew Hussie himself, who refused to credit the artists for their work. They said it “came as a huge surprise” that he didn’t have any sympathy about this as an artist.

From what we heard about the studio transition, though, it seems like this was actually planned and anticipated. From the “a new look” update,

over the last year we have actually stockpiled a massive amount of incredible 2D art assets that are still perfectly usable, and will still make it into the game.

So it seems like What Pumpkin always planned on using work staff at What Pumpkin NYC did, but they apparently weren’t planning on keeping them on the team, paying them severance, or crediting them for it.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s a legal issue here, or some shady trick to get around compensating the artists. Everything here was almost11 certainly paid work done under contract that What Pumpkin owns the rights to, wholesale.

Proper crediting is incredibly important in the entertainment industry; credit is what allows developers and artists to build a resume, which directly impacts their ability to be employed in the future. “In this business, it’s basically, ‘You’re only as good as your last project,’ so if you’re unable to speak about your projects, it’s very much a hard thing to get out there.” That’s a quote from Alexander Fernandez in this excellent polygon article about white label game development, a controversial practice where games are contracted out to studios who do work with the understanding that they won’t be credited for the final product. But what happened here is far worse than that; What Pumpkin employees didn’t sign up to do uncredited work; they expected to be credited and just weren’t. This is off-the-charts bad. What happened with What Pumpkin NYC was egregiously offensive and unprofessional behaviour, especially for an artist-driven project like Homestuck.

Hiveswap: Act 1 Review

Since this whole article is about Hiveswap, I suppose I should try to describe the one playable bit of Hiveswap in a little bit of detail. This is mostly for readers who haven’t played Act 1 or want a refresher, you can skip it if you’d like.

The design of the game itself is amazing. The art is gorgeous, the world is really playful and fun, and the writing is great. Some of the animations aren’t as smooth as they might be, but I think it works as a stylistic choice. The writing is great, I’ll repeat: there’s a ton of detail and most of the different adventure-gamey item combinations have unique dialogue. It’s astonishing how many different item combinations have unique dialogue, the jokes are funny, it’s just very tight.

The only problem is that the actual gameplay feels… janky? Just unpolished. It’s generally tricky to move where you want to go, the buttons have odd bounding boxes, and it just doesn’t feel great to play, from a programming standpoint. There are lots of little janky programming things, like the menu with a “Save Game” option but no “Load Game” option, and the cursor not indicating whether or not things are interactable at points. There’s a single snake minigame (the Nokia one, not a cool serpent pal) that’s repeated twice and feels like a my-first-unity tutorial project, and really nothing else. It really feels like the actual programming of the game was rushed and sloppy.

Bedroom, note UI shape

There’s also nothing particularly clever about it, outside of the writing. In a lot of ways, it mimics the semiotics of Homestuck without introducing any clever new ideas, or even reusing Homestuck’s material.

For instance, Homestuck has this incredibly memorable inventory system, where inventory items are stored and retrieved on irregularly shaped cards based on different data structures. In the comic, this is played for laughs, puzzles, and character development. Hiveswap: Act 1 has an inventory system that… uses the irregular shape of the card. No behaviour, no puzzle, no gags, no charm, just a straight inventory system with a “wacky Homestuck” coat of paint. They even use that shape for assets that don’t make any sort of thematic sense, like menu buttons.

I’m not going to critique every single asset and design choice in the game here, but you can safely take this dynamic and apply it to the rest of the ~4 hour game. It really is just a coat of paint, it’s like they went “haha, funny shapes” and everything that made it fun and charming flew right over their heads. The game is fine, but doesn’t hold up when compared to its source material.

Cohen Interview

On September 13, 2017, an “interview” was posted to the What Pumpkin Tumblr page in which Cohen interviews themself about Hiveswap.

Today we’re talking to Cohen Edenfield, that is to say, me. Hi. We’re all pretty busy at the moment, with the release in <22 hours and everything, but I managed to get this handled.

What is your specific role on the Hiveswap team?

I have two full-time jobs on HIVESWAP: Creative Director and Lead Writer/Scripter. As Creative Director, I’ve worked with my team leads Angela, Rah, James and Tauhid and with our programmers to, well, “realize a creative vision.” I give notes, feedback, and broad-strokes direction on pretty much everything on the project, which I’m able to do because I can count on the expertise of the team leads doing an amazing job. I can bring them a rough, sketchy description of the overall “feel” that a piece of music or animation or art needs, and be confident that they’ll spin my straw into gold and make something beautiful. I’ll ask Tauhid for a new UI specific to Alternia, with the vague direction that it use hexagons instead of circles, or I’ll ask Angela for moving clouds, or I’ll ask Rah for a new close-up of a sexy lamp, and I know they’ll get it done. And I’ll ask James for an “8-bit college football fight song,” because he does great work, and because I want to hurt him on a spiritual level.

Which brings us, I guess, to my other full-time job, Lead Writer/Scripter, which includes narration, dialogue, item descriptions, etc…I wrote about 150,000 words, all together, if you’re really taking your time, trying different dialogue paths, and actually trying to use everything on everything else. If you’re not, it’s considerably less, but it’s in there.

As for the story, the broad narrative strokes of Act 1 and some specific plot beats were mapped out before I came on board, but in 2+ years of development there’s naturally been some substantial reworking and rearranging to refine things from both a gameplay and a narrative perspective. The characters have changed a fair bit, both to suit a different overall tone and because things change over the course of two years. Andrew looks the finished stuff over, and gives feedback on it, and we make changes as needed. I’ve relied a lot on his storytelling and characterization expertise. I may have penned the current script, but we wrote this game together.

When and how did you get your start on the Hiveswap project?

In May 2015 I got an email from Andrew asking if I’d be interested in doing some freelance writing on what I then thought of as the “Homestuck Adventure Game.” I’ve been reading Andrew’s various stuff since like…2003? We used to post on the same forum, so it was this kind of “oh right, hey, I think I know you, actually” moment. I’d finished my Masters in English Lit three days before, and I was looking for freelance work, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

How did you get your start in creative direction?

As we restructured the studio to our current remote-working situation, Andrew and I had a lot of talks about what HIVESWAP should actually look like. We kept going back to the gorgeous concept art by Gina and Mallory, and we realized that while the 3D development work that had been done was good, it really didn’t feel like Homestuck. The concept art, the 2D assets… those felt like Homestuck.

There’s one particular discrepancy with Cohen that I’ll mention here. They says here they joined the team in May 2015, which matches up with the timeline: What Pumpkin became the studio in summer 2015, and so Cohen would have been hired soon after as part of WP NYC. Cohen stayed on the team even after WP NYC was dissolved, was promoted to Lead Writer, and wrote the script for the game. That all adds up.

What I can’t reconcile is Update 2 from 2014, where Andrew says the writing for the game is finished. Was there a full script for the game written in 2014 that was later discarded? Assuming that update is true, it sounds like — in addition to all the 3D work — at least one full script for the game was written and discarded. Anyway, for a studio that seems incredibly tight on funds, What Pumpkin sure does end up having to redo a lot of work for no apparent reason.

Hiveswap: Act 1 OST commentary

In late September, Cohen posted commentary to the What Pumpkin tumblr blog written by James Roach and Toby Fox, the composers of the Act 1 soundtrack.

Part 1, Part 2

Although this is official commentary, it doesn’t seem to have been preserved officially.

Viz Media deal

Viz Media

On September 14, 2017, Andrew posted a news post announcing a partnership with Viz Media:

What Pumpkin and Homestuck are partnering with Viz Media to work on a lot of cool stuff together in the future. This will include projects based on both the Homestuck and Hiveswap worlds. The possibilities are wide open, but here are a couple examples of things we know we’re going to work on already…

Viz will begin releasing the Homestuck books again, starting next year. These will be nice new hardcover editions, and the plan is to just keep turning out volumes until the entire story is in print. Each volume will be full of my Secret Notes just like the previous ones were. Viz will also be involved in the release of the mysterious epilogue project I alluded to a while ago. Details on format, release date, etc, will remain undisclosed until further notice, but you can expect more information about that to surface next year too. I wanted to do something a little unusual for it, something existing outside the confines of the web story. Working with Viz struck me as good opportunity for this. [sic]

Aside from that, anything can happen. Take a look at the sorts of things Viz has already published or produced. These are all examples of things on the table for future consideration for either Homestuck or Hiveswap. I’ve got plenty of ideas, and so do they. Maybe you do too??

To put it simply, what’s happening here is What Pumpkin is selling licensing rights of the text of the Homestuck comic to Viz, so Viz can republish the work. It’s not clear exactly the details of this, what rights are sold, and under what conditions. There are a numbers of ways this could go, but the first format they point out is a printed book series. (It will later turn out that Viz has an outsized influence in the internals of What Pumpkin far beyond just publishing and the comic’s IP.)

Andrew mentions “Viz releasing the Homestuck books again”, here, which is misleading. TopatoCo had already released the first few of a series of Homestuck books, but that series never finished. Unlike the wording of the news post suggests, Viz Media was never involved in the original books. Also, the first of the Viz books is just a direct copy of the TopatoCo series, albeit with additional misprints, somehow.

There was also an announcement from Viz Media in which they summarize much the same thing, although their post has this blurb from Andrew Hussie about how great Hiveswap is:

Fans have been looking forward to this for a long time, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. Personally speaking, I think it’s the best adventure game I’ve ever played,” says Andrew Hussie, HOMESTUCK creator and co-founder at What Pumpkin Games. “I’m excited to team up with VIZ Media to expand on the world of HOMESTUCK, and work closely with them on a bunch of new projects involving both HOMESTUCK and HIVESWAP.”

Viz Involvement in Hiveswap: Act 1

Several weeks after this article was initially published, Viz responded to my request for comment with this email:

Hi,

Thank you for taking the time to write in with your inquiry, many apologies for our delayed response!

While VIZ Media is no longer involved with Hiveswap, you can contact Fellow Traveler Games[sic] with any questions you may have about Hiveswap here: https://fellowtraveller.games/contact/

You can also learn more about Hiveswap Act 2 here: https://fellowtraveller.games/games/hiveswap-act-2/

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to write us again.

Take care,

[C] @ VIZ Media

Now, this is odd. C says here that Viz is “no longer” involved with Hiveswap, implying that it was, at some point.

But this implication doesn’t match the timeline or any of the data: Act 1 released on September 12, but the Viz announcement wasn’t until the 14th. If Viz media was involved in the release of Hiveswap Act 1, it was done entirely in secret.

After a brief back-and-forth over a few days interspersed with generic customer service niceties and links to various news announcements, I gleaned the following semi-clarifications from a rotation of people:

As [C] mentioned, we worked with the game developer What Pumpkin to release the first part of Hiveswap in 2017. We have had no involvement with the game since this launch. Thanks!

Best regards,

[L] @ VIZ

As [C] & [L] have mentioned, all the publicly-available information is in the press announcement on our website. What Pumpkin developed the Hiveswap Act 1 game, and VIZ, Homestuck and What Pumpkin worked together to release the game. Since the game launched, we have not been involved in the game.

[J] @ VIZ

We do not have any additional information we are able to share on our involvement beyond what has already been released and mentioned in the press releases. We are no longer involved in Hiveswap and any further inquiries should be directed toward the companies still working on the release.

Thank you so much for writing in! I hope you find the information you’re looking for.

Best,

[L] @ VIZ

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this. The only thing that suggests that Viz was involved in the release of Hiveswap: Act 1 was the assertion in this email chain. Viz doesn’t seem to have ever been involved in the release, publication, or marketing of the game, outside mentioning the game’s existence alongside its announcement days after the game launched And, although all three representatives agree that Viz has not been involved with Hiveswap since the launch, the one case in which we do know Viz was involved with the management of What Pumpkin Games doesn’t happen until April 2018, several months later. It’s possible this is what they’re referring to.

So… did Viz have some sort of involvement in Act 1? My answer is… maybe?! They certainly say they did, although they’re not willing to elaborate on that assertion at all. It’s possible more details will come to light about this in the future.

Hardcover Edition Fact Sheet

When Viz media does begin releasing the books to booksellers, they include a fact sheet that reads:

  • Releases 4 times a year for 5+ volumes. Series is ongoing. The main run of the comic lasted for 7 years, from 2009-2016, comprising over 8,000 pages of material and 4 hours of video. Further content is currently in development.
  • Over 1,000,000 users a day visited the hosting site, MS Paint Adventures, during the height of the Homestuck serialization. To date the comic has over 2,500,000,000 pageviews.
  • The Homestuck Official YouTube channel has over 3,200,000 views.
  • Homestuck has spawned innumerable fanworks in all genres-art, fiction, music, videos, crafts, cosplay, etc.-along with live fan events all over the world.
  • The first episode of an independent video game series set in the Homestuck universe will release on Steam in Q4 2017. The initial Kickstarter campaign for the game raised $2,500,000, more than half a million dollars within the first 24 hours.

This seems to have been for internal use, but some stores listed it as-is, or only changed it slightly.

One notable thing here is yet another confirmation that the crowdfunding campaign raised at least $2.5 million. There’s also a reminder that part of the monetary value of the Homestuck brand is its fandom popularity and many fanworks.

November 2017

SBAHJ Kickstarter

Andrew Hussie, in conjunction with comedy writers KC Green, and Dril, launched another Kickstarter for a hardcover spin-off of the Homestuck sub-comic Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff.

This campaign was a success (180% funded) and the book was written, printed, and shipped to backers in 2018. Despite the fact that Make That Thing is a subsidiary of TopatoCo, a highly-acclaimed book publisher, the SBAHJ book was not published or stocked beyond the Kickstarter run.

One interesting note is that Andrew Hussie made a new Kickstarter account for this, possibly in violation of the Kickstarter terms of service, because Hiveswap is in such poor standing that Kickstarter has banned Andrew from starting more Kickstarter projects. If this account was set up just to evade the ban, that would explain it.

Troll Call

Troll call

A newspost on mspaintadventures.com announces the “Troll Call”:

Every week we’ll be revealing some new troll characters from Hiveswap until Act 2 is out. Follow the Troll Call here, and meet the first two here. Expect a few more surprises like this to drop in coming weeks.

Sure enough, a later news post announces an exciting new redesign for the hiveswap.com website, including an “extended zodiac” and a personality quiz. This is the extended set of symbols that was teased much earlier. This new set of symbols also includes some character symbols from designs as early as June 2014.

Of special note is the sentence “Every week we’ll be revealing some new troll characters from Hiveswap until Act 2 is out.” There are 36 spots on the Troll Call grid, indicating that Hiveswap: Act 2 should be releasing some time before July 2018 at the latest. In actuality, though, the trolls were consistently revealed in pairs, which puts the expected release date at Act 2 as March 2018.

Fortunately, it turns out you don’t even need to resort to math, because WP announced directly that Hiveswap: Act 2 would be released in Spring 2018. This date also keeps in line with the promise that switching to a 2D artstyle would allow new acts to come out quickly. Phew!

January 2018

Scrapped Hiveswap Forum

Some time around February 2016, What Pumpkin NYC hired a team of eight interns to build a forum platform to “alleviate growing discontent in crowdfunding backers and general fanbase” about Hiveswap. The project was headed up by Philip Huang, an intern at What Pumpkin:

Hey guys!

I’m Phillip Huang of What Pumpkin! (please don’t hurt me)

I’m happy to announce that, a few weeks ago, I was assigned to rebuild the forums!

Look, I understand WP has really been dropping the ball on keeping the community up to date with regards to the forums. I wasn’t a part of the team until pretty recently, so I can’t really speak on behalf of them or whatever policies they had to follow in the past. But I do know two things:

First, please do not think for a second that we don’t care about you guys. Andrew and the rest of the team absolutely feel the growing animosity and discontent, and we’re working as hard as we can every day to try to keep the fanbase happy. By my personal observations, the reason the forums have been on the back burner is because there are just too many other things to be working on right now (most notably Hiveswap—game development is a BEAST).

Second, starting with this post, I am going to try to make amends by increasing transparency, feedback, and communication, at least with regards to the forums and their reconstruction. Technically I’m not supposed to announce very much now, but if you have a burning hot question go ahead and ask me here (not PM pls so I don’t have to repeat myself) and I’ll see what I’m allowed to say. Once the new forums are up, I’m going to try to get some of the other WP team members to start posting on them so they can answer questions about more general things (no promises though! :-S ). A part of this initiative is me trying to contact the old mods and other prominent community members to help shape the ~~creation of the new universe~~ relaunch of the forums…

So what happens now? WP probably won’t be making an Official AnnouncementTM about this until the forums actually launch. I can’t make any promises on a launch date or any features. In the meantime, it’s probably best to keep this news and your hypes on the down low. … Also, please don’t pester the mods to give any info, and mods please don’t leak anything else (I SEE YOU “flowey” ;-| ).

Alrighty, thanks for your patience y’all. We really appreciate your dedication to this community throughout all of these difficulties. Hopefully I’ll see you on the new forums! (when they launch, which is never)

Philip posted regular updates on the “Fate of the MSPA Forums” thread on the omegaupdate fan forums. He gave unofficial apologies for how poorly What Pumpkin had treated people and how flippant they had been about the forums in general. Part of the project, as he understood it, was to import the old forum data once the new system was up and running, which means he was intentionally kept in the dark about the fact that that data was unrecoverable. He continued giving updates and answering questions to the the best of his ability until his internship ended in 2017 without the forum ever being launched.

In January 2018, Philip returned to report that “What Pumpkin has told me that the forum relaunch will be handled professionally by a department of a larger media company” (Viz) and “Sadly, they didn’t mention any timeline regarding this relaunch. … This will conclude my involvement with this project, so this will be my last update.”

Viz media has yet to launch any such replacement forum. According to Makin, who worked on the project,

I was told after the fact by one of the people working with me that viz was the one to cancel the new forums project

because forums were passe or something

It’s also possible that Viz may not want to launch a new forum because that would be a reminder that they failed to preserve the old forums or restore the precious historical data. Either way, it looks like Viz may not ever relaunch any sort of forum, despite the huge community push and the work being already done.

Comic Contest

What Pumpkin announced an official comic contest for on the Act 2 characters featured in Troll Call:

One of the best parts of the weekly TROLL CALL has been the great FAN COMICS. We love them, and we want to reward your enthusiasm. So, here’s the deal. Every week, we’re going to be giving away gift cards to For Fans By Fans, the central hub of Hiveswap and Homestuck merch. Second runner-up gets $25, first runner-up gets $50, and the first place winner gets $75!

Hiveswap Fancomics

Also…ALL first place winners will be entered into our GRAND PRIZE contest, the winner of which will get their fantroll added to Hiveswap as an NPC! What Pumpkin Games’ writers and animators will work with you to develop YOUR fantroll into a CANONICAL CHARACTER

The results were announced in April. The grand prize winner was announced to be fefsprites with this animated comic. Fefsprites is currently under NDA about Act 2, but plans to submit their fantroll Idarat Catlaz.

What’s notable about the contest is that, at time of writing, all official record of it seems to have been completely obliterated from the internet. The contest details and the prize announcement have been scrubbed from tumblr, and the contest rules have been removed. Even the winning comic is a 404, even though the blog is still active.

April 2018

Homestuck.com redesign

On April 02, 2018, Viz Media retired the mspaintadventures.com site in favor of a new, completely redesigned homestuck.com. Homestuck.com is designed to be mobile friendly, and converts the old flash content to static video files. There were a few news announcements for this:

More broadly than just converting Flash pages, this adaptation serves another purpose. My intent for MSPA was never to have it last forever, or to concern myself with maintaining a labyrinthine, crudely-coded website for the rest of my life. At some point, the right thing to do was always going to be figuring out how the stories hosted on it could persist long into the future. VIZ Media is about as good as any organization I can think of when it comes to publishing long-running series, and preserving them for future readers. They print many classic manga series and get those books on shelves all over the world, thus keeping those series alive and widely read, well beyond their initial publication. So the VIZ team and I are working together to preserve the original content while updating its delivery, but Homestuck’s unusual format makes this a unique challenge. (Incidentally, they’ll also be releasing the full run of Homestuck in print as well, to complement the work online.)

My hope is you will see these changes as a net-positive, and perhaps can enjoy the work again in ways that weren’t possible before (such as on your phone). Again, this adaptation will continue to evolve and improve. Any feedback you may have when it comes to the performance or presentation, feel free to contact the site team at VIZ. They’re taking everyone’s remarks seriously. Thanks again to all who continue to care enough about Homestuck to stop by and read this. We all appreciate your support.

I do want to note that one of the main reasons given for the partnership with VIZ Media was media preservation. I’m an archivist, myself, and I believe very strongly that media preservation and continued publishing of works is crucial, so I’m glad to see that preservation is one of the key expectations What Pumpkin has of VIZ media.

The homestuck.com redesign wasn’t off to a great start on this, however, as they made the old site design inaccessible. There was also no mention of making previously published Homestuck works — like Paradox Space or the SBAHJ Kickstarter novel — available again, which is another point against them. Hopefully VIZ will change its mind on these points and make an effort to preserve these works, but so far, it hasn’t done so.

The new Homestuck website was a partial success, with the glaring exception that the main promise of continued maintenance never happened.

Many of the video files are only temporary, and will be replaced in coming months, either with HTML-converted files, or higher quality videos.

Viz did not follow through on this or any of their other promises to polish the site, and a significant portion of the site is still broken in 2020. For instance, many of the flash files were recorded to video and uploaded to Youtube, who incorrectly blocked some of them, making the pages unreadable. VIZ (a media giant with its own CDN, who could easily host and stream videos itself) has not addressed this, or seemingly even contacted Youtube at all about the issue.

There are other issues with the way Viz handled homestuck.com, but further detail on that is beyond the scope of this article.

Newsrama Andrew Hussie Interview

On the same day, Andrew also published an interview with Newsrama about the VIZ-published book versions of Homestuck:

Nrama: How did the collections from VIZ come about, and what’s the experience been like working with them?

Hussie: The VIZ people are great, and are all true professionals when it comes to manga and anime. That’s why Homestuck was the perfect fit here. You’ll never see a better anime than Homestuck.

Nrama: Have you had any talk about reprinting your other MS Paint Adventures in hard-copy form?

Hussie: There are old editions of Problem Sleuth floating around out there. You can probably buy used copies on Amazon for like $100 each. But maybe we’ll make new and better editions of those for VIZ too, who knows.

Nrama: What are some aspects of multimedia storytelling you’d like to see explored, both in terms of what you’re creating, and from other creators? It often feels like there’s a lot of untapped potential out there.

Hussie: I tried to make Homestuck the thing that taps all the untapped potential. At least when it comes to the web format, circa 2009-2016. I don’t know if you could do much more with it than was done, unless you start grasping at straws for new ridiculous things to try out. Which Homestuck did a lot of itself, the further it went along. There’s always more to try.

Nrama: What’s next for you?

Hussie: I’ll probably just keep making things.

(He has not. He has not made “next” things “after the adventure game”. He has not even finished the adventure game.)

April 2018

What Pumpkin puts Hiveswap on formal hiatus

On April 3, 2018, What Pumpkin posted an announcement on their Tumblr page that they were dramatically changing their business plans:

What Pumpkin Games is going through a transition period, which has involved restructuring the company, the way we develop games, and the types of projects we focus on. First, the most important thing to address is, Hiveswap’s development absolutely will continue. The approach to its development will evolve as this transition goes forward, but ensuring the release of the full Hiveswap series remains our priority. We should have more specific information about what exactly this means for Hiveswap in coming weeks.

In the more immediate future, WPG is shifting focus to making smaller, fun, lightweight games that can be produced more quickly. The type of content we can release along the way between acts, continuing to build upon the Hiveswap world, and give fans things they can enjoy while they wait. These games are somewhat in the vein of what we did with the Troll Call, but more engaging, providing more depth and background to the characters that were previewed.

Now, I do have to immediately interject here. In the first paragraph, the announcement reads “ensuring the release of the full Hiveswap series remains our priority”, but now they’ve just said that they are not “focusing” on the mainline Hiveswap series, and are “shifting focus” to other games. This is, in fact, the opposite of prioritizing the mainline Hiveswap series — What Pumpkin is making the decision here to stop working on Hiveswap and instead start a new series of games.

In September, James Roach mentioned that Hiveswap Act 2 was officially on hiatus, confirming this interpretation of the announcement: Hiveswap is out.

The post continues

The first such game will be available very soon. The format is a “Friendship Simulator”, much like dating sims or visual novels you may have played before. The idea is, instead of trying to date a character, you just try to befriend them, and in the process, you get to know them better, and ridiculous things happen along the way. The first volume features two trolls from the Troll Call, and was written by Andrew Hussie.

We hope you enjoy this type of game! If it’s well received by the fans, then there should be more of these to play in the future. We appreciate your patience and support as WPG makes this transition.

What Pumpkin doesn’t officially announce why they’re making the “transition”, but given that we know they’ve used the allocated funding, it seems reasonable to assume that What Pumpkin wants a profitable game so that Hiveswap doesn’t eat into potential comic profits. I’m also guessing that a spinoff series gives What Pumpkin an excuse to charge Kickstarter backers for Hiveswap again, as it will turn out that they won’t be giving backers any of these new games. This seems exactly like, as Jess put it, “Oh crap, we only have money to make a quarter of the game! Let’s raise some more!”

They don’t say if this shift is going to involve restructuring and, say, firing anyone. The tone here is very positive and optimistic, though, so there’s probably nothing to worry about.

What Pumpkin Fires Everyone

In April 2018, John Michonski from Video Game Choo Choo published the article “WhatPumpkin Layoffs Due to VIZ Media Purchase“, reporting recent sweeping layoffs at WhatPumpkin, and that they were due to VIZ Media:

Recently, WhatPumpkin, the primary force behind the webcomic Homestuck as well as video game spinoff Hiveswap, had a round of layoffs. Specifically, a large amount of the primary development team behind Hiveswap was let go. Due to NDAs, those who were ready to speak to us were cautious about what they could say, and didn’t want to be named, but many of them pointed to the new owner of the Homestuck IP, VIZ Media, as the reason behind the layoffs, instead of WhatPumpkin itself.

An anonymous source claimed the layoffs were purely due to VIZ restructuring, and they didn’t take the needs of WhatPumpkin staff into account. Upper management at the company stood by those in the crosshairs, and fought to keep their jobs.

VIZ has recently announced that, while development of Hiveswap is continuing, they will be shifting focus for the time being to the smaller “Friendship Simulators” called Friendsims, where you befriend characters that were previously announced for the next episode of Hiveswap. According to other public posts by the former development team, a good chunk of their work will still be used in the final version of Hiveswap‘s Act Two.

The scope of the layoffs was massive. Seemingly everyone who was involved with the project was fired, including the core team. Most of the people involved in Hiveswap posted something about having worked on Hiveswap in the past tense, being newly unemployed, or needing new work, including James Roach, Cohen Edenfield, Shelby Cragg, Hillary Esdaile (rah-bop), and John Warren.

James Roach wrote:

I.. enjoyed much of my time at WP, even the late nights and ever-shifting needs of a project that never felt like it would be done. I am the sort of person who finds themselves very lost without work to do. When you work at a small company like WP, you end up doing a lot more than is in your job description. There were so many times where i’d be like filling out a spreadsheet at 3 AM thinking like “man if all those people that thought they wanted this job could see what it was actually like”

The few of us that have been around since the beginning- before the studio changes, before the controversies and hurdles of development.. shit before even the shift in leadership- those few of us.. have been through a lot. There is so much I wish I could have shared with you guys. A lot of little triumphs and celebrations but also a lot of disappointment and frustrations. My constant worry is that I would be letting the fans down, because that was me.

The reason I cite the Michonski article above is because he was able to interview members of the Hiveswap development team and confirm that the layoffs were directly due to VIZ Media’s involvement. The fact that VIZ Media has the authority to prompt this at all speaks to it having an outsized influence in the internals of What Pumpkin far beyond just publishing and the comic’s IP. Again, the exact details are unknown, and there has been no transparency as to this, even to the Kickstarter underwriters.

A few of the fired developers, including James Roach, were re-hired a few months later to do work on the new games that What Pumpkin was making instead of Hiveswap.

April 2018: Hiveswap Friendsim Launches

Hiveswap Friendsim

The Hiveswap Friendsim is a quick, loosely-canonical visual novel adventure following the efforts of the unnamed protagonist (that’s you!) to survive and maybe even thrive on the harsh surface of ALTERNIA.

Unlike Hiveswap proper, which is an adventure game, Friendsim is a visual novel that feels a lot like a modern version of Namco High. It’s mostly a text-based novel with a few branching paths, coupled with character art and simple animations.

Hiveswap Friendsim was launched for $0.99 with two chapters available. More chapters were released in “Volumes”, which were available as DLC for another $0.99 each. All together, the full story is 18 volumes for a total of $17.82 (more than twice as much as Act 1). The full game and all the DLC volumes are also available in a bundle together, but unlike usual Steam bundles, there is absolutely no discount applied for doing this.

The bundle

The director of the game was Andrew Hussie. The producers of the game were Ash Paulson, Cindy Dominguez, Cohen Edenfield, and Julian Dominguez. (Although some of the producers joined the team in the middle of the story, leading to some confusing and complicated crediting.) Original music for this game was composed by a wide group of people, mostly from the music team. Notable contributors were James Roach, Toby Fox, and Alexander Rosetti.

Despite being named “Hiveswap Friendsim”, being produced by the studio that the Kickstarter campaign formed, and being a direct part of the Hiveswap universe, Kickstarter backers were not given this game. I even wrote in myself, as backer, to ask why backers weren’t given copies of the game, and was told by Julian Dominguez:

When Andrew/What Pumpkin made the announcement that HIVESWAP would be changed from a single video game, the plan was to make that video game into four acts. That is still the plan. This Friendsim is a derivative of the Homestuck/HIVESWAP universe and not part of story structure [sic] of those four Hiveswap acts.

Note that Troll Call indicated that this release (and these characters) would be Hiveswap: Act 2, but we got the Hiveswap Friendship Simulator instead due to the recent change. At this point, the Troll Call page simply reads “As featured in Hiveswap Friendsim” with no indication of the characters having any relation to Act 2. Again, Julian argues Friendsim is not part of Hiveswap proper.

December 2018

Hiveswap Friendsim Ends

What Pumpkin releases the last update of Hiveswap Friendsim

Of the thirty-seven stories in the game, Andrew Hussie wrote two. The most prolific writer by far was Aysha Farah, who wrote twelve routes.

Skaianet Systems

In late December 2018, What Pumpkin deleted their tumblr blog and wiped their twitter account. This was may have been part of an ultimately misguided ARG, although it’s unclear how destroying years of records was meant to be related, if at all, to the ARG, or anything else. None of these accounts have been restored, despite the ARG fading into obscurity and embarrassment, and the only thing erasing the records has accomplished is slightly obscuring What Pumpkin’s many failures, and further miscrediting the WP NYC team by hiding evidence of their contributions.

Weeks prior, What Pumpkin mentioned in a footnote that they would be “retiring” the Tumblr account, citing “maintenance.” “Retiring” here apparently meant erasing the blog and all the content. No explanation was given.

April 2019: The Homestuck Epilogues

On 4/13/2019, the prologue to the “dubiously canon” Homestuck epilogues was posted. The rest of the epilogues were made available in their entirety on 4/20/2019, to divisively mixed response. This marked the absolute conclusion of the comic proper (although a case could be made that the comic concluded prior).

VIZ Media will publish a beautiful hardcover edition of the epilogues in January, 2020. It’s 640 pages and available for $25 on Amazon.

I want to note one important textual thing about the epilogues here. The epilogues have a brief prologue, and then two “routes”, titled “meat” and “candy”. There’s no indication given on the “proper” order to read the routes in; you can read them in any order. The routes diverge at the prologue, which marks a split into two different, physically separated worlds that have wildly different tones. The last chapter of each route is a vignette into the other route’s ending, which creates an interesting and unique reading experience. Only after you read both routes do you get a full picture of the real story.

Does this sound familiar? I know it was years ago, but this sounds an awful lot like how Andrew envisioned Hiveswap in 2014: Two parallel stories about two parallel worlds that can be read in any order to get the full story, with both stories happening in parallel and tying in to each other. It’s the same idea, just twisted slightly to better fit the material.

One interpretation of this is that Andrew likes that idea and was excited to use it right away. Another is that he’s using the idea now because he’s given up on Hiveswap and Hauntswitch. I can’t say whether either is true, but at this point I’m not optimistic about Andrew’s dedication to Hiveswap.

Epilogues Fact Sheet

The epilogues also had a fact sheet for publishers like the mainline books did, this time reading:

  • Homestuck is one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of the past decade, a unique and massive internet-based hybrid work consisting of webcomics, chat logs, gifs, video games, animation, and music.
  • Over 1,000,000 users a day visited the hosting site, MS Paint Adventures, during the height of the Homestuck serialization. To date the comic has over 2,500,000,000 pageviews.
  • The Homestuck Official YouTube channel has over 3,200,000 views.
  • Direct-to-consumer merchandise sales have generated over $10,000,000 in revenue.
  • Ten official soundtrack albums have been released on Bandcamp.
  • The first episode of Hiveswap, an independent video game series set in the Homestuck universe, released in September 2017 for PC and Mac and immediately became a top ten best-selling game on Steam.
  • Homestuck has spawned innumerable fanworks in all genres—art, fiction, music, videos, crafts, cosplay—along with fan events all over the world.

Again, this seems to have been for internal use only, but some stores still listed it as-is.

The ad claims Hiveswap “immediately became a top ten best-selling game on Steam”, which is remarkable, because — as far as I can tell — it’s a blatant lie. Steam actually publishes top 100 lists for best-selling new games by year, and Hiveswap didn’t make it, even if we narrow the domain down to the month. I looked up the data for Steam 2017 — even if we (generously) assume they mean it was in the top ten best-sellers of 2017 — by the end of 2017 200,000 people owned Hiveswap at maximum, including people with free review copies. That puts them somewhere below rank 200. What Pumpkin literally just claimed they were a best seller and hoped nobody would check.

We also get this internal figure that “Direct-to-consumer merchandise sales have generated over $10,000,000 in revenue”, which was definitely not meant to be publicised. This is a confirmation that Homestuck is still a multi-million dollar brand, and should not be hurting for money.

May 2019: Act 2 update

Update #31

So it’s been a while. There are a lot of reasons for our silence, and honestly it’s a whole tangle of stuff that maybe one day we’ll get into.

Or maybe one day I will.

We know you’re eager to find out something, anything, so let’s cut to the chase - yes, Act 2 is in active development. While we don’t want to start throwing out release dates until we’re a little further along, we’re happy to say that the script, art and design work is nearly complete, and programming is underway.

You might gather from the above description that Hiveswap development is a little unusual. Let’s just say we learned a lot of lessons during development of Act 1. For Act 2 we have built a staggered development process where the script and design come first, followed by the art. Then our programming team will put it all together while the writing, design and art teams move on to Act 3. Once we have all the Act 2 content and programming together, we will move into a play-testing and iteration phase before release.

While they say “we don’t want to start throwing out release dates”, what they mean is that they’d like you to forget about the confirmed release date of Spring 2018, which they missed due to choosing to make a different game instead, they aren’t formally cancelling Hiveswap, it’s just delayed indefinitely, yet again. “Hiveswap development is a little unusual”, yes.

There is also a mention of “indie game label Fellow Traveller”, who is running LudoNarraCon, a digital convention Hiveswap is participating in.

June 2019: Answering some questions

Q/A on whatpumpkin.com

  • Are all four acts of Hiveswap still coming? When are each of the games coming out? What’s the roadmap for these games? We are committed to delivering Hiveswap in its entirety–Act 2, followed by Act 3, and then Act 4. After that, we can turn our attention to the possibility of Hauntswitch.

Hauntswitch, the second of the two adventure games, seems to have been downgraded to a “possibility”, now, even though it’s critical to the main storyline. Also, even though the question they ask themselves is “When are the games coming out”, their answer doesn’t include any answer for that, not even a vague time estimate.

  • Please, tell us more about Hiveswap: Act 2! Act 2 is still a point and click adventure game, with the same basic UI and mechanics. The puzzles and gameplay will focus more heavily on character dialogue in this installment.

In terms of length, the amount of time it will take you to complete the game will depend on how much time you spend exploring and talking to the characters in each scene. There will be more content in Act 2 than Act 1.

  • Who’s doing what on the team behind Hiveswap: Act 2? James and Toby are back for music, Adrienne is back for animation, and Aysha of Friendsim has joined the writing team. In the future we’ll be doing a series of artist and writer spotlights, introducing you guys to the team.

At this point, What Pumpkin has “brought back” much of the team they fired to work on Act 2, instead of just keeping the team together and avoiding an enormous amount of unnecessary disruption.

Notably absent from the “new” team is Cohen Edenfield, the scriptwriter who wrote the entire excellent script for Act 1. This is an unfortunate decision, as it means the game won’t keep a consistent lead writer.

Aysha Farah, meanwhile, is rapidly taking on more writing responsibility for Homestuck. Her first credits were writing some of the routes for Friendsim and “additional contributions” on the Homestuck epilogues. She was then promoted to creative director of Pesterquest, and now it looks like she’s slated to be the lead writer of Act 2; she’s had a very rapid ascent.

July 2019: Fellow Traveller

What Pumpkin announces in a blog post that they have arranged to have indie game publisher Fellow Traveller, the hosts of LudoNarraCon, which Hiveswap participated in. Fellow Traveller will be “managing all of the business bits” (marketing, branding, production support) while What Pumpkin continues to work on game development.

We’ve done this so we can devote more of our time to the development of the game. So what does this mean for you? In short: we’re working to bring Act 2 to the world as soon as possible. With our new partner, it also means you’ll be hearing from us a lot more: look forward to regular updates, newsletters, social media posts, and more exciting news in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you’re all invited to join our official Discord server. We look forward to meeting you all there!

(And then there’s a link to an expired discord server invite. Discord server invites have an option to never expire, as would be appropriate for permanent links on public pages, but they default to expiring in five minutes, which may have happened here.)

Hiveswap: Act 1 was also retroactively edited on Steam such that Fellow Traveller replaced What Pumpkin Games, inc as the publisher. No announcement was made about this.

There have not been any regular updates, newsletters, social media posts, or other exciting news in the following weeks. Or at all, really. There actually hasn’t been a peep out of Fellow Traveller about Hiveswap at all, although they’ve been very aggressively promoting their other games, like Paradise Killer. So this is not a “partnership” that’s born any fruit, as of yet.

September 2019: Pesterquest Launches

Pesterquest

Pesterquest is announced. It is another visual novel in the same style as Hiveswap Friendsim, but this time focusing on the original Homestuck characters, and not the Hiveswap universe. It is also a direct sequel to Hiveswap Friendsim, in that you play as the same character and the story starts immediately after the end of Friendsim.

It is produced by Andrew Hussie and Cindy Dominguez, and directed by Aysha Farah (of Snake Solutions). It will feature contributions by many different people, including James Roach, Kate Mitchell, Sarah Zedig, and Gina Chacón.

The game is developed by What Pumpkin Games and published by Fellow Traveller. Pesterquest does not use DLC for chapters, but is sold for $11.99 upfront ($4 more than Act 1). When it launched, only one chapter was available; the rest were released as free updates, preordered with the game.

The executive producers were Andrew Hussie and Cindy Dominguez. The director was Aysha Farah. The audio director was James Roach, who wrote every original track for the game.

October 2019

Hiveswap: Act 2 Steam Page

On October 2019, the @whatpumpkin twitter account posted an announcement:

The Steam page for Hiveswap: Act 2 was available, and there was a trailer featuring the Troll Call characters. There were a few gameplay screenshots, but the store page mostly consists of the trailer video and character animations.

act 2 steam page

The game is listed as being developed by What Pumpkin Games, and published by Fellow Traveller.

The steam page also promises that “Hiveswap: Act 2 is the anticipated second entry in the four-part series of narrative adventure games from the universe of Andrew Hussie’s smash hit webcomic Homestuck.” and “James Roach and Toby Fox (creator of Undertale) return for another genre-spanning original soundtrack.”

The release date on steam is listed as “tickets available soon.”, which was probably supposed to be funny.

Bandcamp Changes

Without any sort of announcement, What Pumpkin (possibly in cooperation with Viz Media) “reorganized” the official Homestuck bandcamp page, making several major changes:

  • Deleting all the track art
  • Deleting many albums
  • Grouping albums into less-expensive bundles
  • Exclusively selling bundles and not albums

Originally they promised that any removed albums were temporary and would be restored soon, but the removed albums were never restored. Some of the original artists re-uploaded their Homestuck work on their own channels, but some albums were permanently lost. This seems to go somewhat against What Pumpkin’s directive of preservation, but they’ve made no comment about it.

The track art and original album organization would have been permanently lost as well, if not for a hero’s complete track archive.

Currently, the tracks from the Grubbles album are only available as part of the Hiveswap: Act 1 OST, and they come with every copy. That album is $4.13 (reduced from $7.99 by), significantly devalued from the original cost of $12.99.

Homestuck^2

Snake Solutions launches “Homestuck^2”, an experimental, semi-official12, “dubiously canon” fan-adventure-slash-story-continuation in the vein of other fan continuations like Act 8 and Act Omega. It’s produced jointly with What Pumpkin, but the writing and production is done by Snake Solutions and their team.

According to their introduction, the comic is supported by Patreon, with exclusive content available for Patreon backers:

This update comprises the “main” update for the month of October. The next update posted to this site will be the main update for the month of November. Additional *~*bonus updates*~* will also begin in November.

What’s this about bonus updates, we hear you ask? To find out more, please make sure to check out our Patreon page! Pledging to the official Homestuck Patreon is a great way to support the independent creators behind the comic, and to get your grubby little hands on some bonus Homestuck content that you won’t find anywhere else!

The Patreon label reads “Homestuck is creating Homestuck^2: Beyond Canon”.

This wouldn’t be relevant to Hiveswap at all until a later Patreon update:

December 2019: Freelance Rates

The Homestuck^2 Patreon releases a post titled “Freelance rates for Hiveswap, Pesterquest, and future What Pumpkin projects increased for all workers after success of Homestuck Patreon“, which is written as a kind of press release. It’s mostly relevant, so I’m attaching the whole thing:

The level of support for the Homestuck Patreon has been overwhelming, and What Pumpkin couldn’t be more thankful this Thanksgiving. Fans want to support the independent artists behind their favorite works, and What Pumpkin has gotten to business making it happen.

In early November, What Pumpkin founder Andrew Hussie and the freelance creative and technical team behind WP’s projects agreed on a significant increase in rates for the art, writing, music and code that makes the expanding Homestuck and Hiveswap universe possible.

Too often, the comics and games we enjoy – even big-budget corporate media – are made in unhealthy and unsustainable “crunch” environments. The direct support and generosity of Homestuck fans helps to ensure better conditions for everyone.

The point of the Patreon wasn’t only to fund HS^2. There are dozens of people working on Homestuck games and projects, and almost all of them came from the fandom originally. So they’re spread across everything we’re doing, like Hiveswap, Friendsim, Pesterquest, and now HS^2, contributing art, writing, music and programming. The Patreon is a good way for fans who love what they’re doing to contribute to their overall compensation outside of game sales alone. Before the Patreon existed, there really wasn’t a coherent means of showing more support for the people working on all this. Unless you wanted to buy multiple copies of the games? Which I certainly don’t discourage. But I thought maybe we could come up with something better, which is also attached to a cool new project. The better the Patreon does, not only does everyone at the studio benefit, but the more you’ll see HS^2 start to pick up the pace,” said What Pumpkin founder Andrew Hussie.

It was important to the Homestuck^2 team that fans’ enthusiasm and support was shared with everyone working with What Pumpkin, and Homestuck’s community has again proved itself the greatest fandom around,” said Homestuck^2 co-director Aysha U. Farah.

The workers that benefit from these contributions are active on the following projects:

  • HIVESWAP: ACT 2 is the anticipated second entry in the four-part series of narrative adventure games from the universe of Homestuck. Hiveswap has something for you, whether you’re a dedicated fan or just now discovering the fandom phenomenon.
  • Embark on a quest of epic importance in PESTERQUEST, a grimsical episodic visual novel set in the darkly funny Homestuck/Hiveswap universe. Dive deeper into Homestuck lore in this rich visual novel with an unapologetically irreverent story.
  • HOMESTUCK^2: BEYOND CANON is an official continuation of the cult-classic webcomic Homestuck and a follow-up to The Homestuck Epilogues, dropped as a major event in April of this year. Homestuck 2: Beyond Canon takes a combination of Andrew Hussie’s original writing and plot outlines and concepts and joins him with a team of new, diverse voices to expand the compelling narratives of Homestuck’s most (and least) beloved characters.

2019 has been an incredible journey, with numerous releases for our fans. With this support, expect even more announcements from What Pumpkin in 2020 and beyond!

What Pumpkin is an independent studio founded by Andrew Hussie, author and artist behind cult classic webcomic Homestuck. It brings together a diverse team with a passion for telling new stories in Homestuck and Hiveswap’s vast universes and a love for the worldwide community and culture that surrounds their work.

Obviously notable is the titular piece of news, which is that What Pumpkin is paying people more based on the success of the Homestuck Patreon. This means that the Homestuck Patreon isn’t just supporting Homestuck^2, it’s supporting Hiveswap and What Pumpkin’s visual novels. It’s good to hear those projects are still a priority, and it’s nice to get a chance to support the new games. And, of course, that’s the spin the press release puts on it.

On the other side of the coin, that means Hiveswap and the visual novels are being funded by Patreon, which is obviously disturbing. What Pumpkin has, in fact, “gone back to the crowdfunding well”.

After successfully funding the game three times over on Kickstarter, What Pumpkin attempted a round of secret side-channel investments (possibly more), and are now trying to tap into Patreon — which is now funding independent artists working on a new comic — as a source of funds.

April 2020: Pesterquest Ends

Pesterquest ends with a final volume that acts as a tie-in chapter to Homestuck^2.

Despite the character name recognition and improved gameplay, Pesterquest was significantly less popular than Act 1 or even Friendsim, selling somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 copies.

Writing credits were added as the routes were written. In the final credits for the game Andrew Hussie had a single writing credit for the first route. The other twenty-one writing credits went to other writers. Aysha Farah, the game’s Director, was still the most prolific writer by far with six routes to her name.

During the game’s lifespan, there were several odd, notable bugs that came up during natural progression in the game. These were usually fixed shortly after, but it did raise some concerns about quality control and playtesting.

Pesterquest bugs

(This is what happens when you make a typo in the Ren’py game engine. I’m speaking from experience here, although my experience is of not making clownish mistakes and shipping a broken game to thousands of people without testing your game, because I don’t not-even-do the bare minimum of quality control.)

It keeps happening

This point, early October 2020, is when I originally published this article. The final summary was originally here, but I decided to put future updates here, to maintain some chronological ordering.

Time keeps ticking on, and Hiveswap updates continue to slowly drip out.

October 2020

Act 2 Trailer

A new trailer is posted for Hiveswap Act 2. It opens with “years ago, but not many” as a reference to how slow the development process has been going, I guess?

Hiveswap Act 2 is delayed to November 2020.

Hiveswap.com is also updated with a more “streamlined” design. The new design removes many links to other projects and independent artists that were previously only accessible through the Hiveswap home page, so all of that content is now inaccessible unless you have a direct link already.

In the background, the entire whatpumpkin.com domain now force-redirects to hiveswap.com, breaking innumerable important links like this one and this one and that one.

New Troll

The new website also has a screenshot with this troll who has not previously been seen in promotional material or as part of the Troll Call. This is Fefsprites’ fantroll Idarat Catlaz, in the game due to them winning the comic contest.

November 2020

Fellow Traveller closes social

This message was posted to the Fellow Traveller discord server on 11/01/2020:

Hey @Homestuck Traveller, we hope you’re excited for the release of Act 2 in November!

We wanted to give you an update on some business housekeeping.

As the release date of Hiveswap: Act 2 nears, Fellow Traveller and What Pumpkin have made a few adjustments to our publishing arrangement. What Pumpkin Games will be expanding its operations to take a more direct role in player support for Hiveswap. This means that going forward, any questions and concerns about Hiveswap should be sent directly to What Pumpkin Games. Fellow Traveller will continue to work with What Pumpkin as the publisher of Pesterquest and Friendsim.

With these changes, we will be closing the Homestuck and Hiveswap channels in our Discord. We will close the channels on November 9 2020, but What Pumpkin has created a new Discord to make sure you can continue your conversations, memes and theories. Once everything in the new Discord is set up, they’ll be handing over moderation to you, the fans. You can start making your transition with this invite: https://discord.gg/krfzwma

The Pesterquest channel in our Discord will remain for discussion of Friendsim and Pesterquest, and we’ll have some news to share there soon.

Keep an eye on What Pumpkin Games social channels for news about future Hiveswap community projects.

Fellow Traveler announced that they would be shutting down their discord channels for Homestuck and Hiveswap, so that What Pumpkin could take a more aggressive role in managing community forums for Homestuck.

The links for Hiveswap acts 1 and 2 were still on the Fellow Traveller website, with no indication of any changes in publishing.

Act 2 Release Date

On November 15, the @homestuck twitter account uploaded this youtube link:

They teased this especially hard, and promised that the release date (which, again, was already announced to be sometime in November) would be revealed at the end of the video.

However, instead of announcing this directly, they used YouTube Premiere to delay the video and have a live announcement. The video itself went live at on the 16th, a full day later.

Act 2’s new release date is November 25, as announced on Twitter with this screenshot of the youtube video.

The body of the video itself is all gameplay footage of Act 2, complete with mouse cursor a la YouTube LP.

There is also a new press kit for Act 2 with both Act 2 trailers and gameplay screenshots.


Whew.

(This is the original conclusion to this article, written October 2020.)

This brings us to the time of my writing this article, early October 2020. So, what’s the state of the Hiveswap?

The Kickstarter obligations still aren’t fulfilled. At the very beginning of this article, I explained how Kickstarter projects are legally obligated to “make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers.” Knowing what we know now, let’s see if Homestuck has done that.

According to the Kickstarter Terms of Use,

A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:

  • they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
  • they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that’s communicated to backers;
  • they’re able to demonstrate that they’ve used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
  • they’ve been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
  • they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

This reads as an almost comical list of the exact opposite of how MSPA has handled the project. From the top, What Pumpkin

  • did not post the promised regular updates explaining what work had been done, and was incredibly secretive about how money was spent to the point of making people sign NDAs about it, and actually signed a settlement with an NDA requiring them not to post updates that explain how funds were used
  • chronically failed to communicate with backers about the timeframe of the project, which is currently delayed indefinitely, and are currently 8 years overdue and have only produced 1/4 of the promised product
  • seem to have used their funding inappropriately, and publicly announced that they are not making the expected effort to complete the project
  • lied about key parts of the project repeatedly and made multiple wilful misrepresentations about the game and their intent
  • refuses to give refunds and refuses any accountability about the project’s budget and financial history

Kickstarter seems to agree that this project has utterly failed to meet its obligations. According to correspondence I have with Kickstarter, Andrew Hussie is in bad standing for failing to deliver or communicate about the project, and has been banned from starting more Kickstarter projects. (As previously mentioned, he may have intentionally circumvented this.)

Okay, I'm with you, what else?

Fellow Traveller committed to “managing all of the business bits” (marketing, branding, production support) so What Pumpkin can focus on game development, but Fellow Traveller hasn’t done any of that.

Viz does have publication rights for the original comic, and the Kickstarter project owes people full copies of Homestuck, and I haven’t seen those two facts reconciled anywhere. I sent them an inquiry about this for the article but Viz declined to reply. Viz’ involvement is especially dangerous because they haven’t ever formally taken responsibility for the Hiveswap project or provided Hiveswap with any resources or support, but instead directly interfered with its production.

Andrew Hussie, What Pumpkin, Viz Media, Snake Solutions and the rest of the Homestuck team are all working on new projects: the Homestuck books, multiple visual novels, Homestuck^2, new music albums, and more. Burning through a laundry list of new legal entities doesn’t change that all of these new Homestuck projects were greenlit by Andrew, were launched after Hiveswap, and are being worked on instead of Hiveswap, which is the only project that actively owes people content that’s already been paid for.

It’s like if you had pre-ordered Half Life 3 for several hundred dollars in 2008 along with thousands of other people, and Valve just kept the money and worked on other projects instead. In fact, dare I say it, it’s like taking money set aside for one game and spending it on another, leaving the funders with scraps and a bunch of guarantees you don’t intend to deliver on. Transparent misconduct that at least borders on fraud.

Of course, Kickstarter projects fail all the time, but a lot of things make this different. The Kickstarter campaign was a massive success: it got overwhelming support and raised more than $2.5 million, which is more than you need to make a medium-sized indie game. The project had a modest goal: a point-and-click adventure game. They weren’t trying to develop anything new or even a little bit risky. What Pumpkin didn’t go into bankruptcy. They continue to produce successful games and continue to make money off Homestuck merchandise, games, and book residuals13. They were even picked up by VIZ, a media publishing empire. And Hiveswap hasn’t been cancelled, it’s just quietly been de-prioritized in favour of other, more profitable projects — in complete defiance of What Pumpkin’s actual obligations.

With the very first delay, Andrew promised “we’ll be working things out to stay favorable to backers”, which he didn’t do. Later, when the project switched to 2D, he said “the most important thing to me is that the project is still alive, and is looking as promising as ever” which, given what we know now, was another lie.

Andrew, MSPA, What Pumpkin, Homestuck, and Viz Media haven’t been transparent about any of this. Despite being crowdfunded and community supported, they haven’t communicated with the game’s underwriters, opting instead to ignore backers and fans and produce nothing but radio silence for stretches of months at a time. What Pumpkin is not at all willing to open up or show any accountability to the game’s fans and stakeholders; I had to painstakingly compile all of this myself over the course of months.

Hell, they never even disclosed how much money they raised from the original crowdfunding campaign. They’re silent for months at a time, regularly purge their records whenever there’s a possibility for embarrassment, and shackle everyone involved in the game with NDAs. This overt opacity about the project gives the whole thing an air of shadiness: everything we do hear about the project makes them look bad — maybe even to the point of being vulnerable to legal liability for misconduct — which is why they’re bent on hiding as much as they can. This exacerbates all the other development issues, in addition to being wrong per se.

Despite no longer being bankrupt — and, in fact, having major investment in the form of Viz Media — What Pumpkin refuses to produce Hiveswap, or — significantly — give refunds to backers who request them. (See comments) The Hiveswap project isn’t even an eighth of the way complete. Fans and backers are stuck in a state of limbo, and What Pumpkin is content to leave them that way.

It’s very disheartening, given all this, to see questions and concerns about Hiveswap treated like spam. In some extreme cases, even official Homestuck staff are willing to talk about Hiveswap fans with open disdain. The actual obligations What Pumpkin has to the Kickstarter backers is being ignored, and complaints are treated as coming from “whiny fans” instead of as the legitimate grievances they are.

At the end of the day, Andrew Hussie raised a comical amount of money to make a game and frittered it away to nothing. $2.5 million is a mind-boggling amount of money to lose on a crowdfunding project, and — due to What Pumpkin’s deliberate opacity about everything — it’s all completely unaccounted for. The project is orders of magnitude behind schedule, and no effort is being made to get it finished or have any accountability about it. It is hideous behaviour, especially coming from a comic like Homestuck, which has always relied on community support and reader involvement.


Appendix I: People

(Summaries of how people are related to the Hiveswap controversy, not full bios.)

  • Andrew Hussie
    • Writer of Homestuck
    • Started the Kickstarter for Hiveswap
    • Partially involved in Friendsim
    • Partially involved in Pesterquest
    • Seemingly uninvolved in Homestuck^2
  • Ryan North
    • Andrew Hussie’s personal friend
    • Funny comics man
    • Absent
  • Cindy Dominguez
    • Old friend of Andrew’s
    • Administrated the MSPA Forums
    • Executive of What Pumpkin LLC, Homestuck inc, What Pumpkin Games
    • Friendsim Producer
    • Pesterquest Producer
    • Hiveswap Executive Producer
  • Jess Haskins
    • Writer, Paperback Studio
    • Senior Producer and Creative Director at WP NYC
    • Gave multiple interviews
    • Fired with the dissolution of WP NYC
  • James Seetal
    • Employee at WP NYC
    • Highly experienced game industry veteran
    • Representative of the incredibly talented staff at WP NYC(?)
  • Cohen Edenfield
    • Hiveswap Creative Director (2017)
    • Hiveswap Lead Writer/Scripter (2017)
    • Friendsim Producer
    • Currently not doing writing for Act 2
  • Toby Fox
    • Former Music Team member for Homestuck
    • Did Undertale
    • Knows Andrew and/or his basement
    • Wrote music for Hiveswap Friendsim
    • The winner
  • James Roach
    • Former Music Team member for Homestuck
    • Music Lead for Act 1
    • Composed a lot of music for Friendsim
    • Composed all the original tracks for Pesterquest
    • Wrote some for Pesterquest
    • Fired and rehired
  • Aysha Farah
    • Wrote most of Hiveswap Friendsim
    • Wrote most of Pesterquest
    • Directed Pesterquest
    • Fired and rehired
    • Partner at Snake Solutions
    • Writes Homestuck^2
  • Robert J. Lake
    • Former Music Team member for Homestuck
    • Spellbang”
  • Ash Paulsen
    • Associate producer of Hiveswap (~2017)
    • Friendsim Producer
  • Hilary “Rah” Bop
    • Hiveswap production artist (2016)
    • Hiveswap environmental art director (2017)
  • Kate
    • Writer for Pesterquest, Homestuck^2
    • Partner at Snake Solutions
  • Makin
    • Formerly a former /r/homestuck moderator
    • Worked on the scrapped Hiveswap forum

Appendix III: Reserved

Reserved for future use

Appendix IV: Changelog

As mentioned in the introduction, it’s entirely possible that I got something wrong here. If you see an error, please let me know and I’ll update the article accordingly.

Any major content edits or retractions will be logged and dated here.

v1.7.1 2020-11-20

  • Noted deprecation of whatpumpkin.com domain

v1.7 2020-11-16

  • Moved “it keeps happening” to the main body
  • Notes about the Hiveswap: Act 2 trailer
  • Legal notes about Homestuck Inc
  • Updated Makin’s minibio

v1.6.1 2020-11-05

  • The new troll in the 10/25/2020 trailer is confirmed to be the contest troll (thanks Sky!)

v1.6 2020-11-04

  • Added section “Viz Involvement in Hiveswap: Act 1”
  • Updated details about the art contest troll’s appearance in the 10/25/2020 trailer
  • Fixed some minor errors in the changelog
  • Minor editing

v1.5 - 2020-10-26

  • added “It keeps happening”

v1.4.2 - 2020-10-12

  • Slight tweak to the summary
  • Rename section “What Pumpkin puts Hiveswap on formal hiatus” because of course hiatus is the right word for that

v1.4.1 - 2020-10-11

  • added a note to “Chuck Tingle Dating Simulator” to emphasize that I mean what I said literally, because this was apparently a point of confusion to some people

v1.4 - 2020-10-10

  • Updated “December 2015: WP NYC Dissolve & A New Look” with new testimony.
  • Revised “December 2015: WP NYC Dissolve & A New Look” for structure and clarity
  • Added brief discussion about episodic games to “Hiveswap is now episodic”
  • Integrated additional testimony into “Why Andrew killed WP NYC” confirming the progress of WP NYC’s Act 2
  • Added a brief note to “Act 1 Release” about promises of potential behind-the-scenes content for backers.
  • Added the “Concept Art” footnote to “Crediting and Art Theft” to better explain the relationship between the design, the 3D work, and the 2D work.
  • Added additional supporting evidence to “What Pumpkin moves away from Hiveswap”
  • Noted that ipgd may have delisted the blog herself; it’s not confirmed that WP forced this.
  • Added a reference to What Pumpkin’s announcement that they were deleting their blog under “Skaianet Systems”
  • Removed some extraneous sections of quotes
  • Fixed: James Seetal uses they/them pronouns
  • Fixed one stray ipgd uses she/her pronoun
  • Minor edits

v1.3 - 2020-10-05

  • Added “Hiveswap: Act 1 OST commentary”
  • Further adjusted language about The Odd Gentlemen in a few places
  • Revised “King’s Quest and the Odd Gentlemen” to better separate confirmed and unconfirmed allegations
  • Moved a few things around so the article is structured more sensibly
  • Broke some long sections up with headers
  • Edited the RJ Lake section to better note discrepancies
  • Revised conclusion
  • Fixed: Cohen Edenfield uses they/them pronouns
  • Fixed: ipgd uses she/her pronouns
  • Minor edits

v1.2 - 2020-10-04

  • Added the “June 2016: Hiveswap leak” section, which I believed to be a dead-end until people helpfully send me archived copies of the video.
  • Added new sections “Hardcover edition fact sheet” and “Epilogues Fact Sheet”, including elaboration and fact-checking.
  • Added a subsection to “But first merch” to note that many items were incorrectly advertised as Kickstarter exclusive. Additional edits for clarity.
  • Moved and rewrote the “Scrapped Hiveswap Forum” section to add extensively more information.
  • Revisions throughout: the Homestuck brand shouldn’t be short on money, actually.
  • Added “Appendix II: Legal”
  • Better explained the role of the remote team during WP NYC in a few places. See “What Pumpkin NYC Tumblr”.
  • Removed some speculation from “Forums offline” that now seems to be highly unlikely.
  • Minor tone & confidence rewrites
  • Rearranged appendices
  • Minor proofing and revision

See diff at the Internet Archive.

v1.1 - 2020-10-03

  • Correction: “Bandcamp Changes” incorrectly attributed the changes directly to Viz Media.

I am a crazy person and want to read even more

Okay, if you look in the source file for this article, there are sections I commented out that you can still read, if you want. They’re mostly dead ends or things that turned out to be irrelevant, though. They’re also not fact checked: think of them as cutting room scraps, not published content.


  1. If you look at the campaign now, the “risks and challenges” section is empty. This isn’t anything untoward; this campaign was made in 2012, before the site had that field. 

  2. Neither Andrew nor What Pumpkin ever announced how much money the campaign actually raised, in total, counting PayPal donations. We know it was at least enough to push the total over $2.5 million, but given that they had enough people asking for a PayPal option that they set up an entire secondary storefront for it, the total could be much more than that. 

  3. I’m reading from the latest version of the Kickstarter terms of use here even though the Homestuck Kickstarter was launched under an earlier revision. That shouldn’t affect anything, though, because continued use of the service constitutes agreement to the updated rules

  4. Not including the poster. Also note that they did resell plush scalemates, but they never strictly promised to keep the scalemates a Kickstarter exclusive. 

  5. If you don’t believe ipgd’s account about getting a document with all this information, you might speculate that the framing story about the document is just a way to launder information she shouldn’t have had: she somehow knew details about the allegations she was making, but needed a way to explain how he got them. That would certainly explain how the allegations hold up. 

  6. Andrew” appeared multiple times in the credits, although neither entry had a last name attached. 

  7. I find this particularly amusing, because “intensive curation of old things” is exactly what I’m forced to do for this article just to put a story together. I don’t know, if I had made a ton of financial promises that I wasn’t keeping, I wouldn’t want anybody paying attention, either. 

  8. I do not recommend the average person read the leaked emails. It’s part of a very different, very childish melodrama that falls far beyond the scope of this article. But, for the sake of citing my sources, this document and its attribution can be found here

  9. To be overwhelmingly clear, I mean this exactly as written. This isn’t sarcasm, I think the theory is probably false. But it’s interesting trivia. 

  10. You may note here that some of the visible carry-over between the 2D and 3D versions comes from shared concept art. Most of the concept art in update 16 was drawn by bleaksqueak, who was not credited in the update post, but is credited in the final game under “Concept Art.” It wouldn’t be fair to point to, say, the portal device design in Act 1 and accuse What Pumpkin of art theft over that, because it isn’t. Not every similarity is automatically an act of impropriety; some are harmless outliers. That being said, there is still a lot of uncredited work done by WPNYC in the final product, so I wouldn’t let this distract you too much from the main point.  

  11. I know James Roach and other Homestuck musicians have mentioned in the past that they do retain rights to their songs, but license them to Homestuck, which is an unusual arrangement. If What Pumpkin were willing to do this in other places, it could make issues like this much more complicated. However, Homestuck only seems to do this with music contributions, so I still think it very unlikely that there would be any rights issues over the WP NYC assets. 

  12. Whether or not Homestuck^2 is official media or not is a very complicated and surprisingly contentious issue that is far outside the scope of this article. 

  13. I assume? It would be absurd for Andrew to sell rights to the IP and not be collecting residuals on sales. 

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