Doekuramori Interview; The Citadel, Harassment, and How to Make Your Voice Heard in Japan

The Citadel

Editor’s Note: Due to the nature of some screenshots in this article, reader discretion is advised

We interviewed Doekuramori, the developer behind the retro-style FPS The Citadel, after he received abusive comments over the game’s content.

For those unfamiliar, the game launched on Steam on August 5th of this year. On the 20th of that month, Top Hat Studios- the game’s publisher- issued a statement regarding the abuse the developer had been receiving.

They explain how after a “critical” video review of the game on YouTube, the developer began to take that reviewer’s opinion as fact; and sent abusive messages to the developer that included “characterising [sic] him as a dangerous individual.”

Based on later context, the reviewer and abusers had accused the developer of sexual perversion towards gore (known as “guro” in Japanese) based on the game’s content. Screenshots from the game show defeated enemies can leave body parts (also known as “gibs”) of what appear to be human women in an anime art-style.

Top Hat Studios shared Doekuramori’s statement, wherein he firmly rejects the accusations and explains the game’s true inspirations.

Editor’s Note: For ease of reading, we have formatted the below quote by adding line breaks.

Hi, this is doekuramori. I’m the creator of The Citadel. Thank you for playing and your feedback on the game. I will try in the future to make games with more variety and the feedback in mind.

However there is one thing that is absolutely wrong. I am not guro artist. This is not a guro fetish game. Lately there have been many comments accusing me of being a nasty person and attacking me.

This isn’t true. I am not guro artist, I don’t make guro works or doujin. My interests are Touhou, Lost in Abyss and biomechanism. I also very like dark themes and games that have dark themes and oppressive feeling. I hope you can see it now. Not guro.

I am interested in biomechanism, like how people will merge with machines in the future. And what kind of conception that will make, like Ghost In The Shell meets H.R. Giger. It’s strange aesthetic and I think creates interesting image. But it’s not guro.

The Citadel features gibbing and violence because I identified that as a big part of the aesthetic of classic retro shooter. Ultra violence. Because I draw anime style, I interpret that through the way I draw. It is not “fetish”.

It is inspired by those old games, and also newer games which are influence by that old style, like Shadow Warrior 2. I was quite interested by the gibbing and gore system in Shadow Warrior because it’s like how old brutality meets new technology that allows use of physics with gib system. Again, not because it is sexual.

I am proud of what I achieve with The Citadel game, even if it is not perfect, but now I receive many comments and mean messages after watching video from people accusing me of being a dangerous freak who only wants to hurt girls. It’s not my intention. Please understand.

Top Hat Studios continue, reiterating that the game is not fetishistic, but “a homage to retro ultra-violent classic shooters made by a Japanese individual interpreting it through Japanese-style art that he draws as a Japanese artist.” 

They further stated that asking a Japanese artist to make his artstyle “western” to avoid his work being mistaken for “fetish porn” was highly insulting. They compared the situation to how the original Doom brought about fans being called “freaks,” “sadists,” or “disturbed.”

Top Hat Studios also note “these accusations have been seriously upsetting to him,” and that at the time he had taken a step back from the game’s community, and began to “implementation of censorship into the game to remove all gibbing and violence effects, in order to end and prevent further attacks on him.”

Later however, the developer and Top Hat Studios decided to not censor the game, offering an option to make the game less violent if they so wished. In our emails with Top Hat Studios, they confirmed this removes the gibs from the game. They also confirmed the platforms the game would eventually come to.

We reached out to Top Hat Studios to interview the developer. Top Hat Studios then sent us a reply to our questions, which they translated on behalf of Doekuramori.

Niche Gamer: Thank you very much for speaking with us Doekuramori. For those unfamiliar with your prior works, can you tell our readers more about yourself and The Citadel?

Doekuramori: Hi, I am Doekuramori, an indie game developer from Japan and recently I published my first work that combines classic style FPS and anime Manga style artwork on steam. Now I’m working with Top Hat Studio to port the game to consoles.

The Citadel

NG: What was the inspiration behind the project? We see some influences from the original Doom for example?

Doekuramori: [Editor’s Note: Doekuramori divided the answer into two categories]

Needless to say, The Citadel is under a strong influence of DooM (1993, id software), but maybe an influence from Wolfenstein 3D (1992, id software) is much stronger.

The Citadel’s gameplay is mainly focused on firefights between human form enemies and the player. Also the main weapon of the player is an automatic rifle, not a shotgun. Every weapon has an alternative fire and I’m pretty sure that that was because of the influence of [the] Marathon series (1994~1996, Bungie).

The Citadel has a lot of ways of sequence breaking (like passing through a locked door without acquiring a key) and it is maybe the result of an influence of [the] METROID series (1986~, Nintendo). By the way, I have always had a feeling that classic FPSs lack love for guns and I added some modern features like leaning, malfunctions of guns, manual reloading, kicking and tactical reloading.

These features were made under influences from Outlaws (1997, Lucas Arts), [and the] Stalker series (2007, GSC Game world). Also every weapon which fires bullets by gunpowder has a different mechanism and has a different style of operating. I must add that the style of the game divided into 6 Acts and every final level of an act having a bullet-hell style boss battle is maybe made under influences of Toho Project series (1996~,Team Shanghai Alice).

The Citadel

-World settings-
The story of the game takes place in a distant dark future. The world setting of the game is influenced by the manga series BLAME (1997~2003, Tsutomu Nihei)) and BD series Metabarons (1992~2003, Alejandro Jodorowsky Juan Giménez). The world has red sky and green structures and I set this color combination referring to RELICS (1986 Bothtec).

The characters of The Citadel are not made for this game and they were just illustrations drawn a long time ago (maybe about 5~6 years ago?) and most of them have less influences from games mentioned before. The main protagonist was drawn in an image of the characters of a strong and silent atmosphere. She wears strangely revealing costumes.

These characteristics were inspired by the characters like Taarna from Heavy Metal: The Movie (1981) and Aeon from AEON FLUX The animated series (1991~1995). I’m not much interested in storytelling in FPS gaming but it does have a storyline (mostly untold.) Some people might have noticed that the game’s storyline is similar to the storyline of Taarna.

Also some people noticed the similarities between the storyline of The Citadel and the one of Pathways into Darkness (1993, Bungie).

The Citadel

NG: There may be a misconception that this style of classic FPS is only popular in the west. How has The Citadel and games like it been received in Japan?

Doekuramori: To most FPS players of Japan, classic FPS means 007 Goldeneye (1997, Nintendo), Halo series (2001, Bungie), Medal of Honor: Frontline (2005, 2015 Inc,) and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007, Infinity Ward). I think far fewer people play so-called throwback FPSs in Japan than the west.

Of course there are some classic FPS fans and they are interested in my game, but I think most of Japanese players of the game are interested in its unfamiliar combination of FPS and manga style artworks, not because it has classic style FPS elements.

The game draws the attention of people who usually don’t play FPSs. Because of this, the most received messages from the game’s players in Japan were the thoughts that the game was too difficult even in an easy setting. Except its difficulty, some people mentioned and praised details of the guns (like HK snapping of SMGs and reloading actions of guns which have built-in tube magazines).

The Citadel

NG: The sprites look great; can you tell us more about the process of creating them? Do you draw them first, or are they made pixel-by-pixel?

Doekuramori: I made these graphics by iPad and Procreate (2011, Savage Interactive Pty Ltd.) I know most of classic FPSs enemy sprites are made pixel-by-pixel, but to me, the first thing that comes up in my mind when I hear the words “the sprites of classic FPSs” is the graphic of Pfhor fighter of Marathon series. That was because I don’t draw the enemy sprite pixel-by-pixel.

NG: On August 20th you addressed abusive comments over the game’s content. We won’t ask you to repeat yourself from your statement, but looking at the game’s screenshots it seems most enemies are women grafted onto machines. Unless it is a spoiler, can you tell us more about the game’s story and how these enemies came to be?

Doekuramori: I don’t like players to stop playing by reading texts and that’s why I got rid of most of the texts from the game. However there is some background that explains why there seemed that most enemies looked female. Think of the book Time Machine (H.G. Wells) and in this book, there is one of future forms of humanity called Elois and they lost most of the gender differences between male and female.

They are also described as weak and can’t live by themselves. You can think of the humans of the world of The Citadel as identical to Elois. They do still have a little gender differences but you can’t tell until revealing their reproductive organs.

The Citadel

Unlike Elois, humans of the world of The Citadel decided to live by themselves by mechanizing their own bodies. These technologies were given by angels. In the world of The Citadel, the earth rotates no more, like the earth of The Time Machine.

Humanity is trapped in an eternal dusk. If they move to the dayland, they will be burnt to death. If they move to nightland, they will die in freezing. When the angels crawled up from the depth of the earth, they found humanity was on the edge of an extinction.

Actually they are not real angels. You can think of these angels as identical to Morlocks of The Time Machine. Or just you can think that they are the Devils but they decided to save humanity by all means. These “angels” mutilated their horns, tails and limbs by their own hand and grafted mechanical limbs and fake wings to their body to pretend that they were angels.

The Citadel

That was because these “angels” thought that if humans saw the true form of these “angels”, humans would never trust them as their allies. (Some people said that these angels’ forms are strange, but angels do have strange bodies with human faces, don’t they?)

These fake angels keep the fact that God and real angels already abandoned humanity a secret and lies that humanity isn’t forsaken. The fake angels decided to build their own God who can save humanity. Then the unborn God started taking control of humans and fake angels and making them insane, killing each other.

The protagonist and the merchant character are the only sane people in The Citadel. Their bodies are not mechanized. The protagonist is an ancient relic who can live without cybernetics and keep frozen for centuries. The merchant is incompatible with cybernetics and destined to die in some years.

These are the background of The Citadel.

The Citadel

NG: After enemies are beaten, we see the body parts of the machine and what was the person left behind. What is the intended reaction you were hoping for? Revulsion? Shock? Making players feel conflicted about fighting these enemies?

Doekuramori: All the enemies are trained, armed soldiers and have wills to fight against the player. The protagonist is also a trained soldier. If you feel nothing when you kill enemy soldiers in a game (like Viet Cong soldiers in CoD:Black Ops), you should feel nothing to kill them. You should have the exact same feeling when you kill soldiers in a game regardless of their appearance.

By the way, The Citadel can be beaten without killing any one of these troops. If you hesitate to kill them, you can try.

The Citadel

NG: In the west we have been noticing for a long time a worrying trend of individuals harassing Japanese developers and publishers (and even fan artists) over content they deem inappropriate. Some are calling this “Polikore” (like a “political correctness mafia”).

What is the best way for western supporters and consumers to make their voices heard above those who only intend to force change or harass?

Doekuramori: The best way for western supporters and consumers to support real Japanese media is to be as vocal as possible that you enjoy and support the Japanese media in its pure form without changes. And to continue buying and buy from publishers that release games in the pure form.

Doing these actions, will signal most to us from Japan that is actually not the way to censor and change things and that the ones who are bullying Japanese creators to change, are not actually representative of consumer. But it’s very hard to tell who is actually supporting if the loudest that is heard is just criticism.

The Citadel

NG: What have Steam and other platform holders done to deal with the users who harassed you?

Editor’s Note: Top Hat Studios answered the above question, as Doekuramori deferred this answer.

Top Hat: This is a bit of a hard question to answer; while our instinct is to say “nothing”, it’s a bit more multifaceted of an answer in reality.

It’s not as if the platforms are inherently facilitating harassment through their features or bending to digital lynch mobs – for example, we weren’t review bombed; the game is still positively rated on Steam, and it’s not as if original videos created criticizing the game went meant to foster harassment as much as they were just a negative one off comment, perhaps made irresponsibly (and now edited for that purpose).

It also was not as if the harassment was aimed at delisting the game or anything; it was basically just very mean comments. While unpleasant, it’s the internet – we aren’t going to beg platforms to remove mean words; it happens and is what it is.

The Citadel

However, we did want the record set straight on a casual/conversational level; especially in terms of what could have been understood as smears or misinformation elsewhere. That’s not a platform issue though; it’s a personal one, and one which was also dealt with on a human level rather than a technical or bureaucratic one.

With that said, it’s not as if platforms haven’t removed comments which break their ToS; it’s just that accusing someone of being a monster or of whatever other accusation isn’t a ToS breaking rule. It hasn’t crossed over into more than that – perhaps out of luck – so there isn’t a lot for us to say in that regard.

We will say though, other content creators and developers elsewhere perhaps have not been so lucky.

The Citadel

NG: The end of the statement mentions that you may be considering censoring the game for fear of future abuse. We all hate to see someone forced to censor their work. What can true fans of this game do to show they love the game as it is?

Doekuramori: In the end, I decided with Top Hat Studios to not censor the game but to offer a less-violent option for those who truly can’t manage the game. Because this is not the right way to experience The Citadel the option is off by default.

That said the answer I have for how true fans can show love and support the game as is is very similar to Q7. Be vocal and speak often about how you love the game, leave positive review and comment where possible and please also buy the game on console, when Top Hat Studios is finished with the port!

The Citadel is available on Windows PC (via Steam), and will be heading to other PC platforms, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Image: Steam [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

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Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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