Little Devil Inside devs decide to change character designs due to feedback

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Humanity

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#1  Edited By Humanity
The controversial characters in question
The controversial characters in question

Just recently during the Playstation 5 reveal event we got a look at the game Little Devil Inside made by the small studio Neostream. The trailer showed among other things one of the characters going on adventures in various locations and getting into all sorts of trouble. In one of those locations our (assumed) protagonist was being chased down by dark skinned, tribal looking people wearing large masks and using blowguns. This has resulted in a bit of a blowback on social media accusing the devs of racial stereotyping - specifically that these indigenous looking people were the aggressors and that you, as the white Indiana Jones type, were pillaging their lands and obviously that they looked like native Africans.

Now Neostream have posted a message on their Facebook stating in short that they had no intention of actively mimicking any one culture and were trying to make "guardian" like characters that wore masks and looked kind of wild - but since they don't want to offend anyone they will change the design.

Here is the message in full taken from their Facebook page:

"Dear all,In answer to a series of inquries made in the last 24 hours regarding certain character deign revealed in the PlayStation PS5 Reveal Event showcase trailer yesterday, the LDI team wish to make the following announcement.

Racist stereotypes of any kind were absolutely not intended, we were not aware of the stereotypical connotations and wish to apologize to anyone who may have been offended by the character design.

In addition, no one (not just limited to team members) has ever commented or hinted on the character designs. However, these characters have not been revealed publicly elsewhere prior to the event.

The design intention was to create characters who are protectors/guardians of a particular mystic region in the world of Little Devil Inside. We were not producing character designs referenced on any real African and/or Afro-American human tribes.

The focus was on creating colorful masks and our designers were researching masks from all various cultures. As characters in the game, they move in groups and use blow darts that paralyze when hit. We wished to add character to the mask design and give it life to it - something like the little Kakamora characters in Disney's Moana.

However, regardless of our intentions, if any people were offended in any way, we sincerely apologize.

We will be making the following fixes to the current characters but if it ends up not being suitable to the game as a whole, we may change the design entirely.

1. Remove the Dreadlocks.

2. Change the bold lips.

3. Change skin tone.

4. Tweak the dart blower so it looks less like a joint.

On a minor note, this is our first game title and we are still quite naive in many areas.

As always, we thank you all for your support!"

Of course arguments fell on both sides of the matter. Plenty of people thought this is a great show of understanding and owning up to an honest mistake stemming from cultural ignorance. Others think it's a case of the internet mob bullying developers into changing their games. Personally I'm somewhat split down the middle on this issue. Of course I think it's terrific that they showed a lot of humility and simply decided to change the characters in order to not offend anyone. If you don't have to then why not? Thats a great move for everyone involved. That said, from what little digging I did this is a small team comprised of 12 people and the whole game is a Kickstarter backed project. They're from South Korea so when they say they had no idea this might be offensive to anyone I'm pretty sure they are being genuine. I do feel a certain way about a tiny team like this having to go back and re-do character designs because the internet yelled at them. I'm just not sure I can actually gauge how offensive or politically incorrect these original designs were - I can obviously see the tribal similarities but at what point is it offensive? I suppose at any? Interestingly enough I was recently listening to Waypoint go over this Sony presentation and when this game came up one of the very first things Austin Walker brought up was vaguely remembering an old trailer of this game showing "tribal" antagonists chasing the hero on wild animals and how thats troubling imagery. If this was something that above all else stuck in Austins mind after all this time then obviously there is something there.

What do you guys think of this whole thing? Is the internet getting a little nuts or is this a great showing of how a developer can better their game through Social Media feedback? It's obviously not a binary situation of wrong or right, and the end result is a net positive, but does this set an unhealthy precedent and expectations of developers? Most recently the Sonic movie was drastically changed last minute due to a massively negative reaction to the character design, and similarly the product was better for it but a lot of conversation was had about the human cost those changes required.

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development

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#2  Edited By development

"I'm sorry to those who MAY have been offended." They say that twice. Why even write an apology if you can't even give those offended the respect they ask for.

Also this is basically "we didn't know we were racist, we just did these things [proceeds to list racist stereotypes] and it ended up seeming maybe racist to maybe some body somewhere." Like, damn, dude. This makes it worse because they're telling us that they have learned nothing and are in fact still racist and ignorant of their wrongdoing.

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mellotronrules

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i think the design is pretty clearly drawing from a tiki or tribal mask tradition- and i think we've entered an age when people really need to be prepared to face backlash if they're going to borrow liberally from cultures that aren't their own. you need to be mindful, or face the consequences.

i don't think they need to be crucified- but moving on to an alternative design is best. especially as a new IP- it's not like there's a ton of consumer investment in the design.

artists are judged by their creativity- i have faith they can come up with something that isn't so directly derivative.

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Efesell

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I like a willingness to change I guess... less sure about this “sorry if you were offended” tone though.

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BladeOfCreation

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#5  Edited By BladeOfCreation

I follow some left-leaning games people on Twitter, and this is the first I'm hearing about any conversation over this. I didn't notice the look of these characters in the trailer, but that may be because I'm not interested in this game and wasn't paying attention.

I don't see a reason to not believe the developers here. At the same time, this isn't just a case of one aspect of a character maybe resembling a caricature. This is the entire character. That's rough.

I don't see this as equivalent to the Sonic redesign. There is a difference between not liking the design of a character for purely aesthetic reasons, and not liking the design of a character because it resembles historical racist caricatures of a group of people.

Edit to add: South Korea is not immune to anti-Black racism. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_South_Korea

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#6  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@development:

If there are many people reaching out to you that your character designs are hurtful, you'll naturally learn which aspects that are. I don't think them being able to name those aspects showcase that they knew exactly what they were doing back when they made these characters.

I imagine that they wanted to have a tribe in their game. So what do you do? You image search abunch of tribal masks, and base the masks on it. I imagine that the white / red coloring was their attempt to put their own original twist on it, but they're still very much leaning on a hurtful caricature with the design. Them recognizing this and altering the art will only force them to be more creative and thoughtful which probably creates better results in the end.

How are we feeling nowadays about Aku-Aku and Monkey Island's tribe? Did Tomb Raider do it right? Is there a way to do it right?

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csl316

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People taking criticisms and acting on them quickly is a good thing, I would think. They didn't say "sorry you're offended, deal with it." They said "sorry to anyone that was offended" and made it clear what they were doing to fix it.

I can't understand why people can get angry about a developer taking honest feedback in such a humble manner.

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Humanity

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@onemanarmyy: I think context is important. In the case of this game I think the end result was stylized and cutesy enough where I wouldn't think it would fall into the category of hurtful misrepresentation because it's entering the realm of fantasy. But if we want to go in the route of "any representation of indigenous people" is just plain bad then there probably isn't a right way to do it. Tomb Raider is very realistic and Shadow of the Tomb Raider specifically is criticized for it's portatyl of Mayan/Aztec civilization, or more specifically Laras interactions with them.

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I think it's good that they responded so quickly and pledged to make any changes necessary. They're from South Korea, the awkwardness of their statement and their ignorance on the issue to begin with are likely because they lack the context to know better, not to mention the nuances of english might make a statement like "anyone who may have been offended" sound perfectly fitting to a fluent but not native english speaker. We can't expect every developer the world over to have a firm grasp on every social issue that exists in the world, we can just hope that they address such issues when they do make a mistake. Which is what is happening, so good on them.

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#10  Edited By Slag

@humanity: This is a very good thing

yeah the statement's perhaps not perfect, but they probably aren't native speakers some possibly don't know how "may" reads in this context.

And they did what really mattered they really listened and are willing to change and continue to change! I hope I handle any mistakes I make in life as well as they seem to have here

I believe their sincerity and believe the game will be better for it.

I can obviously see the tribal similarities but at what point is it offensive? I suppose at any?

Even if you don't understand why it's hurtful, I think the right thing to do is be considerate and listen when you see that it is hurting people. And that's what they did as far as I can see. Then go research on the topic to avoid future issues.

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#11  Edited By BisonHero

This reminds me of the whole thing with Chuchel, though at least the devs of Little Devil Inside responded to the notion of lightly changing character designs much, much sooner, whereas Amanita took like half a year to change anything.

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north6

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#12  Edited By north6

@bladeofcreation said:

Edit to add: South Korea is not immune to anti-Black racism. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_South_Korea

Understatement of the century. Not exactly a melting pot.

Anyway, that looks like a tiki mask, I'd say this is more concerning south pacific islanders. African tribal masks are usually taller and narrower, but I'm sure they're just doing damage control, so it doesn't really matter.

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