KITFOX GAMES
Edge|December 2021
The Montreal indie on boyfriends, Dwarf Fortress, and avoiding overwork
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Founded 2013

Employees Eight

Key staff Tanya X Short (co-founder, captain); Xin Ran Liu (co-founder, art director)

URL www.kitfoxgames.com

Selected softography Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us, Moon Hunters, The Shrouded Isle

Current projects TBA

Portfolios don’t come much more adventurous than that of Kitfox Games. The Montreal studio’s latest is Boyfriend Dungeon – a saucy rendezvous between visual novel and action-RPG in which weapons transform into hotties who are levelled up through dating. The game follows cyber-theocratic whodunnit Lucifer Within Us, cult-horror village manager The Shrouded Isle, and fantasy adventure Moon Hunters, in which your deeds form a constellation in the sky for the guidance of future generations.

If Kitfox has formed quite the constellation itself, what really makes the studio worth watching right now is its thoughtful reconsideration of its own working practices as it expands into publishing other studios’ games. Consider the recent decision to trial a four-day week. “We don’t know if it’s going to be a permanent change or just an experiment,” co-founder and ‘captain’ Tanya X Short says. “You can find studies that supposedly prove you get as much done in four days as five, but I personally don’t believe it – I’m sure you lose something. But if it dramatically increases everybody’s quality of life, and increases their feeling of engagement and joy in working, and we can afford it as an employer, then I feel like we are almost ethically compelled.” There has been occasional overtime worked at Kitfox, she admits, but the studio is otherwise “very disciplined” in terms of the nine-to-five. “We believe in slow and steady.”

Founded in 2013, Kitfox was a chance meeting between a couple of kindred spirits at very different stages in their careers. Short (whose unconventional title sees her acting as designer, producer, writer, marketing strategist and more besides) had spent years at Funcom working on Age of Conan and The Secret World, with side projects including Pixelles, an advocacy programme for women game-makers. Xin Ran Liu, by contrast, barely had a credit to his name at that point. “I had worked very briefly at Behaviour Interactive on mobile games [as a concept artist], but I felt that I wanted something a bit more creative. And so around that time that I watched Indie Game: The Movie, and I was like, wow, this is great – I want to make my own games.”

There was a funding opportunity in the shape of incubator Execution Labs, founded the year before. “It was this rare moment where someone would give us some money and business training to make a studio,” Short says. “And for me, I’d been working in a bigger studio, and it sounded fun to try something new.” Liu first bumped into Short via Montreal’s game-jamming scene. “That actually didn’t work out, but I guess she kept my portfolio [because] when she was looking for someone to start a studio with, she contacted me,” he recalls. “I only had six months of actual professional experience, and someone was asking me to become art director. I was a bit scared, but I like a challenge!” Joined by Fathom Interactive alumnus Jongwoo Kim and programmer Mike Ditchburn, Short and Liu decided to try working together for half a year. The rest, as they say, is history.

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