VN Progress: Update 8

Well, this week we had the first conversation between our princess and her first two suitors, which went differently than I expected, but certainly got things rolling. It feels a bit jarring, and didn’t quite go where I wanted, but we’ll go back and fix it in post. I’m the type to labor over words for a long time and then put down exactly what I want to say, but I knew deep down that I’d have to edit/rewrite this story despite that. Oh well.

And that’s all I’ve got to say right now. Stuff is happening and I have to write it down – I’m going to get back to work!

VN Progress: Update 7

I did really well this week! I worked on the story for three or four days in a row! One of those days I happened to wake up before my alarm, and instead of going back to sleep, I got up and wrote for half an hour before getting ready for work. I’m so proud of myself, haha.

I say I’ve worked a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’ve written a lot – unfortunately that’s not how it works for me. But a lot of writing is just chair time, isn’t it? And I find (as I knew already) that the more I work on a project, the more I’m thinking about it, and that makes me work on it more. Steven Pressfield talks about this phenomenon in his book The War of Art (one of my favorite books) – how getting started on a project induces outside forces to help us, and that our brain keeps working at it after we stop actively working. I love that. (Seriously, check out that book. I try to reread it (or re-listen) every couple of years to get myself back in gear.)

Anyway, I’ve come to the point where the PC (Player Character) leaves on her mission with her party. I’ve introduced both of the suitors you begin with (though you technically haven’t met one of them yet), and there were a couple of subplot tidbits that happened without my planning them, which were delightful. Also, now that the PC has a father AND a brother, the odds of a customizable look are decreasing. It would be way more work to have the rest of the family match the player character, when that in itself would be a lot of work. But we’ll see. Some otome games I’ve played do not have a visual for the PC’s family members – minor speaking characters don’t get a visual aid – but we’ll see how important the king and crown prince end up being, whether they’ll warrant drawing or not.

So now I’m working on what happens next. My original plan was to force the PC and her suitors to send the rest of the party away as soon as possible, but I don’t think that’s going to work. The PC’s lady-in-waiting is rather loyal and would never agree to it, for one, especially after having made a very impassioned speech about joining them, and also it would reflect very badly on the suitor in charge for things to get that out of control so soon. So it looks like we may have a period of status quo first before things can start falling apart. I’m looking at my rough outline and thinking about what needs to be altered. But also, how to keep the “status quo” bits from being boring? Will have to twist it somehow to make it interesting. Maybe the party banter will suffice, maybe not.

I’m trying to do all this with a “good parts only” approach – you know how you go back and reread the parts that make you giggle? (Just me?) Well, I’m trying to make the story full of those bits, really keep it enjoyable for the player. So if I’m bored writing it, then it needs to change.

VN Progress: Update 6

Hey friends, sorry it’s been a while. Haven’t been doing much on the VN lately. Sticking with a long project is hard. (That’s why I’m trying to post all this.) But still.. it’s hard!

I did have a great writing session earlier this week, which felt really good after being stuck for a couple weeks. Part of it was being busy, and then being tired from being so busy, and part of it was being stuck with the story. I was at the point in the story where I had to present the premise and get the main character to go with it – that is, arranged marriage for political purposes – and I just could not couch it in a way that didn’t sound unreasonable and unacceptable. Eventually it occurred to me that I was trying too hard to make it feel acceptable to a modern woman, rather than a woman from the medieval-ish era where it was completely appropriate and expected. I realized that a princess would grow up knowing it was her duty to someday marry for the state, and that if I wrote it in terms of the responsibility to her station, and obedience to that request a matter of honor to her king, then a modern reader probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.

There was another thing I worked out in the writing, regarding politics. I was troubled by thoughts of succession, wondering what would happen to the kingdom if the king sent his child out to marry another head of state. I’d kind of assumed that she was next in line to the throne, but that makes the arranged marriage premise rather unwise. Also, really irresponsible for all parties in basically all the romance storylines. Some of them are really… just.. not appropriate royal consort candidates. So now the princess has a brother, who is the crown prince, and this allows for her to be married off for political gain without worrying about succession.

I know this all probably sounds like no-brainer stuff, but hey – I’m making this all up out of nothing, and there’s lots of complicated aspects I’m trying to juggle and piece together as I go. So, yeah. Writing is hard.

Well, I’m trying to dedicate a block of time each day to sitting at my computer and forcing myself to stare at the screen work on it, but some days I don’t get a chance. Other obligations are important too, and I can’t beat myself up about that. Hopefully it’ll go better this week than it’s been lately.

Here’s a fun excerpt for you.
KING: As your father, I would have preferred to see you wed a man of your preference, who treasures your charms and your wit. I would have you draped in silks and lace and precious gems, and surrounded by all who love you, not slinking away in the night like an exile. For that I am sorry. You are not a coin I spend lightly.

VN Progress: Week 5

Not much to report this week, just some more of the writing and a few brainstorm sketches. Here are the princess’s lady’s maid and couple possibles of the princess. Nothing super serious. I was going to do some color tests regarding the PC customization I talked about last week, but didn’t get around to it. Until I settle on a design for her, color is a bit premature anyway.


Oh yeah, I spent some time on the Lemma Soft forums this week, poking around about that customization thing.. It looks like I could allow the player to customize herself as the character, but I don’t plan to show her during regular conversation and whatnot, just in CGs. So no luck there yet – we’ll see. Those forums are like Wikipedia or TV Tropes – way too easy to get lost in; gotta keep myself on a tight rein or the scope of this game will blow up and I’ll never get it done.

VN Progress: Week 4

I’ve been thinking a lot about you this week – you, as in the player character. The princess. Wondering what kind of person she is, what kind of princess she is, and what kind the player would want her to be. There’s a balance to be maintained between believability and accessibility: a girl with modern attitudes would be completely inappropriate in a medieval-ish world, not to mention as a princess locked into the duties of her birthright, but avoiding, as well, the shy, sweet, submissive otome game protagonist is exactly the reason I wanted to make my own and do it differently. That kind of player personality may be popular in Japan, but I think it has a limited appeal to American audiences.

After a lot of rumination, I decided to just hit the ground. I mentioned that I think better with my hands on a keyboard, didn’t I? Sometimes it helps to get a feel for a character by just writing oneself into her. Well, I sat down and started chapter 1, and after less than 200 words, I already have a pretty good idea of her personality. She’s curious and interested in things/people, she’s a little too comfortable in her station, and she’s light-hearted and clever. It will be interesting seeing how she (ie you) reacts to the situations she’s going to encounter, and how she’ll grow and come to appreciate things she hasn’t had to think about before. But that’s what stories are about, isn’t it?

Those 200 words also gave me a better sense of setting than I’d been able to clarify, resulting in a couple of sketches I posted to my Instagram. Very rough, but it’s a start!!castle forest sketch

One more thing I’ve been thinking about – back to the princess again. The otome games I’ve played have occasional CGs (full still illustrations) at high points in the story, usually romantic moments or during fight scenes, etc. Often these depict the player character, with a specific character design (like in Destiny Ninja 2+ and Scarlet Fate) or sometimes as a nondescript-looking girl with brownish hair and NO EYES. Like, seriously, her eyes are either completely covered with her hair, or she literally has no eyes. So usually the protagonist is a generic design, or a very specific one, and neither of those is very personal for the player.

In thinking about what sort of CGs I would put in my VN, I understand it’s important in a lot of situations to include the PC in the image, but I don’t love the way I’ve seen it done. I’m hoping to experiment with the software to see if there’s a way I can let the player choose her hair, eye, and skin color, particularly for the CGs. Hopefully there’s a way to make one base image and the color assets and only change out those variables, instead of having to produce 36 versions of each CG to accommodate the combinations. That would take up a ridiculous amount of disk space.

Anyway, I’ll have to dig into RenPy and the forums and find out whether that seems possible. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing a bit (the rest of chapter 1, probably), and then go back and break down the story into chapter chunks. It’ll help me make sure that the exciting stuff gets distributed throughout, and keep track of the pacing.

VN Progress: Week 3

Everything is going better again. I didn’t get in a ton of work on my VN, but the work I did was important. I’ve now got a rough outline – I was approaching the climax/falling action bits in my planning and realized that the story needs to branch there, because the ending will depend on which suitor the player chooses. Each suitor also has his own character arc that will need to be dealt with, so while the game will follow the same general storyline each time, the suitor the player chooses will determine what aspect of the conflict will take center stage. So I’m making notes on these now, trying to keep them distinct and balanced.

It’s kind of cool to be moving into this aspect, because as I get more specific with the suitors’ backgrounds, I recognize areas of the storyline where I can throw in hints and connections that will make it feel cohesive. Because that’s how fiction works! There’s still a lot of particulars to figure out between the characters and the setting, but it’s coming along.

Something else I realized I need to do ASAP is refine my logline and choose a title. (A logline is a one or two sentence summary of the work, describing the protagonist and the conflict in a very concise way. Having a strong logline makes your story easier to market, and helps keep you focused on a clear premise while you’re writing.) My logline is changing a bit as I get a feel for the scope of the story, but the sooner I get that nailed down and name it, the easier it will be to keep the story on track. In this case, it centers around the role of the player character – she’s [you’re] a princess being married off for political advantage, but I’m still figuring out how much agency she [you] will have and how her [your] actions will affect the larger storyline. So anyway, lots to figure out still, but it’s moving forward.

VN Progress: Week 2

I’m going to make this short. Unfortunately, not much was accomplished this week. I made a couple of good plot connections on the story, but that’s basically it. I had several days of just being too busy to get on the computer, and then pinched a nerve in my shoulder and had to keep my arm in a sling for most of the weekend. In the interest of being able to function at my job on Monday, I decided to just take it easy on computer stuff and let my arm relax and recover. (And no video games, either.)

Usually I think best with my fingers on a keyboard, but in times like this it would behoove me to keep my story document close by so I can have my brain problem solving in the background at times I’m not actively working on it. I suppose I should upload the outline file to my Google Docs so I can check my notes on my phone.

Also notable is that, as with most things, when I have been NOT working on something for X amount of time, I tend to lose interest in it pretty quickly. I met some new neighbors at church today and was telling them about my work, and I felt kind of guilty talking about my VN like it’s a big deal when I’ve hardly touched it this week. (I have a guilty conscience that way.) It reminded me that I need to be careful to keep my momentum going if I hope to really accomplish things with my art.

The next step: finish the rough plot outline, and then split up the plot into chapters.

VN Progress: Week 1

Last week I said I would explain more about this project, so here it is. First off, the visual novel is a Japanese construct that I don’t think I’d ever heard of in the US until I fell into them a couple years ago. Simply put, it’s a video game that uses text and still images, with the gameplay being basically text choices you make here and there. You tap the screen to move the story forward, and in most of the ones I’ve played, your choices  don’t actually have that much impact on the story. So it’s like reading a novel, but you get to choose how to react sometimes, and also there are pictures. Most of the visual novels I’ve played are a variation called “otome” games (“otome” being the Japanese word for maiden), which basically go through a romance storyline with a female player character. (There are tons of these in the app stores; if you’re interested in trying one, some of my favorites are Sweet Scandal Returns, Office Lover 2, My Sweet Proposal, Shall We Date: Scarlet Fate+, and Finally, in Love Again (paid). I’ve really liked most of Okko’s games, and I’ve enjoyed several of the Shall We Date games, as well. Voltage makes games that cost money, but I’ve played several of those and <3 a few of them too.)

The games work like this: you (the player) are a character in a specific situation laid out by the story, and you have a cast of various suitors with whom you have to interact in the course of solving the problem in the story, one of whom will be your primary romantic interest. As with the romance genre in general, the love story is the A-story while the outside plot is the B-story. Usually you pick a particular suitor at the beginning, and each one of those suitors has a separate storyline within the setting’s framework. You have (usually conversational) choices throughout the game that award you a certain number of points, and depending on the level of points you’ve accrued throughout the story, you’re eligible for a more romantic ending.

My game features several suitors within one story, but with choices and branches that give the player chances to earn points with each particular suitor along the way. There are multiple opportunities for romantic interludes throughout, but whoever the player has the most points with at the end of the story will determine the final romantic outcome. I also wanted to create a game where the player has more control over the storyline, to portray the character with a variety of desires and personality – something in which the Japanese otome games I’ve played are sadly deficient. This is my hope, but we’ll see how much I can customize it and still have a cohesive story.

So how did I do this week? Well, despite repeatedly yielding to the siren call that is Dragon Age: Inquisition (leave me alone, I had to wait til I could upgrade my PC to run it!), I do feel pretty good about what I actually accomplished in the last seven days.

This week I mainly worked on the story, and on several different production charts and notes to help me keep track of things. I’d been brainstorming this project for a good year or two already, but my thoughts weren’t really written down or organized. My art list is becoming an Excel spreadsheet chart that will allow me to check things off as I finish them, and make sure everything is accounted for – I need lots of backgrounds, and each character has at least two costumes and a variety of facial expressions, but I won’t be able to get working on them until I finish the story and figure out its exact needs.

As for story, I’ve basically written out about two-thirds of the general outline, including some specific fun bits that I want to remember to include. I’ve got tons of specific fun bits left to compile, but this is a start. Once I’ve finished fleshing out the general storyline, I’ll divide it into chapters, listing out the specific aspects that need to happen in each piece, and then I can start the actual writing. For example, I already know that in chapter 1 I have to quickly establish the player character, the setting, the conflict, the tone, and the first two of our romantic heroes, and I have to make it all interesting enough that the player wants to continue. Also, in the interest of keeping this mess under control, I’m starting with a general ‘default’ storyline, and making notes as to where various story- and character-branches will diverge and reconnect to the main story.

So that’s what I’ve got so far. Could I have been more productive? Always. But I don’t want to push too hard on a process that for me is very organic, so I’m okay with it right now. Hopefully by keeping myself accountable and trying to be objective with these posts, I’ll be able to judge when it’s time to turn up the heat and go into full-on production mode.

Let me know if you have any questions about this stuff that you’d like me to address next time! Once I get started talking about the art, these posts will be more interesting to look at – I promise.

New Beginning: VN Project

Writing this post makes me uncomfortable. But that’s part of the point. New and scary things are always a little uncomfortable, right?

I’ve recently been listening to some art podcasts/videos at work, and one of them resonated with me very strongly. It was Jake Parker’s video “You Need a Product, Not a Project,” wherein he talks about bringing your work of art into a finished, tangible (or downloadable) form. This is, I believe, what’s been causing my creative frustrations lately – it’s been too long since I disciplined and applied myself to finishing a project. It’s not that I don’t have projects, or that I haven’t been working on them – it’s that I’ve been flitting from one to another without a real sense of urgency or purpose, and the result is that I haven’t made much progress on any one of them.

Jake Parker’s video suggests picking a project and staying focused by holding yourself accountable (something I tend to avoid). So here it is. For the next several months, I’m going to focus on a particular project – a (currently nameless) visual novel game app that I’ve been brainstorming for a while. (What exactly is that? I’ll go into it next time.) I’ve started making a production schedule/to-do list, and right now it has three parts: the story, the art assets, and the app-related stuff like programming, testing, and distribution. Giving these things a deadline is going to be tricky, since I don’t know how long it’ll take to do any of them (except the art, more or less), so I’m going to be fluid on that for now until I get a better handle on the scope. I’ll start out by sharing my progress here on a weekly basis (at least), but I’ll announce new posts on my social media too.

Here comes something cool!

LTUE 2015!

Attention, residents of Utah and surrounding areas:

I will be a panelist at Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy symposium in Provo, Utah next week – February 12-14! Here is my schedule as it stands now:

Thursday 12th
12pm – Comics: Writing vs Art
4pm – Basics of Depth Perception
7pm – Graphic Novels: More than just a comic book

Saturday 14th
3pm – Character Design for Artists

Check their website ( for changes and other information. It’s a great show – I always come away really jazzed about making stories!