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.

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