Not much worth reporting, but I figured out how to set up a poll.
Should be interesting to see people's responses. Have fun with it.
We also have a Twitter now. Check it out at the top-right along with Facebook!
Oh, and the comment colors should be fixed. I think the issue was that the color no longer exists as a choice so it reverted to black, or whatever. Weird.
But I will anyway.
Really happy to say that VN progress is going well. Managed to reprogram a few neat functions and finished writing the main story. Just need to touch up some things here and there and we're all set! (although that takes far longer than what one might think...)
One thing I was discussing in some previous posts was interactivity. Ultimately, after taking into consideration everything that was said, Detective Butler won't be having any interactive parts. Trying to implement them only interrupted the flow of the story, which also gave me unnecessary writer's block. That said, I'm quite proud of the story that I have. The first draft of one year ago is nothing compared to the VN of today!
Two years without releasing anything (does Repercussion count?) is far too long. Believe me, I'm excited to finally get the game out this summer, especially with all of the skills I've learned. I also want to work on some special projects I thought up but had no time to actually dedicate. Of course, those will come after Detective Butler is released, so worry not about those getting in the way.
People love release dates, so I'll tease you all with "Summer 2013".
How's that sound?~
I'd like to post more often about progress, but I've unfortunately been kept busy due to REAL LIFE! Although in my spare time I have been relentlessly editing the game in ways that should definitely be worth the effort. I'll have more time to do things in the latter half of next month, but I am doing my best to get as much done as possible before then.
One technique I find particularly helpful is keeping a text document of changes I plan to make. Then whenever I have some spare time, I open the file and read the list of things I need to add to the game. Little by little I implement each change, but the moment I remove it from the to-do list, two more things get added on! Sometimes it feels like I'm making NEGATIVE progress...!
It actually reminds me of what happens when debugging my programming homework. When you fix one error and get a whole list of new ones -- that's when you know you've made progress! All that remains is to survive each wave of errors until the final product works as expected.
And that's what I plan to do here.
As I often do, I've been trying to think of what most EVN are missing that make them stand out (in a bad way) from their Japanese counterparts. Allow me to propose this idea: a lack of attention to detail.
Japanese works are known for paying extreme attention to detail, anime-related media or otherwise. Western works, on the other hand, often focus on the whole picture, the grand scheme of things, moreso than the little links in between. This distinction is quite noticeable in the realm of visual novels, especially when comparing JVN to EVN.
However, rather than listing out a dull compare and contrast, I will simply state the things which I believe more EVN creators should give more attention. And I will also explain how they can go about doing it. The order I'll go in isn't anything special, and although this list neatly comes out to ten rules (a "decalogue"), I may add more in the future. Lastly, do remember that some things can be done TOO much, which is just as bad as doing them too little. Balance is key.
1. Change the facial expression and/or the pose of the speaking character each line they talk. No exceptions. The game is more immersive this way -- the player is reminded they are in an active, living world.
2. Change the backgrounds often. Watching two characters talk back and forth is boring enough when their faces remain the same! Show us some of the scenery! And also, hiding the speaker's face by a subtle background change can make for an interesting concealing of information for the reader. The visuals tell us just as much about the characters as the text.
3. Keep something animated on the screen, whether it's a blinking sprite, GUI effect, or even so much as the clickwait icon. Again, it reminds us that we're in a living world, not looking at a stiff picture book with music.
4. Add as many sound effects as possible. Once again, immersion is key. Proper usage of ambience such as wind or rain also creates a nice atmosphere. Simply adding it into the game can change the experience the player has. Silence is also quite good at showing tension, but too many EVNs simply don't have music at all, so I wanted to refrain from mentioning it.
5. ...That said, know what sounds are fitting and what aren't. Clips with bad audio quality really break the immersion we've been setting up this whole time. Also, using sparse voice clips in a game without voice acting can be jarring. Like voice-acting itself, if the clips are bad enough, they will be worse than having those sounds left to the reader's imagination.
6. If you are going to include an opening movie, put 200% of your effort into making it. If it looks sloppy, it will certainly come off that way to the reader. Try and hide lots of hidden details into the movie that only a second, third, or hundredth viewing can establish. And these details should make no sense prior to reading, so afterward the reader can go back and say "So that's what that image was!"
7. Add pointless details -- Chekov's guns -- into your writing. Sounds counter-intuitive at first, and if abused your story will become awful. But the gun is more of a double-edged sword. Let me use an example -- say the main character of an otome game taking place in a highschool overhears her crush saying he'll attend the school festival. Now, you can guess what happens next, right? The next plot thread becomes obvious. But if you add in the voices of other characters -- a friend's pet is sick, or the main character's sister is having her own relationship problems, perhaps the reader can't so easily predict the future of the story. I used an obvious example, but more subtle stories can really trick the reader into thinking the plot is headed into one direction when it makes a 180 degree turn. This is a powerful skill that should be used with caution.
8. An addendum to the above: do not forget your plot threads or leave anything hanging. Even if it amounts to nothing, don't tease the reader by mentioning something which never appears again. Introduce them and update us on them, but if they don't need to be a part of the main story, they don't have to.
9. Beta test early and often. Too many games (mine included) are released with bugs everywhere. Demo bugs are usually justifiable, but for a final release, make sure to run through the entire game on multiple operating systems. Go through every route, make sure the game doesn't crash, make sure images, sounds, GUI, and any interactive features are being implemented correctly. And also check for spelling/grammatical mistakes; even if you're naturally good at it, typos can somehow sneak into your story without you realizing it.
10. Create a proper title screen. To go further: create a product outside the story. Add several menu options and functions that can make your game stand out. The more unique art and music you use for these parts, the better. Same for the opening movie - use images (of much higher resolution) that will only appear in the movie and not in the game. Synchronize both the inside and outside of the story, and what you have then is your full game. The VN is not simply an interactive picture-book, despite the popular comparison. There is a reason the VN is considered a video game -- don't forget it.
In all seriousness, I have made some progress with Detective Butler. All that's really left is to write one chapter and patch up some other parts of the story. I ended up changing a few scenes that were in the old demo, but the story remains the same. CGs have been redone by the character artist Shadilyn, as you can see in the picture above. I also changed the GUI and BG filter to something a lot more clean. You
can find screenshots in the "Downloads"
section of the Detective Butler website. Notice that I've also taken down the demo. The plan is that the next link you'll see on there will be for the full game!
Oh, and did I mention that I'm working on an OP movie?-Kinjo
As you may have noticed, I've been rather secretive about Detective Butler's progress in recent blog posts. I sincerely thank all of you following my blog for sticking around and supporting me. So now I'll give you the announcement you've all been waiting for! A sneak peek into the story after the demo!
You see, I began writing the parts after the demo, and I realized something. I really came to love these characters. You know how sometimes the characters tend to write the story themselves after a while? I was getting that feeling, and it made me realize something else: writing a murder mystery is extremely difficult! I don't want to do it anymore! Here's what happens instead:
Shortly after the end of the demo, the cruise ship hits an iceberg, and everyone is forced to abandon ship. Conveniently, the prime suspects all wash up on a nearby island, along with Gilligan and Butler. But incidentally, all of them happen to get amnesia and totally forget about the murder! Even the culprit doesn't remember they killed anyone!
Taking advantage of the situation, Butler attempts to seduce the three ladies (they're the obtainables, you see!) while making sure the crafty Captain Jack doesn't steal his spotlight. Gilligan always happens to unintentionally thwart Butler's plans, resulting in slapstick comedy between the two. Donald cooks everyone's meals using various ingredients found on the island, and Howard is tragically lost at sea (not that anyone remembers him).
In other words, the game is no longer a dark murder mystery, but is instead a lighthearted dating sim, which are always considerably superior. There will be no murders -- each episode will revolve around the zany antics taking place on the island between our seven stranded cast-aways.
As such, the series will aptly be retitled "Gilligan's Island".
Spring break is upon me now, and I'll have plenty of time to work on things that I've had to push aside for a while. In particular, I'll be finishing the writing, making a few revisions to the story, and working on another graphical overhaul. I might also have a surprise next update, depending on how things turn out.
But for now, a short update just to prove I'm still alive. See you later!
I've been pretty busy lately IRL, which makes me glad I decided not to do NaNoReNo. Because it'd just turn out to be either a horribly rushed mess, or I wouldn't get it done at all. My schoolwork has gotten increasingly more demanding, with my assignments being critiqued considerably harsher -- what was once "A" level for me is now only average. And I've learned that, in order to see good results, I need to put in a much greater amount of effort. So, like any good student, I thought about how this relates to creating visual novels and decided to post about it on my blog!
I would much rather have my VNs torn down and destroyed by critics than never commented upon at all. I would also much rather have a truthfully harsh review than one that's too sugar-coated to even matter. Giving too gentle reviews lowers the standards for visual novels, while giving harsher reviews raises them. This is all plain and obvious, but a nice observation is that we have two polar opposites here: really nice, and really cruel. And there are two message boards which I have posted Detective Butler on and received such criticism from.
Needless to say, I found the harsher criticism more helpful. It told me what I was doing wrong and why. Perhaps it stems from the anonymity of the board -- are people too afraid to give harsh reviews on boards where you have an identity? Or is it because of the heavy moderation which prevents such criticisms from being made?
"If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all" is a phrase I have heard since childhood and I cannot disagree more with it. Saying nothing when you have a problem only perpetuates the problem; it subtly acknowledges that you DO NOT HAVE a problem and that everything is fine, which leads to failures in communication. And from my experience thus far as a VN-dev, communication means everything (both concerning VNs and IRL).
Enforcing such a policy only leads to people believing in something which is not true, a delusion. But, unfortunately, sometimes criticism can be so difficult to hear that it tears you apart, and you just want to give up. If you always hear harsh criticisms, no matter how hard you try, then wouldn't you just want to stop trying? Either that, or ignore the criticisms, but that's like closing your eyes and saying "if I can't see you, you can't see me!"
What is MY opinion on this conundrum? Have close friends harshly review your project. Whether it's a VN or not, a friend will be someone who will know you well enough to phrase the criticism in such a way that it is both truthfully harsh yet not painful to hear. One might hear "this chapter is really boring" or "what this character is doing doesn't make sense" -- softer criticisms will brush them aside, but harsher ones will want to burn you alive for making such amateur mistakes. But a close friend, in theory, should be able to explain why it doesn't work, and how to go about fixing it -- for they are the reader, just like anyone else, but will neither be afraid to tell you of its problems nor too condemning for the mistakes you may have made. What matters is that, by the time of release, you have effectively "killed" all the elephants in the room -- the things which soft criticisms skirt around and harsh criticisms make as their target.
Lately I've been working on what I'd call the more interactive chapters of Detective Butler, and it's gotten me curious about the concept of having an interactive visual novel. I believe it can be good, if done properly, but I'll examine the pros and cons in further detail.
I don't understand the appeal of most sim games. If you are not familiar with those, it should be easy to find quite a few of them on the Internet advertising themselves as visual novels. And I'm not sure what to make of that. I read visual novels to read a story about compelling characters and an interesting plot, not to click on the same button 50 times just to watch a dull animation 50 times before finally progressing into a very small segment of actual dialogue -- only to be interrupted by more pointless clicking. That formula just doesn't make sense to me; often times I don't want to bother thinking about the "strategy" behind clicking and just want to read the story. It gets in the way.
That said, at times I think visual novels can be improved by adding interactive elements. Even for a kinetic novel, where there are no choices to affect the story, it might be nice to have something the player can control themselves. Case in point: Phoenix Wright. Many won't consider this a VN, but it's a good example for me to use to illustrate interactivity that doesn't change the plot.
One con to this, however, is that interactivity does break immersion in the story. Immersion is already a rather difficult thing to accomplish in terms of writing; you have to set up an atmosphere with realistic characters and dialogue. But even if that is done correctly, it can all be torn to shreds by reminding the reader that this is merely a game. And in most cases -- where the gameplay only consists of clicking things that appear to have little variation -- I drop the sim games and move on to go do better things.
The question for the people reading this is as follows: At what point would an interactive VN cease to be a VN? The key word here is "novel" -- so I think that once the VN is more about interactivity than it is about reading a story, it no longer deserves the title of "VN". I think interactive visual novels have a lot of potential entertainment value (see: WTSC EP3) but, then, is it still a VN?
What's the perfect balance between interactivity and story? And how would one go about achieving it? I get the feeling I'll have to answer this myself over the next few weeks, but for now, feel free to contemplate it with me.
Here's something I wrote a while back but didn't post anywhere. Enjoy:
If I'm playing a Japanese VN I can pretty much assume it's at least decent. I don't question the author's intentions. But for English ones, everything is criticized because we don’t think very highly of English authors. You wouldn't find typos in a professionally finished work. Using words that seem unnatural could be used for character development instead of remnants of the author's mistaken grasping of the English language. Deviations in the visuals follow the same rule; if the author does something that isn’t standard we merely wonder if it was supposed to be done on purpose or not.
The reader no longer trusts the author of an English VN. The reason for this, I have to conclude, is the close network of communication between author and reader. I have almost no knowledge of how Japanese VN makers communicate to their fanbase, but I get the feeling the problem does lie in the community. Not saying that the community is full of bad people, but that the openness to discussion – allowing readers to influence the creator via direct feedback – is a negative thing. Not in terms of constructive criticism, but in terms of the EVN being a game to be played by the reader. By communicating with each other, the EVN becomes less like “a game to be played” and more “a game made by this person to be played and commented upon by myself”. Of course, most makers would say they are VN hobbyists and do not consider themselves professional -- hence, they do not try. And as a result, we get a considerably different product than our Japanese counterparts.
For EVNs, the author somehow influences the story just by being known as the author; the story loses credibility somehow, and it loses its immersion... and that's something I want to fix and get right. When you read a Japanese VN, you don't question things like that. The main reason is graphics and presentation –all the graphics, music, writing, and programming are highly polished, leaving the only criticisms up to the story itself. For English VNs, you get horribly plain default textboxes and MS-Paint cave-drawings half the time. Not to mention the same stock music (or blatantly STOLEN music) but I would say the visuals have more of an impact. And from that moment, from the very moment the art doesn't seem reliable, the moment the game LOOKS bad, the thought gets in your head that it MIGHT BE bad, and you question that while playing -- you constantly critique in your head, and there's no escaping that; the story has been doomed by its own author.
I don't know how else to explain it. I guess I'm just sensing a lack of trust in the EVN scene, which might be appropriate due to the lack of professionals in the field. I don't blame teenagers for wanting to dive into video game making -- in fact I did the very same thing at their age. But I do wonder sometimes: how could a person possibly think this is good? A common occurrence of this is making the game unreadable due to extremely poorly-chosen colors for the font and textbox. How could someone consciously do this? I mean, they must've TRIED reading their game before sending it out, right? Then why keep the unreadable font?! But the point is that I can't focus on the game anymore; instead I am caught up wondering how intelligent the author is. If this happened once, it might be a mishap. If it happened twice, I might still not think much of it. But when things like this are in just about every EVN out there, when games worthy of being played are akin to diamonds in the rough -- I start to wonder if Japan is simply made of diamonds.