But for now, a short update just to prove I'm still alive. See you later!
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.