The Witch's Tree

clyde's picture

So my goal for 2015 is to experiment with character-driven narratives in games, emphasizing romance. Really, I want to make a romance in a game that I can get into. At first I was going to try to do some rapid-prototypes, but I quickly realized that any romance in a single rapid-prototype is going to be trivial and unconvincing. I am a big fan of Korean-drama romantic comedies that follow a 16-episode format. Usually it takes at least 4 episodes (4 hours) for them to manage to make me care about a ship. So I decided to make a larger scope narrative in a game so that a romance could form in context of a larger story. I'm not happy about having to make a larger game, but I do want a believable romance, so I'm doing what I find necessary.
I am using Unity rather than Ren'Py because I like focusing on Unity and C# and there seems to be more potential for gameplay that is not exclusively visual-novel-esque. I don't know what extra gameplay I want to put in, but I like the idea of having some gameplay to break up all the reading. I've spent a lot of time trying to build a system in Unity that would allow me to script the animations and dialogue in a convenient workflow. I basically want to be able to write it as if it was Ren'Py. So for instance, in my StoryScript.cs I can write

Move(character_talking, Direction.InLeft);
Say("Hey there I just came in from the left side of the screen!");

I also included some commands for options that jump to different parts of the dialogue and stuff. I keep thinking that I'm finished with that system, but then I start writing more dialogue and realize that I want to program something else in. The difficulty is largely in programming this stuff that takes simple lines and converts them to various arrays of instructions that are eventually enumerated through during run-time. It is by far the most ambitious programming I have done.

As far as the narrative goes, I'm learning a lot. There are many things I did not consider and trying to create awesome characters is far more involved than I expected. I don't have much finalized, but I have a pretty good idea of how the arcs of 3-5 of my characters will go. I also have a pretty good idea for a main narrative-arc that expresses something that I think other people would benefit from understanding themselves. I'm very excited about how much work I have done in thinking about my characters. When I play a lot of hobbyist games, I often feel that they are lonely or isolating. Even when NPC's exist, I rarely have an opportunity to or interest in getting to know them better. In trying to do it myself, I can see why it is rarely done. In order to have characters that you can get to know, you have to have interesting characters that are interesting to know, and they need to be engaged with the other characters in the world (I'm not doing much of this with emergent systems, I'm doing it with authored narratives). But it is already paying off. Regardless of whether or not I finish this game, it is satisfying to have a roster of interesting characters (that I can call mine) to use in other games and stories. It really is a craft.

I'm going to start my dev-diary here. I'm becoming annoyed with not being able to feel small accomplishments. Part of it is that I'm not keeping track of my progress and part of it is that I haven't been showing any of y'all what I'm working on! BUT I'm not going to concern myself with hiding spoilers, so if you want to be able to play my resulting game in the intended way, don't read this blog. The game's appeal is largely discovering the world and the characters and you can only do that once. There won't be much replay value.
This is a much larger project than I am comfortable with, but I'm going to push until I get something cool or it collapses. One thing I find myself doing is trying to integrate other game ideas I have into this one. The way I do that is this:
-I have an idea in the shower for an awesome concept for a game's story.
-Instead of starting a new game I ask myself if I have a character in *The Witch's Tree* that can express that narrative with their attitude or narrative-arc. If not, I get to make a new character that you may run into!
Thus far, it has worked beautifully.

I'm still unsure how much refinement I'm going to put into the art. Right now, everything is placeholders that I can easily open in Gimp to make further adjustments. So for instance, just this week I decided that the protagonist will be of Peruvian genetic-descent and so I'm going in and changing her skin color. But in doing so, I find myself getting bogged down by whether or not I should go ahead and do something less cartoonish. This is the type of workflow I have.

Usually what will happen is I'll think of a character idea and then try to figure out why they would be going to a magical school of mythical creatures. I'll do some character-sketches and write a sample section of dialogue that gives me a better idea of who this character is and how the interact with the protagonist. Then I'll make a placeholder background and character art to put them into my visual-novel system just so I can see if the dialogue I wrote works well. It usually doesn't, but that's fine because having any dialogue gives me something to mess with and change into something I like.

I'm going to publish some playable builds here as I progress further. Here is the first one.


everythingstaken's picture

This first build is very

This first build is very promising! I actually have a large interest in doing something like this and I have a couple romance games in the works. I like how you have sort of physics involved in what I just saw and I'm interested in if or how that will come into play with the interactions with the other person.

I am not sure if you have played it, but there was that games where you control someone's eyes and have to look at the right things when on a date and stuff like that. Though the game was short it seems like mechanics like those open up a lot of possibilities. I'd like to see the Portal of weird mechanical romance games in the future.

Would be cool to see something like this with like a more fleshed out story, but maybe that's a game I will make. :)

clyde's picture

Thanks for recommending that

Thanks for recommending that game.

clyde's picture

Gremlin's design

I feel that I did very little this week but who cares right? I mean, I probably did a lot and I just don't account for it very well. This is exactly what this dev-diary is intended for; if I don't keep a weekly record of what I accomplished then I start thinking that I accomplished nothing and that demotivates me which makes it less likely that I will accomplish much in the coming week. So I'm going to go ahead and commit to wednesday updates. I want to feel motivated by acknowledging my own accomplishments.

Here are some things I remember doing:
I attempted to draw a second sprite for the aunt-character. I'm not satisfied with the results, but having two sprites was what I needed in order to visualize her dialogue better. I still haven't put the new speites in or completed the simplistic talking animation. I should really do that this week. I'll go ahead and make that a goal.

Goal: put existing aunt sprites into game and include talking animations. Go ahead and write a sample dialogue to test it out.

I think it was this week that I saw an art-exhibit that included an exhibit on Marie Laveau. That was very inspirational. At first I thought that I should make the aunt a Marie Laveau clone, but then I realized that doing so would create a limitation I would have to work around. My plan is to inform who the aunt is by thinking of her as an informant of a Laveau-character. They will play dominoes together, but the aunt is largely just an advisor, the Laveau character is a boss.
I also think that I may have written a sample dialogue and plan for who the arrival at the bookstore goes. I might have done that a couple of weeks ago, but the dev-diary is just starting so whatever. Anyway, I'm thinking that the conflict in that scene is that Sophie wants to just find out where her new territory is upon arrival, but the aunt is trying to become immediate friends. So the failstate will be that you have a long conversation with her, the succeedstate will be going to bed early and maybe having a different, shirt monologue. I'll go ahead and make all that a goal for this week. I don't expect to actually do it, but that's fine. It'll be helpful to have an aim.

Goal: Bookstore areival dialogue including a negotiation that results in either a conversation too long for Sophie or a monologue about how she will have to make due with her situation.

I also did some character design for Gremlins. I like what I came up with. After I saw what I want him to look like, I was able to easily write a dialogue that shows how he is kinda cute and flighty.
Labryinth and WishingWell
-I realized that I need mythical places along with mythical creatures. At first I was think things like the City of Gold and Asgard, but everything needs to be on campus so now I'm thinking of small enough mythical structures. I already have three I will probably use, the wishingwell, the labryinth, and tye fountain of youth. I wrote down some ideas for each. The wishingwell is like a cafe where wishes are read. The labryinth will be where the bad kids hang out, think of it like a rooftop or an abandoned industrial building. The fountain of youth will erase the day's progress.
I like the idea of having Cerberus gate Sophie from death. This will allow me to narratively keep the player from killing themselves while affirming that danger does exist for the other characters. I came up with that this week. No art assets or anything, just ideas.
See, I did some stuff this week. Ha.

clyde's picture


So I got curious about TyranoBuilder, checked it out and I like it a lot. Here is the sitch: We all know that scope is what will kill this game. TyranoBuilder's design feels limiting initially. Since I'm new to it, it is limiting. TyranoBuilder will limit the scope of The Witch's Tree. I don't need physics or dexterity-play to pace this narrative. If I finish and decide that it did need that type of gameplay, then I can just make a Unity version, having all of the narrative, sprites, backgrounds, branches, and sounds already made. I want this game to get made, scope is my biggest enemy, TyranoBuilder encourages me to get the job done fast and clean; boom.

So I did a first draft of Sophie's arrival to the aunt's bookstore. It's just a first draft. I still want to implement the territorial tone and stress that I had planned for. It's just when I write first drafts, I default to comedy. I plan to go back over it a few times and balance it out some. The sprites also need work of course, but I just wanted a first draft.

This brings me to my risky business. I want to take 1-3 weeks to just cram the shit out of TyranoBuilder with short non-sequitur prototypes. I want to learn its tendencies and limits by iterating through them and breaking it a bit. To be honest, I also want to see what I end up making by doing so. I was considering how much I want to do this the other day and I said to myself "No Clyde, you are going to go back to making tiny projects and leave this larger project behind! Don't stop working on The Witch's Tree!" Once I defined the specifics of this fear by voicing it, I realized that I can work around it. If the thing that I'm worried about is that I won't come back to The Witch's Tree, then I can do whatever I want as long as I come back to The Witch's Tree. That's why I'm giving myself a maximum of three weeks. That will be plenty of time to experiment with TyranoBuilder enough to get familiar with the toolset. So I have until April 22nd 2015. During my blog post then, I will have to go back to The Witch's Tree regardless of the lotus surrounding me. If I don't make that deal, then I don't get to experiment. This is how I get shit done. I make deals with myself.

sergiocornaga's picture

Heh... yam-bag...

If you make prototypes relating (even loosely) to things you want to implement in The Witch's Tree, I bet it can be rationalised as still working on the project!

clyde's picture

I want to makes some really

I want to makes some really radical stuff. Fortunately/unfortunately I had a dream last night that inspired a completely different narrative idea. I think I might try to complete it in the first week and a half. That type of constraint will encourage me to not be too picking about sprites and such. Or things fitting on the screen right.

I don't have any specific

I don't have any specific comment to make except to say it's interesting to read this devlog after having witnessed you looking for folk tale romantic dating characters on twitter. Now i will follow this devlog a bit, I'm curious of where all this is heading (except this GT thing is so unconvenient to follow things but i'll try)