visual novel

clyde's picture

The Witch's Tree

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

Show(character_talking)
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.
https://s3.amazonaws.com/witchs-tree/2015-3-18_web/Builds.html

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