The future of Milk~La légende des étoiles

As I promised last time, here’s a more detailed article to explain what will happen to Milk. In fact, Milk~La légende des étoiles is quite a special case: since we’re talking about an incomplete episodic game, it’s inevitably stuck between our hobbyist period and the upcoming commercial period.

We could have carried on without change but, as I explained in the last post, it’s precisely because it’s now impossible that the Träumendes Mädchen team decided to become pro. Following that logic, the only way for us to keep making Milk would be to make it commercial. Which is problematic insofar as, considering we gained experience since our first steps, the quality gap between Episodes is huge, especially with visuals. We cannot sell a visual novel with mixed assets like that. Especially because ties have been severed with several former teammembers and it’d be tasteless to sell their work without their permission.

There’s no two ways about it: we’re going to remake Milk in order to adapt the game to our current standards. So the graphics will be harmonized and I will take that chance to rewrite some parts of the script. Up until now, I hadn’t touch anything, even though the story had been finished back in 2011, which is quite extraordinary, but I’m not satisfied with the way I did Episode 1 and what should have been Episode 6. The timing is perfect to review my work based on your feedbacks (I’m still looking for those BTW). I also want to offer additional scenes inside Khzi’s story (that I’m only slightly going to change) to develop the mercenaries, especially those have less “screen time”. Presentation will stay rather linear but the result should look a bit more dynamic. Most of the teammembers who worked on the first version will come back for the remake and Laniessa will become the main artist!

Milk Remake Teaser

Here’s what the new sprites should like. Looks better, right?

However, the workload being astronomical, the development of Milk’s remake would have to get unfolded across several year, in the “background” of Chronotopia, our commercial project. Unfortunately, there won’t be another Episode until a while, that’s why I really wanted to reduce the waiting time by finishing Khzi’s story. For the same reason, news about our progress are going to become scarce. And, commercial game oblige, the new version will only be available to a limited sample of testers for as long as the common route isn’t complete. If you wish to be part of that sample, it’s simple: you’ll either have to become one of my patrons (insofar as I give early access to my games to them starting from a certain amount), or to send me a mail through the team’s address asking me to be added. In that case, I’d simply ask you to give me your opinion on the game (since I’m looking for feedbacks) so that I can improve Milk as much as possible. The first version will stay online for a while and I’ll publicly announce its removal once the remake would have reached a satisfying state. So you still have the time to make the most of it!

Little Khzi In-game

Random screenshot to show the different sizes that can be used.

There we go, good and less god news: on one hand, you’ll have to be patient, but on the other hand Milk will come back all clean and beautiful! It might sound a bit masochistic to sign for another long period of development but, at the same time, we already proved we could handle that kind of things and I think it’s worth it. In any case, I hope you’ll like the change =).

The King is dead, long live The King!

I’ve been implying all over the place that things were gonna change for a while now. It’s time to explain that publicly: the team as it exists today is going to disappear.

TM teaser2Hobbyists without pretension…
The reasons are as simple as they are numerous but all overlap each other: up until now, the different teammembers were young and very young students that were making visual novel voluntarily in their free time. The goal was to have fun, to experiment, to show that it was possible to do many things with motivation. We did release quite a few visual novel “made in France” and the atmosphere was nice. However, time went by since 2012: some members want to move on and are going their own way whereas others are still motivated but cannot take the time to do visual novel anymore, because of their studies (many are doing an art school for example, which is quite a demanding curriculum). Overall, creating visual novel takes a lot of time and up until now, no one among us ever got any real compensation out of that, except the enjoyment of seeing people read our stories (but you don’t fill the fridge with smiles, even though it’d be great). In short, it’s now impossible to work as we did before. I knew it, I saw it coming.

As for me (at almost 25, I’m now one of the oldest), I had to confront the job market. I got to find a job to survive and pay my rent. In the same time, what was supposed to be a trial run turned into a passion and I want to go further than what hobbyists an do, I want to experiment more. This paradox forces me to take a difficult decision. I won’t make the suspense last any longer because my choice was pretty clear: I don’t want to give up what is making me live (writing, creating). I’m used to handle things by myself, to difficult situations. And, more importantly, I don’t want to have regrets. I’m ready to work like a dog night and day but it’s out of the question that I throw in the sponge without even trying.

Jeux TMSo, here I go. It’s with a lot of apprehension and excitement that I announce that Träumendes Mädchen will cease to be a hobbyist team…to become a fully fledged visual novel creating company, the very first in France right now. It’ll be a small structure (managed by one person, namely me) that will hire different artists depending of the projects. Old members won’t necessarily be that far since I’m gonna call them in, simply this time it’s gonna be paid work ;).

HoloThe future
All of our short projects will of course stay free, nothing will change in this case, and I’m counting on making an on-line store to offer all of the goodies we printed upon Japan Expo. The website will slowly be revamped to reflect the new situation. Concerning Milk, there will be change, but don’t panic, I will make a specific announcement shortly to explain that in details.

At the time you’ll be reading those lines, the process is well engaged, if not finished. I won’t hide that making a company is a very risky challenge: the competition in the videogame market is very fierce and it’s better to know what you’re doing. But, as I was saying earlier, I’m determined and I shall do my utmost to ensure it’ll succeed. Except that I’m gonna need your help! I need your support, your feedbacks and, of course, I’m inviting you to buy our games when they’re released to allow us to continue the adventure. Your support will make the difference. Whatever may happen, I’m sure my experience can be useful for people who have an interest in the visual novel market. It’s a strange challenge for us and I’m counting on you to follow that closely!

And, if some people think I’m now super rich, let them be reassured: I’m still as poor because the company’s money comes from a credit (I committed on several years to make everything possible). The money will incidentally fund Träumendes Mâdchen very first commercial project: Chronotopia. It involves reincarnation, “dark” fairytale and people dying, suffering and going back in time to suffer some more. More informations to come once production will have started! And those who are impatient can already discover some elements on my Patreon (patrons have exclusivity but they’re worth it~).

banner_storenvyIn short
In conclusion, the adventure isn’t ending just yet, it just takes another form. We’re grateful for the support you’ve been giving us during all those years, we’re impatient to show you what we’re planning to do and we hope you’ll like the result. Anyway, we will work hard so that you can be proud of us. Otherwise, don’t hesitate to follow us on social networks if it’s not done already; we’re posting more regularly there ;). And if it’s not your thing, you can now subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive the latest news in your mailbox!

Waiting for Godot

This post will be as short as it’ll be melancholic. To sweeten the pill, here’s some stupid pictures from the secret mini-game hidden in Between Heaven and Hell. Yes, we dared. Those who found it cannot UNSEE it.

Mockup I won’t hide that those last few weeks have been difficult for the team. Between the recent events, the lateness of the English translation of Wounded by Words extra content, and many other disappointments I won’t mention here, we haven’t been very active. At least outside of the release of the 5th Episode of Milk and the OST from Between Heaven and Hell (don’t hesitate to lend it an ear).

pythonw 2015-11-22 18-16-15-62

Yeah, the hidden game isn’t translated either, we’re so behind…

More concretely, I had promised an important announcement and I’m still working on it. I think it’s a crucial phase and you have the right to know what will become of the team. Only I struggle to find the right words to explain what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s kinda chaotic. I’m impatient and scared at the same time to announce my decision. Whatever may happen, whether it’s seen as positive or negative, I have to do it and I hope you will read me until the end. The announcement should be ready within one or two weeks, in the meantime take care, and thanks for following us during all those years :3.

Milk Episode 5 Release!

EP5Roundly six months after the release of Episode 4, we’re back with the next part of Milk~La légende des étoiles. I have to say I’m pleased by the fact that we managed to be ponctual (two episodes per year). After all, we don’t want you to wait too much ;). As usual, the download link is available on the game’s page and the new version includes, of course, plenty of improvements !

It’s the end of Khzi’s journey. The albino and her companions have to defeat the High Priest once and for all, but an ominous feeling is telling them that things won’t end as nicely as they want.

Combat finalAs the synopsis is giving away, this Episode will be the end of Khzi’s adventures. If you’ve stopped at some point, it’s the perfect moment to start up reading again (plus you’re served right with that amount of reading)! Anyway, enjoy the story, because Episode 6 won’t be available before a while.

Indeed, the team is now going to take a new form and it’s necessarily going to have consequences on Milk developement. More details to come in the big announcement I’m planning on the subject. I’m counting on you to read it when it’ll be available because it’s something important to me.

This is Halloween, this is Halloween

Hello everybody. It’s been strangely cold here since the end of summer, so much that I ended up sick, hence the interval between the Android release of HVNCML and the Android release of Garden of Oblivion. As announced last time, the latter is now available in English AND French for free, valid for all types of OS!

As for Milk, the release is just around the corner! We only have 2 CGs missing, the last bit of the translation and some tweaks for Episode 5 to be complete. So I’m pretty confident when counting on publishing the game by the end of the month. It should be noted that this would be the last until a very long time. I’ll explain everything in details later but there are big change lying ahead…

Other than that, I have good news. Along with Roganis, we expect to release the OST from Between Heaven and Hell (so Garden of Oblivion + Wounded by Words) around Halloween and I’m also thinking about possibly making another giveaway soon ~

So, as always, follow us on social networks to be the first one informed o/

So you wanna make an Android port of your visual novel?

If you’re following us on social networks, you already know that Being Beauteous and Ambre were both released on Google Play a few days ago. At first, I hesitated over giving you the technical details, but since Mystery Corgi dev asked me for precisions on Twitter, here’s my experience with Android ports. Warning: it’s gonna get ugly!

Ambre MM Android

It makes you proud to see your game working on a phone *__*

To get started
You finally finished your latest visual novel and you’re thinking that multimedia is the future. So, you want to make your work available on every platform possible in order to be read. The good news is that RenPy provides you with a small guide. So you start to download a succession of softwares that you will never open but that RenPy will use in your place.You’ll need Java Development Kit, Apache Ant and Android SDK. Once you’re done, you will still need to get the Ren’Py Android Packaging Tool, if you haven’t yet. This RAPT consists of a file that you’ll have to place in the Ren’Py directory you’re using. If you open RenPy, you will now be able to configure your project.

RenPy Launcher
Configuration of a Google Play Publisher Account
Here’s where things are going to get complicated. Because you can’t create a build yet, you’ll just make RenPy crash, as I did. Before going to the next step, you’ll need something important: a signing key. And nobody will explain you how to do it. From what I understood (but it’s really not clear), you’ll have to get a Google Play Publisher Account, even if you don’t want to publish your product in their store (?). In order to get that account, you have to sign in with a Google account (I think almost everybody has one) and pay a $25 USD registration fee.

Acces API

I couldn’t change the language setting on my Google Play account so you’ll have to bear with my French screenshots <_<

Once you got it, you’ll have a whole lot of options to configure. It seems that you absolutey need a OAuth client and a service account (see the API Access menu above) and for this, you’ll have to retrieve the SHA-1 certificate footprint. Which turned out to be quite a headache for me. I searched through the web how to get this from the android.keystore file generated by RenPy at the start of the operation, but in vain, nothing I tried worked. In desperation, I turned to Keul who suggested I download the HashCheck Shell. extension.Thanks to that tip, I only had to open the properties of the file to retrieve the SHA-1. I have no idea if iI did it the way it was intended to or not but configuring that account was annoying as hell. I rarely saw more uselessly complicated and it made me realize how life was easy with the community around RenPy: there’s always someone with an advice or a guide T_T.

Projets GPAt this point, you should be able to create projects and generate a key for each one (don’t lose it!).

RenPy takes care of everything…almost
Back with RenPy, you have to put the key in your game. Following the advices of Sleepy Agents I found on the net, I copypasted mine in the options.rpy file.

Clefs RenpyYou’ll also need another sequence of numbers, and once again you can’t find an easy generator to do that for you, so you’ll have to take care of it yourself (or use the simple but risky sequence that the RenPy guide is showing you as an exemple). Once those two lines are added to your code, you will finally be able to make a build.

RenPy Launcher2One last word concerning the configuration: RenPy will ask you if you want expansions for your Android port (depending of the size of the file). You will actually need both versions: the 1st one will allow you to install the game on any Android device to quietly go through your testing phase, whereas the 2nd one is crucial if you want to put the game on Google Play. The limit being of 50MB, it’s nearly impossible to have a smaller file, even with a short project.

Configuration of a Google Play store page
Let’s work on the basis that you want to put your game on Google Play, here are some tips that, I hope, will help you.

Google Store• To begin with, you need to upload your APK file. I suggest you do so by directly assigning it to the Alpha track, otherwise Google Play won’t allow you to upload an expansion file (thankfully, you’re still able to modify that anytime).
• When filling the description page of your project, you will quickly realize you have to be concise. Be careful, Google Play will try several time to encourage you to use the translation service. It may sounds harmless but those services are not free and you will soon be asked to pay an amount that isn’t that small! Unless you have money to spend, I’d advise you to do the translation yourself or just pass.
• The questionnaire you have to fill to get a rating really isn’t adapted when it comes to visual novel. And it isn’t always clear on top of that. It’s quite difficult to get what each option really means. Like this, the confusion caused me to get a 18+ rating with Garden of Oblivion on my first try because I didn’t know the difference between “far” and “close” portrayal of violence. Pay attention and don’t hesitate to fill the form again to compare the results!
• In order to sell a game, you have to use a Merchant account and for that, you’re asked informations about your company. If you don’t upgrade to Merchant account, your games will have to be free.

With all that, your app should be ready to be published. But before clicking on that fateful button, you really should make a small verification: is your game adapted to Android?

Ergonomics issues
In order to make you think a bit, here’s a sequence of issues I got when I asked Keul to test the games on his phone for me.

Finger issue

As you can admire, thanks to Keul’s finger, it’s difficult to click with the original GUI…

• Most quickmenu (you know, the navigation buttons above the textbox or below in NVL mode) were way too small. So I needed to turn some pictures into text in order to increase their sizes as I wanted (it was the case with Ambre) but also increase the space between each button.
• Needless to say the font in general had to be increased as much as possible as well to allow some reading comfort.
• It got more complicated when the games were using lots of pictures. HVNCML, especially, took me a whole afternoon to get fixed; I had to increase the background picture to put bigger buttons and space them out, which lead to text collisions since the text was scrolling under that picture. Same with the PM system. Only after many tests was I able to balance everything.
• Just as bothersome, Garden of Oblivions icons were too small and too close to each other, which meant I had to increase them and adjust their positions. Another problem: the button that should be used to make the pause menu with all the options appear was, according to Keul, not really used by people anymore. So he advised me to add a quickmenu and I had to create new buttons inspired by the existing GUI and place them accordingly. For exemple, I had to keep an eye on whether the quickmenu was running over the sprites (it was the case with the rabbit). I also had to hide that quickmenu during the puzzle phases in order not to bother the player.
• Since you can only play a game in fullscreen on Android, the Fullscreen/Window button in the Options menu became completely useless! However I decided to keep it because I didn’t want to make a hole X).

Anyway, if you don’t have to remake entirely your visual novel for an Android port, you will still need to adjust the GUI!

To conclude
Here you are, finally ready to publish your app! You still need to wait for Google Play validation (it can take a couple of hours) and your game will be available. You suffered but it was for a good cause! Fortunately for you, I’m here to tell you all I did wrong so that you’ll suffer less than I did =’D.

pythonw 2015-09-15 22-37-28-53

Screenshot of the Android version: look at the new quickmenu on the right =’)

Don’t forget that HVNCML will be released wednesday and GoO the week after that! If you have some time, try out our Android ports and tell us what you think about it, it’ll make me happy :3.

Summer is over

There we are, start of the school year again! It’s time to review the situation. Concerning developement of Milk Episode 5, I’m rather satisfied insofar as I usually have troubles progressing during the summer time. Yet, this time, we managed to finish all the backgrounds, thanks to Kinect and Orties speed, and we started the rest, which isn’t half bad. I hope I’ll be able to release this Episode in the following weeks, let’s cross fingers!

Fog animation, Milk Episode 5

Having given it much thought, I decided to swap distribution service by putting all the projects of the Short Story Compilation on itchio, that turned out to be way more practical than Gumroad, hence the big move this weekend. Concretely, it doesn’t make much of a change for you but I think the reslt will be more pleasant  (no more confusion with Pay what you want).

Torture chamber background, Milk Episode 5

Speaking of our short projects, I also have a good news : every week starting from now, we’ll be releasing Android versions of our games and they wil be available on Google Play. That way, wherever you are, you will be able to read a visual novel on your phone or tablet in no time! We’ll be starting with the latest version of Being Beauteous, that includes a Spanish and Japanese translation (this version is already available on itchio BTW), and finish with Garden of Oblivion in English and French.Nothing has been decided for Wounded by Words yet insofar as it’s our most recent project: indeed, I’d like to keep some exclusive content for the physical version owners. So, we’ll see later…

Language selection menu: there’s gonna be no shortage of choices!

Meanwhile, I wish a great start of the school year to you all!

My experience as a marginalized dev: trying not to self-censor

Recently, Heiden, another game developper, asked me on Twitter if I could write about where I’m taking my inspiration from and what my motivations are. It’s a bit complicated in my case but the question is interesting enough for me to try to answer!

Inspiration: a joyful patchwork

First of all, depending of the projects, I can tap into extremely diverse source, often seemingly incompatible: classic literature classique, fairy tales, cartoons, comics, movies, videogames, anime, visual novel, mythology, etc. I’ve already mentionned some of them but here’s a more exhaustive list.

For Being Beauteous, I based the story on Disney version, especially the love song part, thinking up how the romance between the protagonists coul work without its main catalyst. Also, what’s after the usual “happy end”, how their relation can grow, what happens when they’re becoming old. I mostly applied my way of thinking to a version I didn’t particularly like. To be honest, BB is at least my 2nd or 3rd Cinderella rewriting. The other big idea I have in mind for years now implies a narcoleptic Cinderella. Also, BB is mainly born at  a time where I was discovering those kind of feelings: you can hardly pull more romantic from me and the result is still bittersweet =’).

Jaquette AmbreAmbre is my short project with the most diverse influences: as mentionned in my post-mortem, I drew a bit on World War Z by Max Brooks (the little girl who survived the zombie apocalypse chapter), the song Moment 4 Life by Nicki Minaj that illustrated the Cinderella symdrom perfectly, but also in a  news item novelized by a french lawyer.

Strangely enough, I took inspiration from a romantic comedy film I only knew because of posters on the walls of stations back when I had to take the train in 2012. It tells the story of a happy couple wrecked when the woman suddenly lose her memory in an accident, only knowing what happened before meeting her husband. And I simply asked myself what would happen if my partner had to face the same problem. Since I’ve seen a lot in my life, the answer varied depending of the memory loss and my attitude was radically different. For examle, at some point in my life, I was obsessed by being normal and I tried to kill who I was to fulfill the expectations people had for me. I suffered a lot because of those attempts and it left a mark on who I became. During that dark phase, I especially tried to find bearings and ended up copying popular media (TV, cinema, radio, magazine for women) in order to know how to behave. Looking back, the result was totally ridiculous and clumsy but I was really, genuinely, trying to match what people wanted me to be. I don’t wish anybody to experience that… Hence, Ambre can be considered a fiction of what I could have become if I didn’t cracked under the pressure and decided to follow my own path.

Inspired by real facts :p

As for How visual novel changed my life, there’s not inspiration insofar as it’s a revised collage of real IRC discussions ;). One could consider the whole team wrote this one!

ss+(2014-08-25+at+21.36)

Concept art depicting The Metamorphosis by Kafka (@Eolyus)

The original idea behind Garden of Oblivion was to create some kind of written Yume Nikki (a great experimental game) with some point & click elements. Sadly, the concept never went past that. Besides, you could consider the story-related parts are also based on my personal experience: wanting to withdraw in an imaginary world, feeling like you’re not fitting in, being unable to take decisions, etc. Incidentally, the talking animals many people said were reminiscent of Dreaming Mary are nearly all stuffed animals I own and that embody my childhood.

ld1_2_by_kinectiklover-d8ptqmw

Concept art of Hassan (@Kinect)

Wounded by Words is more complicated because everything is “real”. I did base some parts on testimonies to depict Gabriel and Hassan (as I don’t master viewpoints like those) but overall, every character has the same problem, and that’s something I recently faced: the difficulty to keep going forward when you don’t belong to the dominant viewpoint. As a young woman dealing with a disability, I often struggle to do the same things as others and I’m still poorly perceived in my own family. It’s a very complicated and disheartening feeling I wanted to share. Incidentally, Dave is only here to embody the external and hurtful view the other character have to deal with daily. He’s based on my previous internship tutor and several members of my family. Mostly my father. Sorry if you’re reading me, dad, but you’re really like that and it’s insufferable…

Milk 2015-08-23 18-14-58-84

This is not a harem…

Milk~La légende des étoiles being a huge project, my influences are even more diverse depending of the segments. The whole “harem” thingy is of course based of charage/moege and I wanted to readapt them completely in my style because I’m displeased with the current state of those games. In my vision, the main character is only a catalyst, the heroines are the ones who get the spotlight, especially their psychological development. Incidentally, each heroine is inspired by a fragment of my own personality, just like the protagonist. Hence I was really inspired by the visual novel Yume Miru Kusuri. What’s ironic is that, when I wrote Milk, it was kind of a fiction about what could happen if I were to fall in love. And I know myself so well, some parts of the story did actually happen to me later…

Gamines

Extract of the Crossing Horizons artbook (@Orties)

The segment devoted to Khzi was originally a big joke based on the most stereotyped things in adventure novels and fantasy. I tried to make fun of that and took the absurd as far as I could. Khzi herself was supposed to be a super serious and classy killer (because I like the strong independant woman type) but I ended up making her completely unpredictable, a bit like Yumiko in the anime Read or Die. The super serious and classy killer hence became Freyja.

The “Légende des étoiles” part, yet to be released, is inspired by the comic book Thorgal, Ulysses 31, and mythology in general.

 

Inspiration : another perception of the world

In general, I have a complicated relationship with writing insofar as I don’t have an author I’m a fan of, I really tap into everything I integrated with time. Even stranger, I can sometimes dip into things I don’t know directly: I really like accumulating knowledge about many things, so I can know works indirectly without having read or seen them. I can even get inspired only by what I think the work is about (often to get disapointed when I get to read/see it for real).

Milk preview ep5 name

Current Chapter menu in Milk~La légende des étoiles

I work on the assumption that it’s impossible in the 21st Century to think up of raw material: everything has been done by someone else before. So, for me, writing is a kind of alchemic process: I’m mixing many different influences and add my personal touch to come up with something. And I think creativity resides in that mixing of influences. For example, the Cinderella story has been done many times before, but it’s what I can add that makes a new version possibly interesting. It’s not the idea but the execution and the way you put a bit of yourself in it!

Considering that fact, I’m relying a lot on the meeting between those influences and the way I see the world. Since my way of thinking is kinda unique, I feel like I can write about anything only by taking over the material.

 

Motivation : message in a bottle

I read a lot when I was younger but I never really found a work that was like me. To begin with, as a woman, it’s not always easy to get properly depicted insofar as most classic and recent books only deals with male preoccupations or show stereotyped female preoccupations (shoes, shopping and prince charming, yay). And as an autist, my way of thinking is never depicted anywhere, making me feel unconcerned by most current cultural productions. Fortunately, there are hidden gems that are really worth discovering but let’s say I’m not as favored as others, who will find what they’re looking for more easily. You have to search very hard to find an autistic protagonist in a story non-related to explaining autism. Let’s be clear, it doesn’t mean interesting neurotypical stories don’t exist, only that my tastes are not the majority. That’s why I’m interested in indies: I hope to find with them more diversity than anywhere else.

Quite frankly, what motivates me to write is to try to make stories that I will like. Since I struggle to find things like me, I decided to make them. If my works manage to satisfy my peculiar expectations, I’m quite happy, and it would make me happier if others could share that vision. It would mean I’m not really the only one to think that way and that I could be useful one way or another. I guess it’s just as if I was sending a message in a bottle: I transmit a part of myself in my games in the hope that maybe, someone, somewhere, will come across it and share my vision, find some interest in it.

Milk 2015-07-18 20-10-29-27

Screenshot of Milk Episode 5, under developement

I don’t know what other developers are trying to do when they start to make games but, for me, everything echoes back to my disability: it’s at the same time my inspiration, what drives me to write, my curse and my gift. I wouldn’t want to fight as much if I didn’t have a different voice to make people hear, but I wouldn’t be struggling so much if I didn’t have a different voice in the first place. I’d like people who have a difference to be able to access as much content they’d likely enjoy as the others do. If child/teenage Helia is able to find what she likes, then I would have accomplished my mission. The road is still long before then ;).

Why we won’t take part in Ludum Dare from now on

I’ve talked a bit about it to the people I had the chance to meet at Japan Expo but here’s a more formal announcement: the Träumendes Mädchen team will most likely not entering Ludum Dare again, nor similar game jam. Here’s why.

This picture makes a good header!

 

Searching and finding yourself

To those who didn’t know it yet, a game jam is a gathering where devs try to make a gae frm scratch in record time. This type of contest  is now super popular and there’s more and more game jam organized each year, so much that it can be really confusing sometimes. The main appeal of a game jam is that it’s a really favourable setting for creation. There are various scenarios:

  • If you’ve just begun to create something, finishing a short project is really helping to gain experience. That’s why it’s the first advice ever given to novice: starting small to get the hang of it.
  • If you’re lacking knowledge in a certain domain and wish to get better at it. Life can be pretty eventful, so you may not have the time or the motivation for it, unless there’s a good motivation.
  • If you’re struggling with deadlines. Getting surrounded by devs like you, living the exact same thing at the exact same time, is pretty stimulating, and even more when you’re supporting each other. So it’s perfect for people who are good at throwing ideas but can’t get to make them.
  • If you need to relax between two big projects. Yes, it can happen! Even after years of experience, a highly qualified dev can be fed up with endless projects and just like to work on something « simple ».

For a long, long time, our team did match with one of these scenarios : thus Being Beauteous had a symbolic meaning because it was our first finished project, and our following games were all ideas I wanted to try out. But it’s not really the case now. It’s important to experiment things in order to find your identity but I think I’m slowly coming to find and answer and game jams don’t really help me anymore. Well, it’s a reason but not the most important one.

Eleesha After Story scene, only available on the hard copy of Wounded by Words ~

 

The Novel and The Game

What really justify my choice is the conditions around Ludum Dare and some other game jam: they’re not adapted to story-focused games. At all. For a start, because if the length of the contest.

You asked for a challenge?

People tend to forget it but a visual novel needs a lot of time to be made. With the reflexion needed to write a story, but also to make all the assets. Of course, a VN doesn’t ask as much time and skills in programmation as more classic games but, in return, the experience is incredibly static. The player cannot move freely, there’s no gameplay mechanic, only text to read with some illustrations that lightly change. And sometimes choices. So, the dev often has to multipy the number of illustrations (sprites expressions, backgrounds, event CG, light animations) to try to break this impression. A small VN that doesn’t need much assets (at random, taking place behind closed doors) is already asking a lot of illustrations. And they’re HD ones (you can’t cheat a little as with pixel art) ! Let’s say it’s a miracle we finished all our projects with a deadline that tight!

My head after a game jam, metaphor…

 

Making the impossible

Besides, let’s not forget the key element of a visual novel is the story. Some kind of games can cheat,  gamble on the atmosphere or the gameplay, and it’s no big deal. As an interactive book, a visual novel just cannot give it a miss. Except that a story, even a really short one, can’t be written as fast as some might think. It depends on the author of course, but in my case I have a really slow maturation process. It can take me months to pile up elements before being able to mentally bring the puzzle together. Once the image is clear in my head, I can writte pretty fast. The problem is that game jam tend to bypass my maturation process since everything has to be done RIGHT NOW. I might have an idea but I don’t have the time to really develop it and I find myself having to make it before it’s even ready. You can see that with Garden of Oblivion since this game doesn’t really have a story. Since it’s an hybrid with point & click elements, it’s still possible to rely on the atmosphere but there’s no strong plot (even though it’s supposed to be my forte, or at lest my aspiration). It’s also the case with Wounded by Words. This game drove me into a corner: I spend a whole three days furiously writing. The idea in my head was incomplete, which put me in troubles several times. It might sound stupid to you, like a writer’s complain, but it’s really frustrating for me to be unable to be satisfied with my work.

At least I could practice to make exploration scenes!

 

Inspiration doesn’t come to you that easily

Beyond the deadline, what’s really discouraging me with Ludum Dare now is the theme. During each edition, the participants make suggestions and vote for their favourite. After rounds of voting, the officiel theme is announced and open the contest. However, this theme is almost never adapted to the making of a story-centric game. Most of the time, the theme is suggesting a gameplay mechanic. Unconventional Weapon, the latest, inspired devs to make funny games with the most over the top weapon conceivable. Entire Game on One Screen, the previous one, was encouraging devs to use wisely the background limitations. Connected Worlds did let a little more freedom to devs but it was still stronly pointing at the gameplay possibilities around “links”. I stop here, I think you got what I’m trying to say. It’s difficult to think of a plot with so little food for thought…

Yes, there are new characters in some After Story scenes~

 

« Real » games and the others

It’s even more difficult as the Ludum Dare community still struggle to open to novelty. Each and every time I voted on Twine or RenPy games, I came across THAT comment, the one that says “It’s not a real game, it sucks”. Might explain why so few women enter… And if you’re here to try to get some visibility, tough luck: there are big favourites who enter each time, and they kinda monopolize press coverage because journalist almost only bother to try their games. Not very interesting if you’re one of the others.

More female devs, we said!

 

Conclusion

All these elements make so that I don’t see myself joining Ludum Dare or a similar game jam again:there are too many constraints and too little fun. Maybe it’s also that I don’t have anything to prove myself. Anyway, if I really have to do it again, it will be with good old Nanoreno (Lemmasoft’s contest) or with a game jam that is explicitely suited to story-focused games. Won’t be right way! Of course, I don’t prevent anyone from trying the experience, even though I’d still advice visual novel developpers to go with Nanoreno. The only problem is that there’s only one per year ;).

Pre-orders available (Japan Expo 2015)

We’re there, all het up and it’s finally official: pre-orders are available! The Träumendes Mädchen team will be at the Japan Expo convention in Paris from 2nd to 5th July (booth L52, Hall 6) with a sack full of things. In order to celebrate that, here’s a description of our new products.

The Crossing Horizons sketchbook will be in A5 format and will include around 40 pages shared between all the artists on the team.As you might already notice on this preview, there is a little bit of everything: fanarts from visual novel (japanese or western), illustrations of our own games (abandoned sketches we never showed or new ones drawn for the occasion), sometimes in black and white, sometimes in ful color, digital or traditionnal. In short, a joyful jumble overflowing with passion! If Elairin, Kinect, Melow and Orties are in the spotlight, Morsy and Laniessa also offered a contibution and we’re really happy to count a small Guest Art section as well at the end of the artbook. All to say we put our heart in it and we hope you will enjoy the result!

The new hard copy, named Between Heaven and Hell, will include a compilation of Garden of Oblivion and Wounded by Words.Translation of the original content in French is almost finished so I’ll be able to write the new content for WbW extended version pretty soon (after story for each route and unlockable epilogue)…as well as the secret bonus. We also have two new merchandises: a bookmark and a poster!

Panorama merch eng

Since most of you can’t attend a French convention, we’re experimenting a mail order system to allow you to buy all our goodies ! Nothing more simple than ordering:

  • _send me an email at traumendesmadchen@gmail.com with « Preorder » as a subject
  • _add you complete adress so that I can send you everything properly. Be careful though, there will be shipping fee and the farther you live from France, the more expensive it will be (can’t do anything about it sady =/)
  • _and don’t forget to tell me what you want to buy, of course!

We only accept Paypal payment (same email). And don’t worry about the change, I’ll do that for you and tell you exactly how much it cost (but FYI 1€ = 1,12$).

So that’s it, thanks for the constant support, we wouldn’t be able to do all that without you!