2016 review & 2017 plans

Happy holidays to all of our fans! As in previous years, I’m looking back to all of our activities in order to close a new chapter and move forward.

2016, play with the big boys…

banner_storenvy2016 is a special year for us because it’s our first year as a full-fledged visual novel creating company, which implies some changes. Overall, we had to integrate quite a few formalities (the joy of doing paperwork) and it wasn’t always that easy!
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The online store opens its doors

As you can notice, the devblog received a new design in order to be in the colours of Chronotopia! Needless to say I’m rather satisfied: I’ve been secretely hoping to get rid of the orange and old Milk banner for ages. If you haven’t read the presentation about Chronotopia, you can still fix that mistake. Anyway!

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2015 review & 2016 plans

Happy holidays to all of our readers! To end 2015 on a high note, here’s a review of everything that happened this year, as well as our plans for the upcoming year.

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One of the drawings Orties made for our artbook :3

If you remember correctly, 2014 was a crazy year: we released no less than four games, made goodies, including remakes of our oldest games, ran a booth at Japan Expo and completely renewed the devblog (by adding a website). I promised myself to slow down a bit to avoid exploding. Was 2015 calmer?

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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).

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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.

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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 ;).

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!

A sequel for Ambre !

The team is proud to announce that we’re currently working on a new visual novel that’ll serve as an alternative version of Ambre. Indeed, I got a lot of messages from fans who wanted a happier ending and I decided to rectify that. In this whole new story, the eponymous heroine will be able to solve the issues between Tristan and his wife…thanks to magical powers.

Now a magical girl, Ambre will have to use magic wisely in order to make her friends and family happy. And the picture wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that it’ll be possible to actually control her during shooter phases : you’ll have to throw love waves at the citizens who are overwhelmed by negative emotions in order to free them. Magical Sukumizu Ambre (working title) will therefore be an hybrid between visual novel and 3D shooter !

The one in charge of the art will be our newest recuit, KinectikLover (aka Kinect), so I hope you’ll support her and that you’re looking forward to discovering this new game !

EDIT: April Fools obviously :p. But it is true that Kinect is joining us! She’ll be in charge of Milk backgrounds, so your support is still very much needed ;).

What visual novel development taught me

Today, I want to come back to the differents projects the team made in order to comment our progression.

Indeed, even if things are slowly changing with the increase of early access games, one often only get a hold of a game through its finale version, in other words, it’s most complete and most accomplished version. An average player may get under the impression that the differents pieces are coming together thanks to some kind of evolution stone to change into a piece of art. Reality is less glamorous but way more reassuring : creating is something you have to learn. The bad news is that it involves a lot of work, the good news is that anyone can try it out. And the Träumendes Mädchen team is no exception, especially me who has the job of being the “leader”. It’s been almost three years now and I’ve learned so much thanks to my teammates, particularly with programming. So I want to draw up some kind of report.

 

June 2012 : Being Beauteous

Some of the first drafts by Morsy. She improved a lot since then!

Back then, the team had already gathered around Milk and we floundered so hard. I was aware we were jumping the gun when we started with a project this big and I really wanted to make up for that with something short. The first version of Being Beauteous was born like that and we planned to make it during some French contest that happened in a small convention. Even if it didn’t looked much, BB hold a special place in my heart because it was our first completed project. It was really simple (text and some CGs) but we did have troubles during the competition because of the GUI. So it’s only with the 2nd version (the first available one actually) that we managed to fix those bugs. Also, we slowly realized that having a translation was really important to share our works to folks around the world.

What I learned : to finish a project, to make a bug-less GUI, to understand the importance of an English translation.

 

February 2013 : 1st Episode of Milk

Another draft by Morsy. In the end, those variations never got into the game.

The deliivery of Milk’s 1st Espidode was a real ordeal because it took us like a whole year to see the end of the tunnel. It must be said that there was a lot of content to deal with for such a young team and I immediately understood that we couldn’t go on like that. After all, we were supposed to release the whole game in a row after that! I realized it was impossible and change the plan to an episodic publication. Hence why the demo became “1st episode”. It was also a chance to get to know Renpy a bit better (choosing a custom font, juggle with all the numerous sprites and numerous expressions). Milk’s presentation was really simple and we made a lot of mistakes but I think it was a prerequisite for what came after. Most of the mistakes were corrected (the GUI) or are pending for correction since then (*cough* the scenario). It should be noted that we released the visual novel both in French and English at that time, not without pain.

What I learned : to write a visual novel, to finish a bigger project (without dying), to draw a GUI, to make a siultaneous translation, to manage sprites and expressions.

 

April 2013 : Ambre

I think we all understand why Melow did the game illustrations and not me 8)

Once Milk’s Episode was behind us, I had to tackle Nanoreno! It wasn’t a technical challenge (because the story was linear)  but it sure was a litterary one. Granted the deadline was a pretty difficult thing to handle too but I planned the game not to need too much assets. But really, my personal challenge was to write a short story that would inlude some kind of memorable ending, something striking. Even thought the result wasn’t perfect, I’m relatively proud of the outcome, I think the intended result is here. Ambre was also a good chance to make progress on GUI and animation. We included some light animation for the first time with the petals on the main scene and we tried something with the leafs on the city background. Some elements you would find again in the next release.

What I learned : to write a visual novel while paying attention to the assets needed, to finish a project quickly, to write a story with a memorable ending, to join an event.

 

March 2014 : 2nd Episode of Milk

A pretty sketch by Elairin

We took almost a year on this one again but it was mostly because of the turn-over inside the team. This second episode was mostly a validation of what we made with the first one. Indeed, many project don’t get past the demo stade, so releasing a new part of the story was a symbolic move. We wanted to show we were still game and that we wouldn’t give up so easily. We took that opportunity to change the GUI (and it was way more difficult than you would imagine!) and include animated backgrounds for the first time. Well, there are only 2 or 3 of them but it was a way to slowly get accustomed to the process.

What I learned : to carry on an under way project, to include animated backgrounds, to renew a team.

 

April 2014 : HVNCML

First GUI tests by Xian

Once again, I wanted to tackle Nanoreno, and once again Milk’s production was late. In 2013 we managed to finish two weeks before the beginning of the contest, this time we finished in the middle of it! Under these circumstances, it was rather difficult to deliver. HVNCML was born a whole week after the deadline. I didn’t write any postmortem because the whole game can be considered one (with a comic point of view). Back then, it was our first technical challenge because I only wanted to try my hand at a IRC-line GUI and didn’t have much planned to use it afterwards. Well, you can consider that making some part of your life public was also a challenge. In a way…it is. This little visual novel was supposed to be a funny extra to the fans that were wondering what we were doing everyday and how our meetings looked like. Yet several people who didn’t know us played it too. It was kind of embarrasing, a bit like getting naked in front of strangers. The whole approach does suppose some trust with the audience.

What I learned : to juggle between several projects at the same time, to try an IRC-like GUI, to reveal my stupidity to the world.

 

July 2014/September 2014 : 3rd Episode of Milk

Orties trademark: writing nonsense on her drawings :p

Milk’s third episode is really seen as an exception among our works because it’s the only damn game that went “easily”. Meaning that we didn’t enconter any particular issue (except a small false note with the translation that wasn’t immediately ready). If anything could happen like that, visual novel dev would be so easy XD. It’s all the more surprising considering we had a lot of pressure due to the fact we promised this part would be ready for Japan Expo, a French convention. The third episode also marked the spread of backgrounds animation.

What I learned : to meet a non-negotiable deadline, to spread backgrounds animation, to release a game in a relaxed way.

 

August 2014 : Garden of Oblivion

A relatively accurate Ludum Dare metaphor…

In the same vein as HVNCML, Garden of Oblivion was planned as a technical challenge: I wanted to put tradionnal visual novel aside to include some point & click elements instead. With an incredibly stressful deadline (Nanoreno is a stroll in a park in omparison). If the graphic part was irreproachable, the coding part was rather…wild. The first version we returned didn’t match my expectations at all and we had to add a whole week of work to get to the result with the second version. The other challenge was for me to write directly in English with the bare minimum of preparation to fit the gamejam spirit. And I’m reserved about the final result, I could have done better. At least, I managed to include more diversity among the characters. The fact remains that the community experience was on par! Ludum Dare really is a big gathering of people and that forms bonds. If you wanna know more, read the postmortem I made right after the competition.

What I learned : to write directly in English, to jon a bigger event, to learn programming in the field, to make an hybrid VN/P&C, to discover the joy of polishing, to include a bit more diversity in a cast.

 

Spring 2015 (?) : 4th Episode of Milk

Orties really likes to write on her drawings…

Milk’s forth episode isn’t out yet but I feel I learned so much already. I think it’s starting from this point that I really felt confortable with RenPy. To the point that I now like to rummage through the script to improve what I can improve. It wouldn’t have happened without slowly getting familiar with the engine, project after project, and the help of Keul. The direct consequence is that this episode is full of small alterations: adjusting the brightness of sprites during night scenes, adjusting the height of non-human sprites, adjusting the font to be more readable, adjusting some transitions to be more dynamic, adjusting sound effect to fit the mood better, light animations on the illustrations. Currently, that’s the work I’m the most proud about and I hope those little things will make the read more interesting, even if they’re not that useful. I also started asking the artists to try different presentation styles (object on top of the background, insert chibi, CG cut in half, CG with many variations).

What I learned : to have a good command of RenPy, to use all my time doing alterations nobody will ever notice, to use sound effects effectively, to experiment different presentations.

 

April 2015 (?) : Ludum Dare 2

Since the game’s production hasn’t started, for logic reason, here’s a scene from Milk Episode 4.

Since we’re planning to enter Ludum Dare again, this part will mostly be anticipation considering we didn’t even begin the project! My main goal is to break the linearity of all our projects so far. Making choices is quite a complex thing to incorporate into a story and as a litterary person, I have trouble with that and I need to learn to write differently. It’s pretty ambitious considering the short deadline but I’ll try to stick to that goal, even if it means releasing a polished version later on. The other goal is to go out of my comfort zone with writing and talk about what I want to talk in a more…frontal manner. Indeed, many of my works address our relation to the norm and try to challenge that notion but it’s mostly told in a tacit fashion. I want to go further and stop censoring myself so much. In this perspective, I want to stage characters different from usual, under-represented ones. Like disable people. Furthermore, I plan to rest on what I learned with all the projects we made up until this point to make a game that’ll make me proud. We’ll see if we’ll manage.

What I want to learn : to make th most of what I learned so far, to write an actual interactive visual novel with branching, to make diversity an essential component of the cast, to prevent myself from self-censorship, to master Renpy enough to not have a hard time…to make a good game?

 

Conclusion

I just wanted to share another scene from Milk Episode 4.

This little overview shows that an individual (just like a team) need time to gain self-confidence and skills. Time to make mistakes, time to correct the mistakes, time to get numerous habits, time to be able to experiment and choose what one wants to do and how. I couldn’t imagine planning the Ludum Dare project years ago, I wouldn’t have felt able to! With this approach in mind (though iterations), the advices from the pros take on their full meaning: always try to make short projects before even tackling the “game of your dreams”.

Everyone need its own pace to learn but nobody can make miracles without any experience whatsoever. The issues of some visual novel Kickstarter are really enlightening in this respect: almost all the projects made by beginners (such as the ones who bragged about the campaign being their first visual novel) are currently running into difficulties and are having troubles keeping their promises. Likewise, the Katawa Shoujo spiritual heirs have disappeared and the few survivors are stuck on demo phase.

Moral : Don’t jump the gun, start small. Wait until you feel ready before shifting up a gear, it can only do you good ;).