The creation of Chronotopia: making the sprites

(We’re funded at 75% and Chronotopia has been greenlit! There’s only 3 days to raise funds and make this project a reality so it’s now or never to support us!)

After PyriteKite/Kat, it’s Anako‘s turn to talk about her work. And she has quite a lot since she’s doing both the sprites and the event CG! I highly suggest checking out her DeviantArt account or following her on Facebook/Tumblr because she posts very pretty things~

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The creation of Chronotopia: background art

(We’re 60% funded! That’s one step closer to our dream but there’s still a long way to go so keep on supporting us on Kickstarter and Greenlight!)

After writing two articles on Chronotopia‘s story (namely the concept and the characters), I’m making way for PyriteKite/Kat to explain her part of the work: backgrounds art. She’s very talented so check out her DeviantArt account~

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* Note: I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 for creating backgrounds and take about a week to complete one depending on complexity.

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The creation of Chronotopia: the characters

Last time I talked about how I came with Chronotopia’s concept, this time I will explain how I selected Donkeyskin as the fairytale I was going to rewrite.

Beware, it is strongly advised that you’ve played the demo beforehand not to spoil the surprise and to understand better what follows. If it’s not the case yet, I warmly recommend that you go take a look!

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The creation of Chronotopia: concept

It’s been a week since Chronotopia’s launch on Kickstarter and we’ve already reached 3 000€! It’s the perfect timing to come back to how the demo was made and evoke the content that’s planned for the full game. And as a good leader should set an example, I’m starting with my part: the writing!

Beware, it is strongly advised that you’ve played the demo beforehand not to spoil the surprise and to better understand what follows. If it’s not the case yet, I warmly recommend that you go take a look!

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Before making your big visual novel: Learn to make yourself useful

A few years ago, I tried to make articles about how to create visual novel, for those who would need advices. In the meantime, many things changed: not only did I gain experience but the market itself evolved a lot. It became, probably not more difficult, but way more disheartening for newcomers. So, with several releases under my belt, I want to take the pen again to make some kind of guide, one that I hope will be complete and up to date. But before that, let’s start with a preliminary step that tend to be forgotten.

Chronotopia sneak peek4

While I’m at it, here are some news about Chronotopia: Anako is making researches for the fairy character ~

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Tutorial: How to do a cloud animation with RenPy

Lately, there’s a talking point that keeps coming back, be it on Twitter or Patreon: background animation. Indeed, that’s something I especially like to do since a few years, as I consider it to be a really interesting tool when it comes to immersing the reader in a particular world. Of course, it’s not adapted to every situation: I think it works pretty well for rich universes (fantasy, for example) but not so much with contemporary settings. But, if well done and accompanied by some music, the result can be quite impressive! (I’m personally very proud of what we managed to do on Chronotopia :3)

Chronotopia Teaser: as you can see, we focus a lot on animations

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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.

Satori

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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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!

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.

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 ;).