Do you remember when I was writing that, unless some disaster happens, there would be no reason for Chronotopia not to come out in 2020? I think the universe is trying to send me a message. Needless to say that the year didn’t go as well as I had hoped…
2020, a year in parentheses
To begin with, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on my private life: even if I’m usually very resilient, it’s still difficult to stay focused when the world around you is burning, your close friends might lose their job or straight out die, and even more so when the government changes the rules every week. Consequently, progress on Chronotopia: Second Skin have been extremely slow, which means I was only able to publish a build containing the D route during Summer.
And since the curse is still not lifted, I quickly encountered a big technical issue: because the project has been in development for years, the sprite system has become obsolete. Unfortunately, since the game is also very resource-intensive, it creates a chain reaction of performance issues that I couldn’t afford to ignore any longer. I take the commercialization of visual novel very seriously and it’s not my type to sell a product in such a poor state. So I rolled up my sleeves to switch systems, which meant redoing my programming work all over again, manually adjusting the position of each sprite on-screen. And that’s about everything I’ve been doing since then.
A professional turning point?
Fortunately for me, 2020 was not just a long series of copy-paste in code files, it was also a year filled with collaborations!
When I started offering my programming services, I started from the principle that the main thing I had to offer was time. Since I don’t have formal qualifications in that domain, I pictured I would simply take care of thankless tasks on the behalf of other developers. Yet, this year, I felt a real turning point in my professional career: most of the projects I have been working on had already received a first programming pass, which means they could have very well been released in that state, without my involvement.
But, on The End of an Actress (released on February), as with Mizuchi (released in April), and First Snow (released in August), I was asked to do a new programming pass, explicitly to focus on directing. That’s when I realized that, over the course of Chronotopia’s progress, I had eventually started to develop a very personal vision of what the presentation of a visual novel should look like, and that it could be something that other developers would be interested in. It has been a revelation for me to think I could maybe bring value to the community and I really hope I can keep refining my style in the future.
Currently, I think the major hurdle is that even my clients don’t always understand exactly what I do and it’s hard to really promote my services if their utility is incomprehensible to the broadest public. So I think I will take advantage of the Steam Edition of Wounded by Words (which is finally in the making!) to make a complete presentation overhaul but with the same assets. That’ll be a good opportunity to write one or more articles to explain in detail what directing is, what it changes and why it could be interesting. Given that it’s a Träumendes Mädchen project, free at that, I will more easily be able to make a before/after demonstration of each scene. In any case, I hope you’ll be interested~
Our Life: Beginnings & Always (released in November) has been the big exception to that trend that marked my year. However, because the game has a very complex structure and that I mostly had to turn the text into programming files, I have the impression the writers’ work indirectly broadened my horizons. There’s no way I will apply the same method (my super linear style is the exact opposite of this particular project) but it had the merit of making me ponder a lot about the way choices could be treated in a visual novel. Maybe one day I will finally be able to write a story that’s really interactive, who knows!
But the real good news of 2020 and the achievement that make me think I haven’t completely wasted my time is that the loan I had taken back in 2015 to create the company and fund the demo of Chronotopia: Second Skin is finally completely repaid! The original plan was to pay it back with the game’s sales of course but issues piled up so much throughout the development that I quickly found myself stuck. The situations sometimes seemed hopeless, and Träumendes Mädchen was on the verge of bankruptcy several times, but thanks to the various outsourcing contracts I recently undertook, a huge burden has just been taken off my shoulders.
That doesn’t mean the future will be super rosy, especially not in the current climate, and I will still need to rely on outsourcing contracts to fund our activities but, at least, for the first time in 5 years, the company has a small chance to get back onto its feet. And for me, this is nothing short of a miracle. I would love to be able to say with any certainty that the curse will be lifted in 2021 but I’ve eventually learned my lesson: this time, I will not say anything.
Take care of yourself and your loved ones.