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!

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/

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!

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 ;).

Wounded by Words Post-mortem : Nothing went wrong, really?

WbW MM2Check out the game here : http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-32/?action=preview&uid=39080

Since it’s been two weeks since the competion, now would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve done for Ludum Dare 32. It was our second time as a team…and everything went differently!

Couloir 1e essai

1st try on the corridor background (by @Orties)

Preparation, what preparation?
I wanted to take some time to calm down and think before the competition, in order to be ready for whatever may come. I tried to make a bit of research on various subjects I wanted to talk about in a future game but, honestly, the period before the actual game jam was hectic! Not only was I lacking time due to the (very) late release of Milk Episode 4, but my team was completely freewheeling. One or two days before the launch, I still didn’t know which artist was available and which was not… So yeah, I was relieved to get a full team on time.

Croquis couloir

Sketch of the corridor background (by @Orties)

Conventional rules for unconventional games
As I said before, I’m the kind of person who sucks at improvising: I need time to think about a story before actually writing it. The announcement of the theme was a bit of a shock. I knew « Unconventional Weapons » was popular but I really hoped for Companion to overtake it. That Saturday morning, in front of my cup of coffee, I felt powerless. Unconventional Weapons is a nice theme for non-narrative games, it sure encourages people to make funny concepts (and we all know that’s what people like the most about game jam entries), but it’s a disaster for a narrative game! I saw a Twine dev on Twitter giving up because of that. And afterwards, I realized with disapointment there were fewer visual novel than what we had for Ludum Dare 30. I think it’s not far-fetched to say most RenPy dev, either were too tired after Nanoreno (another game jam that had taken place a month before), either felt as uninspired as I was. Anyway, I was on the verge of giving up when my teammates urged me to find some motivation back. It took me an hour to get out of my lethargy befire I decided to go all out. As such, I chose the « Words as Weapons » approach. I also used some ideas I had for a while to make a visual novel that would recquire of me to go out of my comfort zone and add choices to my work. Let’s see how we did!

Gabriel sprite WIP

Gabriel Sprite Progression (by @Kinect)

What went right
I never saw my artists that fired up in my entire time as a dev! In the matter of two days, three quarters of the art was done. Three quarters! And I thought I was asking a lot from them, Laniessa even told me it would be a bit too much when I told her the amount of work needed. Everything was finished way before the end of the third day and I had actually trouble keeping up with the artists to give them directions. Orties and Kinect sure makes a dangerous pair! Roganis too seemed inspired since he composed the whole soundtrack in the matter of two days…and he was partying right in the middle of the contest! Are those people even human? How cant hey be so efficient 0__o?

Line couloir

Line of the corridor background (by @Orties)

Code was surprinsingly a piece of cake too. I had actually been practicing for some days in order to know how to use « affection points » and trigger the various endings. Since I’ve learned so much from Garden of Oblivion, our previous LD game, implanting the interactive adventure game system was easy and I knew what I had to do. I’ve learned a lot from Milk Episode 4 too as I made the little animations by myself. The only thing I didn’t have the time to learn beforehand was the blinking animations and I really wanted to add it. It took me between one and two hours before actually understanding how I should do it and I only had to ask Keul for a little help with the optimisation. Since he was there as a backup, it was pretty simple to get organized: I only had to ask him for the difficult elements I couldn’t do due to lack of skill/time.

Aplats couloir

Flat colors of the corridor background (by @Orties)

As for the writing, I didn’t feel comfortable obviously, since English isn’t my native language, but it went better than expected. I read into that fact as the result of my recent practice: since I’m writing on my devblog in English now, I’m starting to get the hold of it. It wasn’t the case back in August. I wasn’t inspired by the theme per se, but I really wanted to tell that story and my reseach did come in handy, since I didn’t have to check for the smallest fact.

What went wrong
Err, nothing? No, really, nothing actually went « wrong » 0_o. I couldn’t finish the story on time (nor proofread it) but it wasn’t because of bad management: I was glued in front of my computer during the whole contest, writing and coding like crazy. True, I could have woken up a bit earlier, but I really felt too tired for that (I didn’t have time to rest for days even before the start of the competition, after all). No, I really think I just saw too big. The story needed more time to be developed and I just didn’t have enough in three days. Planning different endings was a bad idea for a game jam, since it only added me more work, but i twas the core of the visual novel,it couldn’t be removed.

Eleesha sprite sheet

Eleesha Sprite Sheet (design by @Kinect and colouring by @Laniessa)

Ok, maybe I should have put our previous game release on hold to be able to rest properly but it was out of the question: I just couldn’t afford to fall behind schedule =’). Or post-dare fatigue maybe? I’ve been a vegetable for a couple of days because I badly needed some rest. But it took me less than a week to get back on my feet. And I still had time to try some other entries and release the updated version of the game with fixed typos and new content (Dave and Hassan routes).

Sooooo…it was super difficult and challenging for me, yet it didn’t went wrong.

What now?
As I mentionned above, there is a new build available fixing most of the problems/missing things. I’m still not completely satisfied because I couldn’t polish the story as well as I wanted, so I very likely will try to make another update later on. But, hey, you know how I am: I’m never satisfied with my work anyway X’).

WbW

GIF of the exploration scene (final assets, colouring by @Laniessa)

I think it’s the best looking game we’ve released so far and one of the more optmistic given my tendancy to make my characters suffer horrible things (still not joyous though !). I’m also quite proud to be able to create a diverse cast for a change and it plays a big part in the story. For now most feedbacks I got were rather encouraging…I hope you’ll all enjoy Wounded by Words :3.

Wounded by Words [LD32 entry]

Many of you already know it but the Traumendes Madchen team entered Ludum Dare again this weekend. The April session was our 2nd and everything went very differently from the last time. I think I’ll make a post-mortem pretty soon to explain all that.

WbW MM2In the meantime, enjoy Wounded by Words, the resulting fruit of that labour. Due to the time limitation, the current build is still missing some scenes (and there are a lot of typos that we’ll be fixing soon) so you can follow our itchio account to be notified when a new build is up. Or take a look at our social network profiles where we’ll relay the news ;).