I recently came across an article that claimed that English visual novel had reached a peak since mid 2017 and were now entering a new era, thanks to increasing popularity and developers eager to push the boundaries of the medium. Well, I hate to be that person but as someone who has been in the community long enough to remember its short history, I have to say that this couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth. Let me take you a few years back and I think you’ll understand!
2018 is already well under way after all, so it’s the perfect opportunity to give you some news!
After Ambre last summer, it’s Garden of Oblivion’s turn to be available on Steam. Still free, the game has been improved overall upon this new release.
Happy Holidays to all of our readers, I hope that you’re having a pleasant time and that you’re ready to tackle the months to come! As we do every year, it’s time to look back on Träumendes Mädchen’s activities. Unlike usual, I would like to address this topic with a more personal angle. It’s likely going to be long and a tad messy so bear with me…
(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~
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~
* Note: I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 for creating backgrounds and take about a week to complete one depending on complexity.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’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.
One 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.
• 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?
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.
• 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!
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.
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.
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 =’).
Ambre 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.
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!
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.
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~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…
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).
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.
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 ;).