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!
This post will be a bit different than usual but bear with me.
I recently started a Patreon page to help me be able to pay some bills while continuing to work for the team. Since it’s a personal one, I’ll use it to talk about various things, including, well, what I do for the team. So, if you like what we do and if you want to know more about the backstage of visual novel creation, consider helping me out.
Here are the rewards:
As patrons, you’ll get access to exclusive content about the Träumendes Mädchen team for 5$ per month: progress reports for our various projects (including revealing new ones before anyone else!), WIP illustrations, various anecdotes on the creation process and wallpapers.
And for some extra change (10$), you’ll be able to get our future games way in advance, suggest me articles to write for the devblog (if you want me to talk about something specific), as well as priority on pre-order goodies (we’ll ship them or you’ll be able to retrieve them at our booth during conventions). It’s useful in case of limited goodies such as, at random, the artbook we’re planning to see early July for the Japan Expo convention ~
And for the craziest among you (20$), I offer my advice on your narrative projects (be it a traditional book or visual novel) through a customized service. This offer is limited for now because I don’t have enough free time to give, but I’ll gradually add slots according to my availability!
If you want, you’ll also get access to exclusive content related to my personal anime/games blog: getting posts in advance that you’ll be able to improve through your contributions, suggesting themes (with or without vote) and some bonus/extra content. Translation of the articles are available on request (original ones are in French)!
So, I think it’s all for now. Ah, yeah, and I’ll post something there about the upcoming goodies we’ll be selling at Japan Expo pretty soon. If you want to give me your opinon on the design/content/presentation, as well as pre-order it first, you know what to do! Thank you for reading me and thank you very much for your support, it means a lot to me! I now will go back to my work: wouldn’t be good to make my teammates wait ;).
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 ;).
If you’re not familiar with Dischan, here’s a brief explanation of why this is kind of an important news: firstly they were around since 2009, were working on highly anticipated projects, made a name, got a lot of press coverage, won the support of both the overall demanding Visual Novel community and the Visual Novel hobbyists community (sadly, many VN fans don’t like that much the hobbyists because the quality of their works is, well, non-professional), inspired many creators along the way and finally run a successful Kickstarter funded at 67, 450$ CAD (since the Sekai Project wasn’t really around at that time, their campaign was quite an achievement for Visual Novel in general).
In short, they were big. Everyone knew Dischan. Which is why their latest announcement shocked many people. I’m not here to judge or shame anyone, but as a member of a small hobbyist team who followed their progress since 2011 or something like that (yeah, we weren’t even officially a team back then…man, time sure flies), I have many things to say about what Dischan faced. And I think the biggest problem at hand is simply the gamedev paradox. Since I just made that one up, let me explain what I mean.
The creation laws (aka common sense)
When you start making games (be it a visual novel or just a plain gameplay-centric game), the first tip you always get from more experimented developers is to start small. Indeed creation is way more complex than people think, it’s not magical, you gotta work A LOT. And no amount of theorical research will make you learn and improve like the experience you get in the field. In short, you will make mistakes, it’s unavoidable, so better make them really fast and in the most painless way possible.
With visual novel, it’s a bit tricky since on the surface they look way easier than other types of games. And in some ways, it is true. A visual novel doesn’t require that much programming skills thanks to Ren’Py, so it’s easier to code. But, here’s the catch: a gameplay-focused game will always be more dynamical than a visual novel. It’s meant that way. So, in order to compensate, you’ll have to produce more art assets (sprites, backgrounds, event CG, and so on). And the big difficulty, as a new creator, is to avoid like the plague giving the artists on your team too much workload. Even if they’re paid, they’re gonna lose interest over time (or life can happen, you never know), so if your project has a big scope, you’re pretty much doomed to fail. Even if you have motivation and dedication. That’s the harsh truth of visual novel development. So, you HAVE to start small in order to finish your projects.
On a side note, many people don’t even consider visual novel as games so they don’t read gamedev tips or Gamasutra articles thinking it doesn’t concern them, which is sad because it’s super useful!
The marketing laws (aka AHAHAHAHAH)
So, we just said you had to focus on visual novel that have a small scale in order to be able to finish them and gain experience, right? Well, just forget what you just learned, because marketing doesn’t work that way!
The first marketing tip you always get is to show your project as soon as possible (even when it’s not ready). Also, polishing. Show the most polished shiniest prettiest stuff as you can. Thing is, hobbyists can rarely afford to get an artist good enough to show off a game with impressive art. That’s what being a hobbyist means. With the indie market being completely swamped by games to the point where getting visibility is now a real crucifixion, you better have pretty screenshots if you were planning to get a bit of attention! Wait, what do you say? Everyone wants attention because you’re kinda creating stuff so that some people can enjoy them? Yep, you see where I’m going… With so many pretty games around, it’s difficult to be distinguished. The best way to have people talk about your game is usually to have an interesting story and a stunning art direction. Then you may get press coverage, reviews and all. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna get rich but it’s always nice.
Since visual novel don’t have that much gameplay, you may also want to make an hybrid to get attention from a bigger audience. Like adding RPG mechanics. Or just adding as much choices as possible in order to offer a truly interactive experience. That will cost you even more efforts and work, of course.
But then, let’s face it, there is another thing you can do to make people hyped about your upcoming visual novel: selling them dreams. A small scale visual novel with a cool story does sound nice but it’s not « shiny » enough for marketing. No, you’ll want to promise a big scale game with tons of features (we call that “feature creep” BTW). Like: Impressive amount of choices that have an influence on the story! RPG mechanics ! Full voice acting! 10 love interests! Animated opening! Original theme songs! Sex scenes (
I’m still not sure on why VN fans are so keen on wanting H-scene…)! An hidden route with a catgirl ( Same here, I don’t see the appeal)! QTE (wait, NO)! It’s especially true if you’re running a crowdfunding campaign, you have to create hype in order to get money. But then most of the money will be spend on the hyped features so it’s kind of a vicious cycle. Anyway, let’s go back on the Dischan story…
Ambition, a double-edged sword
See, Dischan has always been a very ambitious team, their goal was to produce high quality content in order to show demanding people that indie VN could look great and professionnal. Their projects were all dreams-sellers, if I can say so. So it’s not a surprise to see their ambition turned out to be double-edged : without that, they’d never have been able to get so much press coverage and visibility so fast. But if they didn’t have so much ambition, they would never have burned that fast too. People are only looking at the surface, which is highly polished visuals, and not at the management hell that was behind. I can only imagine the burden to have that much responsability and pressure when you’re actually not that experimented…
Fittingly, all the visual novel Dischan managed to finish were mostly small projects. Like Cradle Song introduction, Dysfunctional Systems introduction (for me, Ep1 is a long intro to a bigger story) and a Nanoreno game made in a month, Juniper’s Knot. And all the visual novel they cancelled were big scale projects that turned out to be way too ambitious like the full Cradle Song and the Dysfunctional Systems serie as a whole. So, even though they were a big name in the VN community, the team wasn’t in my opinion ready to go all out like they did with the crowdfunding campaign. For me, the big mistake Dischan did was to listen to their fans when they said they should try Kickstarter to get another chance at a time where Dischan has the honesty to announce many members of the team left, that they were broke and that they wanted to cancel the full-time developement of the Dysfunctional Systems series as a result. Kickstarter is a very useful tool but a very dangerous one too!
Kickstarter is a useful but dangerous tool
Which brings us to the next point of my rant: new teams kickstarting their first projects. It has nothing to do with Dischan in particular but several people got worried about the future of kickstarted visual novel upon learning one of the biggest got cancelled. It’s a pretty natural reaction but I don’t think it’ll have any kind of effect. The Kickstarter honeymoon is over since a while now and I think people are way more cautious when pledging. It’s a real investment and a bet: you won’t always got what you hoped for but without your funding it wouldn’t happen anyway. Failed Kickstarters are sadly a good opportunity for other devs to learn what went wrong and try not to reproduce the same mistakes. I’m sure many early VN crowdfunding campaigns are currently going to hell without anyone noticing. Especially the people who thought kickstarting their first project was a good idea. I’ve checked many (look at that useful chart for more informations) because I was curious about their progress and I saw many updates about the departure of artists, management issues and sometimes even total mutism. Those may got cancelled too, and I think it’s bound to happen, especially because some team leaders are gonna get burned out very badly due to pressure. In short: crowdfunding can be a great tool but you have to know what you got yourself into, otherwise you may ended up crushed by the high responsabilities that come in the package. Not everyone can handle it. I think Dischan was actually pretty honest about that fact and that may have saved them from an agonizing death of years of trying to finish the game in vain while losing their sanity in the process. So maybe it’s better that way? Who knows…
Conclusion n°1: while Dischan was the more visible indie team making visual novel, they’re not the only ones who got caught into the gamedev paradox. Wanting to get visibility, many creators jump the gun and got burned in the process. It’s always been that way for visual novel, but whereas those projects would have just peacefully disappeared some years ago, the use of Kickstarter adds money into the equation and just makes the fall public and more impressive. Let it be a lesson for all of us: We all need ambition but trying to go too fast will make you fall. Just as with the Icarus myth, we shouldn’t get too close to the sun…
Conclusion n°2: gamedev is hard, don’t underestimate it. And yes, it includes visual novel too.
Today, there are various subjects I’d like to talk about, so bear with me for the moment (development updates at the end of the post)!
Rondo Duo and the future of visual novel
I already lightly touched the subject on my personal blog (French only, sorry :<) but I really wanted to talk about Rondo Duo in more details.
As you might know it, Rondo Duo ~Dawn at Fortissimo is a japanese visual novel that’s been released by doujin group Tinkle Bell last Halloween. Plot-wise, it has little to no importance (it’s a nukige, so don’t expect more than lots of H-scene) but from an artistic perspective, it’s very interesting. In fact, Tinkle Bell uses an handmade Flash engine to make everything animated. Whereas rival japanese companies (like Windmill Oasis who introduced it first with Witch Garden back in 2012) primarily uses the « Emote » system as a light gimmick, this new system does reproduce the illusion of movement pretty well. The art is gorgeous and coherent with the animation, and the sound effect really adds a lot too. In short, the cinematics are great.
Seeing the intro scene of Rondo Duo makes you wonder what it’d be like if visual novel with a real plot used cinematics like that. Of course, I’m not speaking of a full-animated visual novel, it would be expensive as hell for indie creators. Tinkle Bell itself took 6 years to finish their game (it was announced back in 2008) and there was like two or three people working in the team during all that time (I don’t think they were working full time on this though). Not bad for a doujin group but you see my point. What I’m really curious to see is a visual novel with ponctual cinematics like that, done only for key scenes. I have the feeling it would add a lot to the experience. I’m sure every visual novel reader had seen moments where static pictures weren’t enough to convey the right emotion (like fight scenes or dramatic scenes).
It’s clearly not within everybody’s range (my team would never be able to do that, for example XD), but maybe the biggest visual novel developpers can try it out. I would be very curious to see that. What’s your opinion? What visual novel do you think could include such cinematics?
Game dev updates
Nearly a month went by since last time and it only feels like yesterday. Developping visual novel makes you kinda disoriented: since you’re working on the the same things over and over again, you can easily lose track of the time…
We’ve been progressing surely but quite slowly on the next part due to everybody being busy. The truth is that Episode 4 is way bigger than Episode 3, so it’ll take longer to finish it, especially with the number of CGs (there are a lot of action scenes in this one, I’m sure you’ll love it !).
The good thing is that almost all the backgrounds are ready to enter coulouring phase! I hope the work on the sprites (mostly colouring) and the chibis will also be over soon, in order to be able to complete the script. I’m hoping to send it to translators in December, so let’s cross fingers!
Milk put aside, we did work on other things. For example, we released Being Beauteous on Desura in mid-november and we plan on doing the same for Ambre when the time’ll be suitable (read: after the crazy month of December where everybody is broke and most AAA games are published). We’re really proud to be able to make our visual novel more visible to a larger audience, I hope it’ll go on ^^.
Speaking of Being Beauteous, we also realized we never released its new soundtrack. Since Roganis did such a good job, it would be a shame not to share it, right? That’s why the Being Beauteous Soundtrack will be available on Bandcamp next Monday (1st December) on a « Pay what you want » basis (the OST is so short we felt it wouldn’t be fair to ask for a definite amount). You can get it for free or give him a little tip to support his work. I’d be you, I’d definitily give him a few bucks, the guy deserve it ;).
And after the release of the Being Beauteous Soundtrack, Roganis will also publish his new album on Bandcamp. For those who couldn’t get it at the last Japan Expo convention, it’ll be your chance! So, as usual, follow us on social networks to be the first one informed o/.