My experience as a marginalized dev: trying not to self-censor

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 =’).

Jaquette AmbreAmbre 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.

Inspired by real facts :p

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!

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Concept art depicting The Metamorphosis by Kafka (@Eolyus)

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.

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Concept art of Hassan (@Kinect)

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…

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This is not a harem…

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…

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Extract of the Crossing Horizons artbook (@Orties)

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).

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Current Chapter menu in Milk~La légende des étoiles

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.

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Screenshot of Milk Episode 5, under developement

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 ;).

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 ;).

Pre-orders available (Japan Expo 2015)

We’re there, all het up and it’s finally official: pre-orders are available! The Träumendes Mädchen team will be at the Japan Expo convention in Paris from 2nd to 5th July (booth L52, Hall 6) with a sack full of things. In order to celebrate that, here’s a description of our new products.

The Crossing Horizons sketchbook will be in A5 format and will include around 40 pages shared between all the artists on the team.As you might already notice on this preview, there is a little bit of everything: fanarts from visual novel (japanese or western), illustrations of our own games (abandoned sketches we never showed or new ones drawn for the occasion), sometimes in black and white, sometimes in ful color, digital or traditionnal. In short, a joyful jumble overflowing with passion! If Elairin, Kinect, Melow and Orties are in the spotlight, Morsy and Laniessa also offered a contibution and we’re really happy to count a small Guest Art section as well at the end of the artbook. All to say we put our heart in it and we hope you will enjoy the result!

The new hard copy, named Between Heaven and Hell, will include a compilation of Garden of Oblivion and Wounded by Words.Translation of the original content in French is almost finished so I’ll be able to write the new content for WbW extended version pretty soon (after story for each route and unlockable epilogue)…as well as the secret bonus. We also have two new merchandises: a bookmark and a poster!

Panorama merch eng

Since most of you can’t attend a French convention, we’re experimenting a mail order system to allow you to buy all our goodies ! Nothing more simple than ordering:

  • _send me an email at traumendesmadchen@gmail.com with « Preorder » as a subject
  • _add you complete adress so that I can send you everything properly. Be careful though, there will be shipping fee and the farther you live from France, the more expensive it will be (can’t do anything about it sady =/)
  • _and don’t forget to tell me what you want to buy, of course!

We only accept Paypal payment (same email). And don’t worry about the change, I’ll do that for you and tell you exactly how much it cost (but FYI 1€ = 1,12$).

So that’s it, thanks for the constant support, we wouldn’t be able to do all that without you!

Japan Expo 2015: Action stations!

Since June is coming by, now is a good time to talk about Japan Expo. If you don’t know, it’s the biggest French convention and we’ll be attending this year again. So here’s the list of the new products we’ll be selling.

Hard copies

Couverture compil TM2

The cover by @Orties

In addition to last year compilation (which includes Being Beauteous, Ambre and HVNCML), we’re working on a new compilation that will contain:

  • _Garden of Oblivion (English AND French)
  • _An extended version of Wounded by Words with an after story for each character and an unlockable epilogue (English AND French)
  • _As well as a small hidden bonus that will make you laugh, or so I hope (hint: it’s a parodic mini-game)

We’re currently translating that content to French, hoping that we’ll be finished on time.

Merchandises

Ensemble goodies

The goodies from last year are back!

We did a little survey at the beginning of the year and the goodies that had the most success were the bookmark and the poster. So I think I’ll make a new bookmark inspired by the new compilation cover. As for the poster, it’s a little more complicated: I wanted to use the Styx CG from Milk Episode 4 but the size of the required file is really big. We’ll only be able to know if we can do that after some tests. We’ll keep you up to date. It should also be noted that Roganis won’t make a new music album this year but his last one, The Milky Way of Music, will still be available, as well as last year goodies!

The case of the artbook

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Only preview available for now…but this is gonna change pretty soon!

Our biggest challenge for Japan Expo is the artbook aout visual novel we want to make, our first one at that! The conception phase wasn’t easy but we’re slowly seeing the end of the tunnel. We need to make the cover as well as four pages…out of the 40 or so planned (A5 format). In order to make you drool a bit, we’re going to post previews of each artist’s work along the week.

Booth organization

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A part of last year booth

Since 2014 was our first time in a convention, we obviously learned a lot since then, that why we’ll have a bigger booth this time (that we’ll share with the same lovely dev as last time) and we’ll try to make effort on the decoration. We’ll also make a lottery : for each purchase on our booth (amount to be specified later), you’ll be able to try your luck at the lottery and win a prize. And you can only win something!

Pre-orders are coming!

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This picture is only here to give the impression that the artists work on a production line

You might think that it doesn’t concer you, right? But this time, we’ll try a pre-order system. Even if you don’t live in France, you can book/buy a product and we’ll put it aside to ship it later. Since some items will be limited, they might get sold out very quickly though, so don’t wait after the convention to see if there is still some left! We’ll be opening preorders pretty soon, in a few days actually (with full informations), so keep your eyes open and follow us on social network to be the first one served!

I hope you’re impatient, because we sure are ;).

P.S : Should be noted that people following my Patreon will be able to book a little earlier than the others (and already get some artbook previews). That’s how it is XD.

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?

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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 ;).

Milk Episode 4 Release !

EP4A little more than six months after the dematerialized release of Episode 4, we’re back with the new part of Khzi’s adventures, our favourite nutty alien!

Well, once again, the production has been rather chaotic. I think we can definitively assert that the previous time was an exception and that I’m utterly unable to draw up a believable deadline… There were some changes in the team too with the departure of Jeungo and the arrival of  Kinect who’s proving to be quite efficient ! It remains that the waiting time between each release is slowly decreasing (from one year to six months), which is good news for the most hungry readers ;).

CG styx

A wonderful in-game illustration by @Orties

Khzi and her team hold a series of half-baked plans in order to outwit the priests on their heels. The mercenaries don’t know that the worst is yet to come: a storm is brewing…

Milk ~La légende des étoiles Episode 4 (the link is on the page, as usual) includes many small alterations on sound, illustrations and text, all in hope of making the reading more interesting. I hope it’ll pay. It should also be noted that Episode 5 will be the last part of Khzi’s adventures.

We’re once again open to all feedbacks, negative and positive alike, as long as you help us improving! I invite you to keep following us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to see the progress we’re making on our différent projects. Next goal: Ludum Dare ~

A sequel for Ambre !

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 ;).

What visual novel development taught me

Today, I want to come back to the differents projects the team made in order to comment our progression.

Indeed, even if things are slowly changing with the increase of early access games, one often only get a hold of a game through its finale version, in other words, it’s most complete and most accomplished version. An average player may get under the impression that the differents pieces are coming together thanks to some kind of evolution stone to change into a piece of art. Reality is less glamorous but way more reassuring : creating is something you have to learn. The bad news is that it involves a lot of work, the good news is that anyone can try it out. And the Träumendes Mädchen team is no exception, especially me who has the job of being the “leader”. It’s been almost three years now and I’ve learned so much thanks to my teammates, particularly with programming. So I want to draw up some kind of report.

 

June 2012 : Being Beauteous

Some of the first drafts by Morsy. She improved a lot since then!

Back then, the team had already gathered around Milk and we floundered so hard. I was aware we were jumping the gun when we started with a project this big and I really wanted to make up for that with something short. The first version of Being Beauteous was born like that and we planned to make it during some French contest that happened in a small convention. Even if it didn’t looked much, BB hold a special place in my heart because it was our first completed project. It was really simple (text and some CGs) but we did have troubles during the competition because of the GUI. So it’s only with the 2nd version (the first available one actually) that we managed to fix those bugs. Also, we slowly realized that having a translation was really important to share our works to folks around the world.

What I learned : to finish a project, to make a bug-less GUI, to understand the importance of an English translation.

 

February 2013 : 1st Episode of Milk

Another draft by Morsy. In the end, those variations never got into the game.

The deliivery of Milk’s 1st Espidode was a real ordeal because it took us like a whole year to see the end of the tunnel. It must be said that there was a lot of content to deal with for such a young team and I immediately understood that we couldn’t go on like that. After all, we were supposed to release the whole game in a row after that! I realized it was impossible and change the plan to an episodic publication. Hence why the demo became “1st episode”. It was also a chance to get to know Renpy a bit better (choosing a custom font, juggle with all the numerous sprites and numerous expressions). Milk’s presentation was really simple and we made a lot of mistakes but I think it was a prerequisite for what came after. Most of the mistakes were corrected (the GUI) or are pending for correction since then (*cough* the scenario). It should be noted that we released the visual novel both in French and English at that time, not without pain.

What I learned : to write a visual novel, to finish a bigger project (without dying), to draw a GUI, to make a siultaneous translation, to manage sprites and expressions.

 

April 2013 : Ambre

I think we all understand why Melow did the game illustrations and not me 8)

Once Milk’s Episode was behind us, I had to tackle Nanoreno! It wasn’t a technical challenge (because the story was linear)  but it sure was a litterary one. Granted the deadline was a pretty difficult thing to handle too but I planned the game not to need too much assets. But really, my personal challenge was to write a short story that would inlude some kind of memorable ending, something striking. Even thought the result wasn’t perfect, I’m relatively proud of the outcome, I think the intended result is here. Ambre was also a good chance to make progress on GUI and animation. We included some light animation for the first time with the petals on the main scene and we tried something with the leafs on the city background. Some elements you would find again in the next release.

What I learned : to write a visual novel while paying attention to the assets needed, to finish a project quickly, to write a story with a memorable ending, to join an event.

 

March 2014 : 2nd Episode of Milk

A pretty sketch by Elairin

We took almost a year on this one again but it was mostly because of the turn-over inside the team. This second episode was mostly a validation of what we made with the first one. Indeed, many project don’t get past the demo stade, so releasing a new part of the story was a symbolic move. We wanted to show we were still game and that we wouldn’t give up so easily. We took that opportunity to change the GUI (and it was way more difficult than you would imagine!) and include animated backgrounds for the first time. Well, there are only 2 or 3 of them but it was a way to slowly get accustomed to the process.

What I learned : to carry on an under way project, to include animated backgrounds, to renew a team.

 

April 2014 : HVNCML

First GUI tests by Xian

Once again, I wanted to tackle Nanoreno, and once again Milk’s production was late. In 2013 we managed to finish two weeks before the beginning of the contest, this time we finished in the middle of it! Under these circumstances, it was rather difficult to deliver. HVNCML was born a whole week after the deadline. I didn’t write any postmortem because the whole game can be considered one (with a comic point of view). Back then, it was our first technical challenge because I only wanted to try my hand at a IRC-line GUI and didn’t have much planned to use it afterwards. Well, you can consider that making some part of your life public was also a challenge. In a way…it is. This little visual novel was supposed to be a funny extra to the fans that were wondering what we were doing everyday and how our meetings looked like. Yet several people who didn’t know us played it too. It was kind of embarrasing, a bit like getting naked in front of strangers. The whole approach does suppose some trust with the audience.

What I learned : to juggle between several projects at the same time, to try an IRC-like GUI, to reveal my stupidity to the world.

 

July 2014/September 2014 : 3rd Episode of Milk

Orties trademark: writing nonsense on her drawings :p

Milk’s third episode is really seen as an exception among our works because it’s the only damn game that went “easily”. Meaning that we didn’t enconter any particular issue (except a small false note with the translation that wasn’t immediately ready). If anything could happen like that, visual novel dev would be so easy XD. It’s all the more surprising considering we had a lot of pressure due to the fact we promised this part would be ready for Japan Expo, a French convention. The third episode also marked the spread of backgrounds animation.

What I learned : to meet a non-negotiable deadline, to spread backgrounds animation, to release a game in a relaxed way.

 

August 2014 : Garden of Oblivion

A relatively accurate Ludum Dare metaphor…

In the same vein as HVNCML, Garden of Oblivion was planned as a technical challenge: I wanted to put tradionnal visual novel aside to include some point & click elements instead. With an incredibly stressful deadline (Nanoreno is a stroll in a park in omparison). If the graphic part was irreproachable, the coding part was rather…wild. The first version we returned didn’t match my expectations at all and we had to add a whole week of work to get to the result with the second version. The other challenge was for me to write directly in English with the bare minimum of preparation to fit the gamejam spirit. And I’m reserved about the final result, I could have done better. At least, I managed to include more diversity among the characters. The fact remains that the community experience was on par! Ludum Dare really is a big gathering of people and that forms bonds. If you wanna know more, read the postmortem I made right after the competition.

What I learned : to write directly in English, to jon a bigger event, to learn programming in the field, to make an hybrid VN/P&C, to discover the joy of polishing, to include a bit more diversity in a cast.

 

Spring 2015 (?) : 4th Episode of Milk

Orties really likes to write on her drawings…

Milk’s forth episode isn’t out yet but I feel I learned so much already. I think it’s starting from this point that I really felt confortable with RenPy. To the point that I now like to rummage through the script to improve what I can improve. It wouldn’t have happened without slowly getting familiar with the engine, project after project, and the help of Keul. The direct consequence is that this episode is full of small alterations: adjusting the brightness of sprites during night scenes, adjusting the height of non-human sprites, adjusting the font to be more readable, adjusting some transitions to be more dynamic, adjusting sound effect to fit the mood better, light animations on the illustrations. Currently, that’s the work I’m the most proud about and I hope those little things will make the read more interesting, even if they’re not that useful. I also started asking the artists to try different presentation styles (object on top of the background, insert chibi, CG cut in half, CG with many variations).

What I learned : to have a good command of RenPy, to use all my time doing alterations nobody will ever notice, to use sound effects effectively, to experiment different presentations.

 

April 2015 (?) : Ludum Dare 2

Since the game’s production hasn’t started, for logic reason, here’s a scene from Milk Episode 4.

Since we’re planning to enter Ludum Dare again, this part will mostly be anticipation considering we didn’t even begin the project! My main goal is to break the linearity of all our projects so far. Making choices is quite a complex thing to incorporate into a story and as a litterary person, I have trouble with that and I need to learn to write differently. It’s pretty ambitious considering the short deadline but I’ll try to stick to that goal, even if it means releasing a polished version later on. The other goal is to go out of my comfort zone with writing and talk about what I want to talk in a more…frontal manner. Indeed, many of my works address our relation to the norm and try to challenge that notion but it’s mostly told in a tacit fashion. I want to go further and stop censoring myself so much. In this perspective, I want to stage characters different from usual, under-represented ones. Like disable people. Furthermore, I plan to rest on what I learned with all the projects we made up until this point to make a game that’ll make me proud. We’ll see if we’ll manage.

What I want to learn : to make th most of what I learned so far, to write an actual interactive visual novel with branching, to make diversity an essential component of the cast, to prevent myself from self-censorship, to master Renpy enough to not have a hard time…to make a good game?

 

Conclusion

I just wanted to share another scene from Milk Episode 4.

This little overview shows that an individual (just like a team) need time to gain self-confidence and skills. Time to make mistakes, time to correct the mistakes, time to get numerous habits, time to be able to experiment and choose what one wants to do and how. I couldn’t imagine planning the Ludum Dare project years ago, I wouldn’t have felt able to! With this approach in mind (though iterations), the advices from the pros take on their full meaning: always try to make short projects before even tackling the “game of your dreams”.

Everyone need its own pace to learn but nobody can make miracles without any experience whatsoever. The issues of some visual novel Kickstarter are really enlightening in this respect: almost all the projects made by beginners (such as the ones who bragged about the campaign being their first visual novel) are currently running into difficulties and are having troubles keeping their promises. Likewise, the Katawa Shoujo spiritual heirs have disappeared and the few survivors are stuck on demo phase.

Moral : Don’t jump the gun, start small. Wait until you feel ready before shifting up a gear, it can only do you good ;).

2015 plans

Following our 2014 report, which says we did LOTS of stuff, the Träumendes Mädchen team won’t stop just now. So what do we plan to do in 2015?

(To celebrate the end of the year, here are some fanarts!)

A lovely Freyja (by Melow)

To begin with, slow down a bit X). I think it isn’t healthy to produce four games a year, not only does it lead to irrealistic expectations, but it also push the teammates to exhaust themselves. We can hardly beat 2014 record in terms of productivity anyway and I don’t want anyone to drown in a coffe’s cup (would be a fitting death but no).

We’re going to stay with basis : our top priority is to finish Milk Episode 4 first. If the work with sprites and chibis is almost done and I’m hoping we’ll be able to finish the CGs real soon (why did I write action scenes again?), I’m worried about the backgrounds. Indeed artists who can handle BGs aren’t legion and we’re missing the colouring phase. Would be galling to get stuck now so I’m hoping luck will smile at us once again ! Episode 4 should be ready in 2015, what remains unknown is when. Will it be at the beginning or at the end of the year…

Aluwo as a bisho (still by Melow)

That being said, I still want to make another short project in the following months. In fact, a specific idea haunts me (writing a story with lots of choices…moral choices) and I really want to make it. So I’m wondering about dragging the whole team with me to enter next Ludum Dare. Needless to say that if we enter a game jam in April, we won’t be doing Nanoreno in March. To be continued…

Some of you may be wondering if we gonna take part in next Japan Expo convention. Well, the answer will depend on you! Since we’re a team of hobbyists, we don’t have a big budget and we’re paying transports/accomodation cost out of our own pocket. We’re enthusiasts and we want to be sure we’re going to make you happy. So I gonna circulate a survey to know if some people are interested in last time hard copies (if we need to reprint some) and if some people are interested in new goodies. Depending on what answers we got (as well as the numbers of answers we got), we’ll be able to see more clearly into it. Of course, most international people won’t be able to attend a French convention, but please do let a comment (here or through social networks) if you’re interested in mail-order. I can’t garantee anything for now but we might be able to open an online store in the future.

Beyond Japan Expo, I think it’s reasonable to make progress with Milk Episode 5. I really hope this part will be available before the end of the year because it’s urgent to finish the common route once and for all. Or else we’ll still be making the rest 10 years from now and that doesn’t sound that tempting to me =(.

Miruku (by Clua *_*)

2015 will be more relaxed…maybe?

To conclude, 2015 should be less hectic than 2014…should be. Because, as I said, we’re not immune to surprises ~ You know me, I can’t stop myself.