Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

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lockedbox
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Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#1 Post by lockedbox » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:16 pm

I'm seriously considering writing and coding a visual novel game for the first time. I have no experience in coding, though I do have a background in writing and traditional art. I have some questions about the process you guys use though, and was hoping for some recommendations for tutorials, or other resources for someone setting out to make their first renpy game, as well as a couple of questions.

Now, question the first, in terms of writing I'm somewhere in between a pantser and a planner. I generally pants the first, initial concept of a project, and follow that thread until I feel like I'm reaching the end of what made that initial idea flow, and then use that first pantsed part to build up a more traditional plan. I've already done some pantsing, getting the feel for the characters and setting, and am starting to think about how I'll plan the story. This leads to my question as to how you guys write your stories? Not the creative aspect, but, how do you organize it? Is there a way of formatting it that will make the coding easier later on? Or are you better off writing and then coding in stages rather than finishing the writing completely first? I was thinking of using the table of contents function in word to keep things organized and in one document, but that's still kinda clunky, are there any tricks or tools you use to organize things? I've got a pretty visual brain, so making a chart with all possible routes/variations is helpful, and having one on my computer that I can edit more easily would be better still.

Question the second, how big of a project would you recommend a newbie like me tackle? I know that's an ambiguous question, but, I know me, my ideas tend to snowball, and so do my projects once I get stuck in. I know that logistically, the smaller the project, the smaller the potential problems, but, I've barely started writing and I'm already thinking of mechanics and things that would make the project better, but I have absolutely no experience beyond the renpy quick tutorial. I suppose what I'm really asking is, what is more complicated than it seems? Are there things you can do in visual novel games, that I should hold back on until I have more experience? How big is too big for a va game?

Thanks for reading this novel of a forum post, thanks in advance for all your advice :)

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#2 Post by parttimestorier » Sat Feb 02, 2019 3:50 pm

For organizing your writing, I often use a table of contents in google docs as well as having some kind of chart or outline. I also tend to format the text the way it will need to be in RenPy, so that I can just copy and paste later. In terms of scale, I wouldn't say any idea is inherently too big for a VN, but you might be less overwhelmed if you start with a short story for your first attempt and then get back to your big idea when you have a bit more experience. Getting involved in a game jam like Nanoreno can be a good motivator for that.

Another thing I'd recommend is looking through the creative commons section of the forum to find some sprites you could use as placeholders when you're starting out. Even if you're eventually going to do all the art yourself, it can be easier to do some of the initial programming with placeholders, since then you'll get a good idea of exactly what you need and you won't waste time drawing stuff you end up not using.
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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#3 Post by lockedbox » Sat Feb 02, 2019 9:23 pm

Thanks! I've tried nanowrimo in the past and had a lot of fun with it, so that sounds like a good idea! It'll be good to have a deadline, I think.

As for making a small idea first, well, I'm not very good at keeping ideas small, I get caught up in them sometimes. But, maybe I can at least try and make a test chapter to write and code before I start writing everything. That should be a bit of actual practice at least. Knowing me, whatever I write will need a lot of editing down no matter what.

Thanks for the advice about the placeholders! I hadn't thought of that. I don't have much skill in making digital art, so I was just going to scan a bunch of stuff, using pieces that are actually formatted for use in va's already is a much better idea -_-

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#4 Post by Mutive » Mon Feb 04, 2019 8:27 pm

I'd strongly recommend outlining if, for no other reason, VNs can get out of control super fast! (Because unlike with a traditional novel, every meaningful choice that you allow the user to make theoretically can influence everything else in the game.) This doesn't mean that you need a super hard core outline, but having some idea as to what choices you want to let the user make (and what you want these choices to influence) ahead of time is super important! (At least for me...)

I'd also start small. This is both because, again, projects can get out of control quickly, but also because you can always add more later if you want to. (While if you try something super elaborate and never finish, you don't have anything to show for your efforts, which sucks!)
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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#5 Post by Aviala » Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:41 am

You should probably consider writing your text into a format that renpy can understand right away. Like so:

mc "Hello! I'm the main character!"
a "Hello! I'm a character whose name starts with an a!"

So basically you give each character a short, unique tag (one or two letters is the easiest) and use those to write dialogue. Then, when you put the script into ren'py you'll just have to define the characters using those tags. https://www.renpy.org/doc/html/dialogue ... er-objects

Maybe this was obvious, but I'm assuming you have no experience with ren'py.

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#6 Post by phoenix-onyx » Sun Feb 17, 2019 10:20 am

lockedbox wrote:This leads to my question as to how you guys write your stories? Not the creative aspect, but, how do you organize it? Is there a way of formatting it that will make the coding easier later on?
It's actually rather easy to code a story in Ren'Py. As an example, I have been writing my story directly in script.py as follows:

Code: Select all

Bob """
This is a line.

Another line goes here.

You do not have to write the character name again until someone else speaks.
"""

Alice """
So, I find it rather intuitive to write as I go.

You might find it helpful also.
"""

Bob "You can write one-liners too."

Alice "If you prefer it so."
In terms of how long your story should be, I would recommend starting with 5K words (5,000). It is a feasible length and you can always write more afterward.

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#7 Post by Aviala » Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:50 pm

phoenix-onyx wrote:
Sun Feb 17, 2019 10:20 am
lockedbox wrote:This leads to my question as to how you guys write your stories? Not the creative aspect, but, how do you organize it? Is there a way of formatting it that will make the coding easier later on?
It's actually rather easy to code a story in Ren'Py. As an example, I have been writing my story directly in script.py as follows:

Code: Select all

Bob """
This is a line.

Another line goes here.

You do not have to write the character name again until someone else speaks.
"""

Alice """
So, I find it rather intuitive to write as I go.

You might find it helpful also.
"""

Bob "You can write one-liners too."

Alice "If you prefer it so."
In terms of how long your story should be, I would recommend starting with 5K words (5,000). It is a feasible length and you can always write more afterward.
Maybe this is just a personal preference, but it seems pretty redundant to write the full character name anywhere at all (except when defining the character). Why not use one or two letter tags? Also, writing your text directly in Ren'Py can work, but I find it easier to have it as a text document first so that your writing software (word or google docs or whatever you're using) checks the writing for spelling errors etc. If you're making a VN as a hobby, you might not have anyone to edit the text, but if you can find someone, it's much easier to send them a text file (or share a google docs document) than a rpy file.

Not trying to undermine what lockedbox is saying -- if it works for them, great! I guess I have a different perspective since I'm used to working in teams and on commercial games. I think as you start working on your VN you'll find the method that suits you best.

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#8 Post by phoenix-onyx » Sun Feb 17, 2019 4:40 pm

Aviala wrote:
Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:50 pm

Maybe this is just a personal preference, but it seems pretty redundant to write the full character name anywhere at all (except when defining the character). Why not use one or two letter tags?
Hello, Aviala. I avoid using short abbreviations because they sometimes obfuscate meaning. Descriptive names clarify what a variable is for, what a function does, or what a file contains. When software developers are tasked with maintaining a system over the course of several months or years (depending on how long the product is available), long-term understanding of the source code becomes critical.

On another note, it is indeed a preference; I just wanted to explain why I have chosen this style. :)

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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#9 Post by Johan » Sun Feb 17, 2019 6:17 pm

Aviala wrote:
Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:41 am
You should probably consider writing your text into a format that renpy can understand right away. Like so:

mc "Hello! I'm the main character!"
a "Hello! I'm a character whose name starts with an a!"

So basically you give each character a short, unique tag (one or two letters is the easiest) and use those to write dialogue. Then, when you put the script into ren'py you'll just have to define the characters using those tags. https://www.renpy.org/doc/html/dialogue ... er-objects

Maybe this was obvious, but I'm assuming you have no experience with ren'py.
This is funny because this is exactly what I do in writing any story but in a normal text program like Word or Wordpad. While writing an story that I'm only just begun, I give the characters a letter. It's not any letter for me, it's the first letter of their name. I don't know what's their name, I just know that their name is going to start with a A, for example. So, I continue writing the whole story using the first letter as identifiers ("A said something to B") for each characters. After I finish or I'm about to finish the story, I look for names starting with A :3

I definitely recommend you @lockedbox to start small, just to prove yourself how good you can do it for your first project (this is from someone who is ALSO doing his first visual novel :p). If you want, the idea of starting with NaNoReNo sounds good actually :D
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Re: Some questions and advice on attempting my first visual novel

#10 Post by Matalla » Thu Mar 07, 2019 1:30 pm

I can see the advantages of starting with a small project. You finish something in a relatively short period of time and learn the basics while doing it.

However, I have taken the opposite approach: I'm doing a monster of a project with almost 50 endings, several elements of gameplay involved, hundreds of meaningful choices, tons of images and text (right now I have over a thousands images and I'm close to 100.000 words, and I estimate I'm at 40 or 45% of the total).

The key is motivation. If having some tangible result in the short term helps your motivation, go small. If you have patience, do what you really want to do, even if the scale of the project seems to be overwhelming. Yes, you will learn something in a small project, but probably it doesn't force you to learn a lot, or take you out of your comfort zone. You can finish something with a basic knowledge, but when you try to do something bigger, you'll have to learn almost everything, because your first project was relatively small. I'm stubborn enough to finish what I have in mind no matter how long it takes. It will be hard, but I'll learn a lot, and I'll be doing it while I do something I find interesting.

I'm not saying one approach is better than the other, you have to think what suits you better. I'd run away from categoric advices about "the right thing to do". Do what you like, what you really want to do. I, for one, find such things as "getting out of control" wildly entertaining and instructive.
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