Exploration in Visual Novels

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Wide Mouth Ink
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Exploration in Visual Novels

#1 Post by Wide Mouth Ink » Wed Jan 28, 2015 3:02 am

Not sure if this thread belongs here, but I've been meaning to ask a question that's been nagging me recently.

I plan to have my game incorporate some exploration phases through out the playthrough(s) to give players a sense of, well, exploration as they move around the halls discovering the world within the game, leading themselves to new events (or horrors) within it.

Though, I've realized the way I've been trying to execute this mechanic was using the formula of other genres.

I personally don't find it a bad idea since I enjoy a large variety of games, but I keep forgetting that I'm working with an engine specifically made for VNs. So I feel some of those mechanics might not mesh well with the rest of the game unless I go with the dungeon crawling route...
which I would personally like to avoid as it means I'd have to hand draw each and every view of a hallway from a different perspective.

And I refuse to take the classic approach of it.

The closest thing to a VN with an exploration mechanic I've played was the Ace Attorney series, and I'm not sure if that actually counts. Especially because the areas one explores are already pre-determined rather than discovered by the player themselves.

Since I know most of you have played more VNs than I have, I was wondering if I could get some insight on how other games of the genre have experimented and handled this type of mechanic. Was it enjoyable for you, or frustrating? And why was it one or the other?

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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#2 Post by Taleweaver » Wed Jan 28, 2015 3:46 am

My game ADRIFT is a good example of exploration within a VN. The entire first part of it is exploring the setting and trying to figure out what exactly happened. The mechanics may be a little... clunky, but they work.

You are in control of four robots, each of which has a limited set of sensors. One can identify heat sources, one is able to hear, one "sees" electromagnetism and the fourth one "smells" chemical compounds. You choose the robot, you choose where to send it, and you may order the robot to interact with things they find in their environment.
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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#3 Post by Chocopyro » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:06 am

I'm assuming the traditional method would simply be a choice box? Hmm, yeah, that might not be as fun. Actually, I think what Rewrite did was pretty awesome with exploration. Not sure how well it would work with a horror game, but basically you would have a map that you move you're curser around to different events. Some of which were hidden and would only pop up if you're mouse hovers over it.

Like this:
http://youtu.be/fIj-txLgxz8?t=17m25s

And as I myself am working on a vn where a bit of urban exploration comes into play, I'm trying really hard not to completely rip that system out and call it my own. I love it that much. :?
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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#4 Post by mikey » Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:39 am

My largest in-game map is well over 1000 locations, looking like this:
http://t.co/2HdjeYx5xy
Clicking the locations in the boxes gets you to that other location, and so on.

Because there are so many, I also have a subway system, to move quickly between them. At certain locations you get into the subway system and you leave it, appearing in the previous map mode.
Subway: http://t.co/BHWYM8dmuN

You can also traverse the whole map without the subway, as every location is connected to another.

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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#5 Post by papillon » Wed Jan 28, 2015 9:30 am

A thing to be careful with - in some of the 90s visual novels, when the ties to the adventure genre were stronger, some games tried to implement exploration while still having an extremely linear (and obtuse) storyline, and came out super frustrating.

So, for example, you'd have sections where you were set loose somewhere like a school campus that has 20 or more different sub-locations. Every time you entered one of those locations, you'd have to click several times to get through the basic description text. Then you'd have access to the list of commands available in that location (like 'look at statue' or something). Choosing any of those commands would then mean you'd have to click through several lines of text of whatever happens, even if it's just the description of the statue you've read five times before. And of course you have to read it many times because in those games there was NO way to know when some random subcommand would suddenly be the only thing that would make the plot advance. You might have looked at that statue five times, but suddenly NOW looking at that statue again will cause a spider to fall out of it, which makes a girl appear in the next room so that when you enter the next room again she gets bitten by a spider and the plot moves along.

So if you weren't using a walkthrough, you had to move around from location to location, clicking and clicking and clicking all the endless description texts you'd read before, re-reading hundreds of lines of filler text in the hope of finally finding something that makes the next part of the plot trigger. This suuuuuuucked.

All those commands and descriptive texts are interesting the first time you find a location, especially if there's a mystery going on and you're trying to understand your environment. They can quickly become very annoying if you're passing through the same places a lot.

Some possible methods to cut down on the pain:
* Limit the number of available options at any time. If you can only move between three rooms right now and one of them has the clue to advance in it, it won't take forever.
* Don't use ridiculously obscure plot advancement to begin with. Give the player sensible clues and don't make them do something stupid and completely unrelated before the next story event will happen.
* A quick map so you can jump to a location instead of having to enter a room, read its description, bring up a menu, and choose from the three rooms adjacent to that room, repeat ad nauseum
* Don't force players to re-read multi-dialog-box descriptions on entering a location, especially if they might only be entering it to get to another location connected to it. A single-box description displayed with the menu ALREADY VISIBLE is okay. Otherwise, maybe go straight to the menu and have 'look' as a menu option so that people can replay the description if they want to? But if nothing has changed in the room since the last time we were there, don't make us click click click through the text again.
* While it might be seen as TOO helpful, it will also cut down on frustration a lot if you color-code commands that have been previously selected and will not produce any new results if chosen again. This is, again, to avoid having to read ten dialog boxes about how you carefully search the sofa, taking each cushion out and shaking it, and find nothing... when you've already done that before.

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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#6 Post by Wide Mouth Ink » Wed Jan 28, 2015 11:54 am

I'm very interested in the map system Chocopyro and Mikey have shown. Looks like it's the best way to incorporate a sense of exploration in a VN format without having to make a bunch of unnecessary filler rooms. The only downside to this, in a horror setting is that it'll take away from the uneasy feeling when roaming about in a mostly empty world...

Though I think I may have an idea on how to incorporate that.

Also, no worries about repetitive text prompts, Papillon. I am not a big fan of those. The only time text would appear is if a player were to look (click an image map) on anything of interest during the current screen of the area they're exploring.

I did figure out a way to make text appear once if certain conditions were met, so I might still add that for certain places. I want to avoid any annoying things like that for my game cause I know how much of a pain they can be.

That said, I'm still interested to read the different ways VNs have tried to use this mechanic so go ahead and post any more suggestion for others who might be interested in looking up any ideas for exploration in their games.

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Re: Exploration in Visual Novels

#7 Post by Ernestalice15 » Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:11 pm

About exploration feature in VN, I found it pretty much used and indeed, it will be most likely mentioned as adventure rather than VN. But, for example 999, it has sooo many narration like in usual novel, and it has an exploration feature, which I liked very much, and I think it can still be counted as VN. Not to mention that almost all detective or mystery VN tend to do so, because it can really attract people to play. My friend doesn't know about VN and most likely she doesn't like to play one, but she likes escape games like Hansel and Gretel.

But, I can't tell that it will make your target players bigger, because some people who just want to read VN and know the story, probably gonna hate it. I guess it depends on how you deliver the final gameplay. Perhaps, you should be careful of these things :

1. Avoid unnecessary dialogues in exploration as much as you can. Make sure that everything players can explore is somehow a hint or a small story between characters (in many cases, it will be some cute moments of the VN). Don't describe what people can see, and describe what people want to know. Keep unnecessary text as few as you can (1 sentence for the most part).

2. Gaining something after exploration can make players want to explore more. For example, Hint Coins in Professor Layton games or finding items in RPG.

3. Give a proper and clear objective of what should be found and where to find it. It can be a guide from someone, or 'nothing to explore' condition in certain event. For example, in Ace Attorney, if you can get nothing in 1 Area, then there will be no one there, with 1-2 things that can be explored.

4. Be careful of the switching time between reading the story and playing the exploration feature. Don't make it too long or too short on either side. You have to research and know when players want to read and when players want to take a break and do some gameplay.

Well, that's from me with POV as a VN player, who wants the story more than the gameplay. Making it more difficult or slower to get the next story is annoying. :)
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