Portraying SFX?

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Portraying SFX?

#1 Post by Sleepy » Tue Mar 22, 2016 2:28 am

Portraying SFX in games is a curious problem, for me. On one hand, VNs are a visual/audio medium so it makes sense to let SFX stand on their own without text, especially since describing SFX in the text can detract from the experience. On the other, some people just play game with minimal audio (especially if its mobile) so it leaves confusion when the SFX plays with an event but the cue isn't completely there in text.

What're people's thoughts? Do you prefer one approach over another or just whatever fit context?
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#2 Post by fmjaye » Tue Mar 22, 2016 3:05 am

for me, sound is a pretty important part of a vn, and i think it would be weird if the sfx was just written in the text and there was no audio for it. if there was some movement in the visuals that might help? or just adding the sfx into the image like in a comic book? I think it's good to consider alternative ways a person might be playing the game and design it so that everyone gets the authentic experience.
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#3 Post by Fox Lee » Tue Mar 22, 2016 3:10 am

I've been thinking about this for my NaNo this year... I want the game to be playable by people who can't hear, or don't want to turn on sound, but I hate writing sound effects into the text. My conclusion is that animations or transitions may be my best bet.

If I was doing something lighthearted I would totally use comic-book-style sounds effects, like in Valkyria Chronicles or Adam West Batman! :p But as it stands that doesn't fit the tone of my game, so I'm trying to find a less cheesy solution - for example, a little starburst for a twig snapping, or a ripple animation for lapping water. I'm not having much luck with it so far, but it seems good in concept? ^_^;
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#4 Post by RotGtIE » Tue Mar 22, 2016 11:51 am

Visual novels are novels at heart. Of all the involved elements, it's the text, and not any other asset, which is meant to be capable of standing on its own. Everything else is supplementary, no matter how well the other assets provide their support or even if they wind up taking the spotlight, as typically happens with illustrations. Your best bet is to treat your text as though it is going to be a standalone novel and build all the other elements of your VN around that.

This does not mean that you should force tags into your prose which cue every sound effect or illustration. Only that you should not cut text out of your prose to make room for the presence of other assets. Never sacrifice your script for a supporting asset.

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Re: Portraying SFX?

#5 Post by papillon » Tue Mar 22, 2016 1:45 pm

One thing that was discussed in a previous topic was the possibility of toggleable captions for audio cues.

This is something that is recommended in accessible design for games in general. Many game developers consider subtitles for the spoken dialogue but they may not remember to include them for audio cues, even audio cues that are extremely important to gameplay (as in some action games where they give warning of an approaching enemy, or a friend's status, or so on.)

In many cases with a VN there's nothing important lost if the sound is missing, the sound only adds extra richness to the scene, and if the player has chosen to turn that off that's their business. However, there are times when a sound indicates something happening in the scene that the characters will react to, and can therefore be confusing if you have sound switched off. In these circumstances, a separate, temporary, caption-style display of [door opens] or [glass shatters], which appears only if captioning is enabled in the options, could get the point across.

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Re: Portraying SFX?

#6 Post by Quelcezot » Tue Mar 29, 2016 6:48 pm

Whenever a sound is heard I either describe it or indicate directly (*Creak* on a line on its own for example).

It might seem odd at first to readers, but it's a convention that people get used to. As it can be a bit jarring at first, I'd try not to use it too much until I've proven to the reader that I can draw them in regardless.
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#7 Post by Fox Lee » Wed Mar 30, 2016 12:26 am

RotGtIE wrote:Visual novels are novels at heart. Of all the involved elements, it's the text, and not any other asset, which is meant to be capable of standing on its own. Everything else is supplementary, no matter how well the other assets provide their support or even if they wind up taking the spotlight, as typically with illustrations. Your best bet is to treat your text as though it is going to be a standalone novel and build all the other elements of your VN around that.
I think there are cases where this isn't really true. Part of a visual novel's unique strength is that it's visual; if you treat it like the text has to stand on its own, no matter what, then you're denying what makes the medium distinct from a novel. With visuals, we have opportunities that don't exist in pure text. We can use expression changes, transitions, timing, sounds and illustrations to convey information without simply telling the player in words. It's fine to tell the player that Eileen is mad, but if you can communicate that by showing an angry sprite instead, your script hasn't suffered for it. Both are valid ways to communicate. I think the visual aspects of visual novels are very important, and treating them as just novels with supporting materials is ignoring one of their greatest strengths.
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#8 Post by RotGtIE » Wed Mar 30, 2016 7:16 am

Fox Lee wrote:It's fine to tell the player that Eileen is mad,
No, it is not. That is degrading into telling rather than showing, which is bad writing regardless of the presence of supporting assets. If Eileen is angry enough, the content of her dialogue alone (or her act of initiating a silent treatment) would suffice to convey this. Her anger need not be explicitly identified, even in a text-only format. The point of "show, don't tell" is to not treat the reader as though they are too stupid to pick up on subtlety or draw their own conclusions. Substituting visuals for narrative does not avert this problem, because the point of this advice is not meant to be literal. It is an injunction to refrain from insulting the intelligence of your audience.

The presence of visual or audio elements does not excuse the writer from having to do his job properly. I see this attitude that visual/audio assets can be used as a substitute for writing as being disturbingly prevalent among VN enthusiasts, and the writing typically suffers for it. The example you provided is a demonstration of this phenomenon. Because you considered that visuals would simply make up the difference in a hypothetical part of a scene you wanted to convey, you stopped thinking critically about how to write properly, and asserted that it would be fine enough for someone to simply state that "Eileen is mad." Relying on visual/audio assets in this way thus degrades the capacity of the writer to check their own text for quality, as they are expecting to be able to lean on these other assets as a crutch. That - and not the total neglect of the presence of supporting assets - is why VN writers should draft their scripts as though they will be standalone novels. This practice forces them to be mindful of their performance rather than relying on supplementary elements.

Welcome as they are, visual elements are a supplement - not a substitute - for quality prose. Outliers be damned, my advice remains to err on the side of caution, or in this case, of holding high standards for yourself. The presence of supporting assets is no excuse for skimping on the writing. I guarantee the audience will appreciate the additional effort.

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Re: Portraying SFX?

#9 Post by Fox Lee » Wed Mar 30, 2016 7:37 pm

RotGtIE wrote:
Fox Lee wrote:It's fine to tell the player that Eileen is mad,
No, it is not. That is degrading into telling rather than showing, which is bad writing regardless of the presence of supporting assets. If Eileen is angry enough, the content of her dialogue alone (or her act of initiating a silent treatment) would suffice to convey this. Her anger need not be explicitly identified, even in a text-only format. The point of "show, don't tell" is to not treat the reader as though they are too stupid to pick up on subtlety or draw their own conclusions.
Okay fine - substitute, "It's fine to describe Eileen's facial expression/bodily response/whatever to show that she's mad". That was not the point of my statement; my point was that you can show it with words OR you can show it with visuals, and both are appropriate in a medium which by definition includes visuals. The choice of which to use should be based on which will be more effective at that point in the story, not on a rule that says your writing will start sucking if you dare to rely on a picture.
The presence of visual or audio elements does not excuse the writer from having to do his job properly.
"Doing your job properly" involves using your medium effectively. If you're writing for a VN, your medium contains more than just text. If using the precise things that are unique to the medium inherently undermines an author's ability to write well, what's the value of choosing that medium in the first place?
I see this attitude that visual/audio assets can be used as a substitute for writing as being disturbingly prevalent among VN enthusiasts, and the writing typically suffers for it. The example you provided is a demonstration of this phenomenon. Because you considered that visuals would simply make up the difference in a hypothetical part of a scene you wanted to convey, you stopped thinking critically about how to write properly, and asserted that it would be fine enough for someone to simply state that "Eileen is mad."
Yeah, no I didn't. I used a shortcut to make my point, because I wasn't trying to write an engaging part of a story - I was trying to write a forum post on a 5-minute work break. That has no bearing on what I'd write (or consider acceptable to write) in the totally different context you're suggesting.

When I work on a VN, I'm always thinking about how to write properly - but I'm also thinking about when the use of sprites, text effects, animations and other components would better convey the information, or provide more emotional impact, or get a laugh because the reader took a beat to realise what just happened. Writing is the most important component, absolutely, but it has little value in moments where it's not the most effective way to tell the story.
Relying on visual/audio assets in this way thus degrades the capacity of the writer to check their own text for quality, as they are expecting to be able to lean on these other assets as a crutch.
It's not "a crutch" to use an inherent part of the production medium to convey your message effectively. A comic book isn't automatically worse if it doesn't complement an illustration of a character looking angry with a caption masterfully describing her expression; some scenes require written descriptions, some require only dialogue, and some work best with visuals alone. Our medium isn't a movie or a comic book, sure, but it's not a novel or a storybook either. It's something in between, and it has unique properties because of that (and the implications of "show, don't tell" vary with the medium).

With a VN the focus is weighted towards the text, to be sure, but you still have a medium where all three cases (best with narration, best with dialogue, best with only visuals) can be true. Knowing how to distinguish between those cases is a valuable skill, if not quite as important as writing skill. On a multi-person project you could say it's more the job of a director than a writer, but that doesn't diminish its importance - just transfers it to a different team member.

Obviously you prefer a VN to play more like a novel with pictures, which is fine. I'm not asking you to like anything more or less. But VNs that play more like a comic book or video game cutscene, and make effective use of the visual medium as part of storytelling, are also perfectly valid. Some people prefer them. I certainly find them more interesting and enjoyable than prose-heavy VNs, and it particularly annoys me when a VN needlessly narrates things I can clearly see happening on screen.

What's frustrating is that I don't totally disagree with you - amateur games in many narrative genres often prioritise visuals more than they ought to, and there's definitely something to be said for being mindful of that. To take that into consideration isn't bad advice! But your argument that writing to take advantage of visual assets necessarily undermines the quality of the writing is too much of an assumption. It's unfair to those skilled writers who use visuals thoughtfully and effectively, and it ignores all those unskilled writers who focus entirely on their text (I'm sure you've also read plenty of prose-heavy VNs that were not especially well written). So how on earth can you know if the approach taken by any individual author is the reason for their apparent skill? Okay, I guess you've observed a lot of prose-light VNs where you though the writing was particularly bad or lazy, but it's presumptuous to blame the use of visuals for that. Would you assert that writers of scripts or comic books are inherently worse writers than writers of novels, because their medium necessitates reliance on visuals?

What bothers me is the amount of disrespect you're throwing on people who prefer a different style - which you call a "substitute" or a "crutch". You insist that taking advantage of the visuals constitutes an "excuse for skimping on the writing", as if the only reason somebody would make full use of their medium is because they're inadequate somehow - but using all the components of your medium effectively is a skill, not a shortcut.
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Re: Portraying SFX?

#10 Post by RotGtIE » Thu Mar 31, 2016 4:40 am

Fox Lee wrote:What's frustrating is that I don't totally disagree with you
The overwhelming majority of arguments on these forums start this way. Contrarianism is rampant in these kinds of communities, and the most common disagreement regularly engaged in here is the straw man. Someone makes a statement, someone else jumps in and says "but if you take it too far," and then an argument about nothing ensues. If I made a bet on every thread turning into an argument between people who don't fundamentally disagree with each other, I'd be able to retire today and spend the rest of my life swimming in my gold-filled Scrooge McDuck vault.

The trouble with the decision making process is that the factors which require consideration lie on a spectrum, but decisions themselves are ultimately a binary. It should be rather implicit that when someone gives advice to err in one direction or the other on a particular issue, they are obviously not suggesting that someone slam the dial to the absolute end of that spectrum, even if a one-way-or-the-other decision has to be made and acted upon in the end. I expect objections to be against the core principles of my positions, not cautionary asides about slippery slopes, and I base my rebuttals on that expectation.

You'll suffer a lot less frustration and personal offense if you do not attempt to argue against someone with whom you do not fundamentally disagree.

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