Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viability

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Aviala
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Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viability

#1 Post by Aviala » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:57 pm

I'd like your opinions on a personal piece of art but I'd also like to start a wider conversation about different artstyles in VN's and how they affect the sales of the game.

EDIT: Whoops, forgot to add the picture. here it is:
Image

I wanted to do a quick test on how fast I could draw a comic scene. (It's actually the first scene from Skyfish, if anyone's played the demo.) This kind of loose style (maybe with a little bit more refining) would allow me to do a shitload of art for a game and it doesn't hurt my wrists much (I have a wrist condition, drawing usually hurts nowadays). Would anyone play a game with art like this? For free? What about as a commercial game - would you pay for a game with sketch-style art, considering there's much more art than in a traditional VN? If not, would you pay if it was a bit more refined, but still very simple and conceptual?


In addition to hearing your opinions on this particular piece, I'd like to expand the discussion a bit. With comic panels it's possible to tell a story without writing it all into text and a lot of the mainstream gaming audience seems to prefer that. Most people who like story games like to read but pictures seem to appeal to a much larger audience. By combining traditional VN storytelling with comic panels or there could be potential for really interesting games.

I recently played a game called This is the Police and I found the balance between the storytelling and gameplay very good. One of the things that helps tell the story is the unique artstyle of the game. I'm not entirely sure if it's based on 3D or if it's just vector art but it looks really good, and at the same time I could imagine it was much faster to produce than painted illustrations. That inspired me to think. Most VN's have extremely polished art, but it's limited to a few character sprites and maybe a couple of CG's per character route. But by choosing a less time consuming style much more art could be included - for example, I've wanted to make Skyfish a sort of a mix between a VN, a game and a comic but a full-on illustration quality, painted comic just isn't viable with the resources I have. Choosing a simpler art style would solve a lot of my problems. Do you know any interesting or successful VN projects or other story games that have chosen quantity over detail and polish (not necessarily quality, mind you)? If my comic doesn't please you, the problem may be lack of skill (or more precicely, practise)... but what if it was a seasoned pro doing the art? How would you feel then?

I know a lot of Visual Novel fans favor very polished anime art style but this kind of a mixed media project could reach a much wider audience than traditional VN's. What do you guys think, would there be a market for something a little outside of the usual box?

If possible, I'd like to see answers that are more than "Make the game you want to make". I do want to use an unconventional art style but I also want to, you know, pay my rent and eat :'D Also, I asked some questions, but feel free to comment on the subject overall, not just on my specific questions or my project. Sorry if the post was a bit messy - I have a lot of thoughts but it's hard to put them into words. I look forward to any interesting comments on the subject <3

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#2 Post by gekiganwing » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:29 pm

Aviala wrote:Would anyone play a game with art like this?
I'd consider buying it, because I like the colors. I wouldn't call the drawings minimalistic, but I think they indicate what's happening in the scene with just enough detail.
Aviala wrote: With comic panels it's possible to tell a story without writing it all into text and a lot of the mainstream gaming audience seems to prefer that. Most people who like story games like to read but pictures seem to appeal to a much larger audience. By combining traditional VN storytelling with comic panels or there could be potential for really interesting games.
I like the idea of fusing comics and VNs. The closest examples that I can think of are...

* Quartett! and Littlewitch Romanesque, which were made by the same company. The former is a story with choices, and the latter includes complex gameplay.
* Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel. I don't know if it included any form of gameplay. However, it seems like a comic designed for a gaming system.
In my opinion, it's difficult to define who "the mainstream gaming audience" is. I think that it's a constantly changing group. The people who are purchasing software today on a service / device might switch platforms in a year. They might also try a new style / genre of video game and enjoy it. Or they could find a different hobby.
Aviala wrote: But by choosing a less time consuming style much more art could be included... Choosing a simpler art style would solve a lot of my problems. Do you know any interesting or successful VN projects or other story games that have chosen quantity over detail and polish (not necessarily quality, mind you)?
Good question. I think what you're looking for is works which use a relatively simple art style, and which are well-regarded. You might benefit by browsing through TVTropes' article on minimalism. For more specific references, it might help to browse the VNDB by Meta Tag: Graphics.
Aviala wrote: I know a lot of Visual Novel fans favor very polished anime art style but this kind of a mixed media project could reach a much wider audience than traditional VN's. What do you guys think, would there be a market for something a little outside of the usual box? ... I do want to use an unconventional art style but I also want to, you know, pay my rent and eat :'D
That's always a challenge. It's possible to find an audience through distinct art or presentation. You can also find an audience if you can earn a good reputation for aspects such as solid storytelling and characterization.

It's sometimes easy to make money by patterning your work after something that's been commercially successful. However, that's not guaranteed. By the time it's published, it might come across as the fifth YA demographic story that year about teens struggling against a dystopian world.

It's not always easy to create something which goes against fans' expectations. There's a brief part in Understanding Comics that shows a woman looking at an entire wall of X-Men issues, seemingly frustrated. A later panel shows that she succeeded in creating a different comic. It also admits that her story could have failed.

I know what I've said has been vague. But overall, I want to encourage you. I believe that you can sell an indie game / VN if you commit to a specific art aesthetic, tell a story that represents your interests, and listen to feedback before releasing the final product.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#3 Post by Anne » Fri Aug 26, 2016 2:18 am

Yes, the sample looks good enough for me, including for commercial.
I know you asked not to but that really depends on how you see your game, more art is not necessarily better, for me visual novel is a very stylized format that lets you concentrate on what's important - for the most part it's written text so the sprites and backgrounds let you read it without too much distraction then - BAM - an important scene is emphasized by a beautiful CG, naturally that doesn't happen if you have too many CGs (like Toire No Hanako that only has CGs or Destiny Fails Us where she had a lot of CGs that were of lower quality compared to the sprites so they lost all that impact CGs normally have).
Where I think comic panels would add - especially with some animation - are action scenes like battles in Dolls' Stories (unfortunately removed) - or actually the scenes you'd want to put a video in.

An interactive comic I was really impressed with http://www.nawlz.com/
A rhythm game that has cool comic parts for the story https://play.google.com/store/apps/deta ... rom2&hl=en

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#4 Post by Kinjo » Fri Aug 26, 2016 3:39 am

Would anyone play a game with art like this? For free? What about as a commercial game - would you pay for a game with sketch-style art, considering there's much more art than in a traditional VN? If not, would you pay if it was a bit more refined, but still very simple and conceptual?
Yes, I would. I think that kind of style looks really cool, and if you can be cost-effective while making cool things like that then all the better.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#5 Post by RotGtIE » Fri Aug 26, 2016 4:29 am

It may seem like the eastern commercial artstyles found in anime have a stranglehold on popularity, but ultimately, the audience only really cares about whether what they're looking at is ugly or not. In comparison, western artstyles tend to be darker, grittier, and more focused on detailing than eastern commercial artstyles, which is why the reaction audiences have to them at a glance tends to be negative. Even exceptionally skilled illustrations can look "ugly" at a glance in the western artstyle.

There are two fundamental elements to the eastern style which makes it a popular choice for entertainment media, and if you understand these elements, you can use them in an alternate artstyle while retaining the strengths of the commercial anime/manga styles. The first and most important is that, at a glance, the anime/manga style is just plain easy on the eyes. Characters and scenery alike often look lively and colorful, drawing the attention of the audience and typically making them want to be in among the scene they're viewing. Irises look like some kind of candy drops that you'd just pop into your mouth for some high fructose tooth decay. Pull a random CG from any popular VN and you'll probably find enough vibrancy to match a fireworks display. It's the immediate effect of having something pleasant to look at which draws people in and makes them want to see more. It's a spectacle of eye candy, and that's really all it takes to grab someone's attention.

The second is a strategic omission of unnecessary visual elements. Illustrations are, by nature, simplified representations of what would otherwise be visible to the naked eye if the audience were actually present to witness a scene. Because of this, every detail that is included for completeness' sake becomes an area of focus which draws the viewer's attention. In real life, for example, I might expect to see the creases all over someone's palms or knuckles and think nothing of it, but in an illustration, the presence of deliberately drawn elements will make me think there was a reason for the artist to put the effort into including them (in this example, I might think that the character has especially rough hands, even if they actually have far fewer creases than I would normally see in reality). Thus every single feature of detailing jumps out and influences the viewer far more than a real world equivalent would, and what's more, this effect is almost completely subconscious. But because humans have such great powers of imagination, they can interpret simplified representations and fill in the gaps as necessary so long as just enough detail is present to steer them in the correct direction. This is why a character with stubble from having gone a few days without shaving can be represented by perhaps two dozen little dots on their face rather than the much more numerous growths that actually make up an unshaven face in reality - just enough representation is sufficient to tip the audience off and have their imagination do the rest of the work, and they'll hardly think anything of it.

I strongly encourage the use of comic panels and small frames to fill in the gaps between scenes comprised of either CGs or Sprites and Backgrounds. Frames are a great way to get the effect of a CG into a scene without taxing the illustrator to the degree that a full CG would. The example frames you've posted are in my opinion an excellent example of imagery which is both pleasing to the eye and also leaves enough to the imagination that the audience can fill in what they want. The most important thing is that the aesthetic is appropriate for your story, consistent throughout, and is enjoyable to the audience. More than anything else, that's what really matters.

Personally, I would prefer a VN with a larger number of illustrations than a VN with highly polished visuals that amount to a handful of sprites for a small cast of major characters, no sprites for minor characters, and a small number of highly polished backgrounds with few variations or a lack of features that would be necessary for immersion. The number of extremely well-illustrated classrooms that are completely empty found in typical VNs is absolutely mind boggling to me. Even Kanon had backgrounds which contained extras in places where they could be expected, yet far more recent games with bigger budgets like Majikoi somehow feel it is appropriate for their rowdy classrooms to be populated by ghosts until a character sprite shows up. Baffling. I'd much rather have a rougher-looking scene that makes sense and doesn't break my immersion than a finely-crafted scene that doesn't fill in the most basic of necessary elements.

If it comes to monetization, then I would beware phrases such as "broader audience." The whole VN/Anime/Manga industry in Japan is built around a very small niche of highly loyal and reliable customers. It is somewhat well-known that anime in particular typically airs at a loss, but the profits are made through the sale of BDs and merchandise from an IP which successfully gains popularity among the target audience. Otaku are notorious for spending shocking amounts of disposable income supporting their favorite franchises in a way that common casual entertainment junkies are not. A wide audience appeal is certainly one of many strategies available for monetizing an IP, but "more people who read your book/watched your show/played your game" does not necessarily translate to greater profit in a linear fashion. Core audiences can be very small and very niche while still being highly lucrative when satisfied, and these people tend to regard "audience broadening" as a betrayal to their loyalty, which they tend to punish quite harshly. One of the worst mistakes an entertainment IP holder can make is to take their core audience for granted and change the fundamental elements of the IP hoping to grab new buyers. It's easy to forget that your core audience can go away, but once they do, you're probably not getting them back, especially after another IP takes them in. My recommendation, though not absolute, is to choose your target audience with care and treat them well. It's a safer bet, I think, than trying to please everyone and failing to sustain a reliable fanbase.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#6 Post by Vatina » Fri Aug 26, 2016 4:41 am

I suppose in the end it depends on what market and demographics you are aiming for. There are plenty of narrative VN-like games that are not anime-styled at all, and you might find they have a whole different kind of audience that wouldn't touch something like Nekopara, for instance.

It's probably worth doing some research into, and considering what genre/mood/etc you are aiming for, and where it can be best conceived with the inteded audience in mind. Looking at other narrative games and how they are done, what people play and like them (and how many).

Wow that sounds boring and dry, I know. You could also always just go the more freely artistic way and make whatever you have in mind without considering these things, and maybe still manage to reach a large unexpected audience out there just waiting for that kind of thing, but it's more risky if you're aiming for something commercially successful.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#7 Post by SundownKid » Fri Aug 26, 2016 5:10 am

There is an issue where the vast majority of the people who KNOW what a VN is, are interested in anime and manga.

Comics fans might be interested in western style art, but most of them have no idea what the heck a VN is, or have no desire to find out.

That's the reason nice looking anime art styles sell so much more. It's because vn's have a niche fanbase, that doesn't really intersect with the subset of people who like art that isn't well drawn anime art. It's extremely hard to pull in people who are outside of said fanbase.

Of course, if you can't pull off the anime artstyle impeccably, you may as well go with whatever works best for you, because people will be equally... well, disinterested is a harsh word, but polished anime visuals are so much bigger than the rest. I admit to not realizing in my own games how big a difference a rough art style can make compared to something more detailed.

I certainly would play a game with "sketchy" art, but I have taken art classes and have good taste in art, so I have a high desire to see different unusual art styles. Others... well, most people, really, are not so forgiving of it.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#8 Post by Aviala » Fri Aug 26, 2016 6:05 am

Oh my, it's nice to see lively discussion around the topic! Thanks for all the opinions on the art too - I think I might go with something like it. There are so many interesting ideas and thoughts in this thread that I'd like to reply to everything but I'll just have to choose a few key points. I'm checking all the links to games etc people are writing about - these are really helpful.
Anne wrote: I know you asked not to but that really depends on how you see your game, more art is not necessarily better, for me visual novel is a very stylized format that lets you concentrate on what's important - for the most part it's written text so the sprites and backgrounds let you read it without too much distraction then - BAM - an important scene is emphasized by a beautiful CG
That's an intresesting point, and I think you're right! I find many VN's too static, but maybe it's just because I'm more into "normal" games. But VN's are their own medium with it's own ways of storytelling. CG's certainly have a bigger effect when they're rare. I think it boils down to preference. I prefer to tell stories with pictures, not just text and a couple of character sprites, and I've always loved comics. But a lot of people probably just want to read a traditional VN. Thanks for the food for thought!
SundownKid wrote:Comics fans might be interested in western style art, but most of them have no idea what the heck a VN is, or have no desire to find out.
That's the reason nice looking anime art styles sell so much more. It's because vn's have a niche fanbase, that doesn't really intersect with the subset of people who like art that isn't well drawn anime art.
Hmm, maybe the safer bet would be to not market VN's with western or stylized art as visual novels, but as story-based games. I'm planning to include gameplay in my games anyway, so maybe if I shifted focus from a full-lenght novel to gameplay and comic-style story bits in between it would appeal to an audience that enjoys western story games like Telltale games and Banner Saga. Those games have proven that gamers ARE interested in stories, they just need to be paced right - and I guess having more art than in a classic VN also appeals to that audience.

SundownKid wrote:Of course, if you can't pull off the anime artstyle impeccably, you may as well go with whatever works best for you, because people will be equally... well, disinterested is a harsh word, but polished anime visuals are so much bigger than the rest. I admit to not realizing in my own games how big a difference a rough art style can make compared to something more detailed.
From this I gather your games weren't as commercially successful as you would have liked, or am I wrong? If you feel comfortable with sharing some info, I'd love to know what kind of audience you had in mind with your games and what kind of marketing did you do? I found the style of Icebound pretty appealing (based on the trailer and some screenshots, haven't actually played it yet) but I guess I'm not part of the "core" visual novel audience and I often prefer western styles over polished but generic anime styles - I feel like Icebound has more western influences than a lot of the VN's on the market.
Vatina wrote:It's probably worth doing some research into, and considering what genre/mood/etc you are aiming for, and where it can be best conceived with the inteded audience in mind. Looking at other narrative games and how they are done, what people play and like them (and how many).
No, that doesn't sound boring to me at all, actually, but very useful. I just don't know where to start - I don't think a lot of the more successful story game studios share their data on demographics and stuff, or do they? How do I find out more about story games and what makes them successful (or not successful)?

RotGtIE also talked about choosing a demographic and catering to it, but I only have a gut feeling of what kind of people might enjoy my games. I'm not sure how to pinpoint the demographic that would enjoy my games, and how to successfully make a game and aim a marketing campaign at those exact people... Especially with a very limited budget.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#9 Post by Vatina » Fri Aug 26, 2016 6:41 am

Hmm, I suppose some kind of surveying might be necessary, maybe by using some of those different types of games as a starting point? Look into articles about them on different gaming sites, and try and see what kind of demographics follow those and play the games?

I haven't had time to look into many of them and only know them periphally, but I'd maybe consider stuff like the games Inkle do (80 Days), Failbetter (Fallen London), maybe even Telltale Games though those have more gameplay in them/are more movie-like. I'm sure there are some that suit the VN formula better as well.
Perhaps look into interactive fiction communities and see what kind of things they are into? Someone like Emily Short would know a lot about these narrative games on the 'other side' of the fence.

Others might have better ideas for starting points.

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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#10 Post by truefaiterman » Fri Aug 26, 2016 10:36 am

Would anyone play a game with art like this? For free? What about as a commercial game - would you pay for a game with sketch-style art, considering there's much more art than in a traditional VN? If not, would you pay if it was a bit more refined, but still very simple and conceptual?
If it's free, I'd consider it if I see good reviews and I'm interested in the setting.
If it's commercial, I'd look for it to be well polished even if it has a simple artstyle, while also doing the same steps I follow for a free game.

If you take a look at This Is the Police carefully, you can see that the art is actually impressive with its composition, and there isn't a single pixel (or vector coordinate, lol) out of place, and everything has just enough level of detail to convey all kinds of volumes and textures. While "simple", it doesn't feel unfinished in any way. And I can't say it for sure, but I'd bet they actually took their sweet time with most of their "CGs".

With all of this said, though, I have to admit that illustration-wise I'm a HUGE graphic-whore who throws a lot of crap to even most of the best-regarded JVN, art-wise xDDD

Market-wise, as others have stated the vibrant style and the more otaku-oriented fandom that gets started with VNs tend to make people go for anime. Fanservice, memes and lulz also help with that. But I think that, if you have a distinct art-style and good PR/marketing/both, you can have a successful product. The quantity of art... I don't think it's that important to most of the public. As far as I know, people don't go looking for how many CGs or sprites a game have. If they look at screenshots/videos and find what they see appealing, everything else isn't noticeable until they've played most of the game.

The only game I can think of with a lot of art and an extremely simple art-style would be REIGNS, which isn't a VN nor a "story-based game" in the same meaning than, let's say, a Telltale game. But as I said before, this title also has greatly composed pictures, and everything fits both the mood and the gameplay.
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Re: Different artstyles, storytelling and commercial viabili

#11 Post by Androol » Mon Sep 26, 2016 12:41 pm

Quality seams to decay fron left to right.

The left looks cool, the centre looks too sketchy, the right looks empty and unfinished, almost childish.

The closer the "camera" the more detailed it should be and here it's the contrary. The light is important in the mood on the left part and better as well.

If everything had the style of the left part I'd say yes it's pretty good and stylish.

You're saying you are trying something new, so it's a good start. There is work to do to attain something of reasonable quality for a commercial game I may say I will want to play based on the graphical level.

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