Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

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Twoflower
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Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#1 Post by Twoflower » Tue Apr 18, 2017 2:10 pm

Hello there. First time VN developer here; I've done other indie games and mods in the past and have written a bunch of novels, but definitely my first VN.

I've got the coding, UI, sound, and writing on lock by my lonesome -- and I have a writing partner to help me smooth things out on that front, too. I'm confident in our ability to crank out a good story. But there's one thing I'm a bit less sure of... the art. Specifically, WHEN I start looking for and contracting an artist to help with characters and backgrounds.

Is it better to completely write the story, and then recruit for artwork, to ensure you already know your complete asset list up front and can get it all done in one go? Or is it better to get the artwork underway ASAP, even if you don't have a full list of asset needs? Or do you try to do both simultaneously?

Right now we're trying "writing first," using temporary art assets scraped off Google to be replaced by paid art much later on. But my concern is that retrofitting final art into the game at a later stage -- and selling folks on the idea of the game when we have el zippo visuals to show off -- is gonna be arough. But... if I start scouting for artists now, and we only get partway into the assets and they become unavailable for the rest, are we screwed?

How do more veteran VN creators approach this problem? Thanks!

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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#2 Post by Elmvine » Tue Apr 18, 2017 2:59 pm

As an artist, I would say write and plan first. Once you have a very good idea of your script, you know exactly the art you need. If budget is a concern, this is even more important - you dont want to commission art that won't make it into the game because you realise your needs have changed and are no longer fitting. There's is nothing wrong with prototype assets until you're ready.

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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#3 Post by TheJerminator15 » Tue Apr 18, 2017 4:03 pm

You more or less have to have at least part of the writing and outlining done, since that's the main crux of which the art, music etc revolve around. You can't exactly commission CGs for a scene hat hasn't even been planned or written yet (for example).

I'd say have at least a decent enough chunk of the writing completed (a good rule of thumb I used before moving onto programming and using CC assets was enough writing content for a demo) and then get the commissions in. That way, whilst the art team, music team etc are busy working on assets for that part of the game, you're already writing ahead and have outlined the next part (even if it is a first draft, it is still enough for the other members to work with since you already have the outline in place).

This also feeds into tenets like budget as well, for example. Doing them all simultaneously or the art first means that you may possibly have paid for CGs which are scrapped in the final form of the game's story, and it can also become a lot less efficient because you're juggling everything simultaneously. Then you're in the middle of rewriting and realise you need to scrap a scene which you have already commissioned a CG for, meaning you've just wasted the budget on a useless CG. Having the story at least partly finished helps immensely. Hell, I'm 30k words deep into my story but am still holding off on recruitment because I don't think enough of it is done (granted, my VN is going to be quite infuriatingly long so mine is a somewhat extreme example).

TLDR; If you have enough for a demo (assuming you're going commercial and going for crowdfunding) or around a third of the story done that's a good rule of thumb to begin work on the art and such.
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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#4 Post by Mammon » Tue Apr 18, 2017 4:41 pm

Depends. You'll definately need an outline of the story so you'll know what to make as art, but knowing what your art looks like can help the writer a lot. If they have a sprite rather than a vague idea of the character's appearance they can bring more life to that character. And being limited to (or knowing in advance that you'll have some of) the character's assets such as poses, expressions etc. can help too. It helps the writer by knowing what they can and can't do, although it's better for them to have a good sense of which assets they'll use often enough to make it worth it, which can be difficult to do. (F.e. If an expression is only used once in the story it might not be worth the price, but a different outfit that gets a lot of mileage is.)

My personal opinion is alike the rest though, you can probably get a sprite for the protagonist because they're bound to be in the story, but most of the art is best left for once the scene they'll appear in is written.
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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#5 Post by Twoflower » Tue Apr 18, 2017 5:32 pm

Mammon wrote:My personal opinion is alike the rest though, you can probably get a sprite for the protagonist because they're bound to be in the story, but most of the art is best left for once the scene they'll appear in is written.
I could see this -- core cast of characters first, then finish 75% of the writing, then commission the rest of the characters and backgrounds. Also good for planning ahead for crowdfunding to finish off the game, since nobody will back a VN kickstarter with zero art assets.

My worry, though, is that since we don't have a dedicated artist on the team... I'd contract to get the sprites for the core cast, go away for several months to do the writing, and when it's time to finish up... that artist is gone or unavailable. Then you need to either re-draw everything or hire someone to ape the style of the original artist.

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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#6 Post by Shinoki » Tue Apr 18, 2017 8:39 pm

I would say...

First, get at least an outline of your story finished. Start writing the first draft of the writing.

Partway through writing the first draft (50%?), if you really feel like you need visual representation in order to help you feel the characters better, get the character design down. Find someone to design the visual representation of your characters, which can possibly make the sprite commissions in the future cheaper as well as give you a better idea of how to write your characters.
(Personally, I doodle out how my characters look myself, but I'd bet there are people who will give you free sketches of possible character designs. Not too sure, but this is just a possible suggestion.)

Finish your first draft. Go through it and edit. Once you make sure you have the general gist down (ie. you're not going to change the setting from steampunk to cyberpunk), go commission the sprites. Your writing should be down decently, and likely, you'll have most of the expressions your characters will cycle through even if some scenes change after further editing.

By this point, your main characters should be decided and set in stone, so you don't need to worry about needing more sprites. Many games don't have sprites for minor characters, so even if you add minor characters in during your last moments of editing, you probably don't need to buy sprites for them.

Finish writing everything. Commission the CGs. The CG artist doesn't need to be the same person as the sprite artist. Many professional games have different sprite and CG artists. As long as the art isn't too drastically different, it should be fine.

Voila! There's some other stuff like BG art and music, etc. but that's aside from the point. After a bit more work, you'll be done.

Well, those are just my two cents. Might be wrong, but that's how I would organize things.

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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#7 Post by Caveat Lector » Tue Apr 18, 2017 10:20 pm

Writing. Absolutely get the writing done first. After you've done the writing, you can then comb through the story and determine what art assets you'll need and where. Sometimes, it may be best to edit certain scenes to reduce costs. For example: if you're going to commission a background you only plan to use for just one scene, you either include more scenes with that bg, or scrap the bg entirely and rewrite the scene in question to take place in one of the pre-existing backgrounds--save yourself the time and money! And I emphasize bg's here especially, because bg's, excepting anything GUI or logo-related, are typically the most expensive art asset (unless you plan to go old-school and use filtered photographs for backgrounds--in which case, CG's are probably the next expensive, so plan wisely, and decide which scenes you absolutely want to represent with CG's beforehand).
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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#8 Post by Twoflower » Tue Apr 18, 2017 10:29 pm

It's sounding like I'm on the right track, then, to do like 75-85% of the writing now and use placeholders, THEN start looking for sprite, CG, and background work.

...and music work. Ugh. This is gonna cost a lotta money, but I'm willing to see it through.

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I wasn't sure if my approach was standard but it sounds like it is.
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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#9 Post by papillon » Sat Apr 22, 2017 9:28 am

oh my god twoflower hi :P

(I actually can't recall if we've ever interacted, I've just Seen You Around The Internet since way back in fanfic and NWN mod days)
My worry, though, is that since we don't have a dedicated artist on the team... I'd contract to get the sprites for the core cast, go away for several months to do the writing, and when it's time to finish up... that artist is gone or unavailable. Then you need to either re-draw everything or hire someone to ape the style of the original artist.
This is a legit problem and is why I've ended up with several games where the sprites and CGs are not done by the same artist. People put up with it, but it does tend to get complaints. Still, it won't completely sink a project.

Another thing to take into account is the interaction between facial expressions and dialog. Especially for those of us who do not have voice acting, we sometimes want to carry a lot of tone via expression. Sometimes this leads to needing to rewrite dialog to be more suitable to the way the character's facial range actually came out, and sometimes this will mean needing to tweak the face sprites and add more expressions to properly convey the emotional content. You can get a long way with a very simple set of faces if you're not picky, but if you want nuance, there will end up being some give and take between the art and the writing sides.

Kickstarter and its push for cool-looking ideas over lengthy substance can be very dangerous for a new developer, since it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of character designs and realise too late that they may not know exactly where the game is going, or have the time and energy to get through the long slog to finish it.

On the other hand I really hate having a complete, playable game waiting around for months on end for the artists to finish their side of things. I often end up in a stressful race trying to get multiple things done at roughly the same time and ensure that all dependent references are available.

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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#10 Post by banannasquid » Wed May 03, 2017 10:49 pm

Finish the story first. Do your artists a favor and dont force them to sit around and wait until the writing is done. I can attest to how much it can suck :D I joined a project last year before the writing was done and its still not done yet. Meanwhile I'm sitting here twiddling my thumbs waiting for the thing to be done lol. The worst thing that can happen is to spend your time drawing for a project that hasnt been finished, with no guarantees if your hard work will ever see the light of day.
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Re: Scheduling question: Art first, writing first, or both?

#11 Post by Katy133 » Fri May 05, 2017 9:16 pm

I'm an artist and writer, so my general process is very back and forth. I'll draw rough concept art (thumbnail sketches and experimental illustrations to explore how I want things to look) while making the basic plot skeleton/summary. That's all preproduction work, and it'll end up being a similar process with production work, though I'll slightly lean more towards finishing up the writing first because any changes to the plot might/will affect the artwork needed.
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