Small tip for VN devs

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Winston_Nguyen
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Small tip for VN devs

#1 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Mon Jul 10, 2017 6:47 am

I don't think I've ever heard it being discussed - so here it is: Make sure you prototype your visual novel, just like any other game

Seriously, it's very useful and might save you a lot of time and money.

Once you finished your script, don't make the mistake of commissioning art yet - that stuff is expensive and hella time-consuming. You don't want to waste money on a story that isn't good or needs a bunch of scenes cut out.

Make a text-based game first. Do it on a blank background using whatever colour suits the scene. Then add music/sound effects on top of it. You can commission a few pieces or you can find plenty of music online (or both).

I found this method helpful because I didn't have to focus on all the storytelling aspects all at once (text, audio and visual) - I can just focus on text and music. There's a lot involved in just those two, so you have to consider things like:

-When the music should enter/end
-Types of transitions
-Should the text be in ADV or NVL style?
-Which parts of the text should I emphasize? Emphasizing different parts will have different meanings.
-Text formatting is also important to meaning and user experience (size, font, color, line breaks, paragraphing etc.)
-Pauses in the text
-How text should appear (typewriter effect vs. word/sentence/paragraph appearing all at once)

You'll also get a better feel of the pacing and if your story isn't engaging, then it won't be any different with the visuals. So yeh, make sure you prototype your VN :)

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#2 Post by bluebirdplays » Mon Jul 10, 2017 10:40 am

Great tip, especially with making it a text-based game first. I'm trying to do this for my next project. I always find myself distracted with making the art for a scene that my actual storytelling skills aren't up to par and makes for more mispellings, grammar mistakes, and general lack of cohesiveness.

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#3 Post by abscission » Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:30 am

thank you for the tip! I knew making a prototype is a must, but some of the considerations didn't occur to me.

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#4 Post by chocoberrie » Mon Jul 10, 2017 12:37 pm

These are all excellent tips, thank you! :)

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#5 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:29 pm

bluebirdplays wrote:Great tip, especially with making it a text-based game first. I'm trying to do this for my next project. I always find myself distracted with making the art for a scene that my actual storytelling skills aren't up to par and makes for more mispellings, grammar mistakes, and general lack of cohesiveness.
abscission wrote:thank you for the tip! I knew making a prototype is a must, but some of the considerations didn't occur to me.
chocoberrie wrote:These are all excellent tips, thank you! :)
Glad you guys found it helpful!

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#6 Post by Sonomi » Wed Jul 12, 2017 1:36 pm

Don't forget that a prototype should also take art into consideration though. One large aspect of a visual novel is the visual portion, and they are absolutely important when it comes to setting the mood and tone of a scene. Where is the sprite positioned? Is it moving or static? Which facial expression is being shown? Are you using a CG in this scene? Special effects?

This can all be prototyped as well with silhouettes, stick figures (anyone can draw these, most certainly), emoji faces, art you can find online, or what have you! I only mention this because when I'm prototyping my other games, I do draw placeholder art to fill those spaces, just so I can get a feel of how the end product will turn out. Also, when you use placeholder artwork it cuts a lot of work out in the end because you don't have to go back to the beginning and consider those things. Instead, you can just replace the .jpg or .png files you already have and you're pretty much good to go.

It really depends on your work flow! Great resource, by the way.
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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#7 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Wed Jul 12, 2017 3:37 pm

Sonomi wrote:Don't forget that a prototype should also take art into consideration though. One large aspect of a visual novel is the visual portion, and they are absolutely important when it comes to setting the mood and tone of a scene. Where is the sprite positioned? Is it moving or static? Which facial expression is being shown? Are you using a CG in this scene? Special effects?

This can all be prototyped as well with silhouettes, stick figures (anyone can draw these, most certainly), emoji faces, art you can find online, or what have you! I only mention this because when I'm prototyping my other games, I do draw placeholder art to fill those spaces, just so I can get a feel of how the end product will turn out. Also, when you use placeholder artwork it cuts a lot of work out in the end because you don't have to go back to the beginning and consider those things. Instead, you can just replace the .jpg or .png files you already have and you're pretty much good to go.

It really depends on your work flow! Great resource, by the way.
You're absolutely right - I use placeholder silhouettes after I get the text and music right. If you look up 'anime silhouettes' on Google, there's plenty of good variety (I use the ones on Hongkiat).

The reason I didn't mention the visual part was because it still takes a god damn long time to get the visuals right - even if it's just placeholder art lol.

It takes quite a bit of experimenting to get things right - deciding how the camera moves, what type of shot you want to use etc. And to most people, it can get overwhelming focusing on all the aspects at once (art, music, text). That's why I suggest starting with just the text + audio :) Once you have that, you can add the silhouettes. I don't really bother with placeholder backgrounds - they take too long to find haha.

Anyways thanks for your input :D

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#8 Post by Cirrocumulus-Cloud » Wed Jul 12, 2017 6:36 pm

One thing that you should consider WHILE writing are your character designs though. You should have, in my opinion, at least a finalised sketch ready when you actually start typing out scenarios - after your plot stands and you write that first draft.

You NEED to know details of your characters that are feasible to do in your artwork. If you describe that your character has a beauty mark near his nose but when you design your character it ends up looking like it's near their cheek (or you change it to this because it looks better), then you've got a big problem because you need to correct every single instance where that detail doesn't match your written words. Art is the most noticeable thing to your reader in a visual novel. That's what separates it from your standard novel or choose your own adventure stories.

It should be treated as one of the starting points due to it. What kind of art style do you want? If it's grimy and dark, your words need to match. But if you have already written your work as a gory horror story and then the art standard of your team doesn't manage to produce a dark art style you have a problem. You need to make sure that your art form fits your writing. It's similar to making a piece of clothing - you can design the form and intricate design of a dress that you want to make all you want, but if you lack the type of cloth to produce said dress you heavily need to adjust.

Pick out your art style first. Design your characters so you at least have finished sketches. Adjust parts of the design until it looks good, change things around if your artists can't quite grasp a certain style. That saves you a LOT of time with rewriting scenes, because the change in character designs and art style can have a pretty significant impact on how you need to describe things.

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#9 Post by Imperf3kt » Wed Jul 12, 2017 7:39 pm

I'm of the opinion that if you've done the art right and the rest of the story right, there is no need to describe anything.
One pet peeve I have with a lot of VNs is the incessant need to describe what you can see.
I, the reader, am not dumb. I can see character X is wearing a blue shirt with gold lacing, why must I read this prose that serves no purpose but to lengthen the word count?


In my own opinion, artwork is the very last thing you should concentrate on, depending on your story.
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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#10 Post by Cirrocumulus-Cloud » Thu Jul 13, 2017 1:53 am

Imperf3kt wrote:I'm of the opinion that if you've done the art right and the rest of the story right, there is no need to describe anything.
One pet peeve I have with a lot of VNs is the incessant need to describe what you can see.
I, the reader, am not dumb. I can see character X is wearing a blue shirt with gold lacing, why must I read this prose that serves no purpose but to lengthen the word count?


In my own opinion, artwork is the very last thing you should concentrate on, depending on your story.
But description can serve a purpose beyond what the reader can see. Say the protagonist compares this shirt to another blue shirt because the murderer that they try to catch wears one. Suddenly it is important if they can see that the shirt of their friend only has two buttons but the murderer wears one with three.

Similarly, if our protagonist wants to express their opinion about how something looks, then they need to go into some details. "I thought his shirt looked stupid." If that is important information and needs no further explanation, good. But if our protagonist needs to convey more than that, then describing how it looks can be essential. "I thought the way his crooked collar hugged his neck looked stupid. He appeared to try to climb back into his shell like a turtle would, which was fitting, because I had never seen such a shy person before."

In the second instance just mentioning how stupid it looks doesn't give us enough information to compare said character to a frightened turtle. Thus, describing what our character finds so stupid is important. If we as the reader instead see a collar that is straight because the crooked version just looked terrible, then we need to adjust again by finding that one scene in a sea of words first. That's such a tiresome way to re-work things. If you have sketches first this can't happen.

A similar thing happens if our character is a police woman who needs to describe a crime scene that you can see to her partner who just arrived. "There's a dead body." Duh. "There's a dead body, next to the dumpster. Looks like she was holding something between her hands." But if your artists have a problem properly drawing that scene and need to re-adjust, or you decide that the corpse should lay on their side to give the reader a more terrified view of them, then you need to rewrite EVERY scene where the position of the dead body is mentioned. If you have a sketch of the CG first, then you can use that to compare and no problems with the words not matching what was shown can occur.

I'm not saying have every aspect of your art ready. I'm saying that you should have finalised sketches, so you can spare yourself the extra work of adjusting scene after scene. I don't really care if people follow my advice, but it's something that I've noticed over time.

Edit: It is especially helpful if you have multiple writers. If they can just look at the sketch of the MC instead of having to read a three page long description of them, they save a lot of time that they can use elsewhere. You can use sample backgrounds if you don't want to invest too much time sketching CGs to save time, but it's never wrong to have something that helps you visualise things before getting to detailed scene description.
Last edited by Cirrocumulus-Cloud on Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#11 Post by Frullo » Thu Jul 13, 2017 2:52 am

Good advice, in my case though I started to put in "examples" of sprites and backgrounds (like free samples which are gonna be changed to the "real thing" later on) while about halfway through the writing process, it helps me and my team to visualize the story and have a confirmation on what the final product will be. Also I think it's great for motivation, but that's subjective.

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#12 Post by Imperf3kt » Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:21 am

I do want to say that my opinions and thoughts about the creative process are from the standpoint of a solo project. They may not be ideal for everyone, but they are what works best for me.

Similarly, something like comparing a how a man wears his collar to be akin to a turtle, can easily be reproduced in your art and it is something you already know you want from your writing. It is plot central, or at least it is a character trait that you want to show. It makes sense to describe this. As to rewriting it because your art doesn't fit - this, in my opinion, is not acceptable. The collar is a key point of this character and by hook or by crook, it has to be shown in the art. Changing that is going to be the same whether you draw rough sketches first, or write the story first. In either case, you must rewrite the scene and possibly more that depended on it.

I didn't mean to never describe things that the art shows, I meant some things are trivial and unneccesary. These things don't matter if they're written into the story or not, but those that do, are part of the story whether the artist can reflect it or not.
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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#13 Post by Cirrocumulus-Cloud » Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:40 am

Imperf3kt wrote:I do want to say that my opinions and thoughts about the creative process are from the standpoint of a solo project. They may not be ideal for everyone, but they are what works best for me.

Similarly, something like comparing a how a man wears his collar to be akin to a turtle, can easily be reproduced in your art and it is something you already know you want from your writing. It is plot central, or at least it is a character trait that you want to show. It makes sense to describe this. As to rewriting it because your art doesn't fit - this, in my opinion, is not acceptable. The collar is a key point of this character and by hook or by crook, it has to be shown in the art. Changing that is going to be the same whether you draw rough sketches first, or write the story first. In either case, you must rewrite the scene and possibly more that depended on it.

I didn't mean to never describe things that the art shows, I meant some things are trivial and unneccesary. These things don't matter if they're written into the story or not, but those that do, are part of the story whether the artist can reflect it or not.
Oh, I work on solo projects mostly, too! =) Still, it is very helpful to visualise something first. Yes, the man can wear a crooked collar easily. But if it doesn't look good or doesn't fit in the end, then you have a problem. Since art is the most defining aspect of a visual novel it should be treated as an essential part - if you draw that crooked collar but can't bear to look at it for more than five minutes then chances are your readers will notice something isn't quite right, too.

I think a good example that I can give (though it is from an RPG) is the many versions that the team behind Dragon Age Inquisition drew of Solas before finally settling for a bald look. You've got characters that refer to him as an 'apostate hobo' who sets his coattails on fire. Some sketches of him looked way more menacing though and in some he actually had dreadlocks. Again, he's bald in the game. His role was clear from the get go, but how to present him only really became clear once they had multiple designs that they could pick from. Makes sense, in my opinion. I approach my characters the same way. Set role, more or less set personality, a partly made up design - and then I draw to find out what fits and what doesn't. What good does it do me if I want to give my character an intricate dress but the result looks cluttered and unfriendly to the eyes of the viewer?

But maybe we just approach things differently - and there's nothing wrong with that!

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#14 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Thu Jul 13, 2017 5:55 am

I think you're missing the point of prototyping. Writing text is much less resourceful than creating art so that's why it should be done first - in case certain scenes need to be cut out or altered (which will happen a lot as a writer).

The art should always come from the writing, not the other way around. Your writing should include specific descriptions/details of the characters and scenery (which usually won't be included in the actual game - just as reference for the artist).

Example of a vague description: Female. Tall. Long black hair. Blue eyes etc.
Example of non-vague description: Female, 1.7m tall. Long, silky black hair which goes down to the middle of her chest [I'll also include reference style images of hair styles here]. Ice-cold blue eyes etc.

This way, you communicate to the artist exactly how you want the art done and most the changes will be done during the sketching stage.

If I ever have to change the text because of the art (the artist created something different than I had in mind) - then so be it - it's much easier to change the writing than artwork. I've never encountered a situation where changing the art will affect more than two scenes (I mean, what's the point of stating the same description over and over again?).

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Re: Small tip for VN devs

#15 Post by Cirrocumulus-Cloud » Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:19 am

Winston_Nguyen wrote:I think you're missing the point of prototyping. Writing text is much less resourceful than creating art so that's why it should be done first - in case certain scenes need to be cut out or altered (which will happen a lot as a writer).

The art should always come from the writing, not the other way around. Your writing should include specific descriptions/details of the characters and scenery (which usually won't be included in the actual game - just as reference for the artist).

Example of a vague description: Female. Tall. Long black hair. Blue eyes etc.
Example of non-vague description: Female, 1.7m tall. Long, silky black hair which goes down to the middle of her chest [I'll also include reference style images of hair styles here]. Ice-cold blue eyes etc.

This way, you communicate to the artist exactly how you want the art done and most the changes will be done during the sketching stage.

If I ever have to change the text because of the art (the artist created something different than I had in mind) - then so be it - it's much easier to change the writing than artwork. I've never encountered a situation where changing the art will affect more than two scenes (I mean, what's the point of stating the same description over and over again?).
No, I don't think I am missing the point, I simply approach things differently. I also start with a written draft for how my characters should look, of course. But a lot of details change once you actually draw said character, as you never simply draw one draft and stick to it. Which is why I approach prototyping by having a finalised sketch first - granted, I work as both the artist and the writer. It's really just one step above using silhouettes and not that much more work.

I believe changing the art the first time around is easier. Once you know where to place that mole, how many buttons that shirt has, how that collar looks you are done. If you write something, you have to go through tens of thousands of words to find the little flaws that came from not having finalised sketches to work with. Changing a few scenes is easy, finding them is the tedious part. That's a lot more tedious than having a fixed design to work with first, or changing something that is obvious from a glance, which happens with art.

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