VN game play and experience questions

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PoisionLullaby
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VN game play and experience questions

#1 Post by PoisionLullaby » Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:52 pm

I want to start this off by saying i'm sorry if I ask an obvious or dumb question. I am new to game making and all this so I really just want some educated opinions and feedback. The game i'm making may be my first but that doesn't mean I don't have to try any less to make it the best I can do right now. That being said I appreciate any and all who reply. :)

1) When drawing a background for a game does changing little things like lighting ect really help with the story? I'm pretty sure it does but I wanted to get some opinions on it. Like for example, if a player is checking there phone is it good or bad to have the phone pop up on the screen then move away when the character is done? (Not as a menu but in the story) Furthermore can there be too little detail? like say they are on the computer, if I don't want to draw another scene in front of the computer is the computer screen turning on good enough?

2) Is it possible to give the player too many decisions? How do I know when is a good time to add a choice, be it one that changes minor dialogue or seriously effects the story?

3) Speaking of decisions, for a story heavy, romance VN how many routes is enough? I have thought of five different characters so far for the game I'm working on, but I have played games that have had both less and more options. I'm curious about some opinions and advice you all might have on the subject.
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Re: VN game play and experience questions

#2 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:46 pm

PoisionLullaby wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:52 pm
1) When drawing a background for a game does changing little things like lighting ect really help with the story? I'm pretty sure it does but I wanted to get some opinions on it. Like for example, if a player is checking there phone is it good or bad to have the phone pop up on the screen then move away when the character is done? (Not as a menu but in the story) Furthermore can there be too little detail? like say they are on the computer, if I don't want to draw another scene in front of the computer is the computer screen turning on good enough?
Lighting is probably THE most important part of making a background really 'pop' and set mood or place. You can actually be a lot less detailed with a background if the lighting is amazing.

And yes, it would be great if you had a variation of your sprite where the character is holding a phone to their ear if they are going to be talking on the phone often, but you can accomplish this with description too. It is important that you strike a balance in detail and art with regards to the story. You don't want to / cannot draw every single action taken by characters. (Otherwise you may as well be drawing a manga.)

You can accomplish a lot with things like moving the still character sprites around, making them 'bounce' when the character is surprised, etc. It is a balancing act, and you need to make sure you aren't unnecessarily burdening yourself with art tasks that will make little difference in the end. Always go for extra sprites that will either:
A. See a lot of repeated use throughout the game, or
B. Will have maximum emotional or story impact
PoisionLullaby wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:52 pm
2) Is it possible to give the player too many decisions? How do I know when is a good time to add a choice, be it one that changes minor dialogue or seriously effects the story?
Yes, it is possible to have too many choices in a visual novel. Too many choices and your player will feel like none of them matter. You'll want each choice to either establish character, set tone or context, or branch the story.

If you have a lot of choices and each of them branch the story (i.e. are highly meaningful) you can quickly run into an exponential explosion of work for yourself. That is why a combination of branching and just providing the player a chance to establish character and tone is so useful. Even the most successful game studios need to collapse story branches back down every so often to keep things manageable - take Telltale's Walking Dead Season 1 for instance:
The game has a lot of choices that end up with the same thing happening - but with a different context. Just a few slight changes in the lead up or execution of an event, but that makes all the difference, because it changes how the player FEELS about the event.

Take a look at this chart of all the choices and branches in Walking Dead Season 1 for reference. (Warning, massive spoilers for basically everything.)

Not a lot of massive branching, is there? And that was game of the year when it was released, based on just visual novel style story and choices.

Ultimately you'll find you can make all choices FEEL meaningful as long as you create a story and characters the player can become really invested in. Players fell in love with Lee and Clementine, so each choice felt weighty and important. There is one choice that takes place during a dinner scene that has no impact outside of how much you care about the emotional state of a character, but it feels every bit as important as earlier choices where you are deciding who lives or dies, because the writing has made you care intensely for that character.
PoisionLullaby wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:52 pm
3) Speaking of decisions, for a story heavy, romance VN how many routes is enough? I have thought of five different characters so far for the game I'm working on, but I have played games that have had both less and more options. I'm curious about some opinions and advice you all might have on the subject.
This one is easy. The correct number of routes is how many you can write from the central premise that are narratively compelling and satisfying. But I would recommend limiting the number of characters and routes as much as possible. Choose just the routes that are MOST compelling and satisfying for a player.

Trim the fat, combine characters when you can. To use the example of a traditional romance VN with standard love interests - you could have an athletic, sports-loving love interest, and another one that is a rebel and trouble-maker. Both could work on their own, but why not combine that into ONE character, who then is suddenly made a lot more interesting and nuanced. Suddenly you aren't working with an archetype any more, but something more original. An example just for fun: "Love Interest 1 loves sports and plays them because it gives them a sense of control over their life, and an outlet for stress and anxiety. They want to stay late and practice their sport obsessively because their home life is terrible. They keep attending school, even though it conflicts with their rebellious personality, because they have to keep their grades up to avoid getting dropped from the sports team."

Remember that each route you have is EXPONENTIALLY more work.

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Re: VN game play and experience questions

#3 Post by PoisionLullaby » Thu Jan 18, 2018 4:09 am

Wow thank you so much for those answers they really answered everything! The sprite and art advice was especially helpful. I've already played the walking dead season one so i won't be spoiled, and I'll definitely be using that chart to help me with some of the choice's in my game. Thank you again! :D
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Re: VN game play and experience questions

#4 Post by jisenjeon » Sun Jan 21, 2018 10:40 pm

1) When drawing a background for a game does changing little things like lighting ect really help with the story?
Yes yes yes, especially lighting. Lighting is really important to show the general atmosphere around the environment; the reader would know if it was the middle of the day, midnight, or in the early morning. It's a lot more believable and just looks a lot better if you have different lighting options instead of explicitly stating that it's the middle of the night.
2) Is it possible to give the player too many decisions? How do I know when is a good time to add a choice, be it one that changes minor dialogue or seriously effects the story?
Yes, it is possible. If there are too many choices, then, like LateWhiteRabbit said, the player would feel like their choices don't matter. It would feel like there would be a lot of routes because of the many factors that would hypothetically affect them, when in reality, if they only lead to a few routes, taking time to consider these choices would feel like a waste of time.
3) Speaking of decisions, for a story heavy, romance VN how many routes is enough?
For me personally, I'd just stick with five. Writing more than five would just make things more confusing and it would inevitably make some of the routes lesser quality than others. Stick with quality more than quantity, especially with romance.

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Re: VN game play and experience questions

#5 Post by Zylinder » Sun Jan 21, 2018 11:18 pm

1. Lighting

Lighting is definitely very important in BG art. You can get away with murder, or rough brushstrokes all over the BG if your lighting's good -- just look up work like Dice Tsutsumi's or Robert Kondo and you'll see what good lighting can do for your BGs.

For the example that you give however, I'd say these tiny details are a very nice touch when playing a game. It makes the game feel a lot more polished than it might actually be. Regarding your PC example though, I'd not count the lack of such detail against the creator. A lot of VNs rely on imagination, and imagination can certainly supply animation like a PC turning on.


2. Number of Choices

It's definitely possible to give players too many choices. I've lost count of how many games where the choices ultimately amount to whether I'd like mayo or thousand island, with almost as much consequence as that.

For choices, I'd say there's two broad branches of choices that are important to me as a player: Identity choices and Consequence choices.

Identity choices are things like pronouns, endearments, looks, interests etc. for a first person, self-insert game. It doesn't necessarily have to be reflected visually if there's clearly no budget for it, but things like getting to choose how you are as a character goes a long way for immersion.

Consequence choices are pretty self-explanatory, choices should have consequence when they're framed in such a way where the player believes that it matters. So choosing to save someone should matter, to run away from troubles should matter etc. Unless you're making a game about the pointlessness of choice, that is. Then all bets are off.


3. Number of characters.

I'd say a minimum of two, and not more than the team can handle. It's pretty vague, but the team's capacity to handle characters determine how many should be in there. The moment characters are added for the sake of fulfilling a type, that's when it should stop.

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