Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

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Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#1 Post by Fulcrum » Wed May 02, 2018 1:22 pm

Hi. I joined this forum in the hope that it could help me make my project for a Dating Sim come to fruition. Ever since I played my very first Dating Sim (which was ironically DDLC), I have grown the desire to create an anime-like romance where the player is put in the shoes of a male high schooler dating up to five taller girls - that's a bit of the game's signature that makes it to stand out among the rest.

To set the context, the protagonist was dumped by his ex-girlfriend on Christmas Eve and left heartbroken since. He hopes he can start anew and forget about what happened when he changes address to another town and is transferred to another school on his second year. It is on the day of the Entrance Ceremony that he meets a childhood time friend whom he hasn't seen in years, after she and her family moved to that same town he just moved to. Following their reunion, the protagonist's friend introduces him to her circle of friends, composed of four girls with distinct personalities and interests and who are all just as tall. Eventually accepted into their band, the protagonist will spend the year hanging with the five girls and try to grow closer to one of them, in hope of spending Christmas Eve in good company and to heal from his previous break out.

I thought each chapter could correspond to a month, from April to December. In those acts, the protagonist would either be hanging with the whole group (ex: day at the school festival, at the beach...) or spending some intimate time with one of the girls to try and grow closer to her - ex: watching a movie, doing her favorite activities with her... I even thought of an unlockable additional chapter special Valentines Day.
While I plan each of the five girls to have a route, I also want the game to have a harem ending where the girls decide to "share" you (yeah, they're all quite the dominant type you could say) and all spend Christmas Eve with you.
I thought it could be possible to hang with more than one girl through the game, which would in consequence create tension between the girls concerned and within the group as a whole if they were to find out the protagonist is going full Don Giovanni / Casanova - possibly resulting in a bad ending for either him or everyone. And that's where things are really starting to get complicated, when you think about all the possible combinations.

I'm afraid I might be setting the bar way too high, especially when it would be my very first (and only) VN.
Not only that but I am not much of an artist beside a writer. So, while I try to find free backgrounds and music to use, I'll inescapably have to find an artist to draw sprites and CGs, and that can hurt my wallet when I don't know how many of those there will be - especially when you consider that there are five girls and, if there were to be five CGs per act, I would have to commission more than 45.

Would you advise me to lower the bar, while still making a Dating Sim that feels whole and not short-handed? Should I reduce my amount of chapters and/or characters? (Tbh, I hope I won't have to come to the latter) Can I make it with a handful of persons to hire or should I address an actual developing team for that project to see the day? Is the project appealing enough at first sight for a funding on sites such as Indiegogo, so to help with the whole hiring an artist deal?

I'd love to hear from all your pros! ;)

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#2 Post by Mammon » Wed May 02, 2018 1:49 pm

Too ambitious is more an issue of the script's length than all the possible combinations, at least in this case. Presumably the MC will be spending at least some time with all the girls so you can gather preference points for each and eventually go on one's route. That's the basic VN romance system, you'd already have it or need to implement it regardless. Adding a harem route just means that you also make a route for when the player evens things out and doesn't maximise one girl and minimising the others, or when the player chooses the romance and flirt option with each girl every time. I don't see that causing a massive and too ambitious project, as long as you weren't planning something like making each scene for each of the five girls and thus writing each chapter almost five times.

With length, that one does seem to be a bit ambitious. Five CGs per act and seven acts? You didn't mention a length in words so you might be planning a few CGs too much instead, but that sounds like a real long project. Either way, don't corner yourself into having a solid amount of CGs per act before you even start writing them, just try to minimise the amount of CGs. If you can later add some because you've got artist to spare, then good. But definately for your first project you should try to keep it to a minimum and throw ideas like a minimum amount of CGs to keep the reader enthralled out of the window.

With sprites, the amount doesn't seem like an issue assuming you're not planning on a whole cast of side-characters on the side. Five is manageable, and because they're all schoolgirls you should have a slightly easier time than other recruiters too. (There are artists around here who only draw cute girls, even if they don't want to admit doing so.)

But as a final answer; No. It's not too ambitious. A story of any length can be done with enough discipline and tenacity, and even the shortest VN can end up unpublished when you lack these. So if you don't overburden yourself with needed assets, combinations, feature creeps etc. that suck the enthusiasm out of the project, you can finish something of this size.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#3 Post by Mutive » Wed May 02, 2018 1:54 pm

Ambition (to me at least) always comes down to how much effort you feel like putting into the project. If you're up for writing (and programming) the whole thing, it should be quite doable. It just may take longer and you take the very real risk of your energy flagging if you try to write a *huge* VN than it would if you wrote a shorter one. (I'd also caution that some of the time you write a huge thing and no one wants to read it...so there might be some advantage in putting together something shorter and seeing if anyone's interested in the idea before spending a huge amount of time on it, at least if that's the kind of thing that matters to you.)

As far as the CGs go, that number doesn't seem too enormous, although as always, a lot depends on how much you want to spend. You can also always use free to use sprites for some/all of the characters, which would cut down on your costs.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#4 Post by bluemoonaspect » Thu May 03, 2018 4:46 am

I'm the farthest thing from a pro, in fact I'm just a beginner much like yourself, though I hope you don't mind having my opinion as well!

I'm working on my first dating sim as well, and personally it looks as though it might end up on the bigger end too, and I don't feel as though I'm being too ambitious... even though I've kind of never been great at finishing projects, haha! I'm taking this as a test to see if I'm serious enough about it, will I actually finish it?

I think if you have the drive and really want to see it finished, since no one else is going to go through with it for you (unless you pay them to I guess lol) then you can surely finish it! If that's what you mean by ambitious.

As for changing the amount of chapters, I suppose that's ultimately up to you. If you decide somewhere down the line that everything is just becoming too much, then try rewriting it, or stop right where you are and change the rest of the story. You'll never know unless you try!

I personally hate rewriting things, so you may be dreading the fact that I said it, but again - no one will be able to write this except for you (again, unless you pay them) so if you really want this to be a quality dating sim, which I hope you'd want it to be (and fingers crossed that it will be! c: ) you'll do anything you can to get it finished the way you envisioned, even if it has some revisions along the way.

I wish you all the luck though, no matter what happens! And if for some reason, things don't turn out as you planned, please don't beat yourself up over it. Just know that at least one person on the interwebs is rooting for you :D

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#5 Post by Imperf3kt » Thu May 03, 2018 9:17 am

Personally, I think being overly ambitious is a good thing. It means you are passionate about what you want to create.

The only kind of ambitious that I would argue is bad ambitious, would be if you have this grand idea and expect to learn not only Ren'Py, but also Python and anything else you need in between, and then release your game - all within some ridiculous time frame like for example 1 year.

Provided you understand how much dedication is truly necessary, I think that being overly ambitious is a good thing. It certainly helps reduce those annoying shovelware games that are nothing but asset swaps of their predecessor.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#6 Post by Fulcrum » Thu May 03, 2018 11:28 am

Thank you all for your opinions and wise words on the nature of ambition. Indeed, sometime it's more about the man at work than the work itself.

I pondered on how many acts the game should have: I went from nine to twelve chapters (or thirteen, if you count the extra-chapter I mentioned), with the first act serving as the introduction to the girls and the final one as the conclusion on Christmas Eve.
The way I coded it, there are two types of chapters beside the two I just mentioned: the circle chapters and the square acts: the circle chapters are basically when the main character gets to hang out with all the girls and tries to grow closer to one of them while doing it, and the square acts are set in a more intimate context, where the player decides to spend time with one of the girl and take it one step further
With five circle and square chapters, you can dedicate one of each for each girl, so to spend equal time with them and get the harem ending. That way, the player has an opportunity to get closer to each girl equally.
Here's how it would go down:

- Intro
- O
- [] (5 CGs)
- O
- [] (5 CGs)
- O
- [] (5 CGs)
- O
- [] (5 CGs)
- O
- []
- Conclusion (6 CGs) (Counting the harem ending)

The amount of CGs, which I feared could go up to forty-five, if there was to be five per chapter, is now brought down to 26, which feels a bit more reasonable and, I hope, more gratifying for the player. For, as Mammon said, a minimum amount of CGs is more likely to clutch the player than one in each chapter, as it makes the development of the relationship more satisfying to watch. Like we all know, too much of a good thing makes it tasteless. However, that number might go lower in the future. While I expect some of the chapter above to have CGs, it is only speculation and some might end up just not having any if I come to judge it unnecessary while writing them.

For what comes to sprites, I plan to commission illustrations for only the five main girls - so secondary characters are clearly out of the picture. Although, there is always the worry of sprites with, not only various expressions, but different outfits. If the girls are going to be at school, hanging in town and having fun at the beach, them being always dressed in school uniform would feel pretty strange - and pathetic when thinking about the producer. Beside, having the girls wearing more casual and personal outfits would help shape out more their personality.

I don't know how much sprites and CGs will cost me, but the more I think about it, the more I find it tempting to start an online fund - although there is always the question whether the concept will interest people enough so they will go out of their way and drop a few dollars.

Since the project is likely take time and have replayability potential - with five girls and maybe more than six endings. I've also been considering commercializing it to a reasonable price that I'll have to figure by the time I see how large the script is.

At the end of the day, I really have to get working on the story overall to be the best judge of, not only the scale of my project, but also my motivation and capacities.

Once again, I appreciate your attention and words. Thank you all!

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#7 Post by Mammon » Thu May 03, 2018 5:32 pm

Fulcrum wrote:For what comes to sprites, I plan to commission illustrations for only the five main girls - so secondary characters are clearly out of the picture. Although, there is always the worry of sprites with, not only various expressions, but different outfits. If the girls are going to be at school, hanging in town and having fun at the beach, them being always dressed in school uniform would feel pretty strange - and pathetic when thinking about the producer. Beside, having the girls wearing more casual and personal outfits would help shape out more their personality.
I don't know how much sprites and CGs will cost me, but the more I think about it, the more I find it tempting to start an online fund - although there is always the question whether the concept will interest people enough so they will go out of their way and drop a few dollars.
With the outfits, I recommend the same as the CGs. You may have misunderstood me a bit on that part. While I gladly pretend to be the wise sage who bestowed wisdom upon you, I apparently failed to make my real point clear. You're a beginner. Projects are big and easily underestimated. Don't feel like you're underachieving by doing less than what you're seeing in very successful and big games like DDLC and professional japanese VN. You should never compare your quality to the greatest or think that there's a minimum asset count for anything to be good. Just focus on finishing the project, then on upscaling it.

With the outfits, perhaps I can make my point clear more easily. Just start with the school girl outfits, don't worry at all about the weirdness of the girls wearing those outdoors. Just focus on getting the sprites for your cast with the expressions and poses you want, then start worrying about adding more. Once you're certain this part is dealt with or organised well, then start worrying about other outfits. And look at it from a minimalistic standpoint, anything that can be overlapped should be overlapped. No need for three sets of clothes, a nightgown, a bikini and a winter overcoat all right out of the gate. That's a lot of outfits, multiplied by five girls nonetheless.
With the CGs, wanting to make a whole bunch of them in a standard system in a similar way can similarly overburden you and your financial needs. So once again, you're a beginner. You're a dev middleschooler so you don't have to write an essay at an university level of quality to get a passing grade. Don't think you have to achieve at a certain impossible height right away.

Because sprites and CGs, those are more expensive than many people without experience in commissioning think. You should always remember that art takes time, and that making sprites with many expressions and several poses and outfits take a lot more time than making a single image. And CGs with a background and a certain specific image they're portraying is a lot more work too. Hours and hours, because art takes time to make. Translate those hours to minimum wage, and you'll see that a lot of the more expensive artists around here are still offering their work for a low salary. Commissioning isn't cheap, so don't overburden yourself by needing too much of it. You won't be the first one whose project never gets halfway because of lacking funds.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#8 Post by Aviala » Thu May 03, 2018 6:42 pm

Mammon wrote:
Thu May 03, 2018 5:32 pm

Because sprites and CGs, those are more expensive than many people without experience in commissioning think. You should always remember that art takes time, and that making sprites with many expressions and several poses and outfits take a lot more time than making a single image. And CGs with a background and a certain specific image they're portraying is a lot more work too. Hours and hours, because art takes time to make. Translate those hours to minimum wage, and you'll see that a lot of the more expensive artists around here are still offering their work for a low salary. Commissioning isn't cheap, so don't overburden yourself by needing too much of it. You won't be the first one whose project never gets halfway because of lacking funds.
I can maybe offer a practical example of this: As an artist, I charge minimum 15USD per hour for indie studios (I'd like to charge more but unfortunately a lot of artists are underpricing themselves so it's hard to compete, and I like to stay indie friendly). When you factor in taxes and costs of running a freelancing business or a game studio, 15USD/hour is pretty much the lowest anyone can go if they want to make a living (unless they live somewhere where the living costs are really cheap). Drawing a sprite will take at least 2 hours, and that's really the absolute minimum. A more accurate estimate would be maybe 5-8 hours, more if the character design is complicated, or if the client wants lots of different expressions or extra outfits. Drawing different poses is basically the same as drawing a new sprite so double your cost estimates if you want a 2nd pose for a character. So basically, you should expect to pay at least 50USD per sprite and way more if you require extra stuff like different outfits.

Also, I think art should cost way more since it easily takes 10 years to learn to be a professional artist but that's a whole different conversation.

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#9 Post by PyTom » Thu May 03, 2018 11:37 pm

Yes.

If you consider yourself a newbie, you're being too ambitions.

You're going to make mistakes on your first game. That's how people learn things. So what you want to do is a small fraction of the work. You might think it'll take a month - it'll take three. But the mistakes you make and fix won't be ones on your big project - and a year won't turn into three years, or more practically never.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#10 Post by Draziya » Fri May 04, 2018 6:26 am

For an idea, I wouldn't say it's too ambitious. It seems fairly straightforward. However, since you are new to making Visual Novels you might not be as aware of your limits or how motivated you'll be once you get started.

A lot of people have already talked about the art aspect so I'll focus on the writing part.

Getting all of the writing done won't be the fastest thing in the world. With five love interests plus a harem ending, you might find yourself knowing what exactly to write for a scene with one of the love interests, and have a complete writer's block for another. You might find yourself getting tired of the project before you even get half of it done.

If you read that and you still think you're ready, I'd aim to make a demo to test the waters of how invested you are in this project. You mentioned possibly starting an online fund, which I'd assume to be on Kickstarter or the like. People won't back you unless you can show that you can give them what they want, and a demo will help with interest anyway, so it has that benefit too.

If you're more unsure about whether you'd be ready, I would definitely advise making a smaller game with a much smaller scope first, maybe with only one or two love interests.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#11 Post by Fulcrum » Fri May 04, 2018 1:38 pm

I must say I'm a bit hurt that some of you guys assume that I'm not aware of how much art takes time, for someone who commissioned to artists on several occasions by the past. ;) Still, I appreciate you gave me a better idea how what goes on behind the scene!

Motivation is definitely the worst enemy in undertakings this big. I do dread losing interest and being less inspired for some of the girls, as I think hard on ways to develop them and make them all interesting and enjoyable for both the player and me. Believe me, I don't plan on delivering a minimal performance but the best I can give!

I am fully aware that I am a newbie who's aspiring for a big project, hence the need to bring the 11 down to a 3 or a 4 for now. I was already considering it during the day, and Draziya's post was the push that convinced me to first work on a demo of a few chapters with just two or three datable girls, instead of directly rushing into the game as a whole. That way, if I do make it through, I'll only have to pay for less sprites and CGs, while possibly gaining an audience to fund me if the demo gets enough attention. I guess that it'll be the moment that decides whether the game should see the day or if it'll just remain a fantasy.

Thanks again for taking the time to write me, you all!

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#12 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Fri May 04, 2018 9:16 pm

Fulcrum wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 1:38 pm
I must say I'm a bit hurt that some of you guys assume that I'm not aware of how much art takes time, for someone who commissioned to artists on several occasions by the past. ;) Still, I appreciate you gave me a better idea how what goes on behind the scene!
Don't take it as an insult. Most professionals don't really know how much time art takes - including the professionals that make it! Each art project is different and so past estimates aren't always accurate. PyTom isn't wrong about multiplying time estimates by 3.

The professional studio I used to work at (we did rotoscoping for big budget movies) took each shot and had an industry professional (someone with multiple movies and years of experience under their belt), a team leader (someone experienced who had done one movie, usually two to completion), and an amateur (someone new on the team who had never done anything like this before, but was trained). They each privately gave a time estimate of how long it would take to complete that shot.

The professional tended to give time estimates on the shorter side, because they were faster. The amateurs tended to give very long time estimates, because they were slightly terrified and everything looked daunting. The studio averaged the three times together to arrive at a due date for the shot, based on the most educated estimations of their experienced team members . . . and then they would DOUBLE it. Because art is hard. :lol: And sometimes even THAT wasn't enough time.

Think about that - someone who has done the same job for years (50-60 hours a week) and was good at it, would not uncommonly believe they could do the job in less than three times the actual length of time it ended up taking.

This is the sad reality behind video game crunch time in the industry, and the reason I spent several nights sleeping on a cot next to a workstation because Paramount decided they really wanted that special effects shot in a new cut of the trailer that was releasing not two months from now - but three weeks from now! Surprise!

People just want to make sure you are prepared for when that three month project you start turns into six months, then nine months, and then you realize it is probably going to take another six months after that. You'll be tempted to quit, and unlike a job where you are forced to keep going to pay rent, it will be easy to walk away or shelve the project.

But if you start small, you can always expand it later, but finishing something will motivate you. And teach you things that will make you change your plans. You might discover a game mechanic isn't fun, or writing two complete character arcs was super difficult, etc.

Just food for thought. The only way to tell if the task before you is too ambitious is if you fail to complete it. And unfortunately you can only evaluate that after the fact.

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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#13 Post by Mutive » Sat May 05, 2018 12:34 am

I also would echo the advise to taking things in small chunks vs. trying to do a huge thing all at once.

I do a lot of costuming and see a TON of people try, as their first project, to do super fancy armor with moving pieces, a bunch of molding, corseting, and other really challenging aspects. About 95% of them fail to ever complete their costume as, even for someone who's a pro, doing all that is maybe 200-500 hours of time and several thousand dollars in material. (And for someone who's never done it before, it's going to take far longer and cost far more.)

While, had this person stuck to making something comparatively simple from a pattern, they'd have invested the same amount of time and money (or far less) and had a costume (or five) that they could wear and really love. (And would have learned a lot that they could take to the next costume.)

Which isn't to say that you *can't* do a grand, ambitious project. I just suspect that for your own sanity (and the chances that you have something release-able someday), you're best off not trying to do the Big Grand Thing right out the gate. (And you could always, say, do act one with three sprites, see if you enjoy it and get any attention, then launch act 2-5 with the full five characters, CGs, whatever.)
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#14 Post by gas » Wed May 09, 2018 10:25 am

Too ambitious.
Despite the fact DDLC is not a dating sim, so it lead you obviously to the wrong direction...

A dating sim is mostly a routine game. That's mean is played mostly by simple sprites and a schedule management. You don't need art for EVERYTHING.

Tokimeki Memorial (the first game ) is the greatest dating sim ever,have 12 characters and 4 images each, for a grandtotal of 48. We are talking of a Konami high budget game.
You can't do more at 0 budget or going broke.
Anyway, you don't play for pictures, but for the schedule challenge.

Focus more on the gameplay and math, than to deliver pictures for everything.
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Re: Am I being too ambitious for a newbie?

#15 Post by Fulcrum » Wed May 09, 2018 1:09 pm

LateWhiteRabbit wrote:
Fri May 04, 2018 9:16 pm
People just want to make sure you are prepared for when that three month project you start turns into six months, then nine months, and then you realize it is probably going to take another six months after that. You'll be tempted to quit, and unlike a job where you are forced to keep going to pay rent, it will be easy to walk away or shelve the project.

But if you start small, you can always expand it later, but finishing something will motivate you. And teach you things that will make you change your plans. You might discover a game mechanic isn't fun, or writing two complete character arcs was super difficult, etc.

Just food for thought. The only way to tell if the task before you is too ambitious is if you fail to complete it. And unfortunately you can only evaluate that after the fact.
Mutive wrote:
Sat May 05, 2018 12:34 am
Which isn't to say that you *can't* do a grand, ambitious project. I just suspect that for your own sanity (and the chances that you have something release-able someday), you're best off not trying to do the Big Grand Thing right out the gate. (And you could always, say, do act one with three sprites, see if you enjoy it and get any attention, then launch act 2-5 with the full five characters, CGs, whatever.)
That's the plant for the moment: start small with a demo, see if I'm mentally cut for a project of that scale then decide accordingly!
gas wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 10:25 am
A dating sim is mostly a routine game. That's mean is played mostly by simple sprites and a schedule management. You don't need art for EVERYTHING.

Tokimeki Memorial (the first game ) is the greatest dating sim ever,have 12 characters and 4 images each, for a grandtotal of 48. We are talking of a Konami high budget game.
You can't do more at 0 budget or going broke.
Anyway, you don't play for pictures, but for the schedule challenge.

Focus more on the gameplay and math, than to deliver pictures for everything.
Thanks for reminding me how writing matters just as much as illustration in that type of game! In my enthusiasm or the game's aesthetic, I forgot the most important part of dating sims! I will keep everything you said in mind ; thank you! ;)

(For what comes to DDLC, I tend to view it as a dating sim with a twisted turn, just like Lord of the Flies is an adventure book whose adventure plotline is progressively overshadowed by a darker one. In the end, both works remain what they're presented as (DDLC still deals with the Dokis falling in love with the MC, LOTF still focuses on a group of boys stranded on a deserted island) while standing out by adding their own twists to the genre. I'd describe them at best as works unlike the others within their respective genres. You're free to disagree with me though. I personally think it's a matter of how you look at it. ^^)

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