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Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 12:31 am
by nerupuff
Hi all! Looking to see if anyone may have some tips for a concern of mine.

In most games, each character only has 1 pose for their sprite with multiple different facial expressions. Let's say I have character A, who has a default pose of arms at the side, looking at the player. There comes a point in the narration where it would say, "Character A crosses her arms and rolls her eyes at me, almost oblivious to the fact that I didn't mean to insult her that way."

While a character rolling her eyes can be easy to manage, what with various facial expressions a sprite can have, I'm not so sure about the dissonance between the sprite art and narration. For a small budget, it might get hard for a dev to afford another pose for their character in the game, as an example when this situation arises.

(1) Do people mind if the art is just the same pose while the narration says that the character is doing something different?
(2) If you think people do mind, do any solutions come to mind to remedy this?

I've thought that CGs might come in handy for scenes like this, but that would also be costly, and at the same time, there would just be too many CGs (if I think about it hard enough when the story is very descriptive in actions). Maybe I could do away with not putting any pose descriptions at all? But that would make characters feel static and stiff.

Hope I could get input on this! Thank you!

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 1:26 am
by SilentMonkey
I don't think most people will mind at all if a sprite has only 1 pose if it is presented effectively. Detailed description is EVERYTHING if one does or doesn't have the luxury of using multiple sprites. It can at times be more valuable in bringing a character or scene to life than simply changing one position to another. Sure you might have to explain more what is happening in a scene but that isn't so much a negative.

In answer to the second question, perhaps appropriate the characters sprite position to their personality to help alleviate the problem. First impression is everything after all.

Example for primary sprite positions:

Confident- Head held high, standing straight and as tall as they can be. Inviting without saying a word.
Timid- arms crossing their body, shielding themselves. Lowered head and avoiding direct eye contact. Keeping strangers out.
Flamboyant- arms behind the body, chest out, direct eye contact. Not a care in the world.
Aggressive- Slightly turned, closed fist, arms to the side. Ready for action.

Add different facial expressions when appropriate and voila. "It's Alive!"

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 9:20 am
by parttimestorier
I definitely don't expect a VN sprite to be constantly doing exactly what the text tells me they're doing. I see them as more of a somewhat abstracted representation of what a character looks like and what's going on in the scene. If you're describing them doing a really specific action like maybe threatening someone with a weapon, that's something that can sometimes be a bit funny to read alongside the sprite just standing there casually, and that's the kind of situation for which I would advise having a CG instead if you can. But I think just describing everyday actions like crossing your arms or playing with your hair without the character moving is pretty normal, and it wouldn't distract me at all. After all, pretty much all VNs will have a line of characters standing and talking while staring in the same direction, which usually isn't an exactly literal representation of what they're doing either. But no one really complains about that as long as we're used to this medium and know that that's just the way it works.

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Wed Sep 04, 2019 9:53 am
by Elsa Kisiel
I wouldn't mind inconsistencies between the description and the sprite. (As long as it's not a very important action. For exemple, if they're trying on new clothes, and everyone is speaking about it, but we don't see the new clothes, I found it frustrating. Of course, CG can be a possibility too for theses kind of scenes.)

I do, however, think sprite looks way more lively with alternative poses, especially if there's no animation. But I also understand there's not always enough budget/time to do otherwise.

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 11:50 pm
by nerupuff
Ah, thank you so much, everyone! Knowing that perhaps not a lot of people will mind the differences between the sprites and narrations means that I'll have an easier time doing editing.

And yes, I do agree that a variety of sprite poses will help, but definitely budget and time constraint will affect those too. I'll definitely be keeping all of your advice in mind!

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 6:47 am
by Impulse
I don't mind it at all, but if the character does that specific pose a lot it might be worth making a sprite out of it just to show their personality. The only time I feel bothered by inconsistencies in the sprite and narration is when it comes to more drastic changes like fighting stances or clothing. I once read a VN where the protagonist disguised herself as someone else and the descriptions mentioned her wearing a wig and a completely new outfit, but their sprite had the same default hair and clothing as always. It broke the immersion a bit. Simply changing the hair colour and having the character put on a coat would have been enough to sell it for me without having to spend a lot of time/money on new assets.

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:29 am
by nerupuff
Ah, yes, that's true. I suppose when the inconsistencies break immersion is when they start to become a bit tacky and annoying. I'll definitely keep that in mind while writing and spriting things out. I'm thankful for all the responses because not only does it help with general game dev, it also gives me insight on how people perceive games when playing. So, thanks a bunch!

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:03 pm
by Kuiper
nerupuff wrote:
Tue Sep 03, 2019 12:31 am
There comes a point in the narration where it would say, "Character A crosses her arms and rolls her eyes at me, almost oblivious to the fact that I didn't mean to insult her that way."
I think at a certain point you need to be willing to adapt your writing to the medium you are working in. Writing a screenplay is not the same as writing a short story, and writing a visual novel is not the same as writing a novel.

Just because there are lots of novels that include beats between dialog doesn't mean your visual novels have to be written that way. I think you can learn a lot about visual novel writing by reading good literature, but I think if you just copy things directly, you're at risk of copying the wrong things. You need to understand why the author wrote certain things, and figure out of those reasons apply to what you're writing.

Description in dialog scenes is often referred to as a "beat." Beats can be helpful to break up long sections of dialog, so you don't have one character talking for multiple paragraphs with no interruption. Oftentimes, they're used for timing: you want to insert a pause, and instead of saying, "she paused before continuing," you describe a specific bit of action, like "she took a deep breath before continuing," or "she glanced out the window in a moment of distraction before continuing," or something like that.

A lot of times, the beat is there because the author needed a beat. Oftentimes, the specific action of the beat is inconsequential; it's there because the author wanted to indicate a pause without having to say, "she paused."

If you're reading books and seeing, "Ah, George R.R. Martin often stops mid-paragraph to mention that a character crossed or uncrossed their arms, therefore I should imitate his style by narrating when characters cross and uncross their arms," I would say that you are missing the point. GRRM wanted a beat to break up a large paragraph of dialog, so he used a beat that was suited to the paragraph he was writing and the medium he was working in. And as a visual novel writer, it is your job to control the pacing of your writing in a way that suits the scene you are writing and the medium you are working in.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule. I'm not going to stop reading your visual novel because you described action that wasn't depicted on-screen. But if you're constantly saying, "She smiled" when the sprite is already showing me that she's smiling, or "she was wearing a blue sweater" when I can clearly see that from the illustration, it's going to start to wear me down. If you're writing, "she folded her arms" when what you really mean is that "she was exasperated," it might be worthwhile to consider if there's a better way to communicate that character's state of exasperation. Maybe you write the beat differently. Maybe you have her convey her emotional state through spoken dialog rather than relying on narration. (I am personally a big fan of using dialog to convey information rather than relying on narration; this is already true of my prose writing, and it's even more true of my visual novel writing: a lot of the VN scenes I write make extremely limited use of narration, usually using it to set up a scene and exit a scene, and relying on dialog to carry everything in between. Obviously, if there's action like a character swinging a sword, that requires narration, but if I'm just trying to convey a character's emotional state, I can do that through dialog. This certainly isn't the only way to do this, and I'm not sure it's even the best way to do it, but it's what's worked well for me.)

Working in a visual medium does mean that you get to let the visuals do some of the heavy lifting (for example, you never have to write the sentence "she was wearing a blue sweater" when introducing a character who is clearly illustrated as wearing a blue sweater), but it also comes with certain constraints. For example, if the artist didn't draw the character as wearing a blue sweater, then you don't get to describe her as wearing one. (As an aside, I have always wondered if many VNs take place in Japanese high school in part because the existence of uniforms gives a narrative excuse for wardrobe changes to be infrequent.) Your art budget and the number of backgrounds you have will limit the number of locations your story can have. Part of the writer's job is to write around these limitations: if the story is written to have 15 different locations but you only can afford to have 10 backgrounds, the writer has to figure out how to rework the story to work with that smaller number of backgrounds. (Sometimes, this might mean having more "generic" backgrounds so that two scenes in different locations can use the same background, other times it means reworking the story so that characters keep returning to the same venues or otherwise reducing the number of locations visited in the story.) Sometimes, you'll have a set of sprites, some of which don't include all of the poses you might want to have characters take. This, too, is a limitation. It's a softer limitation, and you can get away with a few incongruities in narration, but it's important to realize that being a visual novel writer is a specialized skill that requires you to do things that aren't normally required for someone who is just writing a novel. The easy way out is to force your audience to adapt to the way you've chosen to write the story -- some readers will even let you get away with this, especially if the rest of your writing is good. However, I think things tend to work better when you are able to adapt your writing to the medium you are working in.

Re: Sprites - art vs narrative description inconsistencies

Posted: Thu Sep 19, 2019 2:01 am
by nerupuff
Kuiper wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:03 pm
I think at a certain point you need to be willing to adapt your writing to the medium you are working in. Writing a screenplay is not the same as writing a short story, and writing a visual novel is not the same as writing a novel.
I agree with this. I started out writing fanfics before I moved on with novellas and short stories, and there is indeed a drastic difference when it comes to writing for VNs versus other literary works. Once someone gets an idea of the differences per medium, it will get progressively easier for them to adapt to the necessary changes needed to make sure the writing is up to par with what is expected in the format.

The transitioning period is hard especially if you're used to other formats. I agree with all the differences you've stated because it's especially important to not be so redundant with narration since it is a visual format that we have, which takes care of the other things you would normally have to worry about when writing a regular novel.

Kuiper wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:03 pm
This isn't a hard-and-fast rule. I'm not going to stop reading your visual novel because you described action that wasn't depicted on-screen. But if you're constantly saying, "She smiled" when the sprite is already showing me that she's smiling, or "she was wearing a blue sweater" when I can clearly see that from the illustration, it's going to start to wear me down. If you're writing, "she folded her arms" when what you really mean is that "she was exasperated," it might be worthwhile to consider if there's a better way to communicate that character's state of exasperation. Maybe you write the beat differently. Maybe you have her convey her emotional state through spoken dialog rather than relying on narration.
Good advice. It meshes well with the common adage of "show, don't tell", which is something I'm still trying to get used to. I really love the idea of having to use narration to to express a character's state of mind (which is why for the time being, I'm working on creating stronger dialogue lines), and I'll definitely keep that in mind when practicing whatever I write. Thank you so much!