I thought I'd address your post in a reply of its own, since you make so many good points!
Impressed by what I'm seeing so far. I had a total of ten thoughts and concerns:
1. Be sure to carefully think about your story's scope. Don't commit to writing more than you can handle. For example, I like the idea of an alternate gender-flipped protagonist in order to widen your audience and make all sorts of relationships possible. There are surprisingly few visual novels with both male and female love interests
. But if you're not interested in writing this, or if you can't devote enough time to including this, then leave it out.
The story itself has been planned for over a year, in a structured but malleable form. As we get to certain sections, we do cut or deviate from the plans as the writers see fit. We are all very interested in having the female protagonist, but because of the extra workload, we've made it a stretch goal on our Kickstarter. This way, we only commit to the extra work if we can afford it.
gekiganwing wrote:2. Money as a motivator... I know that some people choose to release their visual novels for free. But if you are definitely going to sell the final product, then you can use money in order to hire assistants and motivate your staff. This might help find dedicated people who are willing to continue working on the VN until it's finished.
I certainly hope we can get to this stage with our earnings! Right now we are very much in the red, but if we meet our Kickstarter goal, that should at least help us break even. In the meantime, I am filling most of the roles regarding finance, promotion, and networking, as well as being the main artist on the game. This business and game is my full-time job.
3. On your FAQ, you state "Relationships can be platonic or political as well as romantic." Thank you for being willing to consider this. Friendship endings
are rare. And I'm interested in seeing more VNs in which plot is at least as important as the characters' relationships.
Thanks! The relationship building in the game was one of the things we considered most carefully in development. We realize that not everyone plays VNs for the dating aspect, so while it is still there, you don't *have* to end up dating someone. You can be friends, or even shun the other young samurai and concentrate on your career.
gekiganwing wrote:4. Also, you said, "We want this game to reach as wide an audience as possible, so we’re trying to keep it rated Teen, or PG-13." That might help the final version get released through diverse services, such as Mangagamer's site, Desura, Amazon, and Steam.
For our first game, we felt it was very important to reach as broad an audience as possible. This doesn't mean we'll never do an 18+ game, but we don't want to pidgeonhole ourselves into that genre right away.
gekiganwing wrote:5. Do you think you will benefit from porting the final version of your visual novel to other formats, such as iOS or Android?
If we meet our stretch goal of $5,000, we will be developing an Android port optimized for tablets and TVs (the Ouya, etc). As far as I am aware, there is no way to make a distribution for iOS, but we will certainly look into it! Personally, I'd love to port it to various consoles, as well, but at this time we're not sure how to go about that.
gekiganwing wrote:6. On your gameplay page, you state, "Going into this game, the development team played a number of Visual Novels and [romance games] to get a feel for the genre. We quickly developed an idea of what we liked, and also compiled a list of things we wanted to do differently." Probably a good idea. There are some basic things to learn (Tokimeki Check-in: don't let trivial actions lead to vastly different results; Sakura Wars 5: don't place the battles back-to-back after two hours of conversation). Also, I learned about creating a document on what to include / exclude in a novel from the book No Plot? No Problem!, which is about Nanowrimo. When you have time, please state what interactive stories and romance games you thought were instructive.
This is really helpful, thanks!
I personally have not played a huge number of visual novels. I took inspiration from games like Ar Tonelico, the Atelier series, and Persona 3 for the look of the game, how to draw and pose the portraits and such. I felt the range of emotions was very limited in those games, so I went a little crazy adding to them. XD
Honestly, every VN I've played has influenced how I wanted to approach our own in terms of gameplay.
Things I wanted to do differently include:
* Small, seemingly irrelevant decisions can rule out character options entirely. You find this more in dating sims than VNs. We took a more natural approach to relationships, where you can build up points over time. So if you spend the whole game building a relationship with a person, and then order them the wrong drink on a date or something small, you haven't completely screwed yourself over because you've earned a lot of points with them and a small "mistake" would only be a small detraction. However, if you do something huge, like you kill somebody's brother, it might earn you negative a million points and you shut them out entirely as an option.
* Being trapped into playing a character a very specific way. VNs are awesome, but I think RPGs have spoiled me. In too many VNs, you are stuck playing the naive, innocent newcomer. You don't know how the world works, which is an easy excuse for some other character to give lengthy exposition about the setting. You are nice by default and traumatized by people taking advantage of you. I found myself very frustrated by this, as I am a very take-charge sort of gamer. I wanted the player to be able to influence the world around them rather than just let things happen to them.
gekiganwing wrote:7. On the same page, you wrote, "We really wanted to give the player more of a choice in shaping the type of character Shouka would end up being. To quote one of the team, we want to “Bioware it up.” ... The character is being written with extensive branching dialogue that will allow you to play him (or her) however you like. You can be friendly, humble, rude, or arrogant, and your choices will affect the way others react to you." Some of my favorite visual novels encourage the main character to commit to one person, or end up with a negative ending (alone for the immediate future; at least one person dies). For what it's worth, the freeware VN Winter Shard allows its main character to choose villainy. Also, Corpse Party has a variety of horrifying endings that are not considered "game over."
While we're nowhere near to writing the end of the game, we're planning a pretty absurd number of endings. ^_^; They will be based on your relationship stats as well as your Honor, among other things. There will be both good and bad endings, involving weddings, deaths, new careers, etc. There will be endings where you can die in the epilogue, but there will also be happy endings and even some open endings. We are still exploring a lot of possibilities with the relationships, too. For example, some characters are willing to date you regardless of how many people you're seeing on the side, but some won't unless you're committed. Some will only date you if your honor is above a certain level, but some are so dishonorable that dating them lowers your honor. XD Other things we're think of are options for friendships; maybe you can help your bff hook up with their crush in the party. We are still exploring our options and limitations with the relationship variables.
8. Your story is part of the fantasy genre. Even so, be willing to consider a reasonable amount of realism. Writing Excuses had something to say on this topic in their episode on Practical Fantasy
. Be willing to ask questions such as "if this magic exists, what does it mean for people?" and "is this going to result in economic upheaval?"
These are absolutely things that are addressed in the game, and some of them are important plot points. Magic exists in three main forms; elemental magic, used by talking to nature spirits, which is explained within the game if you inquire about it in certain conversations. There's holy magic, which is used exclusively by priests and priestesses, granted by the gods. And then there's dark magic, which is acquired by making pacts with demons. This inevitably results in mental and physical deterioration, and finally demonic possession. Magic is not especially prevalent or reliable; spirits are whimsical and gods are busy. This is why dark magic is so tempting; demons are always hungry for blood and souls. However, the current Emperor has made it an overwhelming priority to exterminate these demons, so there are not a great deal of them left to bargain with.
There is also an element of anti-imperial conspiracy, so social and economic upheaval will be an increasing theme as the game goes on.
gekiganwing wrote:9. Promoting at a fan convention can be difficult. Don't spend too much getting a booth in the dealers hall if all you have is a promotional video and some sample art. In my opinion, the people at Okashi Studios made a mistake in promoting their game Shira Oka this way as late as 2006, especially because its demo was not playable until mid-2010.
We just got back from the con, actually. XD We made it a point to have our Kickstarter and demo ready and available on time for the con, and had a number of prints, buttons, and keychains for sale. We didn't do spectacularly at sales, but we talked to *hundreds* of people, and really got the word out. We got an Artist's Alley table rather than a Dealer's Booth, so the cost was relatively low.
gekiganwing wrote:10. Be sure to research both successes and failures on Kickstarter.
OMG, we did so much of this, and it was so important. I also talked to some different indie game makers for advice on promotion, as well as what makes for good rewards and what doesn't. I spent the last few years doing loads of research on how to get into business with art, took classes on copyright law, and generally just made sure I was confident in what I was doing before we formed the business. It's amazing how helpful everyone has been, and how much of a sense of community there is with indie developers.