A very long common route and late character introductions?

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A very long common route and late character introductions?

#1 Post by Impulse » Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:18 pm

I'm currently writing a VN that needs a lot of build up before I can delve into the true plot. I want to include 4 different love interests that are each introduced at different points in the story. Because of this, I would need a long common route if I want to both establish the main plot and what the player can expect from the character routes later down the line. To give you an idea, this is what I need to do before I can even think about branching off too much:

1. Introduce the MC and establish who she is currently (very important since her life gets flipped upside down in point 3).
2. Introduce the first love interest and his relationship to the MC.
3. Have the MC go through a life-changing event that forces her to leave her old life behind and start over all alone.
4. Have the MC wallow in despair for a while.
5. Slowly let the MC figure out things on her own as she makes mistakes along the way (her character is not the type to seek help from others, which is why she needs to do this on her own at first).
6. Introduce the second love interest.
7. Drop a bomb on the MC that basically tells her "HAH, you sucker thought life was gonna get easier now, well nope!"
8. Introduce the third and fourth love interest.
9. Introduce a whole new perspective about the MC's new life that she had never thought about before while also revealing some new information about her that no one could have guessed.

And it's only after all of that is established that I can start delving deeper into the different character routes and split the story into branches. I've currently written up to point 6, and I'm already on 27 000 words, which is about 2 hours of playtime. That's a lot of text, and so far every scene is necessary. I personally find this beginning part to be very interesting, and I truly believe readers will appreciate this long introduction down the line as the story unfolds. Rushing it would only make my VN suffer. But at the same time I'm worried people will get annoyed if the common route is too long, especially if they want to do multiple playthroughs (I plan on having a "immediately skip to the next choice" option, but still). Another problem is that the last two love interests won't be introduced until maybe 3 hours into the story. I feel like that could be a major turn-off for future players. I've been thinking about locking the character routes of character 3 and 4 for the first playthrough, but I still haven't decided if I want to do that or not. I also don't know if that would help anyone, or if it would just leave players more frustrated.

I haven't read a lot of long VN's or VN's where important characters are introduced late, so I don't know how other creators generally handle things like this. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#2 Post by Elsa Kisiel » Tue Aug 20, 2019 5:40 am

Personally, I have no problem with a long common route. However, I must admit I will quickly get bored if I have to play two hours before making a choice. (When I'm in mood for reading a novel, I'm reading a novel. When I'm playing video games and visuals novels, that means I'm in mood for interactivity.). So, I really have no problem with love interest being introduced late, as long as it doesn't mean I have to wait for them to be introduced to makes choices.
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#3 Post by Impulse » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:11 am

Elsa Kisiel wrote:
Tue Aug 20, 2019 5:40 am
Personally, I have no problem with a long common route. However, I must admit I will quickly get bored if I have to play two hours before making a choice. (When I'm in mood for reading a novel, I'm reading a novel. When I'm playing video games and visuals novels, that means I'm in mood for interactivity.). So, I really have no problem with love interest being introduced late, as long as it doesn't mean I have to wait for them to be introduced to makes choices.
I agree with you on the necessity of choices and I have quite a few choices so far. Most of them are smaller choices that affect dialogue or add points/give you items, but there are some bigger choices as well that will have an effect on the story later down the line. I have 2 bigger choices (one of them will actually kill off a main love interest) 6 smaller choices (points or changes in dialogue) and 1 game over screen. There won't be any choices that affect the romance or friendship with any unintroduced love interest though. I don't want the player to feel like they've screwed up before even getting the chance to meet them.
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#4 Post by parttimestorier » Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:53 am

I don't think there's anything wrong with a long common route - especially since you've listed a lot of important events that are taking place during that time, which sound like they definitely justify the length. Just because a VN has a few different routes doesn't mean that when I start reading it I want to immediately pick one - I just want to read a good story in general. Grisaia no Kajitsu is one of the most popular Japanese translated romance VNs out there, and it has a really long common route that doesn't even have much drama in it. It's just several hours of mostly funny little slice of life scenes that establish the characters and build up the reader's attachment to them before things get more serious later on, and I personally loved reading it.

Also, I don't know how well this would work with your story, but maybe you could consider having the later love interests make brief cameos earlier in the route? For instance, maybe the protagonist just bumps into some mysterious person in the street and wonders what they're up to, before you officially meet them later on. That might be a good way to intrigue people and make them want to keep reading and see who that is.
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#5 Post by Impulse » Tue Aug 20, 2019 3:44 pm

parttimestorier wrote:
Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:53 am
Also, I don't know how well this would work with your story, but maybe you could consider having the later love interests make brief cameos earlier in the route? For instance, maybe the protagonist just bumps into some mysterious person in the street and wonders what they're up to, before you officially meet them later on. That might be a good way to intrigue people and make them want to keep reading and see who that is.
That's a good idea, but there are some immediate problems that I didn't bring up in my original post. The biggest one being that the MC and the last 2 love interests are enemies at the start of the story. They would try to kill each other if they happened to meet, which could be interesting, but it's not the story I want to tell. It would also ruin the suspence later down the line since a main plot is that the MC joins their team while having to hide the fact she used to work for their enemies. If they knew she was working on the enemy team they wouldn't accept her and would likely kill her on sight (no mercy here).

I could maybe stage a meeting between them if the MC is wearing some form of disguise though. That way they wouldn't recognize her if they met again at a later time, but the MC would know it was them and have some idea on who they are. I have to think about this a bit more, but it's a good idea and I want to implement it some way. Thank you for the feedback :)
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#6 Post by Zelan » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:49 pm

The Deep Unknown has an extremely long common route and doesn't really branch off into character-specific routes until very close to the ending of the VN, actually. To be fair, romance is not intended to be the focus of the game, but I still found the romantic aspects to enjoyable (and organic). I think as long as the writing stands for itself there won't be a problem. (:

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#7 Post by jdhthegr8 » Wed Aug 21, 2019 12:53 am

Sounds like you're in a pretty similar situation to me. I'm looking at possibly 80-100k words before there are choices that seriously impact the story. The thing is, once the choices start happening there's a bit of a "butterfly effect" that causes a lot of unique combinations of events (certain of which could lock the player into specific routes). It's a huge amount of choice down the line, but also requires a huge amount of buildup. The contrast between going a long time with a few small choices to a latter half with several major choices in quicker succession could be jarring to readers who came in expecting just one or the other method of storytelling

One approach I've considered is offering this buildup component of the story as a free demo or a very low-priced "introduction" to get people invested in the world and characters, with the understanding that "Part 1" is closer to a kinetic novel than a branching VN. Then, after that, offering "Part 2" as its own VN. Of course, this is centered around the premise of it being a commercial product where a "demo" would even be relevant. It could be something worth finding a way to adapt into a for-free VN as well though.

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#8 Post by Xanedis » Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:21 am

One excellent way of doing late character introductions is to foreshadow the characters properly by insinuating their existence in the story through various means. This allows for the character to "exist" in the story even if they haven't appeared "in proper" yet, and if their appearance is thematically important(or plotwise important), it is utterly important to foreshadow their existence and to make their existence felt in the mind of the reader/player. This way, the character's appearance won't come out of the left field, but rather feels like a coherent conclusion of all earlier foreshadowing.

I've found that one rule always applies to these unorthodox character and plot device introductions: "if you can foreshadow it, you can add it". And, conversely, if you can't foreshadow it, you can't make it work. It really is rather simple, but it's the proper application of that that we - as writers - usually have to do mental battle with.

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#9 Post by Impulse » Wed Aug 21, 2019 7:01 am

@Zelan
I haven't heard of that VN before but I'll look into it more to see how they did it. It sounds like they don't have a lot of branching, while I want to branch of quite a bit around the middle part, but I can still take inspiration from their approach. And you're right, the most important part is the writing and story. The main reason I want to add branching paths is for replay value and because I want to play around with the "what if's". Thank you :)


@jdhthegr8
That sounds like an interesting approach (the butterfly effect). It sounds like that kind of game would be really fun to play and would definitely boost the replay value. I personally don't think I would mind a change in pace in regards to choices, but I can see why people would. That's another aspect I need to take into consideration when writing.

If I can give some tips to you I wouldn't split your VN up in parts unless the stories can stand on their own (kind of like the first and second book in a series). Readers might get annoyed by the fact they have to pay for the next part if you market it like that, and the choices in part 1 wouldn't affect the story in part 2. A free demo that doesn't tell the full story sounds like a better idea in my opinion assuming you want to do a commercial project.


@Xanedis
I touched on this a little bit before, but foreshadowing all of my characters before they're introduced would be difficult for me since some of them have no logical reason to appear early on in the story (in person or otherwise). The easiest way I could explain this is by comparing it with Harry Potter. Ron and Hermione are some of the most important characters in the books, but they don't make an appearance until after Harry have learned about the wizarding world. Having them appear before Harry even learns about magic would be strange considering they live in opposite worlds at the start of the story. My story isn't about wizards or magic, but the sudden shift in tone is still similar. If you have any tips on how to foreshadow a character in this kind of situation please let me know :)
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#10 Post by Mutive » Wed Aug 21, 2019 1:10 pm

I don't have any problems with a long common route (although I'll admit that it makes me MUCH less likely to want to replay the story since I'll be seeing 90% of the content again. So this is something to consider!)

With that said, you mentioned something about how you're worried about the player getting bored...

If you're worried (and have that "I suspect people will find this dull" sense in the pit of your stomach), I'd examine it. While not all hunches are correct, in general writers are far more in love with their plots and characters than readers are. So if you're concerned that it's boring, it doesn't mean that it is, but it is a feeling worth examining and seeing whether there might be areas that might be less than enthralling to your average reader.

(Kind of like the sense that everything is necessary. It may well be, but in general I think that we, as writers, are far more convinced that our words and plots and characters are golden than our readers are, so this is another hunch worth examining.)
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#11 Post by Zelan » Wed Aug 21, 2019 5:00 pm

Mutive wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 1:10 pm
I don't have any problems with a long common route (although I'll admit that it makes me MUCH less likely to want to replay the story since I'll be seeing 90% of the content again. So this is something to consider!)
It is important to consider this, but in my opinion this is when Ren'Py has a built-in skip function. ^_^ To each their own, of course, but if I'm marathoning all of the endings in a VN, I'll play it through the first time to get whichever ending my instinctive choices lead to, and then explore to find the other endings by skipping everything that I've already read. If I'm not marathoning the endings, I usually leave the game for long enough that by the time I come back to it I don't remember all of the details so I don't mind rereading it. So, assuming that your VN has a skip feature, I think the problem is less "will my audience be willing to read through this multiple times?" and more "will my audience be willing to read through this the first time?"

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#12 Post by Impulse » Wed Aug 21, 2019 5:17 pm

Mutive wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 1:10 pm
I don't have any problems with a long common route (although I'll admit that it makes me MUCH less likely to want to replay the story since I'll be seeing 90% of the content again. So this is something to consider!)

With that said, you mentioned something about how you're worried about the player getting bored...

If you're worried (and have that "I suspect people will find this dull" sense in the pit of your stomach), I'd examine it. While not all hunches are correct, in general writers are far more in love with their plots and characters than readers are. So if you're concerned that it's boring, it doesn't mean that it is, but it is a feeling worth examining and seeing whether there might be areas that might be less than enthralling to your average reader.

(Kind of like the sense that everything is necessary. It may well be, but in general I think that we, as writers, are far more convinced that our words and plots and characters are golden than our readers are, so this is another hunch worth examining.)
Like Zelan said, there is a skip button that auto-forwards the text until the next choice.To make it even easier for my readers I want to give them the choice to immediately skip to the next choice (without having to fast-forward the text). I have some timed choices so I'll have to think about the best way to implement it, but I don't think the skip part will be a huge issue, at least I hope it isn't.

I might have been a bit unclear when I said I was worried players would be getting bored. I didn't mean bored because of a lackluster story, but rather because they're waiting for the branching paths to appear. Hopefully my readers won't be bored with the story. Of course there might be problems with my writing as well, but hopefully I'll notice those problems once I start editing the script (after I finish the first draft). :)
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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#13 Post by jdhthegr8 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:13 am

Impulse wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 7:01 am
@jdhthegr8

If I can give some tips to you I wouldn't split your VN up in parts unless the stories can stand on their own (kind of like the first and second book in a series). Readers might get annoyed by the fact they have to pay for the next part if you market it like that, and the choices in part 1 wouldn't affect the story in part 2. A free demo that doesn't tell the full story sounds like a better idea, in my opinion, assuming you want to do a commercial project.
Thanks for the comment! It's something that I honestly don't have any solid plan for how to tackle so any input is seriously considered. One thing I do have planned is for players to always have the option to skip immediately to the next choice if they have played up to that point before; that way another playthrough would not require a huge amount of time to replay world-building scenes. A demo with just a few of those world-building scenes is a good idea; not telling the whole story but just enough to introduce some of the characters and most important establishing details in maybe a 15-20 minute read time.

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#14 Post by jdhthegr8 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:34 am

Zelan wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 5:00 pm
So, assuming that your VN has a skip feature, I think the problem is less "will my audience be willing to read through this multiple times?" and more "will my audience be willing to read through this the first time?"
This, absolutely. One thing that might help hold audience attention is sprinkling smaller choices that have either little or no overall impact; just letting the player engage in a decision that provides some sort of user input could break up the tedium of repeatedly clicking/tapping space. Looking back at my own outline, the first decision that has direct plot consequences isn't until halfway through the story, and it's going to be a long story. No matter how well-written that first half is, people will get tired of doing the same thing. This also serves as a good opportunity to add tiny modifiers to relationship/opinion variables, where such variables will have long-term consequences but will be more heavily influenced by later decisions.

So if max relationship is 100 points, you start at 50, and certain significant decisions might shift it 10 or 20 points in either direction, I might throw in a number of events in the first half that just move it 2 or 3 points. Not drawn-out things, but quick dialogue options and things like that. Combine this with a visual indication when the stat changes so that player gets feedback on their actions even when the actual decision is minor. This is my idea for keeping the player involved through my own "common route"

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Re: A very long common route and late character introductions?

#15 Post by parttimestorier » Thu Aug 22, 2019 9:52 am

jdhthegr8 wrote:
Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:34 am
This, absolutely. One thing that might help hold audience attention is sprinkling smaller choices that have either little or no overall impact; just letting the player engage in a decision that provides some sort of user input could break up the tedium of repeatedly clicking/tapping space. Looking back at my own outline, the first decision that has direct plot consequences isn't until halfway through the story, and it's going to be a long story. No matter how well-written that first half is, people will get tired of doing the same thing. This also serves as a good opportunity to add tiny modifiers to relationship/opinion variables, where such variables will have long-term consequences but will be more heavily influenced by later decisions.
I'm not sure if I would actually agree with this approach. Of course, it's entirely subjective and will depend on the tastes of your audience, but I sometimes find it overwhelming if a VN has too many tiny little choices. And I don't feel like there's any "tedium" to just reading through part of the story that doesn't have choices yet - I read VNs because I like reading. If there are a ton of choices early on, I might start to get less immersed in the story because now I'm thinking too hard about whether these choices are important and whether maybe I should look up a guide because this seems complicated. And if they're all in a long common route that I'm going to have to eventually skip back through, then the second time around I'll probably have forgotten what the context was for the choices by the time I get to them again, and I'll definitely be looking up a guide rather than having fun experimenting myself. Personally, I would rather spend several hours reading a linear story with just a few important choices in it than have little dialogue options come up every fifteen minutes.
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