How it all began (again)
[ a Patreon post and itch.io ]
Hi. I’m advised that people would be interested in the retroactive story of developing a short Visual Novel project. Huh. It is what it is, I guess.
I know if I encountered a free ‘game’ that would only take up 15 minutes of my time, I’d just want to see for myself without all the hype. There’s a school of thought that suggests “Don’t tell the bozos what you’re ‘gonna do’. just show them your results. And they will come.”
Even without the snark, the idea has merit.
About 18 months ago, I was invited to work on a potential VN story. We knew each other from the Steam platform forums about DDLC, that is to say, “Doki Doki Literature Club”, a deceptive anime-styled horror story. Or parody. Or experiment.
My future partner had started a theory topic. “Oh, that looks interesting,” and I joined up. We accrued about 30 regulars, a dozen who checked in every day, maybe more than once to see how things were developing.
Months later, we’d plucked the carcass completely and there was but one mystery we hadn’t investigated completely. That failure still galls.
But the excitement was gone and we felt empty. Then came the offer. And why not? Leaping into a genre that we knew from reading/playing seemed possible. Or foolhardy. Myself, I had been a freelance writer on and off through the years, a lot of published non-fiction, a couple SF stories, one book ‘back in the day’ about computer bulletin boards. And a ‘failed’ novel.
My new colleague was was doing a master’s degree in an area that felt ‘not quite right’ but had no actual writing experiene. But he had wonderful characters and had mentally written the entire arc.
Let’s see what happens.
After his first chapter in draft, I knew this story had power to move people. As for me, a tabula rasa. I was doing a lot of proofreading and line edits.
One day, I sat down and opened a text file. Blank space. No idea. I’m INTJ with an emphasis on the N for intuition. And I took a deep breath and wrote: “I was just an ordinary kid when my world blew up.”
Thus began the story of young William Steele and the Second American Revolution.
Other characters arrived as necessary. A Millennial in 2005 just embarking on a university program derailed by the GFC, A Japanese-American girl with a four-generation grudge. William’s family, his friends, an old politian, the town mayor who became Williams’s mentor. The Chairman of the Republic of Oregon. His Machiavellian executive secretary …
And here we are 18 months later, having released “Lexy” only two days ago. “Things happen … sometimes unavoidable.”
We spent so much time writing and developing a product, we had no time for social media nor inclination. But colleage had a meeting with a marketing professor at uni and had a five-step plan and a specific injunction that a new studio’s first release should be free.
Well, that ain’t gonna happen, mister. Too much blood, sweat and tears. But we started on Twitter. Why me? said colleague.
Because when you finished with your m c you started in on the R2 arc. (And we’d brainstormed how the story developed over four releases. Forward thinking.)
But I suggested some tweets every day or so while I was balancing plot and character development.
And the polishing of the big project continues every day. Even now. First it was simple animation of the sprites. SFX additions. The composer was cranking out more tracks to match the story development; 70 I know of, possibly a new main theme. The main sprite were designed with many expressions and those fine changes made the story even more dramatic.
We also had some advice about release cycles on Steam and so on. It looked like a window of opportunity for us in mid October. And we’re getting little attention on Twitter until we seeded it with cute characters, ahaha. Now there’s #screenshotsaturday and #cutiesaturday to play with as well.
So. yeah, about August, I said, “Hey, guys, there is another way, a free game!” Back at the previous advice of that, our coder said he would walk after all the effort and there’d be no return. We all agreed.
And here’s that topic again; I had wanted to do my Lexy story on my own after our real release. Now, I could donate it to the big project and no one disagreed.
The conversion of Lexy was underway.
First, I needed an artist. Back when my partner needed one, he did an advert and had 10 responses in the first hour. One was even another studio. We looked at all the portfolios and it came down to two choice each. One overlapped for both of us and my alternate choice had some nice character designs. Partner’s alternate was the studio – why not have a bunch of them avalable?
So that was settled and his has been flat out ever since, even now doing Steam store art for our page.
But I’d kept the email of my 2nd choice and contacted him, sent a copy of the old manuscript. He agreed it was a neat story and would work well as a VN.
Aren’t you short for a
stormtrooper VN, Lexy? (A tweet!)
‘Art’ wanted to be paid up front,he had other clients and commissions. Fine but I will also overpay to cover the PayPal fee. He was amazed, no one had ever offered that before.
I really think PayPal needs to rethink their business model. An employee should not have a penalty to collect his pay.
Anyway, Lexy was obviously the first assignment. He had her description from the story and asked for additional comments about her personality. A sketch arrived soon enough, approved, confirmed, and the sprite arrived two day after.
Rinse and repeat. Ronnie, Karen, Joseph. Then the two images to represent the critic. This is ‘iffy’ like TV talking heads, not sprites.
Actually, I had no idea how it would be done.
Meanwhile, a background artist was out of the question. The amount of time to create a 1920 x 1080 background painting is a lot harder than making sprites. Time is money. The alternative is sifting through public domain images, whether digital art or photographs.
And no limiting commercial use. Even a free game is considered a commercial property.
Wouldn’t you know it? Most examples are rarely the size or aspect ratio you need. Then one turns to the Gimp, an open source editor, an acronym, people: Graphic Image Manipulation Program. And a little skill. Or faking it.
And I had several old photographs that lent themselves to the task also.
At this point, our composer was AWOL, at least to me, maybe flat out cranking away more tracks for Nijowari.
I packaged what I had, including a copy of the original story and a semi ren’py ‘template’ of the adaptation. This went to our Stack collaboration account.
And I’d taken a leaf from the world of Nijowari and adapted a scene that still cracks me up. How could you not laugh at: driver “Just that, you don’t look like that kind of girl.” and the following line and then the apology that is itself an insult.
When our coder had relief time from Nijowari he looked at my template and got clarification for coding the thing.
Then our composer was rousted out and did some tracks.
Ready to do a test build, coder discovers the credits file. “Wait, what? There are music tracks?” I found them on Slack and messaged him the list.
Then he messaged me the next morning at my 5 a.m. to place the cues by dialogue line reference. Not easy with the ren’py script and no feel for timing. You give it your best shot and hope for the best.
And in no time four separate final builds are in your hands and you’ve already started to make a page, including the IRS hassle.
I stop here to proofread and realize all the complications unattended. My writing partner is in Spain and (the ESL thing) and every other of our talent is in different countries. It’s GMT Hell.
Most of all, the fact that partner and myself are online several times a day using an ethernet pad for real-time collaboration. 24/7/365 36 archive files 6.66MB