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making a "good visual novel"

Games based mostly on classic VN gameplay without skills, statistics, etc to raise
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jack1974
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making a "good visual novel"

Postby jack1974 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:32 am

I've started this discussion on twitter but is always hard to express your ideas correctly with just 140 chars :)
I got some interesting replies.
In summary: I tried only with a few "pure VNs" in the past : Heileen 1 & 2, Bionic Heart and recently Bionic Heart 2.
Result weren't really good :lol: however, except Bionic Heart 2 I wrote the other games myself so that might be the reason (writing in a VN is quite important).
I would like to try again, because honestly some VNs like Cinders of my indie friend Moacube was a hit for VN standards. I like to write stories first (the storyboard I mean), then add gameplay of course but after the SOTW marathon I'm quite burned (another side effect of doing such insanely big games is that you're unable to begin coding again for long time).
I wouldn't mind investing more money since also art/music is important. However my fear is to end up again like with Bionic Heart 2 where I spent a lot of money and took over 1 year to go in the active balance with sales :lol: (which is probably a record!)

I have some ideas for possible VN candidates...
- VN set in Aravorn. They could tell stories of the other characters or happening before Loren, without combat. I am not sure, it would probably look weird to NOT have combat :) though for example the yaoi dating sim is still set in Aravorn.
- try one last time with Vera Blanc :mrgreen: this time using manga art but manga like Loren or even non-manga art, but like Cinders / more realistic. It would be very expensive. However horror+fanservice might do well on Steam (I always need to think about the potential revenues of course)
- something else? maybe stories like in my dating sim, but without the dating sim part?

Any suggestion/comments welcome! I'm not sure I will actually do this, but while in the past I said "I'm done with VN" I am reconsidering it now.

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby SweetLove » Sun Jan 25, 2015 3:17 pm

Well, as a novel, the writing is paramount. And while there are many aspects to writing, one quality of writing that can often be missed in OEL works is sheer length. Yes, quantity is a quality, and most OEL works, while often appropaching decent, rarely if ever do they reach a level of something "great" due to this factor. Of course, they're not bad per se, they (the good ones, at least) are enjoyable to read and their short length often makes for a good and coherent theme to give it flavour, but in the end that style of writing fails to make a lasting impression, in my opinion.

As for the other aspects of writing, I personally value good characterisation the most important part about visual novels, but generally I feel that they all go hand in hand, and that one aspect can't be particularly good without the others being so as well.

Regarding the visual aspect, a good array of standing CG and background images are important, because they help visualise the characters and make most out of the medium. Event CGs, on the other hand, I find to be less so. They can help give an extra emotional "oomph" at certain scenes, for sure, but event CGs lack the impact as they did in the years before, since visuals are so overloaded nowadays and event CGs aren't as particularly high quality to their other counterparts anyway. Rather, the most important part about event CGs are for their collection value, I find, and as a means of helping motivate the player for replaying the game and 100% completion.

But regardless, I think the important part to recognise about visuals is that they are hugely marginal. Beyond a certain point, they become to overloaded for the player to appreciate much. Maintain a good amount in each category to make sure that nothing feels too bland, but I wouldn't recommend much beyond that unless you have the resources to spare.

Music is of course another big part of VNs, but quality tends to matter a whole lot more than quantity here. Once again, music tends to be very marginal, so you should focus on what you feel is the minimum, unless you have a repetoire of songs that you are confident will be highly noteworthy. Rearrangements of certain songs should also be mentioned because they tend to be a non resource-intensive way of adding to the playlist while still greatly effective if done well. An example of this goes to Clannad, which I believe has done superbly in the musical aspect in all VNs thus far, remaining so even after all these years. An example of skimping down on music while still being effective goes to F/SN. And finally, an example while having lots of awesome songs and yet being barely noticeable goes to Umineko, of which its massive playlist, only four or five manging to make any long lasting impression.


Note that I am largely versed in Japanese visual novels so that may be something to keep in mind as I may be biased in some points.

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jack1974
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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby jack1974 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 3:41 pm

Thanks, and no problems if you come from the JP VN, seems a good advice for every market :)
I agree what you say about CG, while are cool to have for some specific key points, personally I prefer more backgrounds or characters or even character poses.
My question was also about the setting... I tried with two sci-fi VNs = poor results. Then tried with a silly VN (Heileen) and OK, poor results had to be expected (even if did better than the two sci-fi ones). Then I did some supernatural VN (Heileen 2) and poor results again.
They all had bad writing (mine) so might be that. But I'm wondering if the setting does matter or not. My friend Tom of Moacube put the things in this order:
interesting/catchy theme > artwork > plentiful choices > quality of writing/story.

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby fleetp » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:19 pm

"- try one last time with Vera Blanc "

OMG!!!!! You have at least one sale guaranteed!! :so_happy:
Why? I like big ones, that's why.

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby canyonaz » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:53 pm

fleetp wrote:"- try one last time with Vera Blanc "

OMG!!!!! You have at least one sale guaranteed!! :so_happy:


Two! I played and enjoyed Vera Blanc on my iPad before I had ever heard of Winter Wolves.


I'm not a developer, but I'd rank things differently than Moacube does:

artwork > interesting/fun characters > basic story elements (is it unique, does it have a conclusion) > quality of writing/story > meaningful choices > interesting/catchy theme > plentiful choices

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby SweetLove » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:14 pm

jack1974 wrote:Thanks, and no problems if you come from the JP VN, seems a good advice for every market :)
I agree what you say about CG, while are cool to have for some specific key points, personally I prefer more backgrounds or characters or even character poses.
My question was also about the setting... I tried with two sci-fi VNs = poor results. Then tried with a silly VN (Heileen) and OK, poor results had to be expected (even if did better than the two sci-fi ones). Then I did some supernatural VN (Heileen 2) and poor results again.


It's been a while since I've read Heileen/Heileen 2, so I'll refrain from commenting on those at the moment.

jack1974 wrote:They all had bad writing (mine) so might be that. But I'm wondering if the setting does matter or not. My friend Tom of Moacube put the things in this order:
interesting/catchy theme > artwork > plentiful choices > quality of writing/story.


I'll be honest, I disagree with that, but I can see where he's coming from.

Visual Novels are already a niche market in the Western world, and it's compounded even worse that it's divided into even further niches, with people usually following their own communities- whether it be a specific developer, a translation group, IRC channel, and etc, meaning there is not exactly an organized "general" market to sell your works to. And even among all these groups, OEL works tend to get the short end of the stick because of their dubious reputation. As for the reason, check out VNDB and all the OEL works there; the bias against OEL works, while perhaps unfair, is unfortunately rather well grounded.

Of course, there are good OEL works. Katawa Shoujo is probably the most famous example I could throw out. Sepia Tears also was quite well done. But they're all one-offs and there are no consistent producers or infrastructure created by them for further OEL works. If you want to be an OEL VN dveloper, you have to work your way up from the bottom, or at least rely on other aspects of your works such as transforming it into an RPG, such as you have done with Loren, to better market to the Western audience without having to rely on the pre-existing VN consumer demograhic too much.

And because of that, I do see that thematic/visual aspects- aka what can be best gleaned at a first glance- can be considered a high priority. Because there's no point in how good your work is if nobody is going to read it.

But that's based on how to make a good commercial product, which is why I don't necessarily agree.


On that note, there are probably more choices that you could do better in terms of marketing. Have you tried to market your works to places like 4chan? Or asking a site like Kotaku to review your works could also be helpful.

Remember, the large part of the pre-existing English VN market is probably indifferent to you, but there have been successes in the past like Katawa Shoujo that did grab their attention. A large part of the current situation I fathom is because there haven't been any real OEL developers trying to reach out to the other part of the community. If you try to reach out to them, there could be a lot of potential there that could be used to get them to your side.

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby Troyen » Mon Jan 26, 2015 12:50 am

canyonaz wrote:artwork > interesting/fun characters > basic story elements (is it unique, does it have a conclusion) > quality of writing/story > meaningful choices > interesting/catchy theme > plentiful choices

I'll second this, though it's not a set chain - like really interesting characters can make up for meh art, but you still need appealing enough art to get people to try the demo. I've passed on a number of VNs (including some WW ones) just because I didn't like the screenshots I saw. It's all subjective though.

Rating the quality of writing last is foolish. It's hard to maintain interest in a poorly written story. (I can't speak to your VNs, but I don't think your writing is that bad. I've played PS at least twice and the writing seems average compared to what's typical out there.)

I also really enjoy sci-fi VNs (the MC in Rising Angels Reborn was a lot of fun) but they are extremely rare. It's a shame because it offers more opportunities to stand out from all the other fantasy or modern-day stories. Maybe sci-fi is a tough VN genre because nobody has figured out an amazing hit, so everyone else just copies what they think does well (which is also why you see so many of the same stereotypes over and over).

I'm not sure I want to see an Aravorn VN. I'd probably try it out, and I like the Aravorn RPGs, but I just don't think you should confine yourself to a single setting. It's nice to explore other places too.

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby kadakithis » Mon Jan 26, 2015 4:31 am

VNs, the popular ones, have an interesting or meaningful concept. I think a lot of people actually do enjoy the nature of VNs and the romance proportion at least. Many popular games (harvest Moon, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, The SIMS, even Fire Emblem) They all have other components, and that is where the VN part broke down. Haveing even a fairly repetitive other mechanic and making it a struggle helps. Even Dating sims online (like the Sim dates that were on deviant art) became popular because they had unique gimmicks that got you involved past the usual.

Cinders was fun due to its nature of challenging how we tell fairy stories and having a usual story that devalues a character change. So I think the gimmick is most interesting. And find what the story needs to be about and why the choices matter? Or even something like a town you can interact and play with. For many the combat doesn't matter as much but some sort of mechanic that can reel you in?

Also lots of LGBT people are looking for games, so occaisonally saying LGBT or gay/lesbian instead of Yaoi or Yuri might help? Usually those terms are not geared toward us, and it took me years of typing other things to find you guys, and then I bought in bulk, but you can be hard to find from what we normally look for. I love combat and VNs but many people I have talked to enjoy both, but find long segues with no choice actually unfun or limiting, and even when it is my gfs favorite element of Bioware games, she gets bored with VNs where she can't do anything.

But she loved Loren even when the combat less so because it is something to earn.

The Choice of Games also might help, as they do moderately well with just storytelling and stats (which costs less) but looking at their choice of Pirates and Heroes Choice may help?

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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby Franka » Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:05 am

Well, when you're just starting out, or trying to break into a new market, the quality of the writing doesn't do anything to snag people in. The presentation and the artwork does. However, when you intend to stay in business for a long time, you can't neglect the writing completely. I have a feeling that a lot of the VNs being pushed out these days are one-ofs, where the devs, for various reasons, wanted to try their hand at it, and won't be coming back. Presentation is everything to these people, because all they'll be selling is that one VN.

If you're in for the long haul, you need a fanbase. This can be built by reaching out to the communities that might be interested and interacting with them, or it can even be created through kickstarters, because those gather like minded people and can create buzz. Other ways exist obviously, but going outside your own circle and publicizing yourself seems pretty important to me. Once you have a large enough fanbase, that in itself will push your future sales through word of mouth, IF what you're creating is of sufficient quality. And here you can't skimp on your writing. "Large enough" is relative of course.

Note that quality of writing doesn't have to be, how good is your story. It can also be, how good are your character interactions. Or how much impact do choices have. How much replay value do you have. As long as you're leaving a lasting impression, and this does require something of quality or one of these hallowed GimmickS.

As an aside, another of the somewhat recent entries into the market is Sunrider, which was crowdfunded, then offered for free. This obviously created interest and a lot of positive reactions, but we'll see if the devs are now able to sell their next game, which carries a much larger price tag. In this particular case, I'm not sure it's left the best impression since the original is not only unfinished, but haven't exactly delivered anything outside of a linear, predictable story and a semi-buggy strategy game (limitations of Renpy). It sure was a good way to get people to play your game though.

Katawa Shoujo is free too, but that WAS a one of, and while complete and fully playable/entertaining, suffers from too many cooks leading to very uneven quality in the writing. It was never meant to be sold, it was a fan creation, by the fans, for the fans, with nobody even having to consider sales.

If I may just push two examples of games that impressed me. Going full Japanese VN, Fate Stay Night was amazing (as I suppose we all know). Incredible length, finishing the game unlocked new routes, collectible game overs, gimmicky stat screens, memorable characters. While it's a pure VN, everything about it screamed quality.

From a western developer, Hanako's Long Live the Queen doesn't have a really long length, but such amazing complexity, replayability and impactful characters/situations that you can keep playing for a long time. Also, collectible game overs (I may have a thing for this). This is a good example of how far you can twist a VN to create something unique.

These are examples of high quality completely by the books, and high quality thinking outside the box, each has their own allure.

Anyway, the simple answer is to create an eroge and watch the sales go through the roof. :lol:

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jack1974
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Re: making a "good visual novel"

Postby jack1974 » Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:56 am

Thanks for the replies!
Trying to type while coughing every 30 seconds is not easy :mrgreen: anyway I want to answer some points:
- press/media interest is completely overrated. Really, I know what I'm talking about. I am close friends with many top indies, those who make six figures a year, and they all agreed on one thing: the press doesn't really change a game. Doesn't make a crap game a success. Hatoful boyfriend got a lot of press attention for example, but because of the bizarre game idea itself. I have countless examples of people who did everything, I won't make names since it was confidential, but in practice I know of people being in frontpage of Kotaku and seeing a 1% (yes, 1 PER CENT) increase in sales for 3-4h then stop. I had others spend over $10k in marketing to get zero results. And so on. I think is much more important a presence in the social media nowadays.
- since I started quite early (Heileen 1 was in 2008... when VNs were mostly unknown here in the west) I have already a fan base luckily. Of course not big or anything, but I have it. My main "problem" is that I want to keep releasing at least 2 titles a year. And SOTW took me most of past year and in the end results didn't match the effort. I had a lots of positive comments but also a lot of negative, all stressing one thing "I tried to play it but couldn't finish because of so many battles" and "I play your games only for the story" etc. So, it made me think that perhaps I should give a try to a VN again, even if I'm sure that a pure VN wouldn't do as well as a VN/RPG or something else.

I've been considering also trying to make adventure games, which are more mainstream, though I don't know if fans would like pixel art. I don't mind it, but I think my fans are used to manga art :)
Franka wrote:From a western developer, Hanako's Long Live the Queen doesn't have a really long length, but such amazing complexity, replayability and impactful characters/situations that you can keep playing for a long time. Also, collectible game overs (I may have a thing for this). This is a good example of how far you can twist a VN to create something unique.
:

Yep Georgina and I are good friends since I started making VN/manga games. The fun thing is that LLTQ is about the death... yet when I had sudden deaths in Vera Blanc, everyone hated that. So sometimes the same identical game mechanics has very different results :oops:
Franka wrote:Anyway, the simple answer is to create an eroge and watch the sales go through the roof. :lol:

Haha indeed! As I posted on twitter a while ago:
new business plan:
1. make dating sim
2. add softcore porn
3. submit to Steam
4. ???
5. Profit! :lol:

nah I couldn't make an eroge ever. However some artistic nudity/fanservice when appropriate for the story, yes :)
Another idea I had (though while I had high fever...:mrgreen:) is to make a game that can be played "normally" or in "comedy" mode. I think most success of recent eroge are of course because of the sex part but also because some stuff is completely hilarious and viral. Like the "boobs bounciness" settings of Nekopara. I think such things can help a lot spread the word. I like comedy, I loved Roommates for example, or Rowinda in SOTW (and judging by comments a lot of people loved those two things too) and while I want also to make serious games, I don't mind those more "silly games".


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