Guide to Making Awesome Visual Novels – The Checklist

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Guide to Making Awesome Visual Novels – The Checklist

checklist

Kids stood there watching me with sadness. They didn’t manage to make their game. So I had to break the news to them. Most of the games NEVER get finished.

We are made of fail

 

So yea, it was at that time when I was teaching kids how to make games. They want to team up, ten of them or so. Elementary school kids. I explain to them about the roles in a gaming studio, how they need a game designer to come up with rules of the game, they need a team that will write code, others will make sprites and backgrounds, then there will be sound effects and music guys. Finally one boy volunteers to be the boss and oversee the whole process. They have three hours to finish the game.

It starts well, they assign themselves tasks and start working, very excited. Then as they hit first snag, their enthusiasm drops. One by one, they abandon the project. Kids start to chat, snack, play games alone or with others. When time runs out I gather them and ask them, “Where is your game?”

Kids blink and the heavy feeling of failure sinks in. “Hey, that’s okay. About 10.000 games are published every year and for each there is probably ten or more that didn’t get finished. There are more unfinished games in the world then those actually finished. So let’s see what we’ve learned from this fail”. Kids were baffled. Learn. From fail?

Embrace the fail

Well yea, failing is happening more often than success, so we have to learn from the process. Even this blog post is made of fail, if it has any wisdom in it, it was collected from many authors, artists and game makers that failed. It comes from my personal fail. And my goal is to have you rehash your own fails. Dig them up and see why is it that you seem unable to finish your Visual Novel project that you wanted so bad and now it is neither abandoned nor really in the works…

As our very own dearest Fluffness would say, “Planning? That thing that you think about but never do?” Still, it is the planning and moving forward that will help you make your VN. So this is the first of several blog posts that will deal with the ways to plan your project and hopefully execute it.

Why bother?

 

Why bother with planning? Well, planning matters. It helps us visualize the task ahead and we connect with the process and the goal. If you don’t plan making your Visual Novel you are risking having very low INTENTION.

What’s that? Well, we human beings often wish for this or that, but we accomplish only those things we really INTEND TO see through. I know it can sound like new age mambo jumbo, but it’s simple logic. Many authors just start making things because the process of being creative is inherently fun. Many dream about making a game, but don’t really put their focus in it.

You can’t make it if you don’t really intend to make it, simple, isn’t it? Planning is one of methods to focus our desire.

Moreover, planning helps you to research the obstacles and risks. Writing 120k words novel sounds awesome, but if you don’t plan then it won’t dawn on you that if you write 1000 words per day (which is pro level of productivity assuming the text is really well written and edited) – it means you will be working on script for our novel for 120 days, which is 4 months.

Games are tricky monsters. Once you start to develop them, they start life of their own and have their own demands. They grow, swell, overflow, become more complex. What started out as simple Visual Novel suddenly is a multiple ending, several highway branches spanning, mini game infested, stats heavy monstrosity.

Stories are even sneakier. You seem to be in charge, but as you write them, stories snake away, coil around your mind and before you know it, bam! You are stuck with a monster that can’t be put back in the box.

Where to start?

Ok, first of all, this is going to be a series of posts dealing with issues of planning and execution. Basic elements of the Visual Novels are always the same, but ways we come up with them and the way we actually create them is different for everyone. That’s your CREATIVE PROCESS and if you are proud that you have none, then you’re in trouble. Making things up as you go along is nice if creation is only a game to play, or if you are a genius. While playing is nice it doesn’t ensure you will stick to your project from start to finish. Also I am not a genius, so I need to have creative process I can stick to. It’s ok if you don’t have one right now, but think about it.

List of ingredients

Visual Novels are: one part novels, one part visual, one part games and one part audio experience. There is another one very important part that ‘goes without saying’. The inner reasons within the author. It’s easy to assume that if Visual Novel maker has embarked on the journey to make this complex game, that they already have all the inner reasons figured out. Ah, but ‘assuming’ only makes an ass out of me and you , eh? So here is the list of ingredients, with inner reasons added into the fray.

Visual Novel Creation Checklist

  1. Inner reasons

    1. WHY are you telling us the story?
    2. WHAT is the message that you want to carry across to readers?
    3. WHERE will you place this project in your life?
    4. WHEN do you plan to finish it?
    5. WHO can do it better than you?
  2. Novel aspect

    1. What is your plot structure?
      1. Kinetic novel – no branching
      2. Visual novel – branching story
        1. Common route
          1. Is it a long route> better suited for establishing new settings, developing characters, long exposition
          2. Is it a short rout> better suited for writing conflicts, covering different story arcs/characters
        2. Diverging routes
          1. Pacing of meaningful choices
          2. Dead ends and Bad ends
          3. Switching routes
          4. Points of no return
    2. Writing style
      1. Choosing point of view
      2. Who’s story is it (choosing narrator)
      3. Deciding on tone and key of the story
    3. Characters
      1. Protagonist(s)
        1. Background – where do they come from?
        2. Goal(s) – what they want?
        3. Motive – why they want it?
        4. Personality – how they go about it?
      2. Support characters
        1. Motives
        2. Relation(ships)
        3. Are they meaningful?
        4. Are they colorful?
      3. Villain(s)
        1. Goal(s)
        2. Motives
        3. Point of friction
  3. Visual aspect

    1. Backgrounds
    2. Character sprites
    3. CG – special scenes and/or gallery
    4. Animations
      1. Special effects
    5. Other graphics
      1. Buttons
      2. Bars
      3. Intro screen
      4. Ending screens
    6. Text
      1. Style of presenting text
        1. ADVenture mode
        2. NoVeL mode
        3. Other styles (comics style bubbles)
      2. Textboxes
        1. Style and size
        2. Character name box
      3. Textbox Character sprites
  4. Audio aspect

    1. Background music
      1. Main theme
      2. Scene specific track
    2. Sound effects
    3. Voice acting
  5. Game design aspect

    1. Placement of choices
      1. Pacing
      2. Relevance
    2. Control over text
      1. Skipping yes/no
      2. Forced reading
      3. Speed of text
      4. Form of text
    3. Control over animations
      1. Animated CG?
      2. Animated characters?
    4. Mini-games
      1. Relevance (do they fit the theme of the game?)
      2. Genre (puzzles, action-games, strategy games, rpg battles, etc)
    5. Stats
      1. Stat check gateways
      2. Stat controlled branching
      3. Stats that affect endings
    6. Random events
    7. Mixing in other genres?
      1. Dating sims
      2. Time management
      3. Resource management
      4. RPG elements

WHAT the KEK is this monstrosity?

It’s a checklist of elements and issues you need to consider when making your novel. Now you can see why it is so easy to just abandon your project. Hope it’s bit more clear why even the moderately sized Visual Novels take months and years to complete. But don’t worry I will go through this list and help you learn more about ways to make your project going strong.

Oh and I know that most of you are lone wolves making your own games. I also know that making a team complicates things to the power of UGH, but I hope this checklist also illustrates why having a good team is sometimes a must. Writers, scripters, coders, voice talents, animators, sound engineers, project managers, and yea, artists, duh obviously. You are going to need them, or walk in their shoes, at least.

Final tips

Before I explain all the elements, here are some general tips and pointers for making your visual novel. Always keep quiet. Run up a tree if you see anyone. Keep your tail clean. Keep your nuts in a hole in a tree. Oh wait, these are squirrel rules.

Here are the VN making tips. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Pace yourself. Know your cliches and know how to turn them into archetypes.

Don’t rely only on text. Don’t overwrite. Visual Novel is a multimedia offering. However, substance over style. Good visuals can’t turn bad story into a good Visual Novel.

Don’t underestimate the power of music and sound effects. Either do awesome and full vocal acting or don’t do it at all. Dialogues are part of the story, don’t drag them out. They need to be plausible, convincing but also informative and concise.

Define your audience and write for them. Interactive fiction is about what COULD HAVE happened. Don’t go for many different endings. Have as many or as few as your STORY demands. Always listen to your story.

CloudNovel wishes you all the best

Good luck writing your games, at least you don’t have to do any heavy coding, nor you have to learn programming and retrain your brain to comprehend the algorithmical way of thinking, because we provide you with zero-coding experience, plus a very helpful community that can jump to your aid. Just join our Discord server and you’ll see for yourself!

 

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