Monday, April 27, 2009

Imitation is the insincerest form of flattery

No man is an island, and much less a creative man. We all draw inspiration from somewhere, influence from the works we consume.

The OELVN scene, being even younger than its also very unripe Japanese counterpart, has for most of its existence been not just influenced by, but I daresay even copying and cloning the central elements of Japanese visual novels. Settings tend to be highschools (in Japan) or thinly veiled proxies thereof, plots and events follow the cliches of anime, manga and such, techical solutions follow "the standard". We, too, are inside this sphere of influence and lo! KS is a fairly average highschool ren'ai game. The reason for the generic blandness of the scene is its young age and general inexperience with the medium. Most makers only manage one project to completion, if that, and they invariably tend to be just as original as you'd expect from a first attempt at anything creative. Monkeying things you have seen/watched/read/heard of is the modus operandi for almost everyone on the first go. The rare few that move past that first project can grow to create something more original, as they gain confidence and skill with the medium. Not many do. This barrier is hard to pass, and it prevents the scene from moving forward very swiftly. If the OELVN scene grows more into something that can support itself, new creators can look at the pinnacle games to draw inspiration from, instead of going back to Japan and reinventing the wheel for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, different yet somewhat similar mechanics are at works on the other side of the globe. The tight commercial requirements of the Japanese market forces many companies to fall into a vicious circle of milking their popular franchises, while the customer base is vary of anything too far away from the center. Every now and then something refreshing emerges (sometimes from the doujin circles), but more often than not it's forgotten. I'm not saying that VNs don't have a future, but currently the medium seems to be in a stagnated state for the most part.

That aside, there are some wonderful visual novels out there already that deserve to be looked up to. The English-speaking community has not yet produced anything that I'd be impressed by, so Japan is where we are looking at. I decided to ask the rest of the devs about their VN inspirations as well.

For the writing style, the biggest influence is likely to be Romeo Tanaka's Yume Miru Kusuri, followed by Tomo Kataoka's Narcissu, both classic visual novels though completely different in style. Tanaka really has a good grip over the visual novel medium, standing on the no man's ground between a screenplay and straight prose, one foot in both camps and with brass-balled confidence. He weaves the rhythm of the lines neatly, while keeping the non-linear storytelling firmly in his grasp. On the other hand Kataoka writes subdued, almost frugal text that has a very unique feel. Narcissu is the classic tear-jerker story, pretty much custom-made for its purpose without any unnecessary bells or whistles.

Outside of these, we all read a lot, VNs and otherwise, but listing the works and writers we hold in high regard would get tiresome.

The artists have taken Leaf, especially their ToHeart series and the emo game December When There Is No Angel as their main influence. I asked them why this is the case:

<Aura-> artists, why do you like Leaf style
<Aura-> describe
<Ambi07> moe
<moekki> moe
<Aura-> fuck you

Further along, Delta credits Fate/Stay Night as his biggest inspiration for the directing. F/SN really makes the most of its fairly simple toolset, creating adrenaline-filled fighting scenes while keeping the quieter, slice-of-lifey scenes alive too. This direction was a conscious choice, as our "budget" would go only so far. Things like Quartett or School Days sure look great, but that kind of production values in a volunteer project? No. Something like F/SN is within the reach of the amateur developer, after all, that's what Type-Moon used to be not too long ago.

Finally, Nicol says Initial D and Frederic Chopin are his guiding stars for the soundtrack.

KS is our first project so inexperienced as we are, we took the safe middle road on many core design decisions. The long arc of developement has given us time to mature, but the true fruits of this growth won't be shown unless we make more games. KS has its roots deep in the ground of unoriginality and that's where it will stay. Yet, it's always good to remember that unoriginality does not mean "bad", execution counts for 90% of the end result and that's where we aim to excel.