As far as general status goes, there isn't a lot to report; paths are still being written, scenes are being directed, art is being drawn, and music is being composed. And vitriol is still being flung, but nobody really cares about that.
So I guess to give this blog post some point other than "we're still alive, and still working", I'll prattle on about backgrounds.
Artist's rendition of Delta working on a game background. Image by Moekki.
Here is an example of one of our backgrounds, for context:
This is the result of a somewhat longwinded process that came about due to many experiments in different styles, varied and vitriolic arguments, and tears. But in the end, it all finally coalesced into the result above which we were all happy with.
It all started with... it not starting. As people began to write and the first of our artists began to produce sprites, one large omission was made. Expecting that, in the fullness of time, they would be done.
That said, a few months saw some movement. To be precise, a very basic tech demo.
The less is said about this, the better.
After a while, with the game proper in development, the first batch of actual game backgrounds were produced. Created largely as placeholders, they were inserted into the early prototype of what would become Act 1.
Pretty simple - an oil effect and colour wash on a monochrome image. These backgrounds were grabbed from around the internet and therefore generally lacked any consistency, and were also taken from a variety of heights and angles. These held us over while we waited for a background artist.
Which, as you can see from our current backgrounds, never materialised.
Well, they did, but not for a long time. Backgrounds were for months entirely passed off as a future consideration as writing progressed on every path, which seemed to be fine. Until we took stock of what would be needed after we were done writing. What had happened is a complete explosion in the sheer amount of art assets required, especially in terms of backgrounds. A certain amount of rewriting has helped, but the fact remained that we suddenly found ourselves requiring a ton of backgrounds we simply didn't have.
It was then that we made the hard call to give up on the prospect of drawn backgrounds, and have a hard look at how we could accomplish our needs via modified photos. This lead to a couple of blog posts you may remember.
This decision wasn't made lightly. Everybody on the developer team wanted drawn backgrounds. The problems though were many; we needed over one hundred backgrounds, which were going to be an absolute hell to get even with photography, it would have meant growing the developer team even more when communication was already an issue, going back and changing things is simply not really possible for drawn backgrounds, we wanted an artist (or artists) that could make relatively good looking backgrounds, rather than accepting drawings of any quality just so we could say "we have drawn backgrounds!", and there was the simple fact that we didn't have any offers until far too late.
Even then, after deciding on photographic backgrounds, we were in despair about the sheer number of backgrounds needed, some of which would be quite hard to get. That is, until the heavens parted and a dedicated photographer joined our development team: Yujovi.
While a number of public domain photos from the internet and photos from developer's trips to Japan helped supplement our needs, Yujovi took a large majority of the photos we used for backgrounds. For the first time in a long time, the background situation seemed solvable.
But one question remained: How to modify the photos to suit Katawa Shoujo's art style the best?
This lead to a few weeks of experimentation, arguments, and general fuss. In the end, the decision came down to two candidates:
We decided that these were too dark, the enhanced object outlines didn't really bring out the sprites very well, and that the crosshatch effect just didn't look very good in general. Vibrating trees: not so good.
Proposed by Moekki, this was the general process we decided on using (albeit with some tweaks). It gave the backgrounds a flatter, more simplified look whilst keeping the eye directed towards the sprites. Note that wasn't a game background, just a general example image.
Several other ideas were proposed, and thrown out in quick measure; A simple cutout filter messed up the background outlines too badly, and made expanses of colour (such as skies) look awful, while paint daubs and other such single-step filters looked 'cheap'.
But filtering is not the end of it, as there were a number of other obstacles to overcome.
The next step in the saga of backgrounds was the fact that, despite having a bunch of photos and a modification process, backgrounds still needed to be selected. For this, some standards were put forth.
* All images must be at least 1000x600, to allow horizontal panning and background manipulation.
* All images had to be taken at a close to horizontal angle, from normal eye height. This is pretty much common sense, as the backgrounds and sprites, at least within KS, simulate seeing the world through the protagonist's eyes.
* All images had to be reasonably clean, without too much blurring or distortion. Some of this can be covered over during the BG-ification process, but too much and the background will simply look bad.
And so, selection began. After a few weeks, most of the required backgrounds that had popped up during writing were selected from the available pool, and a naming scheme was devised - location_place_time.jpg (for example, school_dormhisao_ni.jpg).
With that sorted, the modification of each photo began to take place. With Delta and Moekki's skillful work, the images were not only filtered, but also prepared beforehand to look the best they could (via adjusting saturation, brightness, removing people, fixing image tilts, changing and removing signs, fixing of vertical lines, etc), and had variants made for different times of day. This often took much more time than making the photos into backgrounds, as many photos required quite heavy photo manipulation.
The conveyor belt of background requesting -> photo taking -> selection -> image preparation -> background-ification -> game insertion cranked to life, and soon we were in business.
And that's the story of how Katawa Shoujo's backgrounds are made, and the history of how they came to be this way. Thanks for listening, chiiiiiildren.
Oh, and Dragon Age: Origins is a great game.