Thursday, March 26, 2009

100k Blog Hits

Thank you to all the blog watchers, forum lurkers and IRC visitors who've patiently followed the development of Katawa Shoujo. You guys and girls have been a great help to all of us.

In celebration of 100,000 blog hits being reached, here is a picture of Hanako, drawn by Weee.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evolution of an Effect

Directing is by far the most exciting phase of visual novel developement process. It's like baking, or alchemy. Take a bit of text, some pictures and music, add a pinch of creativity and COMBINE! Voila, a visual novel. Because none of the writers take the directing into account when they are writing, sometimes the director runs into problems with presenting the text. Usually this is when the characters are doing something else than standing around and chatting (the bread and butter of every VN) and it's not really possible to convey the events with just sprites and a background. In times like this, delta often has to come up with ways to have the presentation match with the text instead of just leaving it up to the readers' imagination, by utilizing our already existing toolset of visual effects or better yet, creating a new one. These effects range from pretty basic screen shakes and zooms to rather complex moves or particle effects. He likes to experiment and show off even pretty off the wall ideas and they are a popular item of discussion in the dev team.

This is the evolution of the "crowd" visual effect for KS, used for the few occasions where there is a need to show, well, a crowd of people.

This was the starting point. A bunch of silhouettes, some photoshop texture magic and the school courtyard in the background with Misha put in foreground to see how this works with the usual game assets.

The first attempt was deemed to grimdark and gloomy, reminding everyone of a zombie apocalypse so the tone was lightened up for the second, friendlier crowd.

The silhouettes were standing out too much for most people, so contrast was lowered next to make it more of a grey goo apocalypse.

Warp Speed! Some effects were added as a test. This one seems maybe slightly overdone.

A second effect test, with blur.

A tone change was considered as well. The theme colour of KS is sort of a beigeish brown, seen almost everywhere from the actual game UI to the blog and the website. So why not make the crowds in game beige as well? Maybe not?

Tone change + blur to keep up with the effects test.
The experiences from the previous attempts were collected and combined, to make the ultimate crowd. Some effects were used, but not to the extent of the first attempts, and the tone idea was discarded. Contrast is quite low to not draw attention from the possible foreground sprites.

And finally, the actual visual effect was stitched together in Ren'Py to bring the crowd alive.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy White Day

"Is... is it really all right for me to have this?"

It's White Day in Japan right now as of 40 minutes ago, but I just wanted an excuse to post this sooner than later. Art by weee.

Friday, March 6, 2009

If there's a hole, you must thrust into it

NaNoWriMo, as you might or might not know, is short for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly challenge of sorts for all the amateur writers to write a full novel from scratch in the period of one month. It's thought that this kind of friendly contest will motivate the notoriously lazy writers to actually finish something instead of tailspinning into having three chapters and a half-thought outline of THE BEST NOVEL EVER that will never amount to anything. Results, as I have understood, are mixed but mostly positive. Lemmasoft Forums, the de facto nexus of OELVN scene, has adopted this idea into NaNoRenO, (Inter)National Ren'ai Game Writing Month (yes the abbreviation doesn't make much sense), a similar event in which people take the month of March to create a game from scratch... except if they don't (we'll get back to this later). Anyway, as March 2009 slowly rolled in, people were preparing for their NaNoReNo projects. In the discussion thread, someone lamented the difficulty of obtaining the non-writing assets for their game within the one-month timeframe. It was pointed out that various free resources available in the depths of the internet can very well be used to fill the gaping hole in his assets, and the following creed was given to guide and encourage the would-be visual novelist:

"Don't let the lack of original material prevent you from making a game!"

Wow. This idea, this concept, presented in the most innocent and well-meaning manner really caught the eye of someone (can't remember who) in 4LS and stirred up quite a polemic on the IRC channel. The philosophic connotations of this single sentence blew our minds. Does it or doesn't it go against the spirit of the event? I mean, you are supposed to make a VN from scratch in a month, after all. But if using stock material is a-ok, how far can this idea be taken? What if you want to make a VN, but you have absolutely no talent in any of the fields required to make one? And what if you also don't have any contacts to people who do have talent? While it's no news that people use free resources when it's convenient for them, we hadn't thought before that an entire game could be done with stock material. This notion just raised more and more questions. If you were to do something like that, would you actually have created anything at all? What would be the worth of such a piece of art? There was something pure, something primal in the way this poster expressed the idea, we all were awestruck with its prophetic beauty and unintentional comedic value. It was too beautiful, too strong to resist. We wanted to believe. We wanted to make a NaNoRenO game. We wanted to take it to the limit. And God be my witness, the lack of original material wasn't going to stop us.

And that's the story of how delta talked himself into producing a visual novel without any original content whatsoever.

As for the actual production, the biggest (only) hurdles were deciding what public domain piece to adapt, and to find free resources to do it. For the first problem, delta had a fling with a few longer classic plays before finally ending up with Pyramus and Thisbe, the play-within-a-play from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. While he was wrestling with the adaptation, I scrounged the web for sprites that would be of sufficient quality, quantity and style (originally, delta intended to go with Romeo and Juliet, but its gigantic cast and length proved to be too prohibitive). Backgrounds and music were considerably easier to find, and thusly, after the required scripting in Ren'py, we present the second Four Leaf Studios visual novel:

Download it from the pXt minisite


P.S. A superior presentation: The Beatles performing Pyramus and Thisbe