Contemplating Ren Aye / Say Cheese

12 08 2008

Okay, so officially back from the con, and pondering projects.

I’d forgotten how hard it was to come up with a workable story concept from scratch. A few vague ideas can flitter back and forth but finding one that just CLICKS and engages passions and produces a workable concept is tricky — that two factor phalanx of “awesome” and “practical” often ends up an ugly mess. You can have an idea that’s amazing, incredible, super… but utterly unfeasible due to the art requirements. Or something that’s very requirements-lite and won’t take forever and a day to code… but it’s just not interesting enough.

Visual novels are the pinnacle of this problem, in that something has to be awesome and it has to be practical and if you screw up either side of the equation the whole thing dies screaming. They’re done on shoestring resource budgets and are largely fan efforts… ones that cut corners by ripping characters or backgrounds from other games, from freebie donations, etc. I don’t have that luxury, since I believe in a 100% original game, and that makes things even harder.

So, to help me take stock of the situation, here’s my Needs Checklist For Making a Super Awesome Practical and Doable Visual Novel.

STORY:
* Must have a cast of characters that are appealing with multiple fetishes archetypes.
* Should be largely linear with aspects of nonlinearity, particularly in the areas of relationship building and personality definition, to keep things sane.
* Will either provide a defined protagonist who you’re assisting through the story, or a generic protagonist who you ARE through the story.
* Ideally should be episodic, so that small content releases are possible without needing to wait for an EPIC to be complete.
* Needs a low amount of action, to avoid needing Event CG left and right. Mostly conversation focused.

RESOURCES:
* Music should be something I can do using my current libraries, which means it has to be multi-genre (since I get tapped out too fast if it’s only 8-bit, only techno, or only jazz).
* Backgrounds need to be eye-levelled properly and there shouldn’t be too many locales; several should be ‘compound’ locales where minute shifts in location can be done through text, IE “The Mall” as opposed to doing every store in the mall.
* Clean CG’d backgrounds would be best; photographs or SL machinima if nothing else possible, but those are kinda lame in comparison.
* Characters ideally should be a clean CG style, but at the very least need to be consistent (not done by many different artists). Multiple expressions, hopefully multiple poses needed for each.
* SMALL number of characters in the cast. Think how Pixar rarely adds new NPCs if they can get away with it. (Nurse Joy syndrome, anyone?)

I can handle story and music and coding, but art is another matter. Clean, consistent, good looking artwork that’s delivered in bulk and in a timely manner is damn near impossible to get, which is why so many visual novels rely on ripping and mismatching donations.

Before you say “HAY THAR I R DRAW GUD” keep in mind the sheer amount of work involved even in the most limited approaches — multiple characters, multiple expressions, and multiple event CGs where you snapshot one moment of the action. And it’s all gotta be high grade stuff. I’m gonna consider all my options before deciding… and the times in the past when I’ve contracted out artwork it’s typically been way too slow in the gestating and way off the mark, so I’m leery of that automatically. But still… considering.

Edit: I almost forgot! Jen, Andy and I watched one in a series of New Anime Rentals. It’s an experiment — I’m trying to rent semihawt seminew animu that I haven’t seen before to see what series will stick. It also beats paying 25 bucks a DVD for something I may not actually enjoy.

Last night was something I’d vaguely heard was pretty good, called Speed Grapher.

I won’t say it was lousy. The animation was pretty impressive and the art direction was good. But my god, the STORY. The STORY. So generic. So lame. So full of tripe.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. In a near future where everybody and everything and everywhere is corrupt and evil and immoral, a universal masonic conspiracy of every noteworthy rich executive and politician puts on wacky robes and fancy masks and goes to a secret location to have endless hedonistic fun — until One Man takes a stand and rescues the One Innocent Person from it all and then has to battle off various mutant freakjobs sent after him.

It’s like they put “Dystopian” into TVTropes.org and then wrote down a list of twenty, twenty five different ones and jammed them in there. So what you inevitably have is a yawn inducing anvilicious depiction of various fluffy-collared infinitely wealthy perverts with omnipotent control of the city being thwarted by a photographer who smoulders with generic rage while a pristine and wholly uninteresting stock Japanese maiden schoolgirl is the prize d’jour.

Yyyyyeah. Thanks, guys, but no. You’ve gotta give me something I don’t see coming eighty miles away with the naked eye to get me interested. Next candidates on the block will be Code Geass (which is hopefully more than just giant robots) and Gurren Lagann (which is hopefully more than just fanservice. Is that giant-boobed stripperriffic female lead seriously supposed to be 14 years old..?)

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18 responses

12 08 2008
sukael

Gurren Lagann’s pretty good, as long as you keep in mind that it’s an intentionally over-the-top reversal of nihilistic giant robot works like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Don’t think about it too hard and you’ll probably enjoy it.

12 08 2008
pyromaniac_ks

Code Geass is more than Giant Robots, Gurren Lagann is Giant Robot Fanservice. And yeah, she’s 14 before the timeskip.

12 08 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I guess that tinhat theory of growth hormones in children’s milk was true, then. I expect by 2015, girls will look like MILFs at age 7.

12 08 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I like reversals and over-the-topness when the series is well aware of what it is. It’s the ones that can’t decide if they want to subvert or join the cause that turn into headscratchers.

12 08 2008
sptrashcan

What about UE?
I expect your preference would be to avoid simply repeating a previous work in a new medium, but it occurs to me that Unreal Estate has several of the desirable properties you list for a good visual novel scenario.

12 08 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: What about UE?
Well, yes, no, and other factors.
Yes in that it’s a core cast and there is one specific “locale” that simply moves from place to place. No in that that they move around a hell of a lot and that means a lot of new backdrops and new characters to meet.
Other factors… I kinda DID UE already. I even explored some elseworlds with the Open House stories. I think I’ve told what I wanted to tell there, and it’s behind me now. (That’s half the reason behind my laziness in editing the last chapters. It feels finished, you know?)
Still, whatever I come up with is probably gonna callback to UE in the sense that it’s one guy + many girls + common locale + relationship humor and drama. That’s the best format for a visual novel due to its technical limits and interface approach.

13 08 2008
sscougall

I’ve seen the first 4 episodes of Gurren Lagann and, yeah, it seems to be a highly self-aware parody of giant robot shows. Especially the older giant robot shows that weren’t all doom and gloom.
I’m still treating it very carefully, as this *is* from Gainax, after all.

And on Code Geass, it’s FAR more than just the Giant Robots. While it has Giant Robots, the focus is really on the main character and just how far he’ll go to get what he wants.
Be warned, though, the first season ends on a huge cliffhanger, and the second season starts off very weird.

13 08 2008
omahdon

If you’re having trouble with Speed Grapher then I have a feeling Code Geass will make your brain implode from its anviliciousness. At least Speed Grapher had the decency to be mostly non-political in its depiction of “whacky politicians being evil” – Code Geass tries too hard to “have a message” which translates into a half hour of unsubtle “BIG GOVERNMENT BAD. BIG GOVERNMENT BAD. ACTIONS BY FREE INDIVIDUALS WHICH RESULT IN MASSIVE PROPERTY DAMAGE AND LOSS OF LIFE GOOD”. Then again, that was just the first episode – I never really cottoned on to it. Maybe it got better….? It got two seasons, afterall….
Gurren Lagann, on the otherhand, is Gainax. Which, depending upon your cup of tea, is either utter genius or a viciously cruel joke unleashed on people who think they know what they should expect in anime and don’t. Or maybe both. It’s…. Gainax.
Visual Novel project sounds AWESOME, but the stickyness of the “original art” issue is…. most sticky. It’s issues like that which makes me stick to voicing and mixing audioplays/books, but that’s not exactly the most accessible of storytelling methods these days. People like to watch stuff, it’s true.

13 08 2008
sukael

I’d say it’s pretty self-aware of it.
At one point a primary villain makes a death speech while suffering a hole through his chest where his lungs should be.
No ideas on Code Geass here, having never seen any of it.

13 08 2008
cmdr_zoom

See, because it’s Gainax, I’m always nervous that it’s going to start out fun and light and then descend into TAKE YOUR GODDAMN MEDICATION ANNO. (Once burned, y’know?)

13 08 2008
meagenimage

From what I’ve *heard*, the message appears to be “Nothing is truly impossible if you believe in yourself! (But unique and special individuals must die to make room for ordinary people who believe in themselves)”.

13 08 2008
omahdon

Well, I’m not going to go into spoilers or anything, but there’s a reason why the trope “Gainax Ending” exists. On the otherhand, knowing ahead of time that it’s going to go out on an downbeat ending can make it a little less…. painful?

13 08 2008
andrew_jp

Code Geass is way more than giant robots-it’s closer to Death Note than any other mecha show I know of.

13 08 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

It does, really. If you know they’re gonna Joss or Anno you, then you’re prepared going in and don’t bother having much of an attachment to any of the characters involved. Which wasn’t a problem for me with Evangelion since they’re ALL unlikable little douchebags.

13 08 2008
omahdon

And yet…. In spite of the constant yanking of that dog chain…. One simply cannot stay away. There are still times when those characters somehow find a way to worm into that special little corner of your heart in spite of the knowledge that there’s a 99% chance that they’re horribly, horribly, horribly doomed. That’s Joss/Gainax magic at work. It’s also why they’re the most evil human beings on the face of this planet. I don’t know whether to love them or hate them for making me feel this way.

13 08 2008
meagenimage

One simply cannot stay away.
Speak for yourself!

14 08 2008
jengagne

If it helps idea-wise, I misread an above phrase as “Making a Super Awesome Piratical” rather than “practical.”
It does have a lot of elements you might need though — moveable reusable location (ship), amusing costume elements that are identifiable even in head shots, various degrees of pirate-wenchiness among the crew, the moé captured chick (or maybe YOUR male character, forcibly recruited as decorative deck swabbie?) from another ship, yadda…
Anyway, if you need an art slave, you COULD enslave me. I know I’m not the best but with good face/pose reference material to work from, I can pull it off…

14 08 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Hmmmmmm… pirates. *ponder*

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