Three parts in the same post. Hope you enjoy.

Menu Theme

Anthony created a main menu theme for Fifth Love! Even though we are still early on in the grand scheme of development, this is very exciting for us. His music will definitely become a crucial part of the overall impact of this game.

Some notes:

  • I swear he wrote this in like a days. How the heck.
  • This is apparently Anthony’s first time trying to compose game music. In fact, he only learned recently (through working on music for Fifth Love) about visual novels! (And yet, his style would work perfectly…)
  • The examples I passed on to him were “Wiosna” from Katawa Shoujo and “Jazz Solo Game Over” from One Thousand Lies.
  • I also recommended “Believe Me” from Steins;Gate as an example of the texture I want.
  • The main specs considered for this piece were:
    • Strong melodic content, in the spirit of the pieces I linked above;
    • Soothing, peaceful atmosphere, with ample space between notes;
    • Loop-able in a natural way;
    • Would result in mad feels after the player returns to the main menu screen after finishing a route.

By the way, be sure to follow Anthony’s SoundCloud so you don’t miss his sick tracks 🙂

Comments on Other VN

I have been posting weekly recommendations for VN, both as a form of shout-out for the creators who enriched my life with their games and as a way of introducing new material for newbies and veterans alike.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the VN I already posted about and pick through my thoughts on each one:

  • Steins;Gate
    • Very long and has essentially no meaningful gameplay until a few hours in. Definitely want to avoid this.
    • On the other hand, this has some of the best executions of music and character dynamics of almost any visual novel (or anime) I have watched. Will not deny that “Believe Me” made me tear up at a certain scene, especially with the excellent writing.
    • The backgrounds and sprite art work very well together. The CGs sometimes don’t perfectly match the art for the sprites, but that’s fairly standard. Also, at one point the lines talked about Mayuri holding a banana when she was holding nothing. I hate being lied to >:)
      • (I know they were just saving money by re-using a CG)
    • The way the player input works (phone conversations which either unlock or disable the true ending and a binary choice system which basically either locks you into an ending or lets you continue) made it feel not really that game-like. In fact, sometimes it was supremely annoying when I moved my mouse to the right side of the screen and the phone interface would pop up.
    • The endings were interesting enough for it to be played by fans of the anime, but it definitely benefited from an anime adaptation in almost every way except for the “what-ifs” of the other endings.
  • One Thousand Lies
    • My favorite visual novel of all time. No questions asked.
    • Even though the story only has one route, it manages to use the visual novel format in an interesting way even when considering obvious corners cut in the budget.
      • One of the characters has her arm held out in the same pose for every single sprite. Somehow, it works in every situation because of her personality O.O
    • There were only seven CGs (although that sorta makes sense for a mid-length kinetic novel). For the most part, they were at pretty key moments, although the appearance of four of these CGs near the end was a bit annoying. There is also one where the art looks a bit off (it involves a pool).
      • As an aside: I absolutely love the sprite and CG artist! His name is Bonkiru; he was actually the artist for a viral Natalia Poklonskaya artwork which made its way onto her Wikipedia page at one point!
    • Excellent emotional payoff. Would have made sense as just a novel, but the art and music at key moments really brought it above and beyond what I expected from the (oftentimes silly) story.
  • Cinderella Phenomenon
    • Only played one route so far (Rod), but the production value was pretty insane from what I have seen.
    • The plot for Rod was a bit predictable as soon as one of the first warning shots were fired concerning the nature of his curse, but the actual execution was not bad at all. Although, the way in which the choices affect the ending for that route doesn’t really make sense in-universe.
    • The “right choice indicator” is cool, but is basically a remedy for a problem which can be readily fixed by not having right and wrong answers as choices in a VN. I would prefer a choice of “left or right” resulting in two fulfilling adventures for either one, rather than “Damn, you went left and died in a pit.” or (at the end of the story if it’s not an immediate death) “Sorry, you are a bad person because you went left and were supposed to go right even though they both led to the same location. Enjoy defeat.”
      • Christine Love, a prominent VN creator, gave a talk at Visual;Conference where she mentions this exact problem. Check out this summary and reflection written by the most aptly-named visual novel reviewer in the world 🙂
    • I will probably dedicate an entire post to this VN when I finish it, because it’s a fairly new game in the English visual novel scene 🙂
  • That Cheap and Sacred Thing
    • Probably the most enjoyment per minute of any visual novel I played. Most VNs start to drag in some parts as you’re basically waiting until the next choice. This VN is short enough that even without choices the entire thing flows like a gripping short story.
      • It’s a kinetic novel just like OTL. So, no choices.
    • The GUI is absolutely straight trash, using the default settings that come with an old version of Ren’Py. And yet, it did not obstruct my enjoyment of the story in the least.
    • The art had a very mature feel, although it did not look as professional as the art for many of the other VNs I have played. The way they used the sprites, especially with how they matched poses between two certain characters, had a huge impact compared to if the reader simply read this story on paper.
    • This is a good example of writing, pacing, and thoughtful design overcoming some gaping issues with production value.
  • SC2VN (StarCraft II Visual Novel)
    • This was basically a kinetic novel given the lack of any meaningful choice (a wrong choice was basically just instant game over for the most part). In fact, only a total of two choices even diverged from the main route and didn’t just truck the story along. However, the game did not suffer too much from it because…
    • This story is so damn inspiring. The whole idea of “don’t want to fully commit because afraid of barking up the wrong tree” has been explored everywhere from Friends with Benefits to Good Will Hunting to Nodame Cantabile, but somehow the whole dynamic of teammates relying on each other in a cutthroat environment just really got to me.
    • The art was pretty bad for some of the CGs. However, the backgrounds were absolutely killer. Personally, I would have re-balanced the budget a bit, maybe?
    • The choice of gender seemed a bit unnecessary; it doesn’t really add to the story and seems to just be a lot of busywork to implement (all you’re doing is changing up some scenes and fixing dialogue). I am of the belief that choices for player characters is only significant if there are multiple personalities who either approach the same situation in different ways (different skill sets or tendencies) or who go off on different adventures altogether (basically many character-specific subgames).
    • The music was pretty good, and the StarCraft scenes turned out pretty well even though they were (perhaps necessarily) wordy.
    • Incredibly excited for the prequel. It seems like it will be a much bigger project than the original installment.
  • Katawa Shoujo
    • It really changed me when I was a sophomore in high school. Somehow, I don’t really feel it that strongly anymore.
    • Nevertheless, the music and directing were spectacular, especially for a free project originating from 4chan.
      • Being the only visual novel with fame (and notoriety) rivaling that of a Japanese visual novel is pretty legit.
    • The writing was mostly fine. I wonder about whether or not they had to use Japanese names and settings in the way they did, though. The characters didn’t really act in a Japanese way at all, so I think the story should have just been set in the West (at Brown University ;)).
      • Thinking back, maybe using a typical visual novel setting benefited the story since it set things up for a deconstruction of normal expectations, but I remember losing quite a bit of immersion when the characters didn’t act like how I would expect or when they flout normal customs like last-name/first-name basis, honorifics, and social hierarchy.
      • Nothing broke immersion more than Kenji’s “feminazi” talk or the obvious Western-centric tropes.
    • Even though One Thousand Lies was a bit jarring at the start for being set in Europe with non-Japanese names (not at all intent on “being Japanese”), the authenticity really grew on me as the story went on. Katawa Shoujo could probably have benefited from this sort of decision.
    • The lack of a true ending is supposed to be a feature, as no girl is “canon best”; however, it also leaves the player a bit unfulfilled after finishing all the routes since there is no sort of “endgame” for fans to think back on.
    • The central conflict of each route being focused on personality and not directly on disabilities really helped to humanize the characters (when everyone expected this to be a “cripple-pimp” game).
      • It still kinda came off as “Hisao came and saved the problem of any girl he touched”.
  • Her Story
    • Even though it can be argued that this isn’t a VN, it does everything about interactive fiction right.
      • Uses the non-linear nature and “discovery” nature of the many paths to finding the truth in an engaging way. Different people pick up different key words, and therefore learn the entire story in different ways.
      • Mostly intuitive interface. I was confused about why the player can only search for five clips at a time, but it didn’t break with immersion too much when I got into the meat of the story.
    • There is a scene which made me literally break into a cold sweat. It involves a certain ballade.
    • The game was long enough to explain its (somewhat simple) story, and yet short enough to be completely engaging all the way through. Although, the lack of real conclusion was slightly annoying, since the “end” of gameplay is just whenever you are satisfied with the pieces of the story you already have from watching clips.

After we go through more recommendations, I will make another post expanding my thoughts on those ones, too. Learn from the good, and reflect on the bad. Although, I hope that the VN we recommend are all good 🙂

Moving Forward

I hate mincing my words, so I won’t.

I had no idea about the scope of independent game development. I always prided myself on being a fast and efficient worker, whatever it was I was assigned. Each last-minute overnight essay I got a great mark on hammered this belief into me.

I realized after the past few months that this was just because I had never taken on a project of this level of complexity before.

Writing itself is going quite sluggishly, even though when I do write it gets completed rather quickly (around 1500 words per hour, which includes washroom breaks and random glances at Facebook). I had thought about the plot and character interactions enough that getting my thoughts onto paper (or in a word document) is pretty straightforward. And yet, I often end up second-guessing the plans I have concerning the overall structure of the narrative. Especially concerning the point where the player diverges onto one of the routes each time.

The original brainstorming I did in August or September of last year (for a novel) had all the specific “plot-lines” concerning each character and the MC mapped out perfectly. Indeed, this closely resembles how we think about the narrative of our lives; we can easily link events that are weeks or even years apart as one coherent story. However, even with something as personal as our real lives, we often find ourselves retconning and inserting information about “in-between” events between two milestones we outlined.

Given that it was imagined as a novel told out of chronological order, I never considered the exact sequencing of the events or made a precise timeline of where all events (including equivalent events and time milestones between routes) occur. It’s more imagined as general character arcs like, “in junior year this happens with this effect on senior year” than with specific dates and times.

Since this VN is probably going to be pretty big (easily bigger than Katawa Shoujo after everything is said and done), I really don’t think we can afford to make some sort of consistency mistake right off the bat. And yet, fear of this kind of mistake just results in second-guessing and a hampered creative process. We can’t be afraid of messing everything up and revising it later; this sort of fear will paralyze any writer before they even get started.

For music, I am immensely blessed to be surrounded by many motivated and talented individuals who have generously donated their time and energy to Fifth Love even though it is so early in development. As I am avalso a music student and wanted to get some career development in via working with music arrangement, I really have to pick up the pace to not get vastly outclassed.

The art should be coming along; our artist LoiLoi has a few other engagements she is working through, and she told me recently that she is potentially revamping her art style. I am excited to see what the next few weeks will bring!

Overall: I have been sufficiently humbled by the minor setbacks I have experienced so far to ditch the notion that making an indie game will be any less hard just because it’s a visual novel and I have the hubris to say that “much worse visual novel ideas” have made thousands or millions. Even the visual novels I dare say are bad currently trump Fifth Love in one uncompromisable aspect: they are finished and released.

As the one spearheading this huge project, I obviously have confidence that the world needs Fifth Love. That Fifth Love is a story that must be told. It is time for me to properly prove myself and this game with hard work and fearlessness.

Thank you for staying around with us. I and all the team members will continue to try making a great game for you to enjoy.

Concerning post frequency: I will decrease it to one post a week temporarily, as there doesn’t seem to be a point of rushing content out just to meet my personal goal of two or three posts. With the lack of a substantial backlog, I was basically working overnight just to pump out another “mediocre” sample.

I intend on continuing to be frank about development, even though it was tempting to just delete everything on here and the Facebook page and start over fresh after re-organizing. I don’t want any chance of forgetting the disappointment I felt in myself when I pledged to increase post frequency for May and ended up not posting for two weeks.

Keep in mind that all the people creating this game are students. Bear with us while we try to balance work and play with the realization of what amounts to my larger-than-life brainchild 🙂