Back from “Dev Camp” – A study on choices (TWD, LIS).

Venice 2017.07.09, written by Kuna.

This past week we, “97 circle”, held the first “dev camp” for Serenade. It’s nothing fancy, really XD, we just closed up ourselves in a house for three days, slept on the floor, and worked on the game all the time. Location was Livestraes’ house in Parma, and we got also some time to tourist around a bit which was refreshing.

We focused on the programming. Neither of us is a programmer, so we kind of improvise for some parts, but beside being utterly funny I also learned a lot. We went quite far with the coding as well, even if the script has yet to be corrected by an English native speaker (that’s why, from now on we will refrain from coding more). However, we got to test how the game felt like.

Since a while now, I’ve being busy writing the script for the remaining scenes. It feels like an even longer task than painting huge CG or sprites, so I only have a rough schedule for it. 

Recently, one thing I’m being particularly careful of is the choice menu part. To be honest, I only have a vague idea in mind and some halfway attempts in practice, and I’m still trying to figure out which method will work best in a game like Serenade. Therefore, this past week I also spent some hours studying how other games work with choices, picking titles from my library. The choices I still have to define are the “normal dialogue ones”, which are replies or comments to the NPC’s dialogues. Since the main character Kairi has a personality of his own, I don’t want to mix that with the player’s freedom too much. At the same time, though, I’d like to time the game up with choices here and there. Here I’d like to make a short resume of my “Choice Menu study” experience. : D

The games I used for it are “The Walking Dead”, “Life is Strange” and “Persona 5”. Among them the one I liked the choice options best is “Persona 5”. It usually gives three options: a positive one (“I’m okay doing this!”), a negative one (“It’d be too much of a burden.”) and a neutral one (“Maybe, some other time…”). When it’s not a matter of complying or declining, it often offers three choices that express the same feeling but ask three different things. I liked this scheme better because of obvious reasons XD, it gives you the real impression you’re choosing between a “yes” and a “no”. And well, it’s what it effectively does too. But it’s an RPG/Adventure game so it’s natural it does, and it’s not similarly obvious that such system would work in a visual novel as well, as for every branch you make there’s a whole script that needs to be written.

“The Walking Dead” and “Life is Strange”, are maybe closer to the “dialogue feeling” I’d like to create. Often they give the player the feeling of having a bunch of options to choose from, and even more often, different choices lead to the same answer from the NPC :D. That’s clever, because I’d never think of load back the game and check other answers, neither I’d care much since while playing I’ve the impression I’m actually choosing my lines cleverly. Besides, both games have a complicated branching for major choices in the story, so having also the chance to dialogue with NPC is a nice and enjoyable extra.

After trying all the branches for initial short dialogues, and learning from them, I guess it’s not a bad idea to go for a similar system in Serenade too. Scene 2 which I finished a while ago had a similar structure and apparently it worked quite fine. Therefore, the focus here is not on the branching, but whether the game has a branching feeling. Naturally, there will be a different series of choices (not dialogues one) that will shape the story.

So, at this point, one thing that still bothers me is: how many choices in a scene? How to pace up well? I had to think back of an otome game for this, which is Uta no Prince Sama. Every month in the story is divided in two or more scenes and each scene has three choices to make, each of them timed after a similar amount of dialogue. That was fun to play! As a player I had a good map in mind of how long the scene was going to be, and I learnt there was going to be a choice menu every now and then. I’d like to reach a similar balance even if with different timing. 

At the moment I find it useful to write down every choice menu idea that comes up to my mind as I’m writing the script, and maybe cut some of them down later whether they ruin the rhythm. I’ll see how it goes. : D