Essentials for Visual Novel Creation, Part I: Planning

So you wanna make a visual novel? Good for you, just remember that a good visual novel, even a short one, will take a few weeks to do. Just don’t announce projects literally days after you come up with the idea for them – it will not end well, especially if you strive to avoid what’s known as Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything will invariably be crud). I speak from experience on this one.

Now that the first warning is thrown out there, let’s get to work on the first thing you’re going to need to do: planning. When I say “planning”, I mean doing everything short of actually writing the code (or script), doing the art, and getting the sounds done. In other words, write out a sizable chunk of the story and find out where you want the player interaction to be. (For those of you already familiar with visual novels and how most of them work, write out the “True End” path, everyone else, wing it). As for the tools you’ll want, here’s what they are and my suggestions for them:

  • Engine: Yes, even if you aren’t actively scripting, you’re gonna want to know your engine. Most of the script samples I’ll have on here are for the cross-platform Ren’Py engine, which is Python-based. The reason why I say to get your engine now is so you can make tweaks in planning as you confirm whether or not the engine can actually handle what you want it to do. A quick Google search brought up the Windows-only Blade Engine (which has a free version and a paid professional version) and the also Windows-only Novelty (which is a WYSIWYG development environment for VNs). There are more out there, but as I mentioned, most of my samples will use Ren’Py.
  • Word Processor: This is fairly obvious. Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer, even notepad will work in a pinch. Basically, you’re looking for something to write up the “text version” of your story in.
  • Diagram/Flowcharting program: This one is frequently missed, but it helps a lot later on (especially when you’re running your VN through the final tests). As an example of why you’ll want one at some point, I bring to you the second Shakes and Shivers Animal Land bad end from Tsukihime, which the development team actually needed a flowchart to reach because of the strict conditions required to trigger it. Again, you have a few options, but as far as a free cross-platform program, Dia was made specifically for this kind of stuff. Early on, you’ll be using it to keep track of character relationships. Later, when you get to actually writing code/script, you may be using it for figuring out how your routines are supposed to flow, and possibly keeping track of what routes lead to which endings.

At the planning phase, this is really all you need (and some of you may not even use the diagramming program). You should be focusing on getting the bulk of the story done. Once you’ve done that, then you can move on to coding/scripting.

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