One of our users and co-leader of the Lucid9 project, Diamon has written a fantastic and extremely thorough guide about the process that goes into making a visual novel, from his experience, for anyone that’s wondering about making one themselves. If you ever have any question or are curious about where to start, I am almost 100% positive you will find an answer in this guide.
Warning: this is a very long read. All credit for the guide goes to Diamon alone, please do give them your input, even if it’s a thank you, on this amazing guide in its original forum thread and support the Lucid9 project as well.
So you want to create a Visual Novel…
0a°) Should I try to create my own VN?
So, you just finished reading what just became your favorite KEY Visual Novel, or got your mind blown by G-senjou, or even Steins;Gate… You’ve also heard of Katawa Shoujo and how it was all started by a bunch of amateurs on 4chan…
And a little part of you is whispering: “I want to create a story like that as well!”
And it also happens that your resolution for this new year is to try to create a Visual Novel…
While many of you might just decide to ignore this little voice, some brave people might be ready to take up the challenge. That’s when you start to wonder “But is it really worth my time?”
I’m only talking from my own experience, but the answer is definitely “yes”. It sure takes a lot of free time away from you, but it’s an experience that is both rewarding, and interesting. You will probably make new friends in this big adventure that is the creation of the VN. Feel very proud of being able to overcome all the hurdles that were in the way. And probably very satisfied!
Except, successfully manage to release a complete game is a privilege that is reserved to only a few. Only to the most determined, but more importantly, to the people the most organized. And I’m here to give you a guideline about how you should organize, and what steps you should follow to start properly your project.
0b°) Why Visual Novels?
- You don’t need any heavy programming knowledge
- With only sprites, backgrounds, writing and music, you can create some of the most touching stories ever.
- You can technically manage to release a VN without any money.
- If enough effort is made and with the right people, the quality of a VN created by an amateur team can easily get close to professional quality level VN (see Katawa Shoujo)
- Visual Novels is a growing market in the west, and if you do things correctly, and with a bit of luck, you might be able to get money by selling your VN.
- It requires less work globally than your regular video game to create, and all the tasks can be handled by different people that have specific knowledge.
- You can do it as a side thing, while still having a job and other occupations in your life, granted you have enough people working on it and granted that you’re organized enough.
1°) Deciding about the scope of your project
So, you finally decided to cross the line, and to become a developer / creator. You’re full of hope and ambition, hyped like you’ve never been, and ready to even move mountains! That’s good, but let’s not rush things. You have 2 possibilities at this point:
- Decide about the scope of your project on your own, and submit those general guidelines you’ll have created to the people you’re going to recruit (meaning that they will have to accept those choices you made before joining).
- Recruit people first, and decide about the scope of the project together with all those people, probably by voting.
I personally strongly advice to go with the first option, the second might make you find people more easily for your project, but it is more likely to create disagreements, and sometimes, it’s better to not use democracy. I will also try to touch a word about paid project and kickstarters, but since I’m less experienced in that, what I will say regarding them might be incomplete.
1a°) Short, Medium, or big project?
It’s one of the first aspect you want to decide before any recruitment or creating any content. It will basically decide how much involvement will be required by every member to complete the project. Keep in mind that the longest you want your VN to be, the more you will have to work on it, and that not everyone can work during 2 years or more on their free time until completion of your project.
- If you plan to create a short VN (2-3 hours for example), expect several months of work on it.
- If you plan to create a medium length VN (10-15 hours), expect at least a year working on it.
- If you plan to create a rather lengthy VN (20+hours), expect to work on it for several years, 1.5 or 2 years if you’re lucky, more if you’re not.
It’s something important to decide before anything else, and you will have to make the people you recruit aware of that, to make sure that they will and that they can involve until the end.
1b°) Status of your VN
Some people will want to write a Visual Novel only by sheer passion, and will just want to be able to share it with the world and spread Visual Novel love (most of the time by releasing a VN for free). That’s perfectly fine. But some people might want as well to try to get some money out of it by selling their creation. that’s perfectly fine as well. Added to that, you have the possibility to try to get crowdfunded or not by a kickstarter. If you do decide to go with a kickstarter, you might want to check section 1c°) before this one. Let me try to summarize the different advantages or issues for each possibility.
i°) “I want to release this for free, without kickstarter.”
Example: Katawa Shoujo
That basically means that you will work by sheer passion, and that no one will get paid or get commission with your work. Keep in mind that the most skilled artist and composers are generally only willing to work with commission, however, it’s still possible to find hidden gems willing to work by pure interest for your project and for free, if your project is interesting enough that is!
You will have to look for people as passionate as you, and ready to involve a good chunk of their free time for something that won’t bring them any money. It’s not necessary hard to find, except it might take more time for you to find such people for your team, and most of all, if passion ever runs out, there will be nothing to convince them to stay in the team.
However, imo, it’s with this type of project that you are the most likely to meet very interesting new people with the same passion as you, and possibly the same goals, ambitions and mindset, and in the end, they will probably become your friends as time goes on.
ii°) “I want to release this game for free, with a kickstarter”
You already have a few example of Visual Novels released with this system, it’s not a bad idea and can be very beneficial for your project, but only if you manage to handle the kickstarter correctly. It needs a rather huge amount of planning and organization, you need to know how much budget you’ll need, and create a kickstarter page attractive enough so you can get enough funding. Best way to go is generally to recruit the members of your team first, ask for their prices, and calculate a budget from that, and while you’re recruiting your members, ask them to work for free to create enough assets for the kickstarter page. There are several articles on the internet about how to create successful Kickstarter campaigns, so take a look at them, also, my best advice is to go look at successful VN kickstarters and try to see how they did things.
On the bright side, having money allows you to aim for a higher quality when it comes to asset as you’ll be able to pay to get more skilled people.
iii°) “I want to release a commercial game”
Example: pretty much every VN on Steam currently.
You have two choices at this point:
- With kickstarter: it’s basically the same as previously, except the people working for your game might ask you to get a set percentage of the benefits from the sales of the game. This might require further organization and further arrangement / agreements to make, but it’s essentially beneficial if you want to get money for yourself through the creation of your VN, or if you want to create funds for a future game you’ll create (that would mean for your team to become an indie game studios).
- Without kickstarter: If you have prior funding from the sales of a previous game or personal funding to create this game and that you’re willing to pay people from your own pocket, then, this is probably the easiest way for you to interest people when going for recruitment, as they are sure they will receive money (while in the other case, the kickstarter might fail). If you don’t have funding and that you’re only betting on the sales of your game, you’re basically nearly in the same situation as if you were releasing it for free without paying anyone, some people might not want to wait so much before getting paid, especially since how much they’ll get is completely dependant on how much the game sells (and if the game reaches completion in the first place^^)
1c°) Type of story?
So, it is now about time to decide about what kind of story you want to make. that’s where you decide about the genre of your game:
- Sci-fi, Slice of life, School life, Mystery, Romance, Drama, Comedy, Fantasy, Historical…
- Bishoujo, Otome, Yaoi, Yuri
- Charage, Moege, Nakige…
- H or non-H
- Kinetic, Choices, Routes, True route, True heroine…?
- Will it have gameplay elements? Will it be a rpg? Point and click elements?
- What plot outline do I want?
- How many heroines? How many routes?
It is definitely something you’ll have to put a lof thoughts on, and it will take time for you to decide, but knowing where you want to go is something essential if you don’t want to get lost later on.
I will also add this very interesting thread from Clephas here:
I’d advise you to read it, as it is very interesting and might give you original ideas for the creation of your Visual Novel.
ii°) Prioritize plot or characters?
A very interesting question that doesn’t have an absolute answer, since it basically depends on what type of VN you want to create. If your aim is to create a Charage, or a Moege, then it might be better to think about creating your character first, elaborate backgrounds and such, and fit them in a story that works with what you created.
But if ever you want to create a plot heavy story, then it might be better to try to create the setting you want to work in first, decide what twist you want to include as your main mind-blowing plot twist, create characters as plot devices first, and after only elaborate on them and create a background and a personality that is convenient for you.
2°) Recruitment and roles
I’ll start by talking about recruitment.
Depending on how you decide to organize, you might have decided to go with recruitment first, and recruitment is definitely one of the essential part that will determine whether your project will be successful or not. It’s not only finding the people with the right skill, it’s also finding the people with the motivation and the passion!
Be warned though, recruitment is a very tedious thing, as the only way to know if someone is really a good fit for the project is trial and error. There will probably be a lot of people you will recruit, and that will either go MIA because of various reasons, or that you will be forced to kick out of the team because they have a bad influence, or because they are not productive…
Sometimes, even during the middle of the project, you will have to replace someone and go through the recruitment phase again. It cannot be helped, and you have to be ready for it.
The second thing I’ll explain in this section are the different roles, where you can recruit them, what is expected of them and how they should work.
2a°) Define a clear hierarchy
Once again, sorry for democracy’s fans, but the best way to get things rolling in a team is to get a clear hierarchy. That means you need a leader. Or at least a core group that will take the final decisions. Careful, I didn’t say that you need to organize like some sort of dictatorship, and have the leader force his decisions upon others all the time. Hell no, that would condemn your project. The best organization is to have the members plan and discuss together, while the final decisions is taken by the leader(s) in case there is a disagreement. It’s easier said than done though, a leader needs to be respected by his members in order to make sure no argument happen and that everyone follows his final decision. Ideally, a leader should be:
- Worthy of trust
- Respectful when talking to the other members
- Willing to discuss and compromise
- Good at dialoguing, good speaker
Also, the leader is one of the few members that has the duty to know everything about his project, whether it is art, writing, music, programming… He has to know what progress has been done in all the different areas, he is also the one that tries to solve the problems some members might have regarding the project. And ideally, he is also responsible for recruitment. And also firing people. I know, it’s a tough job. It is also better if the leader is someone versatile that can understand as much as possible about everything that might be technical about the VN. For example, it’s better if he knows at least how sprite drawing process works. It’s also better if he knows or can understand how programming works. this way, he can gauge what time it will take to create X feature / Y asset, and can tell the people who asked him (most of the time the writers) if it’s doable or not.
Note that someone can without any problem accumulate the duty of leader + another role (writer, programmer, artist…). However, I’d strongly recommend against that for bigger projects, as the more people you have to manage in the team, the more work the leader will have. Note also that the leader role can actually be a leader “team”, in which case you can have 2 or 3 people discussing between each other to take the final decisions and guide the ship. It has advantages and defaults, for example, being 2 to decide might bring disagreements, but at the same time you’ll have someone to point out your flaws when you’re doing something wrong. It is strongly advised to team up with people that share the same mindset as you if that’s ever the case.
2b°) About recruitment in general
i°) Stay humble and stay honest
If I have only one thing to say about this, it would be stay humble, and stay honest.
Whenever you try to recruit someone, either on a thread or either on a private message, it’s important to convey those two things.
Do not try to promise stuff you’re not sure of to the person you’re talking to (Like, don’t tell him that your game will sell by million copies and that he’ll get rich, or famous). Don’t hide things in your message, try to explain what you want to achieve, what you need, and what you expect from this person. And most of all, be respectful. Try to show what potential your game / ideas have to that person (because at this point, you’ll have probably only ideas and concepts in store). Also be ready to get numerous refusals. Sometimes, the person won’t even answer your message, or no one will reply to your thread. Don’t get discouraged, and keep trying to find people.
ii°) Don’t accept anyone
Finally, even if you’re the one that contacts the person in the first place, don’t accept everyone that will show interest in your project! I know that it’s very tempting, especially at the beginning when you get started with recruitment, but you need to make sure that this person will be a good fit for the team and that he will fill your expectations. Make sure to have them take test to gauge their skills, and don’t be afraid to refuse the people that you judge not skilled enough. I know that it’s sometimes hard to reject someone’s good will just because of his lack of skill, but it can’t be helped, and accepting such a person might be a disservice for you in the long term.
iii°) Be professional
It might seem a bit controversial for some people, as professional messages might sometimes seem too “business like” (well, if your VN is a commercial one, it’s probably better this way), but sending something that looks professional is definitely a must. It will show the people you are recruiting that you are someone serious, able to organize his posts (and as a result someone who has a sense of organization): “This guy seems serious. He might be able to succeed!”. Also, one important rule is to never neglect the first impression you give when first contacting someone. You most of the time only have one chance: the first message. So you might as well want to take all the precautions to be successful in your recruitment. What do you think is the difference between:
- “hey, you’re really good, I like what you’re doing, are you interested in creating a VN with me?”
- “Hello, I’ve just seen your message and noticed that you were interested in creating a Visual Novel! I’ve read what you did, and I think your writing is very clever and agreeable to read, it would be a perfect fit for the VN I’m trying to create with my team. *Add explanations about your project*. Would you be interested in joining? I’m pretty sure someone with your skills would be a great addition to our team, and definitely improve the quality of our VN!”
iv°) Where can I find people to recruit?
- Start a thread on the “Fan Project & Translation Discussion” board. Try to have an explicit topic name and try to give a good description of what’s your goal and what VN you’re trying to create. List the roles you need.
- Go on http://lemmasoft.renai.us/forums/viewforum.php?f=58&sid=3e3d4e1c6075671bec1bf2250f6dd19c and either post a thread, or PM the people that are proposing their services. More generally, Lemmasoft is a very nice place when it comes to OELVN creation, and there is a lot of people willing to give their time in order to create Visual Novels over there, so don’t hesitate to bookmark this site.
Keep in mind that some people won’t accept to be recruited if there is not enough apparent progress made on your game. That’s how it is, and sometimes, it’s better to have a script prepared in advance so that the people producing assets are sure they won’t waste their time creating stuff for something that will never come to completion.
i°) One or several writers?
One of the first question you want to ask yourself about writing is: “Do I want only one writer to take care of all the writing, or do I want several writers?”
Each has pros and cons.
- Writing is more consistent overall
- No difference in writing styles
- Only one person to create the plot, which makes it easier to create a coherent and non conflicting plot line.
- No arguments or debates about how the story should progress.
- The writing gets done much faster than with one writer (you generally use one writer per route)
- Each route feels more “personal” when it comes to the writing.
- Easier to brainstorm ideas with other people.
- More diversity in the characters personalities, ideas related to the story…
ii°) What should I expect from writers?
The writer is basically the cement of your project. It’s the most vital piece. None of the other area can progress if the writing doesn’t. As a result, your writer(s) will have to be someone trustworthy, passionate, and hard working. It will have someone that can get in touch with the other members to give directions as well (What should this character look like, what music should play during this scene…). Also, someone pretty much organized as the writer will have to plan ahead a lot before starting to write. (You’ll notice that it is pretty much similar to the position of leader, hence why writers, often make good leaders). When I say planning, I’m not necessarily talking about the story. For example, a good writer must plan his story according to the limited number of locations because of the limited number of backgrounds he has at his disposal. In a lesser way, same goes for the sprites. He also has to consider the music that is played during the scene to a lesser extent.
You need to recruit writers in priority, since no art or music should be created before the story is settled and the characters cast decided. Even with that, it’s better to have them work on a script right away. The writing should always be the part that shows the most progress, it always has to be ahead of art creation or music creation (ofc, since art and music assets should be based on writing).
If you’re working with several writers, it might be good (but not mandatory) to have someone be the “lead writer”, generally the writer that will write the most of your VN, and will be used as a reference for the writing style. Also, you need to have the writers constantly share their ideas and progress with each other, in order to keep the story consistent. It’s not a good idea to have some of the writers work while being isolated from the others.
iii°) Where can I recruit writers?
- Lemmasoft is your best bet, except a lot of the writers here are female. It isn’t a bad thing or anything, but guys and girls most of the time have a different view on how to create a story and characters.
- You can always try Fuwanovel, even though I have no idea if there are people experienced in writing out there (it would be great if we could have a list somewhere).
- https://www.fanfiction.net/ is another possibility, however the people you will find in here might be less interested in anime culture, and might not know what a Visual Novel is.
Final tip, when recruiting a writer, don’t hesitate to ask both for a sample of their past work (recent if possible), and to give them a writing test. Visual Novel has “novel” in it name, so you’ll have to make sure the writing is of sufficient quality.
i°) Should the artists get involved with the story making?
It’s a very legitimate question to ask, and I don’t really have a definite answer to that. The only thing I can say is that it’s up to the artist to decide whether they want to involve themselves with the story creation process or not, and that you should not force them to do so. Artists behaviors can vary greatly, some of them will just provide you the art asset you need without any question, nor without knowing for which purpose it will be used, some might take a little interest in it, but won’t ask because they want to keep the surprise for themselves (read: they don’t want to be spoiled), and some might just involve themselves heavily with the content of the plot while they create the art. Even though the third type is the type that is likely to be the more passionate about your project, be respectful and don’t force an artist to involve more into the project than what they wish to.
One thing that is sure, is that artists won’t be able to get anything done without a character cast being set. I strongly recommend to have part of the script ready when creating the first sprites, so you know in advance which sprite expressions you’ll use.
Also, some artist might ask to either provide written a description and details, or a visual reference before creating a character. It’s the role of the writer to provide him with those. It’s also always a good idea to give some freedom to your artists while they are drawing.
Finally, the most important piece of advice I can give here is: Know what you want.
Whenever you make a request to your artist, you need to have a precise idea of what you want as a result. Approximate directions will give an approximate result that might not please you, and the artist will have to start again the drawing which can be very frustrating for him. That’s also why most artist won’t accept to have free reign over the design of a character: they don’t want to have to redraw until it pleases the writer. Also, it’s always a good idea to ask the artist to share his work during the intermediate steps: don’t wait for when the sprite is done coloring to say that you want the pose to be changed, it’s something that has to be done during sketching phase.
i°) Sprite/CG artist
For this, you might need one or several artists, depending on how you want to organize. It’s important to know at least the basics of how a sprite or a CG is drawn:
- First, the artist starts with a sketch, that is often a concept based on the description they received.
- Once the description is done, they lineart the sketch to create smooth lines that they’ll be able to color after that.
- After that comes coloring with basic colors the linearted sprite:
- Once all of that, the artist proceeds with shading the sprite (= adding shades and shadows to the coloring):
After all of that comes all the expressions, ofc. Don’t forget also that each new pose for a character is basically redrawing a completely new sprite and might take time. Also, several sets of clothes are also additional work to your artist(s), even though more easier to do if the artist is working with a lot of layers.
Based on that, there are two possibilities:
- One artist draws everything.
- You divide the different steps among several artists (one for concept art, one for linearting, one for coloring + shading).
Take care though, some artists might have preferences about what role they have, and some might just prefer handling the sprites/CG creation from the beginning to the end.
I strongly recommend to not split the art between your artists by characters (for example, X characters for artist A, and Y characters for artist B ) unless you are sure the two artists will be able to match each other’s style.
ii°) Backgrounds artist
This one is tough. There are very few BG artists, and it’s especially true if you’re looking for someone willing to work for free. Expect to spend countless hours skimming through forums and deviantart looking for the hidden gem. Fortunately, that’s not the only option you have:
- You can try to recruit someone willing to learn how to draw BGs. It will definitely take more time though. There are a bunch of tutorials you can find on the net about that.
- You can try to get your BGs done through 3D modeling software, such as Blender 3d, Google sketchup, and add effect on photoshop over them to get an anime BG feel. (See the videos and tutorial of Uncle Mugen)
- You can try to use normal pictures and use a paint over technique in order to make them look like anime backgrounds as well (using this kind of tutorials: http://lemur3s.deviantart.com/art/Anime-Visual-Novel-Backgrounds-from-photos-371395755)
- Finally, if worst comes to worst, you can use regular pictures and apply to them effect and filters in your favorite image editing software.
This time, I strongly recommend to plan your writing in a way that you don’t end up having to produce a tremendous amount of backgrounds for your VN.
iii°) GUI artist
Not much to say about this one, you will need someone able to create game user interface graphics, meaning a petty menu, nice looking logo, buttons, etc…
Sometimes the people that know how to create GUI have also programming knowledge. Take care though, artists that can draw game interfaces, and artists that can draw anime style characters are generally two different type of artists. Sometimes, you’ll luckily find an artist able to do both. But don’t expect it to be the case most of the time.
iv°) Where can I find artists?
- Lemmasoft is a good bet, and it’s where the artists are the most available. However, the quality of the drawings might not be good enough depending on what you’re looking for. Also the best artists often seek commissions here.
- As usual, you can always try your luck on Fuwanovel, I know that there are at least some artists lurking in the shadows in here.
- http://www.deviantart.com/ is also a very good idea, since it’s where you’re the most likely to find hidden gems (= skilled, available and interested). If you’re seeking someone willing to work for free, try to look for the artists with less exposure and less watchers, as it will be less likely that they will be busy with projects.
i°) Recruit real composers!
Music people. What makes Visual Novels so great: being able to listen to emotional music while you read. Not much to say here, except one thing: don’t believe that people playing individual instruments can replace a composer. Having a pianist + a guitarist + a drummer in your team doesn’t mean you can create a soundtrack. First, everyone doesn’t have (good enough) recording equipment. Second, it takes an awful amount of time to create an OST this way, and it might just end up with a “meh” quality. It’s just much easier to have someone that has a synthesizer and that can use music softwares such as FLStudio or GarageBand, and that owns VST effects to simulate instruments. You can have several composers working on your soundtrack if you feel you will need a lot of tracks, but you’ll have to make sure that the VST used by each composers are somewhat similar.
ii°) Where can I find composers?
- Lemmasoft, once again has a good amount of composers willing to work on projects and even for free.
- Once again, you can try your luck on Fuwanovel, who knows?^^
- https://soundcloud.com/ is the place where most composers gather. You might be able to find someone interested in working on your project if you pm composers here.
Composers might ask for different types of stimulation to get inspiration. Some need artwork, others need writing, and some just need a musical reference. It’s a good idea to know what does your composer need for inspiration, and plan in consequence.
i°) Should I use ren’py, use a custom engine, or…?
It mostly depends of what type of VN you want to create, and how much time you have. If you already have skilled programmers ready to participate in the creation of your VN, and if you want your VN to have original gameplay elements, it might be interesting to try to create an engine from scratch. (It’s probably better to pay the programmer for that, since it’s quite a big amount of work)
Else, if you’re going for something more simple, it’s better to use ren’py. It uses Python as a language, except the engine has it own specificities. It is very capable, and create very nice things (Katawa Shoujo was made on ren’py, same goes for Sunrider), and allows both the creation of standard VN, or gameplay oriented VN.
If you’re aiming for a VN without gameplay elements rpg like, there is another alternative we are using for the project I’m working on, an engine in development that doesn’t require any programming knowledge and that is user friendly, called Cloudnovel (formerly Joilly). It’s very intuitive to use, and allows you to create your VN much faster since you don’t have to write any line of codes (it basically works in the same way as a video editor). The only thing being that it’s still in development, so there are some features and functionalities missing. (If you’re ever interested in using Cloudnovel, feel free to pm me)
ii°) Where can I find programmers?
- Lemmasoft is a forum created for all the VN that were created with Ren’py, so you’ll most likely find a good number of programmers ready to help over there.
- Learning to use ren’py yourself is possible if you have the motivation and at least some very basic knowledge in programming
2g°) Editors, proofreaders, beta-testers
Not very high on the priority list, but essential if you want to save time, editors will be the people who will take a look at the writer’s drafts once it’s written and to suggest corrections and improvements to the flow of the writing (whether it is narration or dialogue). They also try to fix any plot hole they might find that the writer isn’t conscious of. That might require the editor to have a bit of knowledge concerning the plot and the characters though. If needed, the writer himself can serve as a editor as he goes back on his past work and edit it. To a lesser extent, they will be responsible for correcting grammar, syntax and vocabulary issues.
Good level in English required.
They will mostly correct typos and orthography / grammar problems that might have slipped past through the eyes of the editor. A good level in english is preferable as well.
Those are required only when the game is out, or at least when a demo is ready. their role is to test the game in every way possible in order to find some potential bugs / typos / issue and report them to the rest of the team.
iv°) Where can I find them?
You can find plenty of editors / proofreaders / testers on Lemmasoft, and on Fuwanovel. Don’t put too much emphasis on looking for proofreaders and testers though, since it can wait until the later phases of your project.
With all of that, your team is now (hopefully) complete! Now in the next section, I’ll try to present some little tools and software that will make communication among the members of the team go smoothly.
3°) Useful things to improve communication among the team members
Now that we have all of our members, we have to make sure that they keep interacting between each other. Remember that creating a VN is a collaborative effort and the last thing you want is to have everyone working on his own, without any exchange or discussion.
This section will be pretty short, but very practical.
Make sure that all of the members have a Skype account. If that’s not the case for some of the members, ask them to download and install it. Create a general chat with all the members invited in it, and make sure to tell the members to use the skype command /alertson [keyword]
in order to receive a notification only when “[keyword]” is written (where keyword is replaced by the word you want ofc, it’s a good idea to use his own pseudo here).
Try to encourage your members to discuss and participate on the skype discussions on a regular basis (if possible, a daily basis). Ofc, don’t expect the discussion to be 100% of the time productive, the Skype discussions are also meant to be chattery and to have people get to know each other. You can also create separate conversations for serious talk and chatter.
It’s also actually possible to create moderated chats on skype, just check: https://support.skyp…mands-and-roles
Also, I recommend to give priority to written chats over voice chats, especially at the beginning, since most people might be uncomfortable with talking with strangers. When you get to know other people well, voice chat has some advantages though, mostly it is faster to share information through voice than writing.
This one is an awesome tool. It’s called Trello: https://trello.com/
It allows you to create boards where you can create different cards under different sections. Those cards contain a title, a description, and can contain various attachment such as audio file, youtube video, picture that you can upload on the card, and that everyone who has access to it can download. People can also comment about the content of the cards. You can also add checklists to the cards, to know what you need to do and complete it the more you progress.
You just need to have all the members of your team to register on the site, to create an organization and add everyone in it.
Purposes of trello:
- Very useful to have recaps and explanations, and it’s a good way to have information accessible to every member of the project at any time.
- Can allow you to organize all the information concerning the story in a condensed way (our story board for our own project looks like a wiki).
- An easy way to store and organize assets, whether it is for art or music.
- A great way to comment other’s people work, and to make one’s opinion visible on the card.
- A great way to have asynchronous talk if people cannot be free during the same time frames.
- It will be the primary support for conversation between members working on different aspects of the game (writers can comment about the art, the music…)
I cannot stress enough how useful trello is. It might be just the tool that make it that people will want to work for your VN or not.
3c°) Google drive.
Google drive is mostly useful for writing. It allows you to share the content of the writing with the other members, in a way where they’ll be able to comment or edit in real time the documents. Extremely useful, especially for editors. It’s also a good way to be able to monitor writing’s progress.
3d°) Have your own development forums
I’d recommend that mostly if a lot of people on the team are allergic to Skype and Trello.
Basically, most of your exchange will be done on some sort of “private” forums divided in sections where the members will create threads and post in those threads. It has some advantages, mostly:
- It’s the best for asynchronous talk (especially useful if people live in different timezones)
- It always keep a written trace of what has been said / made
- You can add attachments to your posts
It is however much slower and reactive than the other options mentioned above (I personally prefer trello over this.
4°) How to be efficient as a team
Now that you’re all set, I’ll just give some tips gathered from my personal experience in order to get a better efficiency from your team.
4a°) Importance of communication
It feels kinda obvious when I say it, but it’s strongly underrated, communication among the members of the team is the key to success. It is generally the responsibility of the project leader to ensure that everyone on the team communicates. The leader has to coordinate the whole progress of the project, and make sure he’s available to discuss with any member about a problem he/she might have encountered, and if necessary, be the relay / intermediate between the different members of the group. (For example, if an artist encounter a problem with drawing a sprite, the said artist talks about it to the project leader, who will himself question the writer concerned, and if needed will ask the writer to directly talk with the artist.
Also, as it’s the project leader role to make sure everyone is okay with what they are doing, and to make sure that no one feels too shy or scared to share their concerns about any topic. He has also to make sure that everyone tells him when someone has to leave for a determined or undetermined period of time. It’s also his duty to make sure that everyone is aware of the latest news concerning the project, whether it is meetings, deadlines, goals, etc…
One other issue that you might encounter, is people that are not reactive on Skype, and only send a message every 2 weeks before going back MIA. Generally, it’s not a good sign concerning the involvement of the person on the project, but if ever that’s the case, try to send a nice but firm message explaining how you’d wish that this person would involve more on the project. If no effort is made, it’s your choice to whether kick out this person out of the team, or to keep him. Just remember that having someone slack off on his duties (communicating regularly being one of those duties) can be harmful for the whole team if this person has an important role.
Sometimes, it will be necessary for you to set up meetings through Skype in order to share info to several people, or to have them communicate with each others. It’s an important thing to do and is a good way to create teamwork spirit in your team.
4b°) Plan ahead!
Be a master of planification , create checklists, try to think of every hurdle in advance, and try to take preemptive measures to counter those possible future problems. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid putting all your eggs in the same basket, especially if there’s a lot of work to do. Time isn’t your ally, and the more time goes by, the more it is possible that something might happen to one of your member IRL. So try to have several people work on one same thing, so that one can replace the other if ever something happens, and so that progress doesn’t stall. Everyone is not easily replaceable though, so sometimes you might not have a choice.
Don’t wait the last moment when you have something to ask to someone. Always try to do things the earliest as possible, but at the same time, don’t ever plan something you’re not sure to use (never ask a composer to make a track you’re not 100% sure you will use for example).
Try to always have a plan B and a plan C for every issue that you might foresee in the future. You might prepare yourself for nothing sometimes, but the more you’ll be ready when an issue appears, the more smoothly you’ll be able to deal with it, and the less it will stall your project.
Another important thing: get to know who you’re working with. Every member of your team is a human being with different sensibilities, different way of working, different organization, and different work speed. Try to gauge what you can reasonably expect from that person, and plan in consequence. If a composer believes he needs at least two weeks to create a decent soundtrack, don’t expect to have more than 2 tracks per month, and plan in consequence.
Some people find it bothersome, others like them. I have only one thing to say: Set deadlines for your project. They are your bread and butter, what will make that your team will work to reach your common goal. Without a deadline, one’s mind will waver, and might succumb to procrastination (your worst enemy).
A deadline is meant to positively “pressure” someone to make him do the work, it is meant to be like a reference or a checkpoint for the person working. “Am I late compared to the deadline? Will I make it in time?” A good set deadline is meant to pressure enough the members of your team so that they can have motivation to accomplish their jobs, and at the same time should never feel too overwhelming (which would have the opposite effect). Also, a good deadline is set never too far in the future, but never too close at the same time. If your goal is to release a demo, don’t put the deadline 2 weeks after the current date. Give it at least a month or two.
It’s however always a good idea to have an estimated time of release for your full VN, as it gives a good idea of what intermediate deadlines you need to set to reach this goal. For example, if I want my game to be released on Spring 2016, it might be a good idea to consider a release of a demo as an intermediate deadline in Summer 2015.
You might also want to micromanage your team, and set individual deadlines for each precise task. It’s definitely doable, but is a lot more work as a project manager. However, it is definitely a good way to make sure work is done at a regular pace. You might even want to set deadline for people even if there is no practical goal for that, and it’s totally okay to set deadlines just for the sake of seeing progress being made.
A final word on this topic: sometimes, some people might not be able to respect the date of the deadline. It will definitely happen, and that’s something you should expect to happen. That’s why you should always try to give yourself a margin when setting a deadline. If you want something to be released by June, set the deadline in May. And don’t be harsh on the people that are late, especially if you see that they are hard-working. If the deadline was not respected because of pure laziness from the member, or because of a lack of communication (aka: you only receive a message from this person once every month), that’s another story.
4d°) Have fun!
Sometimes, trying to have too much productivity kills productivity.
Forcing people to work on something might result in a lack of quality, because your members will be working on something without motivation. It’s just better sometimes to take breaks, or to laugh and joke together. Heck why not even play online games (that’s what we’ve been doing recently)? It’s always better to not force the chat to be serious 100% of the time, try to be a bit lax from time to time. Take some time to have people get to know each other. To create friendship.
Don’t underestimate the contribution of bonding to your team’s moral. You’ll be always more motivated to work for friends, than working for “clients” or “strangers”. Also, seeing the people you enjoy being with motivated and giving their best to accomplish your goal is a huge motivating factor.
Finally, at some point, it might happen that someone don’t feel like working on the project because he doesn’t find the motivation. Maybe that person will feel that currently, working on the project is a burden. It’s something that can happen to anyone and that is perfectly natural. The best I can advice in those cases, is to take a break from the project, a short one, and do something else instead. Play a Visual Novel. Go back playing to the new extension of your favorite MMO. Go spend some time with real life friends. And (hopefully) come back with your spirit renewed and with full motivation!
5°) Create some awareness for your project
Well, everything is all good and all set, but let’s not forget our primary goal. You obviously want to create a Visual Novel, but you also want it to get recognition, to be read by people all over the world, and possibly to be sold. So basically, you need to do PR job. Don’t believe that PR and marketing are things should be addressed only once the game is created. It is something that should progress at the same pace as the development of your VN. Here are basic things to do to ensure a solid foundation for the marketing and PR of your future VN.
But, what is awareness? It’s very simple: it’s having people know that your VN exists. Your goal is basically to create a system like this:
– At the top, a source: basically you and your team: you are yourself the main advertiser of your own project, and most of the content you release has one goal: create some sort of “fanbase”
(see next point)
– In the middle, a “fanbase”: people very interested in your project that will do their best to support you and share the word because your project is awesome. Most of the time, it will be them who will retweet your messages, share your facebook posts, create forum threads about your project, create let’s play and reviews… They are your most valuable help in advertising your VN, so don’t neglect them!
– At the bottom, normal fellows: they will be the people that will skim through your website and different pages briefly, without necessarily taking a lot of attention, or without being very interested. It’s fine that way, the only thing you want is to make sure thosse people know about the existence of your VN, and that the title will stay in their head. This way, the day when your VN will launch, it is most likely that this person that, at the time, saw your project developing, will say “I think I’ve heard / I know about this game… Might as well give it a try.”
Keep in mind that those should be done only once you actually have content to show or tease about, and if you’re sure that your project is going in the right direction, or at least somewhere. Also, don’t expect your different advertisement pages to be swarmed with messages and followers as soon as you create them. It’s only the beginning, be patient, and have low expectations. Don’t try to create the buzz by all cost if nothing tangible has been created yet. Don’t put the cart before the horse
5a°) Create forum threads
i°) Where do I create forum threads?
- Fuwanovel: http://forums.fuwanovel.org/index.php?/forum/87-ongoing-projects/
The ongoing project section is where you want to create your thread. Make sure to create an intro post organized with sections, pictures, screenshots, a synopsis about the story, information about the characters, what you’re planning to do and what is the current progress. You can also list any role open for recruitment in this post.
Here are some good examples:
- Lemmasoft: http://lemmasoft.renai.us/forums/viewforum.php?f=43
Same as previously, make sure to take care of the look of your thread.
ii°) Tips and advices:
- Be respectful with all the people that will take the time to read what you wrote on your thread, and take some time to comment it.
- Some people will support you and encourage you, don’t forget to thank them.
Some people might come and try to give their opinion about your project:
- Sometimes it will be interesting and constructive criticism, and if that’s the case, you should try to open the dialog with that person, and thank him for sharing his opinion.
- Sometimes, it will merely be someone voicing that the game is not to his liking. Everyone has different things they like and dislike, and I can’t help but share a wise quote about that: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
Assume the choice that you made, and ignore the complains that you might receive. Take care though, if several people complains about the same thing, it has to ring a bell for you and it might be a good idea to question yourself if your decision is a good idea or not.
- Sometimes, you might meet trolls, or haters. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Just ignore those people. Or tell them that you read their messages and that you will take what they said into account. In any case, always stay polite, and never start a flame war on your own thread. It would send a very bad image of your project, whoever might be the responsible for starting it.
- Don’t spam your own thread. When I say spam, it means don’t write post several messages next to each other without a reply from someone else in between (unless you have some juicy news to share, ofc).
- Don’t post a message only for the purpose of bumping your thread. It is not very well seen in forum communities in general. if you bump your thread, always have a valid reason to do so (relevant information, replying to someone’s question…)
5b°) Get yourself a blog / website
It will basically become your public window display for your VN. Make it attracting visually, try to have a visual theme that fits your VN. Also, try to make it so that the name is easy to google.
You don’t exactly need a website to start with, a dev’ blog is probably enough to start with. (An example here: http://katawashoujo.blogspot.fr/)
What will you be talking about in this blog? The progress being made so far by the team, teasers about features to come, publish assets in exclusivity…
If you try to get yourself something more looking like a website, it’s different. You should organize and create section, like what you did in your forum thread. Also, make sure that people can find what is the VN about. An example here: http://lucid9.weebly.com/
Try to update your blog/website regularly (at least bi-monthly), even if you don’t seem to have any follower. Having regular posts and updates show that you’re serious about your project and indicate some professionalism coming from you.
5c°) Social medias
They are your best allies, granted you know how to use them correctly and granted you know the different “codes” and specificity of each social network.
One thing to realize is that followers will come naturally as your VN progresses, so don’t be too obsessed by trying to get the highest number of followers as possible in the beginning.
Also, one thing that will make you much more successful in social networks, is that you need to “give and take”. If you want other people to share your messages and to take interest in you, you need to interact with the countless other actors of the social sphere first. Meaning that you need to reply to the messages people send you, and you also need to show interest in other’s people projects, to comment their status / tweet, to share yourself other’s people posts…
- A facebook group is always a good idea to have.
- A twitter account is a must have, since it’s a good way to grab the attention of people if you get re-tweeted.
- Tumblr is also something you can think about, even though I’m not too familiar about it.
- deviantArt is surprisingly a very good place to garner attention if you share art assets from your Visual Novel with the artists in there.
- Having a soundcloud account for your project might be a good idea as well, since it will allow you to embed music in your various twitter / facebook / blog posts.
Note that getting more people to follow you and take interest in your project is sometimes tedious, and probably won’t happen before you get content release.
Creating a Visual Novel is definitely something that is not easy, and that requires efforts. You will have to be patient, be extremely organized and clever if you want to avoid your project to fail. But in the end, it’s something you won’t regret doing, as it will make you learn how to work in a team, and as it is certainly thrilling to know that you might be able to share one of your creation with the entire world! As for myself, I know that I’d be very proud to be one of those artisans that contributed to spread and share this wonderful thing that is the Visual Novels love.
a°) Should I start on a small or a big project?
It’s probably the first question you should ask yourself. It is common sense and common believe to start to work on a smaller project in order to get experience, and once you feel more at ease to take on a bigger project. While I can’t deny that it’s wiser to do this way, I can at the same time totally understand that some people might not satisfy themselves with a small project, and that they are not patient enough to take such a long detour.
It’s definitely doable to attack a large scale project as your first project, but only to the condition that the person leading is someone that has very good common sense, and that is very organized. Hopefully, this guide should have given you the good foundations for handling and managing even big projects.
It also depends on the time available to work on this project of each member of course. It is also an option to not set this in stone, and to go “We’ll see how much it will end up to be.” Take care though, don’t be too ambitious. Don’t try to aim for a game that will have 7 heroines and 100+ CG… (unless you genuinely believe that you have the team to do that).
b°) How many member do I need? What is the ideal team to have?
It really depends on the scale of your project. But you should at least have one person that can fill each role that I listed above. It is technically doable to create a Visual Novel with a 3 men team (a writer that can program, one artist that can draw everything, and a composer), even though I’d only recommend this for small scale projects. Else, my ideal team would be:
- One leader in charge of management in the team and PR (it can be a writer, but preferably if you have several writers working on your project).
- At least one writer (can also be the programmer if he has coding knowledge or if you don’t have a dedicated programmer)
- One sprites / CGs artist.
- One BG artist
- One composer
- One editor
- One programmer that can also create GUI assets.
Depending on the size of your project, you might want to increase:
- The number of artists (sprites / CG / BG)
- The number of writers
- The number of composers.
c°) I’m missing an *insert role* for my project, and I can’t seem to find one…
It’s definitely annoying and an issue, but there always are possibilities to do without, at least most of the time.
First, make sure that you searched enough. It’s necessary to be patient when recruiting, so don’t lose hope after merely one week of unfruitful recruitment.
- I don’t have a BG artist: I already stated different solutions above.
- I can’t find a composer: You can try to use free royalties track that are free of usage by everyone. Make sure to read the condition of utilisation first! (some tracks are not allowed to be used for commercial purposes, for example)
- I can’t find a programmer: Either learn to use ren’py yourself, or try to use alternative engines that requires fewer programming knowledge (there are a few out there, but development for them is often stalled)
- I can’t find a GUI artist: I’m not sure I can do anything to help you. Your best bet is to keep searching, and continue developing your project in the meanwhile. After all, GUI is not something vital for the development of your VN, and it can be done at any time.
- I can’t find a writer / artist: Sorry, but you are screwed^^ …more seriously, make sure that the problem isn’t coming from your recruitment messages / your VN concept that are not appealing enough.
d°) My project is stalling! No progress is being made! HEEEEEELP MEEEEE!
This issue can come from two different things: either your organization is not good enough, or either your members lack motivation.
- It might not seem very obvious at first glance but the purpose of organization is to spare doing additional efforts for all the people working on the project. Make it easier to get started on work, and to share it with other people. Writers are not writing? Maybe you should help them to plan out the content that they are supposed to write. Artists are not drawing? Maybe because they don’t know where to find the references for this character they are supposed to draw. Make the information easily accessible (thanks to Trello, Google Drive, and Skype pms), and you will see that people will be much more active!^^
- If your members lack motivation, it’s another problem altogether. First, did you follow the advices above? Yes? It doesn’t seem to have been very efficient? Well, once again, don’t underestimate the importance of bonding and creating bonds with your fellow teammates. The next thing that can help is: is your project interesting enough? Do the members see potential in what they are creating? If they do, they’ll be definitely more motivated to work on it. If they don’t, it’s your job to propose new ideas to improve the quality of your project and get your members more hyped than ever.
If your project is a commercial one, things are different since the people that you hire have the duty to furnish enough progress, they are paid after all. Creating something through the internet is a problem in a way that you can’t create and make people sign real contracts. So no one has any legal obligation toward you. But as a project leader, you are the one managing the funds and the money, so you are on your right to not give money until enough progress has been made.
d°) I have a member that only brings troubles to the others… What should I do?
Well sometimes it happen that you made an error of judgement, and recruited someone that revealed himself to be a troublemaker. It’s the job of the project leader to blow the whistle and to ask politely, but firmly that you don’t like the recent behavior of this member, and that if it were to continue, you’d have to kick him out. If that person doesn’t try to change his behavior, it’s your duty to kick that person, no matter how important he might be among the team (even if it’s your main writer)
e°) One of the member is not good enough / not putting enough effort into the project…
It’s very similar to what I said previously.
- If it happens that not enough effort are made: calmly explain the situation in a message to the person concerned. Never try to guilt trip the member, and don’t attack him personally. Listen to what he has to say and explain clearly what you’re expecting from him. Warn him in a friendly tone. If it doesn’t improve, warn him more firmly and give an ultimatum. If nothing has changed after some time again, it means it’s time to demote/kick that person.
- If the person is just not good enough, first you need to blame yourself because that’s probably the result of you recruiting someone without testing that person enough. Now, there’s no real rule about how to handle this, it mainly depends on what are your values. Do you think it’s okay to be unfair to someone and kick that person if that means a higher overall quality for the project? There’s no real answer that is right or wrong imo.
f°) I’m suffering from writer’s block!
First, did you make sufficient planning? One of the possible cause of writer’s block is having only vague ideas or concept, and trying to write a real script from those right away. The most planning (in the details!) you do, the easier it will be for you to write. Don’t hesitate to ask help with people to brainstorm ideas as well.
Secondly, sometimes writer’s block might just be you being a perfectionist. Like, you’re refusing to write bad or “meh” writing, and want to create something great on your first try. It’s not exactly the best way to go when writing, sometimes you must compromise and accept to write lesser quality stuff / fillers, and come back to it later. Because when you’re blocked on something, sometimes the best thing to do is just to write another scene and come back to this one later.
g°) Some members are arguing badly about something, and I’m not sure how to intervene…
It is something that is meant to happen at some point, arguments, more or less serious, will always happen. You have to know how to deal with them as a project leader:
- Tell people to stay respectful and polite. It’s fine to not agree on something, or to be pissed at someone (we’re all human beings), but people have to stay respectful with each other, all the time.
- Try to make sure there is no misunderstanding between the two members. You’d surprised to see how many arguments happen because people misunderstand each other. Have them state clearly what the problem is, on each side.
- Try to compromise. Try to find a solution that both party will find acceptable, and that everyone will agree with.
- And finally, when everything is solved, no ill feelings!
i°) WE MADE IT! OUR PROJECT IS READY FOR RELEASE! …but where can I distribute my VN in order to share it with the world?
- Steam: always a good place, especially if you want to sell your VN.
- Lemmasoft: it’s at least a good place to advertise it
- Fuwanovel: A good place to advertise it as well
- Mangagamer is a good bet as well, although I’m not sure if they are interested in distributing OELVN. MangaGamer actually sells some OELVNs already -ed
- You can try also to get your game distributed in various site that promote indie games, such as http://gamejolt.com/, http://itch.io/, http://www.indiedb.com/ (the links are a courtesy from firecat)
- Sekai Project can potentially help you distribute your VN; they’ve done it for Sunrider and others (alright, Sakura Spirit.) You can contact them at at https://sekaiproject.com/contact/ -ed