Sunday, April 1, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012: In Which He Attempts to Script a Visual Novel

NaNoEdMo 2012 is now finished, though my fourth draft of Spanner isn't. But now Script Frenzy has begun. And lo, what did I decide but to abandon my original plan to adapt a new batch of Spanner chapters into TV episodes in order to flirt with a new obsession: the visual novel.

What is a visual novel? It's something like a videogame version of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel that's recently become huge in Japan. Actually, the form is older than you think, and it didn't even start on any computer system. It dates back to the 1985 laserdisc arcade game Thayer's Quest, whose creator had the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels specifically in mind because, well, how else do you translate the experience of Ultima or the Atari 2600 Adventure on a laserdisc system? But though the storytelling has improved greatly in the ensuing decades (just compare Thayer's Quest and the rest of the Kingdom series to, say, When They Cry or Fate/stay night), the actual gameplay system has not. Visual novel elements have been incorporated into various adventure game genres (e.g. the "conversation" scenes in the Persona series). But considering how in writing Spanner I've been mutating the political thriller genre far beyond the ANSI Standard Thriller Format, I can see that this game genre that hasn't really changed since the days of laserdisc arcade games, I can't help but try to push its limits to the breaking point too. I'm already mulling possible minigames, say, puzzle games, hidden-object games, SCUMM-language point-and-click adventures...

But I won't be concerned with that this month, not really. During Script Frenzy, my primary concern is with the script. And with its translation into an open source game system called Ren'Py. The Ren'Py site explains:
Ren'Py is a free and cross platform engine for digital storytelling. It makes it easy to combine words, images, and sounds to create visual novels and life simulation games.

Visual novels are computer-based stories that are told through words, images, sounds, and music. Many visual novels also present the player with menu choices that allow the player to control how the story is told.

Ren'Py's script language makes it easy to write visual novels, and other writing-heavy games. It's easy to learn, and scales well to the largest projects. Even without customization, Ren'Py provides the features players have come to expect from their visual novels.

Life Simulation games, such as management and dating sims, are more interactive games that mix story with gameplay. Ren'Py's screen language allows one to create complex interfaces, while its support for the Python scripting language makes allows for complex game logic, if that's what your project requires.
Now, Ren'Py's scripting language doesn't look like the standard script formats used for movies, TV shows, comics, and stage plays. Furthermore, you can add Python scripts to your visual novel's main Ren'Py script (that's the "Py" part), many of which are available online but none of which I'll add to my Script Frenzy page count even if I write some myself.

And my first visual novel? It's called The Jennifer Theory. It has nothing to do with my NaNoWriMo 2006/Script Frenzy 2007 project that quickly mutated into another novel entirely, but is a graphic novel that I've been thinking about doing almost as long as Spanner itself, as a side story or (as it eventually turned out) a prequel. I'm reworking it as a visual novel. It's a thriller that wouldn't be much of a "ren'ai" (romance) game anyway (there would be only two romantic choices for Jennifer anyway, her mother [this is a Spanner Side Story] and her favorite cousin Shira, and no way would she dare choose between them). So I'm using thriller conventions to push the limits of a game genre.

So that's what I'm doing. Now to do it...

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