Friday, April 17, 2015

10. Start with a PLAN!

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction 
10. Start with a PLAN!
Time wasted on False Starts
is Time Wasted for Game Creation.

No, seriously... Before you write a single word of code or text, make a List, or generate a MindMap of EVERTHING you'll need to make your Interactive Fiction project happen. 

Planning before you commit time and resources to a project is especially important if you have a Deadline, or are working with a Team of Creators.

Think: If it's costly for an ordinary Novel in terms of multiple drafts and rewrites, then it is doubly costly for an Interactive Fiction such as a Visual Novel, not only in multiple drafts and rewrites, but coding, graphics, music, SFX, voice actors, and art.

So where do you begin?

You begin with the Game Mechanics.
Adobe Flash CS5.5
Or more accurately, you begin by deciding what program or Game Engine you'll use; Renpy, NScriptor, ChoiceScript, Twine, inklewriter, Inform 7, StoryNexus, Novelty, Adobe Flash CS5.5, html5... Once you know what you plan to use you'll know what is possible

Case in point, Adobe Flash CS5.5 is extremely popular for creating fully animated games you can play online, but if you want the player to be able to save their games, or adjust the sound and text speed, you'll have to build all that from scratch. Also, the learning curve is pretty steep.
Visual Novel Engine
Ren'Py, on the other hand, comes already set up with a built-in preferences screen for text speed and volume adjustments, plus unlimited saves and navigation, and it's user friendly to code. However, Ren'Py's animation capabilities are extremely limited and you cannot play them online. The games created with Ren'Py must be downloaded. 

Certain other Interactive Fiction programs work just fine online, but don't allow for music or graphics other than a single background image.

Choose Wisely. Decide exactly what you want your Interactive Fiction to DO then select the program that fits your needs best.

So! Once you know what your engine is capable of doing--

Plan the STORY.

THIS is where you begin your planning. Mainly because you won't even know what Characters or Backgrounds you'll need until that Story is planned out to each individual End.

However....! Unlike a traditional Novel, you cannot write any form of Interactive Fiction without PLOTTING out the entire thing in detail. Seriously.

That stream-of-consciousness writing often encouraged by Creative writers simply Will Not Work on Stories that have more than one route and multiple endings. The writer that tries to do so, will get lost very fast.

PLOT the Story
 Scene by Scene.

Start by marking out each major scene then break them down into individual routes and branches.

Don't leave anything out!
  • Each Route; and where they intersect.
  • Each section of Narrative Story; in addition to the dialog.
  • Where the Mini Games will go.
  • Each Ending; and how to get there.


My plotting program of choice is a mind-mapping program called FreePlane. It's Free, it's easy, you can play with the fonts, you can add images, and it comes with Spell-Check

Plan Everything Else.

Plan out your Story's needs.
  • All the Characters you'll need.
  • All the Locations you'll need.
  • All the Stats and Flags needed.
  • All the Mini Games and where they'll go.

Plan out the Art you'll need.
  • Backgrounds; plus their Layers.
  • Character sprites; and the variations needed.
  • Static scenes (CGs)
  • User Interface graphics; buttons, sliders, textboxes...
  • The Artists you might need. 

Plan out the Music and Sound Effects you'll need.
  • What you need.
  • Where you can get it.
  • How and Where you intend to use each piece. 

Allow me to say this one more time:
Don't waste your time and efforts,
or that of those creating your assets.
Start with a PLAN.

This doesn't mean you can't change your plans as you get further into the project. In fact, Expect to change your plans as you get further into the project because of people quitting, artistic skill limitations, coding skill limitations, time constraints, music and SFX availability, exams, work schedules, life in general...

However, if you already have a Plan, you can make far quicker adjustments to your Interactive Fiction's needs and the needs of your Team with very little waste of either time or assets.

Ookami Kasumi
 -- Finished, finally! I hope you enjoyed the series. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

9. Trim All Excess Fat.

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction
9. Trim All Excess Fat
Keep your Interactive Fiction Firm and Tight!
“...the writer who breeds more words than he needs
is making a chore for the reader who reads."
Dr Seuss
Just because you Can make your Interactive Fiction longer with additional fluff does Not mean you should! Don't make your game a chore for your Players to read. Only keep in what you actually need. Anything more is Excess Fat.

The last complaint you ever want from your Players is: "It was so long!" or worse: "It dragged on forever!" What you Do want to hear is: "I wish it was longer!" That is a sign that you did it just right.

So how do you do that?

The easiest way is--

Plan your Game out FIRST!

Also known as PLOTTING. If you have a set outline mapping out each individual route, and the flags needed to get there, it's far more difficult for Excess Fat to creep in.

However, if you're writing your Interactive Fiction on the fly, literally when you feel inspired or 'by the seat of your pants,' Excess Fat is guaranteed to happen.

Feature Creep: A main cause of Excess Fat.
How does Excess Fat happen? 

It happens because there are always going to be scenes and routes you, the creator, will enjoy writing more than others. Those scenes are where Excess Fat creeps in.

The only way to fix excess fat is with EDITING. That means going though all of your text before you put it in your game and Cutting Out what you don't actually need to make the Interactive Fiction work. 

So how do you recognize Excess Fat? Balance is the Key.

Are certain scenes Longer and More Detailed than the others? Break out the clippers! Those are the scenes that need a trim. Mercilessly cut them down in length to match the other scenes. Balance your scenes by making them all roughly the same length.

"But I like that snappy little dialog exchange!"

Does that particular dialog exchange:
Do something,
Show something
or Make something Happen?

Yes: Keep It.
No: Cut It!

It's that simple, really.

What you Should Not Do is pad out the shorter scenes to match the fluffier scenes. That padding is pure Excess Fat -- and a waste of your time and that of your Players.

Excess Fat is a
Waste of Resources! 
If you already have enough to get your Players from Scene A to Crisis B to Ending 1, Stop! Don't waste your time --or money-- on backdrops, character expressions, coding, sound effects, or music if you don't actually need them.

Keep your Story content trim, firm, and tight without excess fat! Your artists and more importantly, your budget will thank you.

Ookami Kasumi

10. Start with a PLAN!
Time wasted on False Starts is Time Wasted for Game Creation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

8. Learn Proper Grammar -- Or Else...!

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction
If you think people don't do this while playing an Interactive Fiction, you're dead wrong.
8. Learn Proper Grammar -- Or Else...!
If you don't have a Grammar handbook, Get One
You're going to need it.

No matter what language an Interactive Fiction is written in, and no matter how much it is illustrated, Writing, and the Grammar that supports it, are unavoidable -- even when the only writing visible is dialog.

She forgot to use her SPELL-check.
Get it Right!
Or face the Wrath of your Readers!

I don't know how many beautifully illustrated Visual Novels I've shut off in complete disgust --and Deleted-- because of poor grammar, careless spelling, and sloppy sentence structure.

And I am not alone.

You want proof? Take a good look at the reviews and comment posts the players leave. If there are grammar and spelling mistakes in that Interactive Fiction THAT'S where you'll find them.

Proofreaders: Get Some!
There are those who say, it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes look at your work. Very good advice. However, don't just settle for one. Get several pairs of eyes looking at your work before you expose it to the general public.

I'm not talking about test-players. I'm talking about Proofreaders. People who look specifically for grammar and punctuation errors.

In fact, if you're smart, you'll get yourself a Grammar Nazi. It's the only way to be sure.

Creativity is No Excuse
for Sloppy Grammar or Punctuation!

I don't give a crap how many people tell you: "It's okay to be Creative with your writing."

Grammar, Punctuation, and Sentence Structure are NOT areas where Creativity belongs. 

If you want to be Creative, do it in your Art style, Plotting, Dialog, and Characters. That's where creativity belongs.

Grammar has RULES and they're there for a reason. Grammar exists to make writing clear and understandable to those who read it. This is especially important in Interactive Fiction where the clues to what's happening in the story are more often than not, in the Text.

Memorize this:
What CAN be Misunderstood
WILL be Misunderstood.

Punctuation: It saves lives.
Readers and Players are notorious for completely missing what's written only to make up what they think is there.

This is especially true when the Grammar is Poor, or worse: Creative. Even worse; when these Players finally figure out that what they thought they understood was something else completely, they get pissed -- at the Creator. 

Don't give your Players an excuse to misunderstand your work.

Use proper and recognizable Grammar to make sure they understand what you've written the first time around. 


Commas: There for a reason.
Do NOT rely on only the Internet for your spelling and grammar needs! Seriously.

Get an actual book, or PDF ebook, and READ IT! That's what books are for you know, reading. There are tons of things that stories use regularly that are skipped in Language class.

For example, how to use a comma. Clue: You don't just put commas anywhere you please, and you don't leave them out when they're needed!

Also, for all the little gods' sakes, read up on how to properly use an ellipses. Clue: You know those three periods in a row? They have a name; ellipses, and they serve a specific function. That function is not to signal a long pause or a break in dialog. That's Japanese grammar, not English grammar. Okay?

Just so you know, this is my grammar book of choice:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire
The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar
for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed

by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

I also have an Oxford dictionary and a Roget's thesaurus. They all sit on my desk right next to my monitor.

Get your grammar book today! Your Players will thank you.

Ookami Kasumi

9. Trim All Excess Fat. 
Keep your Interactive Fiction Firm and Tight! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

7. Realize Your Limitations.

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction

7. Realize Your Limitations.
Don't take on more than you can handle!

We have all seen this happen, and far too many of us have experienced it first hand: The over-enthusiastic Beginner.

It starts with the discovery of their first Interactive Fiction. "Oh, it's a story-game. Neat."

Then, after playing about a dozen free Interactive Fiction games... "Huh... You know, I could do something like this. After all it's just a story with music and pictures, right? The site even provides a basic engine to make one. Hmm... The coding even looks fairly easy. I think I'll make one too!"

And off they go, downloading the engine of their choice. After all, they can write pretty good, or draw pretty good, or code pretty good... Well, they're pretty good at something, anyway. Not only that, they've got this FANTASTIC IDEA!

Unfortunately, the idea really is fantastic, and that's the problem. 

Their idea is so fantastic that it's far, far beyond the skills of a completely inexperienced, first-time creator to make. However, because the creator is so inexperienced they don't realize this. They don't have any frame of reference -- yet.

They have no idea how much work it really is to make all those graphics; character sprites, backgrounds, buttons, bars, text boxes... Some of them don't even have PhotoShop or  Gimp to make the graphics with. 

They have no clue how tricky it can get to code complicated animations, or just how much planning it takes to map out a multi-path story so that it doesn't have glaring plot-holes, or how long it takes to write all that stuff out. Then of course there's finding background music and sound effects... And they want a gallery, and they want a music room, and...etc.

Then they start making it.

That's when they suddenly realize just how much work is actually involved, and just how much they Don't Know. 

Some of these creators --the smart ones-- will shelve their Fantastic Idea and make smaller, simpler games until they learn all the skills they need to make their first idea a reality.

Unfortunately, far too many of them won't
Rather than put their fantastic idea aside and try something closer to their actual skill level, they plow ahead spending months, if not years working on this one game by themselves. Others go out and get skilled artists, experienced coders, a graphic designer, a music designer, make up for the skills they lack...and keep going. 

A few actually finish their games -- after months, or years of toil. Some make a working demo only to come to a complete stop. However, more often than not, these games languish unfinished on their creator's computer, and some creators quit entirely, never to try again.

Impatience and Pride

These two vices encourage new creators to start projects that are much too big for their skill and experience levels.

Sure, you can buy art, and hire skilled help, but that is no guarantee that the project will turn out good. Certainly not good enough for people to pay money for it.

There are literally thousands of games made by highly skilled people with extremely expensive resources that No One Will Buy because despite all the pretty graphics, they're Crap. Just ask the gamers around you. I assure you, they'll be able to list at least six professionally made Crap games just off the top of their heads.

 The key to Successful Game Creation is  
NOT trying to Do it ALL!  
Especially, the First time.

If you want to make successful (read: popular) games, FIRST you need to learn different ways to get around Your Limitations, preferably in small, easily digestible, bite-sized chunks (read: small individual games,) that you Build upon. 

Start with a list of what you CAN do. 
  • Draw
  • Paint
  • Character design
  • Landscape art
  • Write a story
  • Coding
  • Graphic design
  • Music design
  • Photography
  • PhotoShop
  • Poser 3D
  • Daz 3D 
  • Sketch-up
Then make a list of what you CAN'T do. 
  • This is where you're going to need help, and probably more than you expect. 
  • This is also where you're going to have to exercise your creativity to figure out ways around them.

It takes Time and Experience to learn everything you need to know to make the game you dreamed of. Time and Experience that can only be gained through Practice and Experimentation.

Start small and work your way up to bigger, and hopefully, better. One step at a time.

Ookami Kasumi
 -- Stay tuned for #8!

8. Learn Proper Grammar -- Or Else...! If you don't have a grammar book -- Get One. You're going to need it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

6. You will Never have Enough.

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction

6. You will Never have Enough.
Time, Money, Images, Music, or Sound Effects...
You will always run Short of Something.

When building your Interactive Fiction, no matter how many assets you get your grubby little mitts on, there will always be that certain something you don't even know you need -- until it comes time to code that one particular scene.

Whether it's a certain angle, pose, or expression for a character image, a specialized string of code, a particular sound effect, or a specific background image, there will always be something that you didn't know you'd need -- until you do.

To make matters worse... No matter how many character sprites and backdrops you do have, there will always be scenes you simply can't illustrate the way you want to. There will always be a particular sound effect you can't find. There will always be a piece of music you just can't get your hands on.

So, what do you do when that happens? 

Well, you can pay a hefty chunk of change to get a professional to make exactly what you want, or go back to the professional you already hired and pay them a hefty chunk of change to adjust what you already have -- IF they still have the original files to work from.

Or find a way to work around the problem.  In other words... 

Get Creative
--and find a way to use what you already have.

My biggest problem, for example, are my less than proficient drawing skills. I can write a damned good story, but when it comes to making Visual Novels, creating backgrounds and character art is a serious hurdle. 

So I got Creative with the skills I did have, namely; PhotoShop.

From: Faery Tale
To make Background Art, I found photos that fit the backgrounds I wanted then used PhotoShop to run those photos through a combination of custom filters to make them look like paintings. 

There are programs that do this, but they tend to cost serious money. Something many creators simply don't have.

As for Character Art, I originally did the same thing. I looked for photos that I could use. (Thank you!) I then used PhotoShop to cut them out of their backgrounds, manipulated them into what I needed, then ran them through the same filters I used for the backgrounds. This way the characters and the backgrounds matched in style.
The Adventures of Prince Ivan

Eventually, I did learn to draw my own Characters -- using hundreds of separate layers, so I could fully animate their limbs in addition to their expressions.

However, I still had scenes in my Visual Novels that I simply didn't have the skill to illustrate.
  • Kissing scenes
  • Love scenes
  • Fight scenes
I just didn't have the skill to redraw all my characters, and their wardrobe changes, into the positions I needed.

Typically one would rely on a static image commonly called a CG (Computer Graphic,) and  write the whole scene with enough detail that the player can see what's happening from the words alone.

Another option is to cut the scene out completely. However, cutting scenes isn't really an option in my stories. Each and every scene is needed to complete the story without leaving plot-holes.

from: Faery Tale

Anyway... Using static images and novel-mode text boxes with the scenes written out in detail solved most of my artistic problems. 

However, that technique would not work for my game "The Adventures of Prince Ivan." Using a screen full of text to replace the fight scenes I needed --but couldn't illustrate-- simply wouldn't fit with the style used in the rest of the game, not when I’d fully illustrated and animated all the other scenes.

So, what did I do? I put the whole scene Off-Screen. 

I had the fighting characters move off-screen and used Sound Effects and Dialog between the characters that were still on-screen to detail what was happening where the Player couldn't see it, off-screen.

It wasn't elegant by any means, but it didn't disrupt the flow of the story, or jar the Player with a sudden change of style. I'm sure there are yet more options I could have tried, but that's all I could come up with at the time.

is Your Friend

Truthfully, the best way to keep from running out of things is to Plan Ahead by Plotting out the entire game and creating lists of everything you might need, plus a few extras.

Even so, there will always be things you miss. When that happens, you can either cough up some cash and get a professional --and hope they can match the style you already have-- or you can just get Creative.

Ookami Kasumi

Sunday, April 12, 2015

5. Make Every Ending True

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction
 5. Make Every Ending 'True!'
Just because You, the Creator, consider a particular Ending 'True' does NOT mean your Players will.

I'm sure you've heard it a million times: "Oh, I finally got the 'True' ending!" And this: "The ending I wanted happened too quick." Or worse: "The ending I got seemed . . . unfinished."

Don't let this happen
to Your Interactive Fiction. 

Just because you, the creator, have decided that one Ending in particular is the 'True' Ending does not mean you can short-change the rest of the Endings!

Treat each and every ending as a 'True' ending, even if the Main Character suddenly dies. Anything less is a direct insult to the player that didn't get your 'True' ending.

This is especially true if your Interactive Fiction is a Romance.

It's Love. Really.
Players of Romance games not only make their decisions based on what they've learned while playing, they make their decisions, and select their Choices based their FEELINGS. 

By insisting that only One ending is Right and True, you've pretty much told the Player that their decisions --and their feelings-- were WRONG.

Treat your player's feelings with care. Give them the Ending they want -- not the Ending You want them to have. 

But I've got like, 50 possible Endings!

If you've got that many possible Endings-- Hell, if you've got more than Two Endings per possible pairing, plus an Alone ending, you've got a LOT of work ahead of you. Especially since each Ending must be thorough enough to read as being a True End.
It's Love. Really.

So, what do you do? 

You trim down the list of Endings to the very minimum, and you adjust the routes to reach Only Those Endings.

Player dies early in the game? 
Shunt every one of those deaths to the same "You Died" Ending. You can even add text hints as to what they missed by using a simple flag that tracks where or how they died. This way you can keep the relevant details down a single line of extra text -- in addition to your Ending text.

Date-able Characters that need
more than one Ending each?
Each one needs their own Ending,
or there will be screaming from the fan-girls,
and possibly death-threats.

Cut all the endings down to Two Endings per character; Love End, and Friendship End, plus One Alone End. With five date-able characters, that makes eleven endings. If you skip the Friendship ends altogether, you'll only have six.

However, the best way to keep the number of Endings manageable is by PLANNING out all the Endings before you start writing.

Full-Size: Right-Click > View Image

Plan your Endings Before you Write!
Plan Everything Before you Write!

There are Creators that don't like to plan out their Interactive Fiction ahead of time. They like to write their scenes, add characters, and generate endings as their inspiration directs them. Those are the Creators that never finish their games.

If you want to reach the finish of your Interactive Fiction, you'll need some kind of Plan to make it happen. 

Look at it this way...
If you don't know where you want to end up, how do you expect to ever get there? 

Just like with a road-trip, you need to know where want to get to to know what routes to take to reach it. As a creator of Interactive Fiction, or any other game, that means you'll need to know ALL your Endings before you can even begin to take your Players there. 

Ookami Kasumi

Saturday, April 11, 2015

4. Delete Useless Crap.

10 Things You Should Know About:
Writing Interactive Fiction

4. Delete Useless Crap.
If it doesn't affect the Player's Decisions
-- Delete IT!

Memorize this:
 Anything that Can be cut out of your game
Should be cut out. 

This includes:
Unnecessary Back-Story

If the events that happened to the main character before the actual Game begins do not directly affect the decisions the Player will have to make then those facts are Not Needed. 

Anything that's Not Needed
Doesn't Belong in your Game!

On the other hand, if these same facts add Character and offer insight to the main character's thoughts and actions then they DO Matter. Those should be included.

However, there's no need to waste time, text, and game assets; music, backgrounds, character images... on whole scenes that take place in the past to show said facts. A quick spot of dialog mentioning them is good enough.

  • "Oh, I grew up in an orphanage, so I'm used to being around lots of noisy kids."
  • "Why should I trust you? All the men I've known so far were only after one thing."
  • "I accidentally did a rain spell that almost caused a flood, so my home village sent me here to learn how to do control my magic properly." 
  • "I have older brothers, and they're all bigger than me, so I learned how to fight dirty out of sheer self defense."
  • "I grew up on the streets. I learned the hard way not to take anyone at face value."
After that, add a simple action sequence showing those traits In Action. That's all you'll need to get your point across without bogging down the Story, and the Game. 

That said, the most common Useless Crap that's added are--

Character Development?
Superfluous Love Scenes 
and Pointless Fan-Service

These most commonly appear in Adult Visual Novels, and are most frequently seen in the illustrations. However, long, drawn-out Love Scenes --with or without accompanying imagery-- have also been known to show up in more than a few Interactive Fiction games that aren't even Romances. Love Scenes that don't actually serve a purpose in the Story.

A meaningful over-night relationship.
These Love Scenes are nothing more than bait to attract Players.

Don't Bait the Hook if you Don't have
the xXx Content to back it up!

The problem is, this sort of bait only attracts only one type of Player, and that type isn't going to be happy with anything less than Hard-Core xXx content -- and lots of it. As in; the entire game. In addition, these Players can get pretty cranky when they're Not Satisfied.

Will your work satisfy these Players?
If you are creating Hard-Core xXx Interactive Fiction, by all means continue with your PWP, (Porn Without Purpose) and make those Players happy.

However, for those making Interactive Fiction that isn't crammed full of Hard-Core xXx content --  

Cut That Shit Out!!!

Please allow me to repeat myself. If the Love Scenes do not directly affect the decisions the Player will have to make in the Interactive Fiction, then those Love Scenes are Not Needed. 

Anything that's Not Needed
Doesn't Belong in your Game! 

However...! Love Scenes do indeed serve an actual purpose in Stories. For example, when you ask Romance Novelists about Love Scenes, this is what they say:
"I don’t write about sex, I write about desire and heartbreak."
-- Steven Almond

"...the key to a romance novel is, and always will be, the relationship between the two main characters and the emotions that develop between them."
-- Sara Fitzgerald

"Romance has an equal balance between sexuality and emotional bonding. Pornography has sex with little or no bonding."
-- Karen Wiesner
In other words, Love Scenes are particularly useful when used to show the Development of a Relationship.
In fact, increasingly suggestive Loves Scenes are an excellent way to show the Progression of Intimacy in a Relationship, even if the Interactive Fiction isn't a Romance. 

Okay fine, so how does this affect the Player's decisions?

If the Player wishes to develop a relationship within the story --or wishes to avoid one-- I'd say this could affect the Player's decisions quite a bit.

How do you know
when you have a Love Scene
that isn't needed?

Here's a handy-dandy test:

Can you Replace your Love scene
with a Kissing scene -- or any other Action scene
without ruining the Story?

Yes!    No.
 Go to A        Go to B

A: You did it Wrong. You've added a Love Scene that serves no purpose other than Decoration. Time to trim some Fat.

B: You did it Right! That Love Scene definitely belongs in your story. 

What about Fan-Service?

Whether it's a juicy scene in an Interactive Fiction, or a juicy image in a Visual Novel, Fan-Service has only one purpose: to encourage people to play --or buy- that game just to see it.  

Fan-Service is the Prize at the bottom of a cereal box. Also known as; a Marketing Gimmick.

Do you really need to include a Marketing Gimmick in your Interactive Fiction? Is an offer of Fan-Service the only way anyone will play it? Seriously?

I let you figure that one out yourself.

Ookami Kasumi