VISUAL NOVEL DEVS UNITE
Zetsuna here, this time covering an online conference for visual novel (time to drink) developers by VN developers. It’s not only the seasoned pros though, but rather including and welcoming amateur and pro alike in a gathering of enthusiasts, in a mission to learn from each other.
So here I am, writing an aftermath article on one doozy of a conference hosted on the morning of Saturday January 14. Talks from experts ranged from business/project management, creative (artist, writer, and composer), and programmer perspectives.
Randy “Agilis” Au kicked the conference off with a bit of a history lesson on what the market was like prior to the 2008 financial crisis and how it’s affected the industry in Japan, then pivoted to what’s happening currently in the Western market (especially in regards to Steam) as well as general trends there. Justin Kuiper followed with a short talk focused on selling your VN, particularly to people not familiar with the medium. Ian Glidewell continued the theme of marketing, particularly in the indie company’s experimental “log line and key visual” approach prior to release. For project management, Tabby recounted past experiences with the three novels worked on, as well as mistakes and lessons learned during the process. EchoFrost and Wolf covered the inevitable mishaps that happen during development and how to overcome them with good leadership and company values. Nick Johnson gave a quick talk on how to support your VN, before, during, and after release day. Tinfoil’s talk consisted of one part history lesson on ‘going legit’ from fan translation to payroll localization work, and one part general project management overview.
Over in the creative sphere, we had Christine Love go over narrative techniques in her new game, Ladykiller in a Bind, as well as general advice that worked well during development. FredtheBarber talked briefly about the necessity of editing and the different forms it can take (developmental, line, copy) throughout a project. Jake Bowkett gave a talk about the process of designing a studio’s logo (entirely in Photoshop, no less!) and all the considerations involved in smithing the brand, while Nick Green flexed his architectural degree by flooring all in attendance with his absolutely enormous model of an entire less-than-urban cityscape rendered in SketchUp Pro. Seriously, I’m not even joking. Joshua “Ryechu” Renner gave a primer on the essentials of nukige and how to publish your own nukige title using his latest game as an example. For music, Yami (Kawasumi) went over why good music is so critical to the VN experience with a discussion of music theory, and the devils that commonly plague the audio component.
For programming, John Doran opened with the main game engines used for development as well as brief pros and cons (alongside plugs for his published books). KG Tan gave a thorough lecture on the capabilities of the Unity3D Engine and how he and his team made use of the engine to develop their VN. Lawrence Brenner gave an audio-only talk about how the industry will fare in the present age of mobile [gaming], and pointed out examples of how the medium can properly expand to the mobile platform. Rounding out programming was Tom “PyTom” Rothamel showcasing how the Ren’py scripting engine has grown in recent history, writing code on-screen to illustrate, and demoing improved scripting tools in the new build (published during the conference).
By February 1, Randy Au aims to upload and make fully public a video recording set of all the talks and copies of the slides used (but alas, without the fast-moving Discord chat in its entirety) for everyone who was unable to buy a ticket. Ticketholders should have an email with a link to another party’s recording.
“Surprisingly enough, everything was not on fire” (EchoWolf). Technical problems were at a minimum, with a couple microphones cutting out and Tabby’s internet acting up a few times. Time handling was absolutely excellent, something unheard of especially considering this was the first Visual;Conference ever.
Overall I feel like the entire conference was well worth the ticket fee, since there was so much Western industry expertise concentrated in half a day. The topics covered were varied enough without factoring in presenter touches, and the online format meant that people all over the world – again not kidding, people in 29 countries showed up to attend – could listen in without all the travel costs (but alas, without the after-party). I especially liked the importance of GUI from Christine Love, as it’s a visual element not often given the proper attention but is visible for long periods of time during VN gameplay. If I had to nitpick, I’d cite the five-minute talks – yes, I liked the editing talk too – as topics highly deserving of more time.
Also like other people out there, I too feel the itch to go and help develop a VN for others’ enjoyment (hint hint). Visual;Conference 2017 was an absolute blast and I hope to cover the next one.