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PAN★TZU - a pixelart style Visual Novel

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    UPDATE #14:

    So this past week I've been suffering from a bad case of procrastination in all fields of my life, especially in schoolwork, and I've also caught the much feared feature creep concerning this project. But I did manage to expand the area some more:
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    I also did these expansions a bit differently than before, this time making it in two tilemaps all their own rather than just expanding the first one, like I've previously done. Someone more in the know about optimization and what not can probably tell me whether this is a good or bad way of doing it... But as far as one level goes I'm probably better off moving from this to new levels, as this is quite big already.
    And with that my goal for next week would be fixing the camera so that it wouldn't go past the borders of the visible map, like how most games do it (ex. Metroid and Super Mario Bros).

    Also, however, like I mentioned the creeping feature creep, I usually also get this big unmotivated streak at around this time in my projects. The very reason why none of my previous projects have ever made it past the half year mark. But I'm hoping to beat it this time using this devblog as my weapon. I also started a "procrastination project" which I'll use to to direct my procrastination into something constructive. Hopefully, there'll also be some leftover motivation to keep my head in this game as well, even if it's just a for little progress each week, I'd be content.
    As they say: "slow and steady wins the race!"


      UPDATE #15?

      So this week was a bit odd... last week I mentioned the feature creep, and due to them I ended up reading a lot of The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, going through the lenses I tried kill the pesky feature creeps by cementing my original idea of what it is supposed to be. An interesting thing happened, however, the more I kept going true the lenses the more my original idea started to feel off somehow. It was kind of like staring into a cracked mirror, the more closely you watch it, the more you see the cracks. Which kind of led me to do some redesigning from restating my "problem" to clarifying my theme which led me into another, quite interesting, direction. I'm not yet sure if I'll go with this idea or not, but maybe it would be fine to chase the rabbit a little further into the whole.

      So the new idea, simply explained (or at least trying to explain):
      A visual novel, where instead of making choices you play short levels with varying gameplay mechanics.
      The story is about a shy introvert to whom communicating with other people is insanely difficult (I know this from experience), but it is her dream to be a game developer and with that she kind of gets dragged into forming a gamedev club at school (still talking about anime schools). The minilevels/games are kind of like an internal monologue in her head as she tries to communicate and get her thoughts in order as well as deal with certain emotions.

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      This is basically how I imagined the set up and gameplay going. Again, I don't know if I'll stick to this or even how far I want to go with this, but at least for now I want to explore it a little further. It's still to be the same PAN★TZU I've been making just a bit different this time (with a little more inspiration from the recent anime Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na!). It's kind of furthering the stupid idea factor I've baseed this game on thus far, so taking it into this direction wouldn't be that far out there.

      So, what's for next week... I really honestly don't know, maybe prototyping this new idea or writing some story and dialogue to see if I actually could even make a visual novel in the first place. But yeah, possible revisions and a new direction (somehow this feels all too familiar to me... better not dwell on it).


        I like this new idea. It's very original, very personalized and it's something that I don't think has been done too often. I'm sure many of us can relate to having conversations work like trying to overcome a bunch of obstacles. That rush you get for being successful at communicating something in my opinion is hardly different than completing a difficult platforming challenge.

        It's also perfectly alright if you feel the need to do major revisions and take a new approach. I'm no stranger to that sort of thing myself. When it comes to prototyping, I might suggest just making all your level ideas first while the actual dialogue would come later. At least for me that approach has worked. Even as one of my own projects is roughly 90 - 95% complete (the game only needs BSP to static mesh conversions and further QA testing), I still find myself changing around the story and dialogue to shape any new details or developments that may have come up.


          Thanks for the positive feedback!

          I've already written a bit of story for a 1st chapter/demo scene. The main point of it has been to just get some text to get the mechanics of text surfing to gameplay to text surfing working properly. I also have a couple level ideas that actually came up during the writing (because the levels seem to work better if they reflect the story situations, who knew).

          I've yet to actually start working on the implementation due to all the redesign work, but I'll start working on a prototype scene this weekend. I spent some good time today searching up some guides, tips and tutorials on splitscreen/screen framing methods to get me started on how to do it as I have imagined it (OpenLevel doesn't really work they way I would need it to in this).


            UPDATE 16

            So after doing some writing and designing a bit further, I've decided to now stick with this new direction, i.e. visual novel with minigames.
            So first of all, the writing. In the past couple days I've managed to write about 2000 words of story, which translates to about 12 minutes of game time, but it's still a start... even if the story itself feels like it's barely warmed up. So I'll have much more writing to do, and I'm sure that's where I'll spend most of my time during this. Writing can also feel quite relaxing, so I'll probably spend most of my evenings writing a little something, even if I might end up changing it later on as the story progresses.
            As for the actual game... that's where I've already managed to run into trouble, though currently I'm feeling quite triumphant. I'm not quite finished with my prototype yet, but I have a battle plan and the pieces are together nicely.

            Firstly, after my idea of shrinking and framing the main view turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated, due to there being no one on the internet who knew how something like that could be done, instead referring to render targets, which I read on about and manged to get a working solution:
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            Currently I'm thinking about using this with level streaming to load and unload the minigames and switching the visibility of the "TV-plane" as needed. If anyone has a better solution, I'm all ears.

            Secondly, the actual visual novel part. Originally I had planned to cook up something myself, but after some dry planning I figured I could check if anyone else had tried it. Surely enough, I ran into some good tutorials on how to make visual novel templates and what not. Then I realized that last fall, I had downloaded Groggeroo's Blueprint Dialogue system when it was free at the marketplace. Seeing this as the chance to finally get some use out of it, I started playing with it... and oh boy... it took me so long, way longer then I think it should've to get it working the way I needed. It's definitely not designed with visual novels in mind (or maybe I missed something). But results are results and I got mine:
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            I know it looks plain, but that's because only the actual dialogue works the way I want it... the rest of the things I haven't touched yet. But I figure I can probably do most of it through that system and datatables... I'm also thinking I might need (at least) two Widget BPs, one for the front with text and stuff the other for the backgrounds and sprites. I've yet to figure that out, but all in good time.

            And if anyone knowledgeable has any good advice or tips or tricks to make my plan better, please, I'm all ears.

            As for next weeks agenda, I foresee myself twiddling with these, trying to get a prototype ready...


              UPDATE #17:

              This week I kind of tried to do it all.
              Starting with more then doubling the word count of my script. Writing stories has always been one of my favorite things once I get going I get going... and I'm still only warming up.
              Secondly I picked and upgraded the models for my main characters:

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              I figure this is a pretty good level of detail for the minigames (and it keeps animation on the simpler side as well). But it really isn't good enough for the VN sprites, for one they aren't quite expressive enough for VN. So I still need to upgrade them further.
              And lastly I spent a LOT of time coding the VN stuff, mainly customizing Groggeroo's Blueprint Dialogues System still. Most of my time went with changing the text to rich text, which proved to be way more trouble then I thought it would be. The reason I felt the need to change for that is because of how easy it is to set and change the fonts and stuff mid sentence and all that, which is quite important for VNs as the text is basically the main actor in them. I still feel kind of bad for defiling Groggeroo's hard build code, and I hope he won't be too mad at me for that:
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              I was planning on doing more this weekend, but I happened to get FFVII Remake early yesterday... which effectively ruined my plans of coding. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

              Next week: more coding(/defiling perfectly good code) and writing and maybe some more character work as well.

              Tho, I am quite sure FFVIIR is going to eat most of my time. But hey it's also done in UE4, so maybe I'll manage to pick up some tips and inspiration while playing.


                UPDATE #18:

                Been busy! Got a lot done! Calming down.

                Starting off with the script again, I've managed to break the 10 000 word checkpoint, which equals roughly an hour of game/read time. This gives me hope in the fact that I really CAN write a proper visual novel and not just a small demo of one. Although one worrying thing I have is that with the story getting longer and longer I also realize jut how many sprites I'm going to have make for it... but at least I don't have to animate them so that's a plus.

                Next the graphics:

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                So I did a bit of iterating and upgraded my models yet again (though the skirts remain a bit dull still). I think that I need one more loop in order to make them "visual novel ready". After that I should start preparing the backgrounds, and while I could make them (much like these characters as well). in one fell swoop in a designated size... personally I got a bit a... fetish if you will for this kind of gradual addition of detail, so I'll most likely make my backgrounds iteration by iteration as well...
                It's also easier to do it that way when you have to make them pixel by pixel (at moments like this, I really wish I had a drawing tablet or something).

                Lastly the programming side... I've quite well managed to butcher Groggeroo's baby while following Project Ispheria's visual novel tutorial and applying that to the system that I already had. And at the moment I'm pretty much done with all the text handling stuff (which isn't quite interesting enough visually to warrant a picture), so now I can start applying the visuals of VISUAL novel system which should net some more interesting pictures for next week's update (provided I get everything working properly).


                  Update #19:

                  I'm glad to say that once again, I've made some nice progress.
                  Starting again with how I've gotten a couple thousand more words to my script. I've divided my writing and events into days, much like many visual novels do, and I'm still writing the first day, meaning that I'm getting more and more hopeful about the whole story being of a decent length...

                  Then moving on to art:

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                  I think these models have the right level of detail to work well as VN sprites, so... next I need to make about a hundred different poses and expressions to account for everything I need in a visual novel. I am still fine tuning them and... layer-...i-...fying them (= separating the different parts of the character into layers... after drawing them).

                  And lastly
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                  The game is finally starting to look like a visual novel. As for the code I'm trying my hardest to make it so that everything would be doable with datatables/sheets from outside the engine I'm also making all the commands as simple as possible to be more writable without difficult scripts and numbers to remember. It's a bit of extra work but I'm sure it'll pay in the end.
                  I also did some UI design, and am thinking about some more decorative versions of the UI, even though this current version already looks nicely aesthetic for a pixel art game, at least for me.
                  I'm also fighting with the idea to make different decorations for each character so the dialogue box would change depending on who is talking... but I'll come to that later as I further in the UI design.

                  Next week, I'd like to get my first background art piece to get the real feeling of the game more visible (the black background is hardly pleasing to look at in a visual novel).


                    I really like the new sprite designs! This game is looking pretty great so far!
                    CURRENT PROJECTS:


                      and on to the update...

                      UPDATE #20:

                      So, following last weeks example, I'l start with the script, I finished the first chapter, or the second iteration of it, now just shy of 15 000 words. Next I'll go through it a third time as I move it on to a csv file. After which it should be quite game ready...

                      Then to graphics:
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                      This week I worked on my first background, in five iterations. I did it by first making a quick reference scene in blender to give my some aid in perspectives (while I can imagine the environment, I'm not quite as adept in imagine proper perspective). After I followed the same process as I did with the characters, where I first did a really low pixel version (16x9) and then kept increasing the density and adding details iteration by iteration. And I think it turned out quite nicely.
                      Next week, though, I'll plan to spent more time on giving the characters more expressions and poses, because at the moment they are still only those base models.

                      Lastly for programming... It's actually easier to show this time through video then to explain so....
                      So basically it's just sprite control and background, not much more. But it is an important thing nonetheless, and Groggeroo's is starting to be even more unrecognizable then it already was...

                      PS. also the video is my attempt at getting some use out of my youtube channel, as I feel I'm just wasting it not posting anything, and I figured the visual novel format lends itself quite well to this kind of logging.


                        Well, it looks nice, amazing, Good job, you are amazing, superb . . .

                        <3 <3
                        Please read, important . .

                        1. I make very scary horror games, it's my favorite, hard - core horror . . . . . The stuff I make is not for kids, so I don't want to work with anyone below 23 - 24, in any way, whatsoever, it's very savage, violent, so don't ask, there's no exceptions, no way, at all . . .
                        2. I have mild OCD, autism, I tend to ask many times, to make sure I'm doing things the RIGHT way, it can seem ' dismissive ', but I'm listening, to everything, no problem . .

                        Thx, <3 . . .



                          UPDATE #21:

                          So I'm still slowly moving the script from Word doc to spreadsheet, the main slowdown is the structuring, deciding on sprites and actually creating those sprites... but I'm starting to get on the roll as I keep making more and more sprites.

                          For the new sprites, it's best to see the new video:

                          as for the coding side of things, I'm still following Ispheria's tutorials, adjusting as I see fit. The main things this week were the save and load functionalities as well as the codex. Though, for my purposes I had the idea to change the codex into the shape of a diary which could have pages, text and images in it as well. I still need to do some testing for it, but the basic codex works as it should, the diary is just a step further... both code-wise and graphics/UI-wise.

                          Next week would be... more of the same as this week, Though, I think it might also be good to start making the reference scene for the next background... if not even a couple iterations on the actual picture.

                          (This update ended having a lot less pictures in it, due to the video format handling the visual side quite well, so my apologies for the wall of text.)


                            UPDATE #22:

                            This week was more of a preparation week than a progress week...
                            This has nothing to do with playing LEGOs at all... I just... I realized, thinking forward, that there'll be a lot of stuff that I need to do in terms of character poses. I mean it's totally acceptable that the character looks directly at the screen, because visual novels usually, mine included, tells the story from a first-person perspective. In my case that's through the eyes of Silvia. However, it's quite unnatural that characters would keep looking at the main character when they are discussing with each other (if there are two or more character in the screen at once). So realizing this, and the need for possibly quite various poses throughout the game I started making a reference model to help me in the future:

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                            It has taken me many days just trying to rig it properly... It still isn't anywhere near good, but it'll do for now, and I'll keep improving it as I go.
                            I also started building my reference for the school:
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                            Which I figured I'll pretty much need to make most of the school for, because there are many places in a school that I might use as a backdrop. So it's good get started on that as well (of course I'm won't make photorealistic or anything, just general shapes and placement... enough to work as a reference).

                            Also here's the new vlog:
                            ...which is quite filled with pretty much nothing other than a few "jokes".


                              I read about you with interest... I see you're also using FL Studio(as me ) in music production. It sounds good. I'm curious to see the progress


                                Yes, FL Studio is pretty great, even with just the Trial version one can already do pretty much anything... other than load saved projects.

                                UPDATE #23:

                                This week was quite busy as it was the last week of school for me for the semester, but at least now I got unhindered time to work on this (or at least until TLOU2 comes out).

                                While I did not make that much progress this week, at least I got a new background done:
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                                Other than that there's pretty much only the video: (which is starting to steer more and more away from actual updates)

                                I really don't want to make any promises for next week, but I'm going to start working on the sprites for Rina (the green-haired girl), so I'd get further in the game ready story... other than that is only writing more story and some coding to advance the visual novel system.