DEVELOPMENT CORNER
Designing and Completing a Ren'ai Game
by mikey

Hi, game-developer! If you're here, you probably want to make your (first) ren'ai game, right? It really looks simple. Just a few graphics and some text. Most people think this way and then, get stuck in their projects. Why's that you ask? Well, it's funny, but it seems making ren'ai games might be far harder than it seems. Mostly because the games are also story-dependent and you have to draw reasobnably good art in manga style as well. So gameplay-based game-making skills alone won't get you far (like in shooters or logical games). Even complex RPGs can be made by programmers with some artistic skills.

Shoujo Attack!But there might also be another reason: Ren'Ai has a very small fan-base, even within the anime community itself. Blue Lemma's Shoujo Attack! as shown on the left is much more known than his ren'ai game Tales of Lemma, and the time spent creating the game is not always proportional to the response it will have internet-wide.

And yes, the third danger is cheap hentai. Games put together in a few days will be known by thousands of teenagers who see the h-word. So before you even begin considering, make sure you really want to make the game for more than just an increase of your site traffic. It's almost impossible to make a ren'ai game without getting really involved in it and believing in what you do. But if you are determined, and offer more than just "a cool game where you can score with anime girls", the ren'ai community will reward you. And you'll never want to make a shooter again ;)

So then... The following are my tips to making free ren'ai games. They may seem strict and sometimes even against the dreamy nature of a ren'ai fan, but I hope you'll find them useful. They are here to help you complete your project.

Technology Comes First

Do you first think up an idea about the game you'd like to make and then try to find the means to materialize it? Well, that is the most uneconomical and slowest way to make games!

Think of creating games as building from LEGO blocks. Say you wanted to build a car. First you'd think it up and then find all the LEGO blocks needed to assemble it. That search will be tiring and it may happen that you will always look for alternative blocks and rework parts of your masterpiece. But take two handsful of blocks and you will HAVE to put in creativity. You might not end up with a car, but with a fantastic strange-o-mobile, that will be fun to look at and play with. Your creativity will be seen in every block position.

This transforms into your project as well. If it's a first-time project, make it a simple game, establish yourself (also known as Blue Lemma's Rule #1, wonderfully explained here). But even when you have already done a project or two, don't get carried away - your team of 3 people cannot make every other project bigger than the previous. Limit yourself, because what counts is a complete game. Not a demo, not a dream.

Black PencilYou should always work with what you have. If you know your game can't be longer than 15 minutes of play, think of a story which is perfect for a 15 minute game. So that people will say: "If that were any longer, it wouldn't be it". Also, don't worry if one part of the game elements takes on a dominant position - if you can draw, make a game with lots of special scenes. If you're good at writing put the story in the foreground.

You can take my game, Black Pencil. I had no color graphics available, so I decided to go with a "noir" style story, and let the handicap of b/w graphics work for me - by creating atmosphere. I created the game's story to fit the technological possibilities I had. I don't mean to brag though, okay? Just an example.

Planning

1. Don't plan on the wrong end! More than character bios which list the favorite flower types of your characters, you need to plan the important things: what kind of engine will you use, the overall look of the game, background type or music. Leave the characters and the story for later. Yes that's right, technology first, story second, remember?

Design2. Plan the scope of your game precisely. 5 endings, 3 characters, 12 locations... have clear numbers. Playtime, gameplay system, story outline... everything must be defined. You need a framework. Do not leave anything open, like "Oh, we'll decide on whether there'll be more endings and perhaps a bonus location later." Once you have the framework, stay within it. If you must make changes, make only very very small ones.

3. If you work with a team, try to select people you can handle. Prefer a mediocre artist who lives next door over a skilled one who promises to send you the artwork, but has to finish his other project first. Also remember that the more people, the harder the coordination. And, you are not the boss of your team, because these people volunteered (or have even been asked to participate), so you can't really press them that much, because they'll quit. Team creation would yield for a nice book, therefore just one rule: Always think what's best for the project - design it in a way which will allow new people to take place of others, should you need to do this at some point. Also, ask for help only AFTER you've done your part of the project first.

Discipline

Now you have a plan, and all you need to do now is to stick with it and that's when discipline comes in. Discipline will distinguish you from dreamers and open the doors of Club Completed for you. Making the game is 10% creativity and 90% work. Never forget that. Try to follow these rules to ensure you don't get carried away.

1. Don't start working on a second project, even if you think you can do it! It just makes you lose your focus. If you need a break, take a walk, or go for a swim! Don't collect new ideas or write outlines for your next project or even a sequel. Pinch yourself and keep your eyes on the road!

2. Don't make too many changes to the project once you started production! Think discipline. If your plan was to have a black/white game, do not start to color it all of the sudden. Stick to your plan and finish the game the way you planned it, even if you think you could do better. Save the refinements for a sequel.

3. Try to execute your production plan in one breath. The more you break the continuity of your work, the more energy it will cost you to get back into the process of resuming work on your game. If your pause is too long, you will need to refresh your game ideas, read the script once more and recall what things you wanted to put in. Re-motivating yourself will slow you down immensely. Fan projects on hold are basically dead projects.

Forum Annoucement
Announcements

Announcing the project too early will mostly kill it. People love to talk how things could be and tend to get tangled up in discussions. Posting a screenshot every time something new happens will slow things down even more. Sure, it's nice to see all the commments from all the fans waiting for the game to come out, but remember: Making games is not imagining how cool you will make them and making games is not talking about how cool they will be. Don't get carried away in forums. There's nothing more sad than a year of posts at a forum with detailed descriptions of locations or characters but zero progress. It's called game-MAKING for a reason.

Delays

If you set a date even such as This Summer, please mean it. Otherwise, you're just letting your fans down. Delaying the game with release promises won't bring you any more trust. Eventually, if you make that "this time for sure" announcement, your fans will just relax in their chairs with a smile.

Also, one more thing: No one critically needs to know why your project is not continuing according to plan. Anyone who does something like this for free has his/her own real-life problems, and yes, even unexpected situations that interfere with the project. Try to avoid making promises you can't keep, so that you don't have to write that famous: "Because of (*insert excuse*) the project will be delayed until the (*insert new deadline*)."

Motivation

From time to time, you may feel the project is not moving along smoothly, you have a creator's block or (admit it) you are just lazy. There are many ways of fighting this, and you may want to try to think for a while how nice it would be if that final build would be on your page for free download. Go ahead and dream a little. And if you believe in your game, that motivation should come back.

Still, it's not a shame to cancel the project once you basically know you won't finish it. It's also fair towards fans to let them know. And your team also deserves more than a half-hearted effort from you as their project leader. Admitting defeat will free you from a burden the game might have become for you, bring new fresh thoughts and maybe even a new start without all the mistakes you have made. Some people have refused to let go and while their projects are not officially cancelled, they seem to be taking much of their creative freedom as they become something like a never-ending curse.

The Finished Project

It's always so sad to see dead projects, discontinued projects, or never-ending projects. Partly because most of the time, you can see the effort of the people who were making them, and partly because one is disappointed because of what could have been had the project been completed.

But there is hope. And that hope is YOU. Just think realistically, put all your heart into it, but also be smart and don't let your imagination take too much control. Because once the project is completed, all your efforts will have a meaning. Good luck!


mikey runs ATP Projects, has released several English bishoujo games and maintains the
English Bishoujo Games Encyclopedia.

"Designing and Completing a Ren'ai Game" © 2005 mikey. All rights reserved.




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