Back in Gear

Visual Novel development moved back into gear these past two weeks. We’ve made some good progress.

Fred burned through the art for scenes where Largo gets his Cool Thing, Piro tries to buy tickets back home, the night spent in the park, the morning burning down the computer store, the scene where Tsubasa first appears, and Largo breaking his arm (again). It all looks good and works well in the VN format. Here are a couple of screenshots:

TicketAgent

HiTsubasa

We have mentioned before about how Fred is drawing far more expression and character image changes than is typical in a Visual Novel. It’s a lot of work, but it fits the needs of the MegaTokyo story much better. In that same vein, Fred has Shad0w and I adding a quick mouth close/open at dialogue advancement points where a speaking character’s image doesn’t otherwise change. It makes it feel a little more natural and less static. The Visual Novel isn’t the MegaTokyo Anime we’d all like to see, but it’s as close as we are likely to get.

DarkMorford has been improving the shopping game for Piro and Largo’s trip to Akihabara. It’s looking good.

TheShaggyFreak has been working on the background music and sounds. He’ll be creating as much as he can himself, and using creative commons stuff for the rest. A lot of the work is in just editing things so that the music loops well. Shaggy has been posting some examples in the beta tester section of the VN forum. If you are registered as a beta tester, go check them out.

This was a good couple of weeks overall for the VN. If we can manage to sustain this kind of pace, we’ll all feel a lot better and have a finished game that much sooner.

More Slowness

It has been another slow couple of weeks for work on the MegaTokyo Visual Novel. Fred’s mother continued to struggle with her health, and that understandably took time away from both the comic and visual novel.  It sounds like things are looking up, so we’re hopeful that VN work will be back in gear again soon.

One positive thing that did happen recently was that we have officially moved to Shad0w’s Renpedit tool for the visual novel script development. It provides a nice flowchart style organizer for the script, and makes managing the numerous story branches much easier.

Below you can see a short section of the Piro route when he and Largo are on the plane to Japan. The white blocks are sections of story script, the yellow diamond is a player decision, and the blue blocks are variables that will have effects later on in the story. You can see this section in action in the demo Fred posted to youtube: http://youtu.be/hAxZyyUJY60?t=9m10s

Renpedit

Shad0w is still actively improving Renpedit, but it is far enough along that we are using now for the MTVN development. If you are interested, you can find it here: https://bitbucket.org/theshad0w/renpedit

Slow Couple of Weeks

Progress on the Visual Novel has been slow over the last couple of weeks. Fred got his Cintiq back from repairs, which was good news. But then his mother had some serious medical problems and has been in and out of the hospital, which has understandably affected work on the VN and comic.

He did get a few things done though, including some rough backgrounds for Piro’s shopping trip in Akihabara, which looks like it will be fun.ShoppingRough

Other news tidbits:

TheShad0w is getting close to done with his ren’py flowcharting tool. He has dubbed it Renpedit, and it looks like it will be a big help with keeping all the various story branches organized. You can find it here: https://bitbucket.org/theshad0w/renpedit

TheShaggyFreak [William Chrapcynski] has been making progress on the background music, recently working on the Narita Airport scene. The few examples I heard sound pretty good. I don’t think he has posted any of the actual MegaTokyo game music online, but you can hear some of his other work here: https://soundcloud.com/theshaggyfreak

Chemiclord [Thomas Knapp] revealed that he has been working on a series of MegaTokyo Endgames light novels, the first of which will be about Pirogoeth’s early years. More here: http://tkocreations.com/2014/05/15/lets-try-this-again/

And finally, due to some of the changes ongoing at justin.tv since google bought twitch.tv from them, Fred has once again moved his drawing livestream, this time to twitch. Tune in and join us for the livedraw fun. http://www.twitch.tv/fredrin

Making Progress

We have made  some good progress in the last couple of weeks on the Visual Novel.

Fred put together thumbnail storyboards for chapters 2 and 3 of the Piro canon route, and I cranked out the corresponding initial ren’py scripts. That takes the raw game for the Piro canon route up through the Kimi-zilla bar scene.

One of the really interesting things about running through the game so far is that you only see what Piro sees. It makes Miho’s comments on the porch when picking up Ping for school seem all the more disconcerting, and it makes Kimiko’s treatment of Piro at the bar feel so much more harsh and heartbreaking. When we read the comic, we see how Kimiko felt about the guy who gave her the railcard beforehand, and we soon see how much she regrets her behavior the next morning. But playing Piro in the game,  you don’t get that. The impact is rather raw and powerful.

Shad0w has been working on a project to link flowcharts with the various jumps and labels in ren’py, to try to keep better track of the story branches. That will come in handy once we move beyond the canon routes.

I mentioned last time that Shad0w had written scripts to generate temporary character images as placeholders until Fred can do the real artwork. That was working well for me with script debugging. But as Fred started working with them, he found it difficult to interpret the filename formats that he had come up with himself. “hLP” might mean “head left profile”, but his brain kept seeing “help” and he had to stop and think about it. That slowed things down. So Shad0w added a more verbose description on top of the character images, which was a nice improvement. Here’s an example of Erika and Largo from the bar scene.

Temp Images

For the game so far, basically the Piro canon route up through the end of book 2, I count about 1000 separate character images and 100 background images. That’s a lot of drawing for Fred, and there’s a much more game to go. This is one of the reasons Fred put so much effort into good image filename and photoshop layer schemes for the drawings. That should let him make these drawings with a lot less work by reusing parts of other images in an organized fashion — doing a lot of modifying, rather than having to draw each one from scratch. I’m sure he’ll be refining that process more as he works with it.

Fred’s Cintiq has been away for repairs for the last week or so, and that has slowed him down a little, both with the comic and the visual novel. But he has redone the Mortal Kombat immigration scene (your Kung Fu is best), and is working on the train travel scenes to and from Narita airport.

Immigration

So we’re making good progress, I think. Fred will be happy when he gets his Cintiq back, and that should help the art come quicker as well. There is still a long way to go, but it feels like we’re getting there.

Raising Sail

As I’m sure you all have figured out by now, progress on the visual novel has been slow. Fred has mentioned before how much bigger the project seems now that he’s working on it than when he first started laying out the idea to get ready for the kickstarter.

He has done a lot of work. The early comics required a lot of writing to adapt them to the visual novel format. He has created the thumbnail storyboards for the Piro canon route in book 1 that I showed in a post last month. He’s plotted the Piro route and story branches out through the end of book 3. And he’s done artwork and put together the full game package for the early portion he showed in that demo video.

In spite of all that work, it’s still going too slowly. In these kinds of situations, Fred’s reaction tends to be to put his head down, shut up, and work harder. That’s admirable in a lot of situations. But if you need to get your boat across the atlantic ocean, putting your head down and paddling harder probably still isn’t going to get the job done.

Part of the problem is that the Megatokyo webcomic is really a one-man operation. Fred does it all, especially since he bought out Rodney. He’s not used to working with a team, and he’s used to having the total control that comes with doing it yourself. So while he has a team for the visual novel, he’s still been trying to do too much of it himself – the planning, the writing, the artwork, and all the coding in ren’py. It’s the approach he’s comfortable with, but it’s not working fast enough for the visual novel.

A couple of weeks ago he decided to make a change, and brought me and TheShad0w [John Hoffman] onto the team to help. I am now the ren’py script monkey. I am taking the original comic art and dialogue, using Fred’s thumbnail storyboards for direction, and trying to code that into ren’py in a way that fits the visual novel format. I’m trying to do it as close as I can to how I think Fred would want it. This is all work Fred was trying to do himself.

Shad0w has been working on tooling and some of the trickier ren’py bits. He wrote a script to pull and format all the canon dialogue from the Megatokyo website (where it powers the search ninjas) to save rekeying. He wrote scripts to generate placeholder character images so we can see their position on the screen, and torso, head, eye, and mouth positions without waiting for Fred to finish the actual artwork. That makes a huge difference in debugging the scripts and deciding what artwork Fred needs to draw. And he has written a number of tricky ren’py bits like animating the coffee pot that Kimiko throws at Piro, and making it look like Seraphim is sitting on the visual novel dialogue window.

The idea is that we will take Fred’s initial direction, do most of the grunt work, and give him back a functional game. He will still need to do the real artwork and make script changes so it’s the way he wants it. It will still need his magic touch. But at least he’ll be starting from something he can see and play rather than just try to picture in his mind. If we do this right, he should have to do a whole lot less work.

That should help us deliver the visual novel faster, because Fred’s time is the limiting factor. Anything we can do to let him focus on the stuff that only he can do, and not spend time on stuff that someone else can do, is going to be a net gain.

In the last couple of weeks, Shad0w and I have finished the Piro canon route for book 1. Even with the temporary artwork, it’s a fun game so far. I think you are really going to like it. Fred is working on the Piro canon route thumbnails for book 2 this weekend, and we will start on that next. Then Fred will start following behind with the script polishing and artwork.

I don’t yet have a feel for how much faster the game will come with these changes. But I think we’re all feeling a little more optimistic. We may not yet have fired up the outboard motor on our boat, but we’ve at least raised a sail. With a little luck and the right wind, hopefully we’ll reach shore with a finished game that everyone will enjoy.

Storyboards

Fred has been doing a lot of writing and programming lately for the visual novel. He’s not used to this much writing in one big stretch, and it’s going slower than he’d like. He’s a little down about it at the moment, but still plugging away.

Adapting a webcomic to a visual novel is a bit like adapting a book to a movie. You can’t just translate it directly. They’re different art forms, and what works well in one may not work well in the other. Adapting the story so that it does work well takes some doing.

One of the things Fred has been doing to help make that happen is to storyboard it. Here are some examples from Book 1 of the Piro route. This is all canon stuff, so not really spoilers if you’ve read the comic.

Here is Largo taking on Junpei in MORTAL KOMBAT for the right to enter Japan. Notice the movement directions in the first panel, and the third panel being a CG event. Largo’s kung fu is best.

MortalKombat

Here is the scene where Yuki still has Piro’s bookbag and unexpectedly finds him behind the counter at Megagamers. Because this is the Piro route we’re seeing this all happen from Piro’s perspective, which is quite different from the original comic. I think the first-person view might even work better in this case. Yuki’s panic is adorable, even in sketchy form.

YukiPanic

Also adorable even in sketchy form are some of the other happenings. Here are Megumi at Anna Miller’s, Largo with his Cool Thing, and Ping left behind in the apartment when Tsubasa heads for America.

Adorable

In addition to the CG events, there will be animation in spots. Here’s an action scene at Anna Miller’s. Coffee Pot INCOMING! The CG event of Kimiko franticly apologizing afterwards looks like it’ll be really cute.

CoffeePot

Of course the one huge thing we don’t see in all of this is Piro himself, since the Piro route is all from his viewpoint. Fred normally does a great job with show-don’t-tell in the comic. But when we can’t see one major character who is there for every scene, that can be hard to do. Sometimes a bit of inner monologue is the answer, like here after Piro pulls his tail too hard and rips a hole in his pants while talking to Kimiko at Megagamers.

PostTail

Live Draw Note: Fred has been bouncing back and forth between Ustream and YouTube lately for his live draws. Make an account, or keep an eye in his facebook or twitter to know when he goes live, then join us for the fun.

Slow Animation

If you have played visual novels before, one thing you might have noticed about the MT demo that Fred posted a month ago was how often the character drawings changed, especially in the scene with Largo and Dom.

http://youtu.be/hAxZyyUJY60

LargoPosesTo cover just the first day, Fred drew 95 different character images. Some were just minor changes to the mouth, but some were major expression or pose changes. It was almost a kind of slow animation. Most visual novels use fewer character images, and for good reason.

Zorak

All those extra drawings don’t cost Fred money, but they do cost him time. On top of actually making the drawings, it means more writing to decide what character images are needed when, better organization to keep them all straight, and more scripting in ren’py to program them in. This is one of the reasons the MT visual novel is going to take a while yet.

But that extra work will be worth it. The drawings in the Megatokyo aren’t just there to accompany the words, like pictures in a novel. And unlike some other comics, MT isn’t just a series of talking heads.

The art in Megatokyo tells as much of the story as the dialogue does; sometimes more. Often the art tells a very different story than the words, which is part of what makes MT so complex and multi-layered.

MihoSad

Doing all this work to make the visual novel really feel like Megatokyo is part of what Fred means when he says he’s determined to do this right.

He is going to reuse and repurpose drawings where he can, so it’s not like everything has to be drawn from scratch. That will become easier to do with later parts of the story where characters stay dressed the same over more comics. But there are still an awful lot of drawings and work to be done.

PS: Don’t forget, we are now one month before the release of the Megatokyo Omnibus of books 1-3. You can preorder at many places where books are sold.

http://www.amazon.com/Megatokyo-Omnibus-Fred-Gallagher/dp/1595828230/ref=la_B001K7OZLC_1_1

Live Draw Music

If you were tuning in for Fred’s live draws of the last comic, you might have noticed that he is no longer playing music in the background.

Since the move from justin.tv, Fred had been careful to play only creative commons music and other stuff like ocremix where he had received direct permission. But youtube’s copyright bots misidentified two of the songs he played and flagged them anyway. They also flagged the sound of his printer in the background as a copyrighted song, and flagged a non-MT video of his son’s class singing Jingle Bells. Here are some screenshots:

http://www.megatokyo.com/scr33n/scr33n_2014-03-15_72683.png

http://www.megatokyo.com/scr33n/scr33n_2014-03-15_85790.png

http://www.megatokyo.com/scr33n/scr33n_2014-03-15_84497.png

Youtube handles this better than justin.tv does, with communication and a dispute mechanism. But Fred is understandably sick and tired of it all. The drawing is more important.

So join us for the live draws to see the comic and visual novel in progress. It’s still a lot of fun. Just bring along your own music.

http://www.youtube.com/user/fredrin

Live Draw Moves

Fred had been streaming the live draw for both the comic and visual novel artwork on Justin.tv. But then Zen_Misanthrope’s Justin.tv live draw was DMCA’d, and Fred was unhappy with the way Justin.tv handled it from a customer service standpoint.

Fred has since moved his live draw to Ustream and YouTube. They each have their plusses and minuses. Ustream is a little easier to use and has a better IRC-based chat. But the ads are annoying and it doesn’t save the streams for later replay; unless he upgrades to Pro, which is more money than it’s worth. YouTube is quirkier for him to use and the chat isn’t as nice, but it saves streams for later replay and the ads are more controllable and less of a problem. He is still making up his mind which to make his permanent home.

If you make an account on Ustream or have a google account for YouTube, you can subscribe to Fred’s channel and click the box get an email whenever he goes live. Or if you follow him on facebook or twitter, he often will post an announcement there before he starts a live draw.

http://www.youtube.com/user/fredrin

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fredarting

https://www.facebook.com/Megatokyo

https://twitter.com/fredrin

Join us for the live draws. They’re a lot of fun.

An update on stuff and surveys going out real soon :)

(cross-posted from the Kickstarter updates page :)

Hi Everyone,

Obviously, it’s February here and the game is by no means done… in defense i have to point out that even doing the basic one-character-path game that originally posted this Kickstarter with would have been hard to have it ready by February – this bigger game has been far more complicated to write and put together than i imagined, but um, i guess we all know that.  ^^;;  Also, to be honest, my original concept of the in-game choices and the scope of actual branching in the game would be fairly simple and not too complicated… unfortunately, i have burdened myself with far more branching and complexity to the game than i probably should have.   As this all starts to form up slowly, i will be able to make choices i think that will slim things down a bit – this is not a bad thing, there are some branches and directions i have mapped out here that are not as strong as others, so trimming so i can focus on filling out the more interesting branches better.  I’m also probably being a little too gregarious with the artwork – visual novels tend to do a lot of art re-use, and coming from a comicking background where i am always drawing new panels… this sort of generic re-use is a foreign concept for me and i admit that i have not be applying it as vigorously as i should.

Is all this bad?  For getting the game done quickly, it’s horrible.  Will it make the game better?  Oh yes.  I actually am really happy with the general feel of how the game is coming together.  (I posted a rough sample of Piro’s route through the flight to japan on youtube that you gives a sense of what it is feeling like so far:

http://youtu.be/hAxZyyUJY60

Still a fsk load of work to do, yes.  Making the transition from doing comics to doing a visual novel is actually not as straight forward as you might think.  Even with the existence of a robust platform like Renpy (which has been working out really well for this, i must say) i had to develop my own system, a kind of shorthand with attributes that i could globally work with as i grind out the scripts.  In a comic, you do drawings to show what is happening, to describe the scene, to show a characters expressions (Example: (drawing of Largo vomiting rainbows) largo: “woah! l33t sp33wage!”).  In prose you use words to describe these things (Largo walked in the room and started vomiting rainbows.  “woah! l33t sp33wage!” he said, wiping his mouth.).  With a visual novel, you have to use a kind of short hand – and if you are trying to do this in a detailed way, the attributes for describing the images called will either make or break how your VN comes together.  For example, for that scene, the way i would write it is:

show largo hunchedover tR 3v1l33t hR vomitingrainbows eR m0

largo “woah! l33t sp33wage!”

I could even make a call for sound effects (not something you should overdo) buy adding “play sound “assets/sounds/vomitingrainbows.mp3″) but i digress.  When you do comics, you sketch what you are trying to do and add dialogue.  trying to work with this sort of abstraction of shorthand, planning things out so i can pull sketches together right (largo_hunchedover_tR_3v1l33t_hR_vomitingrainbows_eR_m0.png would probably be a rather unique drawing, not just a simple variant with a subltely changed expression) but getting to this point was a major challenge for me – one that has been frought with having to live with whatever system i developed over the course of a VERY large game.

I’ve reworked this system a dozen times or more, each time havent to go back and gut what i had done and rework things to work with the revised system.  Painful as this was, learning by doing has its benefits – my scripting shorthand here is, i think, more than robust enough to get me through this game, and its been working well for me for the past month or so, which has been a HUGE relief.  Nothing makes you more jittery as you move forward on something than the dawning realization you have to go back and do everything over.  Again.

Oh, one other thing i sorta didn’t realize when i took this project on – all of the dialogue for the canon routes exists and was just a matter of transposing things over to a VN format.  Obviously things change because the format is different but what i really didn’t consider is the amount of aditional writing it would entail: inner monologue.  Comics don’t generally show what a character is thinking in words – more by expression than words.  A VN is different – you can’t see your own face, so i am finding that i have to communicate this side of things with a lot more additional writing than i thought i would.  Keeping it balanced is not easy, but i feel like I have a good handle on it.

I’m sorry if that sounded a bit rambling, but it’s a good reflection of where things are at.  Those of you who are in the Beta Testing pool it will still be a bit before i open the first chunk for you guys to look at, but it’s coming, and i thank you for your patience.

One thing i’d like to do is start providing more regular updates on the project.  I’ve asked a friend of mine, Rob Miller, to help by making some regular updates to vn.megatokyo.com since I have this bad habit of just wanting to work on things and i’m terrible at making rants and blog entries (other than twitter, i can manage those).

Another thing i’ll be doing is sending out surveys over the next few days to collect information for shipping and other stuff (in particular, if you have ala cart items in your KS pledge).  I’m going to work on seeing if i can start sending out some of the extras in the next month or so ahead of the game being finished, since there is no real reason to hold off on that.  More on this over the next week or so as i figure out how to handle that.  Also, i really need to get some info from you guys with NPC insertion stuff – i have places to work that in now, so it’s time to get that info from you guys. :)

So, rambling, but i think that covers a lot of things.  I’m happy with where this is going, I just wish i could pull things together faster.  I apologize for that, but please know i’m doing my best to get this thing together.  Thank you very much for your support, this is an awesome project to be working on, and ugh, i have so much respect for anyone who puts one of these things together… ^^;;

Fred