Tsubasa’s Apartment

We made decent progress on the visual novel in the last two weeks. Fred finished up the Anna Miller’s scene, most of the following Tsuabasa’s apartment scene, and started on the Gamerz store that follows. Here are some screenshots:

AnnaMillers2

TsubasaAptKotatsu

Fred drew a few extra background views of Tsubasa’s apartment plus one for Junpei’s apartment since it’s right next door, all for use later when we get to the Largo route. Being a former architect, Fred couldn’t resist laying out Tsubasa’s apartment, complete with a functional location for the wet wall and utilities.

TsubasaAptPlan

Fred was unhappy with some of the Tsubasa’s apartment artwork and needed to redo it, but now we’re moving forward again. He’s also been grumbling that he’s getting tired of drawing the guys, but fortunately we’re almost at scenes with more of the MT girls.

Shadow added an animation for Piro drinking out of his beer mug for the later beer garden scene. One of the problems with the first person perspective of the Piro route is that you can’t see Piro. We could describe Piro taking a drink with text, like many visual novels would do. But it feels a little awkward that way, and goes against our efforts to “show, don’t tell”. A little animation of a rising and falling beer mug seems like it will work better.

The MT visual novel isn’t going to be done anytime soon. But we are moving along well now, and it is looking good.

A reminder that Fred broadcasts a lot of his visual novel and comic work live on http://www.twitch.tv/fredrin

He will sometimes announce a live draw on twitter or the MT facebook page, but not always. If you want to catch more of them, you can sign up for a twitch account, follow Fred’s channel, and set twitch to notify you whenever Fred goes live. If you miss it live, you can also view replays of Fred’s recent drawing sessions, although you might miss some of the background music due to twitch’s new overly-aggressive copyright bots.

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

Game Show

We made more good progress on the Visual Novel over the last two weeks.

Fred did the art for the Tokyo Game Show, vending machines, and about half of the Anna Miller’s scene. It all looks pretty good. Here are some screenshots:

MetalBearSolidAnnaMillers

Fred seems pretty happy with how things are going now, with the system we have in place. The pace should continue to pick up as we go along. We’re starting to get to parts of the comic where locations can get reused, like Anna Miller’s, Tsubasa’s apartment, and Megagamers. It’s much less work to adapt an existing drawing than to have to create new for every scene. The same will apply to the characters as we have more scenes where they stay dressed the same.

Chemiclord has been working on script for Piro’s thoughts during the train rides to and from Narita airport and such. It’s looking good.

TheShaggyFreak has made more progress on the background music and sound effects. If you are a registered beta tester, check out the beta section of the VN forum for some samples.

We’re over a year now since the Kickstarter ended, and there is still a long way to go before the game is finished. But it feels like we’re really making progress now, and the game itself looks like a lot of fun. Thank you for your patience. Fred and the rest of us on the team are doing our best to make this game well worth the wait.

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