Daily Update #25: Origin Story

Hello everybody. Welcome back to the Daily Update Corner, for all your Daily Update needs. 


Alright folks, we're in the endgame now. One week until release. Exciting! I guess. Regardless, it means there isn't much time before this thing is in the hands of the public, for better or for worse. The project has developed so much from where it started, it really is exciting to see. But then again, where did the game start? Well, that's what I intend to answer in this blog post.


So, let's take a couple steps back. The idea of creating a Visual Novel had been rolling around in the back of my head for a while. At least a year before I ever got started on doing real work on the game, I already had the impulse. But frankly, it just seemed like a pipe dream. I had never had any experience with creating a game. I had some with writing, sure, maybe some cursory knowledge of programming, but that was about it. That's not enough to make a game. Making games is for people who can actually accomplish things.


However, I thought to Umineko, a game I recently played. I mean, that game was great, amazing, but to me, it looked like on the 'development' side there weren't all that many assets at all! In fact, that game didn't even have any gameplay! I mean, I could at least handle that, right? I began playing around with some things, just to get a feel.


I looked around for software that could actually help with developing something like this. I bought and promptly got a refund for both VisualNovel Maker and TyranoBuilder. They looked like fine applications, but they weren't going to be suited for me. But then I stumbled upon Renpy. I had ignored it, initially. It looked threatening, and it was also free, which to me indicated that it was barely a product at all. But I started browsing around their forums, watched some videos, got it and went through the tutorial. Before I knew it, using the program seemed very manageable. And the program itself felt very powerful. I thought I'd be able to create something interesting without that much programming knowledge - a blessing for me. And if I ran into troubles, well, I'd troubleshoot online. Or I'd dick around. At any rate, it looked promising. Possible.


But even still, there was the problem of asset creation. I had a bit of capital I could invest, and I could work to do a lot on my own, but still, games need assets. Stories need assets. How could I tell a big story with what little I could create? Well, what if I could reuse the assets I had? Like, a lot? The first impulse, of course, was a time loop. But that seemed a little... obvious. A little easy. What if it wasn't an in-fiction time loop, but an out-of-fiction one. The idea of a Groundhog Day situation, where you needed to act perfectly without falling onto a route of disaster, it intrigued me.


Another inspiration was Virtue's Last Reward. Specifically, I always really appreciated how everyone's experience of that game would be really different depending on what order the paths were played. The idea of emulating that - where you'd get more and more context for what was happening as you played, that you could play a route first and be in the dark, or you could play it late and have this palpable sense of dramatic irony... writing around that seemed super cool. And hey, not too long ago, I wrote this short story about 12 people in a enclosed space. Enclosed space sounded good. 12 people sounded reasonable. The structure of the game, the depth of the characters, so many aspects of it would have to be reworked to fit a story built for a VN instead of a short story, but I always thought the fundamental pitch of a jury consisting of kidnapped people assigned Zodiac Animals had some pull.


So the base of The Zodiac Trial, the spirit of it, it had come into the fold. I started thinking out conceptually how it would go, what the endgame would look like, who the characters would be. How would it work, what puzzles could I do, what would the twists be. I thought a lot about it.... but I didn't act on it. Because I think some part of me, deep down, still didn't believe in it. Some part of me thought that actually making it was a pipe dream, that I couldn't pull it off. Investing actual time writing and programming would simply be a waste of time. And so it stayed in this limbo.


And then the Coronavirus pandemic happened. I don't want to credit the pandemic for this game's creation, but I also can't deny the two events were somewhat inexplicably linked. Because suddenly, I had quite a bit more free time on my hands. And I saw around me, so many people trying to put the time they had to use. Learning a skill, getting in shape. And I thought that this was about as good a chance as I was ever going to get.


And so, I began to work. And the game started to be. And I stumbled pretty hard in the beginning, making a few mistakes and wasting a lot of time. But I think I've written enough for this post.


Until next time,


Themis.