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About Literature / Student Member IcePowersMale/United States Group :iconthewriterscollection: TheWritersCollection
Writing Takes Passion.
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    I've been in the Game Design degree field for just one semester. So far, I've met I think five trillion artists and one programmer. And that one programmer, by his own admission, only knows how to program as far as making a Visual Novel. So I've been thinking recently about joining forces with him and trying to make one, seeing as how I'd like to make SOMETHING, and since Visual Novels incorporate a LOT of writing, it seems right up my alley. And hey, I'd make use of at least some of those nine quadrillion artists I know, so it's a win for everyone. But I've dedicated nothing to the idea so far, for one reason:

    Visual Novels suck.

    Okay wait that's definitely not true.

    I don't know if Visual Novels can be good.

    The two that jump to my mind are, sadly, Katawa Shoujo and Sakura Spirit. Sakura Spirit is probably a troll game, or at least made by one person, so its quality can't really be factored into the identity of the VN genre. After all, that would be like condemning film for most movies being porn. And as far as Katawa Shoujo goes, well, I'll be charitable and say that one really, really fucking bad game does not establish a trend for how well an entire genre works.

    (Brief aside if you haven't read my thoughts on Katawa Shoujo: Bad, fluffy writing, infuriating pace, over-saccharine theme, uninteresting characters, and a horrible, horrible attempt at making it all interactive. You can literally run into a situation where you get four or five dialogue choices that are all practically the same.)

    So how DOES the genre work? Well, since I evidently haven't played enough Japanese VNs to formulate a real opinion, I'll instead turn to American VNs and see what they have to offer. But what do I mean when I say "American Visual Novels"? Other than Katawa Shoujo, what has American produced that is at all similar? Or rather, what has America produced that is parallel? The second phrasing of the question is better, as we actually do have many examples of the genre, but they're all from a distinctly Western design perspective.

    Walking Dead: The Tell Tale Adventure Game is, I think, a prime example of a Western/American Visual Novel. Something I'll point out early on here is that most of my examples are going to forgo the Japanese VN style altogether, for a number of reasons: For one, it is a much more American way of doing things to make the Visual element an active, moving thing. Cinema was, after all, an American invention (even if the technology was made in the UK, film as an art form was codified in the United States). So when we tell a story, a concrete Visual element is really important to us, as a cultural whole. Secondly, this allows action to be more expressive. When Lee gets punched in the face near the end of Episode 1, the impact of the action and the urgency of the situation are amplified by the Visual direction. In the usual Japanese style, at least as far as I've seen, these sorts of interactions are relegated to off-screen, described by the narrator, or at most given a single-frame artistic rendering. These are likely to keep costs down, and for their target audience (the average manga-reader), it works, as someone who reads more manga or comics than watches movies or plays high-graphical-fidelity games will have less trouble filling in the gaps.

    What this essentially means is that an American artist will have a different idea of what it means to make a story that has a Visual element.

    Back to Walking Dead.

    So the game, from the outset, has a somewhat similar way of progressing as a Japanese VN. You start off in a conversation, narrative is delivered through dialogue and text, and things are mostly outside of your control. In fact, a lot is outside of your control. Now this applies to both Japanese and American VNs, so let me address it now: "Choice" is not the key appeal of games as a medium. "Interactivity" is what we're looking for. Walking Dead does NOT make us simply listen to the police man talk; we are given dialogue options that, effectively, do nothing for the direction of the narrative as a whole. What they do instead is characterize the person we're playing as. It may not seem like much, but by making conversation an immediate interaction with the player, a game makes us identify with our avatar instantly. This is part of the reason Sakura Spirit fails: There is ZERO interaction.

    From there, the game follows a narrative that, like many games, is tightly controlled, even if you can act out within it. Very much like a Japanese VN, it has character-heavy moments, social decisions, and obvious villains. I'd go so far as to say, the only things separating Walking Dead from its Eastern counterparts is the way it handles the Visual aspect, abundant though it may be.

    So what we know from Walking Dead is that Visual Novels can, in fact, make use of an interactive medium. Given enough freedom of expression, a player can identify much more with their avatar, and make any narrative action they take much more important.

    The next example I'd like to give is, actually, of a lower graphical caliber than most Japanese VNs: The classic RPG and one of my favorite games of all time, Planescape: Torment. And let me say, there is a very good, very specific reason why its lack of a strong Visual element still works. I would say that Torment sits much closer to the Novel side of the spectrum, for its narrative is extremely involved, from its main plot to all the minor encounters one can have, and basically sits as the main method through which the player interacts with the game. The player explores, learns, discusses and deconstructs everything and everyone they meet almost as fast as the other characters do, all while delving into the finer points of the theme of self and identity. But not emotional identity, mind you. This isn't Persona, which is an important line to draw; in Persona, one's "Self" is explored through expression, manifested in bad-ass looking demon-avatar...things (as an amusing note, Western RPGs are usually the ones that make more of a thing about expression than JRPGs, while JRPGs are more concerned with either narrative or mechanics).

    Planescape: Torment deals with the intellectual and ethical self. That is, how oneself should act, and how oneself should react to bad things being done, even if it is oneself reacting to oneself. In short: Deciding what's right and wrong, and what you should do when you've done wrong. If all this is seeming complicated, whether you find it easy to understand or not, then therein lies the reason why the game functions so well as a visual Novel rather than a Visual Novel or Visual novel. These ideas have no simple Visual representation. Humans have tried for thousands of years to establish universal symbols for modes of thinking, or ways of being. Quick, off the top of your head, what single symbol represents oppression? The Swastika? The Cross? The EA Logo? Those symbols only hold that connotation from your perspective though; a mid-twenties German might see the Swastika as a symbol of liberation. Most Christians like the Cross. And Hell, Need for Speed is a good series, even if EA does like to be evil sometimes.

    By combining a small Visual element with Novel-level ideas, we get a profoundly deep narrative. Being able to Visually establish the setting and some characters, especially minor ones, lets the game progress its narrative through them without sacrificing pacing for them. At the same time, the Novel elements give every sprite, object and background meaning that it normally could never have. A perfect example of this symbiotic relationship is the Dodecahedron Journal. If you know about the "Platonic Form", a strange, geometrical shape suddenly becomes a mystery that you can't help but be compelled by.

    So, Visual Novels can deliver strong narratives as well as complex ideas. At least, that's their promise. Whether or not they fulfill it, I can't say. Neither can I say that I'm excited to find out, given the number of VNs that are exclusively dating sims, though obviously a ton aren't. Something that can be said for both Walking Dead and Torment is that they didn't dwell too long on their mechanics, instead focusing on the two elements of storytelling the viewer has the most interaction with: Plot and Characters. So if you have any VNs that achieve similar heights, feel free to comment. If you thought I missed the point of the genre entirely, call me out on it. If you just wanna say "Hi" or "Go fuck yourself", you can do that too. 


I had to sink so low eventually. I stopped making videos because I wasn't satisfied with what I was producing. I never made points I felt were that clever or insightful, and how I got to those points felt incredibly meandering, like I didn't have a plan on how to get to them. Well, I decided, time to stop thinkin' so much, and play some damn games.

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IcePowers

Artist | Student | Literature
United States
I'll be posting short stories on here, usually stuff I don't plan on having published (or rather, don't think I can GET published). I may also post little rants and tirades that I have, and I would appreciate feed back on these ideas, as well as the stories I post.

Something you should know about me now is that I am going to be saying things that might come off as sometimes trying to sound super-intellectual. My intention is not to sound or pretend to be really smart, but just to sound like how I am and kind of hope that I AM really smart, or get really smart eventually, or something like that.

Hope you enjoy reading :D
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:iconjackofalltrades0097:
jackofalltrades0097 Featured By Owner 9 hours ago  Hobbyist General Artist
:hugs: Thank you for joining Authors-Club!   We are so glad to have you join our group and adding our work to our collection! 

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:iconvioletdolphin:
VioletDolphin Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the fave! :)
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:iconicepowers:
IcePowers Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Student Writer
You're welcome!
c:
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:iconguineveretogwen:
GuinevereToGwen Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks so much for faving!
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:iconicepowers:
IcePowers Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  Student Writer
You are welcome! Your poetry is good. Unlike some poetry, it makes some damn sense. You'd be shocked how easily that element is lost in some people's work.
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:iconguineveretogwen:
GuinevereToGwen Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you. I agree. A lot of the poetry on dA takes a lot of effort to decode. ;P
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:iconghost-writer996:
Ghost-Writer996 Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  New member Student Writer
Thank you for faving "Right Here"
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:iconicepowers:
IcePowers Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  Student Writer
You are welcome! :)
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:iconlily-lucid:
Lily-Lucid Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014   Writer
What would you say your opinion is on Frozen?
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:iconicepowers:
IcePowers Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Student Writer
Why? And what's your opinion?
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