First of all, a short update on the two titles I’m working on at the moment: both At Your Feet and Summer In Trigue are at very good point! It amuses me that, as already happened in the past completely randomly, I’ll have two games ready at same time lol!
Anyway, the plan is to try releasing both before end of year, and keep working on the bigger Curse Of Mantras. I might also announce a new game before end of the year too, a surprise (except for my Patreon subscribers).
And now let’s go on with the main post topic:
Today I’m talking about something that I suspect very few users know, but also not every indie does (that’s bad! but it’s OK, I made same mistake too in the past).
What I’m talking about? I’m talking about the initial concept phase which should be behind every game. Usually, when you plan a new game, there’s this initial phase which should happen before everything else.
Now this is especially true for games with gameplay, but even for pure visual novels it’s a necessary part to have a good final product. In summary: during this phase you write down all possible ideas, the game theme/setting, the goals of the game, potential hooks/marketing value, etc.
It’s a very important phase since it will determine your game overall success. Yes of course the development phase matters a lot (a good idea is worth nothing if it’s badly executed) but a bad idea is bad and no matter what you do, it won’t work.
But as I said, it’s not just about the idea. It’s about everything: the mood/setting, the art style, the writing/story. For VN or story based games those things are super important!
Some real world examples from my games:
Loren The Amazon Princess – when I first started working on it, I had this hook in mind. You don’t play as the main character, but as her sidekick. You’re not the main hero, you start as a simple amazon slave. Then of course there are a lot of other ideas but the main ones where those, and I believe it was very original, and appreciated by players.
But for Loren I also took a very important decision early in the game development. I was unsure which art style to use. At the times (back in 2011-2012!) I knew only otome artist with a beautiful but “too cute” style (Always Remember Me for example). So I did some tests with a western comic art-style. But, remembering how people didn’t like it in Vera Blanc, I decided to keep looking. It took me MONTHS to find the right artist, and luckily I stumbled into that very skilled artist who did Loren and several other of my fantasy games, a perfect mix between manga and western art, with cute faces but realistic bodies.
Those two things above, together with good writing and a simple but funy RPG part, made the game’s success. And we did a LOT of testing / planning for the RPG framework as well!
Loren development took about 10 months, but I actually spent about another 6 months before the game even started to plan the characters, story, art, RPG rules, etc. And that probably was the most important work.
Amber’s Magic Shop – in this case, things didn’t go as smoothly. I made the mistake of doing the story first, before planning carefully the gameplay. The resulting game was that the gameplay and story felt too much disconnected. Many people still liked it, but I felt like I could have done a much better job with some more careful planning. In that case I got too much worried to finish the game without too many delays, a mistake I won’t repeat in future. Better delay a game and do some other smaller game meanwhile to keep fans happy, than rush a game out.
Make a spreadsheet / flowchart / plan!
In my early stages I was just doing games “on the flow”. There is nothing wrong in feeling inspired and following your inspiration to write or design/code. BUT this shouldn’t be the first thing you do.
First you should make a plan. How does the story unfold? What are the basic classes of this RPG? what are the mechanics of this collectible card game? Of course, when you get to actually work on it you’ll surely do many changes “on the fly”, not planned. That’s normal. But you should still have a main plan to follow otherwise it’s going to be a mess. And doesn’t matter if is a complex game or a simple dating sim. Plan everything ahead! Might seem wasted time but trust me, it’s not.
The two example above, Loren and Amber, are just two of my over 30 games. I could talk about each one in detail and how in some I did things properly while in others not. But this post would become way too long! If you’re a player, now you know a bit more how things work behind the scenes, during this initial planning stage. If you’re a developer, and you’re not spending enough time doing the concept phase, you should reconsider it, because every extra month spent doing this can result in a much better game in the end.