Indie project management is for suckers.

January 15, 2012 in Game Development by Chris Charabaruk

So yeah, Painter Story. Hard to believe it’s been eight months since the last post, without anything really to show for it. Most indie game projects would have been dead by now, after such a period of time, but because I’m more stubborn than a mountain of goats, I’m forcing myself and my poor team to carry on.

Working on an indie project is an exercise in pain and frustration. Most of the time you have grand dreams at the start, which have to be hacked down into a stub because you’re short on all the elements required of successful project management: time and money.

Big, cheap, fast: You're lucky if you even get to pick two.
And even if you skimp on scope, quality will probably suck, too.

On top of that, everyone else has their own vision of the project, probably competing with yours. And unless you have money to pay everyone for their work on the project at the start, it’s a volunteer effort. As someone who runs conventions, I know how difficult it can be to get volunteers to actually do what’s needed, because they require some kind of mental or emotional buy-in to whatever mindless tasks you assign them. It’s worse than herding cats.

I remember from college, being told of a statistic. Something like four fifths of every project fails, and a good number of those failures are spectacular ones. Forgive me for not remembering the actual numbers, it’s been eons since those days. But yeah. The chances of a project not utterly going up in flames before finishing are not good. The chances of the project actually being completed are pretty bad. And for the project being completed, and turning out well, I’d say that calls for walking in a thunderstorm carrying a metal rod because lightning apparently never strikes twice. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, success is rare, managing an indie project of volunteers is suffering.

Anyway, we’re climbing back on the horse again. I hope to have a draft of the first half of Painter Story complete by this year’s Anime North, and if it isn’t, feel free to yell at me if you see me there.

Plotting from the top down

October 5, 2010 in Game Development, Painter Story by Chris Charabaruk

One of the problems with the first attempt at writing Painter Story was the unstructured plot. We knew a bit about the main character and the various girls he could pursue, as well as some potential outcomes. But we never really worked out the route from A to B. And in the old pre-alphas I used to circulate on IRC, it showed, just as badly as the temporary art and audio.

Something that I’ve been doing since we reset the project is building out the plot, working from the top down. (I say me, because the bulk of the work on laying out the plot has been mine, but the others certainly did contribute as well.) Things began by outlining a story for each of the dateable girls, entirely separate from common or shared events. From there, we worked together to take the three disparate mini-outlines, and combine them into one big outline that included common events. At that point, we also identified major story choices that would lead the reader towards a particular path, as well as other choices that might trip them up or lead to better endings.

That work is pretty much done, but for getting to the actual writing, it’s not really enough. It gives a good overall view of what happens, but this 50,000 ft outline doesn’t provide enough low-level detail to identify anything more than key scenes.

So for the past little while, I’ve been working on a more detailed outline for the first part of Painter Story. This one identifies individual scenes, as well as provides at least a paragraph of explanation for each one (or will, when complete). We can identify what’s missing at this level, and let us know where things will go from each particular scene. That way, when it comes to actual writing, I and any other scene writers are more likely to really drive the story forward, and lead in to following scenes better.

This is a long, slow, painful process — but without it, Painter Story would never be as good as I’d hope for. While it’ll probably never be on par with Katawa Shoujo or Cradle Song, I’d still like to create something that sits in the top 25% of original English language visual novels. By constructing a strong story, I’m sure that’s achievable.

Some VN writing resources

May 16, 2010 in Game Development by Chris Charabaruk

It’s been three weeks since the last blog post, and we are still hard at work, retooling things so that Painter Story will be a visual novel worthy of your love and adoration. Since we are busy with that, I’d just like to share a couple links which may or may not be helpful. Enjoy.

They’re both by the same guy, detailing some stuff about writing VNs and the path structure they take. Maybe worth a read.