Plotting from the top down

October 5, 2010 in Game Development, Painter Story

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.

In which we retool how we develop things so our writing won’t suck so hard

April 19, 2010 in Painter Story

Let’s start off by welcoming simpleDvorak to the Painter Story development team. As zahlman has been promoted from interstitial writer to actually managing one of the story paths, I decided that we should have someone who isn’t doing any path writing to handle editing, especially including smoothing out the differences in writing style between zahl and myself.

With that out of the way, I’d also like to announce that we are completely changing around the project schedule, and here’s why: Our current method of writing (straight into Ren’Py script files) takes away focus from writing the story, and puts it into making something that runs. And thanks to the horribly loltacular temp assets we are currently using for graphics and audio, this has caused much consternation for the people we’ve forced to read the story (as well as those who have received builds simply for hanging around in the right places on IRC).

So, rather than continue down this dark and dreary (and complaint-filled) path, we are, effective immediately, changing the writing workflow and all but entirely scrapping the Ren’Py stuff we’ve done so far.

zahlman and I are currently working on extracting the actual story scripts from the piles of .rpy files lying around, and reformatting them more along the lines of screenplay scripts. For one thing, this means instead of simple Ren’Py style direction, we can actually express what’s going on in a more meaningful way for the story. For another, this means we won’t be doing any more demo builds for a good long while.

Less complaints, a writing workflow that lets us focus on what’s happening in the story and not the engine — looks like a win-win situation to me.

Anyway, in the long run we’re probably looking at another nice big delay to a decent, public demo, although the format translation work for the scenes will probably be done before the week is even over. We’ll have to get used to the new way of writing out scenes, and now we won’t be doing a dev demo for recruitment.

And speaking of recruitment? We’re not going to look for artists now, after all. I might ask some people I know for concept art from time to time, but that’ll not be announced here, obviously. Even if we do show the results of it.

Have fun, see you in another week, or month, or whatever.

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