A three-week jump this time, due to a lack of time on devblog day. There are some developments that I’m excited about.
Generally felt unmotivated and without a lot of creative juice. I still got a lot done, through effort rather than inspiration, though somewhat less of it was narrative, and more of it was code.
Almost all of the code work this week happened in the story-compiler.
You see, I had this epiphany – which I should have had quite a lot sooner.
Sometimes you want to take off your gamedev hat and play something someone else has made. Sometimes your budget is tight.
Here’s a list of all of the Visual Novel/Kinetic Novel games that I could find on Steam (there’s also a couple not-quite-VN interactive fiction titles), not counting demos …
This update is running a couple of days late, I know. I’ll try to blame the public holiday at the beginning of the week for that.
Alright, where are we at? Once again, a good week for development, though more on the narrative side than has happened in recent weeks.
It’s starting to look “like a bought one”, as they say.
Who says that? They do. You know, them. Heck, I just did, so me too.
There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll try to be brief. I will likely fail.
I missed last week’s development blog post due to the pressure of other things, so I’ve got two weeks to cover.
On the narrative side, I’m nearing a long-awaited story milestone. The prologues are complete for each of the eleven protagonists, and all but two of them are written through to the end of the rather dense and complicated first day of the story proper. Once those last two characters are written through, that will represent a major milestone.
That brings us to (today), 88 scenes and 232,814 words. That’s more than Dune (the book), or Neverwinter Nights (the game) [This isn’t a competition!], but we’re not really into the full swing of things yet. That will be in the second Act, which is where the bulk of the narrative technology should start to shine (I hope!).
Here’s SNAFU’s scene chart for what is officially ‘day one’ of the story. There’s stuff up above that, but that largely happens in prologue (some character narratives start earlier than day one).
(click the image for a larger view)
Heck, this isn’t really even day one, proper, all of this one starts late in the day. This is mostly just an evening of story, starting around dusk (except for scene 315 up near the top there, which is an afternoon scene).
Choice-based interactive-fiction comes in a whole bunch of narrative models. If you haven’t read the These Heterogenous Tasks article, Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games, you should run right out and do that. It’s excellent, and I’ll be making some references to it. I’ll wait. Promise.
Done that? Good, let’s move along.
Kinetic novels mostly (though not entirely) derive from Japanese publisher VisualArt’s[sic], and its brand キネティックノベル (kineticnovel – smart money says it’s a trademark, so insert usual trademarks blahblah, and let’s move on). The thing that distinguishes kinetic novels as a subclass of visual novels is that they are not choice-based.
However, visual novels (whether kinetic novels or not) use a particular narrative presentation that is best described as “kinetic narrative”.
Kinetic narrative is an interesting beast. The user/reader clicks through the story a bit at a time, which reveals more. Choices that alter the story may or may not be a feature. The important part is the that the user interacts with the novel to reveal the next line, chunk or paragraph.
This brings some interesting features to the table. It allows for a kind of narrative that regular novels don’t, and might be actually a touch more reminiscent of the narrative style in comic-books and graphic novels.
Kinetic narrative allows interesting alterations in tense (permitting occasional graceful changes between past-tense and present-tense), since the user has become directly involved in the motion of the story, and the author can control what sized bites or chunks of text are revealed each time the user steps forward.
Since the user’s gaze can’t arbitrarily skip down the page or onto the next, kinetic narrative has more opportunity to generate surprises or suspense in less space, without having to more laboriously build up over time as you would in a format where the users gaze is uncontrolled.
Oddly, this seems to allow for a more natural form of writing, where you can avoid traditional gimmicks like a comic-book’s habit of placing punch-lines at the end of a page, and surprises or reveals on the next non-facing page. Consider also how traditional novel writers build suspense and perform reveals in relation to the way chapters in a book are laid out.
Kinetic narrative allows us to divest ourselves of a lot of traditional cruft that are associated with the inability to control the reader’s gaze. The reader’s gaze isn’t a problem for kinetic narrative. It sees exactly as much as we wish it to see, and no more. That allows us to create more natural flow in narrative, generate short-term suspense, surprises, create more immediacy, and handle reveals without having to resort to more cumbersome narrative forms.
As a bonus, kinetic narrative doesn’t let the reader’s eye get lost on the page (you know that bit where you accidentally wind up losing your place, on the page often due to external distractions, and have to pick it up again)?
I’m very much starting to warm to kinetic narrative over traditional narrative as a style. It’s not that I don’t appreciate both forms, but that I’m starting to see advantages to the kinetic form that were not initially apparent.
I have a chart of the way scenes branch in the SNAFU story. You might have looked at that and thought “Well, that looks a tad complex” – or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you thought it looked quite straightforward compared to branching fiction that you’re familiar with.
For a refresher, this is a chunk of the diagram:
It has grown a little since then. The thing is, that traditionally, the scene is the “atomic” node of choice-based interactive-fiction, and that is not the case here.