Not so many words to say. Love this. Thanks for inviting me to this magical experience. What's next? (ah). Una experiencia re linda la verdad ❤️
Postmortem rambles from Pri Karin
Heyo, everyone, this is Pri!! Spooktober VN Jam 2022 has just ended and, whew, not gonna lie, that was a wild ride!!
First of all, I want to congratulate all the winners, the people who made it to the shortlist, the people who finished their game and really everyone who participated in the jam!! Making a game is no easy fit, and the fact that you gave it a go is already fantastic.
On that note, thank you so much to everyone who played Panacea: Rebirth, the team is over the moon to have made it to the shortlist/honorable mentions and we really appreciate everyone who gave our game a try, commented, rated or even streamed it (you guys rock)!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart 💕
(Well, kinda, I just wanted to quote Monty Python lmao 🤣)
Warning, this may get a bit emotional and LONG (seriously), so read at your own
boredom bar risk.
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HOW IT STARTED: SEVERAL MONTHS BEFORE SPOOKTOBER VN JAM
This year has been a really productive one for me in terms of writing. I’ve been a (sort of) gamedev since 2018 but 2022 has been the one where I felt I could prove myself that I’m a writer and not feel like an impostor.
FableNovel is an indie group that was born in NaNoRenO 2022 thanks to YuukiPudding, who I can’t thank enough for inviting me to join her. If it wasn’t for her I don’t think I would have made it this far as a writer. The year 2021 was a really rough one for me because I got a new job, moved by myself (with my cat) and was overall really sad because I couldn’t do anything creative for the whole year. So when Yuuki recruited me to be the writer for her project, Detective Gidget, I was super happy since it was the first time someone gave me a chance to be a writer for something they had envisioned. Imagine my face when she was kind enough to even invite me to her indie group!! Really, thank you so much, Yuuki, you’re a true friend and I’m truly happy to have met you.
After NaNoRenO was over, we took a break for a few months and decided to enter Otome Jam 2022 with Hummingbird's Crown!! This is where Yuuki and I met our now
programmer Code Magician & awesome friend, Mochipie. This jam was HECTIC and probably the 2 months where the 3 of us slept the least in the whole year 😂. To say our scope was big would be an understatement (I’m not kidding). This project was born from all of our brainstorming, ridiculously big scope, insane sleep schedules, and most of all: TEAMWORK. Marcherin did amazingly with the hourglass & chibi art (and was kind enough to want to draw a Kanaria chibi too!!), Achimiko did a breathtaking UI which made the story much more immersive, Yuuki was coronated ART GODDESS by Mochi and me after we saw the amount of art she did for this jam (no, seriously, I still can’t believe it to this day, she even kept adding CGs), Mochi evolved into a Code Magician after the insane amount of work that she did for the programming & I still can’t believe how the hell I was able to write 40k words in two months (which was a first for me). I think something that helped us a lot was the huge motivation & love that we had to make this project a reality, we were really invested in it. And the cherry on top was that Mochi & Marcherin agreed to join us at FableNovel 💖
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HOW IT’S GOING: SPOOKTOBER VN JAM PHASE
INITIAL PLANNING & TEAM RECRUITMENT
For those who don’t know, Panacea is a game that I made as a solo dev (with a bit of help from a friend here and there) a few years ago in RPG Maker. It was initially supposed to be a full game where I would create a bunch of maps and events to try to make it work alongside the story. It was supposed to be a game that had similar vibes to Witch’s Heart & other RPG Maker horror games, which is where the inspiration came from.
But, of course, solo dev is a really taxing thing to do. It’s difficult, it’s lonely and it can be REALLY hard to stay motivated when you do practically everything by yourself and don’t have many people to talk about it with. I love this project dearly (in fact, it's probably my most dear one) but, after releasing the demo, I got a HUGE writer’s block and honestly didn’t know what to do… my dumb ass also wrote the script directly inside the engine instead of having an actual google doc or word document where to put everything first, so that didn’t help either. Not to mention my art was “okay” at best & RPG Maker is just not as easy as it looks despite being an engine that's famous for being relatively beginner friendly and not having programming involved. So, after thinking about it a lot, I decided to shelve the project for a few years… maybe someday it would be reborn again.
(The good thing about shelving this project is that it allowed me to collect a lot of research data, story concepts, plot ideas & worldbuilding notes throughout the years. So, if you ever have a project that you can't do at the moment, don't throw it away, keep all your notes in some place you'll remember and come back to it when you're ready.)
Fast forward to July 2022, and that’s when Spooktober VN Jam came to mind.
After the team took a well-earned rest from Otome Jam, I told Yuuki and Mochi about Panacea and how it could be turned into a visual novel instead of the original RPG Maker format. Since my writing had changed a lot ever since I released that demo in 2020, I thought it’d be better to make it a remake as well. Taking advantage of SpooktoberVNJam giving you only one month to create something, we decided to make a prologue/prequel to Panacea’s main story. It would have several changes from the demo, but, honestly speaking, these changes were for the better.
Once August came around, Yuuki helped me recruit people for the jam. This is the post we shared on DevTalk:
I’m not sure if I did a good enough job for the summary, but this is a good reference to have so that I can improve with both story summary writing and general recruitment posts to catch people’s attention. Every project is a learning experience! 💪
UI Artists in particular were on SUPER HIGH DEMAND this time around, it was really tricky to find someone and, not gonna lie, we almost gave up on it but, thankfully, we managed to recruit Rin right before the jam started ✨. Regarding artists, we got Anta, Kyle, Yui, Jello & Yuuki herself in case we needed any backup! Flor was a later addition, once the jam started, but we couldn’t be happier to have her as well!
Anta not only does really beautiful art, she’s a gamedev herself and has released several awesome games! Kyle’s art is like the brushwork of a fairy, it's so pretty I can’t even ajhfbjsb! Yui’s backgrounds make me want to jump inside them and live their stories, they are SO vivid! Jello’s art makes me feel like I’m watching a painting from an art museum, it's so cool! Flor’s art is super charming & cute (dat shading, bruh) and she’s an indiedev as well! Rin is primarily a character artist but, holy shit, can they make amazing UI! And, of course, we’ve already established that Yuuki is an art goddess herself!
Nuff said, if you don’t know who they are, I invite you to check out their work cause they’re all wonderful artists and amazing to work with. DO IT OR FACE THE WRATH OF THE SUCH WOW DOG.
When it came to the music and SFX, we sadly had a few experiences with ghosting in the past, so we were a bit unsure on what to do. Music is generally easier for me cause there are a lot of great sites that let you use their royalty free themes, and you can be sure that you’re ALWAYS going to find something that you like. But with sounds... well, while it’s true that there are also a lot of resources out there, there are times when you just need something really specific, so it can be a nightmare trying to find THAT ONE SOUND that you want.
I’m a huge believer of visual novels needing sound design to feel much more alive and immersive. For the story I was envisioning, I really, REALLY wanted it to have SFX, so I decided to try my luck with some friends of mine that I had the pleasure to work with in an older jam, Mati & Philow, to see if they were interested. Thankfully they agreed!! Mati and Philow work as a duo quite often (Mati with music, and Philow with sound design) and, being from Argentina, like me, would make it much smoother to contact them ✨ . Since Yuuki would be having her hands full directing all the other members, we decided I would be in charge of directing the audio duo instead.
And thus, our team was born!!
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BRAINSTORMING, CONCEPT ART & MORE PLANNING
Having the outline almost a month earlier before the jam started was a huge help to contemplate ideas.
At first, we thought we could make this a kinetic novel cause we really didn’t want a repeat of the enormous scope that Otome Jam had been, especially since we only had one month this time. Writing-wise, 10-14k also seemed like a doable feat so we agreed on having the script be relatively short.
Sadly, kinetic novels sometimes get a bad reputation for not having any choices in them, which can make them suffer from visibility and bad reviews. I didn’t want to make any choices that would change the story too much but we then thought about adding chase scenes so that the game would still be linear but you would have to survive till the end to get the best outcome.
Gameplay-wise, chase scenes are generally not as interesting if you don’t add some kind of time limit to them, so the idea of making them quick time events was born from this notion. The game would be short too, so this gave us time to explore the different ways we could approach the chase scenes. Even adding animation to make them look more interesting.
(A concept of the chase scene art made by Yuuki)
The 'chase scene brainstorming' also allowed Mochi to make a few tests, with the concept art that Yuuki made, to see how it would look like when animated.
To sum it up, since the core of this game would be the story and narrative, the way we agreed on to make it stand out even more was by making a bunch of cool art, original sound design and some original music (since there would be no time to make more than 4 themes at most).
In many cases, I already had a pretty good vision of what I wanted things to look like; for instance, certain characters’ physical traits, the first part of the game's title, the story’s plot, etc. Still, something that makes it really fun to work as a team is choosing things together. This is why we we came up with a voting system to decide on things that we weren’t quite sure of from the get go. What was the system like? Basically, we created a new discord channel that would be used specifically for voting and we also gave a time frame for members to vote. Once that time frame was over (or the majority leaned towards a clear winner), the voting would end. Members were also free not to vote if they didn’t want to.
Some examples of the things we voted for:
- Lacrima’s dress color
- Angis’ hairstyle
- The angle of the backgrounds
- The game’s full title
I really liked this system and it’s something we’ll definitely implement for future games!
For the character sprites, image references as well as a short description to explain what I more or less envisioned was VITAL.
Since my initial characters’ designs for Lacrima & Angis on Panacea’s demo were for their adult versions, we had to age them down as well as give them new outfits that were more appropriate to the setting. Nox himself was based on an old character from the RPG Maker demo that looked too much like a human and I wasn’t very satisfied with at that time, so he would have the biggest change of them all; with the exception of some things that would stay the same (like the mole next to his eye, his blue eyes and his dark skin color). Nox’s owl-like appearance idea was actually what I wanted to make the character from the demo look like if I ever got the chance to make a remake (my drawing concepts for owl-Nox were really bad so I’m super grateful to Anta for making sense of them).
As for the CGs, showing references with descriptions was VITAL too, maybe even more so, since the artists would need to know the overall mood of the scenes as well as what’s going on in them to help them know what to work with. Also, the fact that Anta made the concepts so fast (and with so many details!!) was a HUGE help and advantage that we had because now the artists who also had to draw the characters could use these as reference for their appearance.
And, of course, the use of references and descriptions applies to the backgrounds, music & SFX as well!! Always have references and talk about them with your teammates, ALWAYS!! Make sure to ask your teammates if they can give you a rough estimate of the time they’ll take to make their corresponding assets. Make sure to ask them if they have any doubts or suggestions. This also helps to plan better as well as making sure everyone is on the same page.
(Music & SFX lists were in Spanish because it was easier for me to talk to Mati & Philow in our mother tongue lmao)
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THE FIRST 12 DAYS OF THE JAM
The first days of the jam were very good progress-wise. Anta literally turned into Sonic the Hedgehog because of how FAST she made the sprite poses, so we could already start adding them to our shared google drive.
Since the sprites had blinking as well, the expressions had to be separated in layers for Mochi to program them together.
In order to help Mochi not get confused by all the expressions
and head towards a frustrated table flip, I made a list so that we would know which mouth, eyes & brows corresponded to what expression:
Having it all neatly organized saved a lot of trouble and we also made sure to talk about how we were going to put the expression changes inside the script itself, since we had a really bad experience with that during Otome Jam (even if the writer and programmer are one and the same, believe me, you REALLY should write the script in a way that’s easy to implement in the engine you’re using later, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration and time).
Kyle, Jello, Rin & Yui had also begun working on their assets!!
As well as Mati & Philow, who started working on the music & SFX. We even planned a voice chat meeting for the following week to discuss ideas and answer any doubts they might have.
(My chats with Philow & Mati are usually in Spanish lol)
By September 12th, Mochi had already implemented most (if not all) of Lacrima’s expressions into the game too!!
Even the writing was going great!! I managed to write about half of the script as well as get feedback from the wonderful Code Magician herself, who also provided the best quote of 2022:
Everything was going so well… SO well in fact that destiny had to be a bitch and say “prepare for trouble and make it double, triple… yeah, I stopped counting, anyway, there’s trouble”.
These stupid Mercury Retrogrades, fml…
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THE THIRD WEEK
This was probably the most stressful week of the jam for me. Thankfully, I had taken a week off work but we had some unfortunate incidents happen.
One of the artists hurt herself in a little accident, another one was really busy with their college, another one’s laptop charger got busted, Yuuki got a huge fever & Mochi had a lot of work piled up from her fulltime job.
I was so stressed that I cried myself to sleep for several days. “What should I do?” “Should I get more help?” “What if we don’t make it in time?” “What if someone ghosts us?” “What if the story sucks?” “Am I being a jerk if I ask so and so to change this thingie?” “Am I a failure as a project lead?” “What if I say something that hurts someone and they never want to work with me ever again?” “How did talking to people go again?” “Are unicorns real?”
Ok, granted, my period was also coming, WHICH DIDN’T HELP, but my stress and anxiousness levels were through the roof. Not to mention, Panacea is a very personal project to me, so that probably didn’t help either. Projects that are really personal tend to make us care a bit too much sometimes and, really, no game is perfect cause perfection doesn’t exist (but of course, it's a bit hard to find logic when you're in the middle of a panic-filled week).
I still kept checking on everyone to see how they were doing (mentally & physically first, and progress-wise with their assets second) while I kept working on the script, which I managed to finish the entirety of by September 19th. I reckon that I probably could have worked on the script a little more (and, unfortunately, I couldn’t get much feedback for it during this week since everyone was either super busy or not feeling well), but I didn’t want to make the same mistake I did in Otome Jam. I wanted to have a loooot of time for testing (and I still edited stuff from the script here and there when I checked for typos and bugs anyway).
It was during this week that I also recruited Flor to help us a bit with the art for the chase scenes and some extra mini CGs, since Yuuki wasn’t feeling well. I swear Flor was an angel given to us from the sky. Not only did she put up with my whining and mid-jam crisis (as did Mochi and Yuuki too, seriously, thank you so much for putting up with me during this time) but she also agreed to be a part of the team!! She was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, cause BOY was Flor fast!!
Thankfully, things started to calm down by the end of this week, being a lot less chaotic than when it began. After all, when you’re down, you can only go up from there, right?
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THE FINAL WEEK
Surprisingly, this week ended up being a lot more chill than the previous one. As with all things in life, after a bunch of trouble takes place, things eventually settle down.
All art assets were completed with flying colors, Yuuki recovered and even helped with a few things like extra art and some edits, Philow made a total of 59 SFX, Mati made 4 original music tracks, programming took less than expected thanks to the previous code implementations & Mochi’s superhuman speed… It was all coming together!!
The last few days, of course, were dedicated mostly to testing & fixing bugs. Thanks to Otome Jam’s previous experience with Mochi, we were able to work really well with Github!! I seriously recommend it a lot for working with a team. It’s a real life saver!!
(This is just a glimpse, imagine the million updates Github's history actually had, it always surprises me)
And this brings me to the next point: testing your game is EXTREMELY important. I cannot stress this enough. If 50% of the game means programming the whole thing from start to finish with all the assets and story bits implemented, the other 50% should be for testing.
I know there’s a lot of excitement involved when your game is finished but, believe me, you don’t want to release a game that’s full of bugs. And I don’t say this for SpooktoberVN Jam only, I say this for every single game you make. I say this because you should put yourself in the players’ shoes. When someone downloads your game, more often than not, it’s because they want to have a good time with it. Because it caught their attention, because it looks promising. Granted, of course games are going to have typos and bugs from time to time, but don’t you think it’s a shame, a real bummer, if all the work you put on it gets put down on by a bug?
There are a lot of really sweet and understanding commenters out there who know that you put a lot of effort into your game and who know that game jams are always hectic in some way or another, so they won’t hold it against you and just leave it as constructive criticism. But there are also a lot of people who won’t care about how much time you put into your game and won’t give a damn about saying things kindly. Of course, there are also a lot of people who won’t say anything at all and just drop your game altogether.
It hurts. It’s probably not what anyone wants to hear. But it’s understandable to see why it would happen as well. Imagine you were playing someone’s game all excitedly and it suddenly crashed on you. Or perhaps you’re really getting into the story but the game shows a black screen out of nowhere?
TEST YOUR GAMES MULTIPLE TIMES, PLEASE.
Let the criticism be for something else, for the actual content of your game, but not for this.
Anywho, after the testing was over, we were ready to deliver 💪
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So it was finally the time for the game’s release. The itch io game page description and overall look was done, the screenshots were posted & the game files were uploaded.
Now was the moment of truth, now was the time to wait and see.
Oh boy, now was the time... for criticism.
As many of you might have already guessed, the biggest criticism our game received was for the quick time event chase scenes. Kind of ironic since we were worried that making it a kinetic novel might have worked against us, but it was actually the chase scenes which came to bite us in the ass 😂.
Not gonna lie, it kind of stung a little cause we were really proud about how they ended up looking, but it defeated the game’s purpose if people stopped playing because they were having trouble with the chase scenes. At first I thought the clues I added to solve the chase scene puzzle might have been too hard, so I ended up making a walkthrough. In fact, I was actually going to make one at some point anyway, but seeing how the number of people who commented about the chase scenes began to increase, I posted the guide much sooner than intended.
We also received suggestions of adding difficulty modes, so that those who hated quick time events were free to skip them altogether and enjoy the story without being frustrated (which was a great suggestion and I'm really thankful for that). Big shoutout to Mochi for this, she implemented a difficulty mode in RECORD TIME and it looks FREAKING AMAZING as well!!
Other types of criticism we received were about the ending being a bit abrupt, which was totally fair, and also about the game being a ‘prologue’. I think the problem with the prologue was more about how I advertised it rather than the story in itself. It was a mistake on my part to advertise it as a prologue since that also tends to scare people away from playing a game because “it’s not finished”. Kind of like how some people say they’d rather wait for the full game than play a demo. I have now changed the game page description and started calling it SOLELY A PREQUEL instead of a prologue since that’s also much truer to what Panacea: Rebirth is anyway.
Panacea: Rebirth is the prequel of a much bigger story that we’re planning to make in the future, and since SpooktoberVNJam is one month long when it comes to the creation part, making a short prequel suited it very well.
The game ended up being a bit shorter than intended (around 8k words) but, on the bright side, this allowed it to be tested and polished immensely. And the team & me are really happy with the result ❤️
But then… What happened after the first few days of release?
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POST-RELEASE DEPRESSION & FINDING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Social media and algorithms have a way to kick you right in the middle of your self-esteem gut. You start thinking everything that everyone else made is amazing, you start thinking that maybe your game is not very good despite being extremely proud of it.
“Oh, hey someone downloaded the- oh, wait, no, that was just me when I tested for the 20th time.”
“Oh my gosh, someone played XXX game, that’s so cool!! I wonder if they’ll play our- oh… Maybe… maybe our game wasn’t their cup of tea.”
You start drowning in all sorts of negative thoughts, you start obsessing over the ratings and the number of downloads and the comments you get or don’t get. It’s a constant spiral and it just keeps going deeper and deeper and deeper until you finally can’t take it anymore.
IT’S TIME TO TAKE A BREAK.
Look, it’s not your fault. Social media and algorithms in general have this cold “numbery” approach to them that makes it seem like if something is not “picture perfect” then it’s pure garbage. And that’s just NOT true.
Creating a game is not something that everyone can make. And already achieving that is plenty to be proud of. You MADE something!! YOU. MADE. SOMETHING. And believe it or not, that’s plenty. That’s a lot.
It might not be perfect, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it might also make someone’s day.
There are people who WILL like your game. There are people who WILL play your story, who WILL look at all the work you and your team put into it and it will leave a smile on their faces. It will bring them joy. It will make them look forward to your other creations.
It’s okay to take a break and take things at your own pace. Just because everyone is doing something right from day one after the release of their game doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same thing, especially if it makes you feel overwhelmed.
Of course, what the others do might work for you too, that’s also great!! But don’t feel pressured to do everything your gamedev peers do if it doesn’t feel right for you or you need a little time.
Find your comfort zone, be yourself.
As for the algorithms themselves, it’s okay to look at the numbers but try not to obsess over them. And I speak from experience here. Don’t obsess over the numbers, it’s really not worth it. The only thing you’ll achieve by doing that is getting sad because they don’t meet your expectations. And if they happen to meet your expectations, you’ll soon start getting more expectations and eventually the cycle will repeat.
Take a break. See if you can do something else. Talk with your friends, read some comics or books, play games, watch an anime or series you like.
It’s okay, you did great. And you don’t have to prove yourself all the damn time.
Celebrate the success of making a game with your team ❤️ Thank them all for their hard work & effort, thank yourself for all you did too and treat yourself to something that makes you happy: be it food, a series you wanted to watch, or that game sitting on your backlog that you’ve been wanting to play for a while.
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Making a game is never easy. It’s exhausting. Not only physically, but mentally as well. It can be stressful, it comes with a number of issues and troubles, but it also comes with a bunch of learning, excitement, teamwork, friendship and community.
Making a game is never easy, but it is always worth it.
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Thank YOU for being a part of it!! ❤️
Y me encantaría que volviéramos a trabajar juntos con vos y Mati!! 😊
Thank you for posting this Pri! It was interesting and informative reading the story behind the scenes of Panacea and FableNovel. Props to your team for completing it. You all did a fantastic job! Congratulations! The last part really got me though. I feel it on a personal level lol. Hang in there!
Thank you so much for taking your time to read it, I'm happy to know it resonated with you!! And thank you so much for your sweet comment, we're really proud of the end result of Panacea 💕