I’ve done comics for years, which technically, is a lot more work than a visual novel tends to be—at least in terms of drawing. The average comic page has six panels, and that means six times you have to draw characters, backgrounds, dialog, color (or screentone, if it’s a black and white manga, that itself is its own skill set). So why is is that I’ve drawn thousands of comic pages, but can’t get my butt down to finish one Visual Novel?
I figured this out as I’ve finally committed to making my own Visual Novel, hell or high water. It’s because comics are a lot more sequential: write the script, plan the page, draw the page, color the page, text the page, done. Rinse, repeat until you have a full chapter/issue. Finish when you’ve completed the plot or current story arc. Even if you have to think several issues ahead, you’re still sitting with one thing at a time in front of you.
Visual Novels are not like that. You’re actually working on about four to five things at once. First, is the script. And as you’re working on the script you have to plan out what backgrounds and sprites are going to appear at what points in the story. So that means I have to keep an asset list of what actually will need to be drawn, and get the reference pictures for them. New directions in the story means realizing that you might need new expressions or poses, additional transitions. So pause from the writing to add yet another thing to the list. Then on top of that I have to think about the coding and presentation. When are there going to be determining factors in the story? How are you going to execute what decisions unlock what paths? How is the UI factoring into all of this? Any new story idea doesn’t just change the plot and the endings, it effects how the game is going to be built as well.
Even keeping this as simple as possible (there are only going to be four paths in my VN, and 3 acts not counting the prologue) I keep having to stop the writing, and check and recheck my lists, outline and mapping to make sure there aren’t any huge, glaring programs. And I haven’t even written a line of code yet!
The good news is I haven’t had to break out the index cards yet to swap things around, and the prologue is done, but my ‘simple little visual novel’ already will require dozens of drawings. Sure, I could just Photoshop around some photos for the backgrounds, but my pride as an artist won’t let me quite do that. Instead, I’m just digging myself in deeper and deeper, and making sure I don’t let this thing get away from me.