Sunday, September 30, 2012

La Vie Quotidienne

For most people, returning to another year of high school is a wonderful time to get in touch with friends, go to parties with others, have trouble with homework, and (maybe) find love amongst the masses.

For me, my time in high school was a different experience. As someone who was never quite in the 'in' crowd, I found it hard to attend parties where all people ever did was grind up against each other to some loud, grating beat on a cheap stereo set. Homework, though I had a lot of it, was never too difficult - perhaps due to my lack of partygoing habits. Romance was something I shied away from; only having one short relationship that was never bad, but never all that good either.

Perhaps this describes you. Perhaps it doesn't. Whatever your history, the unique environment of the high school campus manages to pervade popular media across the globe to this day. When we see a character in a television show, or - dare I say it - a visual novel, we can't help but find similarities to real-life people who may share some common traits with these characters. We see the brainy-type characters in that one kid in the corner who gets all the answers right on every test. Or perhaps we see the traits of a tsundere character
(which, by the way, is never, EVER, that clear cut in real life) in a close friend. Groups of friends you hang out with - your best friends, your friends in that club you go to after school, your friends who go to a different school - can all be a 'slice' of a bigger piece of time. A week can be filled with a variety of drama, good times, and funny moments - a surprisingly short amount of time that can have so many of these events.

All of this slice-of-life business has gotten me thinking about my current state of writing; that is to say, how I can progress through one scene and make it mesh with another without seeming like the two are separate, static images. Or, in a similar vein, how I can write as our main character, as opposed to an idealized version of myself. Life can be organized into 'scenes', much like chapters in a book. But where chapters have a beginning and an end, life keeps going. As the reader isn't in Erik's head 24/7, I have to find an appropriately sized 'slice' to either start or continue the story that I've started. In addition, I also have to make sure that it flows into the next scene - adding to the overall story. Getting that right moment between characters like Jeanne and Erik is very satisfying, though. Emotional moments that fit the story arc in just the right way add to their development as characters.

Slice-of-life stories give the reader a window into a character's experiences, from first encounters to final farewells. As a writer, it's my job to make sure the moments in between are just as memorable.  Hopefully enough that you'll remember these characters even after those final words.

Art by Cocander


Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Building a Menagerie

(edit: If anyone's noticed this post changing between page views, it's because I wrote this early in the morning while medicated. I ended up accidentally a lot of words. Also, steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5...)

Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, but Missing Stars did not always have a plucky cast of adorable mental patients. When we first started, we had plenty of potential writers, yes, but no characters. Although imperial.standard had some character designs up, it was neither feasible nor desirable for the writers to stick with just those characters. Let's take an abbreviated look at how we resolved that.

1. Getting started.

First off, we had our potential writers come up with at least two possible love interests, plus a main character if they can. 

Name, Age, Mental Illness
Background description
Basic idea of their route (what you want to happen in the route, it should be an event on how the character and MC are coming closer [please note, this does pertain to her mental illness, and how they are overcoming it], does not need to be detailed for this purpose)

Once all is done, we'll go through them and pick the ones we think will work. After that we'll start assigning writers with the people they feel most comfortable writing, alternatively, if you want to "stake a claim" with one you've written- please say so.

One last final thing...
It's important to differentiate between the girl's disorder and her underlying personality. - Honeymuffin

Straightforward enough, isn't it? After all, creating characters is fun! Now, to avoid spoiling things, let's come up with some characters right now and wring them through the casting process. Today, we have:

-Manic Maria

-Priya the Pyro

-Bipolar Bertha

-And finally, Alien Hand Alois, a potential MC.

Starting out, each of us is somewhat inclined to try coming up with an entire cast by ourselves. In the end, however, we'd be lucky to have two of our characters show up in the story at all.

It's probably better that way. If one person comes up with all the characters, that person will feel entitled and obligated to write all of them... and writing an entire VN by one's self is a daunting task indeed. I myself, with my day job, can just barely manage one path girl, let alone two or more.

2. Discussion


Okay, so we've got characters, but do they work? After the character proposals are brought up, the team(at this early point, the whole team; the writers haven't yet cloistered themselves away in their snooty little club) discusses the pros and cons of each character. Here, we point out the more glaring faults and discuss how the characters would work against other personality types. So, after being picked apart, it looks like...

-Manic Maria's depressive episodes would just come off as being a generic shrinking-violet, though the mood whiplash from her mania does have dramatic potential.

-Priya the Pyro's backstory reads like a catalog of racial stereotypes. They'd have to be tossed before she can be taken seriously.

-Bipolar Bertha is too similar to Vacuity Mechanica's Borderline Bernadette, who is a much more fleshed out character. Bertha was kind've just thrown together as an afterthought anyway.

-Alois does have some potential, but his condition comes off as being just a gimmicky contrivance to allow for some sordid situations. Grab-ass with the librarian, anyone?

Using what we glean from discussion, we move on to the next step.

3. Character Elimination

Now for some suspense! Not only is everyone emotionally invested in their characters, but having a character survive to the end also greatly improves the creator's chances of remaining on the team as a writer. Selection is done by simple poll, with surviving characters being the ones with the most votes. The developers are given a chance to vote for five or so girls they would like to see in the eventual cast. While voting, we considered everything, such as how the characters play off each other, their roles in various ensemble models, how well their appearance compliments each other, how well their proposed storylines would fit together, and whoever we thought would have the hottest h-scenes. To keep the workload and creative contributions balanced, we did our best to pick each character from a different writer.

Votes are counted... and recounted as many times as necessary in order to get a manageable number of love interests... or as many times as it takes before we figure out how to even run a poll with multiple choices without screwing up.

image by imperial.standard.

The results are in... and Priya the Pyro manages to make the cut by only one vote! Turns out she was just too moe to eliminate.

4. Assigning Writers.

So, the writers managed to come up with characters we're going to use. But can they actually write? Yes, they've all been deemed competent from looking at writing samples submitted in their join threads, but it remains to be seen if they can actually pull off their characters. For these purposes, we each did a sample scene in which a narrator interacts with the girl. The goal was to show how well we can utilize and portray a character, as well as demonstrating technical ability. The word limit is 500 words, but that's almost always exceeded because we sure do love making walls of text. Characters created by non-writers were left open for anyone to try writing for.

Writing Test: Priya Azmi

"Whacha doin' today Alois?" chirped Priya.

Though nothing in her reputation is cause for alarm, I find her mischievous smile to be a little disconcerting.


When I regain consciousness, I see Priya, asleep next to my bed. She's been crying.

I feel almost guilty about making her feel guilty. Funny how cute girls can get away with giving me third degree burns, isn't it?

I know she's torn up inside, but I also know that if I wake her up, she'd say something like "Wasn't that fun?"


Unfortunately, it turns out our ambitious sex scene ended up a rambling mess. Looks like we're not going to be writing for Priya after all. Fortunately, this isn't necessarily it. We can still coach other writers who would like to try out for the job of Priya's path writer. After that, we can still be useful as an editor or character consultant.

Another important thing to do at this stage is get the main character figured out. This tends to be a less orderly process but requires input from everyone involved, since everyone will be writing from his or hers point of view. The protagonist has to be fleshed out enough to be interesting, but still relatable to readers. S/he also has to at least seem compatible with all the potential love interests. Because of these concerns, it's generally easiest to go with a fairly generic audience surrogate for the type of game we're planning. On the other hand, nobody wants to write as a faceless goon with no personality.

The need to make a main character that's versatile, relatable, but NOT boring makes the protagonist the most challenging character to design.

After several meetings worth of discussion, Alois is out. His replacement is Quirky Quinn, a happy go lucky ginger dude with a dark secret.

5. Outlining Story Paths.

Now that writers know who they'll be working on, they take the time to actually plan out the storyline within the VN. An important consideration is the theme of the girl's path. Is there a moral? What kind of stuff happens in the story? How do the characters grow over time?

When the characters were first proposed, most of them already came with suggested storylines and endings. These can serve as a starting point, but the writers aren't married to them, especially if they're writing for a character someone else created.

Let's say that Priya's writer decides that the theme for her story is knowing when to exercise caution, and knowing when to take risks. Following that, the writer throws together a basic flowchart for planning purposes, showing key events and how they lead to the various endings. What exactly happens during the first act is kept up in the air.


During this stage of planning, side characters are either proposed or conscripted out of the pool of rejects.

6. Start Writing, Son.

So, we've got a character and a plan! Now we get to work on Act 1. What we did was first decide which order we'd like the girls to first appear in, then describe what kind of scene we'd like for them to first meet the main character in. Using that, some poor soul(s) draw up a detailed scene-by-scene flow chart for act 1. Scenes are assigned and volunteered for, and writers get to work.

And that, friends, is a nostalgia-filtered look back at how we populated Missing Stars. I might have gotten some of the details wrong, but that's pretty much it. I hope that this post has been useful, even as a model of how not to do things.

Let's now have a moment of silence for those potential waifus who didn't make it.

This post is dedicated to the memories of:

Adele Truong Alessandra Medici Alyona
Amy Bahar Annie Ruducci Cecilia Paszek
Eleanor Callesse Elizabeth Faulkner Emese Vervloet
Felisa Basile Fran Dragovic Hanagawa Sumire
Hotaru Shibata Karin Van Lierop Katya Belova
Laura Bieler Lauren Whitman Louisa Schneider
Maria Lenz Mathilde Aschner Setsuko Sakei


Friday, September 14, 2012

It's the Little Things that Kill...

Note: some of the following images have been resized and/or cropped for blog purposes.

"Appearance: Lean, athletic build, modest bust, tanned olive complexion, short and messy dark blond hair, greenish gold eyes. Tends to wear clothes that would be considered too cold for current weather. Always seen wearing restraint mask(think Hannibal Lecter)"

That right there is an excerpt from my character proposal for Lena Forst, written up all the way back in mid-January. Lena was the most developed of my proposed characters(more on that in a later blog post), so I had a pretty good idea what she should look like.

image by imperial.standard

Based on my description, however poorly articulated, imperial.standard pretty much nailed it right away with his concept art. There were some alternative mask designs that were proposed, but in the end, we stuck with something Lecter-inspired. (For more information on the origins of the original SOTL mask, click here.)

With the basic design out of the way, we set about pairing prospective sprite artists with characters. Each artist would do test sketches of the girls, and would be assigned characters based on the results. Seemed simple enough; the writers knew what their girls were supposed to look like, so it was just a test to see which artist was best for the job. What I didn't realize was that opening Lena up for try-outs resulted in a period of doubt and questions concerning one of her most distinctive visual traits.

No. Not her mask.

Her boobs.

image by mikeinel

It all started when mikeinel posted up his sketch test. In addition to adding some nice details to the mask, he added boobs. Not what I had in mind, but I could live with that.

Lena x Jeanne. image by naso4. Note the alternate mask design.

Then came Naso's test. Lena went from "modest bust" to curvy amazon. By this point, I was thinking "hmm, Lena doesn't look too bad with a bust. Not bad at all..."

image by sho-N-D.

Here's sho's illustration of Lena wearing bodypaint and a collar. While I felt that Lena as a character would be most appropriate with a DFC, I had to appreciate the possibility of boobs. Because boobs.

Lena x Isolda. image by Yune
Yune kept the flat chest, but went for significantly longer hair.

image by myuto.
Following Yune's lead, Myuto went for longer hair as well. Also, he went for boots instead of sneakers, and a variant of the uniform jacket.

Flat-Lena was closer to my original plan, and made more sense for the character. Busty-Lena, on the other hand, had boobs. At the moment, the two options seemed equally viable. I was pretty torn, so I opened up a poll in the dev section for the forums. I asked my colleagues to consider what fits the character best, what looks good, and how either option best fits with the variety of body types the other heroines have.

The final results were 8 in favor of a flat chest, 4 for curves, and 3 for something in between.
At first, the results were tied, but after some discussion, several of the devs changed their votes. All this just in time for Lena's introductory blog post.

And that was that. With Lena's figure now set in stone, it was clear that Myuto was a perfect stylistic match for her.


Later on, outfit sketches proved that there was some benefit to letting sprite artists have some creative freedoms. The casual outfits I planned for Lena made her look like a wannabe cholo with a thing for ironic tee shirts. Fortunately, Myuto came up with several outfit designs of his own, and Lena is now the best-dressed path girl.

Second to the Twins, Lena has gone through the most noticeable visual changes during her development. Yet, even with all she's gone through, Lena's really only gained some longer hair and a better wardrobe. I suppose there's a lesson here about compromising between differing artistic visions, but I really just wanted to do a blog post mostly about Lena's boobs.

Fun fact: Since Lena is flat, Jeanne is the bustiest of the path girls. far.

image by Myuto

See ya next time...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Status Update

Development has come quite a ways since the last one of these, and we felt it was high time to put out a status update. Right now we’re still trying to identify what assets we need and who’s in charge of completing them, this makes progress understandably difficult. Despite some troubles, we’ve still managed to make some progress on all fronts.

Our writing team is chugging along merrily, coming closer and closer to completing their scenes for Act 1, after which it’ll be just a matter of polish. As it stands, I’d estimate we have 60% of the first drafts for Act 1 scenes done. The editing process is only just beginning, and that remains a large chunk of work. The outline for Act 1 is complete however, so it’s just a matter of getting all the scenes written up and polished.

On the art side of things, the art team is moving along slowly but surely. The sprite production process looks to be a fairly long one, with several stages of iteration and refinement so making a real declaration of progress isn’t too easy. Little is finalized in terms of art assets, our artists are still experimenting with character designs, something I expect to continue for quite awhile.

Music production has been a bit slow. We have a fair few drafts for character themes and general music, but little in the way of polished work. Getting the right feel for each character is a tricky business, and I don’t expect character music to become finalized any time soon. Regardless, it’s still very interesting to watch our talented musicians refine their pieces.

And so, that’s a brief overview of where the project stands at the moment. Going forward we’re hoping to hammer out some organizational issues to help speed production along and we’ll no doubt be busy in the near future. Thanks to everyone interested enough to check in.

On a not completely unrelated note, we’re currently recruiting for artists and musicians. Please check the recruitment thread at:
Developer Recruitment - Open

- QbertEnhanced

Saturday, September 1, 2012

100,000 Hits!

Hey, look! This happened last night!


Thanks for all of your support thus far, everyone! Hope you enjoy the last few weeks of summer.

Art by Imperial.Standard


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