Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Art by Cocander

We here at Somnova Studios wish all of you a happy 2013!
...And that's it, pretty much. Hope the hangovers aren't too bad.

Discuss this post on the forums.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa

Art By Troyd

Sick of Santa Girls & Fanservicey things? Here's something local & traditional instead!

Es wird scho glei dumpa, Es wird scho glei Nacht
Drum kimm I zu dir her Mei Heiland auf d' Wacht
Wo I singa a Liad'l Dem Kinderl dem Kloan
Du mogst ja net schlafa I hör' di nur woan
Hei Hei, Hei Hei!
Schlaf siass herzliabs Kind

Du brauchst doch net woana Kumm sei wieder froh
Du hosd zwoar koa Deck'n Nur Heu und nur Stroh
Doch d' Engerl die schmück'n Dei Liag'statt scho aus
Kann schöner net sei in an König sei Haus
Hei Hei, Hei Hei!
Schlaf siass herzliabs Kind

Ja Kinderl du bist hoit Im Kripperl so schee
Am liabst'n dat I nimmer weg von dir geh
I wünsch' dir vom Herz'n die siasseste Ruah
Die Engerl vom Himmi die deckan di zua
Hei Hei, Hei Hei!
Schlaf siass herzliabs Kind

We of the Somnova Studios wishes you a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are. May the Peace and Joy of Christmas be with you always all year long.

PS: As a little production note, we are trying to do our VN in a closer & accurate cultural depiction in relation to the setting, so we have a native Austrian to advise us on story notes. Cheers to all who has followed our production closely from the beginning to present and here's a hoping we'll not disappoint your expectations!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

This Music Writing Thing Is Hard

Hey, this is keviniskool. I'm one of the new musicians on Missing Stars, and I mean that in more than one way. While I am new to the team, I'm also new to writing music in a formal, organized manner as part of a group effort. For me, this meant no more random genre changes, no more stealing from other bits of songs, and no more waiting around for ideas to happen while the rest of the project moves along. I haven't quite gotten all of these things down yet, but one song in particular has been quite the experience in rewriting and revising, as well as adjusting expectations along the way.

One of the first songs I started working on after my acceptance was a little something called "Recollections". I originally intended it to be a theme for the title menu. This small intention already caused problems for me; I started work on another piece shortly after that I also intended to be the title theme, and both pieces sounded completely different. How was I supposed to reconcile the differences between these two ideas? One was a piece based on a sustained piano sound, and the other was based on slow acoustic guitar.

Of course, being the genius I thought I was, I figured I would implement both parts together. For anyone with a modicum of sense, you probably already figured out how this went: poorly. This lead to my first lesson: don't be afraid to throw away ideas. Before Missing Stars, I never really had to commit to ideas to begin with, so I never had to make the hard choice of throwing out things that didn't work.

So I finally settled on a piano sound, and it sounded pretty good in my opinion. However, one person pointed out that it sounded too repetitive, and that it needed something more. I agreed, and so I added more. And more. And more. What I got didn't sound bad, per se, but it ended up being the opposite of what a menu title theme should be. It ended up featuring a chorus, glockenspiel, three simultaneous piano parts, and a few other sounds I didn't quite understand and still don't. This lead to my second lesson: don't lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish. "Recollections" actually sounded good at this moment in time, but it didn't fit in anywhere, so what was the point? At this point, I had to restart with the instrumentation, and in the process I learned a third lesson:

The first two lessons aren't hard rules, but mere suggestions for learning more lessons.

Sometimes things don't need to be thrown out, but rather reworked to better fit in a new format. There was probably a reason it was thought of to begin with, so there has to be some value to it, regardless of how small it is.

Sometimes losing sight of what you started on can bring you to brand new places you never thought of before, giving you new ideas I wouldn't have thought of other wise. Sure, you might have to restart your train of thought, but now you have a new train to follow later!

That's what all of this is about for me: learning lessons and hopefully becoming a better musician along the way. If you asked me two years ago if I was going to be a musician on a visual novel, I wouldn't have even known what a visual novel was, let alone had the musical knowledge to write for it. Yet here I am.

I'm still learning. I'm not even sure if "Recollections" will make it into the game, let alone what it will sound like. Only one of the instruments I used in the original composition are still in the song, and the revision I am currently on probably won't be the one we use. But I have learned so much from one small song, and I think everyone can learn from it as well.

This is a piano arrangement of "Recollections". I usually don't write sheet music for piano, and I have never had to concern myself much with what's playable before this. It has been an interesting experiment in simplifying a song down to it's most notable elements, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure I succeeded. However, I always believe that if someone learns something from an experience, it was worth the time. Missing Stars, for me, has been the epitome of this idea, and I hope it continues to represent this idea, not only for me, but for the whole team as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

1% Inspiration, 99% Convenient Self-Excuses

They say that one of the marks of an amateurish and unprofessional artist is that they only work when the mood strikes them – "when they have [the] inspiration for it". Fortunately for me, and for the majority of my esteemed colleagues here in the Somnova writing department (As I would like to believe, for the sake of my fragile artistic ego), we don't even pretend to be professional, so at least you can't blame that on us.

At the risk of tearing down whatever reputation I might have painstakingly managed to establish somewhere out there as a writer, the truth is that I'm not exactly bursting at the seams with brilliant ideas. To extend the metaphor, you could say that most of the time I'm practically deflated and have to be moved around via spatula.

While, as above, a professional writer should ideally be able to spend at least several hours a day writing regardless of whether they have a good idea or not (most guides would recommend "write anything, even if it's crap", to which I would of course reply "am there"), I am ashamed to admit that on most days I don't write at all. While I am sometimes able to excuse this by claiming that I have more important things to do than write a VN I don't even get paid for, the truth is that even factoring in work and my pathetic excuse for a social life there're still plenty enough hours left in each day for writing – and I did choose to do this, and I do want to.

But cometh the hour of truth, and I've returned from work, and finished my dinner, and took a shower, and played some Deus Ex (it's one of those games you just get the occasional urge to play), and I'm finally sitting in front of that blank Word document and breathing in deeply, and nothing at all happens. I just stare at the white screen, perspiring nervously, somewhat embarrassed, and no writing. The characters can't speak. The descriptions don't pop into existence. The order of things doesn't make sense. I know, it's been said a million times before by a million writers both wiser and more talented than I am, but it doesn't make it any less true or troubling.

A character in one shitty KS fic I've written back in the day has once thought something along the lines of "to say that mathematics should be simple and intuitive just because it's all ultimately about numbers would be like saying that poetry should be because it's ultimately all about words." And poorly written as the character might have been, I still think this particular statement is not untrue. The words are there, at least most of the time. Having difficulty expressing ideas you already have is a problem by and of itself (and, like this one, more than deserving of a dozen blog posts), but isn't in this case relevant. Furthermore: regarding Missing Stars, the basic resources of the plot are there, too – I have my characters, and the general theme I want to deliver, and usually an idea of what I want there to be in a scene – but as with mathematics, something is still missing, and for lack of a better term, that something shall be called inspiration. Different writers have different methods of finding it – or perhaps reaching a "state" of it, if you like to think of it that way. Some listen to music, or read other books, or go on a walk outside, but for the most part I'm afraid none of the above works for me.

It's depressing to think about, but I do believe that much like charisma or a talent for music, inspiration is something some people are just born with different amounts of. With practice, and effort, you can increase this amount marginally – but no matter how much you work you will simply never be able to come up with ideas as easily as that bastard on the news who published his first book when he was half your age (and for all of how much you'd like to tell yourself it sucked to feel better about it, you know it didn't). Naturally, that doesn't mean the rest of us can't try.

And still it's a problem, because it makes work progress somewhat of a random thing. Everybody likes to think that one day they'd hit their Lewis Carroll point and churn out a masterpiece in one night of the blue (disregarding the fact that Charles Dodgeson was a god-damn genius in more ways that can be described in this note), but more often and realistically it would simply mean no work for two weeks straight because you just can't come up with anything. You know what needs to happen, you may even know how, but you can't put the words together. You can't imagine yourself doing it. That's the whole point – and it's incredibly frustrating. Especially frustrating is that, at least for me, "inspiration" seems to have a habit of hitting exclusively when I am completely unable to make use of it – while I am in the middle of a ten kilometer run, or busy at work, or lying in bed in 3:32 AM and there's work tomorrow. The way the mind works (mine, at least), by the time I can rush to the nearest computer to write everything down it's all evaporated away like a weak and idle theme (to quote a certain knavish sprite), seemingly wonderful and painfully out of reach. Some details are remembered, but details don't make a story – they make, at best, a synopsis. I often try to cheat by quickly writing everything I can mentally grab down, but this is neither efficient nor always possible. The funny thing about inspiration is that when it comes, it comes fast and hard. Faster than the fingers can move, in some cases, except in a vain attempt to create an unsatisfying imitation of something great.

It might very well be that the whole idea is by itself the excuse of the lazy writer, or the talentless one trying to make things easier on themeselves by blaming their lack of ability to write on something as intangible and random as the whims of a fickle muse, but even acknowledging the problem wouldn't make it disappear.

The good news is that, while all the above holds true, there are certain ways of dealing with the problem (though fixing it altogether seems tragically and logically impossible): the benefit to working with a whole team of writers (balanced out as it is by the numerous annoying disadvantages) is the possibility to gain feedback and brainstorm at almost any time and on almost any subject, whether via actual conversation or simply by reading each other's' work and using it as a randomizer for the words floating in your own head. And while none of the methods mentioned a couple paragraphs back "do the trick", it is likely that under the right circumstances they too can be useful. Speaking for myself, I also sometimes find it an effective method to put aside the work on MS for a few moments and focus on writing something else – be it a fanfic or a completely unrelated work or an overelaborate too-wordy blog post full of purple prose and misplaced quotes.

And ultimately, nothing too bad can come out of simply trying, time and a time again, to write by the vague plan you sort-of-have, and hoping that even if the result is shitty it might at least be a milestone in the way to something better, somehow. The mind, as we were quick to learn while working on this project, works in mysterious and magical ways.

Being a writer is hard, but it's also satisfying. That, too, isn't anything new to anyone, but for the first time in my life, I can truly, absolutely feel it for myself (or so I'd like to think). For me, at least, lack of inspiration to put together my ideas is among the worst troubles (if not the very worst) on the way to accomplishing the monumental task of writing this story and making it somewhat enjoyable.

Hopefully, everything will work out in the end. Now back to work.