Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Progress, Of a Sort

Now that we've got all that feelsy stuff out of the way, let's get down to business. For 2013, I've resolved to post more regularly about our actual progress. I know, I know: Missing Stars making progress? Preposterous!

But we are. Besides, it's a lot easier to track and explain development when you know the general direction you're headed in. That first year was pretty chaotic -- lots of false starts and squandered time. But we're firmly in the saddle now and looking forward. It may be a little ways off, but for the first time, we're looking seriously at a demo release.

So what progress are we making toward that goal right now? Well, we're getting one scene completely polished and up to the level of quality we expect from the VN as whole. That means sprites, backgrounds, music, and however many passes over the script it takes to make it behave. Once that's in place and playable and -- most importantly -- up to snuff, we've got a model to apply across all of Act 1. That's when the fun starts.

Speaking of fun, a production schedule should be in place soon that will carry us through to the end of the year. We're trying to be a little more organized about this whole thing. Overall, the future is looking bright. On the writing front, new scenes are falling into place all the time, and despite the aforementioned issues, our styles are working together nicely. Music production has picked up too, thanks to our ever-professional composer buddy Kevin. I've been working with him personally to score the opening scenes and make sure we set the right tone right from the start. It's beginning to look more and more like a real VN.

Sort of.

All in all, 2013 is going to be an exciting year for Missing Stars. If you've stuck with us this long, just stick around a bit longer.

-alabaster

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Happy Birthday

Courtesy of blackjack

What were you up to a year ago?

One year ago today, I was lurking the Katawa Shoujo forums. I happened to be there, in the right place and at the right time, to stumble on this little thread about a proposed visual novel. I happened to have some skills, maybe, that were needed, but more importantly, I happened to be in the right state of mind to want this thing – this thing we're now calling Missing Stars – to be made.

There's been a lot of happenings happening just right for a while now – a thousand little moments that string together into the story of Somnova Studios so far. Even after the project was on its feet, if one vote had gone another way, or if this character had been chosen instead of that one, the team might look a lot different today. The events that led to my being a staple of the team is probably the most convoluted roller-coaster of them all, but here I am. Sometimes I wonder about all the different ways things could have played out, but I thank my lucky stars they didn't.

I've officially spent a year of my life with these people. The reality of that only just sank in. I've made friends in a lot less time. It's probably more accurate to call these people my family, with all the wonderfulness and chaos that word implies.

But I can't do justice to my family here in words. I can't do justice to how creative these people are, or how funny, or how kind. I can't tell you how much they mean to me. Instead of even trying, I'll turn over the reins and let them speak for themselves.

I hope you like words.

-alabaster

A year ago today, a group of strangers came together and set out to create a visual novel. Many of the original group are still here. Some of you supporters and commentators have also been around for very nearly as long. For a year of new friends and acquaintances, good conversations and an all around enjoyable time, I say thanks to all of you. Insignificant to the spectator perhaps, but a year seems an achievement of its own, showing some ability to work towards seeing a vision realised. It's been a good year and I sincerely hope more are to follow.

-QbertEnhanced

Sometime last year, I had just finished up a wonderful visual novel. Curious to see what other people thought, I took a look at the forums, only to come across a thread toying with the idea of writing stories about students with mental disabilities. Intrigued, I took a read. Minutes later, I decided that I had to get in on this, no matter what. After several frantic and hasty PMs, I finally got on the team! ...But not as a writer; at first, I was part of the medical team, poised to check the medical accuracy of the characters we would eventually settle on. After a series of wacky events, I was elected to the position of Jeanne's writer, and I couldn't be happier.

Over this past year, we've had a lot of fun. We've shared ideas, watched terrible movies online, played games, listened to music, and - most importantly - written fantastic stories. I can't even begin to tell you about how talented everyone is here; it's been a real eye-opener. I've learned so much, and this is certainly something I'll never forget.

As a new year with Somnova Studios dawns, I sincerely hope that what we make this year just as fantastic as the last one.

-Hamadyne

One year? Already? It still feels like just yesterday we were still deciding the characters' hair colours and making the first jokes about student-eating eels...

Well, I guess all I want to say is that we've had our share of ups and downs. But, luckily, with a group comprised of such great people it's been far too many ups to remember, and not enough downs to dwell upon. One year is down, and many good memories remain. I'm sure there will be many more good times in the coming years to experience, for both us developers and our fans.

-VacuityMechanica

It's already been a year, yet it's only felt like a few months. Sources are telling me that in reality I have only been on the team for a few months and that's probably why it doesn't feel like a year, but I say feelings matter more than facts.

It's hard to say how much progress has been made in my time here. On one hand, we don't have a lot of final assets. On the other hand, we have a fully realized universe and a completely redone Act 1, along with a dramatically expanded art and music team. We have the framework for something amazing, and I believe in this team more than any other team I have ever worked with. We know where our faults are, and we always know we can count on others for advice when we are stuck. More importantly, I feel like there is a sense of commitment and duty that the team feels towards each other to not just get things done, but get things done the right way. We may not be the fastest or even the most professional team, but I'd say we care quite a bit about making something that is really compelling rather than just churning out another VN without a second thought. There's a passion here I don't think I have found or will find anywhere else, and you just can't put a price on that.

-keviniskool

One year has passed. Man, I remember when the project was recruiting writers at the time and I attempted the Katja and Jeanne test writes. Unfortunately, I did not make the cut at the time. I felt I could do something at least for the project for fan works. Kosherbacon through AIM and PM told me about how the school campus layout to be done and gave me a tiny “leak” of the campus image. Knowing that I know drafting and engineering I decided to create the entire campus layout in 3D and give it to the dev team. Next thing I know I was invited to join the project as the BG artist. In this past year, I have developed the world of Missing Stars through various locations. Using reference images from all around the Vienna and many other locations, I have fleshed out the background art needed, using various programs at my disposal. I am very excited seeing St. Dymphna’s come to life as well as other locations to be set with the story. Looking back it has been a lot of hard work and time invested on my end, but I am glad to be a part of this team and testing my own capabilities and improving on them as we progress on this project into the New Year! Look out for future sneak peeks of the world of Missing Stars.

-Wren

It was a dream come true for me when, after having failed to organise myself to become a part of this little KS knock-off way back in the 'Mentaru Shoujo' days, I was given a chance to leave my musical mark on the project a few months later. I honestly didn't think I'd be accepted on my application, but members of my creative family-to-be obviously knew better than I and, thanks to them, I'm still here working on this wonderful visual novel today.
Through the time that I was following its progress as a fan, and now and onward as I get to contribute to its development as a composer, I have watched this little idea grow into a story quite marvelous; a story of devs and fans, of students and teachers, of love and mental disorders, of eels and goats and parrots. It has changed me, indisputably for the better, and taught me much of people and art; I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for as long as this Somnova family, of which I may now proudly call myself a part, will have me. As such, I'd like to extend my sincerest thanks to every person on this team, and every fan that continues to follow us on this amazing journey. I will do my best not to disappoint.
<3

-scopedknife

Hi. I'm the "cool old guy" in the group (55), one of the older Katawa Shoujo fans. I contributed to the original KS forum thread and was invited over to the then-named "Mentaru Shoujo" forum when the KS thread was finally locked, so I joined as one of the programmers.

I was intrigued by the theme of "romance about teens with mental disorders" (being a doctor's son and reading books like Dr. Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat"), but what turned out to be even more interesting was the fact that a significant fraction of the developers themselves have various mental disorders. People want to see characters they can relate to, characters like themselves in stories, so in retrospect this outcome shouldn't be surprising.

And you know what? Communicating by forum posts and Internet Relay Chats removes so many emotional cues that many mental disorders become nearly invisible. Traits that might create a social barrier like stuttering, tics, lack of eye contact, odd movements, etc, aren't transmitted. After all, that's what we're trying to do with Missing Stars; look beyond the differences to show you the people within.

-Merlyn_LeRoy

I guess you could say, after a fashion, that by becoming a member of this project I've essentially fulfilled every fanfiction writer's greatest dream: to one day be approached by the original creators of the canon you are so cheerfully defiling and be told that you were so good that they want you with them. You might say that the reasonable thing to be given the above is blissfully happy, but then, well, let's just say I wasn't named after a Pokemon. It's not that I'm not happy to be here, mind you - this is probably one of the most exciting things, and greatest challenges, I ever did or faced (strange to talk about it in the past tense at this point, but there you have it - right from my subconscious. Take it as you may); but I'll feel even better when we're actually done with it, and better still if the result is worth the effort it took to make it.
As the last writer to join this project, I believe I could be said to have faced (and still am facing) a unique situation: I'm writing a story within a frame that has been already built by others. This is as bad or as good as you'd like to see it: on the one hand, I don't have as much of a say about some things that perhaps would have been important to me had I been a member of the writing staff from the very beginning (much of the fundamental decisions have been made before I've arrived, obviously). On the other, from the moment I've joined the team I had a skeleton in place to dress up with the flesh and blood and skin of my own style and ideas. Katja of today, while similar in many ways to the one that existed before I've joined (fear not, fanfiction writers - everything in the blog still stands!), is ultimately a very different character, with a very different story - one of my own.

Last, but not least, I want to thank all the fans who kept encouraging me and pushing me in the right direction (not to mention insisting that my work isn't crap when it, in fact, actually is) and above all: the rest of team, whose nigh supernatural ability to take in stride all of my bullshit without once trying to kill me is the sole reason I still haven't been killed by them.

-Gloom

I'm not going to post anything over-dramatic or even sentimental here. Just remember I will keep an eye on everyone and do whatever I can to make Missing Stars into a good VN. I am very grateful to have been accepted into the team, and I will do my job in it as good as possible. There are still many holes in the road ahead of us. With the bigger part of the story still unwritten, there are lots of mistakes to be made. Writers might still turn this into a story about normal teenagers or even a political manifesto without intending to do so, and many more things could go wrong. As far as I'm concerned, this is no time to look back on the past year full of self-satisfaction. The hardest parts of this project have yet to come.

-MDV

Well, well, well, if it isn't 2013.

The new year has really snuck up on me in a nostalgia kind of way, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It doesn't seem like a year since I happened to stumble upon a project tentatively called Mentaru Shoujo, a project I applied to thinking I would be an artist, instead applying as a writer. The topic intrigued me, having just started to research mental disorders myself in an attempt to come into my own both as a writer and as a young adult understanding of herself. I didn't expect this to be what it has become. I started this project thinking it would be a footnote in my life, and look where I and the rest of our insanely brilliant dev team are a year later. This is truly the centerpiece of my self thus far. I feel blessed to have witnessed the birth and subsequent growth of Missing Stars in a way I never thought I would for any project. I have learned heaps from not just the other writers but from the programmers, medical advisors, musicians, artists, and especially the fans and loyal followers of Missing Stars.

January 2012, I was a mess. I was stressed. I'd been diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. I wasn't out to my family or friends as a member of the LGBTQ community. I felt alienated and unsure of the direction my life was going in. And then I joined this project. You all have been the most amazing people to work with, to talk with, to be serious with or to screw around with. I can say that I've never been happier, and now, January 2013, I am so grateful and excited to be continuing Missing Stars and learning even more from everyone.
~an-tan

It feels hard to believe that a year has gone by on this project. I was there from almost the very beginning (about a day or two after, if we're being exact). I've seen a lot of people enter and leave the project (I'm still not entirely sure on what the art team looks like right now) and even my attendance here has been kind of spotty. Throughout it all I've learned a lot of things about people, writing, and life in general. I may have contributed to this project, but I think more than that, this project has contributed to me; the person I am now compared to the person I was when this started is a radically different one. I've met a lot of great people here and done a lot of fantastic things. The route I'm writing for this VN is by far the largest, most ambitious, and dare I say it, most human thing I've ever written, and by far it's something I'm very proud of, even if it's still in its fledgling stages.

Even though some times working on this VN is a hell beyond description, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

-Worthington

At the end of each year, we often bring it upon ourselves to reflect on the things we accomplished in the twelve months past. What we don’t tend to do, is sit at the dawn of the new year and conjure a list of bizarre things we expect won't happen to us in the coming months. Life will always find ways of throwing surprises at you, no matter how much you plan or how many resolutions you set yourself... Which I suppose explains in a wonky and vague little nutshell how I found myself a dev here at Somnova.

Never before joining this project have I come across a more amazing group of people with whom to nurture ideas. At first it was rather surreal, to be surrounded by people who shared a common vision. One year down the line, things feel much the same. Believing that Somnova’s first year has flown past so quickly is difficult (then again, I say that every year about everything). In retrospect, there are probably many things past me could’ve done differently, but I wouldn’t change my first-year experience one bit.

This project and the team working on it have taught me a vast spectrum of things I don’t feel I could’ve learned elsewhere. For the people I’ve met; the friends I’ve made and the laughs we’ve shared because of this wonderful project, I am thankful.

Ewww... Sorry if anyone puked.

-blackjack

In the past year, this team has witnessed hook-ups, break-ups, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, an apocalypse, and occasional VN production. I regret nothing.

-kosherbacon

When I first joined this group one year ago, I treated it like a hobby, but over time it became more to me. The project, and the number of people, grew and it felt like much more of a job than a hobby. What's the difference between this and a real job? This job has no pay. None, zip, zero. One can see "satisfaction" as payment but only to a point. It doesn't help us pay the bills, after all. In a typical job you see and speak to your coworkers daily, even if you don't want to. In this line of work you are lucky to see them, let alone hear their voices, which tends to make things harder since emotions and ideas cannot always be expressed easily. Finally, but not least, we have the series of miscellaneous problems that come with any job. Communication, motivation, time...

So what keeps myself and others here? Each day I could probably give a different reason and explanation; there would also be a few days where I couldn't say why. There is something I do know, though. If one-year-ago-me were to ask if I was happy with my decisions over the course of the year, there would be no chance I would not say yes.

And so this blog post comes to an end. But there is one last thing I'd like to address before it does. There is one little thing that we as a team cannot overlook, and that is you. You, the fans, have not only supported us but have helped us grow; we have even learned a few things from you. I thank you for accompanying us on this journey, because without you, we wouldn't be here now.

-Smokey

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Con Amore!

Okay, here's something a little different. Instead of an update on Missing Stars this week, we wanted to give some love to another project. Our friends over at Rainy Day Studios have been working on their own VN, Con Amore, for the better part of 2012. To celebrate the new year, they've just posted their very first reveal, and I'm excited to see where they go from here. If you don't quite have a long enough list of VNs to look forward to yet, you should check it out. Or... even if you do.

About that -- the English language VN community looks like it's blowing up. In a good way. There are so many awesome projects coming down the pipeline, and it's a pretty interesting time to be a fan of the genre. At Somnova, we were fans before we were devs, so it's nice to take some time off now and then to be fans again.

We've got our eyes on Con Amore. What projects are you watching?

-alabaster

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