The Teacup

General Category => Development Discussion => Topic started by: lordcloudx on October 24, 2010, 05:10:31 PM

Title: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: lordcloudx on October 24, 2010, 05:10:31 PM
So, from a passing mention from kikered in the channel, I decided to play this altogether translated JVN called, "At Summer's End."

It was a pretty stereotype-heavy VN. It had a school, a childhood friend character with a tendency for violence and a protagonist who doesn't realize how precious she is to him until he's about to lose her. It was pretty unremarkable from the get-go, but I managed to read through it mainly because the exchange of dialogue between the two characters kept it pretty fresh. I was already spoiled about the ending, but I still found it quite nice - and this is how I would describe the whole VN: nice.

The VN itself was pretty short, probably about 25 minutes long depending on how fast you read. The character art was quite mediocre, even by my low-tier standards. The backgrounds looked pro, but they were probably free resources. Over-all, nothing about this VN really stands out, but I still think it's a pretty good VN over-all.  So this got me to thinking about the importance placed on "polish" by many EVN developers. As a developer myself, I don't really think much about "polish" - as in, making some element of the VN become groundbreaking or having some other claim to fame. It got me thinking that "At Summer's End" and a lot of other altogether titles are the types of visual novels that I've always been aiming for. As opposed to making impressive "polished" games, I'd be more satisfied with making "nice" VN stories that everyone can enjoy.

What I've observed from many of the localized amateur JVNs is that they're quite unobtrusive, most of the time, but they're nice in their own little ways. They can be long or short and come in all kinds of packages, but there is this certain unpolished "doujin spirit" about them, for lack of a better term. What do you guys think about this? How important is "polish" to you as creators?

As an aside, I'm not neccesarily encouraging making mediocre visual novels with horrid character art. Furthermore, I'm not saying that a nice game can't be a polished game or anything like that. It's just that even if I were to make a polished game, I'd still want it to be a nice game.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: Hime on October 24, 2010, 09:15:19 PM
I think there is a golden balance of sorts in polish and ambition. It applies to all parts of visual novels, but it's particularly easy to see in art.

I have made a picture to illustrate what I mean and will go on to explain it.


Effort, polish and ambition decrease to left and increase to the right. Behind the text and colours is the curve of enjoyment and quality.

At the far left are the creations that are created with an obvious lack of polish - the kind that make you wonder if the creator was thinking at all. Note that this isn't a measure of skill or quality, but effort and polish: even the best of artists or writers can fall into this section if they simply don't even try, while beginners don't automatically belong here. The productions and assets within this section usually disappoint the audience and do not demonstrate the potential of the creator, who may feel disappointed in their own work.

On the middle left is the "homey" section. I believe this is what you meant by "nice" games: you can see that the creator didn't intend the work to be their greatest masterpiece of all time, they just used the time and effort that they felt was neccessary. The creations in this section create cozy and pleasant feelings for the audience. They do their job, but they are nothing their creator would put in their portfolio or CV, as they feel they could do better. Because all of what the creator did was in their comfort zone, there are no real mistakes or so, but the product may leave people wishing for more.

The middle section, the golden balance, is what every creator should aim for: the part where the effort and ambition match the actual skill. These works are perfectly polished and show no strong weaknesses. In general, the results are what you would call good work, and realistic displays of what the creator is capable of.

But when we go to the right, and add more ambition and polish, the work gets "bumpy". An example of this would be that an artist who isn't that technically skilled trying to do realism or perspective drawing. While the work shows that extra effort was made, the ambitions and skill don't match, resulting in work that may be better in one way and worse in the other compared to the creator's average work. In a visual novel, this shows as uneven quality and lack of harmony.

And then there's the extreme right, which I'm sure all of us have seen. Some people may not introspect as much as they ideally should, and the result is that they think they can do more than what they're truly capable of. What happens here is a rapid decline in quality and the enjoyment of the audience, just like when they do the complete opposite. In large projects like visual novels, this can also often lead to the project never getting finished as the creator discovers that they overestimated their ability and cannot match the demands of their vision.

So what you should actually be looking for is a fine balance. Ask yourself what you are capable of and what amount of ambition will produce the best results, because both neglecting polish and aiming too high will make your visual novel worse than what it could have been should you have reached the golden balance. Looking for the balance is very difficult, one of the hardest things in making visual novels in my opinion, but also crucial and surely worth your time.

Personally, I feel like I'm still searching for my own balance, especially in writing. It's surprisingly difficult to set aims that are both realistic and satisfactory, but I think my image of what I can do is becoming more clear all the time.

EDIT: thanks for lordcloudx correcting me, I meant "homey" and not "homely". Doh!
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: number473 on October 25, 2010, 06:51:36 AM
To some degree I think that is is related to the degree of professionalism that the creators put into making the thing. This doesn't necessarily mean it's real professional quality, but rather the attitude that you're going to do this thing right. When you don't have that, you lean over towards the left side of Hime's scale. Now, a totally polished product may not be necessary to get across the point that you wanted to in the VN. That is, of course, totally fine.

I'm not sure that I agree completely with the upper end of the scale Hime posted, though. If you are willing to improve your skills and do do so, you just bring your talent up to match your expectations. It's when you think that you know how to do it already and aren't willing to improve that you land in that trouble. It comes down to perseverance and motivation if you're willing to do that. To me, the far right side belongs with the far left: the person is really unskilled, otherwise he would know what he was doing enough to estimate the project correctly.

As for my own opinion on the matter, the optimum is to do what you are capable of to create the work that you envisioned. If anything falls short, you'd better figure out how to fix it. If the work already conveys what you wanted, then it is up to you if there is something you want to improve. Basically it comes down to not having an amateur attitude of "It's alright, no-one's expecting more than that I try." I.e. do a work that you're proud to sign your name to.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: Hime on October 25, 2010, 04:58:54 PM
I'm not sure that I agree completely with the upper end of the scale Hime posted, though. If you are willing to improve your skills and do do so, you just bring your talent up to match your expectations.
If you improve your skills to match your ambitions, though, that's basically jumping down to the ideal middle part again, so it isn't a genuine case of "bumpy". A project's place on the scale can vary during its making. Sometimes previously impossible projects become doable or small projects expand to a greater scale with larger expectations.

You're right in that falling to the extremes marks a relatively unskilled person in general. As people gain experience in their trade, they learn to evaluate themselves better, though different situations like a highly stressful and quickly approaching deadline can push an experienced person into those sections as well.

I also edited the original post, I had mistyped one word and this typo implicated something I hadn't meant.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: sake-bento on October 26, 2010, 08:13:59 PM
Given the choice, I do tend to prefer "nice" games over "polished" games.

My definition of a "polished" game being one in which the development of the game focuses more on making "high quality" art, writing, music, etc. rather than making the entire piece tell a story. I fear that there's so much of a push to have the best art or music or writing, that the story gets lost in the process.

For instance, I prefer Azure's Fantasia series over Date Warp, despite Date Warp having more polished graphics. Not that I didn't enjoy Date Warp, but the Fantasia games are "nicer." The entire package feels like it all fits together nicely. In fact, I wager I wouldn't enjoy it as much if Azure had a pro step in and do the graphics for her.

Another example would be Scout's Sketchbook. The art wasn't exactly pro level, but it was part of the story, and the crayon and pencil drawings were part of the storytelling. Without those, the story wouldn't have the same impact. Compare that to Memo, illustrated by Doomfest. I really liked Memo, but the overall game didn't impact me the way Sketchbook did. The beautiful art made it a very appealing game, but it feels like the focus of the game was more on the art than anything else.

I definitely prefer nice over polished. It's one of the reasons I love visual novels so much. I feel like a lot of mainstream video games spend so much time making a great engine or having better graphics that the actual storytelling takes a back seat to everything else. Most RPGs seem to fall into this category, along with every hidden object game ever.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: DaFool on October 27, 2010, 11:58:07 AM
Something I noticed that's different in the western indie scene compared to the Japanese is the lack of 'doujin spirit'.  I've noticed that many western developers try hard to mask the fact that they're basement coders, preferring to impress with the feel of a larger company.  Whether it's to get devkits, or whether so they're not mocked by kids, I'm not sure what the exact reasons are.  It seems there's a wider delineation between totally amateur and professional -- it's either you're making fun of yourself with farting or zombie games, or you're pushing your limit with regards to polish.  Whereas in contrast I tended to notice a more gradual spectrum of polish in the Japanese scene (although recently it seems that the entire Japanese gaming / VN industry is shrinking)

Sometimes I wonder if the western fandom would have given something like the original Higurashi or Tsukihime a chance or if they would just have scoffed or ignored just by looking at the screenshots.  The reason Katawa Shoujo is so popular is precisely because the level of polish and professional construction goes in stark contrast to what was expected of people who reside in 4ch.  I also used to think that the western anime/manga/game communities discover lesser-known artists and make them more popular, but apparently that's not the case -- they are "kingmakers", only clamping upon what is already popular and hot, such as touhou, or vocaloids, or minecraft, and making them even more popular.

On the other hand, what I prefer about the west is their willingness to explore a wider range of themes and expressions -- not just the typical moe-like settings, and sometimes even abandon the entire anime aesthetic entirely.  When their works have personality, boy do they have personality! I think what sake-bento meant was that for some games, you have the producers say "Ok, we have an anime aesthetic, now lets make a story" while for other games most of the personality is brought by the creators' art, even if they're substandard in a professional setting.

Another example -- Deji's art is great, but there are just certain kinds of themes which she shouldn't be illustrating, since they won't fit  (Unless she has already developed alternate styles to tackle a more serious tone).  If I contracted her services just for the sake of getting a good artist, that would be an example of following the 'polish' direction.  For my current game I specifically hand-picked someone with a more distinctly European style since that is exactly what's needed to bring more personality to my game -- the personality of the style comes so strong that I practically overlook any flaws...  as far as I am concerned, there are none.

I think as a general rule, games made with smaller teams (or just individuals) will tend to be 'nice' while larger games made by groups or with professional contractors will tend to be 'polished'.  There are exceptions of course, such as when pro-level creators force themselves onto the doujin scene (e.g. Narcissu).

The concepts of skill vs ambition has been touched on already.  I think the main ingredient for a work to stand out more (personally), is if manages to obey the rule "The whole is more than the sum of its parts."  I think many commercial polished games only manage to make the whole exactly equal the sum ot its many polished (and expensive) parts.  I think the main goal would be to convey the illusion of depth, that something feels deeper than the art assets and text that's presented to the player.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: mikey on October 27, 2010, 09:42:31 PM
The most telling thing about the discussion about polished games vs. those with a "natural" look and feel is that it follows the same discussion principles like those in talks about popularity - such as which girl is hotter - the principles being that the girl who is considered ugly can say literally anything about the perception of beauty, and it still won't matter, because she is ugly and that's the end of it.

Similarly, it doesn't matter what theory I come up with to illustrate the relationship between polished and natural games, they will only be words of someone whose games never made it big. It's so easy to dismiss any arguments as "sour grapes", that if you do want to talk about polish in games and you are not one of those who make the top ranked ones, you are putting yourself out there, knowing that you can be destroyed or baited into a flame by even a novice troll who needs only to say those magic words - yeah, you're just bitter and jealous, because you didn't/couldn't (ever) make it yourself.

And you may think there is definitely some point in arguing against that statement - perhaps explaining that you don't have to be successful in terms of popularity, to be able to competently weigh in on a subject. But the truth is somewhere else. These kinds of discussions - ones about "polish", ones about "hotties", ones about "quality entertainment" or ones about "coolness" simply aren't discussions.

At best, they are exchanges of personal preferences, but most of the time, they are theories drawing their validity from the endless permutations of the "what most people like" maxim, and resulting in some socially negative attribute to the one who "loses" the argument, with rights to ridicule them. Weighty women, spoiled kids, lame TV shows, nerds and any type of "losers". In the end, there is never an outcome, there is only insult.

I don't know, I just think we shouldn't pay attention to this topic anymore, because at least for me, it's as clear and internalized as my sense for basic human rights. Game makers don't need to explicitly (or implicitly) state that it's OK to make simple works, and that such have the same moral right to exist as high-budget productions. I think this is a given at this point, and one of the reasons people may feel good in this round that is the Teacup should be that they never need to justify their works.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: lordcloudx on October 28, 2010, 10:11:35 AM
@mikey: I don't think it's right to say that we shouldn't pay attention to this topic anymore. Your points are well-taken, but I'd like to advance at least four compelling reasons as to why we should continue this discussion:

1. It's an interesting topic.
Whether it's a moot discussion or not is subject to debate, but regardless, I don't think The Teacup is really a forum that is all that strict on technicalities. What I'm trying to say is that our current members seem to find it interesting and in fact, this is one of the most popular threads on the forum to date. It might just be the nature of the topic, which is arguably, controversial and perhaps not within the spirit of the forums, but... as you said, we're not really that much of a community. If it's interesting to talk about, why can't we talk about it regardless of whether or not it fits into some grand over-all purpose/direction or not?

Also, Hime's reply has already taken this discussion into an interesting direction that I've never even considered. Everyone else's input so far has been filled with insight as well. I still want to pursue this topic and see where it goes. I don't think we should cut it short just because the eventual outcome seems predictable and ultimately pointless.

2. Affirmation
You could say that it's a given that the teacup forum members, in particular, will tend to favor "nice" games over "polished" games, but I believe that unless these opinions are stated explicitly in their own words, no one can really be sure of where everyone else stands.

As an analogy, take a confession of love. For some couples, the line, "I love you" may not need to be explicitly stated because it's a tacit understanding that this is the status quo, but for some individuals, it may never be truly affirmed if their partner keeps evading the issue whenever the topic is brought up.

In any case, personally, I feel a sense of gratification when I see everyone sharing their own opinions on the subject matter in a civil and non-confrontational discussion that focuses on the issues instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks every few sentences.

3. Support
Related to the previous point, this helps different people to establish a sort of support group with others in this forum who share their beliefs. Whether you are a part of the majority or the minority, it's always a nice feeling to know that there are indeed people out there who see it your way or at least partly share in your ideals. Trolls can label it as "circle-jerk" and perhaps, that's exactly what it is, but does that necessarily make it something negative?

4. Peace of mind
Whether or not someone shares your viewpoint on this subject matter, it's always good to state it clearly for anyone to see. Doubters can attach all types of labels such as "sour grapes" to what you've said, but at the end of the day it's here in your own words. There's no need to do anything beyond that. It is, just as you said, "an exchange of personal preferences," and I think there is some merit in having it even if it never goes beyond that.

On to the actual discussion: I agree with Hime's chart, but I also think that there's really no need to strive for that golden balance every time. As a hobbyist, I also think it should be okay to just keep on creating the type of VNs that you want to make without thinking of the "golden proportion." If a person has the potential to improve, he/she will definitely improve. I don't believe that it's anyone's duty to help facilitate that process unless the person specifically asks for it - at least not in an "uncommunity" like ours.

I think that one of the hidden points of this talk is that there are people out there who appreciate the type "nice" games that I'm talking about and that they aren't necessarily the minority, they are just less vocal than the perceived majority. This thread, at the very least, gives them the chance to be vocal in a non-hostile environment.

Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: sake-bento on October 29, 2010, 06:21:01 PM
I think this discussion is useful, because it does help affirm to me what I like about visual novels. There are some very vocal people who put such a heavy emphasis on professionalism in visual novels, that it seems as if looking "pro" is the driving force, when I feel as if it shouldn't be. It's good to know that some people think differently, and it helps me to continue to make games that I think are "nice."

I think some of the games I've worked on have managed to achieve a level of popularity in the EVN scene, and while a lot of them do have a certain level of polish, I aim for a nicely done story over making everything super pro. I used Deji for Jisei because our work tends to fit together well. It can be argued that I could find a more appropriate artist to convey a murder mystery, but she and I work so well together that I think the story comes out better with her art combined with my writing. It's easier for us to share a vision, thus making a more coherent story.

I'm about to re-release [text], and that game is made up entirely of filtered photos and a bit of art I slapped together myself. It's not pro by any standard, and I think it has a sort of Higurashi feel to it in terms of art quality, but it's the best way to tell the story.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: DaFool on October 30, 2010, 05:04:30 PM
sake-bento, honestly, I thought the original Ripples and [text] were already 'nice', so the remakes would put them in 'polish' territory.  If you consider the remakes to be 'nice', then I don't know what to think anymore about the originals... as well as similar games done with lack of professional capacity and experience.  I also find remakes a bit threatening, because it shows the creator's willingness to make something more marketable, i.e. Moonlight Walks.  (The fact that many people will downplay a really powerful engine just because of the programmer art used in the first released game saddens me.)  While I've been a proponent for 'polish', I've never advocated remaking anything, because I want to believe that whatever is released has been the result of the creator's best capacity given the circumstances of the time.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: sake-bento on October 30, 2010, 05:30:35 PM
The remakes are definitely more polished, but I remade them because I thought I could make them nicer. I think they were nice to start with, but I wanted to be able to convey the "mood" better. For Ripples, I felt the story was not told as well as it could have been with my original writing. I also felt that the story of Ripples was one worth telling, and I wanted as many people to feel the same mood I had when I initially wrote it. I think when I first wrote it, I was somewhere to the right on Hime's chart. I was ambitious about the intent of the novel - it was meant to inspire people, but my writing wasn't as full as it could have been. The updated art is because Deji is a close friend, and there's a lot of sentimental value for me in working with her.

The remake of [text] is because I wanted to learn screen language, but I didn't really have the energy or time to write a completely new story (hm...I wonder if I'm supposed to publicly admit that I'm that lazy.). I still don't think [text] is anywhere near pro standards, and I don't really intend for it to be. The entire thing is made from free resources, and I'm proud of that.
Title: Re: Of "nice" games and "polished" games: discussion
Post by: Hime on October 30, 2010, 05:33:25 PM
Polish isn't the only dimension into remakes, though. Some things may be remade to make them match the original vision of the creator better. Let's say someone makes a horror game but the graphics come across as cute and fluffy instead of scary. Remaking the graphics into something more scary wouldn't neccessary count as polishing the game (they might even be less skilfully made, who knows!), while still altering the impression the experience in a meaningful way. And that's just one reason other than polish that I've mentioned, I'm sure there are many more. Some people just might have loved a project so much that they want to return to it, for instance. A remake doesn't neccessarily imply that the new version was meant as a "polished version" of the old work.

Besides, more polish isn't always neccessarily bad thing. Sometimes the lack of polish can disturb the overall harmony of the piece - for example, you don't want the reader to pay more attention to the typos and grammar errors you've made than the actual story - in case of which adding polish can make the visual novel overall more enjoyable. And what if you want to tell a story to as many people as possible, but many potential readers skip your visual novel because some aspects of it don't match their quality standards? You already mentioned the case of Moonlight Walks, where some people may even have disregarded the engine because of amateur art in the first game made with the engine. I think I understand why PyTom would want to make sure that his old art won't hinder the success of his engine, even if those people are mean or stupid for overlooking Ren'Py for such a simple reason. Sometimes people might also want add polish to make the work appeal to prospective employers and customers if they do creative work as their job, even if they aren't concerned about the marketability of the piece in itself. In my opinion, it isn't neccessarily wrong to do so.

But this is almost going off-topic. If anyone feels like continuing on the subject of remakes, let's make it into another topic.