The Teacup

General Category => Tea Lounge => Topic started by: mikey on February 12, 2012, 05:33:10 PM

Title: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: mikey on February 12, 2012, 05:33:10 PM
So recently I have been trying out things to see how I could go about the "accessibility" of the VNs I have created, in terms of making them readable on current and future software systems. It's not really a new topic for me, I have been thinking about it for quite some time now, sort of having it in the back of my head as a project after Auora Fall is released, and basically, I have thought of a few approaches:

1. Convert
The first approach I thought of was to convert the old-system VNs to renpy, and then gradually also convert games with the oldest versions of renpy to some of the later ones. Basically, this approach means to re-code the games every once in a while when their original platform becomes obsolete.

2. Provide an emulated system
This would be an alternative to the "ports", where I would not try to change the game, just to provide an environment where it could be played as it once was.

3. Release source.
The other approach I thought of was just to release all the source files in their original format, not obfuscated - pictures, sprites, music and text, along with documentation of how things are supposed to work, and if applicable, the program source code (e.g. script.rpy), in essence providing a package from which the game or the idea can be recreated. Of course the contributors of original assets would need to agree to the de-obfuscation.

So those were my two / three approaches - either "port" the games (alternatively emulate them), or release their sources. None of these is exactly a 1:1 experience, although the emulation is quite close. But now, I am thinking quite seriously about something else.

The idea was to create screenshots, one by one as if one would play the game. Then for perhaps the main path as the default sequence, and put the screenshots from other paths into separate folders or name them differently, so that any path can be created using an accompanying text document. In essence, make screenshots of everything and annotate them so that any path or experience can be recreated. Include music as an extra, too. And package.

Now, that all felt a bit barbarian to me when it first popped into my head, it's almost like an "analog" way of doing things when we have means of converting and transferring things to other formats, and they are often VNs with choices, so a lot of the point of having multiple choices will go away. But in fact I tried it, making full screenshot galleries from a simple game, and it kind of does convey the atmosphere very well. I will lose a lot of the software-specific elements, such as direct player choices and integration with music, and the actual full "snapshot" of all the screens will produce quite big files (so let's say an originally 10 MB game will translate into 150 MB), but I kind of like the simplicity of it all. I also like the fact that images are so universal, any device or operating system can display them easily.

So anyway, I just thought I'd share this - and ask whether you've also thought about some long-term way of keeping the VNs you care about available and the advantages and drawbacks of different approaches whatever they may be - I guess generally you want to convey the point of your games in as much an authentic way as possible, but also balance that with an approach or format that needs as little adapting and re-coding as possible.
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: MoonlightBomber on February 13, 2012, 12:26:38 AM
As someone who has some experience in programming (I'm a computer science graduate, by the way), program conversion (porting) and release of the source code would be the best approaches. Adding dummied-out or unreleased content is recommended if you plan an enhanced port (that was my approach when I re-released my RPG, which was initially my college thesis).

Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: mikey on February 14, 2012, 02:26:28 PM
I am somehow more and more intrigued by the idea of a "screenshot version" of a VN. So after those tests mentioned earlier, I fully transformed one of my games, "The Scaglietti" to sets of screenshots and some pointers telling you which set to look at after which choice. Of course, this increased the file size of the thing - while the orginal version was roughly 8 MB, the screenshot version is 200 MB. In theory I could have gone for JPGs with some loss in quality, but I think that would defeat the purpose.

Now, I do realize that if I made every one of my VNs into such a sreenshot version, the total size of all my games which is now roughly 700 MB would multiply as well, probably leaving me with 5 - 7 GB of data for everything - already taking into account that screenshots for low-color games take up less space, so for example, the entirety of Gakuen Redux would come to around 400 MB (already including a high quality soundtrack), even though the game is several times longer than The Scaglietti and yet it's just twice as much in screenshot file size. So I assume things could balance out at around that 5 - 7 GB mark.

It is quite a lot, but then again, maybe it actually isn't, because even on my first-generation smartphone with 16 GB memory card I am able to comfortably accomodate and view-play all of the games.

And generally, I just think it's a really interesting way of releasing the games in a format that is more permanent than having to re-code and port the games to new engines. Of course, I lose a lot of the advantages of computer programs - the visual effects, transitions, timed events and in the case of Idol/TYPE, a whole gameplay concept. But I wouldn't know how to port that game into other environments anyway. I also lose music and its timing, and I also lose saving and easter eggs (though I can reveal them in pictures).

But still, the fact that I can now go through The Scaglietti on pretty much any platform I can plug a storage medium into (and even if that's not possible like in the iDevices, it's still possible to sync pictures in folders or "Albums"), and even go through the files through my Playstation, or even directly on my TV, or in a comic book reader app a phone, is really great. It's a bit stone-age, but it's the lowest common denominator for every computer, so in terms of compatibility I merely need to think about a picture format and possibly organizing the pictures into identifiable sets (for paths and sequences). And it's not entirely crazy, because a lot of people are recording their "playthroughs" of games and putting them on Youtube, even with "alternatives". Often you can see the entire game being played - and the more linear the game is, the closer you can preserve the feeling one gets when he plays it.

And I'm not saying that this is something that's the best solution (as I said it throws away all the advantages of the VN format), but as today marks exactly 11 years since I started the ATP page which then became ATP Projects, I am looking at the oldest releases (which are 8 years old) and feeling that to make them relevant, sooner or later I will have to put them into a modern format, which I will then have to update again and with the rapid development of new operating systems or just having new versions released, update them again and again. And surely, some of the atmosphere of the original will always go away, with every re-coding, especially when moving to a different screen format or resolution. I would say that even moving to ren'py in general, if your VN has been in a different engine, constitutes a big change in the atmosphere. Also, I estimate that the effort needed to convert my earlier games to renpy would be significantly bigger than to make screenshot versions of them.

I know it's kind of wasteful to do such a thing, but I really do like it, because I know from experience that the oldest files I have that are still "working" are my photos. And they do work, flawlessly. And perhaps music, even though I'd have to convert from a few pre-mp3 exotic formats. Plain text files work, but often the encoding isn't right, or special characters don't display correctly. Hard line breaks were common in the old days, so it's a hassle, though in theory with a bit of search & replace plain text files can be fixed. Formatted text that's not MS Office is also barely usable, and I'd need to hunt down converters, old PDFs don't open properly, so really - it's pretty much only the images that have stood the test of time. Everything else needs to be kept updated and often can't be modernized easily.

The reason I am mentioning it is that when I go through my old files, I almost exclusively open those which I *can* open. And it's interesting to think that one day when I will be holding my Windows 9 palmsized tablet, I will pop in a flash card with my backups and see the Scaglietti.exe file which I never found time to update to the newest renpy version and which now returns an error when I try to run it. Do I try to type "renpy" into my browser and try to see if there is a renpy for Win9? Install that, look for source files which I need to unpack, then match the script to the new script format, copy all the graphics, and so on, until I will be able to play? Or do I just browse through the photos in Album 1, the last photo telling me to now take a look at Album 2, and from that, based on my choice, look at Album 5? Something tells me, the latter I would do, while if I only had the old exe file, it would probably be very frustrating, provided my renpy skills wouldn't have faded by then, at which point the old exe file would pretty much be useless. What I would end up doing would be, just to get a glimpse of the atmosphere, look at the source files, browse the backgrounds and play some music (in the cases when my games have music), and perhaps google a screenshot or two.

And the thing is, I see my future much more like that example where I am left with an obsolete format, than that I continue to upgrade all my games as times and formats change. This is why this whole idea appeals to me so much.

Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: lordcloudx on February 14, 2012, 03:44:11 PM
As time goes by, I realize more and more what little value my works have for me or have had for anyone in general. Thus, I'm not even concerned with preserving what I've made through the years except maybe in their bare, text-only form, which I have several copies of in my HDD and all over the internet.
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: mikey on February 15, 2012, 01:58:18 PM
Well, is preservation dependent on the value to others?

I'm asking because over the weekend I am planning on posting another article on my blog, this time about the ambition for not just Aurora Fall, but also the Original 22, and part of the very long post is a part where I briefly touch on this subject (and I do plan on having more or less a separate blog post just about the passage of time and art).

But already in this upcoming post I write that the reactions to my games (from players), especially the positive ones and ones which claimed that what I have done has somehow either changed or influenced them - all of those reactions, that brief acclaim and so on have made me happy as a person, but have not become a source of my self-worth as an artist.

So I argue that artistic purpose is not dependent on people's reactions. In other words, the fact that you don't feel like your works have made any difference, or that with time even the difference they have made is forgotten or obsolete is not relevant for the fact that it has the (moral) right to exist (and preserved) as a work of art.

Anyway, I don’t know what can be changed about your works becoming less and less important to you, and respecting you I don’t know whether I even should try to change your mind about that. I think that they are really nicely displayed on your site now, and can sit there and wait for people who are interested. I definitely do not see an artist or even his fans being obliged to make sure his works are up to date / accessible, but then, often I come across very old games for example, which do not work, and even though it may be just a silly platformer that I’d throw away after a few minutes, I always find it a shame that I don’t have a way of seeing them.

Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: mikey on February 19, 2012, 09:43:37 AM
So I have released screenshot versions of The Scaglietti and One Million Kisses, and I'm quite happy with the result.

OMK (38 MB) :
The Scaglietti (194 MB):

I was thinking that these SSV are - as far as the file-aspect is concerned - more in the realm of comic books in their structure - "albums" of pictures much like comic book volumes, maybe in zip format or so. So any comic book reader should be able to make heads and tails of this, in many cases even simple picture viewers should be enough.
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: lordcloudx on March 31, 2012, 03:59:41 PM
I'm in a better mood to answer this question now. After reviving my blog and thinking about the question for a bit, here's my own solution:

Basically, doing "let's plays" of the visual novel you want to preserve. If it's multi-path or too long, do multiple videos. The advantage of this format is that it's much simpler than making a virtual machine and truer to the original than a static website and all it requires is a single file - the video file itself. As far as compatibility goes, I believe that videos will still be playable/accessible to audiences far off into the future as long as the data exists somewhere. Furthermore, it's also good for publicity since the videos will be able to reach a new audience - especially those who feel that downloading an archived file or installer in order to run a VN is too cumbersome.

Here's one that I did for SYTYWTMAVN

Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: mikey on April 01, 2012, 05:44:57 AM
After reviving my blog ...
Uff, and that after I have painstakingly put together the pages from cached google searches :) I thought it was gone for good. Anyway, it's good to see it back.

As for the let's plays - I guess there will have to be a lossless basic version of the video though, so that it can then be re-coded again and again. You can see a lot of jpg-style artifacts in your youtube video, but SYTYWTMAVN is still a good example of how that can work, because the font is high contrast and readable nicely. I do think this is a good approach for a lot of your other works, not least because they are linear. The 480p version I have is good enough, but it kind of makes me want a bit more crispness, like the way anime is encoded for example. Anyway, I will download them all :)

I'm afraid that for some (not all) of my other vns the font won't survive such compression. But it's something I'll look at in parallel to the screenshot project, the value of having or being able to make videos is really high as you said with reaching a new audience. There is also the problem of multiple paths, but because when making the screenshots I am also making full walkthroughs and unlocks, it will be easier to make the alternative segments that way, because I will have done the segmenting work for the screenshots.

Anyway, do post the links and any new videos on your page!
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: lordcloudx on April 01, 2012, 06:28:50 AM
FRAPS does record lossless quality video but the filesize is in gigabytes. I had to reencode it a few times to get it down to 50 MB. I think the artifacts would disappear if I reencoded to about 250 MB quality, but we'll see.
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: lordcloudx on April 05, 2012, 05:01:05 PM
Update: To address mikey's initial concerns, here's a new video playthrough for "Crimson: A Story of Alienation" using better encoding settings. The file size is still pretty low for a video at less than 60 MB.

Incidentally, I suspect that file size will be the main issue with this method, especially for games that take hours upon hours to finish. Of course, there are some playthroughs of 100+ hour rpgs on youtube as well.
Title: Re: Accessibility of VNs in the future
Post by: DarkSpartan on April 09, 2012, 06:53:27 AM
The thought occurs, that HTML is unlikely to make massive changes in the next decade or two, and PHP is mature as far as programming logic. You could rebuild your screenshot piles as a forms-enabled web page, and it might just work. For that matter, I've seen simple VNs done entirely in HTML. It might take awhile to load up for people with slower connections, but it would make it accessible for nearly everyone, online or off.

Particularly since the web(or browsers) is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon...