Hello! Duchess here, the lead developer and writer at Foxdrift Studios, currently working on the visual novel Garden of Seif that has been in development for about five years running. There are times when I found myself asking, "Will I ever finish this project?" or "There's no way I can do this." If you are like me and have been relentlessly and desperately crawling to that finish line to release your visual novel to the world, you're not alone. I wanted to share my experience and thought process with other developers who may be struggling to find their footing, especially earlier on in their projects when they're still miles away from release yet are knee-deep in development.
Having worked on a few releases in the past and having executive management experience in my day job, I have learned to pave a clear path and reach my goals. So this is my two cents on the topic of visual novel development.
1. Get organized.
This is so important, especially if you are wearing many hats in your project. Trello is an excellent application for managing the different areas of your project. I create a Trello board for each "department" of my novel. Sound, Story, Art, Programming, and even a Management Board where I list my short-term and long-term goals checklists, which we'll discuss later.
A huge tip, I keep a spreadsheet/checklist keeping track of my completed artwork, its location, and what needs to be done next. (CG and other sections hidden for spoilers)
2. Be a director.
Whether you are working by yourself or leading others, you're calling the shots. Be decisive and be clear about your vision. Poor direction leads to poor results. If you decided to create a visual novel, you chose to be in the director's seat.
For example, when I order my artwork, I rarely find myself disappointed with the results. My co-dev, Neptune, and I work together on creating
what we call "Work Orders." Work orders are simple sheets we put together, whether in a google doc or a spreadsheet, and we make a mood board.
Here's an example of a Sprite Work Order:
We compile image references very cleanly in one sheet and send it off to the artist. This is usually enough information for the artist to produce the final result:
Garden of Seif character Freya - Artist: Remnantation
3. Set weekly goals and long-term goals.
Know the difference between what is part of the daily grind and what's a long-term goal. Make a "Long Term Goals" checklist in Trello and then make week by week checklist.
Long Term goal examples:
Weekly Checklist examples:
I frequently view my long-term checklist, but I place my focus and energy in weekly checklists. Those weekly checklists make the long-term checklist come to life. Don't overload your weekly checklist. Make it realistic.
4. Give yourself a break.
This part is essential. It doesn't mean fall victim to becoming a lazy potato, because if this is something you're passionate about—like most of us who are squeezing VN dev time in between school, work, and real life—then remember that you are doing this out of devotion to your passion. So don't push yourself too hard.
I'm a firm believer in deadlines, but I allow flexibility for my passion projects. I make official announcements once I know that I'm already close to completion first.
5. Consistency is key.
We've all heard the old saying that Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's true. I cannot stress how I've often heard people say, "I want to do -insert a high aiming goal here-" but never do anything about it. Or maybe they work hard at that for a week and then drop their project out of impatience or perhaps boredom of the grind. Visual novel development, like a lot of projects, requires consistency. Depending on your project's length, it could be many hours of mundane bug testing or programming the UI for the settings that just won't cooperate. Maybe it'll mean weeks of rewriting a chapter that you found didn't make sense. Either way, it's not always going to be the sunshine and rainbows of writing your favorite scene or a magical error-free coding session.
All in all, those are my top five points in how to get into the mindset of managing a visual novel without losing your head. I have to say that in our humble VN community, I'm really impressed with the amount of people that seem to have this down pat (or at least it seems like they do) because there is a lot of work that goes into VN development, and to have an ongoing or released project is a big feat.
Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to receive more updates on visual novels and stay up to date on the progress of Garden of Seif.
- Duchess, Lead Developer and Writer at Foxdrift Studios