November 8th, 2009 | Posted by:

So in my attempt to get back into making an adult visual novel, I thought it would be good to do some research. Research is fun when it involves playing games with cute anime girls. Anyway (cough), one of my many goals was to get a better grasp on the VN structure from a story and game perspective. With that I started to lay out a little roadmap in regards to getting a scenario together  for a visual novel. This is what I came up with and I think it’s a good place for anyone to start that is interested in making a visual novel adult or otherwise.

1) Concept – The first thing you need is a concept. Before jumping into the dialogue you need to know what the VN will be about. If you’re stuck a good place to start sometimes is to look at VNs you really like and use that idea as a jumping-off point. Twist it with some new ideas. Before you know it you’ll have a lot of new ideas to work with.

2) Characters
– These are typically stories about people. So the characters are a great place to go next. If you can develop them enough they will have their own motives, which will help you push the story along when you get stuck. You need to give them a voice in your head so you can understand where they are coming from and why they do what they do. I like to list out the main characters and any optional or side characters. Figure out their relationships (if any) and then I try to list out some basic information about them like their fears, dreams, hobbies etc.

3) Outline
– Next I try to get an outline going. This is just an idea dump at first. I list some important story points I’d like to have or explore. Then arrange them in an order that makes sense. With the important points listed I can try to connect them together so it flows and makes sense how one part of the story leads to another. If I have any thread or branching ideas I jot them down here too. An outline is a great way to get the basics down without worrying about the details.

4) Threads & Branches – I’ve played a handful of VNs and I’ve noticed that it’s not all branches. It’s mostly threads. What do I mean? Think of the main story as a “highway”. There are “events” that happen on the highway as you go along. This is what I usually establish with the outline above. This is the main core of the story. Threads are “detours” that go off the “highway” and lead to a temporary side-story. In a VN these “detours” would be started by a player choice. Once the thread is done you’re back on the main “highway” story. From a technical point, you might use this to up or lower the player’s score. It may even cause some dialogue in the main “highway” story to change using an “if” statement etc. But overall the main “highway” story is something you always go back to. It holds the overall story together and keeps the plot moving along.

The branches are something usually saved for a critical point in the story. A major choice has to be made, or the choices from the threads earlier come to fruition. From here the story (or highway) will break off into separate branches. The choices the player has made have now be solidified in a completely new direction. From here the rest of the threads will really determine the final outcome. Eventually the story will branch off to the final ending depending on the actions the player took to that point.

I made a diagram to show this:

Here you see the main “highway” of the story. Off of that are the threads or “detours”. These represent the choice points the player makes, but they all go back to the main story again. At some point the story reaches a breaking point and it branches off into different “highways”. From here the player has made his choices and they have changed the story outcome. On the new branch there are more threads to the final conclusion. Depending on the choices, the player will get one of any number of endings. In simple cases there may be a “bad”, “good” and “perfect” ending for each branch or an overall “bad” and “good” ending but only one “perfect” ending for each branch providing the player’s score is high enough.

So there you have it. A basic rundown of how to get a visual novel scenario off the ground. Now, this is just my way of doing it. It doesn’t mean this is the best or only way. There are also many ways to go about structuring a VN, but this seems to be the common path most typical “date-sim” type VNs go in its most basic form.


This entry was posted on Sunday, November 8th, 2009 at 8:46 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Visual Novel Structure”

  1. Milkymalk Says:

    You undertood that well; the highway is a crucial concept in VNs, because without it you get too many branches to manage. Even after the branching in your diagram, it’s just another (of three different) highways.

    Highways are a method to give the player a lot of interaction with the characters without having to branch off every time. Otherwise, choices would be very scarce. That is seen in commercial VNs too, but hardly gives a “gaming” experience as opposed to a “reading” experience.

    The concept of a score you use here might be a bit misleading though. It gives the impression that you have a literal score that determines the branching. You probably know it after your research, but for completeness’ sake, I will elaborate.
    What’s called the “score” here is actually the collective memory of the game what the player did. It’s not so much a number but rather several (in case of stats-oriented games) or just each choice made stored in a variable. The game will later check for each possible branch whether the conditions are met and if so send the player along that branch. If no branch’s condition is met, the player will continue a “no-condition-branch”, most probably leading to a bad end.

  2. nio Says:

    You’re right about the score. When I started I was looking at the simplest way to represent a typical VN path.

    I’m finding, though, as I work on this, that that path works in a story where all the girls know each other or come to the player. In the story I’m working on the girls do not “hang out” together all the time, and thus the player needs to seek them out.

    In this case each girl has her own story and it is up to the player to follow it to its end (making choices along the way) or not.

    I’ve also discovered that balancing the difficulty of the game choices so that they are not so obvious and yet not so vague is a challenge.

    In any event I should make an update soon on my current progress. Thanks for the feedback.

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