I Released Another Thing!
If you follow me over on Twitter (@JS_Reviews) you’ve probably seen me talk about my latest project release, The Plant, a kinetic-novel inspired by a post I did back in December 2018. You can view that post here. I’m writing this post to help spread the word, but also as a postmortem of sorts, where I talk about things that went well (and poorly) with the project. Before I get any further, be sure to check out The Plant on Itchi.io for FREE. It’s on PC, Mac, and Linux at the moment. Let’s get to it!
What is The Plant?
The Plant is a kinetic-novel adaptation inspired by Bully Pulpit Games’ The Plant an award-winning single-player pen & paper role-playing experience by Jason Morningstar. This adaptation was creator with his express permission and support. In the game you explore a rundown factory in search of your missing daughter using notecards, rulebook, a recording method, and your imagination. You can view their game here.
As I mentioned, it is also inspired by a text post I did. This digital version is better edited and enhanced to create a more atmospheric experience. There are also little touches to make things more personal too.
What is a Kinetic-Novel?
I figured I should include this because not everybody knows what a kinetic-novel is. It’s less a game, and more of an experience. Below you’ll find a portion of the blurb I wrote on the game’s page:
A kinetic-novel is somewhat similar to a visual-novel. In a visual-novel, players make choices in a way similar to choose-your-own-adventure stories in order to influence events and the narrative. Typically, these are dating sim games but they don’t have to be.
Kinetic-novels are NOT that. Instead, they focus on delivering a linear narrative experience with little to no player involvement. They are basically fancy books/short stories with visual and sound elements to increase immersion. Just like a book, they can be experienced at your own pace.
Making The Plant
Creating The Plant took a lot of work. I started by first deciding what engine to create the kinetic-novel in. I figured that a visual novel software would likely be best since this was a largely text based project. I did a lot of looking but ultimately settled on Ren’Py for a few reasons:
- It’s free! I mean, it is pretty hard to argue with that.
- The program is easy to use and requires minimal amounts of coding. The coding you do need to do is in Python, which is a very straightforward language.
- Functionality wise, Ren’Py was able to do everything I wanted while not using a lot of space both on my end, and for the end user. Additionally, the finished product can be packaged for virtually every platform, including mobile and browser play (which I didn’t get around to, but I can).
- Ren’Py’s community is really helpful and there are several free resources available. For a complete novice with the program, that is ideal.
The first step was setting everything up in Ren’Py. That required me to familiarize myself with the program and explore the test files. I’m pretty quick to get a general feel for this sort of thing so within a day I was all ready to work on The Plant proper.
I started with getting all UI elements in place, solidifying my visual aesthetic. The Plant is largely a mood piece, so nailing this down was a priority over the actual text because I already had the finished story written. Probably took me a few days to do that, I didn’t keep super hard track.
Following this I began slowly transferring things from my document to the program’s script. This was a bulk of the work because I had to rewrite virtually the entire story. I changed things to first person, present tense, and added little touches to make it flow better in a visual-audio medium.
I’d like to say I completed about 1/3rd of the script before life really came at me with stuff. For several months The Plant sat on the back-burner from early January until just after my birthday in April. I then came at the project with full force!
My next steps returning were to finalize transferring the script, inserting all visuals, and sound design. The text took the longest part, it is slow and tedious, requiring a lot of testing to ensure it displays properly.
Once that was finished I began placing images and sound into the game. Thankfully, before I took several months off from the project, I had the foresight to do the following things:
- Contact Jason Morningstar at Bully Pulpit Games and discuss the project. He was interested and supported it.
- Note, I did NOT need his permission, but having him on board was a good idea. No timetable really established, just a rough estimate from me, which I went over. That’s probably my one regret.
- Started finding images. Most of the images I had already saved in a folder ahead of time. I knew what sorts of things I wanted, and having them in advance was a big help. I still had to find or make a few images at the end, but it was far less than if I had waited to do that. This was originally done as procrastination, but wound up saving me time down the road.
- Note on images, I utilized a lot of CC0 content and public domain stuff. I don’t have the money to hire an artist or something so that’s the best I can do. If I could art, or afford an artist, I would have gone that route to make a higher quality product.
- From my last game project, I already had plenty of music and sound assets, so most of that was squared away. Part of setting up the UI also included some music for the menu, so there was less work here than you might expect.
- Music is the one thing I have paid for. I did so awhile back and am licensed to use it in any project without accreditation. Just thought I should note that since I was noting other stuff above.
Having a lot of the groundwork done in advance meant I really only had a few things to do after getting the script finalized. I did put in some sound/music and added a few images, as I noted, but a bulk of this time was actually spent prepping for launch.
The first thing I did was reach back out to Jason Morningstar. I told him when the project would launch, provided a rough draft preview copy, and made sure he could raise any questions or concerns to me before launch. He and his team looked it over, and were pleased with the product. Until launch, this was the end of our communications where all obligations by myself and him were completed.
Concurrently, I sent another rough draft to my editor and quality assurance person, Michael Ripp. He spent a few days on it and let me know about a few small things I had missed when compiling the project. I quickly corrected those.
Finally, I was aware of an issue (which the above parties were also aware of) that did not, thankfully, reach the end user. That problem pertained to the history text. Originally it displayed in the wrong font and overlapped on itself. As you can imagine, this made the feature pretty worthless. Thankfully, I asked a buddy who is good at CS to look over my code and we were able to correct this issue.
I should elaborate on this final point. While it seems like such a cut-and-dry thing, it actually was one of the more complicated problems (especially for something so minor). I contacted Ren’Py community, Reddit, and none of them could help with my issue. My friend was even confused why it was happening. The actual fix was an easy one, but apparently nobody had ever had this issue before, so I’m proud of figuring that out with some help.
In between all this finalization, I prepped the Itchi.io page and started a Twitter campaign to spread the word. Uploading files to the site took ages because of my slow internet but otherwise there were almost no hiccups in this process. It was a pretty smooth launch!
The rest is history. Launching on 5/8/19, I can’t say whether or not the project was a success but the people who have played it have provided positive feedback. I will admit, I am a bit disappointed that more folks haven’t tried the kinetic-novel out, but time is likely all that is required here. Be sure to rate, leave comments, and all that if you do try it out because that helps way more than you realize.
The Good Stuff
What I believe went well with the project is a pretty large majority of things. Communication was good, end product is something I’m happy with, and it got completed. If I had to nail down the three things I thought went best I’d say:
- Presentation – The project’s script is solid and presents well. I don’t make the best art, but my cover image is not super ugly and conveys the idea. It does just enough to get people to click. I can prove that with the numbers, I get a lot of clicks, just not a lot of downloads.
- Marketing – I went to school for this, so maybe not surprising. Normally I do not utilize my skills for myself (though I should), but I did for this project. Of course, I could have done a little better but overall, I was able to get the word out to multiple places and build some hype along the way.
- Learning – Might sound silly, but learning a new software and programming language was a big positive from this project. These skills are useful and will allow me to employ this knowledge in the future on other projects. That’s a big win!
The Bad Stuff
You can always do better, and with this project there are a few things that I should have done a better job at. Like with the positives, there are three key things I would have liked to have done differently:
- Time Management – Normally I’m pretty on the ball, and the delay here isn’t totally my fault, but my goal was to have The Plant finished by the start of 2019 and it took until May. I know that there was some stuff I had to take care of during this time, but I could have made room for this project between things. While this didn’t negatively impact things with Jason, it could have because I failed to deliver when I said I would. Like I said, this is pretty much my one regret with the project.
- Editing – Michael is a great guy, and he helps me with stuff for free. He’s helped with several of my professional endeavors and understands that I just don’t have money to pay him like I would otherwise. Recently he got a new job and has been busy which impacted his ability to help me finalize stuff. We had to rush toward the end. This may have slightly impacted The Plant’s final form, but even if it didn’t, I could have handled our final prep stuff a bit better here.
- I Missed Something! – This is almost inevitable, but I missed something for the final product. It wasn’t until Yomu pointed it out to me that I was able to correct it. Nothing game breaking, you could still finish it, but having the game sometimes return an error message mid-play is no good. It was an easy fix, but the issue should NEVER have been present in an official release. One man show or not.
I’m very pleased with my work on The Plant. In all, this was a good project that I enjoyed. Coding isn’t really my thing, which I already knew, but this did solidify that. In the future I would like to do things with minimal coding. Right now I don’t have any major plans for a new project, but I would like to make more, so please look forward to those.
Please be sure to check out The Plant and help spread the word. If you enjoy it, or even if you don’t, leave feedback on Itchi.io because that helps me out a lot. Thank you for reading and have yourself a great day!