Using Photographs in Visual Novels

Someone e-mailed me the other day, asking if I had any tips for using photographs in visual novels (as we did for the characters and backgrounds of Cat President). Here’s what I told them:

– As much as you can, try to use your own photos, or your friends’ and family members’ photos, if they’ll let you. It gives the game a more personal feel—two of my favorite restaurants appear in Cat President, for example, along with a few apartments I’ve lived in, my local library, a park near my home, etc. Most of the cat-stars are my friends’ actual, real-life cats. Using photos from my own life gave me a greater sense of ownership over the game, and helps defend it against criticism that I just took everything off the Internet and didn’t do any real work. That said…

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Foreground: Michael Gray, Cat President’s writer, looking creepy.
Background: Photo from a trip to PAX East, lightly altered to be a political convention.

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Basket of Adorables

WE DID IT!! WE GOT CAT PRESIDENT OUT THE DOOR BEFORE THE ACTUAL ELECTION IS OVER!!!!!!

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You can buy it now for $8.99 on Steam. Frickin’ STEAM!! That’s like, where real people release their computer games!

For anyone who missed my post from this springCat President: A More Purrfect Union is the visual novel that Michael Gray and I have been working on since last fall. You can see the actual Twitter exchange where we came up with the concept here. (Sadly, we never used the “one of the debates is entirely in emoji” idea.) The game is equal parts political parody and uncomfortable dating sim, and with 350 pages of text and around 6-8 hours of gameplay, it’s by far the biggest game we’ve ever released.

Feedback has been surprisingly kind so far—surprising only because it’s a rather unusual game, and when you post a rather unusual game on Steam, it usually gets dumped on by people saying it’s “trash” or “ruining Steam” or “not actually a game.” It helps too that I’ve officially been through the wringer on Steam Greenlight; if you can make it out of Steam Greenlight with your self-esteem intact, criticism of your games will never, ever bother you again. It’s like immersion therapy for people telling you you’re worthless.

feedbackFor example.

A few of my favorite coverages of the game:

  • A series of Cat President ASMR videos.
  • A Twitch stream (later posted as a YouTube Let’s Play) that has nearly 70,000 views—many many many MANY times over the number of people who actually bought the game.
  • An article from Destructoid where it seems Cat President is the worst thing that’s ever happened to this person in his entire life. (Can’t win them all!!)
  • This detailed review from Geeky Sweetie where we managed to scrape a 5/5 “Sweetie” rating.

But that’s enough about purrlitics for now! Here’s some of the other stuff I’ve been working on: (more…)

A More Purrfect Union

Cat PresidentI just added this dude to the game yesterday, but I’m preeeety sure he’s my favorite character now.

Look, look! I’m working on a new game! And, like 50 other games (my whiteboard is running out of space), but this one’s yuuuuuuge. It’s (currently) called Cat President (I change my mind like every other day about whether I like that title*), and it’s a full-length visual novel about a world where the American political system has gotten too corrupt and all humans have been banned from politicsleaving, of course, only cats to run for president.

Also it’s a dating sim. You can draw your own conclusions about what that enTAILS.

I’m teaming once again with Michael Gray (of Francy Droo and My Nigerian Prince) fame; he’s writing the story, and I’m coding the game in Ren’py and handling all the art.

You probably noticed that I’m doing something weird with the art—for this game, we’re using real-life photographs for all of the characters and backgrounds. And they’re not (all) just random stock photos; each of the main characters is an actual pet that belongs to one of our friends and family, and a lot of the backgrounds are from places I’ve visited and homes I’ve lived in. (It’s also possible that I’ll make an appearance as one of the human characters in the game, because I’m the worst and physically cannot pass up an opportunity like that.)

I don’t have a release date or anything like that for youif my time with Mirror has taught me anything, it’s that if you announce a release date, you’ll miss that date by at least five yearsbut for what it’s worth, I’m about two-thirds finished coding Michael’s script. So who knows! I’d like to push it out the door before the actual, real-life American presidential election is over (and specifically before President Trump causes Fallout to just be real-life).

A few other projects that’ve been keeping me busy:

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Full-Motion Franzen

Believe it or not, I’m here with yet another new release from Oh, a Rock! Studios (the “company” I formed last year to try to trick people into thinking I’m a real person). It’s called A Stranger Comes Calling, and it’s the first game that I’ve done basically on my own; the writing, design, programming, and acting are all by me.

Yes, I said “acting.” Because it’s also an FMV game (which, if you don’t know, is a type of videogame that focuses more on the “video” part; it could rightly be called an interactive movie).

Help Awkward Steve psych himself up to answer the door in this brand-new INTERACTIVE FMV THRILLER! Lower his Anxiety by hiding under tables, petting rabbits and more, so he can build the courage to open up when… A Stranger Comes Calling.

  • Like an interactive arthouse film made by someone who’s really good at all those things.
  • A full TV show’s worth of FULL-MOTION VIDEO!
  • Photorealistic HD graphics. So many frames per second.
  • Multiple endings to unlock!!
  • Written, programmed and filmed by one person.
  • Probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever made.

In other words: It’s a faux-arthouse FMV game about a guy trying to psych himself up to answer his front door, even though he has no idea who’s on the other side. It’s one of the weirdest, dumbest things I’ve ever made.

A Stranger Comes Calling is available now on itch.io, if you want to check it out!

Besides thatapparently I’ve been keeping super busy (which is why I can never answer the phone, I’m sorry Mom); here’s some of the other stuff I’ve been working on!

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Sassy Detectives! Missing Moms! New Game Release!!

Here it is—the new visual novelette I’ve been working on with Michael “arglefumph” Gray! Be the first on your block to solve THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MOTHER-IN-LAW!

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Carla Gomez is overbearing, uncooperative, and on the last nerve of basically everyone at her daughter’s wedding—so when she goes missing, leaving behind only a poorly-spelled ransom note (or possibly an order for takeout; it’s hard to tell), everyone is a suspect.

It’s up to substitute bridesmaid and kind-of, sort-of detective Francine “Francy” Droo (and her awkward friend Katie) to figure out whodunit, before the wedding bells can ring. Was it the groom? The priest? The butler? (There is no butler, but still…)

Solve challenging puzzles! Question suspects! Make your accusation, and find the missing mom. There’s a mystery to solve!

Did You Fix the Squigglies?

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Early in my career as an indie game developer, I offered proofreading services pro bono to a couple of cool-looking AGS games. (I’m not going to say what they were or link to them here, because I’m about to say bad things about them.) I was hungry to get my name in a few credits so I could show paying projects that I can be useful, and both games were happy to take me on.

My critical mistake here was that I left it at that. “Do you need any proofreading?” “Oh yes, proofreading would be nice! We love proofreading!” I didn’t talk with them about what they actually wanted out of a proofreader or what kinds of changes they were comfortable making at this point in their development cycles; instead, I just started making all the changes I thought their games needed.

…Which, it turned out, was a lot. Like way a lot.

The first project decided not to use any of my edits, because (this was the reason they gave me) they were afraid that proper grammar would make their game sound too stuffy or formal. The second game couldn’t figure out an easy way to implement all my edits, so they decided to just throw them out, instead. (Although, not before adding my name to the game’s credits. They couldn’t find an easy way to take that out, either; it’s still there.) Both projects left not just weird stylistic issues in their games, but actual, glaring-ass typos, and then just released the games like that.

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A Great Problem to Have

Phew *pant-pant, pant-pant* I… *pant-pant* working… *pant*  a lot… *pant-pant, pant-pant* videogames… *pant-pant* LATELY!!

So yeah, things have been busy around here! Like I mentioned in my last post, though, being busy because you have a bunch of cool projects you’re working on is a great problem to have.

I’ve already talked about some of the more exciting things that have been happening lately, buuuuut- (more…)

WAIT, WHAT

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Whoaaaaaa! testgame’s headed to Steam! Friggin’ testgame! The point-and-click adventure game that started out as an AIM conversation between me and my now-wife; the game that’s been with us through undergrad, post-grad, jobs in the real world, our wedding and honeymoon, moves through like six different states, between the two of us… This weird little thing that’s been in the background of our lives for the entirety of our adult lives is actually going to be released on the big-boy digital distribution platform. Incredible.

I do owe you guys an update about all the other stuff I’ve been working on, at some point: lots of neat new beta-testing projects; lots of proofreading (including an exciting new game from Daedalic! that I’m probably not supposed to be talking about); new visual novelettes; collaborations with Michael Gray and Christian Porter, two of my buddies from GameCola… It’s a happy problem to have that I’ve got so much to do that I don’t have time to talk about it in any real depth. Not yet, anyway.

But man. testgame (or, The Beard in the Mirror, its full and proper name) is heading to Steam, AND I saw a raccoon today. Holy crap, I can’t even.