Developer's Laboratory: Visual Design
by mikey

When making a ren'ai game, most of the time it will be a visual novel. But because the appearance of games like this is almost unified, the various games will differ only in small details, such as in the way text is displayed, color palette or the type of characters or background.

There is of course nothing wrong in designing a game that is just that - plain and simple. Kaori is the ultra-simplicistic example, while Sango! comes out big with the many facial expressions. Milk Swim for instance has no textbox, as the text is displayed as subtitles.

Apart from these small differences, most games will look the same. It's not a bad thing - visual novels traditionally look like that. However, to liven things up, game-makers usually put some extras into their games. These may involve a different layout, but most of the time it's the small extras that are being put into games that make the difference.

It's almost useless to describe all the little ideas game-makers had and put into their games. The following are just a few from the various techniques or specific moments in fan-made ren'ai games. They should inspire you to be creative - of course you can use the same or similar effects in your game. Many games use these special graphics or effects to underline a moment or to create atmosphere.

Picture Overlays (Transfer Teacher)

When showing a TV program or special things a simple image overlaying the main background does not break the scene, but shows the necessary object or emotion.

Full-Body Character (When I Rule the World, 2005)

The standard of background/character placement can always be broken. When I Rule The World uses full-body characters to break the standard 3/4 limit of conventional character placement.

Rover Licking Your Face (Amgine Park, 2005)

At first you didn't really know what was happening in Amgine Park when Brent's dog was licking your face, but very soon you "got" this nice touch.

Light and Fog (Black Pencil, 2004)

Black Pencil used simple effects such as lights (in the elevator scene) and fog, to enhance its visuals. The basic picture was only altered minimally.

A Change in Appearance (Kasuka, 2004)

To get a realistic feel, Kasuka uses different clothes in almost every situation. It makes sense, it's logical and easy to get used to.

Animated/Lively Background (Town Heat, 2003)

The Town Heat demo has many novel aspects of presentation. The most notable of them are the characters' blinking eyes and backgrounds crowded with people you later talk to, the moving sea and ships, the list goes on...

Digital Zoom (Moonlight Walks, 2005)

Nicely implemented in Moonlight Walks was the zoom of the main background. Logical because it was a photograph, with a pixellated effect and of course, all revealing.

Atmospheric Photographs (The Garden Society: Kykuit, 2005)

Although many will say drawn backgrounds are the only "true" alternative, photographs can also be very atmospheric if used in the right way. Much of the romance in Kykuit comes from the specific atmosphere of the black/white photographs.

First-person Effects (Heikou, 2005)

The first person perspective of visual novels is just made for effects showing how the main character is affected. Poison redouts or trapped in a spider net are Heikou's uses.

Close-up (River Trap, 2004)

To express closeness be it in the airport scene, or in the gallery, River Trap used close-ups of the main characters.

Fullscreen Character Graphic (Tales of Lemma 1, 2003)

Not a new feature in commercial games, this effect enriches the gameplay by giving the player something extra, more than the usual textbox-character-background.

There are of course a whole lot more ideas that game-makers used. Some are unique to a specific game, others have been adopted by later games and some have become standard. Naturally overusing these effects can ultimately make a game feel inconsistent, although that will rarely be the case. So, hopefully you got inspired a bit, but actually playing these games will probably give you more ideas - not only about what the authors wanted to achieve with them, but also how to effectively combine them together.

Good luck in directing your game then.

mikey runs ATP Projects, has released several English bishoujo games and maintains the
English Bishoujo Games Encyclopedia.

"Director's Laboratory: Visual Design" © 2005 mikey. All rights reserved.

Content© 2005 &, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.