Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
The developers of Ren’Py talk about their open source tool, which helps you to build your own visual novels and games.
Ren’Py is a free and open source game engine intended to the creation of visual novels and other story-heavy games. Basically, Ren’Py takes a written script (think of it like a formal version of a movie script) and uses that to show text, images, music, and choices to the player. Ren’Py also provides functions that players expect from visual novels and similar games, like loading and saving, skipping read text during a second playthrough, and rolling back to a previous game state.
Ren’Py is most suitable for single player games that consist of dialogue and choices. These include visual novels, kinetic novels, life simulation games, and turn-based RPGs. Once you get beyond that, you start having to fight Ren’Py somewhat, and I think that’s fine – we want to make developing certain kinds of games easy, and let the types that are hard be addressed by other engines.
Games Created with Ren’Py
There are a lot of them, pretty much all single player, both free and commercial. If you’re looking for good examples of Ren’Py’s use in VNs and simulation games, check out Fault: Milestone One and Long Live the Queen, and Sunrider – all available on Steam. Katawa Shoujo has an amazingly huge fanbase in it’s own right, while Analogue: A Hate Story was the first Ren’Py game on Steam. There are huge numbers of games aimed at a female audience – I’ll name The Blind Griffin, just because I played it recently.
Picking a favorite game is hard, but I did really enjoy a short visual novel named Palinurus. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone, especially the original version. (It’s being updated for Greenlight.) But it really spoke to me, just due to where I was in my life when I read it. And I think it’s great to see visual novels and games that can speak to people like that.
The goal of Ren’Py is to make it possible for people of all levels to create. So it’s easy to make a game with the stock interface, but as projects become more elaborate more knowledge is required. We do have a slight bias towards efficiency in development – our textual language might take a few minutes to learn, but creators get that back by not having to move their hands from the keyboard while entering dialogue.
With the exception of user interfaces, and the tutorial games, Ren’Py doesn’t come with much in the way of assets. Free assets are available on the creative commons section of the Lemma Soft Forums, and elsewhere online.
The “Py” in Ren’Py comes from the Python programming language. Ren’Py embeds Python as a scripting language, and also implemented using Python. The result of this is that there are a huge number of points where creators can extended Ren’Py.
Ren’Py isn’t the work of a company – it’s an open source project, where people from the community can contribute code to improve it. It also means that if development were to ever slow, the community could pick it up and keep improving Ren’Py.
Support happens online, on the Lemma Soft forums, where people help each other out in all manner of ways. The community also gives talks and tutorials at various events, conferences, and anime cons.
I think Ren’Py – and game engines like it, that focus on particular types of games – can benefit people who aren’t trained programmers. Game development is, among other things, a kind of programming – but I think engines can make that programming accessible to a wide audience, especially including people who “aren’t programmers.”
I’d recommend it to the creative people who make visual novels – especially people who are good at writing and art. I also think it’s free and open source nature (including the non-discrimination clause of the open source definition) has made it appealing to people who are underrepresented in game development.
Visual Novels’ Success
I think it’s a combination of things. As with many games, visual novels give the player control over – and responsibility for, a character. Visual novels can be first person – giving the player an idea of what their character is thinking. And visual novels are visual – we can see what’s going on, making the story less abstract. That combination is rather unique, and contributes to some of the appeal.
But the main secret, I think, is the creators. Visual novels tend to be the product of small teams. During March, we have NaNoRenO, where teams make a visual novel in a month. Many of those teams consist of one or two members, who supplement their numbers with free resources (including music, and engines like Ren’Py). Even commercial visual novels can have very small teams behind them. This can lead to a purer vision than might be possible for games with larger teams behind them.