Books, movies (tv series, animation, live-action etc) and games are three mediums of storytelling with different levels of immersion and interaction, and they serve to reach different senses of the imagination. They’re all pretty different from each other though, so mixing them up together can create some interesting results.
Visual Novels as a gaming genre are a bridge between novels and gaming, giving you something graphical to watch while you read with a degree of interactivity, whether it be about simply clicking through the dialogue boxes or making choices that redirect the story. It evokes sense from both worlds so is great on paper. However, catering to a lot of people is tricky when middlegrounds tend to wind up leaving people only half-impressed. Most gamers want a more interactive experience when playing a game, and will find Visual Novels to just be too much like a movie or book.
But that doesn’t make them bad. Just pretty niche.
This is on my mind from when I was playtesting SnowOwl’s Skinwalker, an atmospheric horror visual novel. Now one thing that got discussed was the interactivity levels. It contained a very brief fetch quest and beyond that it was just walking around from room to room. The latest version (that will get released tomorrow as far as I’m aware) has removed the fetch quest and taken out some of the movement and it actually plays a lot better.
Having just a small section of “play” in the game wound up just making you think you’re going to be doing more than you will be, while the new keeps a firmer grasp on what it wants to be: that is, a Visual Novel. Running around now is just a more interactive method of advancing the storytelling, while never actually requiring gameplay, so it works off as a better -and more suited- vibe.
So you have people get put off because there’s not enough gameplay and “might as well just read a book” and then heavy readers who get put off by too much gameplay getting in the way of all the exposition. Both will complain that it’s “too much like” one or the other. But the interesting thing, I find, is that it’s still neither. Skinwalker is very visual for a “Visual Novel” and allows you to run around the map and talk to the people in between sections of static image and descriptive monologuing. But what can I say; mixed mediums have my attention right now.
But all this has me pondering on what other combinations there can be, other storytelling methods with different atmospheres, settings and sense-mixing.
Scott Pilgrim Versus the World is a fucking excellent example of a movie mixed with a (comic) book. It does a great job of mixing different expectations of sensory experiences within the medium. Comic books with a panel depicting a high school bell ringing will have a big “RRRRIIIIIIIINNGG” plastered across the page to get the idea across that it’s a loud noise that can be heard everywhere.
Movies don’t need this since they can actually utilise audio, but there’s something to be said about having the “RIIIIIIIIIIIIII” fly across the screen anyway. The one thing, that one noise, suddenly affects two senses instead of just one.
The movie puts a lot of effort into those small comic book/gaming touches that come off really nicely as a mixed medium. It really does feel like you’re just getting to watch a live-action comic with audio; isn’t that the next obvious step after comic books? To create the same storytelling experience while evoking more emotions and senses?
So! Upon thinking about what a possible project could be for a short Visual Novel for me to try put together, I was thinking about mixed mediums in general.
Now, what came to mind were pantomimes. They’re a very cinematic experience, all about watching the show, but there’s something more interactive and participatory about them, something that brings the audience in on the action.
So what better basis for a Visual Novel as a game, than pantomimes? This way would give dialogue in the form of text, has animated characters running around, and has elements of interactivity and participation. A good mix, no?
Well, I thought so.
So this project is a Visual Novel of sorts…a Visual Pantomime? I don’t know…
Either way; the “game” is a Pantomime being played about by the characters of the game themselves. And those game characters performing in the pantomime and playing as characters from another game!
FFVI, to be precise. I figured if I was going to do a pantomime (and since they typically retell famous stories in their own unique way) that I’d want to base it on something I’m very familiar with, so I can write a script for it that not only covers the story, but can be trimmed down in very succinct scenes without sacrificing key elements from the story.
And I’m very familiar with FFVI.
So the project is almost entirely non-interactive, the player being anonymously sat in the audience chairs to watch the panto with the rest of the pixel audience. There are one or two tiny elements of participation on the players part, but the rest of the flavour comes in the form of making it feel as panto-esque as possible. I say that, because the panto is pretty important as a framing device, being that the player is supposed to be a part of it.
To this end, all the characters are “actors” who are dressed up as the FFVI characters and have low budget cardboard cutouts for set pieces, on top of a noisy audience.
Then again, this project is also likely to feel weird to anyone who’s never played FFVI before, since the story is very heavily summarised and cuts out most of the optional sections of the game, so relies a touch on foreknowledge. I wanted to keep the dialogue short, so each scene of the panto is over in a couple of minutes.
But there you have it.
The end of my thought process. This is my first attempt at a mixed medium: it’s not a book, not a movie and not a game, but you can still read, watch and play it!