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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Players *Can* Be Choosers

Advisory: Katawa Shoujo contains several explicitly adult scenes over the course of the game, although it is possible to turn these off through an "Options" setting within the program. Still, it's important to forewarn anyone who's looking at checking the game out. (There's also some PG-13-worthy language in the dialogue in select places. This is not skippable.)

First things first: sorry about my impromptu hiatus. I don't have any excuse other than I started procrastinating and didn't start writing. So, now I'm starting to write for the blog again! It's true, I have been doing other things. One of them is, well, experiencing Katawa Shoujo, an independently-produced Visual Novel. I'm going to put a brief overview of Visual Novels in italics below; if you're already familiar, feel free to skip it.

What is a Visual Novel?
A Visual Novel (abbreviated as VN) is a particular type of computer program that originated in Japan. Ostensibly, it's like a digital version of the popular American "Choose Your Own Adventure" books: you make choices for the main character throughout the story, and different choices lead you down different paths. A VN typically features four audiovisual elements: a soundtrack (SFX and music), scene backgrounds, characters (placed on top of the backgrounds, and sometimes minorly moved or animated during particular emotions), and text (overlaid over everything, it also scrolls at a variable rate).

Most VNs (and by most I mean "pretty much all"), including KS, fall into the "dating sim" category: the main character's interactions are primarily with characters of the opposite sex, and the biggest difference between various endings is which supporting character the main character is romantically paired with at the end. Still, this means that VNs are great explorers of human relationships, character interactions, and involved backstories.

The Importance of Being Choosy
Playing through Katawa Shoujo's first Act (the one where the main character is paired up with a supporting girl), I noted that it wasn't a terribly hard task to figure out exactly how the decision tree went. Each character's arc has a supporting event or two, which unlocks the "good ending" for that character at the end of Act I. Once you lock into one of the girls' arcs, that determines which Act II, III, IV, and V arcs you play out.

I took a moment to think on this. Since I'd so easily figured out how to achieve the Act I ending I wanted, what was the point of the choices? Well, my creative brain very quickly had an answer for that: I made the choices. Even on this most basic level, where the consequences of choices were transparent as glass, they still had that one basic meaning. Because I made those choices, because those choices made a difference, I made a difference in the story.

Let Your Players Choose
Character choices don't always have to be a matter of suspense or deduction. They just have to matter. They also need to be in the players' hands. Being told "Your choices basically boil down to 'Support the princess against the rebels and gain prestige.' or 'Support the rebels and gain money.'" is a massive help to players who want to actually matter when they try to shape the story.

As a player, if you want to engage the story, always be on the lookout for choices you can make. There's always opportunities for you to make even a small difference in the story, and if there aren't any, make some! Just be sure to talk it out with your GM before you do anything too big.

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