Hey guys, I'll keep this brief. I announced an update to go up on this day way in advance because it was going to be a major undertaking, and for a couple months, I was making excellent progress toward it. Unfortunately, as of just over a week ago, I've been hit with a major personal crisis that I have very little support in weathering right now, which has forced me to devote all my time and energy to keeping my life in order and my reawakened PTSD response under control. I'm not trying to make excuses mentioning this, it's just the way things are right now. I did my absolute best, but there isn't anything I can do about it in regards to the Kickstarter. I kept working on the update for as long as I could, but I'm just not able to get there right now. I'm in a really difficult place that I'm afraid I can't discuss publicly.
The best I can do is be transparent about what is in this update, for when it is finally ready, which I am not yet setting a date to, for reasons that I hope are clear given my situation:
Full breakdown of what went wrong for this Kickstarter and the lessons I've learned from the expectations I could not fulfill. The game will still be completed, but I wanted to make a full acknowledgement of how and why things went wrong.
The first 40% of the finished Lovely Little Thieves, free to play for everyone.
A second short visual novel (2-3 hours) to be completed as a free gift to backers at the $50 level and above. Its story is not directly connected to Lovely Little Thieves, but the genre/tone is similar.
These will all be present in the update as soon as I am out of the woods with this personal crisis and have my anxiety under control. Thank you as always for your patience and support.
Well, I succumbed. After saying I could never do it because it isn't remotely interesting, this update is about how I've been coding the game. It's still not interesting, but I don't have the part of Day One finished that I wanted to show (in video) to my liking, so I'll do that for April instead. That's the "big" update I wanted to show people, about ten minutes of story that I thought was emotionally intense and exciting on its own without spoiling much. However, said scene takes place near the very end of Day One (right before the climax), and there are five versions of it. So I wanted to finish out more of those different versions before settling on the one that's most appropriate and effective to show out of context.
HOWEVER, since I'm not content to just show you lines in Python with dry commentary, I've included something more juicy that will hopefully shine a light on exactly where I am in the process of completing this game and exactly why it's taken so long to plan and write. (And the planning and writing is actually the fun part! The coding, not so much.) Of course, since this flowchart contains vague spoilers, it will be hidden behind a click-thru. But first! THE BLAND STUFF.
Coding-wise, this is basically what I look at for hours and hours.
How it works is that I set a state for the actor before they appear and adjust it throughout the scene. If the actor hasn't appeared for a while, like Randy here, I'll usually reset all of their elements to what I want just so I don't accidentally end up with a stray arm or mouth doing something irrelevant from a hundred lines of code ago. (This is an easy error to miss, but it totally kills the emotion of a scene.) But if they haven't been offscreen for very long, I try to minimize the changes in the sprite just to keep from taxing memory; the game can still lag with this expression system, although it's been changed a couple times to try and eradicate the lag problem. (All the sprites are pretty big so I can do closeups of various kinds without losing image quality, but you know, that could be it.)
You may have noticed that Dawn's dialogue is prefaced with some different commands, while Colin's was just his signifier (co) and the line he speaks. That's because Dawn's expressions aren't separate from her lines like the other actors. Every time Dawn speaks, I have to clarify if her profile is hidden (dwn h) or if her face appears in the lower left with a specific expression. The first number (from 1-5) is her eyes, from "quietest" to "loudest", and the second number (1-5 again) is her mouth, in the same vein. After doing this for years now I just know instinctively which face corresponds to which two-digit number. The "raise" afterward pertains to her brows, and other things like blushing or sweatdrops are also added with words rather than numbers, just because they don't change as often as the eyes and mouth, and too many numbers make me go cross-eyed.
Side note, this excerpt is from the "car scene" which re-renders each character individually rather than changing minor variables under the usual sprite system. The reason we had to do it that way is because there's a lot of panning and zooming in the car, which would reset under the more minimal expression-call system. SCINTILLATING!
Also, I chose this excerpt as an example of various writing tweaks and improvements I've made to Day Zero over the years. This is a real dumb one, but I just changed the naughty word whispered to Dawn as a child from "poop" to "penis" because it seemed more realistic for a punkass little boy, and it tied in more closely to the fact that Randy was making a sex joke specifically. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
On top of the visuals, I have to make sure to keep track of sound cues throughout the game. It's important to me that the game never be silent at any time (unless it's for deliberate effect, and if you re-use "silence for dramatic effect" too much, that can translate into boredom), but that no piece of music outstay its welcome either. So I use the SFX channel a lot to interject ambient noise or atmospheric sounds between tracks or even for extended periods of time if the tone is right. I'll also rely on ambient noise or sudden silences to transition into a piece of music so it's not just one piece stopping and another starting because it's "time for that one to kick in." Because of the limited art assets I'm working with, (although they're all lovely!) I think really hard about how to use sound to pick up the slack. I'll turn off all the lights, turn up the speakers, and re-code the sound in a scene until it scares ME even though I've read this damn thing a million times already because sound is the final part of the process.
I wish there were more to it, but that's pretty much what I'm doing when I'm not writing the prose and dialogue! The only other thing I could show you is flags and how they're activated, but that would give away WAY too much about how the game works. Flags in Ren'py are pretty simple to code, but the way LLT uses them is uh...math-heavy. It's almost never "choose A, go to scene A, choose B, go to scene B". And when that sort of thing does happen, it never determines what ending you're gonna get or anything major long-term. That's a big pet peeve of mine in visual novels, when one single choice completely changes an ending after a dozen choices that basically change nothing. Everything you do or say in LLT matters. It's a longer process of cumulative personality testing in an environment where you're fated to end up in the same kind of predicaments over and over, just with different people (in different states of mental health) based on your own values.
So that brings me to the flowchart! It's vague and broad, with each cell representing a general sequence of events. For example, all of Day Zero is just one cell, because while it does branch in different ways, you ultimately end up at the same destination no matter what. Most of the rest of the game is like this too. You'll see the same "plot" told through completely different characters who tackle the countdown in completely different ways, changing even further based on who they've lost versus who they're stuck with, until you get spit out into completely diverse endings based on the fallout from hundreds of choices.
HOWEVER, it's still pretty spoilery. The endings are listed with vague one-word titles and symbols that hint at the values connected to them, and you can see the rhythm of how things get violent or slow down by staring at the big picture all at once. You can even work out how many people are living or dead at various points, either because it's literally stated or through analyzing the permutation math! So don't look at this chart if you want to be completely surprised by the final story, and feel free to look at it if you're fed up with my bullshit and want to know why this has been taking so long.
I'm sharing it at this point because the game has been delayed so long and I'm hoping that seeing this will help reassure people that I'm not flying by the seat of my pants with this story. I've just been plugging away at what is basically a tesseract of character interactions. I was too ambitious, and I had to take a year off in the middle when things got Real Bad in real life. But with any luck, given this structure, you'll learn something completely new each time you play the game. You'll see new sides of characters that you learned nothing about the first time, or gain new insights into the game's mystery that you skimped over before.
Without further ado: Here it is! The full structure of LLT in a nutshell. While each cell dictates a different general scenario, the "permutations" are basically just "who's there with you." The "who" behind each scene can completely change the emotion or information that you get out of it, but in terms of the "what" and "how", the scene is basically the same. Also don't think too hard about Day Three because I might have chosen a poor way to illustrate it to avoid spoilers. All that matters is that there are sixty permutations. That sounds daunting, but honestly Day Two's ten different versions take much longer to write because with permutations, you can repeat a lot of work and still end up with something that feels different.
I hope you find this content interesting, and I'm going to get right back onto the preview scene coding so I can show it in April. Thanks once again for supporting me over these tough years. :)
Hey folks! Sorry this one's a little tardy compared to the last couple, but I'm determined to keep these updates monthly. This one's pretty straightforward, just a collection of major background paintings for the game, some you've seen and some you haven't, with commentary that hopefully hints at the relevance of different details in each painting without saying too much. Sorry if this isn't as interesting, I have trouble writing things of interest about scenery, but I'm preparing something much stronger for next month's update. The last two backgrounds are behind a hyperlink because of spoilers, so don't click thru or read the text there if you want to avoid too many clues. Thanks for waiting, and I'll be back with another update in early January!
Because this is the cheeriest part of the game (and Jack does some really beautiful work with sunlight), I wanted the woods we first see to look somewhat comforting and inviting (at least compared to all the backgrounds to follow). At the same time, there's still some claustrophobia to them, like there's only one path that can be taken through the restrictive walls of trees, one that stretches on forever to no sign of civilization. When the temporary backgrounds were used in the demo (generic photos I could find and slap some filters over), I remember thinking it was pretty silly that Russell was so worried about his friends getting lost in those woods, given the bright openness of the images I had to settle for. Jack's illustration of a much more intimate yet constricting forest brings the labyrinthine feeling across a lot better.
Not much to add on this one, except that the light has diminished somewhat and turned more orange as the sun has gone down. It's still a pretty stark jump from this background to the next one which goes full-on nighttime, but I think I was able to excuse it pretty well with the idea that the twisted arch of birch trees block out the sun, and the potentially supernatural fog rolling in may darken the area as well.
Speaking of which, here's the glen that leads to the mansion! Even before we learn more about what happened in that spooky house long ago, I wanted to make it clear why people haven't just happened across this house before, hence the off-putting mud swamp obscured by fog. I think it's easy to imagine that a place like this could have been beautiful once rather than creepy, but the long tunnel of trees still gives it an air of constraint. (Constriction, constraint, and passages being squeezed to a point were all images I wanted to focus on to draw out Dawn's building feelings of anxiety.) While the mud, fog, and snake-made path through them are newer supernatural additions, the trees were planted that way on purpose by the mansion's original proprietor. So whoever owned this place sure wanted to give their abode a big dramatic buildup!
The mansion was the first (and most important) background completed for the game, and it is an extremely weird building. Frankly, I'm not sure it makes any architectural sense. If it's even possible for it to exist, it would be horribly impractical, especially once you see it on the inside. I remember being worried for a long time that my ideas about the mansion's layout would contract so impossibly with the laws of physics (my brain is very bad at spatial relations) that it would destroy player immersion, but at some point I just gave in and went with it, and strangely, I haven't (yet) had any complaints about just how badly this place Could Not Exist.
The mansion's position at the top of a cliffside is both important for story reasons and to act as the end of the line for Dawn's tense passage down an anxious twisted path. She doesn't want to go in, but visually, there's literally nowhere else to go but upward and inward. The skewed perspective looking up was meant to give off a vertigo effect (or a "dolly zoom" if you prefer), a really cool trick that I've always associated with great thrillers and horror movies. Mind you, that's a perspective trick achieved with motion, so to try and emulate it in a still image, I emphasized extreme foreshortening on the building, with a skyline behind that seems to expand forever into the distance. After the mansion's look was completed, some branch shadows were put in the foreground to hopefully give the player a better idea of where they were standing, since the perspective was so extreme. While the design is somewhat based on early New England architecture, it certainly has no practical equivalent in the real world, and I don't think any contractor worth their salt would have it built.
Purple! Before anything else, I wanted the inside of the mansion to be a reddish-purple, to evoke the presence of The Eyes, with the staircase like a tongue or throat at the front of this maw the characters have walked into. The staircases swooping up to the sides were also supposed to evoke the shape of his face, but I'm not sure how clear that is in execution. (That's fine, it needs to look like an actual house first and foremost.)The big entryway at the top of the stairs leads to the second floor rooms, and the second floor is much smaller than the first and third by virtue of only taking up half the depth of the house and one hallway's of width, with the rest of the second "floor" just being the cavernous front lobby of the mansion. Again, I don't know that this makes architectural sense, but it made sense to me at the time?
So as you can see, not a whole lot going on in the second floor hallway. These are all private rooms, since the mansion was built to accommodate a bunch of guests with sort of a hotel atmosphere in mind. That strange shelved divot with the accent light on the right side of the hall is a dumbwaiter.
Well, there's that fainting couch Colin was looking for! (There's another one in the study too.) While not all these bedrooms are identical, they all have some form of taxidermy mounted in them, as does basically EVERY room in this mansion. The owner of this particular room would definitely have chosen a room without any taxidermied animals if that was an option. There's a clue to this person's identity hanging above the bookshelf on the right side of the room. You will see that portrait in greater detail later in the game. That bedding doesn't match the drapes or walls at all. Way too purple. Frankly, much of the decor in this mansion is unnervingly tacky, even beyond the strange decision to mount a moose's head where it can watch you while you sleep.
Something smells in here, and it ain't the main course. This poor old lady sits alone at the head of the table next to a spilled glass of spirits. This wine was spilled somewhat recently, even though she's been dead for a long time and there's no one else in the house. There are place settings out for many other people, though! It's a mystery that will probably take the entirety of your three-day stay to unravel, but there's not much else to this lonely dining room for now. Although, those who have seen the bad ending to the game already know that Jay runs here immediately after things start to go badly. But why here specifically? (You'll learn the answer to this one by the end of day one, thankfully.)
I remember the kitchen's design requiring the most research, because I had to know exactly what kind of culinary technology was available to the mansion's former occupants. (If you know the answer to this, maybe you can tell when people last lived here by what kind of stove that is!) The dumbwaiter here connects to the second floor hallway upstairs, but given the layout and perspective—ha ha um—please do your best to imagine how it travels between these two points, I'm sorry, it may not make architectural sense. One of those doors leads to the pantry and one leads to the dining room. The kitchen's resident penguin may be the only trophy in the house who was given a name and personality (and a bowtie). The chef was quite fond of him.
While most of the rooms in the house are decrepit and covered in cobwebbing, they're also mostly clean. The study is the only room that appears to have been violently disturbed. The impressive collection of hunting rifles was always kept with the impressive collection of books though, even when it was a much cleaner room. The animal traps on the wall extend even further back than what is visible on the left.
Heading up to the third floor, things take a turn for the far MORE gaudy. While there may be a number of other rooms on the first and second floor that we will never see (because they aren't important), there are only two rooms up here, but they're both enormous. Aesthetically, this floor is just entirely too much, almost as if it was made under completely different circumstances from the first two, with its completely unnecessary marble flooring and Vegas-esque gold trim and ostentatious columns. The most exotic and impressive animal trophies are also kept in this hallway. (Oh, and there's the dumbwaiter again.)
This is the ballroom on the right side of the hall. Along with ample space for revelry, it also has a full performance stage with a small greenroom and shower accessible, sparing no expense for a facility that couldn't have seen much use all the way out here. On the other side of the room are beautiful balconies overlooking the cliffside, though of course the doors are shut. Wait a minute, is that door open? Could there really be such an obvious escape so clearly within reach?
The greenhouse on the left side of the hall is curiously overgrown with plants, despite the fact that no one's been tending to them for quite a while. The fairy watching over this garden wasn't always green, but you know, hanging out over a fountain in direct sunlight will do that to a bronze statue. On the left side is a simple swing, rusted with age but curiously handmade in appearance compared to the overpriced opulence of its surroundings. On the right side is yet another balcony that can be used to see the cliffside better from higher up in the glass dome, or to look down on the indoor garden's beauty instead.
So yeah, this is a spoiler alright. Those of you who have played the bad ending know that this secret chamber is accessed through a trap door underneath the four-poster bed in the room Dawn sleeps in. After a long trek through twists and turns that lead under the core of the stairway down into the basement, you finally enter the room through a vent hidden behind the oversized tapestry, which happens to depict the slaying of the Bull of Heaven from the Epic of Gilgamesh. The rest is simply as you see it. Bloody stains on the wall, as if from bodies shackled there. A chair placed in the corner. A summoning circle of some kind that incorporates the shape of The Eyes, along with six other curious symbols. And a prison chamber currently latched shut with a large dagger. It's a sparse room for sure, but each new detail is more alarming than the last.
SPOILER-ER IMAGE (same room as above, but in a state you may only see near the end of the game)
Yeah, I have absolutely nothing to say about this one yet, but if you want to play "spot the difference" between this image and the neutral chamber, go for it!
See you guys next month with more story-related stuff. Much love and wishing you very happy holidays! :)
Hey guys! It's time for the monthly update! Progress on the game is going well, with only five days off at the top of November for moving apartments. I'm forcing myself not to commit to any promised release dates yet, but I'm feeling really optimistic and reassured after the breakthrough that led to the previous update. (Definitely read that one before this one if you haven't already.)
So now that the other character profiles are done, it only made sense to revisit LLT's villain. It was tricky knowing how to write about "The Eyes", a character so mysterious that I can't actually call him by name yet. (In the meantime, most people have settled on the nickname "Fulla Snakes". I mean, it's definitely accurate!)
So this post will contain both a spoiler-free (for those who've played the demo) rundown of everything we know about this big jerk so far, followed by a spoilery reveal (behind a URL) of what's behind his eyes, as seen in the Bad End some players reached in an early beta of the game. This more spoilery profile also contains a behind-the-scenes look at how this monstrous form was designed, which won't reveal much about Fulla Snakes's motivations or true nature directly, but will definitely give you some clues. I hope you enjoy, and I'll be back with another update first weekend of December!
You may recall when I last updated the Kickstarter eight months ago, I said this.
Well wouldn't you know it, right after this update...I did have to stop completely. I ran into a thick patch of other writing I had to do for Anime News Network, and then I took a trip to Japan that resulted in loads more work both during and upon return, alongside the Spring Preview Guide. I knew going into it that if I was going to get this done, it would have to be before or shortly after the Japan trip, but I got crushed by a snowballing of obligations and my own stress instead. So I was already struggling with an overwhelming sense of guilt and failure heading into what would be a horribly emotional summer.
I went into what I can only describe as crisis over a confluence of personal issues across the summer that I can't go into publicly, and have already made the mistake of being too public with in other instances. It was all I could do to stay on target with my main job, and when I did find space to resume work on the game, I was back to contending with the problem of what happens when you stop completely—I wasn't able to resume sufficient momentum, and I wasn't honest about the lack of time I had to delegate to other committed work projects. Again, it's a snowballing effect.
Well, I can apologize for another several paragraphs again and emptily promise that things will change, or I can make a substantial change that will actually allow me to treat this project like a real second job for the first time, so I spent the last month or so making preparations for the latter. I've suspended all my creative writing duties on ANN (with rare obligatory exceptions) until Lovely Little Thieves is finished. The time reserved for those duties is now being given over to this game so that I can complete it, with the blessing of my boss/husband (trust me, it's an even weirder dynamic than it sounds), who has also resolved to support me much more directly in its completion. I can't adequately convey how big a deal this is behind the scenes, but it's huge.
I understand the anger that backers will feel at the umpteenth ruined schedule and long period of radio silence, and those feelings are completely valid. There isn't anything I can say to make the situation better, and I've also accepted that even completing the game may not stem the disappointment backers feel. For those concerned that I've lost enthusiasm for the project or am thinking about canceling it but too scared to tell you, I will set this in stone: If at any point I am even *considering* the need to cancel Lovely Little Thieves, I will let you know immediately. However, this has never once crossed my mind. I've never wavered in my determination to finish this project, even if it took so much longer than I predicted.
With that said, I plan to update the Kickstarter once a month until the game is completed. No promised release date yet, and no promised update topics. (Note to self: I cannot write anything interesting about Ren'py programming, always come up with another angle, I'm begging you, me.) I'm just committing to monthly updates Of Some Kind to make sure I can keep that promise. These updates will be on the first weekend of every month. A Friday, a Saturday, a Sunday, whatever works best that month. Even if it's just me going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, you'll get something. (I will try very hard not to ever post ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and I already have a few non-programming-related ideas to try starting first weekend of November.)
Now that that's out of the way: the fun part! Here are the character logs for Colin and Jay. Thank you as always for having faith in this project once, and I hope you will be able to have faith in it again someday soon.