Room 208

Elaborate Burn

Posts from #mechanics

The traditional visual novel save system needs to die

I wrote this in about 15 minutes, so some of the phrasing here might not be up to scratch. Bear with me.

For the majority of visual novels, saves do not represent what we might ordinarily think of when we think of game save states: a self-contained snapshot of game progress. Progress is instead tracked globally, independent of any particular save. What most visual novels term “saves” are really composed of just two things: (1) a list of choices the player has made, and (2) the specific scene or line from which to resume gameplay. Choices made when resuming from one saved game often affect what’s available when resuming from another. Remember11 sticks out in my mind as one particularly infamous example of the confusion this causes, but this problem affects nearly all visual novels that use a traditional save system to some extent.

The problematic nature of this abstraction is compounded by the fact that most visual novels don’t provide a way to easily jump from one scene to another. Instead, the player is often expected to “save” before every major decision point, and resume from there should he or she have picked the wrong choice, or want 100% completion, or need a refresher on what’s happened since then. Forgot to save? Tough luck. You’ll have to fast-forward through text you’ve already seen in order to get back to where you were before, dragging yourself out of the game’s narrative frame. This is a terrible user experience, and it’s almost never one that’s justified by narrative considerations. Unless the visual novel is itself about the drudgery of boring, repetitive tasks, in which case I question why anyone would feel the need to play it at all, this puts a completely unnecessary burden on the player.

The whole metaphor around visual novel saves needs to be rearranged. Here’s how I’d like to see it:

Okay, that’s all. Have fun.

So I had this idea for a visual novel mechanic, probably inspired by playing too many Infinity series games, where the player takes the role of a “ghost” who can’t actually talk to any of the characters, but can interact with their environment when no one’s looking. At the beginning and end of every scene, you would get a chance to either remove objects from the “stage,” or place things that you’ve taken in previous scenes. One scene might be set in a kitchen, for instance, where you’d get the opportunity to take a knife from the counter and later conveniently leave it at the scene of a particularly tense fight.

I have a feeling this has been done before, but I can’t recall where.

Edit: I suppose I should mention that the idea was to have the stage-setting replace choices as the primary plot branching mechanism. Going back to the knife example, let’s say the climactic dust-up is between Alice, who is relatively weak physically, and Mallory, who’s fairly strong. Leaving the knife for Alice in that scene would thus mean the difference between her getting overpowered almost immediately and her having a shot at fending for herself. (In fact, my biggest qualm with this concept is that it could quickly turn into a combinatorial tar pit given enough manipulable objects and scenes.) A few people have showed me adventure games with a “ghost director” mechanic at their core, but they all seemed fairly linear plot-wise.

The core of magic in Sayuri’s world is the magical field, which covers a magically-endowed being’s immediate vicinity and gives a medium for his or her abilities. Outside of a field, magical powers simply have no effect; this means that offensive magic is essentially useless on a non-magical target, though defensive abilities can still be used as the wielder is always surrounded by his or her own field. In particular, the field provides an intrinsic barrier against external physical harm; magical girls have been known to survive falls from skyscrapers, oxygen deprivation, point-blank shootings, and various other things that would surely kill a normal human being. It does not confer protection against diseases or self-inflicted injury, however.

When two magical fields are in close proximity, about ten to fifteen meters, they begin to grow in size and attract each other in a process called magical resonance. Even novice users of magic can typically detect other magical beings nearby through these fluctuations. Highly experienced magicians can suppress some of the resonance at longer distances by manipulating their own fields, thus achieving a limited degree of stealth, but in close quarters it is virtually impossible to go undetected.

Two resonating fields will eventually become close enough to touch, creating a conduit for offensive powers. Once formed, this channel is relatively difficult to break; especially tenacious one-on-one fights have been fought at distances of over thirty meters. In addition, the strength of magical field resonance increases proportionally to the number of fields involved, such that the linked fields of five or six magical beings can easily cover the entirety of a soccer pitch. Those concerned about collateral damage, needless to say, try to avoid large battles at all costs.