I don't know if there was a certain precise moment where I had a lightbulb over my head. Most of my games before making That Which Binds Us were yuri, for a very simple reason- I'm better at drawing and designing girls! But it's not 2016 anymore and I can draw guys decently, and this story was sort of written with a girl x boy relationship in mind. So, when I needed an interesting concept for IGMC 2017, this was what I picked.
What were the first steps you took into realizing your first project?
TWBU was originally made for IGMC 2017, and before that it was just an idea I had written down for a future game. When the jam started I quickly got to writing and designing the characters.
Did you reach out to others to form a team, or did you decide to do everything yourself and outsource what you couldn't do?
Nope, everything in the original IGMC demo was either made by me or was a default asset in RPG Maker MV (aside from plugins, of course). For the full visual novel version on Steam though, the music was done by JadeVater on LemmaSoft- everything else by me.
What engine did you decide to use for your project and why?
At first I was using RPG Maker MV for it since that was one of the requirements for IGMC 2017, but after the jam ended (and I had a bad taste in my mouth after it) I quickly switched to Ren'Py, an engine I'm much more familiar with and have more control over. Development quickly sped up and what took me a week to code in RPGM took me a day to recode in Ren'Py.
Did you use crowdsourcing to fund your project, such as running a Kickstarter or a Patreon? What was that like?
Nope, all was self-funded.
What art style did you decide on, and what has been the general reaction from people?
I decided on my usual art style, a soft-shaded semi realistic art style. However, I used the sprites from the game jam rather than polishing them up (aside from the love interest's sprite, Idris), something I should have redone most likely. Some people liked it, but again if I had polished them up further they would have appealed to more people.
What would your daily process be like when developing your project?
It was all a blur, honestly! I was developing it while in college and I can barely remember any of it. I'd spend all my free time on the project, moving from writing to editing to scripting to art to marketing- I can't remember it.
What part of the process turned out to be a surprising amount of work that you didn't expect, or thought would be easy when you first started out?
A surprising amount of work... nothing fully sticks out, aside from various bugs and how long it takes to throw text into RPGM.
What roadblocks did you stumble into when working on your project? Did you ever get artists who ghosted you, or did you ever lose interest in your own project?
Because it was just me, I didn't have anyone ghost me thankfully, and JadeVater was wonderful as usual! I never lost full interest in the project, but I did definitely lose momentum a few times- it was hard churning it out while also doing homework while also not having too many people interested in it.
At what point in development did you start using social media to promote your project?
As soon as I got close to releasing the IGMC version I started sharing it everywhere. I was crunching for that demo, so I waited until the last few days when I was sure I'd have something submit-able before sharing it.
What would you do different if you could start all over? For example, now that you know what the process is like, what could help improve your work flow?
What I would do different is several things! I'd add more choices with more changes in the story, I'd add more dynamic looking scenes where the sprites are moving around, and I'd really love to one day go back and change the sprites to have Evalise (the main character) be a side sprite and all the others forward-facing. I learned a lot from the project though, and that was well worth it for me.
What part of the process did you enjoy working on the most?
My favorite part was probably designing Eva's various outfits- she has like 8 or 9 in the full game, and it was fun to give her a variety of designs rather than just one.
Did you ever expect working on an otome game would cost more than you initially thought?
My budget was extremely small, so I can't say much on this.
How long did it take for you to finish your project? Give an estimate for how many months/years it took to complete a single character route.
The full game took me about 6-7 months to complete, from the start of the IGMC demo to release. There was only one dateable character.
What platforms did you look at to release your game on? Which ones do you recommend?
Windows, MacOS, and android. Please, port to android if you can, especially if you're developing on Ren'Py. It's a bit finicky but people really want good VNs for android.
Have you ever felt overlooked as an indie developer in favour of the more successful otome from Japan?
A couple times I did, but then I realized I could think that way about anybody favoring any successful VN from Japan- in the end it didn't really matter because they weren't my target audience. More often than not, the people who actively consumer JVN otomes consume them because they want highly polished otomes with lots of dateable characters- something you can't really get from EVN otomes. Very, very few of us have the budget to make VNs with that level of polish, but that's fine. We just have to find our own audience and expand polish in other ways such as presentation.
Any tips for other otome developers trying to work on their first game?
I said this in a previous article, but if you're going to make a commercial VN or do a Kickstarter for it, you have to treat it as a business. That means making some business decisions, like zeroing in on your target audience (not just assuming every otome fan will like your otome- trust me, I learned that the hard way), doing lots of marketing before launch, keeping the budget small (spoiler: VNs don't make a lot of money!) and making changes/additions that consumers will like (such as adding more choices or interactivity). Surround yourself with other otome and visual novel devs- I can't tell you how many changes I've made based off other dev's great feedback. Aside from that, good luck and have fun!
Well, I believe that's about it! I hope you guys thought this was helpful or insightful! ♥