The Arcana is our ongoing fantasy/romance visual novel. We launched a demo—the prologue of the story—last October, and ran a successful Kickstarter the following month. In just a few weeks, we’ll be releasing the first serial update, adding on the next chapter where the demo left off.
Our weekly Q&A on tumblr, Ask Arcana, nets a lot of messages wondering where we got the idea for the game, how long it took to develop the idea, etc. In truth, this was not a project stewed carefully over a long period of time, nor did we decide to get up and make it one day out of a random strike of inspiration. It began as a response to a task given to all the devs at Nix Hydra back in September of 2016: self-organize into small teams and make something experimental in six weeks. That six-week project ended up being our demo.
With just two people, our team ended up being one of the smallest by far. This came with a number of advantages. Collaboration was fast and easy—two people can bounce ideas off each other without worrying about things getting too watered down or too complicated as might happen with a “design by committee” approach. And as a self-directed team, we got a ton of creative freedom that we might not have had on a larger team with a more traditional hierarchy.
Of course, this came with its fair share of disadvantages as well. With only two people, it was impossible to get as much done as we wanted to, even working overtime. And while we had a powerful duo of artist (me!) + game designer/writer, there is, uh... a distinct lack of programming skills there. We were able to get occasional assistance from programmers on other teams, but there were definitely times where the lack of a dedicated programmer on our team slowed things down or forced us to limit the features of the game.
Our own disciplines each had unique challenges. On the art side, being the sole artist required proficiency across disciplines that would normally be delegated to several artists with different skillsets—research, character design, backgrounds, UI, and overall art direction. Fortunately, I’m a control freak who could never settle on one specialization anyway, so this was actually ideal for me (if sometimes exhausting). I love learning new things… I just need a few more arms to get it all done.
On the design side, writing the story and implementing it into the game were done more or less simultaneously. Timing, music, sprite changes, and camera movements all affect one another; the way they work together determines how players will experience the story. Being able to tune those things and decide what feels best, rather than just deciding what’s written in the script, makes a difference. On the other hand, it’s a bigger job. So, same as with art, with great creative control comes great responsibility.
All that considered, the six weeks we dedicated to making The Arcana demo were really fun, enormously challenging, and a huge learning experience. In the spirit of agile development, we took it one week at a time. Each week we reflected on the accomplishments and failures of the last, and adjusted our goals and workflow accordingly.
I’m incredibly proud of what were we able to accomplish such limited time and resources, and beyond excited to start sharing the rest of the story with everyone! Make sure to check out The Arcana demo in the iOS App Store or on Google Play~