This week I'd like to share my thoughts on the "ladder of importance", i.e. the hierarchy of how much screentime characters get and the factors that influence it. On top of that, the post also includes an addendum to the topic of Sunny's unavoidable romance from two weeks ago. Because of how long it turned out to be, I've included a TL;DR summary for the sake of those who have better things to do than read my rambling. And I couldn't find any good sketch to use, so I decided to let Grunvald provide you with comfort while you wade through the endless walls of text!
Not every character will have the same amount of scenes because some characters are more present in the protagonist's personal sphere (e.g. they live with him) and/or they will be more involved in the main story (e.g. Trisha is the daughter of a powerful landowner > Becky is a barmaid pouring drinks). This "hierarchy" will fluctuate depending on what's currently happening in the story, but if people are interested, I could do a little graph for every new release that shows how much a character is present in that episode (overall presence, not just erotic scenes). It will change with introductions of new characters and such, but I think the next episode would resemble something like this:
Anasteya = Sunny > Trisha > Becky > Amaya* = Kara > Olevia (no screentime)
* - Amaya will have very little screentime in the next episode, but outside of that I'd place her at around Trisha's level, though the frequency of her presence will depend on whether you're friends with her.
As an addendum to the topic of Sunny's unavoidable romance, I want to steer the dynamic of their relationship towards being very close friends who are comfortable enough with each other to romantically/sexually explore rather than making Sunny the MC's mandatory girlfriend right from the start. This is to settle the dilemma of side romances, because Sunny as an unavoidable girlfriend means that side romances are unavoidable cheating. In other words, you will not be forced into a committed relationship with Sunny, but you'll still share romantic and intimate gestures. It might be tough to introduce that sort of dynamic organically, but I think if I manage it it is the best way to let the players "have the cake and eat it too".
The "Ladder of Importance"
Like I've said in the post regarding Sunny's canon romance, Elvensang is not a dating sim – this means that not every character in the game is created equal. The screentime of characters will fluctuate as the story goes on, but the emphasis on "the main story" in Elvensang comes at the cost of less time spent on the stories of individual characters (specifically every individual love interest). If you think about it in percentages, my general impression is that a dating sim (or a harem game I suppose) with five potential love interests would evenly divide 20% of its focus between each LI (not counting the usually very simple narrative "glue" that's holding the story together, e.g. you are a student in some school, you just moved into a new town, you inherited a manor with five maids from a distant relative, etc.). While I have nothing against that format, it means that there is usually not much room for personal growth of the protagonist or any sort of a substantial main plot.
In Elvensang, personal growth of the protagonist and the main plot are the primary focus (maybe some 70-80%). This does not mean that everything is just about the plot or what socks the protagonist decides to wear today, but rather that characters who are involved in the main plot and/or the protagonist's personal sphere will naturally receive more spotlight. Take Becky, for example; she may have a small role to play in how things unfold, and her own personal story still has to fit into the big picture - but at the end of the day, she's just a simple village girl. Now compare her to Trisha, whose father is likely second only to the Ealdorman in terms of power and influence within the region. Not to give any spoilers, but when certain things start happening in the main plot, Trisha is far more likely to be involved in the bigger picture than the girl serving drinks in the alehouse, which will inherently make it more organic for her to have more screentime. There is also the fact that Trisha makes active effort to become Sunny and MC's friend, which gives her another advantage by putting her closer to the personal sphere of the protagonist.
On that note, Trisha was due for an extra scene because she won the Patreon poll – but while I was writing, that additional "scene" extended to becoming nearly an additional day. This is just because of how easy it feels to write her into what is going on because of the aforementioned "proximity to the personal sphere of the protagonist". Had it been Becky or Olevia who won the Patreon poll, they would likely get no more than just one scene because I can't find a reasonable excuse to have either of them accompany the protagonist for half the day without derailing all of my plans for the episode.
Then there is Sunny and Anasteya, who are currently without a doubt the secondary protagonists of the story. That means that, on top of everything else, there's also going to be some focus on their own personal journey outside of their interactions with the protagonist (like Anasteya getting supplies in the village, or Sunny talking to Trisha last episode). Even if the player will get to make some narrative decisions from their POV, I wouldn't go as far as to say that this would make Elvensang a "multiple protagonist" game since that will be a relatively infrequent occasion. It's worth mentioning that some side characters will also have scenes from their POV, I think the key difference between Sunny/Anasteya POV and other characters' POV is that the former seeks to give some insight into Sunny and Anasteya's character and personal growth while the latter is used to provide context for the main plot – though it's not the best example given it's just a black screen with some text, but I think the final scene in the last episode would kind of fall into this category.
To sum things up - because they are the secondary main characters, and because of their importance to the main plot and proximity to the protagonist's personal sphere, Sunny and Anasteya will generally have the most screentime in Elvensang while with other characters it will vary depending on what's happening in the episode and the two abovementioned factors.
But since I mentioned Sunny...
An Addendum to Sunny's Unavoidable Romance
The above is one of the reasons why making Sunny's romance optional would be so time-consuming. Sure, making anything optional is always extra work, but the differences in branched out narrative can be relevant sporadically rather than constantly. For example, whether or not you romance Becky will be acknowledged in certain conversations, and potentially require different scenes in cases where Becky is involved, but that's all – some things would change, some things (like sex scenes) would be gone. But with Sunny, the difference between romance or no romance would change everything; personal scenes between her and the protagonist, scenes during main story events, scenes from her own POV – everything that has Sunny would change, which is an issue considering Sunny's hefty screentime. I would have to write a parallel storyline where everything is the same except one thing that has to be constantly acknowledged in the narrative. If the romance was optional, it would also heavily impact romantic/intimate scenes because they would not always happen – so they either could not contain important information or there would have to be another scene that conveys that same information.
All the same, it's really important to figure out the specifics of Sunny's romance as early as possible. The topic is not crucial because a few people (around 7 that I know of, including survey responses) are very opposed to Sunny's unavoidable romance, but because as a mandatory romance, it dilutes the narrative of other side romances; if you have no choice but to accept Sunny as your girlfriend, then you also have no choice but to cheat on her if you decide to pursue side romances. And that is not something I want.
It's difficult to calibrate because everyone can perceive romantic relationships differently, but my wish is to give players as much freedom as possible without negatively impacting the flow of what I want to do with the story. To that end, I want to alter my plans for implementing Sunny as a canon "romance" – instead of making it unavoidable that the MC and Sunny become a couple, I've considered making it "unavoidable" that they are understood as very close friends who are comfortable enough with one another to share romantic gestures and intimacy. In other words, you will have to share kisses (and more...) with Sunny no matter what, but the dynamic should have a different "vibe" without taking anything from the actual romance.
This presents a compromise between making Sunny's romance optional and making her a "mandatory girlfriend". All of their romantic and intimate scenes still happen, but the different dynamic creates opportunities rather than restrictions, making their relationship to be a lot more flexible than a black or white "you are either faithful to Sunny or you are a cheating asshole". Of course, the difficulty will be with organically introducing this dynamic – and I know that whether you call them a couple or "close friends with benefits" really doesn't make a difference in how they are actually perceived. It will all depend on the nuances of how well I manage to write the right vibe, but I would like to execute it in the spirit of two young elves experimenting and exploring their affection and sexuality, rather than entering a committed relationship right away.
Said commitment will be entirely up to the player. I considered making it possible to choose a committed relationship early on, which would effectively lock you out of most side romances - but that would be a terrible idea when majority of side romances have not even made an appearance yet. Instead, commitment to Sunny should be an indirect choice - and refusing side romances should present the opportunity to acknowledge that the protagonist is doing so because of being committed to Sunny.
That being said, I need to emphasize that you should not worry if you are interested in experiencing a genuine romance with Sunny. I will still have them do all of the things that I planned, but instead of a romance of a couple in a committed relationship, it will be presented as a romance between two young elves who are sort of figuring out who they are to one another. And on that note, I would like to implement something in the distant future that would reward players who refused side romances for the sake of being committed to Sunny. I am not sure what exactly it's going to be, but I won't make it that sort of a reward that really just feels like punishment for people who "dared" to explore side romances. I'd like it to be just a neat little cherry on top, something sweet and wholesome that neatly ties the romance together for people who were in it for the redhead all the way through.
I think it will pay off, especially in the long run since being really close friends will mean the protagonist does not have to go through the motions of breaking up with Sunny should a proper alternative main romantic interest rival to Sunny appear in the future.
Needless to say, these are just my projected plans for the future and things are still subject to change as I start writing the scenes that will establish that "close friends with benefits" dynamic.
But anyway, that's all I have for this week. If you have any questions, concerns or thoughts about either the ladder of importance or my addendum to Sunny's romance, please don't hesitate to reach out. And I promise to keep next week's post under 200 words (maybe).
I'll keep this progress log much shorter than last week, just to give your eyes a little rest before I tackle another potentially lengthy topic next time - the "ladder of importance" which dictates how much attention will be given to characters (i.e. how many scenes they will have) depending on how involved they are in the main story. But more on that next week!
I've spent most of last week writing up codex entries and practicing drawing with an online course I came across (the above picture is a value study from following along with the course). It's mostly focused on drawing (and painting) faces, offering a few different techniques on how to approach the process. I did a bit of that course like a month ago, but my desire to learn was reignited after a very long struggle while drawing Sunny's face from a certain angle, and then an even longer struggle trying to render it.
Needless to say, the drawing techniques are very much different from how I usually draw faces. I am not sure if the course will have an immediate impact on my drawing ability (and even if it does, you might not notice anyway since a lot of the art is already finished), but I am looking forward to testing it out. I think it will be difficult to employ the methods at first because much of the drawing in the course is from a reference (like the above pic), while the faces of Elvensang characters are, for the most part, from imagination. My feeling is that once I have enough mileage, I will be able to incorporate things I picked up while drawing real people into drawing fictional characters.
Anyway, that's it for now. As I said before, next week's log will be dedicated to discussing the ladder of importance where I'd like to share my thoughts on how I structure scenes for characters, be they the deuteragonists like Sunny/Anasteya, or a side character like Olevia.
Like I said last week, I'd like to dedicate this week's progress log to the topic of Sunny's romance. As you might know, Sunny's romance is mandatory/canon and I would like to discuss a few reasons as to why that is, as well as my thoughts on the potential problems that come with it – and my solutions for them.
To start things off, Sunny as a mandatory romance was not always the plan in the initial stages of Elvensang's development. While working on the prologue, I had every intention to include the possibility of making Sunny's growing affection for the protagonist unrequited. But that's when something occurred to me - what then? Sunny is the secondary main character (or tertiary, some might argue), so she will always have more scenes than any alternatives like Becky, Kara, or even Trisha. Sure, somewhere down the line another character might come up who will rival Sunny's importance in the main story, but that wouldn't be for a while. Essentially, it would have meant providing the options to have a fully developed romance with Sunny - or to have nothing. And I think you would really have to dislike Sunny to choose nothing over romance with her, and considering that she's going to be the secondary (tertiary) main character with a lot of time spent on her growth regardless, I don't think it would alleviate the issue for anyone who dislikes her that much.
On top of this, I suspect that many players who first come across Elvensang don't read any of my notes about the game before playing, let alone follow discussions in my discord. As such, adding the choice to decline Sunny's gestures of affection might lead them to believe that they are simply keeping their prospects open for future alternatives, not realizing that there are none – and that they are choosing nothing over something. And it is similar in the case of declining small gestures of affection even when the romance is mandatory as a whole. You don't really care for Sunny so you wouldn't mind having the option to skip small scenes like hugging her, kissing her on the cheek etc. – but to some, this would create a source of frustration when the romance carries on even though they've repeatedly declined gestures of affection like that.
In that case, why not simply add an alternative, right? Why not flesh out a romance with another character such as Becky, to such extent that she becomes a viable counterpart to Sunny's romance? Sure, but then someone doesn't like Becky too much either. Fine, I'll add another fully fledged out romance, and then another - until I've covered the entire scope of character archetypes who each have the same amount of romantic scenes as Sunny's own romance. And then... that's it. I had turned Elvensang into a dating sim with no time left to work on the actual story.
At the end of the day, time and inspiration are very important factors in the creative process; it's all a matter of getting the right idea and having enough time to execute it properly. Thus, if a character is fitting for the role of a primary romantic interest and I have enough time and inspiration to weave it into the narrative, I am not opposed to having two primary romantic interests, but it has to come organically - not just adding additional main romances for its own sake.
That being said, making Sunny's romance mandatory brings up the question of how to handle the existence of side romances, and I will admit that I do not have a perfect answer to that yet. I am not too interested in derailing Elvensang into a teenage drama, exploring Sunny's anguish as the protagonist endlessly cheats on her - and neither would it be fair for the players to have to eat shit for being unfaithful to Sunny when they never had the option to decline her advances. I am still considering possibilities of how to deal with it, but I am determined to make this aspect of their relationship fully in the player's hands. I think it helps to think of Sunny as more of the protagonist's soulmate rather than his girlfriend - but I also think that using any label is ultimately meaningless, perhaps even detrimental to figuring out their relationship - it should be defined by the nuances of their actions rather than a single word.
It's important to consider the story's longevity as well. Some of the side romances will be longer with potential impact on the main story, while some of them will be nothing more than an occasional fling. But while side romances come and go, Sunny will (almost) always be around - and dealing with her input whenever the protagonist is about to, or already has fornicated with someone other than her might be tedious for me to write, and even more tedious for the player to experience over and over. As such, I think the solution to this "issue" has to be woven into the narrative in the following few episodes in a way that you never really have to deal with it again. Sure, there might be a mention of Sunny not being too thrilled, or maybe she will ask for assurances that she is still your "main girl" after the fact - but I don't want to commit an entire scene to talk about the same thing over and over every time. The key thing here is that even though Sunny is the main romantic interest, side romances are not about her.
So, the issue at hand is creating harmony between Sunny's romance and side romances. This harmony is represented by her general attitude towards the protagonist being romantically/intimately involved with other characters, and it could range from reluctant acceptance to a closeted guilty pleasure (i.e. Sunny as a cuckquean), but it should always be something that the player builds up in their relationship through choices just as other aspects of their relationship (e.g. making Sunny explore bisexuality, and the possibility of a limited polyamory in the case of some girls). One thing I want to avoid is the protagonist keeping his affairs a secret from Sunny, since that's a temporary solution that fails in more ways than one; the protagonist becomes a cheating asshole and at some point down the line, Sunny might find out that he's been lying to her (which would be inevitable unless I took the easy way out and made her conveniently dumb). Either way, writing out the narrative of constant guilt-trips for cheating on Sunny, as well as the teenage drama that would ensue, is not something I want to get into.
One option would have been to tone things down between them – keep them as best friends for a little longer while the protagonist has a chance to fool around with other girls. While it would have been an option, it has its own cons - it dilutes the romance with Sunny while doing nothing but delay the inevitable because the same problem would arise once their relationship is fully ignited. Not to mention that it's a little late for them to slow down with the current state of affairs in the story. That being said, I think one tool that will help steer the narrative towards harmony between Sunny's romance and side romances is Trisha. Considering her growing friendship with Sunny/the MC and the fact that she will be a side romance herself, she is in a great position to serve as a catalyst for helping shape the dynamic of their relationship.
I feel like certain options (like the Sunny cuckquean arc I mentioned above) might require a little suspension of disbelief, and perhaps some who prefer a pure, wholesome romance might be opposed to an idea like that – as well as other things like Sunny becoming bisexual etc. While there's only so much I can do to alleviate the need for suspension of disbelief, I think the key is to make anything out of the ordinary be a result of the protagonist's active choices. From his perspective, it shouldn't be some conscious elaborate scheme to make Sunny into a cuckquean/bisexual, but the players should be in on what's going on while they make choices that have the protagonist put in active effort to make something happen, while having to do nothing if they are opposed to it. The difference between putting in effort to make Sunny a certain way and putting in effort to prevent her from being a certain way is strictly narrative, but I think it is very important nonetheless. If Sunny has lesbian tendencies by default, it might spoil the experience for players who have to actively convince her against it, and the same goes for just about anything else beyond a pure vanilla romance.
Regardless, nothing is set in stone just yet, and it's important to me that the development of Sunny's romance is organic above all else. I do have more thoughts to share, but I think I've been rambling on for long enough - so thank you for reading if you've made it all the way through. As always, if you have any thoughts of your own that you'd like to share, do not hesitate to do so!
I don't have much to share in this (week late) weekly progress log, aside from the fact that I bought a new drawing tablet, so I've spent much of the last two weeks drawing quite a bit. I'd like to increase the text:image ratio in the next episode and the drawing tablet was a great investment for that. The tablet I had been using was a little bugger for 50 bucks and though it has served me well, it is a great comfort to have more drawing space than 6x3 inches.
The picture above is an Elvensang-unrelated piece I drew from a Vikings: Valhalla reference. I mostly liked the lighting in the scene, but I don't think I'll finish it seeing as it was just a little something for practice.
In other news, I've pretty much committed to postponing my diploma thesis for the end of June, so I have plenty of time to work on the next episode in full swing.
And that's all I have for now. In the next week's progress log, I'd like to talk a bit about Sunny as an unavoidable romance - it is a topic that has come up a few times, be it in the survey or elsewhere, so it might be worth discussing for the sake of future reference. If you have any thoughts on the subject (especially if you are not too thrilled by it), do feel free to share them here or on Discord.
Love you all,
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