A Hankering to Waddle
I’ve had a story about my friend Bernard and his aquarium adventures bouncing around my head for a couple years. I slapped together a quick proof-of-concept at one point to test out an art style inspired by “Paper Mario” in Unity. I liked how it looked, but it was hacky since Unity’s support for 2D sprites in a 3D context was limited at the time and tackling a top-tier engine like Unity for a shorter game felt like overkill and bogged down my motivation.
Fast forward to 2020. My wife has been playing visual novels on her iPhone for a long time. She and I I have played through the majority of “The Arcana: A Mystic Romance,” but I eventually gave up out of frustration with the pay-to-play key system and long wait times between chapter releases. These days, she’s particularly fond of “Mr. Love: Queen’s Choice.” I tried “Mr. Love” briefly (probably too briefly), didn’t latch on, and pretty much swore off visual novels as a result.
We’ve been playing a lot of Nintendo Switch lately and I checked the eShop on a whim one night for visual novels to send my wife’s way. “World End Syndrome” caught my eye. I wound up trying the demo myself and absolutely couldn’t put it down. “World End Syndrome,” being a console game, doesn’t have any DLC or in-app-purchase mechanics like the iOS games I’d tried previously and that allowed me to just lose myself and go at my own pace. Twenty hours later, I’ve seen every ending the game has to offer and have almost completed all the trophy quests. It was well worth the purchase.
Some late-night Googling led me down the rabbit hole of visual novel development. It’s a thriving community with a great set of tools and resources. I was happily surprised by how beginner friendly everything seemed. I’ve got too much experience using open-source software with poor communities and lacking documentation. It brings my heart joy to find a game design discipline that’s doing pretty well with pulling in new creators.
Now that I’m a visual novel addict, it seems to me like it’s finally time to tell Bernard’s story. ”Waddle About Walking Tours” is open for business!
Since visual novels don’t need physics engines or complex animations, they’re faster and more cathartic to develop. After some research, I settled on using the Ren’Py Visual Novel Engine for my project. Ren’Py‘s been around for about fifteen years and has a good community and development team. It’s Python-based which isn’t my absolute favorite, but it’s incredibly full featured, runs on all major platforms (Raspberry Pi included), and is open-source. Check, check, and check.
To create art for “Waddle About Walking Tours,” I’m using my iPad Pro 12.9” and Procreate. I export my drawings to the iOS Files app and then upload manually to GitHub via the Safari web browser. It’s not a perfect workflow, but it gets the job done and has allowed me to crank out a lot of visual novel graphics that I’m proud of.
For automated builds, I created an open-source Docker container called arch-renpy-build that utilizes renutil to build Ren’Py binaries for Windows, macOS, and Linux and then uploads them to GitHub via ghr and to itch.io with the itch.io butler. It’s already saved me hours. Combined with the itch.io desktop app, all it takes to push an update to our players is a PR merge. The Docker container works on any CI/CD provider, but I’m using CircleCI.
To add some challenge, I’m doing all development on an overclocked Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. I’ve historically been a macOS user, but carrying only an iPad Pro with me is too nice to justify also carrying a MacBook. When I’m at home, my Pi is plugged into a widescreen HDMI monitor. When I’m out and about, the Pi 4 has an “On The Go” (OTG) mode that allows it to plug into my iPad Pro’s USB-C port for power and an SSH connection. All my build scripts and dotfiles are hosted on GitHub.
“Waddle About Walking Tours” will be CompyCore’s first commercial game. Compared to “The Staff of Lewis,” which has been in development for multiple years and uses a custom game architecture, working on “Waddle About Walking Tours” has been incredibly satisfying and therapeutic. Our hope here at CompyCore is that releasing “Waddle About Walking Tours” will help lift spirits in this time of world turmoil.
Waddle well, friends.
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