The Dragon's Last Flight: NaNoRenO 2019 Postmortem

The Dragon's Last Flight is a fantasy visual novel game that was initially conceived as a NaNoRenO project. The player is cast as Marius, a weathered old dragonslayer sent by a strange woman to kill what he suspects to be the last of the dragons. It's up to the player to guide Marius's choices and, in doing so, determine the fate of dragon and dragonslayer alike. I wrote and developed the game, and my good friend Odd Lazdo illustrated it.

Being too large a project to completely finish in just a month, our submission to NaNoRenO turned out to be a free demo for the game, rather than the full release. Here's what we did right--and what we're hoping to do with the rest of the game.

What went right

NaNoRenO 2019 was my first time participating in a game jam of any kind. (The closest I'd come in the past was NaNoWriMo, a novel writing challenge that takes place in November.) It was also my first time working on a visual novel project--my previously published interactive fiction project was text-only. It was also my first time working in Ren'Py.

And yet, somehow it all worked out!

  • Before switching to coding, I managed to write about 45 pages, or 16,500 words, of script. (This includes some minor notes but no actual code--that didn't come till later!) I'm usually slowed down by migraines and other obstacles of daily life, but this March I got lucky--only suffering two migraines the entire month. (In the past, I've typically gotten around one or more a week.)
  • It took me about 3 days or so of reading through the basic online Ren'Py documentation and watch enough video tutorials to feel prepared enough to actually start coding. At the time, I could practically feel the minutes slipping through my fingers, but looking back, I think focusing those three days on learning, rather than diving in headfirst and trying to learn it all on the go, probably saved me time in the long run. And no bugs seem to have cropped up so far, so--hooray!
  • One of my favorite things was receiving new sketches or art for the game from Odd Lazdo. I haven't worked with illustrators much in the past (despite knowing several pretty talented artists personally), so seeing the characters and settings I was writing about come to life in full color was a real treat for me. And she did such lovely work!
  • I'm very proud of our original dragon design. I admit, when I first started writing, I initially imagined our dragon in the typical European style so common to Western fantasy stories. But Odd Lazdo had other, more creative ideas, and from the moment I saw the first sketch of what our world's dragons could look like, I was hooked.
  • It's also really gratifying to see that, in spite of having absolutely no time for proper editing, our game appears to have very few errors in the text, if any, and that people seem to be enjoying it pretty well. It's nerve-wracking enough putting something of your own creation out in the world when you've had time to polish it up, but doubly so if it's all but a dressed-up rough draft! Luckily, we've had nothing but positive feedback so far, which tells me we must have done something right.

What we're still working on

NaNoRenO was fun, but definitely a challenge. While we were able to adapt our strategy and workflow quickly enough to avoid any major issues and meet the end-of-month deadline, our noses would grow long indeed if we said we didn't face our share of struggles.

  • Though we got our game submitted on time in the end, it was a pretty close call. Looking back, I think we may have both been a little overly optimistic about how much time we had and how much work our concept would really entail. Even as simple a premise as that of The Dragon's Last Flight becomes a lot more work the moment you decide to let your narrative branch, both for writers and for artists. Now that we're working outside of the NaNoRenO time frame, I think it's important that we be more realistic in our own expectations. I've slowed down my drafting to a more sustainable pace, while Odd Lazdo is taking a break from illustrating to work on her own solo project and deal with some important real-life stuff. Rather than try and rush through the rest of the project, I expect we'll take our time to get it done right--and within a time frame that's better suited to our regular lives.
  • Music was a particular challenge for me. I've never used music in any of my projects before, and it turned out to be one of those things that sounded easy but wound up being pretty difficult to pull off. Not only did it take me forever to find the right music (some of which I'm still not 100% convinced is actually "right"), I also struggled with timing and leveling the volume across different tracks. It's definitely something I'm looking to improve upon once I dive back into the programming side of development.
  • I wanted sound effects for our game as well as music, but wound up scrapping that idea for the demo in order to get it finished in time. But I am planning to incorporate sound in the full game--once I teach myself how to do it. ;)

NaNoRenO 2019, summarized

In short, NaNoRenO 2019 was a blast. A hectic, sometimes stressful, certainly educational, slightly unexpected blast. I learned a lot--not just about how to program with Ren'Py, but about how to write for a visual medium, how to match art and sound to words, and how to set a realistic schedule for myself for future VN projects. Because if there's one other thing I've learned this year, it's that I definitely want to make more visual novels in the future.

Cheers to all our fellow gamedevs and NaNo jammers, and a very warm thank you to everyone supporting The Dragon's Last Flight through their words, videos, shares, and follows. We'd be making this project together even if no one wanted it--but your kindness and generosity has touched us both and given us so much more motivation to keep on keeping on. We only hope our finished game will live up to all of your wonderful expectations!

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