Repost – The Creation of Aurora’s Nightmare

Being a writer and game designer, I’m always coming up with ideas for different projects.  The majority, I discard for one reason or another.  Maybe they’re too generic, fail to hold my attention, lack that special spark, or just plain aren’t good.  It’s fairly typical for creative types. Talk to any serious writer, designer, artist, song writer, etc. and they’re bound to have a huge collection of ideas that just weren’t good enough to finish.  But there’s the occasional idea that catches on and really sticks in my head.  At which point I’ll spend the following hours, days, or weeks mulling over it and further developing it before deciding what I want to do with it.  Aurora’s Nightmare was the same…

I tend to remember when I came up with most of what I consider my best ideas.  The basic story of Aurora’s Nightmare first began developing either shortly before or shortly after I first moved to Arizona for college (which would put it in late 2004 or early 2005).  Like a couple other stories ideas of mine, it came from a dream.  I remember two scenes from the dream.  One is an interaction between Ars and Aurora, which really defined his relationships with both her and Tia.  It’s still in the game all these years later, and pretty much unchanged.  The other scenes, which is just as vital, is a conversation between Ars and a certain cat (yes, a conversation with a cat, I’ll talk more about said cat in a future post) which contained a lot of the critical backstory for the world of Lucerna and some of its greatest mysteries.  It too has survived mostly unchanged.  I have a feeling a Nightmare showed up somewhere in the dream as well, since I had their basic appearance in mind pretty much from the beginning, but I can’t remember any details about that so I’m not entirely sure.

So anyway, I woke up with a couple of very intriguing scenes replaying in my mind.  Over the course of the day (during which I remember shopping for a cellphone), I was working to put the pieces together.  How exactly were those two scenes connected?  What did the world look like (I only glimpsed a couple of areas in my dream)?  Where did the story go after that?

By the end of the day, I had a rough outline planned out for an entire novel which would tell the story of Ars, Tia, Aurora, and the cat.  It was a rather cool storyline though, in many ways, very different from the types of things I normally wrote.  Since I was already in the middle of writing another novel at the time, I kept the story of Aurora’s Nightmare in mind, but shelved it for later.  I do that a lot since, if I switched projects every time I came up with a cool idea, I’d never finish anything.

Over the years I thought about Aurora’s Nightmare occasionally but whenever it was time to pick a new project to work on, I always pushed it down the list since it wasn’t part of the series I was working on, or I wasn’t sure about doing something in that style, or I wanted to focus more on video games than novels.  But then…then I had an idea…

Fast forward to spring of 2011.  I was between jobs (having recently returned from my second stint of teaching in Japan) and the game I was working on, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, was stalled due to my programmer getting a new fulltime job.  I was looking to start developing a new game but, since Car Washer had suffered so many delays due to lost programmers, I wanted to make a game where, if necessary, I could do all the work myself, without relying on contractors.  At the same time, I was on a big visual novel kick.  I first discovered and fell in love with the genre a couple years before, shortly after my first stay in Japan, thanks to Type Moon’s amazing Fate/Stay Night.  And, while back in Japan in 2011, I made sure to track down quite a lot of other visual novels I’d been wanting.

With my writing background, a visual novel sounded like the perfect project for me.  Even better, I wouldn’t need a programmer and, if necessary, could handle the art and sound on my own (in the end though, I did hire people who are much more skilled in those areas than I am).  I thought about creating an entirely new story for my visual novel but decided to review my current collection of ideas first and see if any of them would be a good fit.  In the end, I had two stories that I thought could make good visual novels, Aurora’s Nightmare being one of them.  It won out for a couple of reasons.  First, it was the shorter and less complex of the two.  Second, I’d already written the other story as a regular novel (it isn’t currently available, but will likely be published sometime in the future) and, while I think it could be adapted into a good visual novel, it would be even better as an action RPG.

Since I originally planned Aurora’s Nightmare as a traditional novel, I needed to make a number of changes to the story in order to convert it into a visual novel.  Namely, there wasn’t enough of it.  An unchanging linear story is all well and good for a novel, but a visual novel needs lots of places where the player can make choices and those choices have to change things.  Some of that is pretty easy to do.  Make the right choice and the story continues, make the wrong choice and it’s game over.  In other cases, I took what might have normally been a single conversation and broke it apart into several different topics so the player can decide which one to pursue.

But that’s all relatively minor.  To make a good visual novel, you need decisions that drastically change the story.  Aurora’s Nightmare now has three distinct story paths (each containing a number of smaller decisions).  The first follows the plot of the original novel pretty closely but the others take things in very different directions.  Planning them out involved a lot more than just thinking where the story could changes.  Tia, for example, had a relatively small role in the original story, despite her importance.  So I made sure to give her a much larger one in the other story paths.  Of course, giving her a larger role meant that I needed to spend a lot more time developing her as a character (personality, motivations, etc.) as well.  It meant more work, but she’s a stronger character because of it.

Tia isn’t the only character who got a major increase in screen time and two entirely new characters were created as well.  Then there’s the world building.  While the original story revealed the mysteries of Lucerna, it only covered the basics.  Having additional story paths allowed me to dig much deeper into the truth behind the world and characters, adding a number of additional twists and elements which will be progressively revealed as players progress through the game.  While completing a single story path will leave you with a “complete” story with a satisfying conclusion, you’ll need to play through all three routes to truly understand the world and characters.  I wish I could give an example, but I’m trying to avoid heavy spoilers in this blog.

In the end, converting Aurora’s Nightmare into a visual novel hasn’t been an easy process, but it’s allowed me to greatly expand the story, creating a far deeper and more engaging experience than I could have done with a regular book.