Postmortem means after death…
I wouldn't call your game dead immediately after releasing the full version… And your studio seems to be still active, too, according to your closing statement.
EDDA Cafe - Postmortem
Our first game, EDDA Cafe, has finally been released after months of development. We hope this post mortem can be useful for other and aspiring devs in the development of their own product. Long text ahead so take your time, and we wish you best of luck with your journey!
As you might have known, EDDA Cafe circled around a mysterious cafe that allows its patrons to travel back to their desired moment they want to relieve. In the making of EDDA Cafe, our writer, Nami, was inspired by a novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi titled Before the Coffee Gets Cold which also has the same premise. At the start, Nami was going to go with just the romance-drama genre, but the team leader prefers to have some fantasy element in the game, and that’s when we settled with the concept of urban fantasy or magical realism of EDDA Cafe. Both of them tried to make something out of the box, not only for the story line, but for the artwork and the concept itself.
The name of EDDA itself came from the Poetic Edda, the modern name for an untitled collection of Old Norse anonymous poems. EDDA Cafe itself is far from anything that resembles Norse mythology as Nami’s interpretation of Edda while developing the game was that Edda is the world and its many stories.
At first there’s only the team leader and Nami working together to cook the concept of EDDA Cafe. When the concept was ready, we then started looking for a programmer and editor position in a local visual novel enthusiast Discord group. That’s where we found MadScientist and Clover Zero.
Why local? None of us are native English speakers and we simply thought it’s easier to communicate in local language with the team to reduce the possibility of miscommunication. EDDA Cafe was developed with English language in mind, so the decision of an all-local team was not without hurdles. Here’s where Leporine, our English native-speaker editor, came to the rescue.
The recruitment was started in February, just a few days after the start of Valentine VN Jam 2021. Around the middle of the month, MadScientist asked Josh Portillo to help voice Taku, the waiter character in EDDA Cafe. We asked for Leporine’s help at the end of development, when the script was done.
We’re fortunate that the members of our team happen to have skill in multiple disciplines, like MadScientist who can design UI and Nami who can edit audio albeit limited. It’s the reason why we can make do with just 4 people. In the future, we hope to recruit a composer/audio designer so we can create original soundtracks and better sound effects for our next game.
Development Phase - Art Assets
Everything starts from the concept.
As we’ve mentioned before, team leader and Nami both worked on the game’s concept first before doing any production. This process took loosely 1 month before the jam started (both of them were working full time while developing the game). We decided from the start that we don’t want to use generic anime manga style for EDDA Cafe because it takes longer to draw and it’s not as unique. At the time, Nami suggested several artworks and a webtoon titled Super Secret by eon that became one of the art style references for EDDA Cafe.
It took several tries until we came out with the current design of Mina, the main character of EDDA Cafe. When we're finally satisfied with her color palette, we found this adorable artwork on Pinterest (which sadly has been reposted many times. If any of you know the origin of the artwork, please let us know so we can credit the artist properly.) that became the base reference for background artworks in the game.
To cut back production time, we decided to remove any shadows and highlights (except on the character’s hair) from all of the art assets. Watercolor texture was added to make the art assets feel less flat. Limited color palette, while limiting the mood you can create, was beneficial in short production time and it tied everything together closely.
Development Phase - Writing
Our writer, Nami, is an amateur writer that mostly posts her works on Fanfiction.net and previously has done some work in an indie game project as one of the scriptwriters. Working on a visual novel however, is a first for her and there were a lot of tings to learn such as writing in first person POV rather than her usual third person POV, and having to write most of the story in dialogue. Nami worked closely with the team leader who also acted as brainstorming partner and occasional editor/writer.
The total word count of EDDA Cafe is approximately 12k words. We managed to finish ⅔ part of the story (including editing) in around 3 weeks, and those parts became the demo that we submitted for the jam, while we worked on the rest on and off in the next few months due to real life responsibilities and work. The last ⅓ part of the story was the hardest to write as we wanted to make sure that the conflicts in Mina’s heart could be resolved in a satisfying manner, both for us and for the readers.
While writing, aside from the usual proofreading work such as checking for grammars and typos, Clover Zero also helped us translating some lines into English as some of the initial writings were in Indonesian. Some sentences were also changed or streamlined to flow more smoothly. Certain parts in the beginning were moved from their initial position in order to give more impact.
Development Phase - Programming and Scripting
EDDA Cafe was meant to be a traditional visual novel, meaning there are no game mechanics involved aside from picking a choice, so Ren’Py was chosen for its simplicity. Ren’Py default user interface (UI), however, felt boring and we felt that we could modify it deeper to make it match more with the story and artworks. For that reason, MadScientist volunteered to do an overhaul (complete modification) to the EDDA Cafe’s UI.
MadScientist has published her own visual novel in 2020 titled ALLBLACK Phase 1, and has been involved in several visual novel jams like Heart’s Blight, Eternal Winter and My 3rd Date with My Cyber Girlfriend as a UI designer. Designing UI for her is one thing, but programming it was another thing. It was her first time using the imagebutton approach instead of an imagemap like she did in Heart's Blight, so EDDA Cafe was truly her first experience messing around with new things. Fortunately, it works well and there are no bugs complaints so far.
In game-textbox and interface
Scripting was pretty standard, but this time the sprites were programmed using Layered Image instead of individual image, to conserve more space and flexibility to add animation like eye and mouth blinking. There was quite a problem in the early phase of implementation, because of the amount of Mina’s expression (40+), it confused the programmer as she needs to look down every expression component while scripting. For example, imagine that the sprites of show mina happy has to be written like this every time in the script:
show mina_default eyes open eyebrow rise mouth wide_open
There is nothing that could be done other than : 1) writing it manually every time, or 2) defining the combination of expressions (eg. mina happy = eye open + eyebrow rise + mouth wide open). The first option was exhausting, while the chance of mistakes in combining each element in the second option was huge. In the end, because of the limited production time, MadScientist compromised the animation and asked the artist to provide a set of expressions in one .png image to make the scripting easier.
Animation and effect were the main concern of MadScientist since her first visual novel, ALLBLACK Phase 1, also uses a lot of effects. While it’s not an action visual novel, EDDA Cafe still could benefit from some little animation like snow falling, water drip and sprite movement to make it more lively-looking. We really appreciate MadScientist’s attempt to play along with the animation as it improves the overall quality of the game.
To sum it up, EDDA Cafe was again, a trial and error attempt on making a slightly more polished and effective visual novel than MadScientist’s predecessor works, but fortunately it works well in the end.
Development Phase - Polishing
We’re ashamed to tell you that sound effects and soundtracks were thought at the later part of the development (sorry to audio people!). We found great royalty free piano tunes that we thought matched with the story along with some sound effects that we found on various websites. Some sound effects had to be tweaked a bit, but overall we’re pretty happy with the sounds that we’ve found.
Other than that, the polishing phase mostly consisted of proofreading and making sure that things such as sprite movement, audio, and sprite expression were aligned with the character’s dialogue. The game UI also underwent a slight change in mobile/Android version to make it more convenient for user, such as simplifying some buttons and increasing their size in hope that people playing in small screen can push the buttons without any difficulty.
EDDA Cafe interface on mobile device. The button is simplified and increased in size
We also had to make sure to compress all assets as efficiently as possible in order to reduce the file size. There's a 100 MB file size limit on Google Playstore without uploading .apk expansion, so we are aiming for our build to be less than that. Unfortunately even after converting all image files to .webp and all audio files to .mp3, the final build always exceeds 100 MB due to Ren’Py huge library size, so there is nothing we could do about that.
None of us has experience with marketing hahah~ however we did try several approaches like promoting our work via Twitter, Facebook and visual novel related servers in Discord such as DevTalk and Ren’py. We also released some devlogs that inform people about the progress of the development, participated in twitter developer hashtags such as #screenshotsaturday, and shared our works whenever we found the chance.
Only around the end of the development of the game was the trailer made because it was needed for a local game showcase event. Along the way, the team leader also made promotional artworks that was used on various occasions, and some chibi artworks for countdown before the final release day, which we think helped in promoting our game. We also made sure to reply to all messages and said thank you whenever someone mentioned our game.
VN and indie game community also has twitter hashtags such as #vnlink, #vndev, and #indiegame, so most of our posts on twitter make use of those hashtags. Surprisingly, we got a lot of good feedback from everyone and that really motivated us to finish the game until the end.
Reviews and Future Plans
EDDA Cafe was planned as a standalone story. While we can expand the story and make a spin off or other story that still circle around EDDA Cafe in the future, the story of Mina and EDDA Cafe ends here. We did get an offer from a certain publisher to create special episodes of EDDA Cafe, but it’s still a plan for the future.
We cooperated with Prisma Localization to translate EDDA Cafe to 4 different languages: French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Additionally, one of the community members of Visual Novel Project Indonesia also offered to do Indonesian translation. Please look forward to its completion!
Aside from that, we’re pleasantly surprised that EDDA Cafe got an article by IGN SEA and visual novel-focused media such as BlerdyOtome and VNGameDen, and got into top 40 games that featured on local game showcase, Game Prime 2021. At first, we didn't really have any expectations for EDDA Cafe since it was a small debut game from us, a nameless studio. But then, to this day, EDDA Cafe has been downloaded for over 5000 times on Itch.io and 7000 times on Google Play. We just couldn’t thank you enough for everyone’s interest in our game.
We’ll work hard so EDDA Cafe won’t be the last game that comes out from our small studio. Please keep supporting us in the future!
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Postmortem means after death…
Doesn't necessarily mean like that. Postmortem games analysis can include an entire outline of the game’s history, team goals, and anything related to game development. It gives the developer more understanding about what things works and doesn't, and hopefully they can learn useful things to be implemented in the future.
At least that's my understanding.
You literally said nothing relating to the use of the word postmortem.
The developer reply
ing to your reply was far more relevant by including what postmortem means in game development; which I was not aware was different than how it is otherwise used ; and I wished they replied to my comment directly, but I saw their reply in the end so it ultimately doesn't matter.
Well sorry if my wording is off. I am actually answering in behalf on Mushroomallow too, as I am one of the member. Hopefully it is clear for you now.
Writing project postmortem is a common practice in the game dev community from what we've known as it helps, not only us but other devs as well, analyze what's working and what's not working in the development process. It also signified that the the project's development is done and that there won't be anymore mayor updates in the future.