How to Make a Visual Novel in Unreal Engine 4

A little over a year ago, I set out to complete a strange task: I wanted to build a visual novel in Unreal Engine 4. To some people this seemed like using a rifle to shoot a fly. I was even prepared to admit they were right. But once I got deeper into the UE4 engine, I didn’t regret a single thing.

Why UE4?

The short answer to why I love using Unreal Engine 4 is this: the engine can accomplish just about anything I imagine, and it can do so quickly. It’s a wonderful engine to work with and it’s capable of so much.

That said, Ren’Py is still a wonderful tool to create traditional visual novels. If you don’t plan on adding 3D elements or complex mini-games to your narrative, then there’s probably no reason for you to switch to UE4. BUT if you want to expand the boundaries of a traditional visual novel and set yourself apart from the other VNs out there, I can assure you that UE4 might be a great tool to accomplish that.

Screenshot from our UE4 visual novel, Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament

How to Get Started?

When I started my first VN project in UE4, I struggled to find helpful resources. Not many people had tried to create a traditional VN system within UE4. I found a VN marketplace plugin, but it only functioned for very small-scale projects, and was completely unwieldy in terms of handling a large script or rewrites. So after a lot of searching and banging my head against the computer screen, I set about building my own system from scratch.

Now, one game and many months later, I want to share what I’ve learned with the game dev community at large. I’ve started a video tutorial series that will help you build the foundation of a VN system within UE4. This system is designed to handle large-scale projects and gameplay elements beyond just dialogue. You can begin by writing your script in a typical Open Office or Word document, then convert it into a spreadsheet and import it into UE4.

Watch the Video Tutorials Online

Part 1: https://youtu.be/qj_6dfzqaO0

  1. Create your text scene in a spreadsheet (4:05 )
  2. Create a structure in UE4 (8:45 )
  3. Import your first scene as a datatable (13:02 )

Part 2: https://youtu.be/KuHardkG37M

  1. Create a Scene Template Blueprint (1:09)
  2. Create an NPC character actor to launch the scene (2:56)
  3. Enabe click events (6:30)
  4. Spawn Scene Template when NPC is clicked (9:15)
  5. Feed the datatable rows into the Scene Template (13:57)

Part 3: https://youtu.be/ljaf1PHGq1Y

  1. Track the scene array with a Row variable (1:36)
  2. Create a widget to display the dialogue (4:08)
  3. Set text variables within the widget (9:18)
  4. Create widget from Scene Template and track as variable (11:14)
  5. Set widget variables from the Scene Template Blueprint (13:18)

Part 4: https://youtu.be/w7LxY8fZzdc

  1. Add dialogue widget to viewport (0:44)
  2. Track whether the row is finished displaying (2:11)
  3. Add an input to advance the text (4:26)
  4. Increase row number for next line (5:23)
  5. Enable input on the Scene Template (7:00)
  6. End scene and destroy actors when scene is finished (7:58)

Support us on Kickstarter!

In the tutorial series created so far, I don’t yet get to branching dialogue or character sprites. But if people find this first series useful, I may go on to create tutorials about that later. You can also find my posts about the VN system on the UE4 Forums.

Meanwhile, we’re running a Kickstarter for our current visual novel project, Echoes of the Fey – Fantasy Visual Novel Series! If you enjoy my work or find my resources helpful, please support us!

Kickstarter Campaign for Echoes of the Fey!

Woodsy Studio has launched its first Kickstarter campaign!

Support us on Kickstarter!

You can read all about the campaign via the link, but here are some highlights.

Our mission

Malcolm and I (Jenny) began our careers as devoted storytellers, which is why we both went to college for screenwriting, and have each published several novels. Whenever we make a game, our goal is to create a unique, compelling narrative experience. With Echoes of the Fey, we set out to create a high fantasy setting with a dash of steampunk flavor and a full dose of detective noir.

The Last Sacrament will be bigger in scope than anything we’ve made yet. We’re building the game using Unreal Engine 4. This might seem like an unusual choice for a visual novel. But UE4 allows us to create complex 3D environments and multiple camera angles for each scene, resulting in a more cinematic experience.

We’re also adding a unique gameplay element in the form of a mini-game called RiftRealms. This is a tabletop game that exists in the world of Echoes of the Fey, and as Sofya you can play with other characters. We thought this would be an interesting way to showcase each character’s personality based on how they treat you as a Dungeon master. It also explores the question: what do people fantasize about in a fantasy world?

Story

Meanwhile, Sofya has a lot of work to do as a private investigator. Sofya’s childhood love and the Emperor’s daughter, Katerina, seeks her protection from threats near the border. Katerina’s rival, Nikolai, needs a dangerous drug stolen from the powerful Krovakyn Church and uses blackmails to force Sofya’s assistance.

Nikolai wants a dose of the Sacrament, a mysterious substance from the Krovakyn Church that can cure illnesses and extend lifespans. But repeated use of the Sacrament causes strange side effects, such as hallucinations and physical deformities. Nikolai wants to give the Sacrament to his grandmother, who has already received the maximum dosage allowed.

It’s up to you, the player, to solve each case and determine its outcome. Can you track down Katerina’s enemy? And if you manage to steal the Sacrament, what will you choose to do with it?

You also have several romance options in The Last Sacrament. If you proceed carefully, you can develop a romantic relationship with Katerina, Arkady, Nikolai, or Heremon.

We’re really excited to share this story with you. But we need your help to make it happen. About 75% of the game has already been developed, but your support will enable us to push to the finish line and add all the features we envision.

Our heartfelt thanks goes to anyone who chooses to support us in this endeavor. Let’s make our dreams for The Last Sacrament come true!

 
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miraclr: Divine Dating Sim Out NOW

Available FREE for mobile devices!

Download from App Store  Download miraclr on Google Play  miraclr Available at Amazon

What is miraclr?

miraclr is a comedic workplace romance starring the biblical (and apocryphal) archangels, told  in a mobile office collaboration app.

Play as a human recruited to assist the archangels of heaven with the creation and implementation of the first true miracle in over 400 years. Because you can’t visit them in their office, you are  given access to miraclr, an app used by the Archangels for intra-office messaging. It looks a little like Slack, with similarly structured channels and PMs.

After you start miraclr, you can choose preferences for morning, midday, and evening meetings with the angels. From then on, miraclr will unfold (mostly) in real-time, whether or not you have the game open. Your co-workers (the Archangels) will talk among themselves, ask for your input, and private message you for both work and personal reasons. Your timely responses (or lack thereof) will affect how the story unfolds and romantic relationships.

Read the story behind miraclr‘s creation

Available FREE for mobile devices!

Download from App Store  Download miraclr on Google Play  miraclr Available at Amazon

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Making a Miracle with “miraclr”

Jenny Gibbons here, gearing up to tell you an honest and not-so-glamorous tale about the world of indie game development.

Going full-time indie

About nine months ago, my full-time job told me that I had to choose between keeping my job or “ceasing activity” with Woodsy Studio, my own company. It was an impossible decision. I had already poured years of my heart and soul into my work at Woodsy Studio, and furthermore, my husband–Malcolm Pierce–had recently joined me as a creative partner. All our dreams lay with Woodsy Studio. I could not give that up. But the studio was not yet making enough money to sustain itself, either.

Malcolm and I were lucky in that we had a decent amount of savings stored up from previous years of caution and frugality. We tried to look at the misfortune of my lay-off as an opportunity to focus all our energy into Woodsy Studio and make it our bread and butter. Although Woodsy Studio was not yet self-sustainable, at least we had three commercially published games occasionally bringing in money.

Illustration from Serafina's Crown

Illustration from Serafina’s Crown

Floundering in a sea of games

Alas, as any other game developer knows, the gaming market is brutal. Try as we might, we were unable to make a big marketing splash with any of our titles, whether old releases or new ones. Even now, I struggle to figure out where we went wrong. By a large percentage, people who play our games enjoy them and offer high praise: both critics and customers. The challenge lies in getting anyone to play our games at all. And of course, I know I’m not alone in this. The sea of released games continues to grow and flood stores every day. Only so many can survive by floating on the surface. We were drowning, but we refused to give up.

By July, we had been pure indie game devs for seven months. We were living the dream–but we were also broke.

Our seven months of focusing on Woodsy Studio confirmed for us that this is what we both wanted to do. We wanted to keep making games together, and we knew we had the potential to succeed. We just needed to create something that could excite people more than anything we’d yet produced.

Drastic times = drastic measures

In a moment of desperation, we put our heads together and tried to think of something we could do to save our studio in the little time our dwindling savings still provided. It all happened in about ten minutes. Malcolm blurted something about romancing angels, I suggested making it unfold in real time on phones, and everything clicked. We knew we had a fun idea that we could produce relatively fast and use to branch out to a new audience: the mobile market.

The two months since that moment have been a non-stop storm of writing, programming, and drawing so that “miraclr” could become a reality. Malcolm and I are both extremely creative people and very prolific writers. But we pushed ourselves harder than we’ve ever pushed ourselves before to make this project happen. We reached the point we normally would have called “burn out”–and we kept going, knowing that it was dangerous, but also convinced it was crucial to our long-term survival.

I programmed a complex story system based on real-time to handle channels, direct messages, and plot branches. Together, Malcolm and I wrote over 76,000 words of story content (but Malcolm wrote most of it). I drew 19 CG illustrations, a dozen character icons, and five visual novel portraits with multiple expressions. Malcolm figured out how to incorporate ads and notifications into both Android and iOS ports. All in two months.

Gabriel from miraclr

Burnt out, but proud

We’re exhausted. We’re burnt out. But we also know that we did everything in our power to create a fun, unique game that might be the key to saving our studio. Whatever happens next, I can say with full confidence that we took our best shot.

We sincerely hope that you enjoy “miraclr,” and that it enables us to keep providing quality interactive stories in the future!

miraclr Main Page

miraclr: A New Visual Novel Project

Hello Woodsy Studio fans! Today, we’re announcing miraclr, a new, small scope visual novel project that we hope to release for Android phones in early September with a (possible) iOS and Steam release later down the line.

What is miraclr?

miraclr is a comedic workplace romance starring the biblical (and apocryphal) archangels, told  in a mobile office collaboration app.

In miraclr you play as an unnamed human recruited to assist the archangels of heaven with the creation and implementation of the first true miracle in over 400 years. Because you can’t visit them in their office, you are  given access to miraclr, an app used by the Archangels for intra-office messaging. It looks a little like Slack, with similarly structured channels and PMs. (Very early screenshot below)

When you first start up miraclr, you will decide on a time zone and a scheduled time for daily morning meetings. From then on, miraclr will unfold (mostly) in real-time, whether or not you have the game open. Your co-workers (the Archangels) will talk among themselves, ask for your input, and private message you for both work and personal reasons. Your timely responses–or lack thereof–will affect how the story unfolds and romantic relationships.

Why a new game now?

Woodsy Studio is currently in the middle of developing Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament, the next episode of Echoes of the Fey and the follow up to The Fox’s Trail, which just released two weeks ago on Playstation 4. So why divert our attention and resources away from that?

First off, The Last Sacrament is going to be a big game. Easily the largest and most complex we’ve ever done. We’ve made lots of progress–all but a few environments are done, half the game is playable and the RiftRealms mini-game is getting close to its final form. We still believe we’re on track to release in 2018.

But right now we need a break from it. We want to get something new out for people to play. We’d like to expand our presence on mobile, something the scale of The Last Sacrament just doesn’t allow with a two person team. And finally, we want to explore other methods of storytelling and experiment a little with what our audience wants from a visual novel style game.

With Echoes of the Fey, Woodsy Studio largely moved away from the traditional visual novel format and dating sim conventions. We’re bringing those back with miraclr, which will feature multiple romance paths and more focus on character/dialog than the mystery stories of EotF. It will also be a bit of a return to an older style for me (Malcolm), since most of my writing experience is in comedy. This will largely be a return to my writing style in The Closer: Game of the Year Edition, though with fewer baseball and philosophy jokes for a different audience.

When will it be done?

miraclr is a unique project for us, in that we’re hoping for a very quick turnaround. The format (a slack-like messenger app) limits the scope of the project, especially in regards to artwork. There will be CGs, emojis, and “photos” shared by the angels in the channel, but we intend for the main draw of miraclr to be the writing and unique time-based format. It won’t be a terribly long game–a visual novella if you will–but there will be seven days of content and multiple branches.

We’ve already proto-typed a version of the app that can display the story in real-time and have most of the first day written, which along with some initial art only took a few days. We also know that Echoes of the Fey is the main focus for our studio, and we can’t let a new project take too much of our focus away from that.

With all that in mind, we’re targeting an early September release date for miraclr. Hopefully you’ll be playing it soon!

*UPDATE*: As of September 20, we are finished with “miraclr” and in the testing/porting phase! We’re now hoping to release on Google Play and the App Store for iPhone and iPad September 26. Stay tuned!

For updates (as well as Echoes of the Fey info) follow us on twitter at @WoodsyStudio.

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Out Now on PS4!

We know a lot of you have been waiting to play Echoes of the Fey on PlayStation 4 so we’re happy to let you know that our first installment, The Fox’s Trail is out NOW for $7.99.

Did Folren ir-Adech die during the war between Humans and Leshin? Or is there a darker truth behind his disappearance? Investigate the mystery now on PS4. But don’t think we’ve forgotten about our PC users! We recently pushed a patch on Steam that improves controller support to match the PS4 version and fixed a couple minor issues regarding options menu functions and Steam Achievements.

Finally, we’re still hard at work on our next title, Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament, with the majority of the script complete and a good portion already in game and playable. Keep an eye on us at @WoodsyStudio on Twitter for updates, screenshots, and other Echoes of the Fey news!

 

PS4 Release in July and Steam Sale!

This week, Woodsy Studio has two big announcements that we’re happy to share with our fans (and, of course, folks new to our games). While we’re hard at work on our next title, which promises to be an exciting continuation of the Echoes of the Fey series and our biggest game yet, we still want to bring our current titles to as many people as possible.

We’re coming to PS4!

First off, Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail will be coming to PS4 in July! If you held out to play on your TV–or you just prefer a console, or you were waiting on trophies–now is your chance. This is the first Woodsy Studio game to release for PS4 but we don’t plan for it to be the last. It’s our full intention to continue to release the Echoes of the Fey series across as many platforms as possible. We do all our porting in-house (and there are only two of us!) so moving to Unreal Engine 4 should help with the turnaround and we hope our next installment will be out on PC and PS4 in 2018.

PC Summer Sale

Second, for folks who haven’t played our games on PC, there’s never been a better time. All of our games are on sale for 33-50% off as part of the Steam Summer Sale. You can also pick up all three of our Steam titles–Quantum Conscience, Serafina’s Crown, and Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail for under $9 in our bundle!

If you’re all caught up on our games, then we still have some awesome news for you. Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament will be playable at PixelPop Festival in St. Louis on August 5-6 and XPO Game Festival in Tulsa, October 13-15. If you’re in the area, come check us out for a sneak peek at Sofya Rykov’s next adventure, as well as a chance to try and early build of our in-game board game, RiftRealms.

That’s all the news for now, but stay tuned for more updates, more console release information, and (soon) an in-depth look at the new mechanics we’re adding in The Last Sacrament.

Announcing Echoes of the Fey: Fuel Your Choice Exclusively with Mountain Dew and Doritos

Today, we’re proud to announce our newest addition to the Echoes of the Fey franchise, Echoes of the Fey: Fuel Your Choice. We think this program speaks for itself, so check out the video below.

Making Games at the End of the World

Malcolm Pierce is one half of Woodsy Studio; cross-posted from redbirdmenace.com

The Bus Station

At three ‘o clock in the morning, the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is a hostile environment, but it isn’t the passengers at fault. This is a bus station, after all. Some of the people there are sprawled out across a few seats. Others are a day or two behind on a much-needed shower. But there is nothing glamorous about bus travel, especially trips stretching across multiple days and several layovers. Anyone forced to put up with those circumstances deserves a certain level of leeway.

The St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is oppressive because it is a strange little building nestled away behind the home of the St. Louis Blues. Most directions to the SLGTC force drivers to arrive at the wrong part of the facility. The heat (more on the heat in a moment) is turned on. Everyone is sweating, even people who just arrived. And there are no water fountains.

A television above the waiting area blares an infomercial for a product called Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a chemical compound found (in extremely tiny amounts) in salmon and greater, but not terribly meaningful amounts, in krill and shrimp, giving the flesh of these sea creatures a pink-ish hue. It is also produced synthetically and injected into fish-based pet food, to give the cheaper meal a more healthy color. It is not approved for human consumption, but it can legally be fed to other salmon (which is messed up) to improve the pink tint of the inner meat.

The infomercial playing in the waiting room of the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center claims that Astaxanthin will reverse aging. It will remove and prevent wrinkles. It will restore eye function. All for the perfectly reasonable price of sixty dollars a bottle .

At three thirty, the infomercial mercifully ends, only to be replaced with (presumably) the late-night edition of the local news. I hear the stories you expect from the local news in 2017. A suspect has died in an officer-involved shooting during a drug bust. Hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery were defaced. Donald Trump tweeted again. The high temperature today, on February 22, will be in the mid 70s in St. Louis.

I wonder what the hell I’m doing in this bus stop, waiting to go to a conference about making video games.

The bus outside honks twice and I line up inside the stuffy terminal to board. The first thing I hear when I’m inside is a passenger telling someone he just met how he lost his finger on the job and was then fired for it.

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Seeking Voice Actors for “The Last Sacrament”

****AUDITIONS NOW CLOSED****
Thanks to everyone who auditioned! Here is the resulting cast:
Nikolai – Christopher Vitemb
Katerina – Sara Secora
******************************************

About the Echoes of the Fey

Echoes of the Fey is an English-language visual novel series that combines the magic of high fantasy with the mystery of the classic detective novel. You play as Sofya Rykov, a private investigator operating in a town on the contentious border between the Humans and Leshin (Elves). While her job is to uncover secrets, Sofya has a dangerous secret of her own: unlike other Humans, she can use magic. It’s a handy trick for solving cases – in the rare instances she can control it.

About Episode 2: The Last Sacrament

The Last Sacrament will be the next installment of the ongoing series. Sofya’s loyalty grows divided when politics clash over the town’s water system. Her childhood love, who also happens to be the Emperor’s daughter, seeks Sofya’s protection from mysterious threats. But a ruthless politician seeks a fourth drop of Eszther’s Sacrament — the consumption of which is the greatest heresy against the Krovakyn Church — and he will go to any lengths to ensure that Sofya delivers it to him.

Released episodes:

Episode 0: The Immolation
Episode 1: The Fox’s Trail

Payment and Expected Work

– Payment will be $0.50 per line. Lines are categorized as each block of dialogue that appears on the screen at once, and can range from about 1-40 words, typically 1-2 sentences. They can also be “expression lines,” which are even shorter clips of dialogue used for emotional punctuation throughout the game. Payment includes at least two takes of each line, preferably more.

– The amount of recording needed is not yet set in stone. Shortly after choosing the cast, we will request a recording of expression lines (30-60 short lines of expressive dialogue). After that, we will request some scene dialogue over the next few months as our budget allows.

Rating/Maturity

This game will contain some adult language and sexual themes. However, we expect to remain in the Teen / PG-13 rating category.

Audition Process

Please record the included audition lines for the role that interests you and send them in either .wav or .mp3 format to jenny (at) woodsy-studio (dot) com. Multiple takes and styles are highly encouraged so I have a good sense of your range. Auditions will remain open until March 12, 2017.


Katerina Konstantinova Lapidus

  • Female
  • American accent
  • Appears both as an adult (20s) and teenager (about 13 years)

Katerina has a kind and empathetic nature, but she also grew up as the daughter of the Emperor during a time of warfare. Her kind nature is frequently in conflict with her need to firmly represent her father’s interests and crush her opponents. She rejoices in any opportunity she finds to kick back and behave like an ordinary young woman. She hates being called “princess” or any other unnecessary flattery. This is why she enjoys Sofya’s company so much. Sofya has never cared for politics, and always knows how to forget about all problems and have fun.

Katerina will mostly appear as an adult in the story, but there will also be flashbacks to her as a young teenager meeting Sofya for the first time. Therefore there are audition lines for both adult and teenaged Katerina (around 13 years old).

Please send lines for both adult and teenage Katerina, as she will appear as both in different parts of the story. Teenage Katerina should sound younger/higher-pitched.

Adult Katerina Audition Lines
KATERINA (angry): All of this was about a photograph?
SOFYA: I don’t know. But, Kat, take a deep breath. You’re okay.
KATERINA: I’m sorry, Sofyuska. I just… I had no idea that this might actually happen. When I hired you… I didn’t really think…
SOFYA: You didn’t think you were really in danger?
KATERINA: Not real danger! Not like this! I thought they’d throw vegetables at me or tag my carriage.

Teenage Katerina Audition Lines
SOFYA: Thank you, Kater– Uh, Lady Lapidus.
YOUNG KATERINA: PLEASE don’t call me that. I’m so sick of everyone sucking up to me.
YOUNG KATERINA: Just call me Kat.
SOFYA: Okay… Kat.
YOUNG KATERINA: Now, if you’re going to be stuck in the castle for the winter, maybe we can at least have some fun.

 

Nikolai Fyodorovich Melinkov

  • Male
  • American Accent
  • Late 20s/early 30s

Nikolai Fyodorovich Melinkov is the eldest heir of House Melinkov. House Melinkov is one of the wealthiest families of the west and one of the staunchest opponents to Imperial control of the borderlands. They are led by Nikolai’s grandmother, Alma Melinkov. Nikolai is the heir because his father (Alma’s son) died during the war and Alma’s daughter is a church matriarch.

Nikolai never wanted the responsibility of leadership. He is a man who enjoys fine dining and classy entertainment. If he had his way, he would run a theater or prestigious tavern rather than control his family’s domain. He also believes that his dying grandmother, Alma Melinkov, is much better suited to protect the family than he is. For this reason, he will use whatever tools he possesses to extend Alma’s life and protect the family’s interests in the meantime–even if that means breaking the most sacred law of the Krovakyn Church and blackmailing Sofya to help him.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We would like Nikolai to sing at some point in the game. Payment for recording song vocals will be a flat $50. Please include a singing sample with your audition

Audition Line 1:
NIKOLAI (firm, threatening): You will do as I say, Lady Rykov. My sister has ten copies of this photograph. If I do not wire back to Volgrad with other instructions within the hour, she will send it to Patriarch Arkady here in Vodotsk. However, if you deliver the Sacrament to me, I will destroy every single copy of the picture and the glass impression.
Audition Line 2:
NIKOLAI (determined): We are GOING to build a dam, and we’ll make the Leshin pay for it!

Audition Part 3:  Please include a singing clip!


I’ve also posted auditions to the following sites:
Newgrounds
Casting Call
Voice Acting Club

Send all audition clips and any questions you might have to jenny (at) woodsy-studio (dot) com. Thank you and good luck!