Hamlet: The Visual Novel
I love theater and Shakespeare’s plays, but in college, reading the arcane language presented some problems. The best option for understanding the meaning of a given word was to read the footnotes, or to refer to a plain English translation of the text, but to do either required a significant break from reading the material. When studying for a test on Hamlet, I ended holding Sparknotes' “No Fear Shakespeare”, a footnoted copy of the text, and pausing and staring the unabridged Kenneth Branagh film adaptation to get some sense of the staging and intonation behind the lines. I was shocked that there wasn’t a hyperlinked version of the text with tool tips for footnotes available online, as that simple implementation would have saved me hours. I was frustrated. There must be a better way.
So, I developed a variant of the Visual Novel format I hope will make reading annotated plays more accessible. I chose to develop this project in the Unity Game Engine in order to gain skills relevant to game design, such as teaching myself UnityScript, user interface, and user experience design. While not technically a game, this project taught me a lot about usability and interface, as well as developing for multiple learning types and interface preferences.
I started with the simple idea of using mouse-over boxes for footnoted text. I find footnotes, and especially end-notes which come at the back of books, break the intellectual and emotional flow of plays. Creating a variant of the Visual Novel format also let me solve other problems related to understanding plays. Plays written out are like sheet music, coded instructions for an animation or vector image. The written version of a play is not a playwrights end vision. A visual novel, meanwhile, allows the reader to make visual observations, listen to intonation, and observe entrances, exits, and emotions in a form very similar to the format of a staged play. The blend of formats I created for this project tries to provide the best of both worlds, easy and immediate access to footnotes and readable text, visual cues, and audio intonation of the text.
The big personal achievement for me on this project was teaching myself to program. I had never thought it something a (then) English major like me could easily pick up, but tutorials and scripting resources meant learning how to learn had been a valuable skill. I also commissioned an artist, collaborated with her extensively on character appearance, designed a variant of the visual novel, created the user interface, and actually implemented one of the scenes from hamlet.
It was also my first major experience with User Experience flow, testing, rapid prototyping and iteration, and UI design.
Though this project didn’t quite meet the bar to gain me admission to USC’s graduate game design program, the Unity, UX, and Rapid prototyping skills I learned were a huge asset when I attended DigiPen.
After my artist delivered some initial sketches, I immediately threw them in the game to get a sense of sizing and proportions. By this point a lot of core features are actually done, such as 1/3 the screen being used for menu and footnotes.
As the artwork developed, so did the features. I started using the left hand area when there wasn’t a footnote being moused over to provide general play information. At this point, character entrances and exits are also complete. Added a “Bill Shakespear” companion to lend a little personality to the footnote information.
Very near finalization, character dialogue plays as a indicator moves down the line numbers. Final art is in. Line numbers with *s have footnotes attached that can be activated with mouse over.