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Making Visual Novels with Ren’Py

In this ongoing series of making games on the classroom, I’ve been taking a look at a number of user-friendly tools for making interactive content, including:

Every tool I’ve examined has different strengths, and ultimately choosing the right tool for your own project or a class assignment can determine its success. I’ve been looking for ways to change up my digital narrative & culture class, so I’ve been auditioning a number of other free platforms to see what they might offer. One of my favorites so far is Ren’Py, a free, open source tool for making visual novels.

Visual novels are a form of playable narrative that typically emphasizes static graphics and a branching narrative. While many of the works using the form emphasize character relationships (and are often romances) and anime graphics, the fundamental structures are very flexible. Here are a few Ren’Py games for inspiration: Analogue: A Hate Story and Digital: A Love Story (both by designer Christine Love). Both are some of the most impressive Ren’Py works I’ve played, and include a range of interfaces and commentary on social and technological institutions. There’s also a huge list of Ren’Py games, with many of them available for free.

Unlike some of the tools I’ve discussed previously in the Games in the Classroom series, Ren’Py does require programming. However, the scripting for basic game-making is fairly accessible, and it can actually provide a gateway to learning Python. The easiest way to get started is to use the Quickstart tutorial: it takes you through making a basic conversation model. Dialogue is at the heart of Ren’Py, and building (and illustrating) choice-based conversations is very simple. For a class project, a simple one-encounter game based on the model would be very effective and could serve as a way to integrate simple coding in an engaging way.

I’d love to see someone make a textbook or learning experience with Ren’Py. It would certainly make a lot of sense for modeling language learning through conversations, moral dilemmas and choices, historical situations, and other types of experiences.

Have you tried Ren’Py? Share your tips in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Mike B]

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