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Simple Visual Novel Design with CloudNovel

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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:

And most recently, Ren’Py, a great flexible tool for making visual novels that is also a bit code-focused. Visual novels have a lot of potential for assignments across disciplines, as the genre is a form of playable narrative that typically emphasizes static graphics and a branching story. If you want to incorporate a small visual novel project in a class with no programming literacy, Ren’Py is probably too much, but the web-based visual platform Cloudnovel might work as a mostly free alternative.

Cloudnovel is an account-based tool for building and publishing visual novels. If you browse the site, you’ll notice it gets used for a wide range of projects that tend to be anime-inspired and may include adult content, so if you do use Cloudnovel be aware of the examples students will have for inspiration. It has a few drawbacks compared to other tools I’ve discussed: it’s based on social publishing, so stories will be available on the site, and it is fully online, which means that server problems can cause debugging problems (although the support forum is fairly robust.) However, it also has a straightforward graphical interface, shown above, which makes it easy to create and connect elements to build simple animations and progressive narrative and dialogue.

Getting started with CloudNovel is fairly simple:

  • Go to CloudNovel and create a free account — recommend that students use an anonymous handle, and make sure to be aware of university policies regarding this type of site and whether it can be required or must be optional.

  • Check out Circles  for an example of what a complete visual novel on this platform might look like. There are always other interesting examples on the rotating featured section.

  • Follow the official step-by-step video tutorial to create and link scenes with characters and dialog. Novels can either be fairly linear, with the text auto-playing, or dynamic and interactive, with the player choosing from multiple options in each scene.

Cloudnovel has several free resources for environments and characters, but most of those are anime-focused. Students can get started with directing scenes fairly quickly thanks to those resources, but there are also creative ways to get around this, like using photography, cartoon character generators, or creative commons assets. Cloudnovel doesn’t host art, so students will have to upload their own work to server space or something like PhotoBucket.

I recently used CloudNovel as part of a course on digital narrative and social media, and I received a number of impressive projects. Some students definitely encountered bugs and frustrations, particularly if they had poor internet connections or were unfamiliar with graphical interface tools of this kind, but the quality of projects was still impressive. I can also imagine using CloudNovel with workshop classes in the future where the focus is on story, character, and environments, particularly in connection to history or literature.

Have you tried CloudNovel? Share your experiences in the comments!

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