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Bungaku Ai

This is a prototype visual novel some of my friend and I made in high school... for a class, somehow. It is very cringey and mildly offensive. I'm actually still rather proud of it, mainly for the technical side, but it's also extremely embarrassing.

All characters and events in this prototype---even those based on real people---are entirely fictional. The following prototype contains coarse language and due to its content should not be viewed by anyone.

The Team

This project was a collaboration in high school between Joseph Saldana, Megan Long, Adrienne Voigt, and myself. It had some rules we had to hit for a group project, but otherwise the ideas for it were collaborative. In general, the story ideas were Joseph and Megan's, while Megan made the character and background art on-paper, then Adrienne colored and adapted the drawings to digital sprites. I then took the art and their ideas and made the game itself, working on the technical side and filling in blanks.

Joseph Saldana: came up with most of the character personalities and wrote most everything minus the introduction scene with Vice Principal Gertrude.

Megan Long: came up with additional character personalities, designed and drew all the characters and background art.

Adrienne Voigt: cleaned up Megan's artwork from scans, colored the artwork, and adapted the images into usable assets for the game itself. She also drew herself and me, which were theoretically supposed to be for secret dateable bonus characters.

Gunnar Clovis: I took their ideas, did the programming, wrote the intro scene with Vice Principal Gertrude, did everything with the game engine, wrote a simple scripting language for the dialogue, filled in the gaps.

In the credits, I list a bunch of roles for myself and just a few for Joseph and Megan , minimizing their involvement. It's technically correct, not a lie or anything, but it's shitty. I did that because I was frustrated at the time, as it felt like I had to do everything on the team project and it was really exhausting, but I really regret this now; I think it's super childish, dumb, and shitty. But, it was in literal high school and I wasn't really in the best state due to financial, health, and family issues, so I'm not too hard on myself. It's just not something I'd ever do again. It's petty and moronic.

The Project

This was actually made for AP Literature when we were in high school. The final project was to make something---anything---that included something like 12 allusions to the various books we had read over the year. It was a silly blank canvas project really just for fun the instructor did every year and was really popular, and it was fun. Students in the past had done most everything: short films, board games, scrapbooks, short stories, image boards, really anything you'd like. For our class most everyone grouped up into these few huge teams of like 6 to 8 people or something, and they made some silly short films. I, however, wanted to make a video game, as that was my thing, and something no one had done before. I really like doing things no one has done before.

Our concept was to make a silly irreverent high school dating sim where all the romanceable characters were the famous characters from the literature we read over the year, fulfilling the requirement.

Megan did the artwork on paper, Adrienne adapted it, Joseph headed the writing, and I did the programming / engine stuff.

I'm particularly proud of this project because I wrote a scripting language and parser for the dialogue, with choices and dynamic reactions from the characters. Each characters has a persistent meter of their affection / opinion of the lead character, which would raise or lower in increments based on your dialogue choices. The idea was if this was made into a full game, you'd be able to romance each character, some being easier to romance than others.

I still actually really like this concept of taking these (mostly) public domain literary characters and turning them into a silly high school dating sim. The vision for the game was (unsurprisingly) vastly overscoped, with tons of characters and plotlines and minigames that in no way ended up in the final game.

I may return to this concept at a later time, but with a different engine, new art, and severe rewriting and retooling.

The Engine

This prototype was made using the Zero Engine, a proprietary game engine by DigiPen: Institute of Technology. I engineered my entire life around going to DigiPen, and went to my high school on both a lie and a waiver just because it had a loose affiliation with DigiPen, teaching with some of its technology and materials. I had the rights to use the engine, and I used it almost everyday, and taught it to my peers in a game development club I founded.

I loved working in it, but it hasn't aged perfectly. The demo now has some weird visual quirks in later Windows builds, where the dialogue choice buttons don't size correctly, going off-screen slightly. The "Character Will Remember That..." pop-ups also go off-screen, and if run in fullscreen from the outset the game will be drastically oversized, the main menu going far off-screen.

The Offensive Stuff

This game is silly and irreverent, made by a bunch of dumb high schoolers, and has some mildly offensive material.

I think the most offensive thing (which I didn't even like at the time, but I didn't want to have an argument about it) is the use of the derogatory slur "wetback" by the character of Kurtz. Joseph included this because he wanted Kurtz to be the racist asshole villainous badboy, who smokes and demeans people. I wasn't a fan of it but I didn't want to step on Joseph's work. Both Joseph and I are of Mexican-descent, so it's not like it was borne of any actual racism or anything, but I just found it uncouth, but I'm a panzy so what do I know.

There's also some stuff with the character of Edna targeted at the stereotypical Tumblr activist back in the day, which was Megan's idea. Megan was an active Tumblr user herself, and she found the character concept of Edna and the whole "Free the Nipple" petition stuff funny. I found the idea funny as well at the time, but it's also just a bit dumb.

At the end of the demo are two GIFs in the background of two fish kissing and of a train ramming into a small tunnel, which Megan and Joseph begged me to include. The train GIF was a meme in the class, since our teacher showed an example short film of this project from a previous year, which was really funny, and included this animation as an obvious euphemism for sex. These two GIFs were to be played when the main character romanced a male or female character respectively dependent on their own sex. I always thought it was cringey but I didn't want to ruin their fun, and I was extremely proud again of the technical-side in how I got a GIF to work in-game, which was not trivial.

Otherwise the writing is just dumb and silly.

The Characters

The characters were all from literature we read over the year in accordance with the high school project rules. Megan Long drew them on-paper and Adrienne Voigt colored and adapted them to digital sprites.

For the character bios, I'll write them as-if the game was finished in-line with our fanciful intentions, though with some omniscience spoiling the story they were supposed to have.

Gertrude, from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. She is your school's Vice Principal. She is the mother of Hamlet, one of your fellow students. She was married to the late Principal Hamlet before he died, but is now remarried to his brother, Principal Claudius. She is the most difficult character to romance, being a stickler for the rules, a married woman well older than you, and a still-grieving widow after the mysterious death of her husband, even if she doesn't show it.

Helen, of Greek Mythology. People say she is the most beautiful girl in your school, but she does not get by on her beauty alone. She's smart, athletic, and kind to boot. She's very proactive on-campus, always volunteering with Jesus to help others. Many long after her, but until your arrival, she has eyes only for Daedalus, who doesn't seem to notice she exists. You could bring these two together, acting as a loyal friend to Helen, or you could convince her to love you instead... or perhaps something in-between, where you romance both Helen and Daedalus. She is a kind compatriot who's supportive and loyal to you, so long as you don't harm the others, but she is one of the more difficult characters to romance.

Hercules, of Roman Mythology, not to be confused with Heracles of Greek Mythology... He's a good-hearted jock, easily manipulated, and easy to romance. He's loyal and kind, and incredibly strong, but not the brightest. He's a good person to have in your corner, especially if things end up getting heated between you and some of the other students.

Guy, from Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. He's ultimately a good guy, trying to do the right thing with aspirations to help people, but the steps he takes often seem clumsy and misguided. He is often confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. As a result, he has difficulty deciding what to do independently of Mildred, his girlfriend, who he barely cares for. Likewise, he is often rash, inarticulate, self-obsessed, and too easily swayed. At times he is not even aware of why he does things, feeling that his hands are acting by themselves. You can help him with his moral quandaries, question his life and decisions with the help of Clarisse, and perhaps give him a more loving relationship than what he has with Mildred. If his arc goes well for him, he'll develop a loving older brother-like relationship with Clarisse.

Daedalus, of Greek Mythology. He's a brilliant and passionate inventor, architect, and artist. He's the president of the Math & Science Club... and it's only member. He loves to share his knowledge and explain the mechanics of his inventions, but beyond that he doesn't take much interest in frivolities like socializing or dating. Perhaps you can be the one to teach him something for a change. He's moderately difficult to romance, but be careful not to get lost in his labyrinth!

Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. He is known to his teachers as a brilliant student, if sometimes brash. He is known as a bold leader to his friends, courageous and unbeatable. Yet to others, such as Helen and yourself when you first arrive at your school, he is known as a vile, vain, cruel boy, discriminatory and unkind to those he deems beneath him. For Kurtz, style entirely overrules substance, and provides a justification for amorality and evil. Over time, he gives undergoes an image change, reforming his wicked behavior so that he can respected by everyone (but Helen and Jesus, who stalwartly disdain him), however these changes are hollow. His gradual change in attitude to become more eloquent should not overshadow the malice of his actions. Kurtz is ultimately the archetypal evil genius: a highly gifted but ultimately degenerate individual. To some, he is a great musician, to others, a brilliant young up-and-coming politician and leader of men, and to others still, a great humanitarian and a genius. You may finds yourself at odds with Kurtz, fighting against him and his grandiose, almost megalomaniacal scheming. Or, you may find yourself aligned with Kurtz and in his good graces, choosing to ignore your earlier memories of him and even doubt their validity. Perhaps you even romance him, in your pursuit of power or as a pawn in his. If you seek a tragic past and deeper meaning to his actions, you will sadly find Kurtz to be hollow and utterly lacking in substance. Whatever your relationship with him, his charisma and larger-than-life plans will not leave him ignored.

Edna, from Kate Chopin's 1899 novel The Awakening. She is a passionate and rebellious young woman in the midst of finding herself. She fights hard for the things she believes in; you would do well to be one of those things. Sometimes a bit over-the-top, and sometimes a bit shy, Edna struggles with a growing dichotomy within herself, as her both introverted and extroverted tendencies lash out, often at the worst possible times for her. She is unconventional and fiercely independent. She shirks away from the responsibility her family wants her to take on as she becomes an adult, instead seeking music, art, and freedom. Her independent pursuits frequently amount to selfishness, and she can be both childish and childlike at time, with unrealistic expectations and disregard for the needs and desires of others. It's up to you to decide if her actions are ultimately heroic or selfish, or perhaps a bit of both. Your choices may lead to her becoming a stalwart friend, a bitter rival, or a forgettable passerby, with her story ending in comedy, love, or tragedy.

Ophelia, from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Up until shortly before your arrival, Ophelia was the long-time girlfriend of your peer Hamlet. She ended their relationship due to Hamlet's odd and cruel behavior since the death of his father, which some find unfair, but others completely justifiable. She has a tight-knit bond with her friends Julia, Portia, and Mildred, but lacks much agency in her own life. She's often described as a bit of an airhead, and while a kind friend, she always has her head halfway in the clouds. She struggles to make decisions and often feels disconnected with the world around her, not too dissimilar from her friend Mildred, feeling as if she's just adrift in the ocean with no say in how her life goes. You could help her find her agency and discover her passions, and hopefully prevent any tragedy in her life.

Julia, from George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. She's a rebellious, practical, and happy young woman. She's the captain of the cheerleading squad, though she holds some disdain for authority. She's very pragmatic, generally content to live in the moment and make the best of her life. She is well adapted to her chosen forms of small-scale rebellion, and is intent on never being caught. She's highly flirtatious, and very preoccupied with dating and relationships, her most recent big break up being with Winston. She's the de facto ringleader of her friend group, with Ophelia and Portia usually hanging off her every word, while she shares a special bond with Mildred. She is the easiest character to romance on a surface level, however getting to her emotional core is far more difficult.

Portia, from William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. At first glance, Portia may appear as little more than a hyperactive rich girl constantly seeking approval and attention from her friends Ophelia, Julia, and Mildred, perhaps appearing as unintelligent and getting by only with her family's wealth and her beauty, however with time she may come to surprise you. A closer look will reveal Portia to be as quick-witted as she is wealthy and beautiful, emerging as that rarest of combinations: a free spirit who abides rigidly by rules. She takes great initiative and is highly resourceful, serving as a reliable ally or a challenging enemy. She has a penchant for disguises and pranks, though she takes care that they never go too far.

Mildred, from Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Mildred rounds out her friend group, contrasting Portia's often hyperactive excitability with calm apathy. She's a beautiful young woman in a long-standing relationship with Guy, however you wouldn't know it without being told. She shows little love or attention to her boyfriend, or truly to her friends, always glued to her phone or television. She barely notices when anyone speaks to her. She is completely cold, distant, and unreadable. If you have the patience and dedication to dig deeper into her, you will find her true feelings buried very deep within her; you'll find that she's in great pain, and her obsession with the media that consumes her is a means of avoiding her life. Depending on your actions, she may betray Guy, for you or another, hurting him deeply and driving a wedge between your peers as half gather around each of the two. Mildred when you meet her is an unfortunate shell of a human being, devoid of any sincere emotional, intellectual, or spiritual substance. Her strongest attachment is to her so-called "family" in her favorite soap opera. You can witness her sad decline, or steer her life back on track, helping her to connect with the world around her, and work through her fundamental sadness by providing stable, loving support.

Jesus, from Christianity. He is the school's janitor, and the campus's community service leader. He works closely with students like Helen, coordinating charity missions, from feeding the hungry to providing care to the elderly. Community service is part of your graduation requirement, so you'll have to come to Jesus at some point, and perhaps then you'll find why so many worship him.

The following characters did not end up in the demo due to time-constraints, but they were similarly concepted as the following:

Hamlet, from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He is a perpetually brooding, angsty, angry young man in immense grief from the recent death of his father, though he knows how to mask it, only slightly worse than his mother. He recently broke up with Ophelia, further adding to his current emotional turmoil. Hamlet is nothing but enigmatic. Many of the girls are attracted to him as there is always more to him than the others can figure out; even if you grow close to him, you may come away with the sense that you don't know everything there is to know about him. When he speaks, he sounds as if there’s something important he’s not saying, maybe something even he is not aware of. Hamlet is extremely philosophical and contemplative. He is particularly drawn to difficult questions or questions that cannot be answered with any certainty. He is currently embroiled in a secretive investigation into his father's death, which he believes to have been murder, though he is extremely quiet with this information. He is equally plagued with questions about the afterlife and similar philosophical quandaries. But even though he is thoughtful to the point of obsession, Hamlet also behaves rashly and impulsively. When he does act, it is with surprising swiftness and little or no premeditation. Some believe him to be going insane, as his behavior grows more erratic. He's juggling complex feelings towards his mother, father, uncle, and ex-girlfriend Ophelia whom he once proclaimed to love, but now repudiates in the harshest terms. He is wracked with melancholy, discontent, and dissatisfaction. You may witness his self-destructive fall, help him climb out of it as a friend or partner, help him achieve his goals, or some mix of the three.

Clarisse, from Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. She is a free-spirited young woman, who describes herself as crazy. She tends to talk in a series of rapid-fire questions and declarations, demonstrating her open and curious mind about the world around her. She tends to cut right through to people, such as how she acts as a catalyst for Guy to awaken from his spiritual and intellectual slumber, asking him if he's happy, leading him to realize that's he's actually quite miserable. She may become a good friend or a devout partner to you.

Jessica, from William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. She is the only daughter of the economics teacher Shylock. She has conflicted feelings towards her father, feeling stifled under his rule ever since her mother's death. She can be harsh and thoughtless in her own pursuit of happiness, but you may find her situation sympathetic. She wishes to rebel from her father, and may ultimately run away from home, with you, another, or on her own depending on your decisions.

Meursault, from Albert Camus's 1942 novel The Stranger. He is an apathetic loner, seemingly uncaring for the world around him, even when the events would be very significant for other people. He is an exceedingly honest man, and does not hide his indifference and lack of feeling. His refusal to grieve at tragedy often puts him at odds with others, who see him as an outsider or even a monster. He is amoral, not making a distinction between good and bad, often going along with whatever is asked of him purely because he has no reason not to. You may try to correct his behavior and cut to the root of his feelings, but you will find him unchanging. He cannot be remolded to more fit the others around him, but he will welcome him if you wish to truly understand him and peacefully accept the gentle indifference of the world alongside him.

Shylock, from William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. He is your economics teacher, and Jessica's father. He is equally hated, feared, and beloved by your peers, who remain fractured on their opinions of him. He can be cold and calculated, lashing out from the deep harm he has experienced and sadness he holds since the death of his wife. You may form a friendly, antagonistic, or even loving relationship with him, piling on the bandwagon of hatred he withstands and seems to almost revel in, or helping him recover from the pain he has endured.

Winston, from George Orwell's dystopian 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is a pensive, curious, rebellious, and fatalistic young man. His recent breakup with Julia seems to not phase him, as he firmly believes that all events are predetermined and thusly inevitable. He comes across as an overly nervous and paranoid man, but with a little faith and further inspection, you can uncover the truth with him, finding that his paranoia is not misplaced in the slightest. Becoming truly close to Winston involves unraveling a conspiracy that perhaps is better left unsolved.


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