A few notes on fangames.
Players play Yume Nikki-likes for a multitude of reasons. The two big ones are atmosphere (how the game conveys a mood through sound, visuals, & gameplay) and exploration (the joy of finding things), but there are several other factors that determine whether or not a player will enjoy a game as well.
- Atmosphere - one of the most striking things about Yume Nikki was its atmosphere. Games like .flow, Answered Prayers, Ultra Violet, & Lcd Dem are remembered for having their own atmosphere with a unique identity outside of the original game. Sometimes, a player just enjoys getting lost in a dreamworld.
- Exploration - while spread out, Yume Nikki had a bunch of odd things to find, from events to odd NPCs to strange and beautiful scenery. Yume 2kki, Me, Log.[in], & Manda no Yume all cater to players who enjoy finding odd things to do.
- Novelty - Players are drawn to Yume Nikki because of how unique it is, be it imagery, mystery, or atmosphere. A derivative of Yume Nikki isn’t going to be as unique as the original, but it can still create its own identity by not copying each world completely (more on that later).
- Story & interpretation(s) of dreams - Yume Nikki has been analysed by internet big brains for over a decade. Story driven games like .flow, the Looking Glass, the Other Line, Broken Bottles & Fleshchild are popular for giving a bit more concrete answers to analyse as a reward for exploration.
- Graphics & Sound- due to the absence of gameplay from most games in the genre, Yume Nikki-likes who play like the original game live and die on the quality of their visuals, which is unfortunate for non-artist but is something all developers need to face. Fortunately, if you’re not the best, you can still create something visually appealing like 4185113, Log.in, and. Having a unique style to your game, whether it’s simple gameboy graphics or collaging public domain photos & free to use assets, helps differe your game from the rest. For sound, a stellar soundtrack & use of sound can propel a game from ok to good, and a good fangame to a great one. As long as the music isn’t ear bleeding and the sound effects aren’t too loud, your game will be fine.
- Spookiness - Yume Nikki can be classified as a horror game, as the game has an uneasy atmosphere & several off-putting NPCs and events that dip into the spook. .flow, Me, Yume 2kki, and a bunch of other fangames are either horror based or have elements of horror in them. Not every game needs to be horror, nor is every player looking for it, so if you would rather create a fangame that’s horror free or has just a few horror elements, you still have an audience for it.
- Things to do - players enjoy being rewarded for exploring, big or small. In Yume Nikki, small details like opening and closing cabinets, the funny dance NPCs do in the mall, jumping into beds, the npc that follows you around dark world, the way certain NPCs like Mafurako react to effects, and the pictures in the sewers are the small events that help players keep looking for big events.
- Things to collect - much like Pokemon, finding and collecting a variety of things is its own reward. Menu skins, items that expand on the story, outfits, wallpapers, & music are all additional collectables that reward the player for exploring.
Your fangame doesn’t have to have all of these in them, so don’t worry if your game isn’t the scariest or full of collectables. As long as the focus is on exploring strange worlds & the game mechanics contribute to exploring the game, your fangame will appeal to someone out there.
Fangames that fail to capture the heart of players fail usually because of the following:
- No variety or originality - each world the player can access from the nexus is a big open map with a panorama (looping or static) and sparse objects scattered about. Snow world, forest world, dark world, school world, hospital world, block world, monochrome world, body parts world, neon graffiti world, a retro game world, sewer world, isometric paths, sewer world, teleport maze, and a hell maze are all present, with little to differentiate them from Yume Nikki or other fangames. The effects are mostly superficial with a few like weapons & speed that do something slightly useful. Events include an NPC in a room who changes to something scary if a lightswitch or other object is interacted with, an NPC that changes form when the stop effect is equipped, etc.. Having any of these elements in your fangame isn’t bad as a fangame can still carve its own identity even with borrowed elements, but having more than half of these certainly does bore players. Remember, you can’t be Yume Nikki, and you don’t have to be exactly like it or any other fangames to make a good fangame either.
- No reward for exploring - Yay, you finally made it to the end of the path in this game! What’s the reward? ...more walking? Oh. Even the most patient player will get bored after too many dead ends and/or too little content. Not having interesting things to look at, not having anything to interact with, etc.. Basically, Having nothing in your game is really boring. Don’t do it. If you are bored playtesting your game, your audience will be as well. You don’t have to make the game super duper interactive, just try and have something interesting in each area, whether it’s a really odd npc or cabinets to open and close or even a pretty visual gimmick. Keep areas with not much in them short, and make areas with things in them more numerous.
- Frustratingly large and empty worlds - while Yume Nikki had it’s fair share of big empty maps, that was Yume Nikki. It gets a pass since it was the first to do it and used said maps to emphasize how small and lonely Madotsuki is in her dreams (amongst other interpretations). How will it benefit your game if you have a large empty map that’s hard to navigate? What will it do? Especially if said map types make up a third or more of your game? Your players won’t be able to find any of the cool stuff you put in, and they’ll be frustrated trying to navigate it as well. We’ll talk more about this point later in the mapping section, but what I’m trying to say now is you shouldn’t make large empty spaces unless you’re using them properly.
- Dark tones and Horror for the sake of it - Or what the kids call “trying too hard”. Basically if you throw in horror for the sake of it, it’s gonna stick out and not jive properly with the rest of the game. Conversely, if you’re trying to make a horror game but go too over the top with it, it’ll become laughable. There’s a fine balance that’s hard to gauge, as each player has a different spectrum between “oh no that’s scary” and “oh no that’s cheesy”.
- Unappealing graphics- Yume Nikki fangames build most of their identity off of the strength of their assets. Having burning colors, ugly colors, sloppy or half assed pixel art, relying on RTP assets without changing them to fit your style, and poor contrast are sure fire ways to put players off of playing your game. RTP is the biggest strike against a game for me personally, as it’s hard to create an identity with RTP graphics alone.
- Unappealing music & sounds - Making a player’s ears bleed is a bad idea. Having no music is also a bad idea, as it removes a key factor in creating an atmosphere. Having music and sound effects that play at different volumes is another fun way to annoy the player, especially if they’re wearing headphones and unexpectedly blast their ears out when going from a quiet world to a loud one. Repetitive music is a staple of fangames, but having little variety between loops or having loops be too short is a bad idea mate.
- Attempting to tell a story and failing - Writing is hard. Non-linear story telling is even harder. “Attempting to tell a story and then failing” is less directed at fangames with some story elements and more at fangames with dialogue and cutscenes. This will not be covered in these notes as there are tons of guides on how to write gud gamez [sic] and how to write in general.
You don’t build a house without a blueprint, and you don’t make a game without a bit of a plan. It doesn’t have to be a super detailed one, but it should be something, even if it’s a list of worlds & effects. Here’s a few examples on how to plan out your game.
Here’s a big question to think about when starting your game: what is your game’s central theme(s)? Even if your game has no plot, it can be easier to think up a world and vaguely tie it together with others by giving your game a theme. Here are some from other dreams:
- Yume Nikki - arguably depression & loneliness (not many NPCs interact with you in big empty worlds)
- .flow - Decay, organic (disease & plants reclaiming the land) and inorganic (crubling buildings & rust)
- Answered Prayers - Serenity & religious elements
- Me - eyes, guilt
- Ultra Violet - Bunnies, kawaii things, juxtaposition of cute and horror elements
Not all fangames have a theme or have to have one (see: Yume 2kki), so don’t feel pressured if you can’t think of any. There’s an audience for people who just enjoy exploring weird worlds with no connection, so it’s ok to wind it as well.
However, For those of you wanting to make a more plot heavy game, you need to lay out your plot before you put it down. Whether it’s a timeline of events that happened in the real world then a list of events in the dreamworld, or writing an outline of how every time a player picks up an effect something in the real world happens, you need to write what the hell is going on down. When you make a non-linear story, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, even as the writer. Writing an outline of everything down helps you keep track of what’s happening, and can help you assess if something is missing or doesn’t make sense when you read it over again.
As with other types of outlines, you don’t have to stick with it all the way - you can always change things later. Just have at least one to know where you’re going.
As stated before, Yume Nikki fangames are derivative by nature, so your fangame won’t be completely original no matter what. Heck, no one piece of media is original, as all media builds on itself. For example, the history of first person shooters is built upon copy-cating a base game (Doom, Half Life, Resident Evil 4, Call of Duty) then introducing elements from other games and media (RPG elements, platforming, cheesy action movies, military documentaries and fiction, horror game survival tropes), with a bit or a lot of experimenting with mechanics.
If you’re younger or this is one of your first projects, originality is harder to do. You may or may not have a large pool of ideas to draw from depending on how many life experiences you’ve had, how much media you’ve consumed, how much you’ve played around with making your own ideas & worlds (creativity can be practiced), and how many games (fangames or not) you’ve played. Creativity is also driven by how you think, and that’s something that I can’t teach you, just encourage you to practice. However, I can offer some suggestions on how to stand out a bit more.
Here’s a question: what does a desert look like? Answer: like any of the deserts below.
From country to county and climate to climate, there are tons of different rocks, textures, types of sand, flora, fauna, and colors to choose from. Referring to real life pictures for any location inspired by the real world helps, even if it’s looking at home decor stuff for your protagonist’s room. From there, you can add more fantastical elements like odd desert creatures, weird shapes, out of place elements (giant cakes in a desert - a desert with desserts!), and so on. Even looking up pictures of certain objects (say teacups and dolls for a tea party world) can help out a lot, as there’s tons of variety out there.
What if you want to make a more fantastical world? Easy: look up “surreal art”, “dream illustrations”, “fantasy concept art”, “sci-fi creatures”, etc.. Don’t copy the artwork in question, just look around and see if you can find a good jumping off point for your own worlds and creatures.
Combining locations can also conjure up some fun results: what would a desert puddle world look like? A desert block world? A desert school? The possibilities are endless.
Another good place to get inspiration from is, well, dreams. Yume Nikki is about exploring dreams, right? Whether it’s your dreams (try keeping a dream journal where you quickly jot down elements of your dreams next to your bed, physical or digital like your phone) or other people’s dreams (there’s a lot of blogs & sites where people catalog their dreams), dreams are basically some of the best places to get inspiration from.
What if your fangame isn’t about your dreams or is more story driven? That’s alright: you can still take down elements of your dreams and apply them to your protagonist’s dreams. Say you have a dream of being chased by someone - how could you interpret that into an event? Maybe your protagonist is running away from their past, so they end up running away from strange, warped copies of themselves (I know it’s kinda cliche but this is a jumping off point, not a “do this exactly”)? Or maybe the protagonist is scared of something like dogs, so they get chased by a bunch of hellhounds. Heck, maybe it’s your protagonist chasing after someone else instead, whether it’s someone they want to get answers from or a lost love or what have you.
Variety is king. Here are some things to think about when making your maps:
- Size - How big should your map be? It’s ok to make a small one.
- Paths - Should there be any sort of pathways, implied or direct?
- Shapes - if your map is composed of objects, how are they grouped? Are there a bunch of clusters in one area and some dotted in another, or are all of them in easily spotted patterns?
- Population - How many NPCs are on the map?
- Elevation - Stairs, hills, ladders, & bridges are common features in other RPG Maker games to give the illusion of depth. Having the player be able to traverse multiple layers of the map adds more variety to the experience.
- Perspective - Isometric, side scroller, or normal 3/4ths view?
- Terrain types - Crunchy snow, slippery ice, dirt road. All of these make different sounds. Even strange dream terrain makes strange dream sounds.
- Unlockable areas - can the player access new areas after they use an effect, see an event, or interact with certain scenery or npcs?
And now it’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite map type, looping maps with a parallax background. Yes, it’s ok to have them. No one should stop you from putting them in your game, especially if they work with your vision. Conversely, it’s ok to have no looping maps at all if it doesn’t fit your vision either!
Looping maps are best used when they’re used for effect and not because they just have to be there to be a fangame.