A group of IT students from Our Lady of Fatima University in Lagro, Novaliches, Quezon City, have developed a visual novel based on the 18th century corrido (ballad) Ibong Adarna (“The Adarna Bird”) for their undergraduate thesis, which every first year high school student here is compelled to be maddeningly familiar with in their Filipino classes. This would be unremarkable in itself – indie visual novels of varying quality get developed all the time. But this deserves some attention for two reasons:
1.) As of around March this year, this is the first thing that crops up when searching for Philippine visual novels on Google;
2.) The developers (and their thesis advisor) have claimed, in the International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research 2:9 (2013), that “the proposed game, Ibong Adarna Visual Novel, is as good as the existing game, Clannad Visual Novel.” The basis: a survey questionnaire administed to 34 high school students asking them about the reliability, user-friendliness, portability and accuracy of both their creation and of Clannad. In an absolutely stunning misuse of statistical hypothesis testing, the developers take the weighted mean of all the responses, compare the two games to each other, and conclude that “the proponents have to accept the null hypothesis which states that there is no significant difference between the two games.”
I don’t know about you, but I would be very, very proud to have been part of a team that developed a visual novel with “no significant difference” from Clannad. Since the developers have the noble goal of helping supplement the required curriculum with something less boring than an epic poem (and I’m sure that for most students anything is less boring than an epic poem), they should go ahead and publish the game online on Lemma Soft’s forums or something. I mean, they even added voices. I for one would love to waste an afternoon reliving my freshman year of high school in the most head-scratching manner possible.
The paper can be found here. Some constructive criticism for the authors: you need a better questionnaire and a more systematic way of testing quality. In fairness to the authors, their criteria are largely technical: “reliability” refers to whether the software behaves consistently, “user-friendliness” refers to ease of use, “portability” refers to whether the game runs on multiple platforms and “accuracy” refers to being bug-free. So if the finished product is technically sound, then the authors can correctly claim that on these grounds their game is at least as good as Clannad, maybe even more so. After all, the rest of their conclusion is as follows: “The proponents successfully made a visual novel for Filipinos that is educational and has multiple story branches. They are also successful in creating scripts, character images, background images, background music and voice recordings, and they are also successful in integrating it and use [sic] the functions which are prebuilt in Ren’Py Visual Novel Engine and it is tested and debug [sic].”
Still, that sounds a lot like claiming Twilight is as good as The Brothers Karamazov (just to pick two arbitrary novels here) because they both have text inked on paper, have proper chapters and page numbers, and are available in hardbound, paperback and e-book formats.
I didn’t understand anything in this blog. What the hell are you talking about?
What’s the Philippines?
It’s a country. In Southeast Asia. Where I live. Notable for various things, such as having a rich variety of languages and ethnic groups, being a popular destination for scuba diving and surfing, having been colonized by Spain and America (and Japan, and even Britain), inspiring uprisings against dictatorship around the world, boxing, being really dangerous for journalists, having lots and lots and lots of overseas laborers, really sweet fastfood, the world’s longest ongoing communist insurgency, and being really butthurt when someone makes fun of us.
What’s a “visual novel”?
A visual novel refers to a category of computer games that are akin to reading novels (hence the name). Visual novels are characterized by having text set against an illustrated backdrop, usually accompanied by music, sound effects, and sprites representing various characters. Many visual novels also provide choices to the player throughout the novel on, say, what the protagonist should do next or should say to another character, which can change plot development and lead to different endings. Visual novels are a niche genre popular mainly in Japan, with most English speakers accessing them through fan translations. Only a few visual novels written originally in English exist. “Hybrid” visual novels, a.k.a. visual novels with actual gameplay elements such as puzzle-solving, have been increasingly popular among English speakers in the past few years.
Also, many visual novels have adult content (nudity), though Clannad is all-ages. One popular misconception about visual novels. is that they’re essentially porn games. Games whose sole purpose are to titillate the player are not representative of the genre, though, and are for the most part not what enthusiastic English speakers mean when talking about “visual novels”. Many plot-driven novels do have graphic scenes, though these make up something like less than 1% of the plot, to the extent that calling them “porn games” is like calling Sidney Sheldon or Ken Follett books “erotic fiction”.
Another popular misconception about visual novels is that they’re dating simulators. One of the most common tropes for visual novels is to feature various “routes” where the protagonist develops a romance with one of the supporting characters, with multiple possibilities. Dating simulators, however, are a different genre altogether – they’re better classified as resource management games where you have to build up stats and interact with people while having a limited schedule, with the end goal of dating one of the people you interact with. Visual novels by contrast have very little or no gameplay altogether.
Examples of “traditional” visual novels include the aforementioned Clannad, Kira☆Kira, Fate/stay night, and Steins;Gate (awkward semicolon is deliberate). The last one (also all-ages) is notable for having an official English translation that’s gotten a lot of mainstream coverage for its excellent science fiction/time-travel plot.
Examples of “hybrid” visual novels include Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and Danganronpa.
What’s “Ibong Adarna”?
Roughly speaking, Ibong Adarna chronicles the adventures of three royal brothers (one protagonist and two schmucks) who seek a magical bird that can help cure their father of an illness. Naturally, the two schmucks get outsmarted by the magical bird and it’s up to the protagonist to save not only his father but also his brothers. though that’s only the first part of the story and towards the latter half the titular bird disappears entirely from the plot and, um, two princesses get involved somehow. It’s required reading in high school here. The author’s identity is unknown.
Clannad is considered as the primary example of a nakige, Japanese for “a game that will make your eyes burst forth with tears.” Like many other visual novels, Clannad is set in a high school and follows a male protagonist who meets various people in school and gets to know them better, eventually getting involved in their personal struggles and developing romances with them. Though it’s actually slightly more complicated than that. It’s also really, really, really long, almost impossible to finish without a walkthrough because of all the branching paths and the presence of a “true ending”, and really, really, really adored. Also has an anime series and a bunch of other media. Considered one of the foremost examples of the genre.
What’s statistical hypothesis testing?
It’s a class of statistical techniques that compare two hypotheses: a “null hypothesis”, that usually represents the status quo (nothing happened, no bias, etc), versus an “alternative hypothesis”, that means something worth looking at happened. For example, hypothesis testing can look at the average test scores of a group of students last year compared to this year, along with their standard deviation, and investigate whether any difference in those scores is significant or just due to chance variation.
tl;dr: it’s a way to compare data about two comparable things and see if there are any systematic differences or not.
How did you find this Ibong Adarna visual novel in the first place?
I literally searched “Philippine visual novel” on Google. That was months ago though. As of May, it’s been dropped to around fifth place or so, in favor of a partially crowd-funded visual novel called Exogenesis being developed by a mostly Filipino team in Makati City that’s gotten some great early exposure from mainstream gaming websites. There’s also a Japanese visual novel called Sampaguita involving Filipino characters.
Why should I care?
If you’ve read this far then you must have been just a little bit intrigued. There’s no particular reason you should care, though if you like to read and you’re interested in interactive formats I would definitely suggest giving visual novels a try. Also, for those inclined towards statistics and the like, the paper is a hilarious read. It’s kind of sad that it got published in an international journal, though the International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research is listed as a “potential, possible or probable predatory scholarly open-access journal” along these criteria.
It’s also an interesting anecdote in a world that seems to still be largely devoid of Filipino talent working on large-scale video games. There are loads of Filipino animators, game designers, etc working in teams around the world, but our local industry still seems to be largely limited to quick, gimmicky mobile games. The only notable Filipino video game I’m aware of is the 2003 action-RPG Anito: Defend a Land Enraged that despite decent reviews died a quiet death due to limited marketing and is now, as far as I know, impossible to legally purchase.
I’m curious. Where can I get a copy of this game?
Maybe if you email the developers (their email addresses are given in the journal article), they’ll send you a copy. Who knows?