Welcome to the third edition of the AFKer Game Jam Spotlight, featuring one of the more interesting game jams this year: NaNoRenO!

Inspired by the more famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an annual event held every November where participants commit to writing 50,000 words in a single month, NaNoRenO is a jam in which developers are challenged to make a visual novel from start to finish – in a single month.

But what, you may ask, is a visual novel?

To use the broadest definition, a visual novel is an type of interactive fiction, usually featuring a strong focus on branching narratives and player choice. Unlike other types of interactive fiction, however, visual novels make extensive use of graphics (usually in the form of background stills, character sprites and short video clips,), and sound to depict the story.

Some of the more famous examples include Fate/Stay Night (the visual novel at the heart of the Fate franchise, which has since grown to include six anime series, two – soon to be five! – movies, a light novel, multiple Playstation titles, and one of the most successful mobile games today), Ladykiller in a Bind (winner of the 2017 Independent Games Festival Excellence in Narrative Award), and Katawa Shoujo (the game that looked at people with disabilities and sought to humanize them, famously created by a development team made of volunteers from 4chan and related communities).

Historically, most visual novels have featured a strong focus on romance. Other themes existed in such games, but until up to 10 years ago, many still referred to the genre as a whole as ren’ai (“falling in love”) games, given the titles that were brought over from Japan and translated into English. Indeed, 2005 and 2006, the first two years of NaNoRenO, the game jam required that all submissions be dating sims or romance games, but that that is no longer the case.

Indeed, the Ren in NaNoRenO does not stand for Ren’ai, but Ren’Py, a free and open source engine for visual novels, with the event itself originating – and continuing to be organized on the Lemmasoft forums, which serve as the de-facto discussion board for the Ren’py visual novel software, though these days, one can upload their submissions to the jam’s itch.io page.

Of course, using Ren’Py isn’t mandatory. There are many other options, including Novelty, TyranoScript, and the upcoming Visual Novel Maker, though Ren’Py is perhaps the most well-known and well-documented.

The jam runs from the start of March 1st to the end of March 31st, so get writing!

Sure, you have less than a month remaining, but that didn’t stop indie developer Kinmoku from crafting One Night Stand, her first ever released game, for NaNoRenO in 2016. In just 24 days, she created a work that beautifully captures the awkwardness of waking up next to a stranger the morning after – and which was nominated for the 2017 Independent Games Festival Excellence in Narrative Award.

The art style, the way everything is grounded in the world – its a powerful slice of reality to deal with, and it manages to evoke a sense of humanity, even in only a few minutes of play.

That’s a high bar to match, but it just goes to show what someone with a bit of talent and a lot of determination can do. So go out there this NaNoRenO – write a story, make a game.

Show the world what you can do.