Friday, January 13, 2017

Visualnovelcharts: A new resource for tracking VN releases

Visualnovelcharts aims to summarize monthly VN releases for English users in an intuitive visual format while aggregating data from multiple sources.

Visualnovelcharts: Visual novel releases aggregated into an easy-to-read chart

I came across an underutilized resource which should be especially useful to English players of Japanese-language games.  I approached the administrator, who told me about the goals of the site, and I also shared specific suggestions that could improve the site even further.  The following exchange has been edited by me for brevity and clarity.

Interview with Visualnovelcharts administrator

Why did you make the site and what is its purpose?

Admin: VNDB and EGS (Erogamescape) are great sites for finding games when you already know what you are looking for. They let you search and filter by tags, writers, artists, companies, etc. For example, did you recently read a VN with an excellent story? Then look for games with the same writer. Or maybe there’s a specific detail you want in your games? There’s probably a tag for that in VNDB.

However, when you’ve finished your backlog and are looking for interesting new releases to read, it gets harder.

There’s a just-released link on the front page of VNDB that lists all recent games by their release date. It’s not a very pleasant way to find games to read because it’s just a simple list with hardly any info about the games there. You have to click through to the game’s VNDB entry to learn more about it. Considering there are usually 40+ releases in a month, you end up spending a lot of time clicking through each of those releases.

EGS does it a little better. They have a recent releases list (mirror) with the title, brand name, votes, and even the cover image on mouse-over. The votes (or lack of) especially help with filtering out all the not-so-interesting games. Nevertheless, you still have to click through to find out what each game is about.

So I decided to make a site similar to the many anime release chart sites, but for visual novels. The goal was to create a site where people like me can quickly scan through all of the releases each month. I’m not looking to create a site with all the info on the games; I’m just trying to make it easier to pick out the interesting ones. But the basic info provided on my site might not be enough to make a final decision, which is why I also provide links to other sites such as the game’s homepage, VNDB, EGS, Erogetrailers, Getchu (Japanese shop page), and Holyseal (patches).

How do you see the site developing in the near and long term?  Do you have any specific features you'd like to implement?

Admin: There are some features I’d like to add to my site eventually like more filtering options and maybe a way to mark or add notes to the visual novels on the chart locally. I wanted to redesign the site too, but then I remembered I have no design/artistic talent, and this is probably already the best I can do. ;_;

Feedback and suggestions

Among my suggestions were the replacement of the EGS main site links with a mirror that is more accessible to Western users (the EGS main site blocks many overseas IPs), saving user preferences in the header with browser cookies, and displaying the average rating for games rather than the Bayesian rating.  The admin was interested in implementing these suggestions, but VNDB's API currently does not expose the average rating, so that would require VNDB's cooperation to implement.  I also suggested a tab dedicated to English releases.  The admin said this would be considered but would require a great deal of additional effort, especially to handle the added complexity of partial releases such as translation patches.  A search bar to locate specific games would be nice as well, since Visualnovelcharts lists some information that VNDB doesn't.

Users are also welcome to leave their own feedback in the comments of this post, and they'll be passed on to the Visualnovelcharts admin.

Final thoughts

I really like the site's concept, the minimalist interface, and the easy accessibility of a range of useful resources such as VNDB and EGS pages for each game.  The site also features a News tab with translated daily announcements, which some users might find useful.  But what I really appreciate is the excellent use of existing resources; many aspiring fan projects spend valuable energy recreating the wheel while ignoring the resources already available.  Don't squander the work of others; build on it!

While the site mainly caters to English users who play games in Japanese but would rather browse new releases in English (me!), as well as players of original English VNs, the site is missing out on an opportunity to appeal to the wider English community, many of whom predominantly play translated Japanese VNs.  While simultaneous releases are common in the anime scene, they're rare in the VN scene, and as a result Japanese releases are somewhat irrelevant to your typical English VN fan.

Putting my inner critic aside, I hope my readers find this resource as useful and promising as I have.

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