How to Make a Visual Novel in a Weekend

Making a visual novel is already hard, so how do you make one in a game jam where you have a set deadline? Or worse, how do you make an entire visual novel in only a weekend? What about when you have to use certain themes in the game and can’t go fully freeform?

Game jams are such a great way to get started making visual novels—I first got my start with Ludum Dare 10 years ago, as of this August. They force you to downsize a lot, to focus on what matters and most importantly, have a tight deadline hanging over your head that you can’t push back. Some game jams, like my upcoming Otome & Josei Jams, allow users a much longer timeframe of 2 months and don’t restrict on themes. Others like Ludum Dare only give you a weekend (though there are other formats now) and require you to use a user-voted theme that’s only made public when the jam starts.

With the tight deadlines and possibility of restrictions, how do you make a visual novel that quickly? Is that even humanly possible??

First off, if you’re completely beginner to visual novels, check out my newbie guide on how to make visual novels which goes over the basics, terminology, engines, and more.

Earlier this month I entered Velox Formido, a visual novel jam inspired by Ludum Dare with a few tweaks:

  • Themes are still voted on but you have to incorporate at least 2 of the top 5 themes
  • The jam only lasts 36 hours from start to submission

Very, very tight! Still, I was able to squeak out a new game- Dahlia, a short story about being trapped with a cute (but possibly hungry) vampire. While you can read about my creative choices in my post-mortem for the game, today I want to talk about how you can recreate my process.

jam requirements

First off, you need to become familiar with the jam you’re entering. If you’re not entering a jam but rather just making a game in a weekend for fun, skip this.

You’ll want to have a clear idea of each of these parts…


What rules does the jam have? Do they stipulate what kind of stories you can enter? For instance, most game jams that require the developers or a panel of judges to rate games (i.e. competitive jams) won’t allow 18+ content in the games.


Similar to the rules, some game jams stipulate what engines you can use. Be sure to know this ahead of time. If a game jam doesn’t say there’s an engine requirement, however, you can usually use whatever you want.


Will you be required to use certain themes or can you make a VN fully up to you? Sometimes themes feel too restrictive, while other times they help guide you to a more solid idea.

jump right in

Once the game jam starts, dive right in! …That is, if you have an idea of what to do.


Ideas are a dime a dozen—truly, it’s in the execution. Still, you need some kind of idea and you need it fast if you only have a weekend to finish the game.

After taking into consideration the rules and themes for the jam, I then start rapidly brainstorming ideas I would be okay working on. If one of the themes is forbidden romance, then what kind of couple would I want to write? What kind of story beats could I do with flower symbolism?

This stage needs to be quick. It’s okay to scrap ideas, but you need to stick to one and fast. For Velox Formido, I initially started writing one idea but scrapped it a couple hours later to begin the idea I ended up finishing.

Don’t be afraid to change your idea- but make sure the one you stick with is one you’re happy with!

work flow

How do you begin making a new game concept?

For me, I’m an artist, writer, and programmer, so I can make a game by myself. I’m fine with starting on writing or concept art first, it just depends on my mood. For this recent Velox Formido, I started on writing first, just going with the first ideas in my head. Other times, I start with concept art so I have a clearer idea of the characters as I’m writing.

There is no wrong way to start making a visual novel, except to not start at all!

If you feel like starting on an outline for the game, go for it. Want to dive into character art? Do it!

managing time

Having only a weekend to make a visual novel is just- well, it’s a weekend. It goes by so fast so you have to be aware of how long parts will take you. If you’ve never made a visual novel before, it’s even harder to gauge how quickly you can do things.

How long does it take you to draw a character sprite? How many characters will you have? How fast can you write 1k or 3k words? Will you have time to program the art and writing into the engine? What about music, GUI, sound effects?


You need to keep the scope of the game small. Tiny. Even tinier than whatever you’re thinking.

Think of it in terms like this:

  • how many characters will I have?
  • will there be any choices?
  • what ending(s) will it have?
  • do I need to make a GUI?

If you have 5 characters, how will that affect your story? How long it takes you to program the art with the writing?


I know I can make art pretty quickly when I throw caution to the wind, but I still have to limit how much art I make. For instance, in Dahlia I wanted to draw CGs, but I ended up spending too much time on the writing and only started on the art 12 hours before the deadline. I was able to finish the 2 character sprites in just 2 hours, but then I had to grind to finish the programming.

In order to finish in time, my weekend long games are no more than 3 characters. 2 is the perfect amount, really. You can have a succinct, interesting story with just 2 characters in a room together and it leaves less artwork to worry about.


Now that we’ve talked about different aspects of making a visual novel in just a weekend, I want to zone in on my process with advice.

focus on your idea

Really, really focus on your idea. For Dahlia, I was making a short story about being trapped with a cute vampire. I knew I wanted her to look historical, somewhat Victorian, and that it’d be set at night. That meant the game would be visually dark and the characters dressed in frills and lace. From there, I followed that line of thinking to make the text display to the right side of the screen in a somewhat ornate frame.

Follow the idea you have and really dig into it. Flesh it out as soon as you can so you have a solid idea of what the endpoint you’re headed towards looks like.

do things faster

I don’t outline for weekend jams. I outline for my normal visual novels, but not for weekend jams. There’s just not enough time aside from making a few bullet points and running with it.

Whatever speed you make things at, you have to make them even faster. That means less edits in your writing. Less rendering in your art. Less polish in your programming. There’s just not enough time for it all.

If you’re writing, focus on getting to 1 ending. Don’t worry about extra choices or nameable protagonists or extra side characters. If you’re drawing, you need to use an art style that’s easy to render. Don’t spend so much time on lineart and shading. If you’re programming, set up ways to make your setup faster. Define transforms, positions, and more that you can reuse multiple times and get in the habit of copy+paste.

reuse what you can

Like I said, don’t hesitate to reuse any snippets of programming that you can use multiple times. When I was drawing the character sprites in Dahlia, they both have the same base- this saved me maybe half an hour of redrawing parts that ultimately didn’t matter.

Be sure to check what you can and can’t reuse beforehand. For instance, a lot of jams require you to not start on the game beforehand, meaning you can’t use previously made assets unless they’re publicly available. Don’t slip up on this detail!

cut out even more

You probably think that your scope is doable in the time frame, but it most likely isn’t. Don’t be afraid to cut it down even more to save yourself time and headache. Ideally, you’ll want everything in the game finished before the final hour of the jam so you have time to playtest and ensure the game actually runs from start to finish (yeah, remember bug testing?).

use resources

Have in mind what parts of the game you’re not going to make. I’m not going to make music for a game jam (I’m not musically talented) and I don’t usually recruit others for weekend long jams. Instead, I use premade music that I’m able to put in my games legally.

Know where to find these kind of resources if you need art, music, GUIs, etc. before the jam starts. I have a growing list of visual novel development resources here.

focus on the MVP

Don’t get distracted by the things that don’t matter. Do you really need this extra character? A wardrobe change? An extra ending?

Focus on the core of your game. Why are you making it? What is the feeling you hope to give the player? What is the overall goal of the game?

With Dahlia, I wanted a somewhat whimsical and slightly tense story about a midnight intruder, how unnerving it would be to have a person invade your private space in the middle of the night but looking like a fancy doll.

How will you present your idea with such limited time?

Wow, April really went fast. Before I knew it was the end of the month- wasn’t it April Fools last week and I was rushing to draw our studio mascot genderbent? And now Otome & Josei Jam start in 24 hours…. There’s never enough time!!

Quick list of what I’ve got going on:

First, we just announced that the Battle Action Fantasy jam will be returning this June! Create a chuuni visual novel inspired by battle action manga you’d see in Shounen Jump. Second, I’ll be entering Otome Jam this year and returning to a directorial spot! More details on that later….

Third, it’s Kickstarter season. If you’re thinking about holding your own Kickstarter or want consultation on marketing for you visual novel studio, I’m still open for freelance. I won’t be able to do any at the end of May/beginning of June as I’ll be out for Offkai Expo, where Studio Élan is a sponsor! Can’t wait to go to a convention outside of Memphis.

Lastly……look at my cute blog images!! I want to start a VN dev webring, but most people only have a carrd and not a full website… (this is your hint to make your own website, even if it’s something like Weebly or Neocities).

— Arimia

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