REVIEW: TyranoBuilder

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TyranoBuilder | oprainfall
Title TyranoBuilder
Publisher Nyu Media
Release Date March 27, 2015
Genre Game Development Software
Platform PC
Age Rating N/A
Official Website

If you looked at the list of articles I’ve written for this site recently, it would practically beat you over the head with one fact: I’m a game designer. Making games is sort of my second love — after fiction writing, that is. So, what’s the natural course for someone who’s interested in both? A visual novel, and that’s exactly what we’re able to create in this new software called TyranoBuilder.

TyranoBuilder | Graphics and Music

TyranoBuilder makes pretty much the same claims as every other game development program I’ve seen lately: so ridiculously simple that you’ll never need to program a thing, quick enough to make something in minutes and powerful enough to get commercial titles ready with ease. Since I can’t very well judge this on the same points I would use for actual games, I’m going to focus on those statements and how well TyranoBuilder delivers.

Making your first visual novel starts with importing your backgrounds and characters. While the Steam community is banding together to get lots of freeware graphics, and the developer hopes to get the Steam Workshop integrated, don’t expect a library of resources to come with this game. Strictly speaking, only a set of buttons and a title screen background are included. Music is the same way.

Luckily, once you find the things you need, it’s a snap to get them in the editor and onto the timeline for your scene. From there, it’s a matter of slapping text on it and having the characters change expressions in order to get the conversations between them rolling. In fact, for a linear plot, I would call this as understandable as writing a screenplay, if not even easier in some ways.

TyranoBuilder | Condensed Timeline

Making choices for the player is a bit more complicated — you have to add and position each button individually, then add the “stop” command so that the game doesn’t just keep going with those buttons up. I’m sure this is meant to let you make a button that can stay put while other things happen and be clicked any time, but, without the tutorial’s guidance, it is a little weird. Afterward, you specify a point to jump to on the timeline (or another scene) and proceed from there.

The things you can add to the list with the normal click-and-drag functionality are pretty decent. Besides the background and characters, you can also add other images into the scene and even make them clickable, allowing for somewhat different types of gameplay like the hidden-object genre. Shaking the screen, adding a wait and showing or hiding the normal message window are some basic effects. To go to the really fancy end, you can even add a video in mp4 or webm formats, deciding whether it’s skippable or not.

If you want to keep track of numbers or “flags,” the no-script claim falls through, unfortunately — you’ll have to add a piece of “TyranoScript” to your scene. Luckily, you can usually just put a single line of fairly simple code down and treat it like any other event on the timeline. The documentation on this is pretty straightforward, but I really hope that a future edition puts some of the more common statements into the same click-and-drag format as everything else.

TyranoBuilder | Dialogue

Once you have a few of these things built up, you’ll quickly find that your screen is being cluttered with the list of events. The good news is, you can easily divide up your game into scenes. Contrary to what you might think, there are no backgrounds or the like tied to the scenes themselves — you are free to change scenes constantly or to make your entire game one big scene. However, your game will load resources for each scene when it switches, so it will probably run much more smoothly if you use scenes at key points.

So, what does it feel like to play a TyranoBuilder game? Well, besides any buttons the developer puts on the screen, you essentially just click to continue, much like most other visual novels. You can click the menu icon at any time in order to save or load data, hide the text window temporarily, turn on skip mode (to rush through the text very quickly) or return to the title screen. There is one thing I’ve noticed missing that I find in a lot of modern visual novels and even more RPG-style games like Fire Emblem: Awakening — a log of recent messages that you can view.

It’s pretty easy to export the game files, at least for executable and browser editions. However, if you want to make good on their promise to offer Android and iOS options, it’s a much different story. For testing’s sake, I tried their instructions to create an Android app, installing several other programs and going into advanced settings just as the guide told me. However, at several points, it just plain didn’t work, and I had to use my own knowledge and Google to work around it. In the end, I spent a lot of time working on it, got myself frustrated and never got an app out of it. Until the developers fix it, you can consider that way more difficult than it’s worth, especially for a software that’s built to be easy to use.

TyranoBuilder | Project Settings

Normally, I only mention price in passing at the end of my reviews. However, development software doesn’t really have a normal set of pricing conventions — it can easily range from free to hundreds of dollars. TyranoBuilder is not free, unlike competitors like Ren’py, but, at only $14.99 USD, it’s certainly one of the cheapest paid software out there. Still, the visual novel genre in particular is one where you generally don’t have to sink much money into it, so some might want to compare it with the free options that exist.

That said, the main feature of TyranoBuilder is, as advertised, its ease of use. A couple of minutes with the tutorial is enough for just about anyone to understand how to use it, and if it weren’t for the occasional quirk here and there, even that wouldn’t be necessary. The downfall is that, if you want to do much more than the most basic things, you’ll have to put in some serious extra effort — and that defeats the purpose. The mobile app option is particularly frustrating. Still, I recommend at least watching the updates, as the developer promises to continue adding more features, and you never know when that could break the barrier from pretty good to amazing.

Review Score

Review copy supplied by the publisher.

About Phil Schipper

Phil N. Schipper joined the Operation Rainfall staff to review Android games, but soon fell in love with writing news articles and Games of the Past. His dream is to make a living writing sci-fi and fantasy novels, which is why he leads the Obscure Authors Alliance in his free time. Still, even in his stories, which usually involve insane people, video games are one of his strongest influences. He describes himself as "a Mr. Nice Guy with a horrible, horrible dark side."