Posts Tagged ‘Dating Simulator’

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August is a slow month, so I decided to break the monotony and try out a few Visual Novel Dating Sims created by other people.  I played four that are at least interesting enough to check out.

Inspiring Celina

Story by Superawesomemans
Graphics by Sylakone2
Download and Online play link

This is the newest and the best of the four that I played.  It involves meeting and getting to know your college biology lab partner Celina.  It is also the hardest of the four as you have to balance charming Celina with getting a good grade on you Biology report. (no, you do not need to know anything about Biology to play)

The first time I played I got an F, and she hated me after that, but eventually I got to know her VERY well.

Hints: Besides choices at the bottom, there are also choices embedded in the pictures, especially in obvious make out scenarios, you will not get far without them.  If you completely give up there is a walkthrough available.

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Sam Spillane, PI

Story and Graphics by Fleet
Download Link

This is a game you can download and play on your PC.  Not sure if there are other versions available.
Fleet was one of my volunteer closed beta testers for Something’s In The Air and he is pretty good at what he does.  He has a few games out, but I picked this one to play mostly because I like the idea of a period visual novel in black and white.

Hints: The story is pretty linear, and there is a mystery to solve, the game is won if you can solve it, but since you are allowed to save the game at any point, you can “cheat” and save the game before you have to accuse somebody.

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Virtual Date Girls: Lucy

Story and Graphics by Chaotic
Online play link

This is a browser based game which uses embedded links in the pictures to make choices. Like Inspiring Celina above it is built with Tlaero’s Adventure Creator, which explains why the two games have a similar look.
I decided to play this one because 1.) it is short, and 2.) the adventure is told from the girl’s perspective for a change.  There are three different sexy endings.

Hints: Seemingly meaningless actions can end up being of consequence later in the story.  If you need a walkthrough, you can find one here.

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Secrets of Heaven

Story and Graphics by Leonizer, Agrippa, and Graen
Online play link

Lesson of Passion games tend to be the most erotic of these visual novel games.  Even their plots seem inspired by adult fiction and porn films.  This one is nice and short (only 4 endings).  It also seems to be heavily inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is a bit of a change.  I like the change of pace from their usual fare.  I haven’t found a walkthrough yet though, but it is not that difficult.

Conclusions

All four of these games are comparatively short compared to my two visual “Novels”.  Also they are for the most part set in different times and/or take original perspectives. The story telling is very different in each.  Inspiring Celina is very detailed, you really get to know her.  Secrets of Heaven on the other hand finds some rather flimsy excuses for nudity and sex.

Part of what is driving me to check out other works is to inspire my next work.  I want to do an all Rachel Spahr game next.  Like Lucy above, I  want to tell a story from Rachel’s perspective.  I have already established that Rachel has a vivid imagination, which I can use to tell the story in different fantasy settings.  I also want to think smaller, doing a series of visual “short stories”, like the above four, as chapters in a bigger story.

Still got a ways to go before I even start that project, but in the mean time I might try a few others out for inspiration.

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Date Ariane 10th Anniversary Part 2

Date Ariane (first released 2004) may not have been the first dating sim to only have a single character, though I don’t know any that predate it, and I wasn’t influenced by any.

Date Ariane may not have been the first dating sim done in 3D graphics, thought I don’t know of any that predate it, and I wasn’t influenced by any.

It is even possible that it is not the first dating sim with one character and in 3D, but it was the first to gain popularity, and directly or indirectly inspire dozens of similar games, mostly by independent creators like myself.

Because the one thing I can take away from all this is this: I invented a genre, or at least a subgenre (or a subgenre of a subgenre).  OK, “invented” is not the right word, because genres only become genres if other people are contributing.  Is “inspired” a better word? Still not accurate. How about “created a work original enough to influence the creation of” a subgenre.  OK, more accurate.

One of the goals of every artist to do exactly this! Achievement unlocked, I guess I can call myself an artist. (The other goal of every artist is to sell a work for a lot of money so they don’t have to work again. So far that one has eluded me.)

So I am going to tell you how I created a game that inspired many other games.  Short version:  I did it by accident.

I heard the term “Dating Simulator” as a type of game popular in Japan, “Dating Simulator” is a bad translation of japanese “ren’ai shimyureshon gemu” (more accurately a romantic simulation game).

But I was intrigued about the idea of a “Date Simulator” and instead of tracking one down and finding out what they are like, I just took the term “Date Simulator” literally, and created my own.

In 2001, I invented the “Ariane Barnes” online persona in hopes of creating an Alternate Reality Game based on her. That turned out too ambitious, so I created a “choose your own adventure” game based on the concept of simulating a date with Ariane Barnes.  Turns out what I created was a visual novel, a popular gaming genre in Japan, romance simulation is a subgenre of the visual novel.  Anyone familiar with the subgenre knows that they are always done with 2D manga style art, and almost always involve multiple partners to choose from.

I didn’t know any of this when I created Date Ariane, which is why DA defies so many conventions of traditional visual novels, like how it loops upon itself, has no coherent story, and involves a bunch of events that can be done in different order.  I have been using Poser since the late 90’s, which is why I used 3D graphics instead of Manga art.

So I released my “Dating Simulator” on the web in 2004, and made improvements as I went. I did not advertise it except through word of mouth in a few virtual world communities I was a part of at the time.  And then in 2007 it went viral, 3 millions “dates” from January to March of that year.  Complaints from my host forced me to release an offline version that people could play without spamming my website.

In August of that year, the first post about my game appeared on the Sharks Lagoon forum. The cool thing about that forum is that it is dedicated to 3D sexy games and their development.  At the time most “erotic” games  were either of the arcade variety, or the “Adult Interactive Fiction” variety (text based adventures with occasional graphics).  Date Ariane sort of bridges the gap between the two, more visual than an AIF, and more complex than an arcade sex game.

Shark’s Lagoon is where the vast majority of the 100+ games similar to Date Ariane got their start. The “single character date simulator” (for lack of a better term) is a perfect type of game for independent game makers: it is simple enough to make that one person can do it themselves, its a fun type of game to make, and it is also a fun type of game to play. So it is no surprise that a lot of people joined in on the fun.

One creator Tlaero, even wrote an “Adventure Creator” engine you can use to build your own online single character date simulator. More info here.

The one thing the genre lacks is complexity, which is why it only takes one or two people to make a game like this. That, plus the general public bias in favor of violent games and against sex in games, means that creating a commercially successful game in this genre is damn near impossible. That’s what is standing in the way of wide genre recognition.

Sex Games vs. Violent Games

But I knew this going in.  One of my continuing motivations for even dabbling in sexy games is my belief that the general population’s attitude towards sex and violence is completely backwards.  Sex is something we all engage in, and yet it is viewed in the public’s eye as dirty and shameful, while violence, something most decent people never engage in, is glorified and revered.  No where is this more true than in the world of gaming.

In movies, this double standard is understandable because we know that movie violence is fake, while movie sex involves actor nudity and touching that cannot be faked (actually it can, but let’s not go there now).  In gaming, sex and nudity are 100% fake, just like the violence.  And yet pixel nudity, or worse an animated sex scene will get your game an AO rating, the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in the movies, even if similar scenes in movies can still get a PG-13 rating.

This is because of the strange bias that video games are for kids, this despite the fact that 68% of all gamers are over 18.  “Kids play games, therefore games can’t contain sex or nudity.”  This is a horrible double standard.

If violent games reduce violent crime, I’m willing to bet sex games will reduce sex crimes. We already know this is true with the wider availability of porn, we have also seen incidental reports of reduced sex crimes in Japan where erotic games are more widely available, though I could not find any actual studies.  Illogical cultural bias is the only thing standing in the way of erotic games becoming commercially successful.

To the future…

While I’d love for one of my games to be a commercial success, I’m not holding my breath, and if it happens, it will happen the same way the genre was created: by accident.

My #1 objective is having fun creating. It’s my geeky hobby.  My #2 objective is making a game that is fun to play. My only criteria is to make a game that is fun for me to play, and if others enjoy it, well that’s just icing.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in other “Single Character Dating Sims” especially of the erotic kind can check out the following places.  WARNING: These links are Not Safe For Work and not appropriate for those under 18. Some are financed by subscription models.

Playforce One
Lesson of Passion Gold
Shark’s Lagoon Games
Pusooy Games
V Date Games

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So Renpy is out HTML is back in.  That is not to say there will never be a Renpy version of Date Ariane, I’m saying the HTML upgrade is a better use of my time right now.  I know this contradicts what I said here and here, but plans constantly change.

The numbers are in and Date Ariane is still popular.  A link on a popular Brazilian website has caused DA to go viral in Brazil.  I do not think a Renpy download version will ever achieve the same level of popularity, so I am concentrating on upgrading the HTML game.  As mentioned in my last post the resolution is now 1000 x 600, and the links are no longer hidden.  I have already made these changes and they are already live.

What I have not announced here is that I am bringing one change I had planned for the Renpy version and brought it to the HTML:  eliminating alcohol as a means to unlock content. Alcohol will still be needed to get to “drunk” scenes, and after two glasses of wine Ariane will decline to drive, but that’s it.

I am implementing a very simplified RP system to replace it. There are four personality traits you can demonstrate: nice, smart, funny, and sexy. The introduction part of the game (which was kind of lame anyways) has been rewritten giving you two opportunities to demonstrate a trait to Ariane.  The first is immediate and obvious: “Compliment her looks” = Nice, “Give her a hug” = Sexy,  “Say something smart” = Smart,  “Say something funny” = funny.  You then have a choice to kiss Ariane.  She will react negatively to the kiss, but you can explain/apologize in a smart, nice, sexy, or funny way.  Or you can choose to read a smart, nice, sexy, or funny poem.  These are less obvious.

The various dinner conversations, give you one to four more opportunities to unlock these traits when you “talk to” or “complement” Ariane.  The objective here is to demonstrate as many traits as possible, so ideally you should demonstrate all four before dinner is over.

You need to unlock at least two to go on.  Unlocking only one leads to an end state:  Too smart = too pretentious.  Too nice = creepy.  Too witty = cant take anything seriously.  Too sexy = obsessed with sex or too desperate.

The game plan is this:  Various activities will require different combinations of these traits.  For example, it used to require at least one glass of wine to unlock dinner at the restaurant or picnic in swimwear. Dinner at the restaurant now requires the “nice” trait, and picnic now requires the “funny” trait.  (since these happen before dinner, you need to unlock them during the introduction.)

The thinking is that Ariane has all four traits, and she feels more comfortable with date partners that do too. It also gets rid of the game plot of getting Ariane drunk to get her to do stuff, which is a trope I apparently started, and would like to see end.

I’m explaining the game plan, because I want it to work a certain way, and it probably doesn’t right now, so if you are playing the new version trying to map the changes for a “walkthru” or something,  the way it currently works is subject to change.

Note this trait thing ONLY replaces the drinking requirement.  There are also “activity” requirements and “foreplay” requirements for many of the advanced content.  I’m not changing those.

Combine two or three traits together and you get a personality “skill”.  It’s these skills that drive the various assignments.

Funny + Sexy = fun loving.  Any activity involving the pool or hot tub will become easier with this skill.

Funny + Nice = creative.  Any activity involving dancing and the removal of clothing, whether at home or in front of a crowd,  is going to need some of this.  In front of a crowd might also need some Sexy trait, too, if you want to win.  In front of a fountain at the park, creative and Smart leads to more daring snapshots.

Funny + Smart = clever.  Astronomy lessons requires some cleverness, so does handling both Ariane and Rebecca at the same time.

Nice + Sexy = cuteness.  This is meant to be more of a “lost puppy” kind of cuteness.  With this skill Ariane is likely to be more forgiving when you walk in on her changing clothes.  Cuteness is likely to help talk Ariane into skinny water skiing, too.

Nice + Smart = romantic.  A little romance is likely to get you further on romantic walks on the beach, or drinking contests in the kitchen, for some reason only Ariane knows.  Add some Sexy talk on top of it for some hot and heavy couch action in the living room.

Sexy + Smart = luck.  Risk taking is Sexy, especially to Ariane, but risk taking is less risky if you play it Smart.  That is why Ariane is more likely to get naked in a public place, say the store or the park, if you possess these traits together.  If you also happen to be Funny too, you can make her feel more comfortable at the scenic vista in the mountains.

Meeting the drinking requirement before was just a matter of a glass of wine before dinner, then two more during dinner.  Meeting the trait requirement is picking two up before dinner, then talk and compliment during dinner.  Failing to get all four traits, means some content may not work on this date, but you can always start again.

Next Part II: A brief history of Date Ariane, the first “single character dating sim”.

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I came up with a complicated plan for the Renpy version of Date Ariane, too complicated — like another multi-year project complicated.

Sometimes you just have to take a step back and decide what is most important.  While many of the ideas I came up with are cool, there are only really two things that I want to actually do:  1.) Make a version of Date Ariane that can be played on a tablet, and 2.)update the pictures with all the cool new models, poses, outfits, and lighting tricks I learned while doing Something’s In The Air.

I realized that I can accomplish both goals by simply updating the current HTML version of Date Ariane, and I can probably accomplish my goal in a few months rather than years.

I already have a “proof of concept” in the introduction portion of Date Ariane online.  Instead of hidden links that don’t show up without mouse hovering, I have visible links pushed off to the sides or below to be as unobtrusive as possible.  The pictures are much prettier, too. What I am not showing on the online demo is pictures 1000 x 600 pixels instead of 800 x 500.  Trust me, it looks even better.  I’m positioning all text proportionally instead of exactly so I can use even bigger pictures in the future if I want to.  I’m also trying to make it HTML 5 compliant so it works with all future browsers.

I haven’t decided if I will change the game any beyond the updated look, though it is probably inevitable that it will.

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There has been a lot of talk lately about Japan’s radically changing society.  It started with an article in the Guardian with the viral headline “Why have young people in Japan stop having sex?”  The headline was terribly misleading, young people in Japan are having sex.  They are just getting married a lot less and having fewer babies.  The notion that lower marriage rates and lower birth rates equals less sex is a terribly old fashioned notion.  The truth is, it is all economic, and it is not just in Japan.

But that is not what I want to talk about, feel free to follow the links if your interested in learning more.  The funny side topic that kept popping up was this notion that virtual girlfriends were partly to blame.  Specifically, virtual dating sims, and more specifically Love Plus for Nintendo DS and its sequel Love Plus + for 3DS.  These two are far and away the best selling virtual dating sims ever, and I wanted to find out why.

A little searching led me to this article, which makes me want to play the game more.  Good plan, but to quote Doctor Who, “there are only three flaws with this plan as far as I can see”: 1. I don’t own a Nintendo DS, 2. the game is not available in this country, and 3. I don’t speak or read Japanese.  Luckily as Doctor Who is a master of time and space, I am a master of the Internets.  I won’t go into boring detail except to say problem #3 was solved by going here.

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Having played Japanese Date Simulators before, the first part of Love Plus looked very familiar.  I start as a junior in prep school, I have 100 days to improve my characters stats and meet / become friends with girls at the same school. My stats are built by doing 4 different activities each day.  I mention all this because this is pretty much the exact scenario for every Japanese Date Simulator I have ever played (granted I have only played two others, but what are the odds?).  I don’t see the attraction at all in this scenario, which is why Something’s In The Air involves a more American friendly scenario of meeting 20-something aged girls in bars.  Japan apparently enjoys fantasizing about young love in grade school, and so Love Plus continues the proven trend.

Some immediate differences become apparent.  First, there are only three girls to meet, and the game code guarantees you meet all three by the end of the second week.  Second, the three girls are not still drawings most of the time, but animated 3D renders. Third, the girls are completely voice acted in Japanese, but even if you are like me and Japanese sounds like “Simlish“, I still like hearing it as it helps bring out the personality and tone of the text.  It’s like a Japanese film with subtitles.

Most importantly, the three girls are not just stereotypes, but well written characters with back stories to explain their demeanor.  Even with the literal and unnatural English translation the personalities of the three girls  comes through to the player.  The characters are written well enough to seem like real girls.  This is a standard I am going to have to push on myself in my future games.

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It didn’t take me long to figure out that Rinko Kobayakawa is the girl for me.  Early on she comes off as sort of a bitch (point = 1), but she is more of an emo/loner/geek (point = 2).  First thing I learn is she likes to read (we meet her in a library — point = 3).  Next I learn is she likes to hang out at an arcade well past curfew playing Street Fighter (point = 4).  But the thing that really won me over was her love of second British Invasion music, and a distaste for J-POP, and Visual Kei, which I totally agree with (point = BINGO!).  Bonus: she likes cats. Once I realized that, I focused on my Intelligence and Sense skills (my typical day was science, social studies, library, hobbies) until she fell for me.

Now with every other J-Date Sim, getting the girl would be followed by an eroge hentai scene and the game would be over, but Nintendo will not license games containing sex or nudity on their DS platform.  Instead the game completely changes into something very different.  Welcome to the virtual girlfriend tamagotchi game. For those not familiar, a Love Plus virtual girlfriend is like a Sim from The Sims, but instead of worrying about trivial things like eating and bladder, your worries are of a more romantic nature.  Getting too low, results in an unhappy girlfriend.

To keep your girlfriend happy you got to take her on dates, study with her, call her, email her, and touch her.  It is all more complicated than it sounds.  Lets start with the touching part: It is like a mini arcade game. You must touch her in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and there is a high failure rate. The opportunities are kind of rare and last only a few seconds.  Email is random thoughts, riddles, questions, comments, and it is best to answer right away with the exact best response.  Calling is how you get dates and study dates.

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Lets talk about dates.  Before you can even set up a date, you have to master a skill which is done by doing four daily tasks each day just like the first part of the game. Once you got a skill maxed out, date venues and events open up depending on the skill.  To go to an event you have to plan to attend when the event happens, then call your girlfriend to set up the date and time to meet, then when the date arrives, you play out the date, taking advantage of the rare touching sequences, and then when the date is over, your skills drop and it is time to start building skills again.

Here is the kicker: Dating is best done in REAL TIME!!  It uses the built in DS clock and calendar functions to advance the game in real time.  Set up a date for Sunday at noon?  Better have your Nintendo DS ready to turn on wherever you happen to be at Sunday at noon, because if you miss the date, your virtual girlfriend gets upset.  Need to skill up to be able to go on a date?  You will need to play the game every day to get the skill points, and check the game emails and phone messages, then find something else to do for the next 23 and a half hours.

These Love Plus girls are high maintenance.  Luckily there is a “skip mode” which lets you play a few days at a time, but mixing modes is not allowed, and skip mode skips birthday and holiday content.  That is why REAL virtual boyfriends play in REAL TIME.

There are many reports about players neglecting real life to satisfy their virtual Love Plus girlfriends.  There are also weird stories like the one about the guy who married his virtual girlfriend.  I’m sure crazy stuff and life neglecting stuff happens because I know gamers, but I am also sure most of those reports were probably written by the marketing department of Konami Games.

Could Love Plus work outside of Japan?

Short answer, no.  If they released the game as is, with the English translation as is, it would sell a few copies to the curious, and that might be enough.  If they took the literal translation and further made it into conversational English, and then hired English speaking voice actors, the game could sell better, but it would still feel a bit too Japanese with the whole Manga looking characters in a Japanese prep school.

If they just took the gaming engine, and wrote a whole new game for Western audiences, featuring a trio of cute teen boys, and marketed the game to teen girls, it would probably end up a fairly big hit.  That would require a huge investment in a game formula that has never proven to work with western audiences.  Probably not worth it.

There was an attempt by Konami to make a similar game in English called Brooktown High, but it never really sold well.  I think they have stayed away from the market ever since.

In conclusion, this has been a fun little research activity, It brings me some new insights to my future game projects, especially insights into building a more realistic dating companion.  Could I implement some of these concepts in my Date Ariane update?  I am still in the design phase of the project.  My projects tend to get really huge before I chop them down to a reasonable level.  Something to think about anyways.

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I thought I’d take time out from working on Something’s In The Air, to show some changes to Ariane.  If I get around to updating Date Ariane, I will be using these models.  So this is more of a preview of the prequel remake, I think.

Ariane’s looks have changed once again. This time I changed the shape of her face slightly.  Not only is she a little cuter, she looks a little more like the Date Ariane version.  She was originally supposed to look like Audrey Hepburn, but now she looks more like another British actress, though I’m not sure if it is Gemma Arterton, Michelle Dockery, or Jenna-Louise Coleman.  Dockery is probably the closest, but if you put Coleman’s eyes on Arterton’s head you would get a closer match.  (OK, you got me, Kim Kardashian’s eyes on Arterton’s head would be closer, I just happen to be a Doctor Who fan.)  If you want to see more pics, I rerendered all the portfolio pics with the new face. Eventually, the whole website will use the new look.

Anyways, enough about that, lets check out the house. Above is the living room couch, now white cloth with blue throw pillows instead of the old black vinyl and no throw pillows. Behind her is the dining area, and that orange section in back is the kitchen.

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Yes the kitchen is a bright orange, with black counters and appliances and dark brown wood cabinets. A nice change from the apricot color kitchen that looked a little too 70’s retro for me.

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If you turn around and look back towards the living room, you will see that the bay windows have moved to the side. In its place is a TV and a bookshelf filled with great works of literature.  OK, the first shelf are great works of literature the rest are trashy romance novels.  The old “boom box” is still there, because there is an area in front for dancing.

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Last but not least is the bedroom.  Goodbye pink painted stucco, hello beige yellow wallpaper.  I moved my computer in here.  I have some gymnastics memorabilia on the shelves, and a print of Monet’s Water Lillys at Sunset.  Behind you unseen are some glass doors opening to the patio and pool area.

And that’s the five cent tour. There is also a gray colored bathroom and a second bedroom you will probably never see, as well as a garage.  Now back to work.

As I have mentioned numerous times before, the “sequel” to Date Ariane, known as Something’s In The Air features an updated model of Ariane, that took quite a bit of work to get right.  Redoing over 1000 pictures from Date Ariane is out of the question for the foreseeable future (but I’m not saying never).  But if I ever got around to it, this is what it would look like.  The old hairstyle was not designed to work with V4 models, so I found something close.

I now have a decent sized wardrobe I could use, but the reason I am doing these pictures is because there is a “flashback” scene in the sequel where I used around 20 old pics.  The problem is that the old model and new model are too different and the flashback is a little disconcerting.  But if I make it too different from the original, that would be too disconcerting for those who are very familiar with the old model.  So I found V4 wardrobe that is a close approximation to the wardrobe used in Date Ariane to recreate the scenes I am flashing back to.  It is not perfect, the black dress in the original is strapless.  But it is a good stand in and it looks great.  The restaurant in the sequel has a different decor than the first game (they now use table cloths!), the pic at the top is sort of a hybrid of the two decors.

“Replacing” the old V3 model with the new V4 model is sometimes as easy as a few clicks, but the pose that the V3 was using will get messed up every time.  Many pictures it is not important, I can just load another pose that is comparable, but many others where Ariane is interacting with other objects, that gets messy.

Sometimes it is not just a new model.  There is new technology.  I posted once about my work around for water issues, but I have found others that have solved it.  Water can now be manipulated, and renders can both refract underwater items, and reflect above water items.  Water turbulence is also controllable.

Ok, I have shown you new Ariane in a red shirt, in a black dress, in a blue bikini.  What’s left?  Oh yeah…