The First Single Character Erotic Online Dating Sim in 3D


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


  • […] 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.

    This might be true for the lands south (and west) of Canada, but more civilised areas of the world are not that prudish and hypocritical and do not have double moral standards to the extends observable in the U.S.

    Why is violence accepted in movies and computer games? Because the youth has to be trained early enough to become soldiers and fight the future U.S. wars. Future wars will be most likely won by UAVs, and controlling them is much like a computer game. So violent computer games are a good training, not only for cannon fodder (but of course for them, too).

    Most Americans are not as clever as they could be if the U.S. had an education system like let’s say Scandinavia. I mean, they consider Fox News to be news instead of dumb propaganda. The U.S. is (and probably always was) a paranoid people: From the very beginning the U.S. felt to be attacked by foreign nations and thus introduced the 2nd, on which the NRA relies down to the present day, although it is rather useless: This August is the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington of 1814, when the U.S. captiol was burned although “[…] the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” since 1791. Although no other civilised country has so much guns per capita, the U.S. has the highest percentage of convicted murderers and criminals sentenced to life. Compare some murder rates of civilised countries: Australia 1.0, Austria 0.6, Canada 1.6, Denmark 0.9, France 1.1, Germany 0.8, Italy 0.9, Japan 0.4, Luxembourg 0.6, New Zealand 0.9, Norway 0.6, Spain 0.8, Switzerland 0.7, United States 4.7 (that’s almost twice the figure of Afghanistan, which has 2.4).

    In most European countries violence is much more outlawed than in the U.S.: Even Switzerland, whose armed forces are formed by a well regulated milita has quite strict gun control laws. And if you ever were in Amsterdam, Holland, or on any European Beach during summer time, you propably wouldn’t quote sex and nudity as something considerd dirty and shameful by the general European population. So it is no wonder that it is a french website (sharks lagoon) that made Ariane popular.

    If you want to successfully monetize Ariane, you probably shouldn’t start in the U.S., but rather in Europe or Japan, and avoid U.S.-controlled platforms like Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store where hypocritical puritans decide what is acceptable.

    Besides of that, keep up the good work!

  • Suffice to say, it’s not the existence of tools, but the application of how it’s used that is in error in the US, while here in continental Europe – the problem is much much lower – Cpt. Crunch…

    I’d like to add some comments about DA myself, as seen from my point of view. First, the game was pretty unique when it launched. It spawned a sub-genre with it’s story, non-linear pathways (at least seemingly), and the main character.

    Secondly, I must say I’m not overly fond of those extremely large-chested alternatives. It makes the story unbelieveable, while DA is very believeable. Other people have different options, of course.

    Thirdly, the renderings seems to improve very much. The shadows aren’t ‘wrong’, so it seems you’re using raytracing, and it isn’t as punishing on the computer as in the past (though I use Uber Environment light to fake ‘self-shadowing’ to create soft shadows).

    Last, the smart thing game developers did to milk their audience (rightly or wrongly), was the development of DLC’s. It isn’t the money-making reason that impresses me, but that you can ‘latch’ extra content onto an already existing game, an even allow outside developers create DLC’s. To me it’s more of how much time anyone can spend on one project. The more time spent on the project, the higher the frustration-factor for those waiting for the game.

    So, you could take a leaf out of the pro’s game; the main-game, DLC’s and a reboot of Dating Ariane to allow DLC’s from not just yourself, but from outside developers.

    If you want to cash in, I’m afraid the US is a bit fake-prudish. The European and Japanese market is more suited. And you might think about trade mark and such thing to protect DA – so you won’t be used/abused by unscrupulous people. At least the name ought to get protected as it isn’t a real person, but a fake persona.

    And I’ll end with a note on how to make this thing cross-platform compatible – it seems the only way is to use HTML if you want to game to be readable on all OS platforms (Apple, Android, Windows etc.). So, you probably did the right thing.

  • On lighting:
    I’ve learned lighting techniques as I have progressed in my 3D art. Poser has many lighting tools, but the only one that works consistently is ray trace shadows with a shadow blur radius between 2 and 5 (depending on how far away the light is supposed to be).

    Image Based Lighting (IBL) can look even better than ray tracing, but it is tough to get right and takes a lot longer to render. The picture at the top of the article is an IBL rendered pic. Depth map shadow rendering is supposed to be better but it seems to be bugged in Poser (unless I am doing something wrong).

    So except in cases where I need something to look extra beautiful, Ray trace shadows are the way to go. I like using 3 Ray Trace bounces, and irradiance caching at 50. Seems to be the right balance between speed and quality.

    On HTML:
    Renpy gives me a pile of nice tools for sound, music, and animation I can’t easily replicate in HTML, but HTML reaches a much bigger audience.

    I’m starting to write a third game, and I am torn between making another Renpy game, or using Tlaero’s Adventure Creator to make another HTML game.

  • The render you posted here is a far cry from those used in DA back in 2004. It’s much better. The problem with deep shadow map renders are backlighting (example here, the light in the mouth looks wrong):

    Eve_great room02

    I usually call it the “glowing nostril”-phenomenon, and raytracing removes it altogether. The problem with raytracing, is how sharp the shadows can be, and that’s why I use some cheats to make soft shadows. I’ve used IBL for environment lighting purposes, specially if the environment-spheres includes the light presets.

    You can also add the map into the UE2, so it mimics the same lighting as IBL. In fact it might _be_ IBL for all that I know. 🙂

    How about the hair? I’ve always had problems with hair. I usually use props-versions, one goodlooking one you’ve added onto V4 I see you’re using in the picture above. And I read about how one can use dynamic hair in Poser. Got any good experience using those? My solution as a user of DAZ Studio came through the LAMH (Look At My Hair) plugin. I don’t use Poser, so my experience is different, but the plugin does seem to do the trick.

    Maybe you should try out Tlaero’s Adventure Creator, if you’re eventually going to use HTML… And make a comment of how useful you think it is.

  • I would just like to give a shout out to myself, who is making my own version of an HTML game using the aforementioned Adventure Creator engine. It’s inspired by tlaero’s games which were kind of inspired by yours but yeah. It’s going to be more romantic than porny I think. Anyway, it’s called Inspiring Celina and there’s a thread in the projects section so whee. hoping I can be as good as you or tlaero XD

    Anyway, thanks for the well written article/ shout outs. Also nice to hear you’re making a third game. But if you do, any chance it could have more in depth sex scenes? Hehe

  • Hmmm…just a suggestion. Since there are currently 2 games with Ariane, and there will be a third, you could rename Ariane’s Facebook page to ” Ariane’s World ” or “Ariane’s Games” … So people would not be ashamed to admit in public that they like an online dating game. 🙂

    • Once you have 100 likes you are not allowed to change the name of the page. Now that I have over 900, I have to keep it the way it is.

      • Hmm, I did not know that . Personally, I don’t care abou what people will think about what I like or dislike on the Web. I used to draw half- naked heroines over the years, and received lots of criticism… But it did not stop me from doing what I liked.

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