Director’s Commentary 3: Magic, Malice, and Mayhem
This is a continuing series of directors commentaries on the Something’s In The Air game available here. It contains spoilers, and this post is best read after playing the game first.
Almost exactly one year ago, I posted the first beta of Something’s In The Air on a couple of websites where I knew I would get constructive feedback and very few downloads. After spending two years developing the Rachel character, and even longer developing Ariane, the two “dates” in story 3, Bonnie and Veronica were basically throw away characters, undeveloped extras.
The entire purpose of story 3 from the get go was to 1. have a couple of dateable characters besides Ariane and Rachel, and 2. better establish the important plot point about whether or not there is a lightning storm around 11PM on Saturday night. All of the Ariane dates end in a storm, and all of the Rachel dates don’t. Bonnie and Veronica dates establish that Rachel is the “one of these things that is not like the others.”
To accomplish my goals, all I needed was a couple of stories that end in a thunderstorm. For fun I decided to give story 3 a comic book theme: using a font that looks hand written, occasionally abandon the first person perspective like on the road trip with Veronica, and adding floating onomatopoeia words in the pool table scene. Following the comic theme, the plots were originally designed, to be “good” Bonnie vs “bad” Veronica. Many changes later the official theme turned into “Bad dates”. Bonnie and Veronica demonstrate how badly dates can go, as a way to balance all the relatively good dates of the other dateable characters, and also because bad dates can be really funny.
Story 3 is the shortest, and the first one I completed, and ultimately the one that changed the most in beta testing. This was the original Bonnie:
She looked “exotic” with darker skin tone but Asian facial features. Cute but dressed rather plainly. The comments I got on her were not favorable. It also was pointed out that Wendy the weightlifter had already filled my quota of dateable exotic darker skinned beauties, and between Ariane, Wendy, Veronica, and most of the time Rachel, I had too many Brunettes. So I made her a blonde haired blue eyed beauty, which was OK since I cut two other blondes (Heidi and Stacy) roles to support characters.
That’s enough history, let’s get started with story 3…
Go Back to Sleep
The story opens with a naked blue “Medusa” with snakes for hair. This opening image is supposed to get a “WTF?” reaction from players. Stories 1 and 2 are pretty normal and reality based, and suddenly we have a naked blue creature with a magical staff. Like most movies and TV shows where something is out of place, it ends up being a dream sequence, or in this case a video game. Trivia: the head shape for “Medusa” is the same head shape as Veronica, she also has blue skin, Veronica’s skin is later painted blue.
We then meet Ranger Dude who is the game avatar of the player character. I have been into MMORPGs for years, so when I decided to incorporate a game within a game, it had to be an MMORPG. My original plan was to make these video game scenes in Second Life, to make the gaming scenes more primitive looking than the Poser pictures, but ultimately decided that it is more interesting if the video game scenes look just as real as the reality scenes, and have the fantasy elements be their only distinction.
One of the games I play is Guild Wars, and I usually played a Ranger. In the original Guild Wars, a global rule was that most of the beasts in Tyria were based on one of the four classic Greek elements: fire, water, air, and earth. If you hit such a creature with its opposite element, it would do more damage. Fire creature hate water (ice) damage, creatures that spew electrical damage (air) were damaged themselves by earth (rock) damage. Many RPGs from the original Dungeons and Dragons to World of Warcraft had similar rules regarding elemental damage. My strategy in Guild Wars was to carry four bows, each with a different elemental string and switch to the bow most likely to damage the creatures I would be facing. It was a very successful strategy for me, but rarely used by players, because they did not want to carry around a bunch of different element damage weapons all the time. Elemental damage was dropped completely in Guild Wars 2 due to lack of popularity.
But I kept the elemental damage rule for my game within a game, in fact the silly name for my made up MMORPG is “Elemental Realms” thus emphasizing the rules of elemental damage. The Medusa of legend turned men into stone if you looked into her eyes. That makes her an Earth based creature, and thus most vulnerable to lightning damage. It also happens to be a cool foreshadowing of things to come. But this is a comedy, so the tense video game scene ends in a penis joke.
Next is the baseball scene. In writing the plot I meticulously figured out a timeline for the days events. The game starts at 7 AM on Saturday, and Ariane and Rachel are both in the restaurant bar at 7 PM. I needed a way to keep the player busy for a few hours so he would get to the restaurant bar after Ariane and Rachel had already left. An afternoon baseball game that runs late was the best I could come up with. Once a longer scene, the baseball game is now one heavily edited picture my dad took at a Yankee Stadium, with all references to Yankees, Major League Baseball, or the dozens of real companies advertising in the background blurred out or changed. Of course the city that this whole adventure takes place in is never named, so the baseball team can’t actually be named either.
The game ends after 8 PM, so when you get to the bar Rachel, Ariane, and Dave have already gone. Veronica, who just came from the movie theater as seen in story 1 is there.
Let’s talk about Veronica. She is the token “bad girl”. Because I have had my car stolen by kids so they can go on joy rides, ultimately getting my car back a few days later when the cops find it abandoned somewhere, the idea of a car thief seemed pretty evil to me. My original model design was very simple: This Assassin Angel character at DAZ seemed the obvious choice, especially due to her resemblance to Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds. Eventually, I decided the resemblance to Angelina Jolie to be too distracting, and went with Jordana Brewster from The Fast and The Furious films. (Just kidding, I went with a generic female head), but I kept the sexy leather outfit and the tattooed skin.
I’m aware I am using a tired trope in representing a “bad girl” with tattoos. I know quite a few women with tattoos, and none of them are evil. Good tattooed skin is hard to find in Poser models, so call it a coincidence that the only tattooed character is a “bad girl”.
Ironically, she is also wearing a “cross” necklace. I originally envisioned the character’s personality to be similar to Faith the Vampire Slayer, who ironically wears a cross to slay vampires. My universe does not actually have vampires (or does it?), but I added the cross with that in mind. Veronica is also very tech savvy, and the camo hip pouch she wears is filled with cool tech gadgets.
For example, fancy new cars can be potentially easy to steal by the sophisticated techie thief. Newer cars can be “called” through the cell tower network. That’s how car control apps on smart phones work, and how OnStar or similar services can remote control your car. I figure Veronica has some kind of hacked device that lets her unlock cars after scanning the VID number bar code. Once in, she can attach a computer to the terminal port under the driver dash of every new car and start it up. All of this is technically possible to do, though there are plenty of safeguards in place. This is how I imagine Veronica steals fancy late model cars in 5 minutes for joyriding purposes.
Sure I just got done watching five hours of baseball…
But for the purposes of this commentary we are going to talk about baseball which is a big turn off for Veronica. This is the only real choice in story 3 and it is a purposely vague choice. Talk about baseball gets you Bonnie for the evening, not talking baseball gets you Veronica.
Bonnie’s story is pretty simple. After she gets off work, she suggest billiards and the place most likely to have a free table is a strip club. The “Live Cabaret” is a popular venue in Date Ariane and I wanted to find a way to bring it back in SITA. This is what I came up with.
If you look at the “Live Cabaret” posters in Date Ariane, you will see that “billiards” is mentioned on the advertisement poster (as if that would be an important selling point for a strip club), so you can see I was already establishing this plot when I made the poster.
Like Bonnie, I played pool all the time at the Student Union in College. In designing the placement of balls on the table during these pics I made a real game out of it, having Bonnie plan out each shot like a pro.
As you play, Bonnie flashes back to an event where she ended up on stage and accidentally took her top off. This was originally the best way I could think of to get Bonnie naked in this short story: in flashback. Later of course, I added a sex scene.
Trivia: The “original” Bonnie’s left arm makes a cameo appearance in the animation of the winning shot. After deciding I needed to replace old Bonnie with new Bonnie, I had to redo about 50 or so pictures, including Bonnie’s appearances in story 1 and 2. The 8 ball animation took hours to render originally, and I did not want to do that again, so I figured I would keep the original animation and with the lighting, no one would notice it is not “new” Bonnie’s arm making that shot.
After winning the game, Bonnie has a “psychic” flash that something is about to happen, and sure enough a storm happens, and that is where the “original” Bonnie story ended. The abrupt ending was a result of me not knowing how to end it. I could not think of a good ending that wasn’t basically something that also happens on the Ariane or Rachel dates already.
Even though the story accomplished my goals, it was too short. My first attempt at lengthening the story involved an exotic dance by a topless “vampire”. I had a short piece of music I could use, and thought it would be fun to animate the routine to the music. If you stop advancing the pictures just as the dancer shows her fangs, the game will display the dance routing in perfect sync with the music.
That made for good story padding, but the ending outside the strip club still seemed too abrupt. I figured that players would make up their own ending, but beta testers didn’t like that. One of my beta testers said the whole plot seemed “fishy”, like the date was a “setup” to “something”, but then nothing happened. Another beta tester just wanted a sex scene, even though you barely know this girl.
That’s when I realized what was missing: While I still could not think of a “good” way to end Bonnie’s story, I could think of a ton of ways to end it badly. So many bad endings in fact that it became a question of which “bad” scenario should I add? Then I realized I wanted to do all of them.
This is contrary to visual novel rules that provide choices to get to the endings. Not only that, these endings are completely contradictory; is Bonnie a budding porn star?, or a good Christian? Then I thought, “Screw convention, its more entertaining if you never know what you are going to get.” The Bonnie plot is ultimately about sleeping with a woman you barely know, and realizing after the fact it was a bad move. Besides, like Veronica (obviously), Bonnie is a one shot guest star, so it really does not matter what the canonical “real Bonnie” is.
I like the idea of random bad endings so much I’m bringing it to Date Ariane Upgraded. After realizing that there are 118 pictures devoted to a rarely accessed part of Date Ariane where she gets drunk on whiskey, I decided I don’t want to spend that much effort remaking that scene. My plan is to replace Whiskey with Absinthe, and instead of Ariane passing out, you the player will pass out and wake up in one of 10 random strange places.
And there you have it. Story 3 is complete. Eventually, I’ll get around to doing one last commentary on story 4.