Rachel and Ariane: An Experiment in Storytelling

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After finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane back in July 2015, I have been tinkering with the idea of what would happen if Ariane (of Date Ariane fame) and Rachel (of Something’s In The Air fame) were to meet.

I made both games for my own entertainment, and I am glad they have been successful. So I started tinkering with Rachel and Ariane being the third part of the trilogy.  I’ve never tried writing a story like this, and so I’m not sure what I am doing, and kind of making things up as I go along.

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So far it is coming off as “official fanfic”. I struggle with the writing part, but I am really having a lot of fun doing the pictures part, which is why I keep going.

I released part one in October 2015, a piece at a time until the final part was released on Halloween, when the story was set.

It starts with a “meet cute” as all rom-coms do, in this case they show up to a Halloween party dressed the same.  As they get to talking they discover they are the same in a few other ways as well.

After Ariane finds out Rachel is a supermodel, Rachel takes Ariane home and tests her in a few ways. Ariane passes the tests, and they end up getting drunk together.

It ends with Ariane revealing her never before revealed job: game developer. Rachel, being a game addict herself, is intrigued and wants to get together again.

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Rachel Dates Ariane is set about two weeks later, or mid November, though there was over a year before I released it in November 2016.

It almost follows a typical “Date Ariane” date. Rachel comes over, and they play video games (tying back to the end of part 1) then they go out for dinner. This time to a pizza place they both like (Pizza Mia shows up in both games). Then back to Ariane’s and some naked hot tubbing.

Rachel then makes a (intentional?) move that results in the two of them in bed naked together.  Can two mostly heterosexual women find love? or is it doomed to “friendzone”? Is that necessarily a bad thing?

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I just released part 3: Rachel Takes Ariane’s Photo. I tried to make it more game like with choices to eventually turn it into a game, which I actually made, and found it repetitive as most of the choices end up in the same place.

So I just converted it to HTML and posted it all at once. It’s about 23 HTML pages total using simple links to the choices you pick.

It takes place still in November, with still autumn colors (which is part of the plot). The two key scenes for me are the “short cut” and Rachel setting up cameras.

I establish in the games that Ariane is a bit of a dare devil or “Action Girl”, but never get a good opportunity to demonstrate it. The short cut scene is Ariane demonstrating that part of her personality to Rachel, who being a science geek is not all that thrilled with that side of Ariane.

Then when we get to the the actual picture taking, Rachel is the one demonstrating her personality, talking about photography in a geeky way and having it go way over Ariane’s head. The photo session itself is very clinical and very professional, the way a supermodel likes it, and with the exception of one version of the photo shoot, no where near as sexy as the ones Ariane did in Date Ariane.

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Control of what happens to the photos is in the hands of the photographer, or the party that commissioned the photos in the first place. That means Ariane has no control.

The objective here is to add a little bit of conflict. Differences that could get bigger later.

I’m working on a part 4, which basically would be act 3 of a typical 3 act story: Things get worse before they get better. It’s tough to write characters I like struggling with stuff, so I am struggling writing it. I don’t know if it will be linear like parts 1 and 2, or whether there will be multiple versions based on choices like part 3.  Depends on what works best.

Even if you don’t like the writing, I think I did some great pictures here. The pictures are actually bigger than they display on the web page, parts 2 and 3 are 1960×1080. Just right click and view picture to see the full sized images.

Date Ariane The Game: One Year Later

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This weekend marks the first anniversary of the release of the Renpy version of Date Ariane: The Game.

Since its release, it has been downloaded 2.7 million times, which is pretty darn good for an independently produced game. There may be some overlap as multiple versions were released, and people were updating, but in the same time frame I have had over 2 million unique visitors to the web site.

Some numbers: 55% were windows downloads, 38% were android downloads, 6% were Apple Mac, and 1% were Linux.

61% of the downloads were in English, 28% were in Portuguese, 8% in German, 3% in French, and 0.6% in Spanish.

Pretty impressive considering the foreign language versions have only been around since late March. The game has gone viral in Brazil, with 750,000 downloads from there in the last 4 months.

Date Ariane has a gaming channel on You Tube with over 100 videos listed. (almost all the most recent are in Portuguese). A general gaming search produces 473 videos currently.

I’m currently in the process of uploading new versions of the games that include over 100 new renders like the one above. Notice how the window reflects the interior now, which happens when it is dark outside. All the new renders are in the living room and the drive-in diner.

English version build 112 has a number of fixes and tweaks to game play covered in detail here.

I can’t change the international versions much without killing the translation mechanism, so the minor tweaks I made to the English version are not in the International versions. However, the improved pictures are there, and also a new TITLE SCREEN! Once released the French, German, and Portuguese versions will no longer say they are in beta.  More build notes and bug fixes here. All versions should be updated by the end of the month.

Something’s In The Air has now passed 500,000 downloads. There seems to be a lot of call for a Portuguese version, but it would need 6 to 10 translators to do it right. I could release a machine translation that I know everyone would hate.

Got some ambitious plans for the future, including a 6 episode season of stories involving Ariane and Rachel where this is the first episode. I’m also thinking about new games involving SITA girls Paula, Wendy, and Janice. (You are probably trying to remember who Janice was, aren’t you?)

I’m also considering an HD versions of Date Ariane and SITA that I could make available for sale on Steam or something, that would be made from high resolution PNG files like this one or this one.

I think I got my work cut out for me.

Ariane and Rachel at Star Wars II: The Espresso Strikes Back

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A continuation of this story.
Note: this is basically a review of Star Wars the Force Awakens in story form, I avoid most of the major spoilers but if you want to avoid all spoilers, you probably want to wait and read this later.

So we all left the movie with smiles on our faces, eager to talk about the film we just saw. Rachel pointed her toy blaster at the coffee stand next door.

Rachel started, “So I can tell by our smiling faces that you all enjoyed the movie as much as I did.”

“I just have to ask,” interrupted Paula, “When did you get your hair done, Ariane?”

“Rachel did it in the theater while we were waiting for the movie to start,” I explained. “She said I needed a more Star Wars hairdo.”

“I wanted to do it with three pony tails like Rey in the movie, but I only had two hair ties,” explained Rachel.

“Cute,” said Paula.  “With that out of the way, am I the only one who felt like I was rewatching the original Star Wars?”

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I agreed, “Yeah, it felt like a remake with the serial numbers filed off. There are so many obvious parallels, a new Darth Vader, a new Grand Moff Tarken, a new Obi Wan, a new Death Star, a new Emperor and a new Yoda. They all just have different names, except Chewbacca. Props for gender swapping Luke and Leia.”

Rachel looked puzzled, “I get your analogy, you are saying Rey is basically this movie’s Luke Skywalker, complete with light colored clothes and a desert planet home, but who was Leia?”

I said “Finn” and Paula said “Poe” at practically the same time.

“I think you are both right.” said Rachel. “While the plot is note for note nearly identical to the first movie, it is not a perfect remake. Finn has more in common with C3PO from A New Hope than Leia. I’m not sure there is a Leia.”

“Noted,” I said, “Still the lack of originality in the plot is my biggest complaint.”

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“Not mine,” said Paula, “I know this is science fiction, and I know George Lucas has an explanation why 12 parsecs is used as a measure of time and not distance, but sometimes the liberties they take are just way too silly.

“You would think that after the first two death stars were so easily destroyed that the bad guys would have learned their lesson, bigger is definitely not better. Now they turn a planet into a space station?

“How does this ‘Star Killer’ move around the galaxy and still have an atmosphere?  The fact that they are creating artificial sunspots and sucking a sun’s plasma away would in and of itself destroy the atmosphere of the converted planet, but also the electromagnetic discharge of these artificial sunspots would fry all the electronics in the entire station.”

“Umm, good points,” said Rachel cautiously. “Excellent observations Professor as usual.”

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Rachel continued, “My biggest complaint is what was missing. Disney wiped out the Timeline of Legends also known as the Expanded Universe so they didn’t have to worry about continuity with the books and comics that continued the story after Return of the Jedi.

“Instead they dropped clues to a completely different timeline that is just as interesting. Luke disappeared? Han and Leia had a son? Where did this First Order come from and how did it get so powerful?  I want these stories dammit!”

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I had to laugh. “It seems we all have our own little biases that change how we see the world,” I said. “I like new and different, and complain when I see sameness. Paula is the scientist who views the world scientifically, and Rachel is the sci-fi geek who likes great stories.”

My statement created a lull in the conversation, Rachel and Paula both quietly took sips of their coffee and I joined them.

“Still…,” said Paula finally breaking the silence, “Good movie.”

“Yes,” Rachel and I said simultaneously before getting back to our coffee.

Ariane and Rachel Go See Star Wars

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I was on my way to the local premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens when I was accosted by a stormtrooper.

“Halt right there, let me see your pass!” the stormtrooper said, though I could tell it was Rachel under there.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” I asked.

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“Ha, good one!” Rachael said as she was taking off her helmet.

“Thanks, you look ready to see this. Are you excited?” I asked.

“Of course.” she said, “By the way where is your costume?”

“This is my costume,” I said, “Can’t you tell, I’m Jessica Jones.”

“Ah, of course. I just have a couple of problems with that.” she said.

“First, I recall you wore the same outfit the last time I saw you, and second, Jessica Jones is part of the Marvel universe, and we are here to see Star Wars so you are supposed to dress like someone in the Star Wars universe.”

I of course knew this would come up. Rachel is a sci-fi geek and tends to go all out. I decided to have a little fun.

“I can’t help it if Jessica Jones happens to dress like me, besides isn’t the Marvel universe and the Star Wars universe the same thing?”

Rachel gave me an odd look, so I continued:

“I mean Star Wars and Marvel are now owned by Disney, and if all the Marvel comics are set in the same universe, and Marvel published a bunch of Star Wars comics in the ’80s, then they have to be the same.” I did my Google searching before I arrived.

“Nice try,” said Rachel. I knew some geekiness was about to come. “The Marvel Star Wars comics did not contain any references to other Marvel characters, and even if they did, they are not canon, and even if they were canon, they would be part of the old ‘expanded universe’ which are now called ‘The Timeline of Legends’ which Disney decided to drop for the new movies. Also since 1991, Star Wars  comic books have been published by Dark Horse Comics.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t understand most of that.”

“That’s OK,” replied Rachel with a sigh, “Someone who is better at explaining stuff is on her way here now.”

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I turned around and a red-headed woman dressed similar to “Rey” from the trailers with a BB8 droid rolling beside her.

Rachel made the introductions “Hello Professor, I’d like you to meet Ariane Barnes, the friend I was bringing.”

“Nice to meet you Ariane,” said the professor, “Just call me Paula. As you can guess I teach at the college, and Rachel has taken a couple of classes from me.”

“Well nice to meet you too,” I said, “Nice droid.”

“Thanks,” said Paula, “When I heard that they made a droid like this for real for the movie, I figured out how it works and built one for myself in the college robotics lab. It’s not perfect but it’s a work in progress.”

“Uh, Paula,” said Rachel hesitantly, obviously she prefers to call her Professor, “We were just discussing if there were any connections between the Marvel universe and the Star Wars universe, what do you think?”

“Sure, that’s easy,” said Paula who grabbed a smart phone from a hidden pocket and tapped away for a good minute or so at an impressive speed. Even more impressive is what happened next.

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Paula’s BB8 droid turned around and displayed a holographic projection into the street, then Paula started to explain, “As stated in the introduction of every film, Star Wars is set ‘in a galaxy far, far away’ while the outer space adventures in Marvel are primarily set in our own Milky Way galaxy mostly on Earth but also other planets in the galaxy in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, or even parallel realms like Asgard in the case of Thor. So Star Wars and Marvel could be in the same universe, but on different galaxies which explains the lack of crossover.  Any questions?”

“Yeah I have one,” said Rachel, “How the hell did you just do that?”

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“Just some new tech we’ve been working on, I decided to add it to my droid here, even though it still does not work in daylight or under bright lights,” explained Paula.

“What generated this question in the first place?” she asked.

“Oh I didn’t have a Star Wars costume to wear so I just dressed like normal and told Rachel here I was dressed like Jessica Jones.  She as expected, geeked out on me with trivia,” I explained.

Paula laughed, “Rachel actually knows more about this stuff than I do, I’m not even sure who Jessica Jones is.”

“A TV show on Netflix that came out last month, based on a Marvel character, it’s really good if you get a chance to check it out,” explained Rachel as she put back on her stormtrooper helmet. I agreed it was good.

“Oh, maybe I will,” said Paula, “I don’t watch much TV, my spare time has been spent working on BB here.”

“Well good job on BB8, I’m thoroughly impressed with him,” I said.

Rachel agreed, then said, “I think it is time we go in and find our seats.”

stormtrooper and BB8 TM Lucasfilms Ltd.
Female stormtrooper and BB8 by rduda
Jessica Jones TM Marvel Inc.
App enabled BB8 droids are available from Apple

Something’s In The Air now works in Android

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It has been a long time coming, but Something’s In The Air is now available for Android. You can download it at https://arianeb.com/sita/download.htm

The early version of Renpy that Something’s In The Air was written in was not Android compatible, and when I tried to upgrade to the latest, it broke a lot of the game puzzles. After a couple of weeks of figuring out how to fix the puzzles and doing a full play test, I decided to upload it to my site, only to find out no one was able to get it to work.

I finally got a hold of an android tablet and confirmed that there was an issue. In my attempt to fix it I made a special Android only version of the game with smaller pictures and removing the player name feature (input prompts are a known bug in Renpy android). Neither of those were the issue as it turns out, and I finally found that the issue was a misplaced file. Still I am keeping the smaller pictures and no player name feature out of the Android version. I play tested all the potentially problematic puzzles and they seem to work.

It takes a while to load, and some of the animations stutter a bit, but it works.

The Other Updates

The PC, Mac, and Linux versions have been upgraded, taking advantage of the new Renpy features, as well as sharing the same “theme” as the recent Date Ariane version.

I am calling the newest version the “third edition” like a normal novel would. There have only been minor changes to the text and story, predominantly where it comes to events of the “last date with Ariane”.  I dropped the ability to import dates, it was not that popular anyways, and instead created 33 “last dates” that cover most of the major events from “Date Ariane”, I left a few events out and left out details to prevent “spoilers”  for players who play Something’s In The Air first.  Unlike previous versions, you can change the “last date” in the middle of the game. You used to have to start a new game.

Another change from the last version: No more on screen keyboard. It felt a little tacky and not Android compatible. However, there still may be issues with people playing on tablets who cant use their keyboard to type a name in.  As a back up, you can pick from a list of 48 male names.  Names can also be changed at any time in the middle of the game. (this feature is not in the Android version)

Also, buttons are bigger in height, smaller in width. This makes them easier to touch when playing on a small tablet or phone. I changed the main font as well to make it easier to read on smaller screens.  I also fixed a few pictures either because they looked bad or they were not consistent with the new Date Ariane.

A new added feature: You can turn off the “soundtrack” music without turning off the important to the plot music. Music in dance scenes, movie scenes and concert scenes will play as normal, but theme music and background music will not play when soundtrack is off.

Date Ariane: Hooray for Bad Reviews

As I stated before, when I first started making Date Ariane my goal was to do something a bit outside the norm, to create a game where sex and not violence is the primary driver of drama. I also had to make it with no budget so compromises in quality are inevitable as well.

For both of those reasons, I never really cared if someone did not like Date Ariane. The game is not meant for everybody, and I am very well aware of its flaws.

I mention this because there are now well over 100 videos on You Tube of people playing Date Ariane.  Some of them are funny, some of them are well made, some of them are good reviews, many of them are bad reviews, including some extremely popular ones.

I’m of two minds on this phenomenon. On the one hand, reviews of my work do not bother me in the least. I am very well aware that You Tube bloggers like to make fun of stuff they find online, it is what they do and it brings them a lot of subscribers.  As I said above, the out of mainstream nature of the game and low budget nature of the game makes Date Ariane a very easy target to make fun of, in fact I do it myself.

On the other hand, I can’t watch these videos. There is something about watching other people play my games that feels a little creepy.

I have never been able to get through any of them. My feelings when I watch them is similar to someone standing uncomfortably close to me. It also does not help that I know the answers too well, so when they make the wrong choices I know it’s going to end badly many moves ahead.

I wanted to know if I am weird feeling this way, so I reached out to a few other indie game producers. Reactions are split around 50-50. Some developers are like me, a little weirded out.  Others enjoy watching others play their games.

Developer reactions to mixed reviews seems split as well. I guess it depends on what your goals are.  My goals are to make something I enjoy and just put it out there and let the audience find it.  Other developers with more loftier goals of mainstream success can take bad reviews a little harder.  I can understand that. Even though I say bad reviews don’t bother me, if Date Ariane got nothing but bad reviews when I first put it out there, I would have taken it down and would have never made improvements or expansions.

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And speaking of improvements, my on again, off again project of making a Renpy version of Date Ariane is on again. It was absolutely necessary to do the graphic update before attempting it again. My previous attempts were way too ambitious, my goal this time is to keep it simple. My other goals:

  1. A downloadable game that works on any computer without needing a browser.
  2. Much cleaner code that can be edited and expanded easily.
  3. Sound, music, and special effects you can’t do in HTML.

Why make a downloadable Renpy version of the game when the online is so successful?

It is true, the online game gets over 1 million unique players annually, while there have been less than 200,000 downloads of the stand alone only Something’s In The Air.  My first instinct was to try and make an online version of Something’s In The Air.  Two things prevented that from happening, one was the accidental erasure of a hard drive with my only copy ( I was only 5% complete anyways).

The other was the growing popularity of Date Ariane having an affect on my website’s stability. I researched expanding the web sites capacity, but I so far can’t justify the cost. An online SITA would just make it worse.

Making an improved stand alone version of Date Ariane available should make it better instead.

I have no idea how long it will take, probably at least the summer. I am basically rewriting the entire game as there is no way to port the game directly over.  What you see above is all I have done so far, about 28 lines of code.  Better get started.

Finishing Up One And Starting The Next

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Official walkthroughs

One last thing I wanted to do with Date Ariane was create some official walkthroughs. There are a couple of unofficial ones out there designed for Classic Date Ariane, but I decided with the changes I made they are going to be out of date.  So I started posting walkthroughs at arianeb.tumblr.com, coming up with 24 that will pass through all 53 points of interest in the game.

I then created a page you can go to on my website: https://arianeb.com/walkthrough.htm containing links to the 24 walkthroughs as well as an alphabetical index of the 53 points of interest and where to find them.

One of the reasons I did these walkthroughs, besides the constant questions I get of “how do you do this?”, was to make sure every aspect of the game works correctly. I did find a handful of bugs, nothing major, but the walkthroughs will work best if you download the game again or use the online version.

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Experiments for the next game

Another thing I did since finishing the game update was try out Tlaero’s Adventure Creator which is a tool designed to quickly and easily create the hundreds of html files needed for a dating sim type game like Date Ariane.  I wish I had this tool before, because it would save me a lot of time and effort. Version 5, just released, creates pages which will highlight hidden picture links so you can play these games on tablets.  Again, something I wish I had earlier.

That’s the problem with being a pioneer in the field, you don’t have access to all the cool tools that are developed later.

I tried out the program, first by doing some of the tutorials, and then by trying to create an HTML version of the Rachel portion of Something’s In The Air.  I think the experiment was a success in that I learned that converting a Renpy developed project into HTML simply involves a lot of copying and pasting between a Renpy editor and the Adventure Creator. Graphic Puzzles are not so easy to convert as the scripting is in two different languages, but because the Rachel portion of SITA does not involve any puzzles like that it shouldn’t be difficult to convert it to online.

Why would I want to convert it to online?  Popularity.  It took a little over a year for SITA to reach 100,000 downloads. In the past year the online version of Date Ariane has been played by around 1 million unique visitors.  Download reaches about 10% of what online does, a figure more or less confirmed when comparing online virtual worlds with ones you have to download a client first.  Habbo, an online virtual world in 2D, gets 10 times the traffic of Second Life, which is in 3D and requires a client download.

I only finished about 10% of the conversion so far.  I’m mostly doing it as proof of concept.

That concept being that Renpy is easy to develop games in because everything is laid out in a nice script, but once developed I can fairly easily convert it to HTML using Adventure Creator for online play. The download version would be the Renpy game which you could play without having to do stuff that breaks your browser’s security as it would be a stand alone game.

The next game?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my next game would be like. I’m still thinking, actually.

The first concept I thought about and was actually planning to do (hence all my references to a Rachel game being next) is Rachel’s Fantasy Dating. The game would be played from Rachel’s point of view as she goes out with different people.

In SITA, I established she has a fetish for fantasy, so she goes on what seem like ordinary dates, but then she starts to imagine a fantasy scenario to make the date more interesting. Because you are seeing the date from Rachel’s perspective, the costumes and settings would suddenly change to fit the fantasy. The challenge would be to get your dates to play along instead of sit there very confused.

The first trouble with the concept had to do with this being a date simulator of Calvin and Hobbes. The scenarios would be difficult to write as I spent months and could only come up with two: a lake boating trip turns into a pirate adventure, and a particularly awkward date suddenly becomes an alien in Rachel’s eyes.

The latter made me realize this would work better as a web comic than a visual novel. Thinking also about the cost of new 3D sets and costumes for each date also made me realize this would work better as a hand drawn 2D web comic. So I am no longer going to do that project, back to square 1.

My next concept I imagined was an Ariane part 3, that starts where SITA ends: You and Ariane are on a trip together on a tropical paradise. I like the idea of taking Ariane somewhere exotic where nudity is not a big deal, and a new location might get Ariane to be more sexually adventurous.

Trouble with the idea came when I tried to come up with a conflict. Without conflict, the game would just be a bunch of tropical vacation slides.  The only thing I could think of is Ariane’s fear of relationships has her undermining the relationship throughout the trip, your job would be to try to get her to stop and prove you are the one for her.

It is a good idea for drama’s sake, possibly involving probing Ariane’s psyche to get to the root of her fear of relationships. That’s a pretty dark concept and I learned my lesson in SITA not to mix Ariane and dark concepts. Bottom line I would not have fun making a game like that, nor do I think many would like playing a game like that. Maybe once for the sake of the story, but there is no replay value.  Moving on…

My third concept is “Date (someone else)”. Create a new character and create new activities.

The biggest problem here is “What activities?” because there is very little I have not already done in either DA or SITA, so I would just be repeating myself a lot.

But I think I may have found a solution to this one: What if I set “Date (someone else)” in a future where the world is a different place? I could throw in a bunch of sci-fi concepts I have brewing around in my head as well as pick and choose concepts from many of my favorite sci-fi books and shows. Borrowing from the “Rachel Fantasy” concept, I want to make the game 3rd person as you play from the heroine’s perspective, and borrowing from the “Ariane 3” idea, I could make nudity and sexual openness part of the culture as well. I could also make up a bunch of new activities that are not possible today thus mostly avoiding the self repeats.

Here’s my first concept render for a main character and special tech clothes:

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It’s a start, one that I am considering as I try to come up with enough ideas and stories and puzzles to make a game out of it. I’m not even sure if it will be an actual dating sim or more of a classic adventure type game, guess I’ll see how it plays out.