Making of Hopepunk City

Unlike my previous games, with Hopepunk City, I decided to make without sharing status reports.

That means occasionally I will think of stuff to say, and post it here to release after the game comes out.

The Original Introduction

I significantly shortened it, and put most of this backstory buried in the first dialog with Maya, which you can choose to skip.

In the near future the US Government falls. Between huge deficits, Congressional Gridlock, and lack of funds, the Government lost it’s ability to keep society stable. The land that once was the United States divided into various mini-states. Some feudal, some neo-liberal, some communist, some tribal, and many theocratic.

Some of the major cities form their own city-states usually in the form of corporate oligarchies, often called “company towns”. They maintained trade contracts with neighboring states which kept territorial wars to a minimum.

Our story takes place in the now renamed District of Artemis which started as one of those “Company towns” ruled by the Ellison Group, first created by billionaire Ronald Ellison, then taken over by the board of directors upon his death. They stabilized the economy by creating a new currency based on a pool of different cryptocurrencies, replaced manual labor with automation, made power creation 100% renewable, transportation 100% electric, and controlled the economy using Artificial Intelligence.

Putting AI in charge of taxes, salaries, housing prices, and basic commodities like food and medicine created the most stable economy in the former US. AI did not care about ideology or petty politics, only making the best decisions that helped the most people.

While corruption thrived in other human controlled districts, life in Artemis was the most livable — the envy of the rest of North America. This became a problem — everyone wanted to come.

Artemis shared it’s technology with the rest of the world, and some states used it to make similar tech utopias. But because it threatened the people in power in many of the more corrupt states, it failed to spread quickly. Artemis had to enact strict population controls, and people with large houses were forced to share or lose benefits.

There were only two ways in for residency. 1. Know someone with room who is able to sponsor you, or 2. be a lucky lottery winner…

The Original Premise

My original plan (dated February 2020):

My latest overly ambitious idea I decided to scrap was that the player character would be the 5th roommate with Ariane, Rachel, Lydia, and Rachel’s still unnamed sister. Paths for “friends” with everybody, or romance with Ariane or Rachel’s sister if you play as a male, or romance with Ariane or Lydia if you play as a female.

The idea was to make Lydia and Ariane not be fans of Rachel’s sister and that would cause a rift you the PC had to fix. I could never get it to work.

Now my idea involves (for now at least) Trish, Rachel’s model/clothing designer friend from Duquesne. Someone new to meet and get to know.

You (may play as male PC from DA/SITA, male or female PC from AiP, or a new Male/Female character)
You move in as a roommate to Ariane, Rachel and Trish. Ariane and Rachel are kind of a couple but they are having problems.

At first you have conversations to get to know them (introduction to each), then randomly one two or all three are available to talk in various conversations. You can choose thing to get them to like you or dislike you in these conversations.

Solo conversations can lead to invites on dates or invites to their job. If all three of you are present, maybe you play a card game at the table (I’m thinking crazy 8s, cards against humanity, and/or hearts depending on how ambitious I feel.)

Job invites leads to puzzles, dates leads to potential romance — all activities have a sci-fi theme. There are also gifts you can buy for each (a common trope in harem dating games)

Eventually, it ends in one of four ways: 1. Ariane is finally your girlfriend, 2. Rachel is now your girlfriend, 3. Ariane and Rachel reconcile and all three are your friends (Trish is not girlfriend material), 4. You are kicked out of the house because nobody likes you.

What went wrong with this plan?

Life went wrong. First the “Black Lives Matter” stuff happened in June of 2020, and Trish got booted from the house in favor of Maya, an African American character who studied philosophy, giving a person to talk to about what’s going on in this fictional world.

Second, the politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic kind of forced me to make the game about politics. Ultimately this game became therapeutic for me, an opportunity to release some pent up frustration with American politics. So I added political intrigue to my sci-fi romance game, making it a real mess of genres, that is likely to make it less popular.

But I decided I don’t care. I know that the politics of this game is going to be its biggest negative. Creativity is based on emotion, and during the year 2020, politics is what drove my emotions.

The Job Game

The game where you have to get a job and as you train you can get in better jobs, was inspired by April 2020 when unemployment jumped to 20%. Talk about higher unemployment benefits or basic income boosting the economy got me thinking along those lines.

Training would take weeks IRL, but this is just a game, and I made adding new skills as quick and easy as your typical RPG adds skills as you level up.

The job game adds money and influence, so instead of constantly making story based decisions like my early games, this games outcomes are based on your purchase choices.

The AI Government

I made a post a while ago called The Two Tech Apocalypses about the rise of automation and AI, and the fall of the Internet. I incorporated both into the game.

The video in that post mentions the potential for doctors and lawyers to get replaced by AI, but I always thought the one job that AI could actually fix would be politician.

I am not afraid of AI the way sci-fi portrays it. I do not believe it is possible for computers to achieve sentience, no matter how sophisticated they become, so they will not “decide” to destroy humans.

What is possible is that they can become much smarter than us, and make fair political and economic decisions as long as they are fed the right data to base those decisions.

The Politics Game

Even I have to admit the political situation I invented for this game seems a bit weird and unbelievable. Why would a small country go to war on another small country because a bunch of bigger countries ask them to? It seems ridiculous.

As I was writing this, the GOP in the US was considering suspending democracy after Trump lost to keep him in power, and the UK was trying to figure out how “No Deal Brexit” can work without collapsing the economy, and many state governors are refusing to take preventative measures to avoid their local hospitals filling up with Covid-19 patients.

In summary, governments making stupid self-destructive decisions for political gain seems par for the course. By having a “liberal” country behave this way, I’m saying it is not just conservatives that make dumb choices. The US has entered two dumb wars in my lifetime: Democrats started the Vietnam War, and Republicans started the Iraq War.

My twist in this case is to make the “bad guys” liberal, and the “victims” conservative, a reversal of recent trends, but with historical precedent.

The World Building

Talk of a “second civil war” was rampant by both sides during the election of 2020 when I wrote this game. If there was a second civil war it is unlikely to be an easy North-South divide like the last one. Liberals are mostly in cities and conservatives are mostly in rural areas. No way would the US be divided into just two countries. So I fictionally came up with a division of 96 independent states.

I was tempted to draw a map, but resisted. I imagine “Artema” is somewhere in the middle of the US, somewhere between Colorado and West Virginia inclusive. When I talk about issues in other parts of America, I avoid the big middle.

In the future, the immediate Covid-19 issues will be over, but Global Climate change is already getting worse. Western US will likely see droughts while eastern and southern coasts will see floods and storms.

One futurist book I read makes a good case that in the future, the Great Lakes region (both the US and Canada sides) could become a huge population center the way the east coast is now. Large freshwater lakes are the future of humanity, so I incorporated that into the story. Artema is not on the Great Lakes, but it is close enough to be impacted by its growth.

The Personal Third

In December 2020, I pretty much finished the “plot” of the story. The politics, the war, the persuading of politicians, and the two resultant endings. (Note, bad endings that result in wars are way easier to write than good endings that result in peace)

But playing through the game at this point in its creation felt incomplete. The focus of ALL visual novels is ultimately the player and their relationships with the main characters.

I created places in the game for those relationships to happen, but my focus up to that point was the jobs game and the Hopepunk “plot”, neither of which matter if the relationships aren’t believable.

I had a plan to introduce a “Romance Ariane” plot that triggers under the right circumstances. Basically the game would have a mini remake version of Date Ariane, where you visit old and new locations that have changed from the way they were in the original game. You visit the Drive-N-Dine and the waiters and waitresses are shirtless, you revisit the lake that is covered in solar cells, etc.

The original plan was for Rachel and Maya to be “friendable” and getting them to a high friend level is vital to get the good ending of the plot, but I wanted you to possibly have some meaningful interactions. I eventually came up with a way for you to get in a relationship with Rachel that doesn’t involve changing her sexuality. It involves “sci-fi” but I felt the need to explore what kind of asexual she is to get it to work. Maya is not relationship material, but she is casual sex material, but she has to really trust you to get to that level.

Avoiding becoming a Liberal Version of Atlas Shrugged

I recently watched a video breaking down Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (which I have read), and while watching it, I couldn’t help but think that Hopepunk City parallels Atlas Shrugged in key ways. I start out with a potentially long essay about how the world should be run (if you go back and read Maya’s answers to every possible question, it will give that impression), and then I go about showing how good the world is when it is run this way.

I then show the superiority of my world with made up technologies like advanced AI that can replace government, weather control, and new metal that is lighter and stronger than steel. (That last one is actually Rand’s)

Then near the end Maya gives a long winded speech that we can use to convince people who are rational but ideological different to come to our views. Yes, there are unintentional parallels with Ayn Rand.

If you got that impression, you missed the bigger point.

I love books about utopias: (Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Hilton’s Lost Horizon, LeGuin’s The Disposessed, and yes Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is by design a utopian novel), and also dystopias: (Orwell’s 1984, and Animal Farm, Huxley’s Brave New World, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Stephenson’s Snow Crash).

The opening dialog with Maya is my attempt to describe my own idea for a utopia and how it could work, an homage to utopian novels. But then I purposely undermine that idealism. All utopias share at least one flaw: they are built by humans. While technology and automation can fix some of the flaws, it can’t fix them all.

The greater plot is the backstory: In my universe. the United States grew so ideological diverse that they basically destroyed themselves, splitting the country into dozens of smaller states each setting out to prove their ideology is the best.

Ariane is the realist here. Her position is that an ideology of a society is not as important as the survival and security of a society. Yes, ideology can help improve quality of life for it’s citizens, and the best ideologies are those that improve the quality of life for the most citizens, but quality of life goes to zero if society collapses — and war and natural disaster are the driving force of social collapse, not flawed ideology.

The central political theme of Hopepunk City is that cross ideology cooperation — that is conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious — is the only way to avoid societal collapse. It prevents war, and leads to cooperation after a disaster allowing recovery and rebuilding.

Which is a major theme of my thinking in 2020, where a pandemic threatened society’s existence, and certain ideological groups didn’t give a fuck. Their ideological positions were more important to them than the survival of society as a whole.

That to me is the definition of cult like behavior, putting your beliefs ahead of your own survival, and that is the “political” theme of my story. The non political theme is the importance of friendship to quality of life.

Gender Neutral Language

I wrote a whole essay and actually posted it for a while, but decided to take it down for various reasons. Since Hopepunk City is set in a liberal state in the future, I thought it might be interesting to make the entire visual novel gender neutral.

Starting with the careers, there was “busboy” which I changed to “busser”, “waiter/waitress” which I changed to “server”, etc. I’ve actually come a long ways in my thinking on this stuff, when I began I had a career as a “topless waitress” that was only obtainable if you were a female character, but then later decided that all jobs should be genderless, so you can be a “topless server” regardless of what gender you play as. “Topless” is also a word that is often assumed to be gendered as men are “shirtless”. Nope, everyone is “topless” regardless of gender.

I’m not a fan of PC words like “businessperson” or “councilperson” because I always assume that is being used because the person is female. “Firemen” are firefighters, “Policemen” are police officers, business leaders and councilors are the terms used.

Then there are pronouns. I decided to get rid of “he/she” for “they”, “her/him” for “them” etc. I set this as the default format for the language of the game just to see how well it reads. Advocates of ungendered pronouns say that you barely notice it, but that is not very true. I naturally write gendered, and have to go back and find the pronouns, and then the genderless pronouns read odd to me much of the time.

Especially since I have a bad habit of using too many pronouns, the resulting flood of theys and thems was getting confusing. The solution was use more proper nouns instead of pronouns.

For example, one sentence of the game reads “You bought a little gift for Ariane, she thanks you, and she now likes you more.” Gender neutral reads, “You bought a little gift for Ariane, they thank you, and they now like you more.”

Because we are not used to the double “they” as a replacement for a double “she”, it just adds to the confusion. Simple solution is: Use fewer pronouns! Pronouns are a replacement for formal names that prevent repetition.

So you can get rid of the possible confusion by saying, “You bought a little gift for Ariane, Ariane thanks you, and Ariane now likes you more.” That has an opposite effect, redundantly repeating the name too much.

The balance, allow one or at most two pronouns as needed to avoid confusion and sound natural: “You bought a little gift for Ariane, they thank you, and Ariane now likes you more.” You have reached max balance between confusion and redundancy.

I probably want to translate the game one day, and translators (both machine and human) are not good with genderless text. Not sure how to fix that yet.

Occasionally a he or she slips in. When it does, ask yourself who is saying it? Old fashioned thinkers like the American Nationalists and the people of St. Reagan continue using traditional gendered text. So I am using language as an identifier of “sides”.

New Computer, New Graphics

In 2021, my personal life was starting to follow the plot of the game. I decided to move from the hot and expensive southwestern US, and move to still reasonably priced midwest. Part of organizing the move involved buying a laptop, and decided to use my stimulus money to get an Alienware gaming computer with an RTX 3080 graphics card. While this made video gaming look a lot better, it also meant I could render images faster and a lot better, but I had to upgrade from Poser 11 to Poser 12 as the older software didn’t recognize the card.

This lead to a conundrum. I’ve rendered about 85% of the game with the older Poser 11 Firefly graphics, and now I have access to significantly better software and hardware. About this same time I released a trailer, and more then a few said the graphics looks dated. So I decided to re-render all the graphics I had done at that with the new computer.

I was surprised to see how much it improved the look of the game. My goal has always been to make the graphics look as beautiful as possible. Realism is not a goal. These updated graphics in a way did both.

The re-rendering project took about 3 weeks. I also ended up with good starting points to finish the game.

Finishing the game

Hopepunk City has scenes that are a bit gloomy and/or political, and these are balanced by scenes that are fun and happy.

I mentioned above that I decided to move in May 2021. Up until then, I really wasn’t in the mood to work on the fun and happy scenes. I actually worried about my mental health over this fact. Why can’t I finish this?

Between getting the move behind me and re-rendering all the graphics, that bad attitude got put behind me. Scenes I worked on during the last two months were all the romance scenes, all the sex scenes, watching a movie with Ariane scene, and the big house party scene near the end.

The last section was the Date Ariane scenes. It is kind of ironic to me that the section that should have been simple, having done it before, was the part I struggled with the most.

Putting it all together

From the very beginning, I worried if Hopepunk City would be a dud. Many times I considered just making it for myself and not letting anyone else see it, but especially thanks to the work I did in the final 3 months, I’m actually proud of this game.