Other Virtual Women

More random notes from around the metaverse…

The Vanity  Google

Ever heard the term “vanity google”?  It’s basically where you google your own name and any online monikers you may use, and it is actually a good idea to do every now and then, especially if you are being cyber bullied.  I tried googling myself (arianeb) and of course I get a lot of links to my website, as well as blogs dedicated to my dating game, and a growing number of walkthroughs.

It is not surprising to find out that I am not the only Ariane B on the planet.  I already knew about Ariane Blanc, a German Ariane B who owns the “Ariane” sim in Second Life. (If you are in the market for virtual furniture, check out her store), but there is also a French Canadian Ariane B.  I run arianeb.com, and I am arianeb on tumblr and wordpress (which you knew from reading this blog), but arianeb on twitter is a Montreal based singer/songwriter.   I’ve listened to some of the stuff she posted online and its pretty good.  I also found out there is a Facebook ArianeB page, which is about me, but I am not the one who created it. Whoever did, needs to update it, and as for the rest of you, I could always use a few more “likes”. 🙂

Other Dating Sims

But the really cool thing I found while googling myself is that there are a growing number of dating sims similar to my own.  Ugo.com recently did a list of Virtual Girlfriends You Can Date of which I am number 5.  Its an entertaining list covering many kinds of virtual dating with virtual girls. Stay away from #4 (3D Girlz) I got a malware warning when I went there.   Another list that had me as an entry is a list of dating sims at playforceone.com (link NSFW due to ads), a list of 36 other dating sim games available online.  A couple I have tried before were not that good, but that still leaves 34 I have not tried.

One other dating sim appeared on both sites called Keely, a dating sim very similar to mine, in that it is written in HTML with a branching storyline, and uses a lot of Poser graphics based on Victoria 3.  I assume that the character is based on British model Keely Hazell.  I have not played too much with Keely, but it has a much more involved storyline, taking place over many days, like the Japanese dating sims do.  Also, you don’t have to arrow around the picture to find the choices, they are usually at the bottom of the page to choose from.  The thing I’m most jealous of is that Keely already has a sequel, and I still have a lot of work to go on my sequel.

The Virtual Popstar

And since we are on the topic of virtual women online, a recent story from Japan gave me a good chuckle.  Virtual pop stars are hot right now in Japan, the most famous one is Hatsune Miku, a manga styled character who’s singing voice is created artificially using a vocalizer, and does concerts using rear projection technology.

But there is a pop band in Japan called AKB48, and they are very popular (the top 10 chart for 2010 in Japan consisted of songs from only two bands AKB48 and Arashi).  It is a band consisting of a choir of cute young teenage Japanese girls, with new young girls being added as older ones leave.

One of the new girls this year was Aimi Eguchi, a 16 year old according to her bio.  She appeared on magazine covers and videos before it was revealed, she does not exist.  Aimi Eguchi was a composite of 6 other members of AKB48, to the shock of many. It was a silly publicity stunt, and the fun only lasted a few days before the secret was revealed, but the idea that fake can pass as real has generated a bit of buzz.

Reminds me of that under appreciated film S1m0ne from 2002.

Is The Sims Online returning too?

I have mentioned a few times that I got my start on the metaverse via The Sims Online, a 2.5 dimension virtual world first released in 2003.  I only lasted 6 months before moving on to There.  Well it looks like a new incarnation of TSO will soon be returning, this time called The Sims Social, and it will be a Facebook App.

All attempts to attach a 3D Virtual World to Facebook have resulted in failure due to incompatibility of purposes.  If any can succeed it would be The Sims, so it will be interesting to see how this goes.

Japanese Dating Sims

When I originally created my Dating Sim, I thought I was being original.  I knew about games like The Sims that had dating scenarios in them, and I knew about interactive stories, adventure games, and the “choose your own adventure” books, but I figured that my combining all these elements together was an original concept.

It wasn’t too long after releasing the first version that I discovered I was wrong.  A whole genre of “Dating Sims” had risen and declined in the decade before my game.  My ignorance can be forgiven since all of this happened in Japan, and nowhere else.

Before I go on about the Japanese Dating Sims, I should point out that the Japanese never called them “Dating Sims”.  They have Bishoujo games (beautiful girls),  and Ren’ai (romance) games,  both categories do not necessarily mean “dating” as literally as I took it.

The term caught on, because the Ren’ai games released in the early 90’s like Tokimeki Memorial, True Love 95, and a bunch more relationship games seems to have “getting a date” as a major objective. These are just some of the ones known here in the US.  In Japan there have been hundreds of these titles.

A well known sub genre of the Dating Sim is “Eroge” (Erotic game, aka hentai game , or H-game), and Dating Sims themselves are part of a broader genre known as Visual Novels, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

I do not know what is considered to be the first “dating sim”, the early H-game  Dokyusei (1992) seems as good a candidate as any.  Games with sex and nudity existed before, but it was just straight porn or “strip poker” type games.  Dokyusei actually had plot and a gaming objective before the sex and nudity came into play. Like many early titles, eventually non-H versions would appear on consoles, and even Anime based on the game would be made.

I do know that Tokimeki Memorial is the first real breakout title, released in 1994.  It was an all ages program from the beginning, and its gaming style influence many titles to come. It and numerous sequels, have been released onto many consoles and even on cell phones.  Another breakout was True Love (1995) another “eroge” title.  An MS-DOS version in English was released in the US with nudity intact in 1999.

Before you go track these down,  most all the characters in these games are “manga” style drawn characters.  This convention has largely remained throughout the visual novel genre, which is probably why the genre has never caught on outside Japan.

The general settings of these games are also very Japanese.  The most common setting is Japanese prep school, and all the girls are in school uniforms.  The games start out letting you pick what kind of character you are RPG style where you distribute points between, looks, charm and intelligence.  As you move through the school, you meet many girls, and the object is to find girls that your style allows you to “score” with which you must do by the end of a set time period, usually a semester or school year.

It is not always a school setting, but there is always some arbitrary time limit involved.  The games usually also involve many different possible endings making the games re-playable.  Even though the settings often differed, the formula did not.

After about a decade, the formula got tired, and the popularity declined except for small cult followings.  Recently a resurgence has been happening as video game makers have been interested in games for pre-teen and teen girls they have dusted off the old formula, removed the eroge stuff, and reversed the genders making games where girls have to get boys.  These are called “Otome” or GxB Dating Sims.  Gay themed dating games exist as well, but only from indie sources.

Links:
College Romance – A simple flash romance virtual novel, PG-13 contains adult situations but not nudity.
Sim Girl – A flash game that pretty much includes all the stereotypical Japanese dating scenarios, including the H ending.
True Love 95 – The ms-dos game in english, in all of its 256 color glory, downloadable for free. Contains a reg file to allow it to run in windows. In vista or 7 see this note.
Dating Sims at NewGrounds – A big collection of flash H-dating sims, most are probably crap.
Wonderland Days – A PG rated Otome dating sim for girls.

Similarities and Differences with Ariane’s Dating Simulator

While mine is made up of rendered 3D while most of these are hand/computer drawn, the idea that live photos would be way too creepy is a shared idea.  Like mine, most all of these Date Sims adhere to the first person perspective (I thought I was being very original here, but I was just like everybody else).  All dating sims, including mine, occasionally pause the plot for some mini game or puzzle you have to solve to go on.  Mostly still images mixed with occasional animation, is also a shared trait.  The biggest alike quality is of course the multiple possible ending scenarios.

The key differences: Most dating sims allow you to pursue multiple girls, while mine is limited to one.  The advantages of the first is you can construct multiple personality types, mine is stuck with one type.  Other dating sims go on for pages before you have to make a branching decision, while mine has multiple branching decisions every other page.  The advantage of the first method is that you can actually tell a story, mine has to be designed with small story elements that can be told out of order thus sacrificing any semblance of plot.  Another key difference, all other dating sims are made up of “sprite” images overlapped on still backgrounds, while mine are all fully rendered stills.  Their method is a lot less work, believe me.

The biggest original concept on my part (and I wouldn’t recommend it to others) is to code the whole thing in html/javascript.  There are free programs out there that automate the whole process for people  interested in making your own.

The Dating Sim Formula in Other Game Genres

As games have gotten more complex over the years, the Dating Sim seems to have gotten demoted from genre to story element.  One cannot play these Japanese Dating Sims without being reminded of Leisure Suit Larry games for example, though that series was more arcade skill oriented and linear stories.  While The Sims added Hot Date in 2001, it was The Sims 2 expansion pack Night Life that included simulated dates where you had a certain amount of time to impress your date or lose a bunch of friendship points.

But the most complete inclusion of the Dating Sim element into a larger game I have seen is Dragon Age: Origins, where an optional sub plot of the game involves getting friendly, or better yet romantically involved, with your party NPCs. Like the above Dating Sims, this usually involves chatting them up, and responding in ways that gets them to approve, as well as buying them gifts and doing special personal favors for them.  No doubt these formulas show up in other RPG games, but DA:O is the most obvious example.