A Few More Erotic 3D Dating Sims

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August is a slow month, so I decided to break the monotony and try out a few Visual Novel Dating Sims created by other people.  I played four that are at least interesting enough to check out.

Inspiring Celina

Story by Superawesomemans
Graphics by Sylakone2
Download and Online play link

This is the newest and the best of the four that I played.  It involves meeting and getting to know your college biology lab partner Celina.  It is also the hardest of the four as you have to balance charming Celina with getting a good grade on you Biology report. (no, you do not need to know anything about Biology to play)

The first time I played I got an F, and she hated me after that, but eventually I got to know her VERY well.

Hints: Besides choices at the bottom, there are also choices embedded in the pictures, especially in obvious make out scenarios, you will not get far without them.  If you completely give up there is a walkthrough available.

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Sam Spillane, PI

Story and Graphics by Fleet
Download Link Now Updated 1/29/16 will require free registration to download.

This is a game you can download and play on your PC.  Not sure if there are other versions available.
Fleet was one of my volunteer closed beta testers for Something’s In The Air and he is pretty good at what he does.  He has a few games out, but I picked this one to play mostly because I like the idea of a period visual novel in black and white.

Hints: The story is pretty linear, and there is a mystery to solve, the game is won if you can solve it, but since you are allowed to save the game at any point, you can “cheat” and save the game before you have to accuse somebody.

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Virtual Date Girls: Lucy

Story and Graphics by Chaotic
Online play link

This is a browser based game which uses embedded links in the pictures to make choices. Like Inspiring Celina above it is built with Tlaero’s Adventure Creator, which explains why the two games have a similar look.
I decided to play this one because 1.) it is short, and 2.) the adventure is told from the girl’s perspective for a change.  There are three different sexy endings.

Hints: Seemingly meaningless actions can end up being of consequence later in the story.  If you need a walkthrough, you can find one here.

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Secrets of Heaven

Story and Graphics by Leonizer, Agrippa, and Graen
Online play link

Lesson of Passion games tend to be the most erotic of these visual novel games.  Even their plots seem inspired by adult fiction and porn films.  This one is nice and short (only 4 endings).  It also seems to be heavily inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is a bit of a change.  I like the change of pace from their usual fare.  I haven’t found a walkthrough yet though, but it is not that difficult.

Conclusions

All four of these games are comparatively short compared to my two visual “Novels”.  Also they are for the most part set in different times and/or take original perspectives. The story telling is very different in each.  Inspiring Celina is very detailed, you really get to know her.  Secrets of Heaven on the other hand finds some rather flimsy excuses for nudity and sex.

Part of what is driving me to check out other works is to inspire my next work.  I want to do an all Rachel Spahr game next.  Like Lucy above, I  want to tell a story from Rachel’s perspective.  I have already established that Rachel has a vivid imagination, which I can use to tell the story in different fantasy settings.  I also want to think smaller, doing a series of visual “short stories”, like the above four, as chapters in a bigger story.

Still got a ways to go before I even start that project, but in the mean time I might try a few others out for inspiration.

Lessons Learned From Beta Testing

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After just shy of a month of my open beta test, with 30,000 downloads, I have learned a few things. Thought I’d post some thoughts, as well as give people an opportunity to point out other stuff I might have missed.

First the good news, it seems Something’s In The Air is a critical success. Everyone seems to like it the way it is, and thanks for that.  Most of the bugs are in the form of spelling and grammar errors, which are likely to always be a problem.  For me this is good news because I do not have to post any patches, and it is good news for you players, because you do not have to download the latest version.  I am planning an official version 1.0 release, but I can take my time on it.

The bad news, or more accurately less good news, is my surprise at how players played the game. The addition of “endings” was practically a last minute suggestion from the Lemma Soft Forums that only took a couple of hours to implement.  The primary focus of pretty much all players is in reaching the magic 40 endings, instead of what I would hope would be the focus: the over arching story.  There are also a lot of details people miss while rushing to reach the 40 endings.

These observations have led to four changes that will come out in version 1.0:  1.) In order to help people find the 40 endings, I am adding a single page map indicating which endings have been reached, and visual hints to where to find the missing endings. You can see an example of this map in the above picture.  2.) whenever you reach a new ending, a pop-up message will appear on the last screen of the story.   3.) There is now a second section to the gallery called the Player Notebook to point out content likely to be missed in the rush to 40 endings. This includes a Game Clues page pointing out 6 mysteries found in the first 3 stories.  Once at least 5 of the 6 clues are found, then story 4 will unlock, which solves the mysteries.  4.) Another part of the Player’s Notebook is a list of “facts” on 12 different female characters in the game.  Because it is fairly easy to finish all the endings and still miss some of this stuff, this will give you some additional end game goals to work on.

These changes for the most part I have already finished.  What I have yet to finish is some new content like a new Ariane “ending” which ties up a few loose ends.  This will give Ariane 12 endings.  To keep my ending map pretty, I dropped the “Do You Know Any Gymnasts?” ending from Paula (it will still be there, it just will not count as one of the 40 endings).  Why drop it? Because an expanded version of that ending will be shown as a reward of getting all 40 endings. Currently the reward is a lame sight gag, the new reward will basically be Story 4 part 2 with a big dramatic suitable ending to the whole visual novel.  The idea for Story 4 part 2 comes from a rather interesting discussion regarding the ethics of “What Paula Did” over at the Shark’s Lagoon Forum.

My goal is to finish these last two stories over the summer and have 1.0 available then.

In the mean time, if anyone has some more mistakes to point out, or improvement suggestions, please leave a comment.

Director’s Commentary 1: Another Date With Ariane

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Now that the game is out, I thought I’d write some commentaries on the game, throw some insights into my thinking. I’m doing this as a “Director’s Commentary” like you might have in a DVD if this was a movie.  This post will contain spoilers! If you have not played story 1 yet, download the game now and play it first.

If you want to follow along, before you start the game, go to the “Options” menu, then “Prequel Menu”, then select “Did It All!”.  The commentary will be based on that version of Ariane’s story, as I think it is the most fun.  It is designed primarily for fans of the original Date Ariane game, as there are a lot of references to the first game. Also make sure transitions are on, and that the Auto Forward Time is slid all the way to the right so you can follow along.

This “Did It All!” version also has a different opening introduction, mentioning that Ariane is also a friend in town, and that you have been on a few dates, rather than one date.

“Your Alarm goes off at 7 AM…”

My original vision for this game was 6 stories. The first choice would be “Get Up” or “Sleep In”, then the next choice would be “Call Ariane”, “Go To The Gym”, or “Play Video Games”  The original Get Up/Call Ariane is the current Story 1. Get Up/Go To The Gym is the story of Heidi and Wendy, Heidi’s story may be told in the future, Wendy’s story is in the game as “bonus” content in that it just magically shows up after a while. Get Up/Play Video Games is the current story 4. Sleep In/Call Ariane would have been a story about Lydia the Lead Singer. Sleep In/Go To Gym is the current story 2, and Sleep In/Play Video Games is the current story 3.

SITA is a story about how seemingly mundane choices lead to incredible outcomes.  The simple choice of, “Do I get up?” or “Do I go back to bed?” can, in this universe, change the world.  For now we are going to get up and call Ariane.

“You Have Been Out on a few dates…”

Originally, the first image of this game was the second image in Date Ariane.  I originally rendered most of story 1 with the original Ariane model, before I decided that Ariane needed a major makeover. Ultimately there were about 5 different makeovers, and then I decided the old Ariane house set was way too outdated too, and so I upgraded her house to this.  So on one hand, this image looks nothing like the second image from Date Ariane, but on the other hand it represents a preview of what the second image from Date Ariane will look like when I do an update in the future.

By the way, the original name of this story was “Second Date”, but because I made this special version, requiring there to be multiple dates with Ariane in the past, that the name was changed to “Another Date”.

“Some of these dates…”

Most of the time in the making of this game, I render using basic lighting that looks pretty decent, but the Poser 9 Renderer can use some very advanced lighting like “Sub Surface Scattering” which simulates real skin modeling and “Image Based Lighting” that gives a precise simulation of ambient lighting. This picture of Ariane nude in bed uses both of these advanced techniques. The majority of the images in this game do not use advanced techniques, mostly because they are extra time consuming to set up, test, and then render.  A few key pictures in the game do use advanced rendering, another one is coming up soon.

“Hello?”

Like most writers, I started writing the story before I started illustrating.  When I got to the illustrating stage, and realized that illustrating a phone conversation from a first person point of view is boring (it can either be just a black screen with text or staring at a wall with text), I decided a imaginative approach would be much better.  The rules are: 1. You are not seeing any of this literally, so you imagine talking to a naked Ariane, but that does not mean she is.  2. Images slide in and out of frame to give a surreal effect to the conversation. 3. You only envision something once Ariane mentions it.  So when she mentions eating breakfast, you then imagine her in her kitchen.  There are three other phone conversations in this game, and they all follow these rules.

There are no dead ends in this version of story 1, so it does not matter your choices, so we will skip ahead…

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“You arrive at the restaurant…”

Here is another example of advanced lighting. The room is lit by 4 spotlights, and ray tracing uses 3 or 4 bounces. Notice the reflection of the glasses and the bottles on the bar counter, you will not see that kind of detail in any other image set in the bar. Primarily because the image took about 8 hours to render.

All four stories in “Something’s In The Air” have introductory sequences that have nothing to do with the plot of the particular story.  Relevant choices in Ariane’s story do not happen until the theater, which is like the 6th scene in the story.  All of these introductory scenes are designed to 1.) create a setting and introduce characters, and 2.) show how the various stories cross each other.  This same bar scene happens in story 2, only you are there with Dave instead of Ariane.  All of the main characters in the game, except Dave, show up somewhere in story 1.

Here we see Rachel Spahr, who is actually kind of the star of SITA, Stacy the Strip Club Manager, and Bonnie the Bartender.  I should note that when I was laying down the story for SITA, and had to start coming up with names for the characters, I just started making names that start with the same letter as their job: Stacy the Strip Club Manager, Bonnie the Bartender, Heidi the Hairdresser, Wendy the Weight Trainer, Lydia the Lead Singer, Veronica the Vamp, Paula the Professor, etc.

The audio in this scene is an ambient crowded bar/restaurant sound I downloaded from  Freesound.org. It is absolutely perfect for this scene, except that this is supposed to be an American restaurant, and it sounds like a bunch of British accents are heard.  Could not find a better sound with American accents, so I stuck with the British voices. It’s summer after all, maybe they are visiting the States?

“The Restaurant Bar is getting crowded now.”

The background image is a separate render from the foreground.  In the background is Lydia the Lead Singer, and the rest of the band. The basic story there is that the band is about to start their big tour, and they are doing a concert in front of the home crowd.  Some record exec hears their sound check, and then invites band and crew (in the missing story you are part of the crew) to dinner, hence the overcrowded restaurant interfering with your date with Ariane (and Rachel in story 2).

Early versions of this picture had Bonnie the Bartender wiping down the table, thus body blocking your view of the restaurant patron on the far right who is not wearing pants.  Putting clothing on every background character is sometimes an annoying chore, so there are a lot of nearly naked background characters in this game, though most are not this easy to spot.

Ariane asks, “So how has your day been?”  This is a type of choice I use a lot in the game to try and cut down on boring background exposition.  One choice explains what happened to Ariane during the day, the other explains what happened to you. If you talk about yourself, the conversation changes to baseball. References to the baseball game appear a few times later in the story, but are missing if you ask about Ariane’s day.  If you ask about Ariane’s day, and you have already met Rebecca (which in the case of “Done It All!” you have), she will mention that Rebecca had asked out Ariane, too.  Had you not called Ariane before she went to the gym, she would be out with Rebecca tonight. In story 2, Rebecca and Ariane are seen on their date in the background.

“What the hell did you do that for, Stacy?”

When you play this scene on the default setting, or any prequel setting not involving the strip club, Ariane does not call her by name, just some “blonde bitch”.  So if you went to the strip club, and Ariane won the amateur night contest, then suddenly they know each other by first name, and it sounds like they see each other regularly.  Does Ariane now work at the strip club?  I don’t have an answer to that, and it does not matter. Ariane never mentions her career in either Date Ariane or SITA, and I imagined her career was “Video Game Character”, and if you ask Ariane what she does for a living she says, “I work as a model, video game actor, and I sell animations in Second Life.”, so that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

In this conversation, we learn a personality trait of Ariane’s that shows up once or twice in Date Ariane: When she is angry she gets brutally honest.  If you play SITA with a prequel setting in which you slept with her on the first date, she will be a little bit mad at you during the first half of the date, because you waited over a week to call her.  That brutal honesty comes out a couple of times.  The original version of this story was that “angry” version of Ariane, and testers hated her. That’s when I came up with “excited Ariane” (the default version) and later “practically a girlfriend Ariane” which is the version we are playing now.

Incidentally, there is a third version of this conversation you can see if you go to prequel menu and select “Dance and Lost”. Stacy will start calling Ariane “Betty” which is the stage name Ariane used at the strip club.

“You go to the table, there are pictures you took of Ariane.”

Here is another scene that only shows up if you either “Did It All!!” or pick a prequel where you do a photo shoot in the mountains.  In Date Ariane, there are multiple versions of that scene. These pics are the ones where you ask Ariane to take off her shirt then her pants. Another version are pants first.  The pics on the table are a mix of old Ariane and new Ariane, which illustrates that they do look somewhat alike. I was too lazy to recreate all of these pictures with the new model for this game, especially considering how small they are, but after I do an updated Date Ariane, I will update this picture to show only new model Ariane pics.

“You know what, Stacy did us a favor…”

In Date Ariane, the text was always color coded to match the whatever the speaker was wearing. Doing that is very hard in RenPy, but coloring the name tags of the players is very easy.  Every Ariane line prior to this line had Ariane’s name in pink. because she was wearing a pink gown. From this point forward, Ariane has a blue name tag, because she now has a blue shirt on.

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“May I take your order?”

This diner scene has the same funny trick used in Date Ariane in which there is no way to tell if the waitresses have tops on or not. From the pictures on the wall they apparently do not, but things keep getting in the way of your view.  There is a scene buried in one of the Rachel stories that reveals the truth: The waitress is wearing a white top.  In fact, the character model has the top on in every picture, but I used the top to help me with the blocking.

“So. here we are on another date…”

First picture of Paula, the main character from story 4.  If you watch her in the background she is picking up an order of coffee and donuts to go, in story 4 you will find out why. All of the datable girls make a cameo in story 1.  We saw Rachel, Stacy and Bonnie in the bar, here is Paula, Veronica is coming up, and Wendy makes a one pic cameo in a hot green dress in the “Celebrity Sightings” ending, which we will not do in this commentary.

“Well let’s see…”

Usually at this point, Ariane will describe all the things you did on your last date, depending on what you pick in the prequel menu or what you type in to your custom ending.  The “Done It All!” setting has Ariane describing all that went on with somewhere between 8 and 10 previous dates.  Since you apparently just arrived in town a month ago and this is the first time  in over a week that you two have gone out. 10 dates in the span of 3 weeks seems pretty crazy. Many of the dates described cannot even be done in Date Ariane.  Well the whole point is not to be realistic or accurate, the whole point of the very long dialogue is to give fans of Date Ariane a funny reminder of all the crazy stuff that went on in that game.  Often in this dialogue you get Ariane’s version of the dates, which are different from the players point of view.  I especially like Ariane’s take on the mountain photo shoot date.

“So we have been on many epic dates…”

Like I said, there are three versions of “Another Date”, and the post flashback scene is the most obvious divide. The default/no sex version has Ariane making light of you not calling her, and when you tell her she could call you, she does right there at the table.  The “sex on the first date” version reminds Ariane that it took you a week to call and she gets mad again, but then the two of you come to a friendly understanding and she finally forgives you.  The many dates version we are on has you and Ariane having the “What kind of relationship do we have?” talk, which Ariane hates, leading to a Muse and Spirit discussion.  Later if you meet Rebecca, there is some hilarious exchanges.  I had to completely rewrite the Rebecca ice cream scene on the “Done It All!” version as the two other versions made no sense in the “Done It All!” scenario. I’m mentioning this now because we are not going down that path either.

“The theater downtown has three different movies playing.”

Not only did I give the three movies titles that have never been used, I gave them titles so lame that they will never be used.  If you don’t get the joke of “The Maguffin Job”, you should learn what a “MacGuffin” is.  Basically, every action film ever made has had a “MacGuffin” as Hitchcock described it. “The Opposite Gender” does not roll off the tongue like “The Opposite Sex”, but the latter is a real movie, I just needed something that sounds like a romantic comedy.  In Date Ariane, “The Opposite Gender” had not come out yet, and a movie called “Heartbroken” was playing.  You can see this yourself if you scroll back to the flashback scene when you were eating at the fancy restaurant.  That means “The Opposite Gender is the new film that opened up this weekend (and why it is so crowded).  Finally, “Love, As Usual” is the drama film.  The game does not use the titles, only the genres. We are going to Let Ariane Decide.

“You finally get in and the theater is packed.”

The theater model that I used here has an audience of simple stick figures occupying  the seats. If you look at the arms you will notice. The round ball heads broke the illusion, so I used low rez hair figures and painstakingly put the hair on all the foreground audience figures so they look more real.  You can still see the round head ones in the background.   The movie preview has an A rating. I wanted to avoid trademark issues with the MPAA, so as a tribute to the late Roger Ebert I used an “A” rating which Roger wanted between R and X to separate legitimate adult films from porn. In response, the MPAA created NC-17 and then defeated the purpose of the rating by giving the NC-17 rating to porn movies, and now they can’t be advertised.  Now all films between R and NC-17 go with “Unrated” to avoid the “porn” stigma of NC-17.

“As you take your seat…”

So here is the Veronica cameo.  My original draft of Ariane’s date was to have one bad thing after another happen. As the 6 people who saw my alpha version can attest, the date was REALLY bad, bordering on miserable and unfun. Veronica’s phone exchange was twice as long as it is here, and people hated it.  In order to make it more playable it got edited down. When you do finally meet Veronica in story 3, she is not quite as unlikeable as she is here.  Also, she eventually pays dearly for leaving her ringer on in a theater.  A lesson to all theater goers, turn your cell phones off!

When writing the game, I was very sensitive to timeline issue (only to screw it up later when I dropped some stories).  Restaurant was at 7 PM, diner was around 7:20 to 7:45, theater is 8:05.  At this point Veronica leaves and goes to the bar.  In story 3, the baseball game ends around 8:10, and you get to the bar at around 8:20, and you may leave to the convention with Veronica at 8:30. The part of the Veronica phone dialogue that I cut out is Tanner telling Veronica that she needs to find a guy to bring with her to keep his significant other from finding out about their affair, which is why you get dragged to the convention in the first place.  It was way too much dialogue, and there are enough clues for you to figure this out on your own.

“The movie is starting…”

Most of the music I use in the game is from a collection of royalty free music I purchased from the composer Marc Riedinger. He did a romantic comedy song, but I used it in the Ariane flashback scene as well as the Rachel dinner scene. Here I used a piece called “Radio Martini” by Kevin McLeod, one of four non Riedinger compositions, and the only one not in a dance or club scene.

I created vignettes of the three movie genres to portray the movies. “The Opposite Gender” opens with the typical “meet cute” scene, then pic 2 is the inevitable fight, and pic three is the final make up. Every Romantic Comedy movie since Charles Chaplin has followed this formula.  The background pictures are pictures I took while visiting family in Manhattan. The first is Rockefeller Center. The second is a view of the Empire State Building as seen from the top floor of 30 Rockefeller Center.  The third is Times Square, which is purposely blurry to avoid any copyright complaints from advertisers in Times Square.

Funny fact about all three movies: The main actor and actress models are the same in all 3 movies. I just changed the hair and clothing. In fact not very well, the actor in the romantic comedy is wearing the same thing as the actor in the action film, I only changed the hair color and the shirt color.

“So what did you think?”

Here is another place that I significantly changed the dialogue from the first draft, Ariane originally HATES the movie with a passion, giving a verbose bad review, only making the date seem more miserable.  Now she makes a funny joke about how forgettable it was. Much better!

I originally had a street sound loop that had both talking and traffic in it, but it also had a bus noise that was really annoying every 20 seconds of the loop.  To replace it I took two ambient loops, one with traffic and one with talking, and mixed them together.  The talking is soft and barely audible, and is in Ukranian rather than English, but it gets the job done. Once again we have a choice, we are going to pick Let her decide what to do.

In the original version, which you can get a taste of if you pick a last date where you slept together, Ariane complains that you made all the decisions on the last date (which is true, because that was the whole point of the game).  Ariane insisted that she make all the decisions this time, and all her decisions turn out to bad ones. I toned this down quite a bit, even on the version where you slept together on the first date, but because of that original concept of the second date, the best choice always turns out to be to let her decide, which is why we did it twice in a row.

“Ariane heads out of town driving into the mountains.”

This picture should look familiar to players of Date Ariane. I just rerendered it to 1280×720 size and turned the orange colored dirt to green grass.  Apparently grass grows really fast in this universe.  I also changed perspective from driver to passenger since Ariane is driving this time.  The music here is a rocking version of the same music you hear in the bar when Ariane gets wine dumped on her, a third version can be heard in the “blackout fun” thread.  This is three variants of a theme called “dancing mice”.  I sort of made it Ariane’s unofficial theme song.  The second picture is also a rerender from Date Ariane with grass and some giant boulders.

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“Well here we are…”

The orange glow on the right is coming from the city, which is visible in Date Ariane, but due to copyleft attribution requirements, I did not use here. That’s OK, you do not need to leave the car.  A regular convention in Date Ariane was to show Ariane making kissing face whenever you kiss. I rarely use it in SITA, as it kind of looks dumb, but since it is foreplay leading up to sex, I use it here. (I use it again in a foreplay moment with Rachel).

“I have been wanting this…”

Since depending on your choice of prequel, this is either your first time, second time, or tenth time having sex with Ariane. It would seem logical to have three different dialogues here, but for some reason this scene feels right no matter if it is the first or tenth.  Ariane’s odd choice of vehicle (which was actually decided because it was the only free vehicle model I found online when I was first making Date Ariane) now presents a privacy problem which Ariane solves by using your shirt as drapes.

“She then gets on your lap…”

I will assume you played this scene before, and all your attention was focused on the foreground, especially when Ariane unbuttons her top.  This time pay attention to the background, which in the first picture is perfectly black.  Second picture is identical, except clouds appear on the left.  As you move through the scene the clouds are moving farther and farther from left to right.  By the time she shows you her tits, the background sky is very gray even through the tree branches…leading to “BOOM!”

In Date Ariane, I establish that the mountains are fairly close to the lake, and I establish in SITA that the lightning strikes twice near the lake. That’s why the thunder is a bit louder here than in other paths, and also that it corresponds so quickly to the lightning.  On other paths you see the lightning flash, then a thunder rumble demonstrating it is a ways away.

“Maybe we should get out of here…”

Here are four nearly identical pictures in a row with different lighting. First has the orange glow of the city.  Second is animated lightning, two images flipping back and forth in an uneven pattern to simulate lightning. Third is darkness, which is probably too bright considering reality.  Date Ariane had a nearly full moon which made he night sky bright, SITA which takes place over a week later would have a half moon that rises around midnight, and the storm hits at around 11:00 PM in all timelines, hence there is no moon in this game.  That’s how much detail I added to the game: I even get the astronomy right.  Finally we get some reflected headlights to brighten things up.

“So how does tonight rank…”

The drive home dialogue is different in “Done It All!”. In all other scenarios, Ariane complains about how bad the date has been so far, in this one there is comparisons between the other 8 to 10 dates.

The “rainfall” is made up of two rainfall png files that are animated back and forth giving a decent low memory illusion of rain.  Every time rain shows up in the game I use the exact same technique and pictures.

“She goes into her bedroom…”

The sexy black sheer robe, first seen in Date Ariane, makes another appearance, though it has pockets now.  The hall pic and the cocoa pic make Ariane look different as if I used different models.  All I did was move her bangs out of her left eye and change her smile slightly. Funny how making such a small change can give a different look.  Ariane’s recipe of cocoa is one I use all the time.  Growing up, whenever we had soggy rainy days, my mom would make real cocoa, the kind you can only get in the fanciest restaurants these days.  That put me off instant cocoa for life as it tastes disgusting in comparison. However, Nesquik mixed with microwaved whole milk tastes surprisingly close.  Memories of cocoa on rainy days, made me add this scene.

“Why don’t you spend the night?”

It took a lot of trial and error to get that dropping the robe effect exactly right.

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“Let’s get back to where we left off…”

Normally, I don’t post nude pics of Ariane in the blog, but this one is important. The one in the beta version of the game is wrong.  It has a cheap looking picture on the wall.  The picture above is what it should look like, the picture is a Monet’s Water Lillys at Sunset.  If you want to correct your beta copy,  right click the picture and “Save Link As…” to the “Somethings In The Air-beta2-win/game” directory keeping the aribedroom1.jpg name so that the game uses it. You will have to save game then restart the game to see it.  This is the new bedroom introduced 3 posts ago.  The trophy to the right of her head I imagine being a gymnastics trophy.  In other pictures, you may see some medals as well.

“Next Morning”

Ariane’s new house still has bay windows, though now they have Venetian blinds, and there are still tract houses across the street, though I updated their look too.  The game ends with another Muse/Spirit exchange reminiscent of the diner conversation.

And that’s the end of story 1.  At some point in the future I’ll do stories 2, 3, and 4.  I might have a hard time with 2 as I am going to have a hard time deciding which path to choose with Rachel, there are at least 3 really good ones.

And Then a New Bonnie

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I did a close beta test with a couple of people I know.  They both indicated (and the truth is I agree) that the Bonnie the Bartender story was the weakest.  Since none of you have seen the game, you don’t know what I am talking about. Basically, she is a bartender you pick up at the end of her shift, you go shoot some pool, some funny stuff happens, and then a totally expected twist ending happens, and then it ends abruptly.  The main reason it ends there is that I could not think of an appropriate GOOD ending that I already didn’t use with one of the other characters.

The sentiment of one of my testers is: 1.) She is not very interesting looking, 2.) We know very little about her, and what she says does not even seem honest, is she supposed to be good or bad?  The truth is I never spent much time on the Bonnie model, explaining problem 1, and maybe my writing skills aren’t that great explaining problem 2.

So as usual I gave it some thought, and decided: 1.) I need a new model, and 2.) I will use the badly defined nature of her character to my advantage. The new model is shown above. She used to look like this.  Gone is her undefined ethnicity and too simple and modest dress.  In its place is a pretty but stereotypical American.  None of the major characters are blonde, so I went with that.

bonniepool4

I left the not very revealing dialogue in. It is up to the reader to decide if she is good or bad, and in the pictures I did, there are signs of both.

This is all because of the brilliant idea I had: I may not be able to come up with an appropriate good ending, but I can think of a lot of appropriate BAD endings.  So there are now 10 endings to Bonnie’s story, some of which show her as a good girl, some as a bad girl, and the endings purposely contradict one another. (I’ll probably never return to this character, so it really does not matter which ending is the real one.)  Breaking the rules of the visual novel format; you have no choice which ending you are going to get.

With about 30 re-renders, and 20 new pictures, I believe I have added a whole new fun dimension to the story.

Principal Photography is Done

After working on it for over a year, I am declaring an end to the “Principal Photography” portion of Something’s In The Air.  When I started this project I had in mind a 6 story visual novel. It got whittled down to 4.  One (a “romantic” story) was dropped because I couldn’t figure out how to make it interesting.  Another (a “porn” story) I dropped for a multitude of reasons: it is too stylistically different from the rest, it does not advance the plot any, it pushes the game from R rated to X rated, but mostly it is because I never finished writing it and I already have enough material.  Don’t worry, I’m thinking of doing the “porn” story either as a separate game or an add on.

Anyways, I have 4 stories now.  Story 1, “Another Date” is Ariane’s story which serves as an introduction. Story 2, “A Man About Town” is Rachel’s story which introduces a mystery. Story 4, whose title I am not releasing yet, is Paula’s story and solves the mystery.

The one I just finished is story 3 “Magic, Malice, and Mayhem” which is “comic book” themed, uses comic book fonts (not comic sans but this) and is the shortest of the 4.  To make it more like a comic book, I use visual sound effect words, simplistic backgrounds, often break away from the first person perspective, and sometimes go multi-panel.

Basically, you end up with one of two girls. Bonnie the good girl bartender (top picture), or Veronica the bad girl (bottom picture). The stories are short and linear with no real choices in outcome. The purpose in the overall plot is to show the consequences of actions taken in the other 3 stories.

Generally speaking, in visual novels, or “Choose your own adventures”, you usually get two clear choices to choose from. I break that rule repeatedly in Something’s In The Air.  Sometimes the choices are clear, but sometimes (inspired by Bioware games) I offer a menu of dialogue choices that only lead to different responses, but ultimately the same outcome.  Then there are times that I disguise big choices as if they are simple dialogue choices.

I mention this, because that is exactly what happens in story 3.  At one point you end up at a bar, a strange woman you have not met (Veronica) asks if you want to go to a party. She has no date and can’t show up to the party alone.  You are given two choices, both of which sound like “maybe, tell me more”, but one will be a major turn off as far as Veronica is concerned, and the offer will be withdrawn, and you end up with Bonnie.

There is a 4th category of menu choice in the game that I anticipate will be highly praised, known as the verbose dialogue avoider.  There are plot developments that make mores sense if you have some backstory, but on repeat plays of the game the backstory just slows the plot down, so I offer a way out.  Sometimes I even split the backstory in two, and menu choices to let you choose which part of the backstory you want to hear — or none at all.

What’s Left To Do?

Now that principle photography is done, does that mean the game is about done? I still have second unit (additional pictures to enhance the story), rewrites, reshoots, editing, and some side stories left to do.

Switching from a movie making metaphor to a software dev metaphor, it means I have a fully playable “alpha” version of the game.  It means I can say some time in 2013 (hopefully early 2013) it will be ready for wide release.

Reflecting Back

When I think back about 2 years ago when I first imagined this story, I had some specific images in mind as to how they were going to look.  Along the way in creating the visuals, I found that there was some things I could do and some thing that I couldn’t. Sometimes graphics look a hell of a lot better than I originally imagined them, and sometimes, I was forced to take shortcuts.  Now I know how every writer feels when they get their stories visualized: “It’s not how I imagined it, but…”

Meet Rachel

I promised earlier that I would introduce some characters of the visual novel when I was done doing their story.  I finally finished story 4, which is the largest of the 6 stories, and the one I needed to finish to get it out of the way, so I could move to the easier stuff.  I am trying to make each story have a different tone and style, but my fiction writing skills are not at the expert level, so I pace myself and think things through.

Story 4, which I dubbed “A Man About Town” is the most “visual novel” like story, the most like the dating simulator (though no where near as complicated).  There are 13 different location sets in the various possible branches of the story, six of them are sets from the original date simulator, four more (the bar, the movie theater, the salon, and the dress shop) are ones I blogged earlier, I’ll talk about another in a future post, the last is a spoiler, so you’ll just have to wait.

Defining Characters

I mentioned before that writing a visual novel is like writing a novel, meaning you have to define your characters and stay in character when you voice their dialogue.  Otherwise everyone starts sounding the same, which is boring.  That means I have to define each character before I start writing them.  That means I had to define Ariane as a character.  Ariane’s online persona is me of course, a science and sci-fi geek and a gamer.  But in the dating simulator she never expressed those types of interest, so I could define her character differently.  Based on her actions in the dating simulator (and in the sequel), Ariane has two defining characteristics: she loves to do daring things, and when she gets mad she gets brutally honest.  Combining those characteristics with the fact that she drives around in a four wheel SUV with no doors or a roof (a free model I found online when I needed a car model, had I found a free sedan model she would be driving a sedan), and Ariane is defined as “action girl”.

The upshot of that definition of Ariane is that it frees “science and gamer geek” for another character.  Rachel is the main character in story 4, she is the “Ariane” of Something’s In The Air and will likely be the most talked about character when I finally release the game.  Hence the title of “science and gamer geek” fell on Rachel, thus helping me write her dialogue.  Besides an interest in science and video games, Rachel is also a social butterfly feeling comfortable around crowds.  That is kind of a contradiction, I know, but it will all be explained eventually.  For now I can tell you that she is a 19 year old college sophomore taking summer classes because she missed the spring semester.

For those of you keeping track, there are 6 total stories.  I’m now mostly done with two of them, leaving 4 to go.  That means I’m about a third of the way done with this project.

More Info on “The Sequel”

A lot of people have the wrong idea about “the sequel”, and it is probably my fault for calling it “the sequel”, so maybe I should take a post to clarify my master plan and set the record straight.  I suspect that, like the character update, there will be those that will say “That sounds awesome!”, and others that will say “That sounds stupid!”, but I am mostly doing this to satisfy my creative endeavors, not to please everybody.

So here is the deal.  The project is not really a “sequel” in the literal sense.  The truth is, the original Date Simulator pretty exhausted all of my ideas in regards to what can happen on a date that makes sense in the rather chaotic format that it was presented in.  There is nothing new to do in the confines of that format.

So I am changing formats.  Specifically, the new game will take the form of a Visual Novel, a game format I originally wrote about a year ago.  I am writing the game using a visual novel engine called Renpy, which can create playable programs for PC, Mac, Linux and Android.  (Technically speaking, the Dating Simulator is itself a “visual novel” but lacking sophisticated dialogue and coherent plot it is sort of an odd example of what they are like.)

Visual Novels are extremely popular in Japan and to a lesser extent Korea, but they have never caught on in America.  The primary subject matter of these visual novels is romance (renai), and sex (hentai), and a fairly large fraction contain erotic images (eroge).  Having played about a dozen visual novels (there are not that many available in English), it is obvious to me why they are not popular in America and everywhere else not Japanese.  Mostly it is because no one has ever created a visual novel to really try to appeal to people outside of Japan.  Not that there haven’t been attempts, but the creators of such attempts still fall back on visual novel conventions that annoy western audiences.  Lots of rambling chit chat, settings like prep schools that don’t really exist in America, Manga style art work, girls that are way too young looking to be “legal”.

My philosophical goal is to write the “Great American Visual Novel”, though that is unlikely to be the case in the long run.  A much less lofty ambition is to take the Visual Novel format and westernize it.  Like the most popular Japanese Visual Novels, mine will be about romance and sex.  Also like most popular Japanese Visual Novels, there will be a large number of potential dates.

Pretty much every other convention is being tossed aside:   First of all, potential dates are women, not girls.  Second, Manga art is out, 3D art is in.  Third, an actual plot, with good guys, bad guys, surprising twists, and humor.  Fourth, a focus on American style modern story telling, inspired by Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Joss Whedon and  others.  Fifth, instead of a story that takes weeks to develop your character and your relationships, it all takes place in a single day.  With all of this in mind, my current working title is Date Night in America, which I know is a bit cheesy, but it conveys the theme and philosophy of the project.  If anyone has a better title, I am definitely open to suggestions.

“The sequel” is a Visual Novel, and it is only a sequel in the sense that it is set in the same universe as the Dating Simulator, and time line wise set after the events of the dating simulator.  There are about 8 date-able women, there are about 4 others you can at least engage in conversation.  There are also at least 6 male characters that service the plot(s).  Ariane is one of those 12 female characters, so is Rebecca, and so are three others that make cameo appearances in the first Dating Simulator.  There are basically 6 major story threads, and I am purposely making all 6 very different in style from one another.   The  Renpy engine allows music, sound effects, video, animation, and special effects, and I plan to use all that I can.  A feature to save and load games is built right in (this is a heavily requested feature of the Dating Simulator, but simply not possible in the html/javascript format).

I still unfortunately have a long way to go.  I think of building the game like playing a video game.  I am currently “grinding” right now working to finish story #1, but I know I got a “big boss fight” in the form of creating an animation, before I can level up and move onto story #2.

Pictured above: Top row – The Smart girl, the Good Girl, the Rock Star, the Super Model*. Second Row – The College Student, the Athlete, Rebecca*, the Air Head  Bottom Row: The Artist, the Business Woman*, the Bad Girl, the Wing Man.  * = Appeared previously in The Dating Simulator.  Some of these are subject to change.