05/06/2020Criticism, GamesComments Off on Agatha Christie to Ryukishi07: Linear Whodunits as Games (For NarraScope 2020)
Hello everyone!! Here’s my talk on processing linear books as interactive mediums especially in terms of whodunits and detective fiction, as taught to me through Umineko no naku koro ni. You can enjoy the video above, or read the script below, although the two aren’t word for word.
Also a lot of my pictures are missing from my blog due to some aggravating webhosting errors on my part. Hopefully I’ll have time to fix that at some point.
01/04/2020Criticism, GamesComments Off on What Fire Emblem: Three Houses Learned from Dating Sims (It’s not what you think!)
“It’s the dating,” I hear you saying. “It’s the romance part that Fire Emblem got from dating sims.” Right?
Wrong! As a matter of fact, Fire Emblem’s support system was in use for Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, released on the Super Famicom in 1994. This game was later remade for the Nintendo DS and was finally released in North America as Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem in 2010.
The first game that founded Dating Sims as a genre was Tokimeki Memorial, released in 1994, the same year as Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem. The first Dating Sim made was an eroge (erotic game) called Dokyuusei and was released in 1992, but did not have the impact of creating a genre the way Tokimeki Memorial did.
Regardless, neither of the above games have a mechanic that in any way resembles the support system in Fire Emblem, which operates on characters in a tactical strategy game fighting side-by-side. Tokimeki Memorial is about a protagonist in first-person making efforts to win over the girl of their choice, while Dokyuusei relies on the user being in the right place at the right time for scripted, timed events.
Placing these games side-by-side, it’s hard to say that Fire Emblem’s original support system was influenced by early dating sims, since the mechanics involved are unrecognizable to the other.
No! What Fire Emblem: Three Houses (and its predecessor, Fire Emblem: Fates) learns from Dating Sims is: the power of Routes.
Yes, routes come from Dating Sims! Modern American Dating Sims often miss the mark when it comes to navigating romantic routes between different characters. In Dating Sims from Japan and other developers from Asia make it a habit of showing pieces of a larger narrative puzzle along the route of a certain romantic interest. The only way to get the full picture is to play through the story of each one, often because there is a “true route” at the end that is only unlocked through variables that are triggered in the code on completion of said routes.
To lay it out carefully: if you choose to date Eiko, you might see Biko get up to some mischief in the background because she doesn’t want to concern you. You’re having such an interesting romantic life now, after all! When you start again and date Biko, you find out what’s going on with her, but meanwhile, Eiko never gets up her courage to try out for the school play or whatever. You understand her, because you saw it through on a different route, but when you’re not on that route, her potential goes unrealized because you aren’t a part of it.
In hbomberguy’s video essay on Pathologic, he observes aspects of the multi-perspective structure and remarks that “When you aren’t in control of the character, he makes worse decisions than you did.” This is also the case when it comes to Fire Emblem: Three Houses. On their route, you support your student of choice and act as the heart of their community, pushing them on in pursuit of their own ideals of justice. Without you, they struggle, fail, or forfeit, and unless you’ve played through their perspectives, you won’t understand why.
I’m 200 hours into Fire Emblem: Three Houses and I’ve only played two routes, so a lot more stands to be found.
Content Warning: This post contains spoilers for the end of Death Stranding, and conversations about my personal experiences with abuse, neglect, and daddy issues. This is some very personal crap that does little by way of analysis or critique of the story.
Please mind the Patriah content warnings when reading this post: Patriah contains depictions of physical and sexual violence against women. Above all, be safe.
Bachelor #2 in Patriah is referred to as “The Large Man” upon first meeting the protagonist. His name is Paul.
Who is Paul? Where did he come from? What does he do for a living? These are details that are difficult to get out of Paul. He’s a huge man, and the eldest of the bachelors. One thing is certain: he is not thinking about the long-term. Marriage is not his goal. His goal is sex: carnal pleasure and instant gratification.
Paul is based on morally ambiguous bad boys like Mink from Dramatical Murderand Robert from Dream Daddy. They’re the kind of men who have more going on than is immediately apparent. They have personal goals and needs and will do what it takes to fulfill them. Paul, on the other hand, seems pretty shallow. He wants your body and, given the opportunity, he will take it.
In spite of Paul’s aggression about his desires, Paul is inherently aware of the system that has brought him where he is, and the penalties he will suffer if he steps out of line. Where Joshua respects the game and the rules, Paul plays by them begrudgingly and would love to reject them as soon as possible. He is eager for Patriah to fail to play by the rules, so he can take advantage of the situation. Responding passively to his advances may seem safer, if you can endure him, but nothing will stop him (and enrage him) as effectively as polite refusal.
Paul is physically intimidating, and dwarfs Patriah. Compared to him, she looks (and feels) very small and fragile. The threat of physical violence by Paul is very present. He’s the kind of man who might remind women that turning someone down may lead to murder, and avoidance might be the correct response.
If you have played the Patriah demo, you should already be familiar with Bachelor #1, Joshua.
Joshua is a combination of a couple of dating sim tropes, as he is both the Glasses Guy and the Rich Kid. Joshua’s family is very well off, and happens to be a part of the Birth Management System that manages eligible women and their care. Did this connection get him a leg up to be one of your bachelors? Probably not, says Joshua. He believes in the fairness of the system and the lottery.
As someone who is very familiar with the Birth Management System, he knows all of the standards and rules as well as the loopholes. Joshua knows where he can get away with something, but more importantly he values respecting the foundation on which the BMS was built. If Patriah obeys the rules and behaves properly, Joshua is satisfied and content that he can win her over. If she pushes boundaries and defies those rules, he knows the arguments he can make to see no punishment in taking what he wants from her
Joshua is an example of someone at the center of a powerful institution that wants to keep him out of trouble. He is the Harvey Weinstein and Max Landis of an even more dramatic patriarchal system. Joshua will only act on his lust for Patriah when it is safe for him to leverage that power, after she’s stepped out of line.
You can play his route now in the Patriah demo!
Something that will be in the full version of the game that isn’t there now is Joshua’s interaction with the other Bachelors. When Patriah spends time with her other potential suitors, Joshua will become desperate. If you’re curious, I hope you play the full version to see his behavior.
A/N: I just realized I hadn’t posted this here, so I hope you enjoy it! Originally posted on Patriah’s itch.io page.
WELCOME TO PATRIAH, and thanks to everyone for your support. I’m gonna use my first devlog post to talk a bit more about what Patriah is and the scope of what it will look like when it’s done.
Patriah is a game that was inspired by the way that, as a woman, I find myself having to interact with men. In conversations with other women, I found that they understood this problem all too well. We’ve all been cornered in places where we can’t escape – like at work – where shunning a man’s advances may mean putting ourselves in real physical danger. But not shunning him puts you in physical danger, too. What do we do?
In Patriah, the protagonist’s entrapment is very real. She’s lived in this mansion her whole life, and she cannot leave. She is finally able to choose her husband who will keep her trapped somewhere else for the rest of her life, where her job will be to have as many children as possible. She really has no say in anything, but the system she’s ensnared in is made to look like she does. I think it’s a case of one person along the way who understood that the women in these houses are people who have no control. Maybe he arranged this choosing to make himself feel better, or reduce the odds of suicide.
Now that I think about it, I made this game thinking about gender politics, but it also contains a lot about agency. I’m crazy about agency in everything I read and write. Maybe it’s a typical thing that you can find in my work, but can you have a conversation about gender politics that doesn’t somehow involve agency and power?
I read a lot of visual novels and dating sims, so I had them in mind over 2016 and 2017 when I played Ladykiller in a Bind followed by LISA the Joyful. I think that these two games happening to me so close together were responsible for Patriah. In early 2017 I started applying for game writing jobs and I needed to have a twine game to show for something, but Patriah was the only idea I had. In the end Patriah didn’t get me a writing job, I just had this terrible monstrosity of a game concept about sexism that I couldn’t shake.
Programming Patriah in its original twine form is also how I realized that yes, I could figure out how to code on my own, and then I spent 2017 learning a lot about programming.
I shopped around a lot to find the perfect format for Patriah. I wanted a game with a lot of choices that was text heavy. I wanted the story to rely on the words so that the reader could imagine what they wanted into a text — so that the men who Patriah encounters were monsters of our own imagining more than what the game wants you to see. Twine was good for this, but then I realized that it might be more interesting to lean into the dating game aspect that I had already chosen to use. That’s when I moved the story into Ren’py over the fall of 2017. I’m happy with how the game works now, with NVL-mode overlay reading long pages of text, and potential bachelors in silhouettes highlighting only one definitive feature about them.
Joshua’s route is available in the demo, and came out at around 6000 words. Once the other bachelors are written and their variables are taken into account in his route as well, I imagine it will be closer to 10,000 words. When complete, Patriah should weigh in at around 50,000 words, the size of a NaNoWriMo novel: one route for each bachelor and a classic “true route” necessary for any good dating sim. I want the true route to be a real surprise, so don’t let me talk about it.
Now that I’ve released the demo I’m going to be taking a short break to catch up on other work I had put off to get this out there. I’ll keep the devlogs coming, and talk a bit about each of the bachelors soon. I hope for Patriah to be released in full before the end of 2018.
Everyone else is doing these so I guess I could do one, too.
This list is by no means comprehensive. I caught up on a lot of 2015-2016 games this year, and I missed a lot of releases I really wanted to get into. My list is also very biased this year toward triple-A releases, and I would love to talk about why before we get into it. Feel free to skip this if you want and scroll down.
1. I Have a Connection.
I’m rather infamous around Halifax because I sell stickers at conventions, and you can also get them at local business The Last Game Store. If you live around here, it would mean a lot to me if you could support them!
The stickers are pretty popular, so I often don’t bother asking for cash. I just go ahead and trade them for games. This way I get new games pretty easily, although I do tend to prefer old things that I need to fill out my collection.
2. My Computer Sucks.
I say this with all the endearment in my heart since my wife bought it for me, but it was an emergency purchase when my previous laptop died and it doesn’t keep up very well with modern games. This makes me more inclined to pick up games on my consoles when possible (PS3, PS4, Vita, 3DS)
3. I Still Buy A Lot In Steam Sales.
…Because it’s cheap. But I can’t pick up ones that run in 3D because they strain my poor laptop. Playing Firewatch early in the year was an Ordeal. I’ve been sitting on a copy of The Witness that I have no faith in this machine to play.
If you like my reviews and would like to help me out in my gaming thirst, please take a look at my Amazon or Steam wishlists, or even my Patreon.
So yeah! That’s why I have a lot of triple-A games on this list. So here are my top ten 2017 games in no particular order:
Today I’m reaching out to give you all a recommendation for a visual novel. The title is difficult to google because it’s a popular name for songs, bands, etc. It’s not even the only game on steam with this title, so to save you some trouble, the game is here.
ENIGMA: is about a man who washes to shore on an isolated island. His name is Chester, and Chester is going to die. He’s terminal with an illness called Enigma, and there’s nothing left for him except to enjoy what time he has remaining. He settles in on the island to spend his final days in peace, meeting a few new people and trying to let go.
The story reads like BL, with many of Chester’s meaningful relationships forming around other men. However, nothing seems to last long enough to become romantic, thanks to the limited time he has remaining.
If you want a lovely little story that will make you cry, check out ENIGMA:. If you’re not yet sold, feel free to continue reading.
The following steps a bit into spoiler territory, so read on at your own risk.
I’m not going to be reviewing this great, free game about dating moms and solving mysteries on a train, because I helped to write it! I’m super proud of this and the game as a whole. Thank you to everyone who is playing it, and everyone who helped to make it. I think we did a great job. <3
I had the pleasure of seeing an early build of _transfer at GDC2017, and I’m thrilled now that it’s gotten an official release. This is going to be a very short post about a game that you have to experience.
In science and science fiction, there are aspects that can be difficult to understand. There might be a moment of insight where between the trees you can see the sun, but as soon as it was there it’s gone and what you have is an impression of a truth that you almost knew.
In _transfer, that glimpse of the sun is the answer – it’s who you are. And the story is told in the moment of momentum where you can see it. You don’t have the origin and you don’t have the destruction, all you have is a little snapshot of time where you might see the truth if you know what you’re looking for.
If this sounds extremely bizarre and pretentious, this is just the only way I know how to explain it.
The game starts with you logging in to a conversation between AI. You don’t know who you are or where you’re going. It’s irrelevant, and many of them are quickly bored that you’re bothering them with questions about your identity. As you converse with them, memory files are recovered that shed light on the world of _transfer and the lives of these AI. As you start to piece together the themes and concepts at play, the system shuts down and forces you to start anew.
Every time you start a new round in _transfer, important concepts accumulate. If you want to take in all the information, you might want to take notes, but the AI designations change every time, so you can’t count on those. Soon you’ll discover the unimportance of linearity in the “lives” of these AI. They inquire about conversations that you had in previous rounds. You play in a circle, and every time you learn a little more.
The AI in _transfer are curious and confused about sex. “Humans are so obsessed with their own survival that they watch videos of other humans procreating,” reads one of the memory logs. “They are always talking about origins and destructions,” says another. I feel like this is what _transfer is about. Without creation or destruction, what are you at all? I think _transfer is saying that we’re in transit. We’re transferring, from one place to another, and that’s the sunlight through the trees that it’s attempting to express.
_transfer is a fascinating little thesis-statement of a game about AI and the transit of existence. It’s the kind of game that couldn’t have been anything but a game in order to tell this story as intended, and that’s the highest praise I can give anything. Check it out.