visual novels

Girlfriend Material Demo Out Now!

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Girlfriend Material is a Yuri Game Jam 2017 project.

The first Girlfriend Material demo is now out on itch.io. The demo introduces our protagonist, Lavinia von Adeline, and her ambition to design and build a robotic girlfriend AI for herself. Other characters appearing in the demo include: Jenny Jones, Lavinia’s mythological ex-girlfriend; Professor Eugenia, her mother; Ms. Margaret, her gossipy yet well-meaning neighbor; and Kasper, the helpful clerk at the hardware store.

Girlfriend Material is a hybrid visual novel dating game where you the player get to build a robot girlfriend and determine her personality from three predefined archetypes. The game is written in the Ren’py engine. Our team includes myself as writer and programmer, TellerFarsight as co-writer, and blankd as character artist. We hope to release the full free-to-play game in early November 2017.

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Yuri Game Jam 2017

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Girlfriend Material is a soft sci-fi/romance visual novel.

It’s Yuri Game Jam season! A season to be especially queer in.

I know I mentioned before that I adore game jams. Deadlines tend to bring out my best work and I love the opportunity to potentially work with new people, not to mention I will jump at any opportunity to stretch my creative muscles. Yuri Jam is dedicated to stories centering queer female characters, which is familiar territory for me. The project I elected to develop, though, is something of a romantic comedy, which dips just slightly into camp territory.

Our protagonist is a self-styled mad scientist, a brilliant scientist who abandoned the world of academic research to recklessly pursue her own projects with no oversight. While she makes her living from the patents she takes out on her gadgeteering, she now faces her most ambitious invention yet. After years of romantic strikeouts, a phone-call from a concerned ex-girlfriend prompts her to take an entirely new approach to matters romantic, and she decides to build herself a robot girlfriend.

Yuri Game Jam is a two-month jam which takes place over the course of September-October 2017. I hope to complete the game, with three full romance routes, by the end of the jam. Accounting for last-minute complications, the estimated date of release is early-to-mid November. I will be posting progress updates on the Zinc Alloy Tumblr blog, and updating more regularly on the ZA Discord channel.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.

Greatest Hits

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Some of the posts on this blog receive very regular hits, regardless of how old they are. Hits from Google, or from social media of the shareable kind, where someone might decide to revive an old-ish post and give it second wind. It’s easy enough to trace my most popular posts through this method, as well as by the hit-count which WordPress provides. It’s almost as easy to get to the bottom of why these posts in particular receive more attention than others.

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Blog hits by month for the past year. See that big bump in January? Guess where that came from.

Some of them are reviews for niche products, obscure enough that my little blog is able to climb up the Google results to a visible place, maybe even on the first page. I’ve also been getting a few Image Google hits since I started including images in most of my posts. By far the most important factor, though, are the creators of the media that I review.

I review both books and games, most of them visual novels or other non-combat games from small-to-tiny indie studios. Game devs like these have to do most of their own promotion work. Authors also find themselves in this position sometimes, if they are self-published or else backed by a small publisher. Maybe the larger media review sites pick up on their creation, maybe they don’t. Either way, they need reviews. They need to get their name and the name of their product out there, to reach the readers or players most likely to pick it up.

Reviewers also need content creators. Most obviously, we need media to consume and review, for entertainment as well as work. But there are many mass media products floating around that I could be spending my time and money on. I could add my voice to the huge internet chorus talking about Star Wars or Supergirl (as I sometimes have). The media outlets that produce those properties, though, will never be aware of me and my work.

Not so for the independent creators. My best-visited review is still the one for Solstice, MoaCube games’ hybrid mystery visual novel. As I pre-purchased the game and played it before the release, my review was published right around the time that it became publicly available. The developer retweeted it shortly after, which led directly to three days of record hits for my blog. It’s still my most popular post by far.

Content creators and reviewers depend on each other. Books need readers, and so do blogs. When someone links to my review, they’re not only promoting their work, but also mine. They are also, to a lesser extent, promoting every other piece of media I’ve reviewed on this blog. Just as I rely on other review blogs, and on creators retweeting each other’s self-promotion, to find the subject of my next post. In fact, that’s how I find most of my favorite games and books, these days, especially through review-intensive sites like Goodreads.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.

Quick Hits: Games and Visual Novels

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The Blind Griffin, a prohibition-era fantasy visual novel.

Masques and Murder is a dark historical revenge fantasy taking place in Renaissance Italy. The historical setting lends the game a richness of language, combining with the art and music to give the game its particular aesthetic. The plot is as grisly as requisite. You play a young woman whose family was murdered in a power-grab, where the combined goal of the game is to extract vengeance, as well as escape the prospect of marriage to one of your family’s murderers. The game’s atmosphere is meticulously put together.

The game’s central mechanic is stat-building, which allows the heroine to get closer to her prey. The stats, like everything else in the game, are determined by the setting. The range of skills is interesting in that it encompasses the expected combat skills like fencing and shooting, not to mention seduction skills, but also some unexpected ones, like theology. Browbeating a man into complete intellectual surrender by interrogating him on the nature of the afterlife is one of the most satisfying victories I’ve ever gotten in a game.

The writing is very conscious of the position of the heroine in society, and consequently the game has an optional filter that abbreviates some of the longer chains of slurs into a brief description. Still, the game is as violent as one would expect from a revenge simulator. Ultimately it’s for fans of the genre, as it were. I can only play it when I am in a particular mood.

Find it on itch.io.

The Blind Griffin is a lovely visual novel set in prohibition-era San Francisco, a humorous fantasy romance lightly sprinkled with plot. In this game, it’s very difficult to tell how the choices you made lead to the outcome you receive, which is especially daunting given that some of the endings are pretty bad. The three romance options are all cute and entertaining in their own right, although the lack of any female romances makes me sad. Short and sweet, and free to download with an optional suggested price. Frothy speakeasy romance fantasy. Noted for having a Chinese protagonist and a perfectly delightful (supporting) trans lady character.

Find it on itch.io.

Wanted: Dragon is a perfectly delightful romp about an exiled princess who wants to take back the kingdom from her sister, and needs to recruit (read: seduce) a dragon to do so. Fortunately for all of us, we soon find out that this princess is the absolute worst and was exiled for very good reasons. Not gonna lie, that’s definitely the main appeal of the game. The heroine is absolutely appalling, which makes her infinitely entertaining. 10/10 would scheme and connive again.

Find it on renpy.org or on Google Play.

Magical Otoge Ciel is a routine fantasy adventure about a feisty princess running away from her over-protective father. Liberal hints to some dire secret that justifies keeping the princess locked up all her life. Two apparent love interests, both of them with a bodyguard complex, and at least one with a childhood friend complex. Plus one additional male character who may be a stealth third romance. Unless someone can tell me that the game radically changes later on, I gotta say this is a color-by-numbers RPG romance fantasy. Maybe worth the time to play the free demo, if bodyguard romances and spirited princesses are your thing.

Find it on itch.io.

Cute Demon Crashers will require its own post, I think.

Go Along to Get Along on LLTQ

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If you’ve been reading for a while, you probably know by now that by far my favorite game in the world is the strategic raising sim Long Live the Queen from Hanako Games. This is a fiendishly difficult game which combines a gentle parody of princess tropes, a thoughtful exploration of the skills necessary for leadership, and an unironic enthusiasm for sparkliness. Protagonist Elodie is the recently-orphaned teenage heir to the throne, trying to survive the weeks until her coming of age and coronation.

Keeping Elodie alive until the end of the game is notoriously difficult. She faces so many assassination attempts that at times it seems like everyone is out to get her. Betrayal lurks behind every corner. The game has achievements that are unlocked by discovering all the different (and gruesome) ways in which Elodie can die. This is probably how the game earned the dubious nickname ‘Sansa Stark simulator‘.

On my first playthrough, I made it through 90% of the game before getting my princess blasted to pieces. One of the first things the King-Regent says is that she may not be safe outside the castle, and so I undertook what I thought was a very sensible strategy of avoiding danger (and conflict) whenever possible. It took a number of (unsuccessful) playthroughs before I was willing to start taking a few more chances.

Success in the game is achieved by skills. Learning skills is governed by mood. Moods are determined by plot events. Depressed Elodie does not want to study court manners, afraid Elodie doesn’t do very well with intrigue, and everyone can agree that angry Elodie has no business being around the palace animals. Some skills are more difficult to learn than others, primarily because they’re more strongly affected by moods. This is true of one of my favorite skill-groups, Royal Demeanor, which allows your princess to stare down her adversaries by sheer force of will. Invaluable for a future queen dependent upon the goodwill of the nobility.

The mood governing the skills of royal demeanor is called ‘Yielding‘ (not ‘yielded’ as I’ve seen in some posts, an important distinction). That… doesn’t sound very queenly, does it? On the face of things, at least. Surely a queen can’t just yield in the face of any obstacle. But, well, that’s not really what ‘yielding’ means. It allows you to keep composure in conflict, not rise to the bait when provoked, and generally react with apparent equanimity. Without these skills your princess is prone to react before thinking, causing one character to (rightly) call her ‘violent and impulsive’.

True, there is something very egotistically satisfying about challenging your adversary to a duel to the death. It’s a heroic reaction, the reaction we would generally expect from a protagonist. Certainly from a game protagonist. ‘Fortune favors the bold‘ is a maxim that’s generally profitable in video games. LLTQ is unusual in that it rewards prudence, restraint and discretion.

Well, but the presence that convinces the nobility at the royal ball that you are not a child but a queen, surely that cannot be called yielding? The yielding mood, in addition to regal demeanor, also boosts the study of history and faith skills. Raising these skills not only allows you to pass complicated skill checks and unlock entire story-lines, it also reveals some of the back-story and sheds a lot of light on the nature of magic. Read closely, the flavor text for these lessons (see, for example, Novan History 80, World History 50, Lore 30 and 70) reveals a fraught magical history fueled by pride and recklessness.

What do these three skills have in common? What ties together history and magical lore? What does it mean to be a ruling queen? The lesson texts teach Elodie that she is merely the last in a long unbroken chain of kings and queens, of magic users, and of catastrophically fatal magical mishaps. In history, as in faith, you can choose to see yourself as a small part of something much larger. By this view the queenship and the Lumen magic are seen as an act of custodianship, rather than a source of control.

Play the game long enough in different iterations and with different choices, and you end up discovering several exciting ways in which giving the wrong orders can get your princess killed. Experimenting with the more reckless magical choices shows some of the drastic consequences of the unchecked use of power.

Elodie’s magic tutor, Julianna, is a character who knows her place in the chain of things. Not very glamorous, but it serves her well. Where the King-Regent withholds information because he wants to protect his daughter from the negative consequences of magic, Julianna is more interested in protecting Nova from its Queen. At first pass she’s an irritating killjoy who’s at least as annoying as some of the classic fantasy magical mentors. To convince her to trust your princess, you have to first unlock some of the aforementioned foreboding historical lessons, which might make the pill a little easier to swallow.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m a big far of the yielding mood and all the skills it governs. It provides an interesting perspective and an unusual contrast to the more usual sources of heroism in fantasy. And it brings to mind the banner words of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series: that which yields is not always weak.

I had some things to say regarding the approval of the nobles and why it’s so important to maintain it, but this blog post is already far too long as it is. I think for the moment I’ll leave things at that, and perhaps return to the subject at a later date.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth