Earlier this August, I attended Boston Game Loop, an annual game development unconference. And I’m writing up my notes from this year (in fleshed-out form) for everyone who wasn’t there.
If you want to write a dating sim, Ren’Py is a fantastic tool for making dating sims. Stat-based sections are whole new layers of complexity. If you’re doing a dating sim game jam, you want a good vertical slice – maybe just one route, not many.Save writing time by constricting the main story and reusing narrative beats.Some sims shift you down routes as you make choices.There’s a big difference between Japanese dating sims and Western dating sims.In the Western perception, any game that involves dating someone is a dating sim, so all romantic visual novels qualify. It’s a challenge to make characters that actually induce emotion.
Hatoful Boyfriend was released in 2011, but it’s becoming increasingly popular lately because it’s been ported to modern systems. Why people love Hatoful Boyfriend is what happens after you date all the pigeons – it unlocks another story entirely. The expectation isn’t that people will play once – it’s that people will play repeatedly and see all the branches.Another way to look at this: dating sims are completionist puzzle games. You’re solving puzzles based on how well you know the characters.The dating sim experience isn’t really about dating. Virtue’s Last Reward – a visual novel, but not a dating sim.A good example of the completionist puzzle view: make all the choices, see all the paths, put together the real story. People have “favorite routes” through dating sims – but that doesn’t necessarily correspond to “favorite character”. Dating sims can be a safe environment to explore problematic things.Magical Diary – this is the story of a super toxic relationship, and it doesn’t pretend otherwise. This genre is easy and nontechnical, but rein yourself in.Diabolik Lovers – extremely popular in Japan; visual novel about being preyed upon by vampires. In both of the examples above, you know what you’ve signed up for and you can walk away if you want to. The more branches and more characters you have, the more overwhelming the writing will be.