Kotaku Column, Podcasts, etc

It’s been busy for me lately! But not in a bad way. It’s all been fun stuff.

I’ve started writing a column on sex games at Kotaku! Which I cheekily named Come Yourself To Death (I’m very excited to cover Hadaka Shitsuji when that localization comes out). So far there are two pieces, the first on the yuri (girl/girl romance) game Kindred Spirits on the Roof and the second on a game jam game about explicit consent, Cute Demon Crashers. I have a list of interesting games I plan to play and write about, so please look forward to that!

And on the podcast front last weekend I was a guest on Idle Weekend! My friend Danielle and I talked about Mystic Messenger, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Meanwhile, a bit ago myself and Mattie Brice tentatively launched the first episode of our podcast, called Affection Points, where we discuss particular games. The first episode we have is on Style Savvy, a game we both dearly love and would discuss often at local bars.

Otherwise I’ve been helping out other journalists as “otome consultant”, providing guidance for this Mystic Messenger article on Vice and this Mystic Messenger article on Kotaku. Mystic Messenger is very popular lately!

Games — Mystic Messenger

Zen selfie

I met my current partner on the internet 15 years ago. We found each other in a newsgroup (which was like an email-based forum aka Google Groups) and built our relationship via a related IRC chatroom and the phone calls. So flirting with characters in a chatroom format feels rather nostalgic.

Cheritz, the Korean developer that created Mystic Messenger, is a studio I’ve followed for a couple of years now. I bought their debut game, Dandelion, directly via their website. They were early adopters of localizing their otome games into English and I was all about supporting that, back when options were very slim.

I was initially taken in by Dandelion’s cute hook of dating animals that turn into men, but stayed for the surprisingly bittersweet endings and endearing characters. I later recommended their follow-up game, Nameless, in my Offworld article about otome games. And I did a bit of a Let’s Play of it.

Mystic Messenger is a free-to-play mobile game, very much unlike their more premium priced PC games. But the Cheritz soul is still there. This time instead of a day-to-day simulation or liner visual novel experience Mystic Messenger’s story is told through interactive chatrooms that naturally unlock every couple of hours. You can expedite this process using the hourglass currency you can earn and buy, but I really recommend sticking to the natural cadence of the game. It makes for a better experience.

You can also use these hourglasses to backtrack to inserting yourself into missed chats. Otherwise if you don’t keep up the chat opportunities will pass and you’ll be reading through archives, watching the characters chat about you while you observe. It’s kind of lonely and extremely effective to encourage you to pay attention when the chats first pop up. That’s also why I transferred the game to my phone instead of my iPad.

Through your chats and text messages you’ll first learn that Jumin is a trust fund kid who loves his cat, Zen is a narcissistic up-and-coming actor, Yoosung is a college student obsessed with an MMO, Seven is an erratic sysadmin, and Jaehee is an eternally suffering personal assistant.

Over time you’ll get to know and prefer some of them over the others, either consciously or unconsciously choosing your chat responses to pay attention to and side with one of them. After a couple of real time days the story will branch and that character will be your focus for the rest of the game.

Oh and sometimes the denizens of Mystic Messenger will literally call you. You can put your headphones in and have professional Korean voice actors chatting in your ear. I always pick up immediately for Jumin and Jaehee.

Download Mystic Messenger on Android or iTunes.

Spring Update!

Recently relocating to New York City has turned me into a travel hermit. With enough events locally to keep me busy every month I balk at the idea of flying across the country to wear myself down during my habitual San Francisco GDC excursion.

Trains and busses are tolerable. So this past weekend I was back in Boston for the first time since moving away in November, exploring my old stomping grounds in a new light and attending PAX East!

Saturday morning I burst awake and rushed to the convention center at the last minute to make it to the FFXIV panel. I have unexpectedly found myself caring quite a bit about this game, now that I have become invested in level-capped content. Present for the talk were the Japanese producer Naoki Yoshida (aka Yoshi-P, the man who saved FFXIV) and lead localization guru Michael Christopher Koji-Fox. It’s been rare for developers to leave Japan to personally present at conventions like PAX, but lately it is becoming more common at professional events like GDC. Yoshi-P’s team takes a lot of its cues from Western MMO development so they endeavor to make themselves available to feedback like Blizzard and Arenanet do. I was lucky enough to be able to ask my question from the audience about chocobos being summonable while queued for duty finder dungeons (currently a technical limitation due to the way companions work but being worked on!) and after the panel Yoshi-P agreed to a selfie.

I mostly made the trip to help my friend Christine Love at her booth for her upcoming game, Ladykiller in a Bind. I performed the same role at PAX West in Seattle last year. It’s extremely fun to meet and chat with the folks curious about her game, then coax them to give the discrete show floor demo a try. A majority of comers had never played any of Christine’s prior works nor had even heard of visual novels!

That evening was the staple Foreplay: Romance in Games panel. While I wasn’t on it this year my good friend Arden Ripley was for the first time. I was right up front being loud and supportive, much like Arden had been when I was on the panel the year prior. The entire room was bawdy and riotous, especially Judy Tyrer, who had worked on Second Life and now was a founder of the Jane Austen MMO, Ever Jane. She brought up great anecdotes about regency courtship rituals and penis-through-walls incidents. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Now I’m back in Brooklyn and planning my next excursions. This coming Sunday I’ll be moderating a panel at IndieCade East called From Sequential to Interactive: Comic Artists and Visual Novels. Joining me will be Kasey Van Hise, creator and writer for Hustle Cat and Mia Schwartz, artist for We Know The Devil. I will be offering my expertise in game jam organization and freelance writing advocation for visual novels.

Then in May I’ll be attending Anime Fan Fest in New Jersey. I’ve been invited to be on the Best and Worst Manga of 2016 panel, along with Daryl Surat and Jason Thompson. I’m curious to see how our tastes align and if I can convince people to try some of the manga I’m a big fan of. After the panel I’ll be sure to post my list here!

Games — How Idea Factory (Otomate) Creates Otome Games

Siliconera recently posted an interview with Norihisa Kochiwa, development director of Idea Factory. Otomate is a studio under Idea Factory that focuses on romantically themed visual novels aimed at women. Some of their games have made it over to the west, such as Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, and Amnesia: Memories. In the interview Kochiwa goes over thematic decisions for new games and bringing out their titles worldwide.

“What we at Otomate would like to focus on and strive toward now is to work with various partner companies and creators to bring more of our Otomate titles to fans worldwide! We appreciate all your continued support!”

“Also, we would love to have feedback from western otome fans! Our first step is to try and introduce otome games as part of gaming culture in western countries, and grow the otome genre with our fans!”

It’s nice to hear that they are making efforts to bring out more otome games globally! We’ve seen part of their efforts recently with Idea Factory International releasing Amnesia: Memories for PlayStation Vita and even porting it to Steam!

Additionally, the otome games Aksys announced for Vita a while back just had their release dates revealed. Code: Realize will be out October 20th and Norn9 will be out November 3rd!

Games — Amnesia: Memories released!

Otome dating sim Amnesia: Memories was just released for PlayStation Vita and for PC via Steam on August 25th! You can even get a significant 40% discount on the brand new Steam release if you buy it before September 1st. The iOS and Android releases will be out later this month!

But honestly “dating sim” seems kind of a misnomer when applied to something like Amnesia. In the West it’s used as kind of a blanket term to describe any romantically-themed interactive game, which can be both easy to understand but also confusing when nuance is concerned. The term “otome” is gaining some prominence, though (it’s even used in the Steam tags). But Amnesia itself plays out more like a mystery adventure visual novel, where your traumatized heroine tries to navigate existing relationships with guys she doesn’t remember via parallel worlds, thanks to the help of ethereal Orion who acts as your guide and your snarky commentary (he says what we’re all thinking, in a very meta sense).

So don’t go into Amnesia expecting to build sweet relationships among a pool of options. Instead each guy is honestly kind of a jerk and at times terrifying, and through dialogue choices you’re trying to suss out what your relationship even was in the first place without raising suspicion. It’s like watching a soap opera mid-season and trying to work out all the backstories. I find it very interesting!

Thinking about all this I’m reminded of this recent article by Carli Velocci in Bitch Magazine about text-based horror games and how marginalized women engage with it and use it as an outlet for everyday fears.

Games — Hatoful Boyfriend on Vita & PS4, Holiday Star coming

I’ve already obtained every single Steam achievement for Hatoful Boyfriend, even completing the epilogue after the final dreadful route. Yet I am still compelled to buy the game for my PlayStation Vita which was released just last week, along with for the PlayStation 4. They added an additional route written by Hato Moa, featuring the bird Tohri who is normally only found in the prequel Holiday Star.

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Lucky for us Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star has also been announced for the makeover treatment and will be coming out from Mediatonic and Devolver Digital in the Fall for all supported platforms (PC. Vita, and PS4). I have a friend who has played through the original doujinshi release of Holiday Star and she reports it’s just as messed up as the first game, so I’m extremely excited for it.

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If you are unfamiliar with Hatoful Boyfriend then Laura Hudson makes a compelling argument for the subversiveness of the game in her review. And if you aren’t even sure how to approach dating sims like Hatoful Boyfriend in the first place then I can certainly teach you. But if you’re an old pro like me and my friend Julian, you can listen to us talk all manner of Hatoful Boyfriend spoilers on the Gamers with Jobs podcast.

I love Hatoful Boyfriend. Creator Hato Moa is such an interesting person. You should definitely follow her Tumblr!

I also highly recommend the Hatoful Boyfriend drama CDs. They’re adorable and feature a cast of really talented and popular voice actors (Shuu is voiced by Dio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). You can even buy translated Hatoful Boyfriend manga drawn by Hato Moa on the Amazon Kindle store.

Games — Understanding Dating Sims

After publishing my article on DRAMAtical Murder, Polygon has let me write up something new, this time concerning dating sims in general. I’ve always wanted to make a sort of how-to-play 101 piece on dating sims to link to my friends because I noticed a lot of them were having trouble understanding visual novel gameplay systems and repetitive story branching. It’s not exactly the mechanics breakdown I promised in my otome history post but it is another step in the series.

Also published recently is my friend Miellyn who wrote an article about romance in a wide variety of video games for Vice, and she was kind enough to get a quote from me for it. We were both on a Romance in Games panel at PAX East 2014, which was quite bawdy and a lot of fun! There’s also a lot of BioWare folks quoted in the article as well, along with my good friend Arden who made Kindness Coins.

I’m so excited to see interest in these kind of games and topics of romance increase. There’s a whole lot more to be explored in the genre and the inspirations these games cause could turn into some really unique games down the line!

Games — Tour de Akiba and the #iluJam

 

For the past month my friend Jia and I have been plugging away at our entry for the dating sim game jam I organized, #iluJam. We released our game the other night, Tour de Akiba, just before the upload deadline ended. We’re both pretty proud of what we turned out!

Tour de Akiba is a Yowamushi Pedal fan game (yes we know technically the French is wrong, but it makes the title unique and endearing). Think of the game like an interactive fanfiction. Doujinshi games like this have an active community in Japan and are sometimes even sold at events like Comiket. Both Jia and I are huge fans of Yowapeda and working with the characters in such a fun space really drove us to complete our deadline goals.

It was also such a pleasure to work with my local friend Jia. I have always loved her art style and it was so thrilling plugging in her new portraits and backgrounds and seeing them paired up with my dialogue. She’d come over and I’d sit her down to test things out and she’d squeal, exclaiming “they’re alive!” It was adorable and super fun. And she was extremely dedicated to the project, going above and beyond to implement corrections and additional art to flesh out the game.

Initially we planned to include a representative of each major team in the game that the player could choose to invite to Akihabara. We originally settled on Makishima, Arakita, and Midousuji since they were favorites of ours. As the jam weeks progressed and we realized the workload that would be required we first considered Makishima a end-game bonus stretch goal. Then came the point where we settled on finishing just one route, and half the work was already done for Arakita’s. We still kept a Midousuji teaser in there in case we want to keep making character routes at our own pace. Imaizumi and Manami could be on the horizon as well if we want to keep it up that long.

I intentionally designed the game to be able to expand and contract depending on the situation, in order to make it safe to complete in at least some kind of deliverable state in a single month. The game would have an initial decision branch where the player would explicitly pick the route they wanted, rather than having to deal with a common introduction and multiple character stats. And that way I only had to keep track of one hidden stat in order to determine one of two endings the player got.

I wrote the game in third-person because I wanted to give the player the feeling of directing the action but not acting as a stand-in for Onoda. I worried it could seem voyeuristic but I also hoped it might help people who aren’t used to this kind of game feel less weird about it. And the content itself is about as PG as you can get. Just guys being dudes.

I plan to make a post later about my experiences using the TyranoBuilder engine to create the game, and share some of the tricks I learned a little too late to make my life easier.

The #iluJam itch.io page contains all the entries uploaded for the jam—16 of them! Now that my game is done I look forward to playing through everyone’s games!

Update 7/12: The game can now be played directly in the browser from the itch.io page!

Games — Fire Emblem Fates — First Comes Love

Lots of rumors and incomplete information have been floating around in regards to the new Fire Emblem game’s marriage system, with the inclusion of the mysterious new same-sex A+ social ranks but the unexplained inability for the main character to partake in those. Polygon confirmed in a statement directly from Nintendo that Fire Emblem Fates will have some same-sex S-rank marriage options, but it’s still a bit confusing. But yay, progress!

Apparently in the Nohr version of the game, Conquest, there will be a single male character that the player-created protagonist can marry regardless of their gender. In the Hoshido version of the game, Birthright, there will be a single female character that can be married regardless of the main character’s gender. These characters can also be accessed from the other versions of the game through a DLC that will bridge the two storylines. I’ve seen mention of who those two characters are but nothing definitive yet.

This seems like a pittance, but it’s actually a really huge step for very traditionally conservative Nintendo! They appear to be trying to listen, and hopefully they’ll keep up with the improvements. BioWare initially started out slowly with single character representation too, and a decade later they’ve built themselves up to stating and demonstrating that diversity is an important aspect of their games.

Now to hold out hope for Atlus with Persona 5

Games — Norn9: Var Commons coming in English!

Blessed be otome fans in the year 2015.

After announcing Code: Realize a couple of weeks ago, Aksys just posted that they’ll also be bringing over Norn9 to the Vita. Norn9 is an interesting game because you can choose to play as one of three fully-voiced heroines, each with three different guys to choose stories with (so nine male leads total).

The art for the game looks very nice and from what I’ve heard of the music so far I’m very impressed!

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Koharu – voiced by Ayumi Fujimura

Koharu’s routes:
Kakeru Yuiga – voiced by

Yūki Kaji
Senri Ichinose – voiced by

Hiro Shimono
Masamune Tōya – voiced by

Takuya Satō

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Mikoto Kuga – voiced by Ayahi Takagaki

Mikoto’s routes:
Natsuhiko Azuma – voiced by

Daisuke Ono
Sakuya Nijō – voiced by

Mitsuki Saiga
Itsuki Kagami – voiced by

Kōji Yusa

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Nanami Shiranui – voiced by Asami Seto

Nanami’s routes:
Akito Syukuri – voiced by

Noriaki Sugiyama

Ron Muroboshi – voiced by

Tomokazu Sugita

Heishi Otomaru – voiced by

Hiroyuki Yoshino

Norn9: Var Commons will be out for Playstation Vita in Fall 2015. You can preorder now!