Monday, 27 January 2014

3D images in AIF games – Yes? No? Maybe?

by BBBen

NOTE: This article still feels like a bit of a draft version to me, but I wanted to get it out there before the conversation had completely dried up.

Minami from Pervert Action: Future. I didn't want to use images
from someone else's game to illustrate the article without their
permission, so here's one from my game.

My attitude toward 3D design programs such as Daz Studio and Poser is a complex one. On the one hand I really like the purity of a text-based AIF; we're adults, we don't need illustrations in our novels, do we? At the same time I have to admit some hypocrisy on this as I used Daz Studio for Pervert Action: Future, and I really couldn't imagine the game without it. 

When playing a game with 3D pictures I sometimes find them distracting, and if I don't like what the author has tried to do with the pics then I will be turned off a game I might otherwise have liked. Still, the pictures do seem to be popular in the community, which has really responded to the emergence of 3D pictures in games.

The first appearance of 3D images in our community was when ~3~ started doing his "O Erin" comic strip. At the time many of us were blown away that it could be done, and it wasn't until some time later when Goblinboy started using it that I realised that it was not a total from-scratch 3D design system, and was not just something experts would use. I've been interested to see that though images are slowly becoming more common, we haven't had a total explosion and take-over... at least not yet. Maybe that's partly because we've been getting only a modest number of releases, and many of them are mini-comp entries.

Using a 3D image program

Some people probably have the impression that using Daz is either really easy or really hard. I'd say it comes in somewhere between those two poles. The most problematic things are the initial learning curve (you'll need to practice and play around with it for a while, emulating what others have done before you start to churn out anything good) and also the need to acquire content. As an aside, if you're looking to side-step the issue altogether and use some easier and cheaper alternatives to this kind of image designer, check out some suggestions in this post.

Without good content you can't do anything, and getting it can be expensive. That alone could prevent it being used by just everyone, although it is possible (naturally) to pirate most of what you'd want (I'm not advocating that approach). There are sales, and it helps if the kind of stuff you want is not particularly new or popular, as it's likely to be cheaper. Being a little clever and restrained in what you actually show will also help you get past the hurdle of not being able to get what you want for pictures. I was also able to be patient, as it was quite a while between first taking an interest in Daz for my project and actually needing to use it to make pictures. Furthermore there are some great websites that offer a lot of free stuff; the best is probably sharecg, which contains loads of content. Oh, one other thing: the program Daz Studio Pro is actually free (they make their money on selling the content).

I've found the most time consuming part of making 3D pictures is designing the characters. Once you have the characters done it's relatively easy to just pose them in new positions. It does depend, however, on how ambitious you are. If you aren't willing to get in there and tamper with the posing, the subtleties of facial expressions and such things as props, lighting effects and camera angles then you will not produce good pictures. You'll sometimes need to go back and try an idea over again, or scrap it altogether if you can't get it right or if the content you've got just isn't going to look right. You'll also need a decent sense of visual composition.

An issue I haven't run into much, but one that can be a big deal if you're making animations or have an old computer, is rendering time. When I'm generating a lot of frames with complex lighting and shadows sometimes I just have to walk away from my computer and let it do its thing for half and hour. My computer is reasonably powerful (if a couple of years old now) so if you don't have something with a good graphics processor you may find rendering is very slow. Incidentally, I'll do a separate post on the subject of animations.

Another thing I've discovered is that Daz is almost never the last stop for a picture. Photoshop (or some equivalent) is an essential second stage for picture design. That means that there's a second learning curve if you don't know Photoshop, and of course you will have to acquire the program, which is another significant expense (I lucked out there – already had a registered copy). Rather than buying Photoshop you may prefer to use one of the free alternatives out there; I have heard good things about GIMP. You can make pictures without Photoshop, I suppose, but that will mean that you can't do a lot of cool stuff. Perhaps more importantly, 3D images often have flaws in them when you render them, such as a body part clipping through a piece of clothing or a weird-looking part of a pose that you need to include in the frame in order to get the good bit in. In these situations Photoshop is one answer, as it allows you to correct mistakes that you just can't fix conveniently in Daz Studio or Poser. Tools such as smudge, blur and clone stamp are of tremendous utility for that kind of correction.

Evaluating 3D images in AIF

I've seen a lot of 3D pictures out there in recent years, and I have to say I don't like very many of them. It seems to me as if most people using the system for porn are unimaginative in their picture composition, use often mediocre or inconsistent content (and they mostly use the same stuff as everyone else) and aren't particularly meticulous in the design process. Now, I grant you, looking back on the images in PAF I already see them as underdeveloped, and I feel like I could do a much better job on them now. Some shots I still quite like, but generally the work is quite unskilled. That's fine, as it was my first shot with the software, although I should point out that creating that stuff wasn't especially easy or quick – there was quite a learning curve involved.

I really hope new authors don't all feel the need or even necessarily the desire to use Daz or other 3D image programs to make pictures for their games. I accept that things are drifting that way and that by making PAF with pictures I've furthered the trend, but I still hope that it won't go too far. At the least keeping the tight multimedia restrictions in the mini-comp seems like a good idea to me. This is fundamentally a writing community and you can't tell me that there isn't something kind of awesome about being able to entertain and enthrall people with just words to fire their imaginations. Remember that as an AIF writer fundamentally words are your medium, and they still do most of the work in a game.

And another thing! With words you aren't limited in the way you are with 3D design programs. You aren't restricted to only showing the stuff that's available in Daz Studio content; with writing, as Neil Gaimen points out, there are no rules. You can write whatever the hell you want, so long as it's good, and as a consequence you can do some amazing things. I'd strongly recommend that even if you plan to use 3D images you should write first, then see what you can illustrate. You might want to adjust what you have later, or just design the ideas but not actually write the prose until you've done the pictures, but I really don't think you should start by looking at Daz and then write what you see. Let your imagination create the game, then try to illustrate what you see in your head. Yes, it's harder that way, but your games will be better. Of course, you can go back and tweak things later if your images are good and you can come up with something cool from Daz that you hadn't thought of before – it may well stimulate your imagination – but don't let your writing suffer from using 3D design programs or your game will probably suck.

Well, that's my appraisal. I hope I didn't sound too arrogant or superior in my judgements of 3D image use on the Internet – I know I don't personally have a long track record on the issue and as I say, I think I can do better than I have done. It just seems to me that AIF is faced with a situation similar to what we've seen with other technical developments such as new IF platforms before; namely that a lot of people are going to use the new medium poorly. 

This is an issue of a lot of interest to the community these days so go ahead and comment below. Are all games going to have images in the future? Should the mini-comp ban pictures outright? Are images a great thing or a terrible thing for AIF? Are the increased demands on authors reducing the output of new games?


  1. Until the novel I'm working on is a big bestseller, there's just no way I could afford all the assets I need to make a "good looking" game. On the other hand, I'm guilty for enjoying a game for its graphics. Unfortunately, most games released have pretty awful 3D renders that really do nothing for me.

    1. If you are patient it is possible to slowly build up a really good library of free assets. There's a lot of stuff on sharecg and google searches can also often help you find other assets you might be looking for. I started collecting that stuff a couple of years before I made the images for PAF.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Firstly may I offer a warm round of applause.
      Your arguments are both lucid and intelligible. I personally don't mind picture's either way but, I do think you have to be
      very careful and by this I mean setting your own standards to high, if you make one good game with fantastic pictures then
      that becomes the 'What is expected of you'.
      Good authors can easily slide into the category of 'It wasn't as good as his/her last' and therefore become disheartened.
      Your right,, writing is the fundamental backbone of AIF and this should never change, otherwise you may as well be reading
      a copy of 'Readers Wives'. Fueling the imagination is what it's all about and being able to do this is seriously underrated
      (unless your name is King or Koontz ) It takes a good author to hold a captivated audience and an even better one to make
      that audience read his/her work twice, three times or even more. But the author should never feel held to ransom by their
      last work. We, as an audience have no right to expect great work time after time but, we should always give the author great
      respect and encouragement, these, I believe, are the things that make and author want to keep writing not the ability to
      slave over Daz or Poser, yes, they can be great additions but they are not the backbone that makes us stand straight and be
      counted, the backbone is built of words, every bend has a meaning, every vertebrae a new syllable and every second joint
      a new paragraph. In closing may I say NO to pictures in mini comps Yes to mini comps with pictures and please keep up the
      great work all of you and please,, no slipped discs

    2. As it happens I personally can't take so much of an interest in making a new game unless I think it's better than my previous one. The challenge of topping my last one and the novelty of discovering what can be accomplished are important to keeping me involved. That's just me personally, of course, and it might be partly because I'm not being paid and need something else to motivate me.

  3. I used to be really into game with no pictures, but honestly... im losing that, i feel less enthusiastic when a game has no pictures. A few games have been good enough to get me interested after i start playing... but it has to be really good. While a game full of pictures can be average and i will still keep playing.

    1. I know what you mean, there's a kind of creeping expectation that builds up. You just become accustomed to the images when they've been used well a number of times.

    2. At the same time I wonder if players who expect graphics or are disappointed by a lack of graphics wouldn't be better off finding alternate genres of gaming to spend their time on. After all, the more we try to pander to the masses, the more we lose sight what made AIF unique in the first place.

    3. I agree that AIF starts to seem a bit pointless as a medium if it's doing everything it can be to no longer be anything like AIF. If the focus isn't on the written word then all AIF is is a free medium for making a limited form of game. Flash games (for example) can probably do the job of a quick gratification, graphically oriented game better than AIF ever can.

      I do feel that to some extent that's a criticism 'on paper' that doesn't entirely hold up in practice, however. In the most acclaimed AIF games with graphics I still feel like the written word is important. That's the way things are now, at least. The situation could worsen.

      One note about 'pandering to the masses' though - as an author you will inevitably be influenced and guided by what players respond to. If hardly anyone pays attention to your game you likely won't keep making more. And if people pay far more attention when you use graphics, that has an influence too.

    4. Obviously I agree that it's important to listen to community feedback, but when the community demands images in a game that doesn't have any by the author's design, I don't think it should be on the author to release a 1.1 update chock-full of graphics.

    5. I don't mean that listening is important for the sake of the game, but rather that an author who designs something that the players aren't interested in will (unfortunately) get very little in the way of responses to the game. Maybe next to nothing at all. That means that in order for it to be a rewarding hobby you're sort of forced to create something that has as broad an appeal as possible.

      Now, that's not to say you can't still do that with a text based game, but it's harder. You'll probably also have to match reasonably well with the community's current 'kink mood' (if you know what I mean by that).

    6. That makes it something of a Catch-22 situation for a new author. If you make something that you're interested in, you risk not getting any feedback, leaving you without the motivation to try again. If you create something that's proved popular in the past, then it's not as personal and you may not have the motivation to see it through to the end. Even if you do, you still might not get much feedback because other people have done that kind of game better before you.

    7. Yeah, it's a problem. On the other hand there is kind of a way out: if you make the game both good not push people away. For instance if that game design doesn't expect you to solve hard puzzles right away, you're not hit with loads of exposition right up front and you show a little leg (build up some early sexual tension or have an early sex scene). That way a decent number of people will stick with it, and if it's actually any good then it will get appreciation.

      Hmm, maybe I should write an article on the importance of first impressions in AIF.

      Anyway, one good thing about the text-based fans (that is, people who either prefer or just like the text-only stuff) is that they do tend to give quite a lot of feedback - more on average than the casual, image-loving crowd I would guess. So I'm saying that it's not all doom and gloom - this is something that authors can deal with, even without graphics.

    8. An article on making a good first impression would be fantastic. In the project I'm working on, I've found getting the opening of the game right to be quite the balancing act.

      First, I think it's important to let the player know that the game he/she is about to play is in fact AIF and there will be sex. "Show a little leg," as you put it. At the same time, I think it's risky to lead with a full-on sex scene because the player is bound to conclude that my game is nothing more than a shallow sex romp without challenge. A little teasing might be the best way to go here.

      Introductions are also tricky animals. How much is too much? IMO setting the scene is good, but it's very easy to crash into a wall of text at the bottom of this slippery slope. Should I get my main character's description out there straight away or wait until the player happens to look at a mirror.

      One thing I'm pretty sure of is that a simple puzzle, or a significant choice, early in the game is essential. I believe it's important to let the player know they're in control--even if the control is an illusion.

      It's an interesting discussion for sure.

  4. The biggest hurdle for me to get over with 3D rendered characters is the "doll factor". More often than not, the characters we see appear in AIF games--authored by Goblinboy or whoever--have a disconcerting Barbie doll quality that is almost impossible to avoid unless you are very experienced in 3D design and are willing/able venture beyond the friendly confines of DAZ/Poser. The catch here is that as soon we start talking about the incredibly time-consuming and resource-intensive realm of lighting solutions such as Octane/Reality/Lux and the far more advanced design/sculpting applications such as ZBrush, Blender, or even 3DS Max, we might as well just consider making adult 3D comics instead.

    1. Ah, interesting point. I find the "doll" thing disconcerting too. I persuaded myself to go ahead with images for PAF because, it being an anime look anyway, I felt justified in making the whole visual design a little cartoonish. It's common for 3D design to enter the uncanny valley, so I just felt like I shouldn't even try to go for a 'realistic' look. I still could have done better, of course, but I personally think I made the right decision on that matter.

  5. Just after the release of School Dreams 3 I wrote an article for Inside Erin where I was cautiously optimistic about graphics in AIF. Since the I've grown more and more ambivalent about them, to the point where I'm almost pessimistic.

    Not that graphics are all bad. When they're good (ie. when I like them), they increase my enjoyment of a game. They're also probably responsible for the tremendous increase in the number of people interested in AIF that's happened in recent years. On the other hand, despite there being nearly twice as many people on aifarchive, the amount of activity (ie. posts) is lower than it was pre-2009. That's probably due to the drop in the number of games being released. If you compare the Graphical Age (2009-present) to the Golden Age of AIF (2002-6), the number of games being released has dropped to about a third of the Golden Age level (if you count Minicomp games), or about a fifth (if you don't).

    Obviously graphics aren't wholly responsible for that drop off, especially as the biggest drop actually happened between 2006 and 2007. The culprit is more likely to be increasing audience expectations pushing what is considered a 'good' game out of the reach of less experienced authors. But graphics are the most visible part of those increased expectations, and the result is that in recent years we've had what is basically a two-tier system. On top are the one or two big graphical games each year that the audience looks forward to and whose release produces a frenzy of activity from the community. On the bottom are the non-graphical games, which people presumably play, but don't talk about nearly as much.

    That's a problem because learning to use a program like DAZ 3D on top of having to master an authoring system is a big ask for a first-time author. It's something that you're more likely to do after making one or two games and getting comfortable with creating AIF. But because non-graphical games by first-time authors barely move the needle with the AIF community, the vast majority of new authors don't get to that stage. It's suggestive that almost the only new author to use 3D graphics in his first game (Lamont Sanford) is also the only author who's made his debut in the last five years and gone on to make more than a couple of full-size games.

    Of course the bigger problem is that the genie is already out of the bottle, and there's very little that can be done to change that state of affairs. You're not going to get anywhere by trying to discourage graphical games, and it would be a disservice to both audiences and authors to try to do so. Alternatively, you could try to encourage graphical games, but that would only enshrine the second-class status of non-graphical games and diminish the pool of potential authors.

    Regarding the Minicomp, the current restrictions mean that graphics aren't used a great deal anyway, and the nature of the Minicomp as an 'event' combined with lowered expectations bypasses most of the problems that non-graphical games usually face. So while in principle I would be in favour of banning graphics on the basis that it would make the Minicomp more accessible to new authors, I don't think it's a high priority.

  6. I think the challenge for authors that integrate graphics into their games isnt going to be the skill or resources required, but making sure they enhance a well written game instead of appearing as pure pornography for the sake of it. (definitely a fine line). Perhaps this is where the "cartoonish" approach from Ben comes in using the Aiko morphs for Victoria ?

    I know in the images hes asked me to make, he pays very particular attention to bringing out the appearance of the character's, and the emotions behind the scene as written. If authors take the time to integrate graphics effectively they will only enhance the community not hurt it. Anyone can download and pose good old victoria and mike to do anything they wish, but whether you use them, or custom meshes or a mix of both, if they don't fit the story, eye popping graphics will only distract.

    Dont get me wrong, Ive put together some really hardcore imagery for PAC but I think some of my personal favorites that I've submitted to him do the same thing good writing does and that is entice the imagination into its own conclusions.

    Its 2014 and xxx rated materials, games, and articles can be had in seconds from a cell phone, Imagery in AIF I think is going to be damned near a required component if author's want a large distribution of their work. I think its up to the established authors to set the bar HIGH to show how it should be done, keeping AIF current, without sacrificing the most important part, which is a good, well written story.


    1. The trouble with putting the onus on authors to "raise the bar" is that most experienced and would-be authors have real lives and real jobs that pay them real money. AIF is a hobby. No one has ever been paid to create AIF. The only return an author gets on his/her investment of labor/time is a kind word of two from the community. I think it's asking a hell of a lot for a hobbyist to master not one, but two complex systems.

  7. I wonder if it would be a good strategy for authors to use images in a much more limited context. Just create images for what each character looks like. BBBen did this in PAC, though I believe that was because he was still learning DAZ, but I wonder if this would either be a good starting point or 'goal' for authors to have.

    I think a major issue with getting into images is that there is a massive jump from no images to Goblinboy's illustrated novels (and that one guy who managed to get in animations and voice acting). If instead of having to design dozens or hundreds of images, an author was just looking at one or two for each of the characters, it might be a much more feasible project. That way the focus could be on the work and still draw in those now accustomed to having pictures in their game (I admit to being in this group).

    1. In some cases that's not so bad an idea, but the thing is that the really big problems with making 3D images are the same scale whether you're making a few or a few hundred. Getting content is the first part (you'll need a lot of it for the characters, even if you don't have to get as many settings/props/etc), learning to use the system is second (okay, you don't need to do heaps but it's still a small learning curve) and third you need to design the characters, which is fairly time consuming.

      Once you have content, know how to pose things and have designed your characters, it's actually quite easy to put them in numerous poses and at least get a batch of simple pictures. If you've got a character with clothes already, it's easy enough to take their clothes off, for example.

      I think your principle can be applied in the case of authors just being fairly restrained with the use of images, and not forcing themselves to have elaborate staging for everything. Then you get maybe twenty images in a game rather than two hundred, and the writing is doing a lot of the work of setting the scene, but it still feels illustrated.

    2. Have location images ever been used in an AIF game? Say you're in a forest and you precede the text with a picture of the scene. I've noticed this is done a lot in RAGS and all those HTML-based dating games, but never in AIF.

    3. BBBen,

      My first attempt at the post got eaten, and what is posted is shorter than the original, but I actually had an answer for your concern. I think using Skyrim/Sexvilla (now referencing your earlier post), an author could 'easily' (in comparison) get those images in without ever having to worry about DAZ.

      The problem with the easier options is that they can't really do 'scenes' (well, Skyrim probably could in a Medieval setting). Thus trying to emulate you or GoblinBoy without DAZ becomes near impossible. However, if the author sets their sights on a different target, I just want to give the player an idea of what each character looks like (and maybe a reward sex image), then those programs could do it without all of the complexity/cost that the harder programs bring.

    4. 3D Sexvilla does have scene settings, though, and in the test project I was thinking of making (I haven't worked on it recently, though) I was going to use the plane interior (because it's about being on a flight) and then a bedroom. Playing around with what was available I did find it was pretty good for my purposes. That said, there is a limited number of options so I think it would often be better for authors using that to confine themselves to something more portrait oriented, yeah.