Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Open Thread: Presents and Affection

An observation/criticism that gets thrown at games, not just AIFs but mainstream games as well, is that relationships are improved by giving characters a lot of presents. It amounts to buy stuff, give stuff, earn love.

So in the spirit of the present giving season: what system works best for earning affection? what can be improved? what difficulties might an author have to worry about? any games that have done this particularly well?

This thread is only talking about games that have some type of affection system (in AIF that would be any stat that you need to build up to improve the relationship and likely get to sex). Some games skip this, either the characters are into each other from the get go or some other approach is used, but we're not comparing the different models, I'm asking if there is an affection model and the player needs to improve their relationship, what works best?

To narrow it down I think AIFs in this category have primarily used two models (not talking about quality here, just category):

Get one thing and have sex: This can amount to, 'You found my jacket hidden in the closet, let's have sex' to 'You know I'd love to have sex with you, but I have to find my laptop first or my boss is going to kill me'.

On the mainstream game front: Skyrim has something similar. If you have a certain necklace than characters are willing to marry you. Some characters may need one thing done first, but at most it amount to an action and an item.

Get multiple things to improve relationship, then have sex: This can either be the continual giving of gifts or, as the Pervert Action series does, interactions/conversations.  Characters may have preferences for certain types of presents/behaviors.

I've never played it, but I hear that the Fable series uses something like this.


  1. I think it's possible to make fetch quests lead to sex in a realistic way.

    Maybe the PC is on a beach had has to find some sun screen for a tanning NPC, which leads to some intimate touching.

    Maybe then she asks you to get her a cocktail from the bar, lowering inhibitions... etc.

    I'm not sure if those would be classed as gifts.

    I don't think it's possible to have an entire relationship from meeting to boning predicated on gifts though. If there's no pre existing relationship you need a lot of conversation in there.

    The thing that bugs me is when the author decides that having the PC drug the woman without her consent would be easier to code so does that instead.

  2. I think the type of game, narrative, and interactivity hugely affects what works and what's feasible, but let's give it a go.

    I don't think gifts themselves are a problem, though I acknowledge that some are offended by the perceived mercenary aspect. One element that can change this is 'priceless' gifts, and another is 'incomplete information' gifts, by which I mean items worth zero in-game currency and of which you don't know the most effective recipient; for instance in Dragon Age Origins the PC can find objects worth near-zero money in remote places, labelled as 'gift' but without a target NPC, and they need to remember some odd detail of a conversation, which itself was optional, to figure out who would most appreciate it. In such a system it's not really the thing itself that earns affection, it's the time and thought and affecton put into finding and choosing it.

    Some dating sims also put a good twist on the gift mechanic by making gifts special items that change the interactions available with the NPC and only contribute a small amount of affection in the grand scheme of things, e.g. buy the clubbing dress to go out on the town etc.

    I suspect part of the reason why affection systems leave so many people with a bitter aftertaste is that there's no one thing that's really accepted to work. Some people love gifts, some like to be listened to for hours on end, some like to be made to laugh, some like to be taken out or just being together. In game mechanics terms, you'd more or less have to implement a different system for each potential companion, or at least weight them very heavily in terms of effectiveness. For instance in a party-based game, spending x gameplay hours in the party would gain y affection points with companion Y but only y/10 with companion Z.

    I personally tend to like mechanics at least partly based around conversation, particularly learning what sort of attitude elicits a positive reaction from an NPC; some personalities like funny replies, some go for snarky, some tend to appreciate a matter-of-fact or stoic attitude. The player can then either choose to stick to a particular personality they set out to play as, or slowly adapt to the taste of the NPC they empathise with the most.

    There's another thought: adaptation. One thing I've never seen is a system that weights the more recent or more significant decisions appropriately. Something I would definitely avoid is the 'oh you didn't pick conversation option 15 in hub 7 about 42 gameplay hours ago? Tough.' mechanic. Perhaps something like an exponential weighting on all but the most crucial decisions, so that only the last 30 or so make a significant contribution?

  3. I'm reminded of this: https://youtu.be/Lqyxt9zI8f4?t=252

    It does turn into a joke with all the Harvest Moon style games (although Stardew Valley improves on this by limiting the gifts per week and having your spouse tell you off if you starting giving gifts to other people once you are married...)

    I think most AIF authors are away of the problem that typing give flower to girl repeatedly doesn't feel involved for a medium that is about writing. The gifts tend to be part of a puzzle as opposed to the way to increase the affection counter. Using the Pervert Action series as it's events you have to trigger to raise the girl's score and you aren't going to each one in turn and handing out another one of the flowers you picked on your way into town this morning.

    Although I would like to see a good Harvest Moon type adult game...

  4. The "Get one thing and have sex" model would make more sense if it was something really important, such as a herb that will cure her mother's terminal illness.

    1. Personally I think that approach makes the most sense when it doesn't really 'create' emotions but rather removes something in the way of two characters having sex, or reveals something about the characters that makes them realise they are attracted to each other. Therefore the emotional arch isn't about falling in love because you've been given a box of chocolates, but instead maybe you're already in love and the chocolates make you realise the other person feels the same way.

      That said, there can be a certain escapist fun to the "do x for me and in exchange I'll let you do y to me" approach. Like in Kingsmen when the hero rescues the danish princess near the end.

  5. My opinion on this really depends on the game type"

    A: As BBBen mentioned, if it is an escapist game (fantasy world, parody, silly, etc.) that is meant to get to the sex quickly, then the 'one and done' retrieval is great.

    B: The less the game tries to be 'real', the more abstract it is, the more okay I'm fine with a 'give girl presents, get love'. For example, if in the game the player just clicks a button for go to work, another for work out, and another for talk to girl, then I'm cool with the idea that you are just giving a girl multiple presents. Everything in the game is simplified down.

    C: It can be part of an otherwise detailed game, but just a part. A good example of this is Molly in School Dreams 3. If she doesn't like you, no matter what gift you get here at the end will change her mind. However, a good gift can act as the tipping point. As an occasional device gifts make sense.

    I think what creates a disconnect between feeling and game implementation (both in AIF and mainstream games) is that real relationships are extremely complex. A guy might meet a girl who is into him from the moment they meet, but another girl who has zero interest in him and never will (can also work with genders reversed or same gender).

    That's hard, and somewhat boring, to implement into a game. Creating characters the player can never "get", especially in an AIF, can be frustrating. Likewise, if a girl (who is as much a main character as the other girls), just throws herself at the player it can seem a bit too easy.

    A second issue is what type of challenge the player/author wants. For some, a math challenge were you try to min/max your stats to see how much you can accomplish is the best/most enjoyable challenge. For others it is a more story driven mode.

    As an example, in SD3 once you know the best route to get Molly, if you want Molly you always follow that route. In the Pervert Action series it more a choice of what stats to pursue. I played PAF many times trying to see how many girls I could get in a normal play-through, even though such combinations didn't yield anything.

    Neither is right or wrong, but are reflective of the different goals an affection system can go for.

  6. In my opinion, far too many game devs these days get too involved in making either experimental game designs or the biggest/most (something) porn game ever, rather than just making something good and complete.

    Before embarking on the most realistic, in-depth affection system the world has ever seen, maybe take a second to ask yourself: is this what your game is about? Is this what you want your player to spend most of their time doing?

    In some cases, I think the answer can be 'yes, this is exactly what the player should spend most of their time doing.' I happen to really like HuniePop. It turns dating into a match-3 puzzle game with metaphorical icons for dating 'things,' the gameplay fits alongside the humorous (well, sort of) story, and the sex scenes you finally get to feel like an accomplishment.

    On the other hand, maybe the game isn't about developing a relationship. Maybe it's about the main character developing/coming to understand him/herself. For this case, I'm thinking of the first Sam Shooter game. Another satire, but this time the PC is a total asshole. He tricks, blackmails, and kills people, and it ends up being a lot of escapist fun. Sex scenes are unlocked through giving characters appropriate items, and I think that specific 'affection' mechanic is entirely appropriate to the game, to the extent that the main character developing relationships with the women in the game would seem odd.

    Then there's the...well, it honestly seems infinite, 'Dating (X)' games. And those are fine. You meet a girl, you go to very specific places, discuss particular topics, go through the routine of touching/rubbing/kissing/etc. in a very specific order, and eventually get laid. I personally find these games pretty boring, given that it's mostly just trial-and-error or finding a walkthrough, but I think these get closest to 'real' dating.

    Conclusion: pick the affection system that makes your game the most fun. Unless realism is exactly the thing that makes your game fun, I'd suggest you let it fuck right off if it gets in the way of you making a good game.