A request

This wasn’t a post I was planning on making soon (or ever, really), but the time has come.

My dad passed away earlier today. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, and we had some plans in place, but it still leaves me in a bit of a financial pickle, as I was mostly dependent on him.

The good news is that, thanks in part to some generous donations I’ve already received, I’m not in immediate financial peril; I have enough money right now to pay two months’ worth of bills, which gives me some time to try to find a more stable source of income.

That said, I’d still appreciate any support you can give. Starting with my most preferred choice:

  • Commissions: As always, I have game writing and proofreading services available (info here, portfolio here). While my writing services are limited to games, I’ll proofread or copy edit just about anything you can throw at me: games, essays, blog posts, whatever.
  • Ko-fi: You can donate money to me directly here.
  • Patreon: Over here. This is technically my least preferred choice, as I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make blog posts again on a regular basis (playing games is not exactly my highest priority at the moment), but if you’re willing to support me with monthly donations despite that, I won’t turn you away.

Even if you can’t afford to give me money, and I totally understand that, I would appreciate if you would spread the word.

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Tiny Game Tuesday, NaNoRenO Edition (April 9, 2019)

Another year, another NaNo. For the uninitiated, NaNoRenO (short for…nothing at all; it’s a reference to NaNoWriMo) is a month-long visual novel game jam which has occurred each March since 2005. I chose not to participate myself this year, but like each year since I’ve gotten into visual novels, I’ve been looking forward to the entrants—some pretty amazing games have come out of NaNos of the past.

I couldn’t go through every single entry, but I’ve provided an overview of several of the completed games (no demos, sorry! I couldn’t go through all 90 entries in just two weeks!). There might be some minor spoilers ahead.

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Title: Contract Demon
Developer: NomnomNami
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 25 minutes

Contract Demon is a kinetic novel set in the same universe as the Treat series, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet, and First Kiss at a Spooky Soiree, featuring demon Kamilla having to deal with the affections of (and her affections towards) the angel who keeps summoning her. Nami’s stuff is always a treat to enjoy (pun not intended), and this is no exception. Contract Demon is equal parts cute, funny, and romantic, and well worth the time it takes to read it.

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Title: A HERO AND A GARDEN
Developer: npckc
Original release date: March 29, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 2 hours (before an update which made the gameplay take less time, so it’ll likely be less now)

Okay, okay, so this is longer than I usually allow for these posts, but I don’t want to make multiple NaNo posts. A HERO AND A GARDEN is a cute VN/clicker hybrid about a wannabe hero who destroyed a town of monsters while trying to rescue a princess who (unbeknownst to him) didn’t want to be rescued. As penance, the “evil witch” who lives in the town has cursed him and forced him to harvest berries for the townspeople.

The clicker mechanic is very simple, but the VN as a whole is a heartwarming experience, with the protagonist learning about the town and the monsters who live in it, and realizing that what he thought the world was like isn’t really what the world is like at all.

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Title: After the END
Developer: Stomach God
Original release date: March 28, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

After the END takes place a decade after the start of a zombie apocalypse which killed or turned nearly every person in the world; protagonist BB believes they are the only person left alive and spends their time exploring the wasteland. The current town they’re in has 12 houses to explore, but there’s only enough time to explore 8; you’re all but guaranteed to die a few times before managing to get the good ending.

I’m not a huge fan of zombie apocalypse stories, but After the END manages its setting fairly well despite some technical issues (the “skip read text” function also skips unread text) and a few text errors.

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Title: Cooked with Love
Developer: STARDUSTSODA
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

College student Perry (nameable) finds themself in a dilemma after they finally ask their crush Lily out—their wallet goes missing the night they planned to take her out to a fancy restaurant! They come up with the idea of a home-cooked meal instead, but Perry has never cooked before, and there’s not a whole lot for them to work with. Luckily, Perry’s roommate Brooks is there to provide emotional support (not during the date. That would just be weird).

A fun, short VN with a crafting minigame and a great sense of humor, Cooking with Love is extremely polished for a jam game, featuring animations and simple customization (name entry, short/long hair, pants/skirt, he/she/they pronouns). If it weren’t for its short length, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this as a commercial game.

One of the highlights of the game is trying out different combinations of food to see what “dishes” you get; I didn’t think you could turn all that into…those.

Also, I think I have a crush on Lily too. Oops.

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Title: Seven Seasonings
Developer: Sleepy Agents
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

A surreal VN with a unique aesthetic and an interesting soundtrack. The game makes use of an inventory system, randomized stats, map movement, and a simple trading mechanic; I’m not entirely sure how (or if) they affect the story. Seven Seasonings is one of those stories where I’m not quite certain what happened or what any of it meant, but it provides an interesting topic to think about.

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Title: One Last Salty Kiss
Developer: fullmontis
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 50 minutes

A kinetic novel about a newly-single man who finds an unconscious woman on the beach one night; what results is an emotional vignette about life, death, and the roles our memories play in our well-being. I felt the whole thing moved too fast; I’m not a fan of stories where the couple goes from zero to True Love in the space of two days.

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Title: Charles 2.0
Developer: Team Conwolf
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 40 minutes

Charles 2.0 has what’s probably the best logline of the jam:

You’re the President, but you have no memories. Crap.

Short, sweet, and to the point. This isn’t an amnesia story; you’re playing as a clone of Charles Denton, President of the United States, and must gather enough information about “yourself” and the country to bluff your way through a press conference without arousing any suspicion. Nobody can know that you’re a clone, not even Charles’ husband Lorenzo or assistant/polyamorous boyfriend Jonas. The result is a story that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout and is one of my favorites of the jam.

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Title: Enc and the Flying Machine
Developer: TangledVirus
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 20 minutes

Enc and the Flying Machine tells the story of a mushroom girl tasked to write about machines. While the setting is interesting, I found the story hard to follow at times, with the occasional confusing wording. Besides that, though, it’s a lighthearted story about friendship and love, and hopefully some polish on the text can help bring that out more.

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Title: RE:BURN
Developer: Jane Titor
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 25 minutes

Closer to interactive fiction than a traditional visual novel, RE:BURN finds you in the shoes of Charisse LaFlamme, newly-minted part-time editor for an academic journal. One of your jobs is to delete all the old emails that have been accumulated over the past few months. However, things soon start to get really weird. The game was written by one of the writers of DemiDato, one of the projects I’m working on—but trust me, they’re two very different games. RE:BURN is something closer to horror; it does a good job at unsettling you just enough to make you wonder if you’re really making the right decisions.

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Title: this was for you.
Developer: Watercress
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 50 minutes

this was for you. is one of the more technically-advanced entries of the jam, featuring lots of animations, voice acting, and general polish. Our nameable protagonist is grieving the loss of their best friend, Ji-min, whom they only knew through a VR world. While it works for its duration, it ends abruptly, without a satisfying conclusion, leaving me in a weird limbo where I don’t really know if I can recommend it or not.

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Title: Robot Daycare
Developer: Kigyo
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 40 minutes

One of the longer non-gameplay entries in the jam, Robot Daycare follows a trio of college students as they create and raise a robot child for an assignment. How the story goes from there is based on a handful of choices—not exactly revolutionary for visual novels, but the two paths are very different, with the good path being a story about friendship and trust and the bad path being a straight-up horror story. (Some of the descriptions in the horror path are…eurgh. No wonder there’s an option to disable gory text.) Both paths are good, but in different ways, obviously.

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Title: REDD War
Developer: Good Tales
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour

Hm, so this is a story about murder being legal for 12 hours…

No, that doesn’t remind me of anything at all.

Parallels with famous movie series aside, I just couldn’t get into this one. A high school student gets caught up in a REDD War, where Earth-occupying murderous aliens are legally allowed to murder any human they want for 12 hours (whereas humans are bound by normal laws and cannot kill REDD except in self-defense). Ultimately, the “killer aliens” trope doesn’t do anything for me, and I spent most of the story being vaguely uncomfortable (in a bad way). Watching two of the bloodthirsty REDD call the timid REDD a pussy over and over is just annoying (and yes, I know that the other two REDD are supposed to be unlikable, but they’re not the fun kind of unlikable that makes hating them enjoyable).

I also thought it was strange that it includes a warning for violence after the cold open where some aliens murder a guy in cold blood.

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Title: Alice in Stardom
Developer: Crystal Game Works
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io, Steam (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 40 minutes

The best part of Alice in Stardom is the writing during the performances themselves (aside from the pointless minigame); everything else is hit-or-miss. I had a hard time getting into the entire concept thanks to my distaste for idols, made stranger by the decision to set the story in what appears to be the USA in 2019, where the idol culture Alice in Stardom depicts really doesn’t exist (source: I live in the USA in 2019).

I’m a bit confused by the minigame. I failed it the first few times since the game doesn’t explain what you’re supposed to do (click on the lyrics in the order in which they appear). It doesn’t really add anything except making going for your second/third route take a couple minutes longer.

Additionally, the “romance” is limited to about three lines (total, across all three routes, although the end of Taylor’s route can be interpreted as romantic subtext). There’s nothing wrong with a story about friendship or friendship-that-could-lead-to-romance—but I think it makes the “lesbian” and “yuri” tags on itch more than a bit misleading.

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Title: Mnemonic Devices
Developer: Minyan
Original release date: April 2, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 30 minutes

I’m generally not a huge fan of the amnesia trope, but Mnemonic Devices has one of the more interesting takes on it that I’ve seen: the (customizable) protagonist (default name Quinn) eventually finds out that they are actually an extremely advanced android assassin, whose current mission is to kill corrupt hot-shot lawyer Caesar Rivera—who also happens to be Quinn’s husband. (They had to get close to him to gather information on him, you see.) The person who breaks the news to you is Quinn’s partner Alto, who does a really bad job of hiding how madly in love with them he is.

The game itself, however, does a really good job at balancing both routes to make them equally satisfying, although I personally preferred Alto’s route. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity regarding whether or not to kill Caesar; the game doesn’t really say that either is more or less right than the other, though they lead to different endings depending on which route you’re on.

You Need a Proofreader

I play a lot of games with a lot of text. Visual novels, interactive fiction, RPGs—if it has words, I’ll read them, goddammit. There is, however, a teensy-weensy little itty-bitty tiny problem with a lot of them.

They haven’t been proofread.

It is very obvious when a text hasn’t been combed over by a proofreader. They’ll be filled with ambiguous syntax and tyops – not to mention inconsistent punctuation and spelling. They range from totally illegible to mostly okay, but they’re all at least kind of annoying.

So, what is a proofreader, anyway?

Like many things, it depends on who you ask.

In the publishing industry, a proofreader is someone who reads proofs (the already-edited version of a text) to find and fix errors and inconsistencies. The British Society of Editors and Proofreaders has a good overview of what a proofreader does…for books.

Outside the publishing industry, “proofreader” generally means “someone who corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation.” This causes a lot of overlap between a proofreader and a copy editor, the latter of whom is usually responsible for spelling/grammar/punctuation fixes, as well as many other tasks, in the publishing industry.

Of course, games and books generally require different approaches. Generally, you can make as many changes to an in-development version of a game as you need; a proof, meanwhile, requires minimal changes because of the costs of printing (a proof is often a physical copy of the manuscript). Games also tend to have fewer restrictions, or at least different restrictions, than books. It makes sense, then, that the two roles would be combined, especially considering that a Venn diagram covering the skill sets required for both positions would be damn close to being a circle.

Oh, I can just do that myself!

Sure. (This is only partially sarcastic.) For something like a blog post, it’s fine to just look it over once or thrice before publishing it. (I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise.)

But for a game, especially if it’s a commercial game, you want your text to be as polished as possible. The easiest way to do that is with a proofreader who’s proficient in the language in which you’re writing. Nobody is more familiar with a text than its writer, and when you’ve spent hundreds of hours with the same text, it’s easy to miss small (and not-so-small) errors; your brain is so used to your text that you can’t see them no matter how hard you look. Your proofreader won’t have this same familiarity and will be able to spot any problems much more easily.

Additionally, hiring a proofreader rather than trying to proofread your game yourself frees up time that can be used for things like bug fixes and marketing.

What’s the difference between a proofreader and an editor? Do I need both? If I need to choose, which one should I pick?

Let’s back up and address these one-by-one.

In short, the difference between a proofreader and an editor is that an editor manages the content of a piece of writing, while a proofreader manages the presentation. Your editor will tell you about all your plot holes; your proofreader will tell you about all the times you mixed up “there,” “they’re,” and “their.”

Ideally, you should have both an editor and a proofreader, but especially for indie projects, that may not be financially feasible. (You are paying them…right?) If you have to choose one…well, that’s a decision you’ll have to make yourself based on your text and what you think your strengths and weaknesses in writing are. I’m biased, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one to make that decision.

Grammar is a social construct. Why should I care if my text is “correct?”

You don’t need to care, of course. You’re more than free to release your game out into the world with as many spelling errors as you can pack in there—but people will notice, and this will affect the way your game is perceived, especially if you’ve released it commercially. If your game gets a reputation of being typo-filled, it may even cost you sales. For indie devs, a handful of sales can be the thing that allows you to pay rent or buy groceries this month.

In the worst cases, errors can literally change the meaning of a sentence to its exact opposite meaning. A famous incident involves the so-called “Wicked Bible,” whose Ten Commandments tell good, God-fearing Christians, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (It also features God showing off “His glory and His great-asse,” so maybe it wasn’t an error so much as deliberate sabotage, but the point stands: it’s very easy to change the meaning of a sentence.) The more text is in a game, the more likely it is that there will be a big mistake like this in it, and the more a proofreader can help keep them out.

Meanwhile, an infamous gaming example comes from the classic RPG Final Fantasy VII. There’s a quirk in the English version during the first boss battle. The Guard Scorpion puts its tail up, and Cloud gives Barret (and the player) some helpful advice…

Cloud: “Barret, be careful!”

“Attack while it’s tail’s up!

It’s gonna counterattack with its laser.”

Ignoring the “it’s tail” thing, this “advice” will get you a face full of lasers. What it’s trying to say is, “If you attack while its tail’s up, it’ll counterattack with its laser[, so you shouldn’t attack it].” Many players will see the first and second lines and immediately think the game’s telling them that they should attack while the Guard Scorpion’s tail is up. Keeping the game’s line length constraints in mind, I’d render these lines like this:

Cloud: “Barret, be careful!”

“Don’t attack while its tail’s up!

It’ll counterattack with its laser!”

Much clearer, don’t you think?

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And let’s not forget this classic line. (Image source: Know Your Meme)

Of course, part of being a good proofreader—at least in my opinion—is knowing when to break and bend grammar rules, too. The best example of this is when your characters are texting each other. The vast majority of people don’t bother with those pesky “rules” when they’re just asking “wyd.” Internet speak is almost a dialect in itself, with even simple changes in punctuation changing the tone of a sentence wildly. (Just go on Twitter for a bit and you’ll see what I mean.)

In short:

Get a proofreader. It may seem like a thankless position, but your players will know when you’ve skimped, and having a competent proofreader will do a lot to make your game just that much more polished.

Exploring Reflections ~Dreams and Reality~

Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the publisher for a Steam curator page I run. For privacy reasons, I can’t say what that page is.

  • Title: Reflections ~Dreams and Reality~
  • Developer: Reine Works
  • Publisher: Top Hat Studios
  • Original release date: July 29, 2018
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Availability: itch.io, Steam (base price: US $15/US $14.99)
  • Approximate time for completion: 6½ hours
  • Official website

I’ve been cautiously optimistic about this game since the demo was released. On the one hand, the premise seems interesting, the demo was enjoyable enough, and it has some nice art.

On the other hand, I’ve disliked just about everything else I’ve played by Reine Works so far. Blossoms Bloom Brightest bored me. I hated all but one of the characters in The Seven Districts of Sin‘s demo. I generally don’t like stories that have homophobia in fantasy settings, even if the story is itself anti-homophobia, so that made the demo for The Wilting Amaranth leave a bad taste in my mouth. The demo for Our Lovely Escape was okay, but didn’t really inspire excitement in me for the full game.

But I’m not sure I’d call any of the stuff I played bad. There’s clearly been effort put into them. Maybe they’re just not to my taste. So, despite my previous experiences, I was willing to give Reflections ~Dreams and Reality~ a chance.

There’s some very good art; the backgrounds in particular (by DarkChibiShadow, who’s also a visual novel dev in their own right; I highly recommend Tomai) are stunning.

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Case in point: Reina’s bedroom.

In a rarity, there are two different sets of sprites in the game, and it’s possible to switch between them at any time; Set A (the default) matches the main CGs, while Set B matches the chibi CGs. I personally find Set B to be much more expressive and fit better with the backgrounds, despite the CG incongruity. (Also, everyone’s taller in Set B for some reason.)

(Bonus: a random Final Fantasy VII reference. No “this guy are sick,” though.)

The game makes use of partial voice acting in the form of “grunts,” short phrases, and the like. I can’t say I’m a huge fan; I’d prefer either full voice acting or none at all. But I don’t dislike it enough to turn off the VA completely, which is good, because there’s no way to turn off the VA without also turning off the other sound effects (which are disproportionately loud compared to the voices; watch out if you’re wearing headphones).

Main characters (in order of introduction):

  • Reina: The protagonist. She is known as the “Magic Mirror” because of her magical power to show people their true selves. However, said power takes an extreme physical and mental toll on her, and after having her power continually exploited in her childhood, she ran away to escape it.
  • Solmaris: The protagonist’s best (and only) friend, a werecat whom Reina nursed to health after she found him injured as a child.
  • Leo: An unfailingly-polite giant-slayer (as opposed to a giant slayer; he’s pretty much average for a human).
  • Wynn: The son of the chief of a werewolf tribe. He’s the only LI to have three endings (good, bad, special) instead of two (good and bad).
  • Ronah: The flirty, haughty queen of the frozen kingdom of Eisheim.
  • Cara: A princess of an undersea kingdom. She’s an optimist who wants to abolish the concept of royalty in favor of democracy. She’s a little bit naïve (okay, a lot naïve).
  • Thiria: A half-human dragonkin who’s self-conscious of how small her dragon form is and wants nothing more than to be able to live in human society.
  • Sho: A mage with the power of exchange; he can grant people’s wishes for a price. He’s kind of a massive jerk.
  • Blanc: The only son and heir of the Descartes family who owned Reina when she was a child, he is determined to protect her from his family. He doesn’t appear until the second common route.
  • Peony: An extremely eccentric woman who’s convinced that Reina is a fortune teller. She also doesn’t appear until the second common route.

Whew, that’s a lot of characters. A problem games with lots of love interests can have is that they sacrifice content for variety; rather than taking a few LIs and fleshing them out a lot, they take a lot of LIs and only flesh them out a little, making the whole experience less satisfying. Does Reflections suffer from this problem too?

Route overviews and spoilers under the cut:

Continue reading “Exploring Reflections ~Dreams and Reality~

Tiny Game Tuesday: March 26, 2019

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  • Title: we have to wake the
  • Developer: triage*
  • Original release date: March 16, 2019
  • Platform: Browser
  • Availability: itch.io (free)
  • Approximate time for completion: 8 minutes

One of the larger Bitsy games I’ve played, we have to wake the is a surreal exploratory experience where you, apparently a skull, wander around various places to get to a world beyond. The color palettes are beautiful.

More under the cut!

Continue reading “Tiny Game Tuesday: March 26, 2019”