Homer in Silicon on Date/Warp

Date/Warp is a visual novel from Hanako Games, paced out with puzzles. I liked a lot of things about it, but had some issues with the structure; essentially, my discussion is about how to handle situations where you want the player to replay and try most of the alternate versions of a multiple-ending game, where that will mean that late replayings will be mostly the same experience over again. Date/Warp enforces this more than many other games (though in a way I gather is not unusual for visual novels) by having the best ending be completely locked and inaccessible until you have played through almost every possible variation.

It’s a problem that has some bearing on multiple-path IF. I know, for instance, that there are people who did play Alabaster this way and found it exasperating to do so — see TempestDash’s review here — even though the intention was to steer players aggressively towards interesting endings and point out which mysteries were missed, rather than to encourage complete exploration of content. So, though I’m critical of Date/Warp as an experience in that regard, I think it raises some useful questions.

4 thoughts on “Homer in Silicon on Date/Warp”

  1. I’ve just been getting into visual novels myself, and I’m curious to hear what your general feel for them is.

    On one hand, I think the medium has strong potential. The best are more than just novels with pictures. I think they can achieve things that words only can’t (sometimes a picture IS worth a thousand words, plus you can visually track characters and locations, etc.), and things that movies can’t (20-hour play time, showing when effective and leaving things to word pictures and our imagination other times, internal monologues, etc.). For a relatively small increase in assets (no actors or film, just backgrounds, character art, sounds and music), the impact can be tremendous when done well.

    On the other hand, the Japanese titles I’ve tried are incredibly long-winded, and still read oddly to my Western (but semi-otaku*) eyes. The choices are few and far between, and as you mentioned, sometimes less evident than “choosing the left door” in an ’80s CYOA adventure. The majority of them also seem to follow the “spend the most time with this love interest to learn their story/bed them” formula.

    This is all based on a limited sampling of a few subbed Japanese titles, and the free English ones available at http://games.renpy.org/. I think the medium has strong potential, which seems very underused so far. Wikipedia says almost 70% of Japanese PC titles sold in 2006 were VNs. I enjoyed Digital: A Love Story a lot, despite its flaws. I hope a few others can pick up on the potential there and run with it.

    *otaku = (Japanese) fanboy

    1. My feeling is fairly similar to yours: this could be an interesting medium, but the genre conventions (which I admit I only half-understand) militate for some odd things. There are long, long uninteractive passages in many of these games; romances are often fairly mechanical, too.

      Essentially, I think (with perhaps the exception of Digital: A Love Story) that many of these have yet to nail down what interaction is supposed to be good for in this context. Like, it might seem that the point of a dating sim with many available suitors is that you can pick which one you want to pursue — but the format strongly pushes you to work through all of them, which undercuts any idea of personalization or preference. At the same time, the structure doesn’t really make it rewarding seeking out all of the options; and to the extent that there are puzzles or intellectual challenges to the choices, they’re often downplayed a bit.

      So in a sense it often feels like it’s a medium still in search of its own possibilities. Hanako Games’ stuff is among the best I’ve seen, unquestionably (though of course as I don’t read or speak Japanese, I’m cut off from a lot of possible content).

  2. That graph is particularly amusing and insightful, in my opinion.

    There is another line that should be present on it, though, to be completely accurate, and it explains some of the OCD-like behavior some gamers (and clearly, I myself) display when it comes to multiple path games.

    The line should be called “anticipation of paradigm changing relevation”, which should peak early and slowly rise until that last curve where it sharply descends.

    Less technically described, though: I think when you find something really good, and it happens to have multiple-endings, the desire to experience more of what made it “good” outweighs the growing knowledge that you’ve already seen all the major plot points there are to see.

    Of course, then a game like Shadow of Destiny comes along, and you can no longer take any chances.

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