Sunday, July 2, 2017

I want to be able to recommend Starlight Vega, but . . .

So a while ago I was really, really in the mood to play a game with a lesbian protagonist and apparently:
Badass [space marine]/[normal marine]/[secret agent]/[person in over their head but rising to the challenge]/[whatever] shoots/slices/whatever's monsters/bad-guys [while still making time to go out with her girlfriend]/[so she can go home to her girlfriend]/[alongside her girlfriend]/[to save her girlfriend]/[while her girlfriend talks her through things from mission control].
is something no one's ever tried because . . . bwha?

I note that by a cunning use of "/" I have suggested, not including the "[whatever]"s, 80 basic formulas which could each be used to make hundreds of distinct mainstream games that go out on precisely zero limbs.

The closest we have is the first game, and first game only, of the Tomb Raider reboot.  It's ambiguous, but it's so very close to being definite.  Too close, apparently, for the publishers, since they made a tie-in comic with the explicit purpose of sinking that ship and then are emphatic in their lack of acknowledging Lara's love interest in the sequel.  As in, the one and only mention is along the lines of
"What about Sam?"
"We're not going there!"
And so, being in this mood to play a game but finding little, I looked at stuff not in my genres.  I looked for anything.  Which pointed me to visual novels, and thus I encountered Starlight Vega.

If you have Steam, it's at 40% off because of the Fourth of July Sale.  And like I said, I want to recommend it.  It has great art, there are parts that are cute, heartwarming, so forth, it's emphatically not just having f/f relations just to show boobs, nor is it something that throws in just a token female romance option, while there are things that are superficially similar the story is different from pretty much anything else I've seen, and . . . I want to be able to recommend it:

BUT

A list won't do, let's take things in order.

The names that matter are all music based, but I don't think there's anything to read into that, I only mention because I'm about to introduce Aria and Melody.

At the start of the game you, Aria, show up at your dead grandfather's house and move in with your mom, while your best friend Melody helps with the moving and spends the night.

Apparently you're a skittish while Melody is into ghosts and the occult and magic and so forth but so far has yet to encounter any such things so she's been limited to mundane books on the matter and fiction.

We first see the lack of editing in how the story starts or doesn't start, depending on your choices.

You hear a feminine laugh three times which wouldn't be a problem with only women in the house except for the fact that it's definitely not coming from either Melody or your mom.

You decide once is imagination, twice is paranoia, three times is enemy action.  And jump into--wait, where the hell did that giant tome Melody is hugging in her sleep come from?

So the two of you investigate and there's a stone on a podium in a room that wasn't there before.  Don't touch the stone and the story ends, the mysterious stuff disappears, Melody is mind whammied into not remembering any of it, done.

Which seems ok if that's all you've done but playing the game more will reveal:
  • The only one with cause to laugh wasn't female and certainly wasn't sultry.
  • The sultry female was emphatically not laughing.
  • The one who has power to do stuff would prefer that you don't touch the stone while Melody does keep the book so this really should have no fucking chance of short circuiting the story
  • No part of this makes sense in context.
Do touch the stone and you get to meet Lyria.  She's been smacked by retrograde amnesia that, honestly, probably does does make sense in context.  In all likelihood the bad guy used some magic or other to suppress her pertinent memories, but it's never really explained.

This will set up the two primary paths.

Melody is your best friend who is secretly in love with you, romance option 1.
Lyria is a --

* * *

Ok, back to the lack of editing.  Lyria says that only ignorant humans refer to her home planet of Vega as "The Demon Realm".  You'll eventually meet the "Queen of the Demon Realm" who is neither human nor ignorant.  And as the story progresses it'll be "demon this" and "demon that" we'll find out that the inhabitants of Vega self identify as demon because by the time the writer got to that point in the story the fact that they're not demons, just demonized, had apparently been tossed out entirely and the writer couldn't be bothered to go back and make the early parts fit.

So when you meet her Lyria is not a demon, just an alien with horns and a tail who's species was mislabeled as demons in order to stir up hate against them and eventually drive them from earth and cut off communications between the two planets.

By the end she's a demon.  Demon, demon, demon.

* * *

Melody is your best friend who is secretly in love with you.  Romance option 1.
Lyria is a demon you freed from a 50 year imprisonment in a stone, but in so doing magically bonded to you.  Romance option 2.

Each of them will instantly be mistrustful and painfully jealous of the other.

The most benign manifestation is that Melody would be interested in studying a magical tome regardless, but she'll push herself to the point that she's not doing the much in the way of sleeping or eating in hopes of finding a way to break the magical bond and thus eliminating any reason for Lyria to be near you.

Melody is too shy to tell you that she's in love with you.  Lyria is making it impossible to miss that she's romantically attracted.  Melody wears modest clothes.  Lyria does not.

You have your options.  How do you decide?

Well, kindness coins.

As in, you can pursue Melody, spending time with her over Lyria when given the chance, and end up irrevocably with Lyria just on the strength of not being an asshole.  (Melody, to her credit, will take it well.)  Insert enough kindness coins, sexual relationship pops out.

This is all manner of fucked up, but still, such is life: fiction falls back on the old established ways no matter how toxic and unrealistic they may be.  Especially in relationship sims.

There's also the idea that poly relationships can't exist, that love means being horrifically jealous of anyone the object of your affection spends time with, the idea that one could possibly like two people simultaneously provokes a response of "Wow! What a sl-" and . . . wait, let's stick with that last one.

You can only even say you like two people if you've unlocked the "Harem route" which is a joke ending that pushes harder on the no-poly front before ending on a triumphant: "If there are ever more than two people in a relationship, it's because there's a competition going on to see who will finally win and advance to the 'two person relationship' stage while leaving the others behind."

* * *

And . . . fucking editing.

So many examples, but here's one:

The story attempts a "not what it looks like" and you hear these lines:
unknown: "...Do what you came here for..."
Lyria: "...What do you expect? We're never..."
unknown: "...Then you'd rather..."
Lyria: "Hmph! I couldn't care less about her... she doesn't..."
unknown: "We have to do it now!"
Lyria: "The humans... I don't care about them anymore. Aria..."
unknown: "Just glamour her into submission."
Later on, if you pick the right path, you'll get to hear the whole conversation, and it very definitely is the exact same conversation, except somehow you've slid into a parallel universe where almost none of what you heard was said at all, nor was anything close to it.

Instead of filling in the blanks to place the nine fragments you heard into their real context, it throws out everything but the last line and so you're left with no fucking clue what to do with the rest of it.

Well, that's not quite right.  The second and third lines are indecipherable.  There's just not enough there.  The rest can be worked with.  And you can figure out enough to learn that not only do the words themselves not appear in what's supposed to be the full conversation, neither do any of the concepts they're referring to.

The first line, for example, "Do what you came here for . . ." is pretty easy to work out.

Mind you it brings us to another moment of "Couldn't you fucking edit this?"

Anyway, at this point in the game Lyria's memory has been returning but she has yet to remember how she got to earth.  Her sister has contacted her via an intermediary and told her a story.  The story is wrong, but Lyria believes it.

Trouble is, even though there was only ever one story from one source with one version, the game never decided what the fuck that story was.  Maybe it would have been better if sixty different people had contacted her and each told her their own personal theory because then it would explain how what Lyria was told ended up being so all over the place and inconsistent.

Anyway, in certain scenes it is indicated or stated outright that Lyria was told she came to earth on a mission to get the magical tome and a human to read/translate/transliterate it.  (Magical beings can't read it, nor can they touch it without harm.)

In other scenes she was told nothing of the sort, and the game seems to prefer those other versions, but that's pretty much the only thing that that the first line could be referring to.

Nothing even remotely related to that comes up in the full conversation.

Ditto for the other stuff you can work out.

Honestly, they'd have been better off if they'd dropped the whole "not what it looks like" "here have context" and had the two things be completely unrelated.  Instead they kept the last overheard line and what happened after so that there could be no doubt that these two bits of text are meant to refer to the same exact conversation.


* * *

Scherza, Lyria's sister, was a stretch goal for the project that funded the whole thing and it . . . well it's probably not a coincidence that it's the thing that finally manages to collapse the flaming wreckage making up what would usually be world-building into complete incomprehensibility.

And yet . . . I want to be able to recommend this game.

I think it gave me an even bigger dose of "What the fuck?" when I looked into the code and saw:
(Paraphrasing) We need an if-statement here, because otherwise --more often than not-- this won't make sense more often

Which was completely true.  The trouble was that that comment had not been acted upon in any way, not only was there no if-statement, what followed was not revised in such a way it would make sense.  The result was that for that part of the script if it made sense it was more a result of you having randomly selected the only path (which was also the most unlikely path) than any kind of craft on the part of the game designers.

Usually, though, things didn't make sense regardless of what led up to them because everything was at odds with everything else.

And yet, I want to be able to recommend this game.

It has so much potential, but it's all fucked over.

But the modders can fix it, right?

Well, no.  There's no mod community or mod support, the engine packages all assets into a single file meaning the simplest way to fix things would involve replacing that file which would have you distributing everything that makes the game the game, which is indistinguishable from piracy.

There are more complex solutions imaginable, and alluring considering that the engine is actually very straightforward and fixing fucking everything would be a breeze.

A breeze that required some artistic licence, though.

It's easy enough to tweak here and there to remove or work around problematic elements when the underlying structure is there, and there there's definitely enough there to see the structure that should exist most of the time, but Scherza's route is truly mangled.

It's broken into 15 sections, two are missing entirely, and in the rest there are several references to content that was either cut out or never written in the first place.

Throughout there's a mechanic that keeps a tally so if, at the end, the tally is under or equal to a certain number you get one ending and if it is over you get another.  Trouble is, the stripped/[never inserted in the first place] content was where the deciding additions to the tally would be.  It's impossible to go over.

There was very clearly a last minute change from making a degree of sense to making no sense at all, but the the indication of the original sense making is the internal code equivalent of a dead link.

So on, so forth.

So choices would have to be made beyond just easy ones like, "Do I want to be virulently anti-poly or not?" but it's totally salvageable if you just rewrite a bunch of it, notably the shit parts.

And yet . . .

2 comments:

  1. If this is Ren'py, then one relatively easy way to do it is to package the mod with a RPA extractor and instructions on how to use it. Then, you'd only need to include the images and RPY/RPYC files that would be directly used in overriding the vanilla game.

    How do you plan to get rid of the kindness coins without having to rewrite everything? My first thought was to tweak the responses so that the protagonist behaves kindly no matter what, if she's portrayed as someone with a kind personality in general, with the choices that add points indicating more personal investment in continuing/deepening this relationship, but you might be able to come up with something better or something more specific to this story.

    If you're planning to add more support for polyamory, you should go into it knowing it'll affect game balance. If the only way to make both of them happy is to date both of them, then the OT3 end is going to feel like more of a golden/true end than the individual ends. If that's the story you want to tell, go for it! Be aware that you'll be making the game inaccessible to players who don't like both of them or who aren't personally into polyamory, but everything in the world is inaccessible to someone.

    If you have strong ideas about what you want a f/f visual novel to be, Ren'py is pretty good for making original work, too, and there's a large body of free visual resources online for non-artists.

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    Replies
    1. If this is Ren'py, then one relatively easy way to do it is to package the mod with a RPA extractor and instructions on how to use it.

      Something along those lines was indeed part of one of the "more complex solutions"

      -

      How do you plan to get rid of the kindness coins without having to rewrite everything?

      Have that be a measure of non-romantic affection, which does in fact matter in the game anyway. There's actually a point where you're straight up asked who you're romantically interested in, which is a pretty direct way to have it be about who you're interested, as the game says at one point, "that way".

      There are also choices already there that don't come down to, "Do I want to be an asshole or not," so some of the mechanic can be salvaged, though probably in a negative way (if you're romantically interested in someone but you continually snub them, that does not a good ending make.)

      -

      If the only way to make both of them happy is to date both of them

      Already in the game it's not. Either of the main options have a period of difficulty accepting not being chosen, but they come around quickly to being fine.

      Unless you fuck up seriously enough to hit a bad ending, you'll get a happy ending with both of them happy in it. The third option is a bit more confused, but if you follow her path she's happy and so are the main two who have bonded while you were third-pathing.

      There's actually multiple points in the unlockable path where the possibility of poly comes up only to be shut down hard, so getting rid of that would kind of straight forward.

      -

      If you have strong ideas about what you want a f/f visual novel to be, Ren'py is pretty good for making original work, too, and there's a large body of free visual resources online for non-artists.

      Yeah, I definitely have an interest in that, I have a feeling my inability to do art would be a problem even with resources but I confess that I don't know what those resources are.

      Depending on how well artwork could be dealt with, there's still a major problem though. I'm rather bad with coming up with my own things. It's a lot easier for me to see what other people's things could have been and move them in that direction.

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