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MossStone

Life Managment Sims / Relationship Games

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I'm developing a prototype game where you plan out your character's day and then build relationships with other characters that you choose to spend time with. I've heard about many Japanese dating sim games that do the same kind of thing, but I was wondering if anyone could recommend a list of games that are the best of the genre (I'm more interested in the best gameplay/UI design rather than story). If you have any thoughts about designing these kind of games I'd be happy to hear them as well. [Edited by - MossStone on April 20, 2010 5:26:24 AM]

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When it comes to the UI, you don't really need information other than the date and time of the game world and some means to see how others characters think of your character. The people are understood to be on some schedule and should live by the clock. How much money you have is also important. On other thoughts... If I were you, I would definitely focus on character development with emphasis on subtlety. Make the desired soulmate character difficult to figure out, and maybe able to keep secrets. That could set up some nice drama later.

Sex scenes would need to be available in my book, but how easy should they be to access? On one hand, someone might want a realistic dating experience to satisfy a "simulation". One the other, few care about the emotional state of virtual people and would just like to vent sexual frustration due to not finding a mate in the real world.


... *sniff* [crying]

Maybe make some characters that "put out" more easily than others, and make them slightly less appealing for the sake of encouraging maximum play time with the other fish in the sea.

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Actually the idea I was going for was more of a squad based RPG, where the relationships between squad members effects your options. I'm more interested in dating sims as research for how the mechanics would work. I heard that the Persona games use this kind of mechanic. Do you know of any games that have you plan out your day such as balancing work and socialising?

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Persona 3 and 4 do sound like what you want, Persona 4 more so than Persona 3. In Persona 3 relations have a more limited effect on combat. Another game series that has you balancing work and socializing is the Harvest Moon series, though it doesn't have any real combat mechanics. My favorite is Back to Nature for the original PlayStation.

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Personally I think the 'planning out the day' mechanic is inherently less interesting than some other mechanics that could do the same thing in a squad-based RPG. For example having two characters execute combo moves might improve the teamwork between those two characters, or equipping two characters with complementary elemental magic items might raise their magical compatibility, and one healing the other also might increase their friendship.

One thing that might be quite interesting to do is something where the player has several pilots and several mechas (or dragons or whatever intelligent fighting vehicle). Then the player could assign pilot characters to vehicle characters as partners, and try to level up the synchronization between them to unlock special moves. You'd have to also have a dynamic to encourage the player to experimentally switch them around, like random characters would be unavailable at the start of a mission, so the player could assign substitutes.

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Social dynamics can get insanely complex and hard to track. You'll need to boil it down to a system that's intelligible to the player. Is this going to be the meat of the game, with the squad-based combat serving more as a showcase/report card for your performance in the relationship management, or will it be a boost-imparting minigame on a mainly combat chassis?

For my part, I find the dating sims to be fairly annoying and repetitive. The simpler ones are a grind to unlock porn, the more complex ones are a trial-and-error "find the right sequence of actions" exercises and the most frustrating throw in random elements that can wreck a perfect run due to unlucky dice roles.

But it has to be a somewhat challenging and engaging game, otherwise it's just a crappy interface for assigning roles to squad members. I want Jack and Jill to be in the front lines and do extra damage, so I have to spend thirty minutes playing a rhythm game or take copious notes about Jack's birthday, favorite food and preferred cologne in order to play the main game the way I want to.

Ideally, I'd avoid things like unlocking critical moves or roles based on relationship status, and instead use it as a bonus multiplier or a critical hit chance modifier so you get a tangible boost but don't wind up inadvertently defining a "best build" for the social dynamic of the group. One of the Fire Emblem games was divided into chapters, and by carefully managing your deployment and timing you could have your soldiers get married at the end of one chapter, and then their son or daughter would join the army after a time-lapse vignette. There were a couple hyper-elite characters that could be created through this, and a lot of unremarkable ones, so it was possible to "win" or "lose" the dating game in a very real sense, even though the player was never told the rules, the stakes or the payout. That felt sloppy, more a reward for visiting GameFaqs than a reward for savvy playing.

I also don't think you should restrict yourself to romantic relationships. camaraderie and synergy will be relevant in any squad, and the bonds of friendship, trust and shared experience should be no less beneficial than love or sex. I'd stack Butch and Sundance against Bonnie and Clyde any day.

Maybe you could link it to a loyalty/morale system, to introduce some tradeoffs. Putting two brothers or a husband/wife duo in a squad will help both of them keep their heads in the fight, but they'd be fighting for each other as much or more than they're fighting for you, so while you get a morale boost from having them together, they become a liability if one is wounded or killed and the squad is ordered to withdraw, since the survivor might flip his shit and either charge in there looking for revenge or refuse to leave the field, potentially multiplying your casualties or leading to a rogue unit.

The "planning the day" system would work well with a very small number or characters, but I'd say that above six or so the micromanagement would become tiresome. Perhaps it would be better to issue standing orders or assign duties, and then have the relationships grow organically out of that. A week assigned to the kitchen could be an effective team-building exercise for the kitchen staff, but if your rations are low or of poor quality, the rest of the men might direct their resentment toward the cooks, and that'll cause the cooks to become an insular unit, friendly with each other but not readily accepted into other social groups.

It's a neat idea, and well worth investigating. I can't wait to see where this thread goes.

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I would suggest having a look at both Persona 3 and 4. The Social Link system is good for being able to tell how things are going with particular people and having the choice between fighting and socalising makes for interesting decisions.

The other I would suggest looking at the Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, I haven't actually played it yet (still waiting for it to arrive in the post) but it has the dating element and you get free time to go see people so it might give you some ideas of what to do.


One thing I would say though, is to give some sort of indication of what change in the relationship will happen with a particular choice, either by an idicator or making the results logical.

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The current idea I have in my head is of an RPG where the game progresses in real time, and characters do not gain experience. Instead of experience you are awarded the ability to skip forward in time, and during that time skip you can select what your characters are doing. These events in the time skips will award your characters with new skills. Any interesting events that occur during the time skip will be played through in the real time mode, and then your character will be allowed to time skip again at the end of the interesting event.

The main aim of this is to have a living breathing world while reducing the complexity/fun issues involved with the added realism.

I thought that games such as Persona 3 or Japanese Dating Games may be a good place to start researching, but it looks like Kudos and the Sims may be closer to the overall idea I had. I know there are a few more life management games where you gain stats based on your activities, but I can't remember the names off the top of my head.

[Edited by - MossStone on April 19, 2010 9:27:31 AM]

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