Posted by: T51bwinterized 5 March 2017
LewdGamer writer T51bWinterized runs down some of the problems people have making H-game introductions, and how to fix them.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]
H-games have an introduction problem.
How many games start with some random boy or girl in their house like modern day Pokémon protagonists? What about being introduced to a new school on the first day of classes? How many games (especially fantasy games) begin with a dumb little monologue about the state of world, like they’re trying to be J. R. R. fucking Tolkien. Yes, yes, your kingdom’s politics are very fascinating, but why the fuck is this how you’re starting a porn game?
In short, to date most non-Japanese H-game introductions have been formulaic, boring, and generally weak.
Even games that are normally talked about as representing some of the West’s best efforts at H-games really don’t have great introductions. Princess Trainer begins with Jafar by blandly giving you an assignment to train Princess Jasmine. The game doesn’t really hit its stride until you meet Iris and Jasmine’s training starts making progress. The introduction to Overwhored lacks the imaginative characterization of the later game. I have no qualms calling it the worst segment in the entire game.
Part of this makes sense. Most of the medium’s output has come from small independent developers who start games without financial resources, or often times, without even too much prior experience making games. It’s easy to say games made by professional teams who basically vomit out some new project every year are more skilled at making intros. However, I still believe that if developers knew more of the fundamentals of an interest curve, we can still see more quality products even from the typical amateur turned professional H-game creator.
Excellent game. Mediocre Intro.
Winter’s Advice: A bad introduction to a game loses players.
Maybe you disagree with me? That’s fine, this is an op-ed for a reason. I think we’d all agree that beginnings are important. If you can’t convince a player “This is a game I want to play” in the first fifteen minutes, they are just not likely to keep playing your game. Those critical first few minutes of play are going to decide how a player thinks about the entire experience going forward.
It has even been said that the first five minutes of a game, the first few pages of a comic, or the first page of a book are the most important part of the entire experience. More important than the ending, more important than the high point, more important than anything. If there is any moment I’m going to stop playing a game, nine out of ten times it’s in the first few minutes. That’s when you need to make your sale.
It’s why you are taken for the famous tour of Rapture in the first five minutes of Bioshock. It’s why Final Fantasy VII begins with a tour de force display of the game’s graphical prowess. It’s why Fallout 3 begins with Ron Pearlman doing a monologue. Oh sweet Ron.
My writing advice has been liberally stolen from the folks over at Extra Credits. They did a video about starting games (which can be found here), and it really was very helpful for developing my own thoughts on the matter. In general though, if you’re a game developer who didn’t go to school for it, you should be watching Extra Credits anyway. It’s basically a set of collegiate-quality lectures on game design and writing entirely for free.
War. War never changes.
Winter’s Advice: Your game should begin with a glimpse at why your game is fun.
The main point of the video mentioned above is that the first ten to fifteen minutes of your game should be a snapshot of what makes your game worth playing. If your game is an erotic descent into a nightmare of bondage, your first game should begin with a haze of leather and lace that hints at the dark delights in store. If your game is a rousing action adventure in startling vistas, your first scene should feature you somewhere cool doing something cool. If your game is a thriller filled with tense scenes and uncertain motives, you should start with someone getting murdered. If your game has a fantastic battle system, then by god you should start by smashing some heads.
Now, this can be hard. Most of the time the way we structure our games is to start small and have progressively more bad-ass shit go down as the game gets further and further along. That’s part of the reason why so many movies begin with a scene from later in the film, or a dream sequence of some kind. It lets you keep the progression flow around a build up, without making you have to begin your story with your main character putzing around a village for half an hour without any sign of fun in sight.
How does this apply to H-games?
Before I go into it I should mention that not all H-games rely exclusively on sexuality to engage the player. Some H-games really do go very far out of their way to really up the quality of some non-sexual aspects of gameplay. The Dark Lord’s Trip has a novel system of character interaction and fantastically designed screen layouts, both of which are on full display in the intro. Harem Collector by Bad Kitty Games has genuinely funny writing based around a main character with a very distinct personality. Its intro is actually a favorite of mine, despite its lack of an erotic component, because it does a really good job of setting the tone of the game. Having a really good script can be an example of an element of gameplay worth showing off.
What qualifies as “what makes your game fun” or “core engagement” can mean narrative, creative, or even gameplay elements. However, talking about what makes H-games good without discussing the “H” in there leaves you missing out on arguably the most important piece of the puzzle.
Harem Collector tells you that you’re in for some silliness in the fucking disclaimer.
Winter’s Advice: People play H-games to be aroused or empowered.
It can be said, without much of a stretch, that in order to even be called an “H-game” eroticism needs to be one of the core engagements. To basically everyone who is designing an H-game, my simple advice would be to show that in the intro. If your story is about a woman being slowly, psychically corrupted by demons, begin with an erotic dream shoved in her head by demons. If your game is about training slaves, perhaps start with your character watching a sexual display going on in the slave market. It can serve a double effect by also highlighting what a fully trained slave would look like, thus making player think to themselves, “If I go through the process of fully training my slave, I can get that.”
Your introduction is a promise to the players of your game.
Now, you might have read that last segment and thought, “You should show your players some tits. Players love tits.” That’s a tempting thought, for sure, but it needs to be beat out of creator’s heads with a stick. Like, a really hard, painful stick, with jagged edges or something. I don’t think I’ve ever played an H-game that was worth playing past its intro that didn’t have some kind of distinct theme, or at least style, that its sexuality came from. Including tons of tits in the beginning of your game is fine, but realize that it needs to be done to achieve a greater thematic or contextual end.
In Razzart’s sugary yuri game Love Ribbon, sexuality is the sweet romantic end point of feelings of flowery wholesome lust. In the noir revenge tale Broken Heart Bordello — a game with an introduction better than the game itself — sex is a rough and desperate outlet of a universe that, in a nihilistic way, steals everything from you. In the slave collecting mind control game Harem, sex is an implement of mental domination by which those of weaker will are subjugated.
The expression of those elements are the reason why people specifically enjoy sexuality in H-games, and they are the reason why putting them in the intro is so useful. If you want to display the sexuality of your game, you should not merely display the fact that your game is sexual.
Another key point here is that eroticism and sex, while linked, are not identical. A good way to structure your into would be like a burlesque, which hints at what you get by playing more without laying all the cards on the table. Treat your introduction like the beginning of a strip tease. Little touches, some well placed dirty talk, and strategic nudity can achieve a better effect then full force fucking, because if you deploy them well you can make the player eager for more in a way giving them everything they want might not. If your game has some kind of main fetish, such as mind control or BDSM, this can be doubly effective if you sneak in those elements strategically.
Broken Heart Bordello nails its intro like the MC nails this bitch.
Winter’s Advice: Your game’s intro should only include elements that make players want to play your game.
If your game includes elements that are actively not good, why would you want to include them? If your combat system is really bad, like the combat system of Library Story, you should likely just cut it out whole cloth. Although, sometimes the interplay of mechanics need elements that are less fun then others. Travel systems are rarely the high point of any game, but if you cut them out it makes all movement between places feel weighty, thus robbing gravitas from the locations themselves. That’s just how game mechanics work. If you cut out anything that could be considered fat whatsoever, you’re going to end up with a game that is too slim to hold itself up.
What you should not do is fill the first few segments of your game with these less then fantastic mechanics. If your combat system is so-so, you save that shit for later. If you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking through how your characters work, you don’t focus on them too much. If your setting isn’t very fleshed out, you don’t start with a sweeping overview of the main city. Starting with what works also means not starting with what doesn’t work.
That’s all for now. In part 2, I’m going to go over the ever popular “Lore Narration” introduction, and explain why it is A. terrible and B. not actually what’s happening in most of the best examples of the introduction style. Don’t miss it.
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Image Credits: Seeds of Chaos, Princess Trainer, Fallout 3, Harem Collector, and Broken Heart Bordello.