Ladykiller In A Bind: Hands On

Christine Love’s games have always existed to be the antithesis of something. And where Digital: A Love Story and Analogue: A Hate Story were an antithesis to typical visual novels, her next game, Ladykiller In A Bind [official site], is shaping up to be the antithesis to dating games. With a fascinating approach to dialogue, and a genuine desire to make you feel both turned on and uncomfortable, it’s already looking rather extraordinary.

“I want people to be confused, aroused, then embarrassed they’re aroused. And then run with it,” says Love of her latest exploration of human connections, in full called “My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress as Him and Now I Have to Deal with a Geeky Stalker and a Domme Beauty Who Want Me in a Bind!! (aka Ladykiller in a Bind)”.

The title may at first seem a little over-arch, but it’s there for a reason. Love explains that she’s fed up of games hiding their intentions, of not being clear what they’re going to be about, and not being clear about where their stories are going within. Ladykiller is going to be about a girl whose twin brother makes her cross dress as him and as a result has to deal with a geeky stalker and a domme beauty who want to engage her in S&M. It’s there. Taking place over the course of seven days, this is an attempt to make an open, clear game about sex in relationships, rather than gaming’s more typical approach of, as Love puts it, “giant elf tits”.

And part of this upfrontedness is Ladykiller’s desire to be honest about manipulation. Dating sims, in their various forms, almost always tend to be about calculating the “right” thing to say to someone in order to have them fall for you. A behaviour which, when stepped back from, is perhaps just a touch awful. “Dating games are about acting like a sociopath,” says Love, “but pretending you’re not.” She goes on to compare the behaviour to that of pick-up artists. The desire here is to both explore this notion, and to be explicit about it, to confront it. Throughout the game’s seven days you’ll meet twelve characters, some of which you will likely sleep with, all of them there to be conversed with. And conversations are where Ladykiller looks likely to shine.

That’s not just because of Love’s evident sharp writing – her previous games have been bristling with wit and detail, lively conversation and a depth of pathos – but because of a new dynamic system for chat. Wanting to create something that feels more like real world nattering, Ladykiller offers you dialogue prompts that appear while the other person is still speaking, that you’ll then cut in with in the next natural gap. Wait a bit, and that thought might become irrelevant, the conversation might have moved on, and that dialogue option will disappear. You know, like in real life.

And matching that desire for clarity, conversations and dialogue options won’t be about pulling the rug from under you, nor forcing you to seek out the correct path. Love explains that her ambition for the game is to create something that “doesn’t send people to GameFAQs”. Conversation options come with an expression of their intent (say, “noble” or “ruthless”), as well as a points system to show you what effect they will have on your relationship with that person, how suspicious they are of you and your intent. The outcome of it all is that what you say is aiming to be explicitly clear, and have explicit outcomes.

And yes, pun intended. It’s going to be a game for adults. Ladykiller is about S&M too, and it’s being a grown up about it. Hence Love’s desire that you be aroused as you play. “Slightly aroused, slightly amused, and slightly uncomfortable,” as she puts it.

With a character style similar to Love Conquers All’s previous games, this time out the backgrounds are in a whole other league. Incredibly detailed hand-drawn background art is immediately arresting, also helping the game to stand out from the genre it both embraces and critiques. From what I’ve briefly played, it’s already looking sassy and smart, as you’d hope. As for the larger experience, we’ll have to wait a few more months to find out.

50 Comments

  1. Jamesworkshop says:

    “giant elf tits”.

    link to youtube.com

    just makes me think of this

    • April March says:

      It’s also something great to shout when you’re surprised.

  2. Rae says:

    Looks unique and will keep tabs on this as I like her prior works :>

  3. Vinraith says:

    Honest question: In what way are Digital and Analogue the antithesis of typical visual novels? I’ve played both Digital and Analogue, but don’t have much experience with the format outside of them.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      It’s kind of there in the article, no? I’ve only played Digital and did not like it at all – mediocre writing trading on twee nostalgia for its own sake and a blatantly obvious twist that’s almost completely unexplored – but she’s pretty much right about the vast, vast, vast majority of visual novels. Certainly anime VNs, traditional VNs, the ones that get feted by the otaku community. They’re meat markets cloaked in treacly melodrama with decidedly poor writing and storytelling – and yes, if anyone’s thinking of an angry reply to this, chances are I mean something you like (Stein’s Gate is rubbish) – but fans don’t want to acknowledge this because they do such a good job of pushing people’s buttons, if that’s what you want.

      • Emeraude says:

        I don’t like the genre, but with some of he things it has produced over time* – even in the unashamedly porn side of thing – I really wouldn’t say the people behind the games all lacked ambition or pride in their craft. It’s more of a Sturgeon’s Law thing and personal preferences coming into play.

        *: I specifically remember a game, had to search-engine the name YU-NO – The Girl that Chants Love at the Edge of the World</i, I certainly didn't like it, but that bit it did with the UI at the end of its introduction, I think it was brilliant. And ripe for the taking by another game of another genre.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Pride in their craft, maybe. Ambition, no. I don’t think any of the people working at any of the major developers still producing this stuff has anything like real ambition. When arguably your entire existence revolves around pandering to an obsessive, ever-dwindling fanbase, I don’t think you can afford ambition.

          • Emeraude says:

            Well, most of the games I has in mind are on the old side, and I don’t know much of anything of the modern scene. So I can’t honestly say anything about it.

            But the ambition *was* there I think, at the very least.

          • Vin_Howard says:

            This applies to virtually every other medium in existence. I haven’t played any VN’s besides Analogue/Hate Plus and Katawa Shoujo (which was gawd awful, imo) so can’t say anything like that. But American TV is the absolute worst at this (everything is more-or-less copy-paste crime drama or cheap drama; and they all treat the audience like brain dead vegetables). And this also applies to AAA gaming.

      • Vinraith says:

        The article seems to be drawing a line between visual novels and dating games, and mostly discussing the latter. I confess I don’t know whether that’s a real distinction or not.

        • Premium User Badge

          X_kot says:

          In my experience, “visual novel” is a term much like “walking simulator,” i.e., trying to describe a game without calling it a game. VN is more of a style and genre description than anything: illustrations (typically 2D and static) and conversations with user choices. You can append RPG mechanics, strategy bits, or 3D animations, which would contradict the “novel” descriptor, but it still follows a lot of the VN conventions.

      • Yglorba says:

        I would say that they’re mostly on-par with your typical YA light novel, or genre-fiction novel, or romance novel. Which, you know, is what it is — melodrama and button-pushing included. They’re not dramatically worse than most of the other stuff being created for that sort of audience; the theoretical interactivity and the way it ends up just highlights the problems.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Based on the VNs I’ve played (which ain’t many, to be fair), I would generally agree, with the caveat that I see nothing wrong with melodrama or button-pushing if they’re done well.

        My issue with traditional VNs tends to be one almost nobody seems to to talk about, except perhaps as a positive thing: the excruciatingly overspecific and overlong narration by the protagonist, who is often deliberately designed as an everyman without much in the way of a personality beyond “earnest” – or, in an eroge, “sexist and generally unpleasant goon.” Which is bananas to me. It’s crazy enough that the character you have to spend by far the most time with is the least likable or interesting person in the entire game, but why in God’s name would you do that deliberately?

        Especially in a dating sim, where the protagonist being likable in some way is the key to pretty much everything that occurs. That’s kind of Romance Writing 101, isn’t it? If the protagonist is a creep or boring, why is anyone attracted to him? And if I do invest in a certain character and/or find that character likable, why the hell would I want to inflict my creep on that character?

        This is to say nothing of the way the narration is normally written, where things often made obvious by the imagery are reiterated ad nauseam just to make sure you “get it,” and reams of words which any good editor would have cut out of a novel for being boring and pointless are jabbered at the player for an eternity in between the scenes we’re ostensibly supposed to care about. Like, dude, I only need to know you went to school. I do not need to know which classroom you go to, what it was like to walk up the stairs to said classroom, how many times you nearly tripped on the way up… All that shit is unimportant. It doesn’t put me “there,” it doesn’t make me identify more with this character, it just wastes my time.

        • Yglorba says:

          The blank-slate or unlikeable nature of the protagonist has been a major sticking point for me in the ones I’ve played, yeah. Of course, this isn’t limited to VNs (way too many games go for it), but it’s particularly noticeable there because of the focus on dialog and internal narration.

        • Ryuuga says:

          Isn’t that how a lot of romance fiction works? Put boring boy/girl in unusual situation and suddenly lots of interesting, fun, sexy [insert correct type of mate here] appears and happy ending? It’s there to tell a story of how someone kind of grey and boring finds a fantastic mate nonetheless. To give people with low self esteem hope.

          Sometimes done more elegantly, sometimes less..

          • Ryuuga says:

            I see I forgot the second half of the explanation. Anyway, if the protagonist was a fantastic, entertaining, erudite and witty person, the reader with the low self esteem would fail to identify him/herself with the protagonist. “Why of course protagonist goes on to a happy ending, protagonist is a fantastic person! While grey, dull people like me are doomed to a life of loneliness…”

            At least, that’s how I’ve interpreted it.

          • ffordesoon says:

            Huh. I’ve never looked at it that way before! Interesting!

    • maninahat says:

      I would also include (among what has already been said) the way in which she avoids the god awful standard format of visual novels. Take a typical screen of a VN: chances are, 80% of the screen will be taken up by a giant static image of a girl, and the remaining 20% is a single sentence of text, ticker-taping across the bottom. If there is any interactivity at all, it is an arbitrary choice (like “go to school roof” vs “go to library”) that appears once every 20 minutes or so. It is horribly ineffectual story telling. Christina Love games tend to have interesting interfaces that more economically tell the story, devoting more of the space to text. She also gives you loads of chances of regular input, that is usually relevant to the situation at hand.

  4. amateurviking says:

    Analogue made me do a blush.

  5. Reejun says:

    “Dating sims, in their various forms, almost always tend to be about calculating the “right” thing to say to someone in order to have them fall for you”

    If that’s supposed to include Japanese galge, well, it’s kind of an odd impression to have. The games that care to give the player significant choices for what the protagonist says are a minority. The norm is just branching into different routes according to who the protagonist ends up spending more time with. So rather than the player doing things that make the protagonist attractive, the protagonist simply is a character that the heroines would be attracted to.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      It may not be entirely what she meant to say, but choice or not, many of the plots revolve around decisions and personal development and such that are at best annoyingly implausible and at worst downright sleazy. You’re talking about an entire genre of media where its most ardent fans treat reducing people to laughably simplistic personality “types” as a good, and laudable thing – oh, that tsundere girl’s so hot, I’m more of a yandere man myself, etc., etc. It’s a fantasy of being able to push people into behaving this way and not that way, however the protagonist and/or the player/the reader would prefer – to remove the element of chance because you know exactly what the girl (or guy, I suppose, let’s be fair) is going to do. Even if it’s not meant maliciously it’s almost always reductive, frequently demeaning and it’s not how human beings work.

      And I’m saying this as a guy who once obsessively collected Sakura Wars imports and still rates them as some of his favourite games ever, so please, don’t assume I don’t know what I’m talking about.

  6. GordyThePirate says:

    Christine’s views on this subject are really refreshing. I’d love to try this out, but I’ve never been interested in VNs.

  7. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    Love’s games are lauded for the gender and sexuality play in them (rightfully so), but I’d also like to credit her for consistently designing lovely, minimal UI. Most to the window is dedicated to the illustrations, and the game information clearly indicates what is important – usually requiring only one or two screens.

  8. Wytefang says:

    These aren’t even games, they’re just gawd-awful crappy anime fetish fantasy stories. #notworthyofdiscussioneven

    • Premium User Badge

      shevek says:

      Quite right. Go is the only real game. Or possibly chess, if you’re a casual.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      Intriguing how, despite your confused use of a hashtag, you still found the time to discuss your view on the matter.

      For our future reference, could you please list the criteria for what is a “game” so we can avoid future confusion?

      • Vin_Howard says:

        *You point and click at a guy*

        *He dies*

        *You get an achievement*

        ^ That is what makes a game.

    • Yglorba says:

      Most JRPGs are just gawd-awful crappy anime fetish fantasy stories, too, though, provided your fetish is “giant swords” or the like.

    • airmikee says:

      Using the standard definition of video game:

      A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device.

      You’re welcome to not like the game, you’re welcome to even hate it, but you’re not in control of the definitions of the words we use. It would be hilarious when people think they can define things on their own, if it weren’t so sad.

  9. Muppetizer says:

    I’d love to see a visual novel game take the Kentucky Route Zero approach to dialogue, where you naturally shift between multiple characters during conversation. Have it be more of a collaborative thing that evokes the whole experience and relationship rather than just controlling a single character picking lines. Ladykiller does sound like it will add some lovely dynamism with its timed responses though.

  10. swimming anime says:

    You guys are missing the point of the title, which is a parody of increasingly bloated light novel-derived animes. See “No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!” ” I Couldn’t Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job,” or “I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying,”

    • pepperfez says:

      I Couldn’t Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job
      Probably the best title for a thing, ever.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        My Light Novel Title Can’t Be This Parodied!

        • Monggerel says:

          We’re Veering Off-Topic Pretty Badly Here, Folks
          Help I’m Trapped in a Self-Awareness Singularity
          This is Officially Getting Too Meta

    • Amstrad says:

      I’m glad someone pointed this out. You forgot the one that really seemed to get the ball rolling on this style of title though: “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute”

    • ffordesoon says:

      …Are those titles or BuzzFeed posts?

    • Ralphomon says:

      One of Christine Love’s previous games was called “don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story” (including the lack of capitalisation) which seemed to be doing sort of the same thing

  11. ThatFuzzyTiger says:

    For some strange reason I want to see Love do a VN of Hotline Miami…

    Don’t judge me.

  12. Felix says:

    both turned on and uncomfortable

    This is how I feel most of the time anyway. True story.

    • Hunchback says:

      Should find yourself a woman/man, should help. :)

    • alexheretic says:

      Buy looser trousers

      • JellyfishGreen says:

        Don’t ever change, RPS commenters.

        Except you, Felix. You should change. You should change into those looser trousers.

  13. Kala says:

    “Ladykiller offers you dialogue prompts that appear while the other person is still speaking, that you’ll then cut in with in the next natural gap. Wait a bit, and that thought might become irrelevant, the conversation might have moved on, and that dialogue option will disappear. You know, like in real life.”

    Excellent – that sounds like an innovative mechanic.

    There is an idea that conversation is turn taking in a linear fashion, in games (especially where you can usually pick a response without any time pressures) in a linear fashion. And while conversations *should* have a degree of turn taking, there are people who will talk all over you, interrupt, interject, and drag the conversation back to whatever they were talking about despite the conversation having moved on >.<; (I'd like to see these things too! Yes, I play games to be frustrated!)

    I played Don't Take It Personally, Babe and thought it was great. Very well written; the boyfriend played through it and went on to play A Digital Hate Story (he does not usually overcome his prejudices very well, and the visuals of these games trigger them quite badly) – and actually, that arousal/discomfort was also in Don't Take It Personally, I thought, in trying to negotiate a student/teacher relationship (should I? shouldn't I? what does it mean if I do? Is that ok to explore?)

  14. teamcharlie says:

    Good writing in video games is a noble goal. Literally naming your game “My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress as Him and Now I Have to Deal with a Geeky Stalker and a Domme Beauty Who Want Me in a Bind!! (aka Ladykiller in a Bind)” does not give me confidence that your game has good writing.

  15. somnolentsurfer says:

    Huh. Does this mean John eventually played Digital?