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.