This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Ladykiller players can do it in all sorts of ways, often for many different reasons: thrills, safety, power. The game takes sexual encounters out from behind the fade-to-black curtain and presents them as opportunities for storytelling, critical and drawn-out conversations between characters that advance the game's narrative arcs.
They can also be deeply affecting, or hilarious; Ladykiller describes itself as an erotic romantic comedy, and the way it spins its stories have earned it a nomination for the Excellence in Narrative award at this year's Independent Games Festival.
Here, Gamasutra chats with Love Conquers All Games' founder and namesake Christine Love about how she crafted Ladykiller, and why we don't see more erotic rom-com games.
What's your background in making games?
I like to say that I'm a novelist who made a wrong turn, although honestly, I've been making games for a living for over five years now. My only formal education was a degree in English Literature that I dropped out of in order to finish making my first commercial game, Analogue: A Hate Story.
The whole process has been pretty much entirely self-taught, and for all five years it's been the same core three person team; I'm a programmer, manager, and game designer, but most importantly of all I'm a writer. Personally, I think games are probably the most interesting modern storytelling medium we have, so it's only natural that the writing leads the direction of my games.
What development tools were used to build Ladykiller in a Bind?
It's built in a python-based visual novel engine called Ren'Py.
There's a lot more code involved than a lot of people assume, though. The game has a unique choice system—as far as I'm aware, no other videogame has anything like this—involving dialogue options with variable timing, which was challenging to implement, but even more challenging to write for!
So how much time have you spent working on the game, all told?
It was supposed to be a nice short eight month long project. Instead, it ended up taking three years. To say that it got kinda out of control would be putting it mildly, and the last year of development we ended up crunching pretty hard just to get it done with.
I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I'm still feeling pretty exhausted from that, frankly.
How did you come up with the concept?
Analogue: A Hate Story, our first big game, was all about brutally oppressive society misogyny, and honestly, it was pretty fucking dark to write. After that, we wanted something fun to cleanse the palate; a silly love story that's all about explicit sex felt like the exact opposite, and what we all needed.
Of course, it wasn't supposed to take three years, and the longer it spent in development, the more complex the concept ended up getting. But our core goal was to make something funny and sexy, and that never changed.
There's some good goofs in Ladykiller, which describes itself as a "romantic comedy" -- a rarity in games. What drove you to make a romantic comedy game, and why do you think we don't see such ventures more often?
I think we're starting to see a lot more recognition for romance games in general, but despite that, it's still true that romantic comedy games are pretty elusive.
I honestly don't know why, since I think the format really does lend itself well to games—mechanically speaking, making a romance revolve around tension and back-and-forth is a lot more satisfying than reward-based structures—and I think probably the most important thing to portraying romance/sex sincerely is acknowledging that it's goofy and kinda awkward.
I mean, comedy's hard, obviously. My previous experience was firmly on the side of melodrama, so I didn't feel very confident when I first started the project. I'd definitely like to see more games embrace that, though.
What do you think are the biggest hurdles and opportunities for indies today?
I think being a woman on the internet in 2017 is fucking terrifying, and I truly wish it was possible to make a living in indie games without exposing yourself to that. I don't know anyone who feels particularly optimistic right now.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I'm still working my way through the other Excellence in Narrative finalists, because basically everything looks great; I think I'm in some amazing company.
I barely played anything while working on Ladykiller in a Bind, I was just too busy, so my backlog is embarrassingly huge! So far I've really liked Virginia, and was really impressed by some of the storytelling techniques it used—both in terms of wordless narrative, and its willingness to escape from hyper literalism, a rarity in videogames. I'm really looking forward to checking out Event and Orwell, too, since they seem like the sort of thing I'd want to make, so that's super exciting to me.
I did, however, play a bunch of Overcooked in 2016. Quick couch co-op is about all I had time for while working on the game. It's really great if you like yelling at your friends to hurry up and chop some vegetables for you to deliver and oh god take that off the burner, why is the kitchen on fire, please stop, please help.
I'm a big fan!