There’s a fine line between “cute displeased” and “hurt-the-player’s-feelings” displeased.
In the graphics department, dating simulator video games typically feature characters with little to no animation standing in front of static backgrounds. But even if they’re not pushing the hardware capabilities of the systems they’re played on, creating those visuals is no easy task.
Romance games succeed or fail based on their ability to evoke an emotional response, and so the character artwork has to be able to draw the intended reactions out of the player. In order to do that, the simulation needs to feel lifelike, but it can’t be too realistic, as Japanese Twitter user and illustrator @sajima_ka found out.
Earlier in his career, @sajima_ka found himself employed as an artist on a dating simulator with a cast full of cute girls for the player to romance. Specifically, he was tasked with creating facial motions and expressions. After being asked to draw a girl with a “displeased” expression, @sajima_ka, who didn’t have much first-hand experience playing dating simulators, submitted his drawing, and got some surprising feedback from his supervisor.
サジマ (@sajima_ka) February 19, 2017
@sajima_ka’s original drawing was along the lines of the illustration on the right in his tweet, which definitely looks like a displeased young woman. However, his boss took a look at the submission and said:
“It’s not wrong, but it’s too serious. It’s going to hurt the players’ feelings, so make her expression a little cuter.”
So @sajima_ka went back to the drawing board and came up with the drawing on the left, in which the girl has demurely blushing cheeks, a less aggressive tilt to her head, and a softer look to her eyes than the beady pupils seen in his original draft.
Seeing as how the core audience for romance games is made up of gamers craving some virtual affection, it’s hard to argue with the boss’ logic. However, after @sajima_ka shared his sketches, many online commenters who crave a challenge said that the girl on the right has a beauty all her own. The design would work great for an expert-level dating sim, some said, and it looks like @sajima_ka would also be a great choice as character designer should Japan’s unwinnable romance game ever get a sequel.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he may or may not be blushing right now.