It’s the new year and I’ve been reflecting on the past, so here’s a post on how Fleshcult came to be:
Before Fleshcult I had a history of starting abortive fetish games. I resented them because there was a G-rated hobby project that I was trying to focus on during my spare time, and these side projects weren’t helping. Around about 2010, I read how Dwarf Fortress and other indie successes started out as side projects that took on a life of their own, so I decided that I was going to trust my gut, and go wherever my inclinations led me instead of trying to force myself to write something respectable.
The next game in my continuing series on game concepts that led up to Fleshcult:
Sexbot Manor (2008, concept)
In this game the player would run a brothel of sexbots. You’d have an inventory of body parts with differing properties that you’d assemble to please a series of clients. Each client had a set of tastes that you could cater to for larger tips. This would provide an incentive for the player to build a range of sexbots and try out a wide variety of parts, rather than advancing along a linear progression of parts that are the same but better.
Since several prototypes had gameplay with a completely different emphasis to what I’d planned, I took to writing out a sample play session as a kind of mock-up before coding anything. It’s a useful technique. It forces you to consider what the user’s options will be, and also gives you a taste of how much content you’ll need.
Writing the sample, I discovered that fulfilling someone else’s fetishes isn’t very erotic. For example, if you only like blondes, you’re probably not going to be delighted if the game generates a client that has a huge redhead fetish. I don’t want people to be torn between their sexual preferences and a winning game strategy, so obviously the client fetish mechanic wasn’t a good way to set goals for the player.
If you remove the client’s preferences, what challenge remains? I played around with some resource management ideas inspired by mech games. A limited power budget. A limited weight budget. All it did was dilute the sexual aspects of the game and centre the game’s challenge around the non-sexual aspects. I couldn’t find a satisfactory solution so I shelved it.
Body mod RPG (2006, Incomplete, unreleased)
The next prototype I twiddled with was a half-formed thought about an RPG where the player fights their way through a dungeon filled with horny tentacle monsters, finding various body transforming magic items and becoming increasingly monstrous themselves. The gimmick was that you could pacify monsters by submitting to their molestation and getting them off, assuming there was enough compatible anatomy.
I started coding without much of a plan, and wound up with some absurd results. The compatible anatomy check sounds feasible on paper, but in practice it demands a lot of oversimplification to make it work. People facetiously about talk about penetration being ‘Tab A into Slot B’, but in this game it was very much along those lines. The main character was little more than a list of orifices. It wasn’t sexy.
Also, the continual switching between violence and sex didn’t make any sense. If your character got bludgeoned to within an inch of their life by a large monster, you could retreat back to an earlier room and consort with a smaller monster for sexual healing. As a matter of fact, that was the winning strategy.
You can’t take a game based around combat, swap in sex and expect it to be coherent. Back to the drawing board.
For years I’ve been starting and shelving hobby projects that combine themes of kink with games. I’ve discovered a lot of things that don’t work.
Thinking back, I can trace this compulsion to a game called System Shock 2. It’s a sci-fi shooter set on a spaceship infested with mind-controlling parasites. The player stumbles across various audio logs with first person accounts of what it’s like to be transformed into a meat puppet. They linger on how their revulsion turned to ecstasy, and all their inhibition melted away. It’s not explicit, but there’s a strong sexual subtext running through the game. It had a lasting effect on me.
I went looking for more and found mcstories.com, where the sexual subtext was hauled out into the open and given nipple piercings. I liked the genre and wanted to make a game about it.
Malign Conspiracy (2005, Incomplete, unreleased)
My first approach was to take the usual progression of the stories – lure in a test subject, subjugate them with mad science, have hot sex, use them to abduct more members for your harem – and turn it into a management sim. At the time I didn’t see a way to turn the actual mind control into a game, let alone the sex, so I abstracted those parts away. If you got a person into your lair and picked the brainwash option, in the next turn they would be a minion. I modeled loyalty and had a few different indoctrination processes, but there was never much strategy there.
All the challenge in the game stemmed from abducting people without the police getting involved. You’d pick a squad of minions, and depending on their capabilities, sneak, fight, hypnotise or seduce your way into a building. You’d try to abduct your target before the cops or security arrived.
The game was largely text based. The infiltration gameplay never worked properly because there was no spatial aspect to the game. I realised that the game needed to have at least a blueprint view of the building and direct control over the squad members. I realised that as the abduction half of the game became more and more complex, and it was overwhelming the indoctrination half of the game, which was the erotic bit. The more kidnapping stuff that went in the game, the more uncomfortably sociopathic it became. I abandoned it.