Developer Spotlight; Arden Ripley, Date or Die!

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The first spotlight we’re shining in 2016 is towards interactive fiction author, dating sim expert, and skeleton enthusiast Arden Ripley

Arden is the developer and writer of the upcoming visual novel Date or Die which tells the tale of  six strangers who wake up in an enormous, lavish mansion with no memory as to how they arrived, and no way out.

They’ve been chosen by a mysterious man known only as The Host as contestants on Date or Die, a twisted dating game reality TV show where being eliminated means death: “think Flavor of Love and The Bachelor meets Danganronpa”. 

What does your work with Date or Die entail?

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I do all the writing and design for Date or Die. I created the characters and story and I'm writing all of the lines in the game. I'm fortunate enough to have two wonderful team members (our programmer, Jacquelyn and our artist, Julian to help me with ideas and concepts, but everything that appears in-game is written by me.

What was it that drove you to game development?

My interest in games started when I got a Nintendo 64 for my birthday one year. The number of hours I put into my copy of Harvest Moon 64 is staggering. My friends and I would spend hours hanging out and drawing our own characters that we wished could be in Zelda games - mine were mostly embarrassing self-inserts that married Sheik and/or Link, but hey, we've all gotta start somewhere! 

It was only when I was in high school and started playing Bioware's games - Jade Empire and then Mass Effect - that I started to actually think of game development as something people could do, and specifically, something that I could do. I loved losing myself in fictional worlds in a way so different to books and movies, and the thought of making experiences like that for other people was incredibly exciting to me.

What hardware/software do you usually use?

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I mostly use free software to make things - Date or Die is being made in Ren'Py, and my other small games have been made in Ren'Py or Twine. I am an absolutely terrible programmer. Just the worst. So I drift toward software that's easy to use while still being pretty versatile.

What misconceptions do people have about your job?

I always have entertaining moments with older people who might not be familiar with games in general who assume I'm a genius programmer bending the universe to my will, when the reality is I spend most days thinking about the best ways to make two characters kiss each other. As for what people into games might think - I'm not sure! 

A lot of big mysteries and misconceptions about game development are clearing up (due to a lot of factors - ease of access to dev tools, more communication from AAA studios, etc), which is great. I guess people tend to think working from home and setting your own hours is a walk in the park, when in reality it requires a lot of discipline.

What do you love most about your work?

I love having the freedom to create what I want. It's a hard balance to keep, because not all of my ideas are winners, and sometimes what I want isn't what's best for the game as a whole. But I like that challenge, too - of balancing my dream project with the realities of budgets, appealing to players, things like that. And I over not having to give up or fight for the things in my games that really, really matter to me.

Do you have any advice for budding game developers?

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For the love of God, please start small. You won't listen to me. I wouldn't have listened to me. I didn't listen to any of the other haggard game developers brokenly weeping about scope. Keep your first few projects tiny. Get them done. Gradually ramp up. 

As proud as I am of Date or Die, it absolutely sucks when your project takes way longer than you expected and you don't have anything to show for it yet, even though you're getting work done. It's demoralizing. So start small, scope down, work in sections, and when you inevitably ignore all this advice, remember why you loved your idea in the first place.

If you could’ve worked on any game in the past, what feature would you have added?

Add dating sim elements and romance to everything. Every game. 

Date or Die
Six strangers wake up in an enormous, lavish mansion with no memory as to how they arrived, and no way out. A mysteri...
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