Friday, January 26, 2018

It's all about how you use it: on NSFWare, by Pierre Corbinais

This post is SFW-ish (somewhat Safe For Work, depending on your workplace)

Pierre Corbinais has a long history of making short poignant games about relationships and intimacy. (Before I had played this game, my personal favorite had been Tiny Soccer Manager Stories.) His choice of tool, Adventure Game Studio, is especially interesting -- this tool is very much not designed for Corbinais' abstract staging and gestural interfaces, but he makes it work anyway.

NSFWare, then, is a joyous and colorful collection of simple reflex-based games in an engine that is constantly trying to destabilize it. (When you press ESC, the quit menu confesses that it doesn't know whether the game is broken or not.) Corbinais' use of low-res neon pixel art is extremely effective here for several reasons: the bright nonrealistic color choices help soften the politics of porn, limited use of animation helps draw your attention to specific sex acts no matter how "small", and the chunkiness also helps mask how the engine wasn't designed for animated sequences like this at all.

Combined with the catchy minimalist beats and the retro-style rotoscoped animation handpainted in the Paint of Persia tool from diverse footage at Pornhub, this game makes a strong case for sex as craftsmanship: it's not how impressive or advanced your tool is, it's more about how you use it.

(sound is pretty important for the brief video embedded above, by the way)

This attitude bleeds into the game design; the vague instructions are part of the fun of figuring out how to use your limited gestures to perform the requested action. You only have a few keyboard buttons, but it's all about how you use it! And tellingly, I still haven't successfully completed the "FINGER" stage... what the hell am I supposed to do there? L2F, buddy...

Other stages, like "EDGE", have a helpful meter to show you when the character is going to climax. But when the game becomes this clear and readable, I have to resist the urge to "lose" on purpose and make him climax all over this face -- to teach him a lesson, of course -- because I decide when he's finished, and no one else.

(It also reminded me of how I relied on on-screen meters in The Tearoom to wordlessly communicate a similar concept of intensity, tension, and escalation. Maybe we've both struck upon a useful sex game design pattern here?)

But I think NSFWare's best quality is its upbeat tone and its relentless sex positivity. The synchronization with the music and flat backgrounds evoke a music video aesthetic, and the randomness of the sequences injects some welcome uncertainty. Here, sex is playful, knowing, and surprising, a particular intersection of pleasures.

Sex is also a series of moments where failure is frequent, expected, and not really a big deal. When you fail a certain sequence (often because you don't know what to do), then you lose a heart (you begin with three hearts) -- but you're also treated to a rather detailed animation of someone fumbling, and you only spend a few seconds dwelling on this failure anyway. The penalty feels minimal and playful.

Combine this tone with the rotoscope animation and an abstracted pixel art style, and overall it helps make this game feel iconic as well as human / life-like. The message is that sexual pleasure is universal and human, and that sexual failure is universal and human -- and perhaps even inevitable.

If difficulty and skill aren't necessarily the main focus of this game, then maybe it's not even about "how you use it." Maybe it's more about how you feel about it, how you approach it, and how you live with it.


NSFWare is available for Windows and Linux. (No Mac OSX version? Is that an AGS problem? Hmm, maybe tools do matter...)