Note: This post deals with my game Creatures Such as We. As such, it will contain spoilers.
I had a lot of fun playing with making a dating game, and it's definitely something I'd like to do again in the future. I wish there were more story-heavy, choice-heavy romance games out there. Right now, there are plenty of graphic novels, but I don't really find them engaging on the same level as other kinds of games: you just have so little control over your character for such long stretches of time, and often the surrounding story feels forgettable.
If I made another (non-IF Comp) dating game, I'd like to focus on a lengthier experience, with more time to explore different paths. I purposefully kept Creatures shorter to accommodate the 2-hour time limit. And while I definitely enjoyed the full-sized cast of 6 potential romantic partners, I think that future games might focus on a smaller, more manageable, 4-person cast. It would also be nice to open up the game to allow for multiple romances, which is a programming puzzle that would be difficult to deal with. I kept Creatures single-person to keep it consistent with the in-game game. If I made another dating game, I'd also probably move towards something more romantically cavalier, but I didn't want to start out too overt.
A feature that I think would be necessary for whatever game I make in the future would be to have a secondary friend interest, which I think would accomplish multiple goals. First off, it would balance out the focus of the game to make it a slightly healthier scenario, and second, it could be a mechanic for encouraging replays: the player enjoys the friendship with the secondary NPC and feels encouraged to replay picking them as their new romantic interest. However, I didn't necessarily need to or want to encourage replay for Creatures (because of the time limit), so I didn't go back and add it in after I had thought about. However, the best-friend is definitely a feature I'm going to consider implementing in the future.
I was really excited to add one cool experimental feature to Creatures: the ability to email NPCs after the game. I kept thinking about how I'd like to have epilogue content that allows players to really explore out the way they felt about the ending without giving them per-fabricated boxes for their emotions, and this solution felt perfect. It's free-form and player-focused. I'm really curious about how it pans out, and if /how it could be a feature applied to other kinds of games. I'm a little worried about poorly proportioned responses, though, so we'll see how it goes.
To me, one of my biggest concerns around creating a romance game is how to deal with consent when NPCs are programmed to say "yes". (I ended up using this philosophical problem in James' breakfast conversation.) I feel there are meaningful solutions, but I'm definitely interested in hearing thoughts or examples on other ways to better model consent. I'm not exactly happy with how current dating sims / graphic novels are dealing with those kinds of topics, and it's something I'd really like to see improved.
Overall, it was fun to try something new, and this game was definitely something I needed to get out of my system. I'm kind of excited to try more romance games again in the future, but I haven't yet 100% decided what my next game will be about. I'm looking forward to getting some time off to play other people's games!