That’s right! It’s that time of the week once more where we at JUICE work to bring you the best releases from indie game developers, whose voices often regrettably go unheard. If you’re one of those folks who refuse to believe that video games can be art, and that bigger production budgets equal better and more entertaining output, then prepare to be proven wrong. Our series of features on the indie game scene is chugging along at full speed, and we aren’t running out of steam – no pun intended – in the slightest.
Previously in the series we had a chat with Austin Jorgensen, creator of the post-apocalyptic kung-fu RPG LISA, and Taiwanese indie developers Red Candle Games, who put out the indie horror sleeper hit, Detention. Don’t touch that dial if you’re looking for more diamonds in the rough!
You may have already heard of the game we had a look at this time, actually. It’s been making waves all over the Internet, has found its way straight into the hearts of the LGBT+ community, and has even been featured on music sites like Pitchfork for its stellar musical content. That’s right, this game is none other than Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the game, don’t worry, you read that title right. Dream Daddy takes the current surge in dad jokes, ‘daddy’ memes (ironic or not), and dating simulator popularity to new heights, by offering players the chance to create their own Dad-sona, who can then choose to date one out of seven Dream Daddies, all of whom have their unique quirks and charming qualities. To make things even better, this cast of Dream Daddies are racially diverse, and the entire game itself exudes LGBT+ positivity like no other title out there today. One of the Dads has even been confirmed to be a transgender man – something never seen before in dating simulators, or many mainstream games at all.
Created by Leighton Gray and Vernon Shaw, and developed by the YouTube sensations Game Grumps, Dream Daddy is the single best title in the vast dating simulator catalogue out there, and is also certainly a video game masterpiece in its own right. Subverting the typical dating simulator problem of sexualising and objectifying its characters to a fault, Dream Daddy instead allows you to delve deeper into the lives of each of these dads, and to understand their characters in plenty of detail – which other dating simulators often gloss over in favour of giving their love interests D-cup boobs or eight-pack abs. Dating often seems like a secondary goal, in fact, and players will undoubtedly find themselves drawn into the game not for a chance to see a Dream Daddy without his shirt on, but to find out more about his intriguing backstory. Furthermore, the character art for it is absolutely beautiful, and for you audiophiles out there, the game includes a cameo from Canadian punk band PUP and a chance to get yourself some new album recommendations from a Dream Daddy himself. It’s certainly got something for everyone – and in the first place, who doesn’t love wholesome, adorable dads?
Dream Daddy‘s title may also be misleading on another front, which makes for a pleasant surprise, and parallel subplot. Your Dad-sona is also father to a teenage daughter called Amanda, who is on the cusp of adulthood as we know it, and is navigating the turmoil of college applications, friend drama, and young love. You’re not only a daddy, you’re a doting father too, and in addition to wooing a Dream Daddy of your choice, Amanda’s issues take up a significant amount of importance in the game. It’s heartwarming to see what markets itself as a fun, silly dating simulator successfully tackles some issues that would be very relatable to anyone who has ever been a teenager in this day and age. Flirting with your Dream Daddy may be the crux of the game, but neither does it let you forget your own familial responsibilities – an important message for all to think about.
Overwhelmed by how dreamy the game sounds? You haven’t seen nothing yet. We sat down with Dream Daddy creators Leighton Gray and Vernon Shaw for an even more in-depth look at the game, and to get some insight into their craft as indie game developers.
How did the idea for Dream Daddy first come about? Was the title mostly due to the ‘daddy’ meme that’s been taking the Internet by storm, or was the decision to make a dad dating simulator (as opposed to a mum dating simulator, or otherwise) rooted in something else?
Leighton A while ago I was thinking about how interesting things like fursonas or gemsonas [from the show, Steven Universe] are on the internet, and what other types of -sonas there could be. The natural extension of this for me was Dadsonas. I did some drawings of my Dadsona, and having just recently played Hatoful Boyfriend [a dating simulator where the player dates pigeons], I thought, “It would be great if there was a dating sim where you create a hot Dad and then date other hot Dads.” I did a quick search to see if that was already a thing, because I was sure someone else had to have done it already. When I saw that it didn’t exist, I knew I had to make it happen somehow.
Vernon Leighton and I had been internet friends for a while and she pitched the idea to me over a year ago when she was visiting Los Angeles. I thought it was amazing, so we started working on it and eventually pitched it to the Game Grumps!
The Game Grumps developed Dream Daddy, and are now a video game development company as opposed to YouTube show hosts. How did your collaboration with them come about, and what was it like working with YouTube celebrities?
V I’ve been working with the Grumps for almost two years at this point and had been friends with all of them for longer than that. When Leighton and I brought this idea to them, they were extremely supportive and excited for the project. Game Grumps will still continue being YouTube show hosts, but we see this as an expansion of the sort of strange stuff we’re allowed to do!
“Amanda’s relationship with her Dad is a pretty direct parallel to my relationship with my father growing up.” – Leighton
One thing that sets Dream Daddy apart from almost every other dating sim out there is Amanda’s very relatable storyline, and how the player’s character develops their fatherly bond with her even while courting other dads. Was Amanda’s story informed by any experiences you had yourselves, or did you just want to create a heartwarming father-daughter story?
L Amanda’s relationship with her Dad is a pretty direct parallel to my relationship with my father growing up. Dating sims often have tutorial characters to guide you through the story, and they often end up being a best friend – seeing that this game is about being a father, it felt natural for this character to be your daughter. My hope was that seeing this kind of relationship through the Dad’s point-of-view would help players appreciate the kinds of complex decisions and emotions that their parents probably had to navigate while raising them.
Who was your favourite Dad to write/create and why?
L I think my favourite Dads to write were Robert and Damien. Robert is constantly telling fake stories and those were a blast to come up with. Writing Damien’s Victorian love letters and his monologues on death anxiety were fun too, as well as trying to see how many My Chemical Romance references we could stuff in there.
V Mat was probably the most challenging to write and didn’t really fully come together until the last month of writing. Seeing people’s reactions to his storyline has been a joy!
“It was really strange to be seeing so many tweets accusing us of not actually caring about the game when the entire development team was on the verge of tears for not being able to hit our deadline.” – Vernon
Dream Daddy faced some problems pre-release, and was delayed twice due to late-game bugs, even with the team working as hard as they could. Are there any other similar problems you faced throughout the course of creating the game? And would you chalk this down to issues that indie game developers normally face, or were there other factors at hand?
V That was a tough night for us. It was really strange to be seeing so many tweets accusing us of not actually caring about the game when the entire development team was on the verge of tears for not being able to hit our deadline. At the end of it all, I think you can chalk it up to us being new to game development. While there were some hiccups along the way, thankfully none were as bad as what we experienced on those nights.
“It’s still a little hard for me to mentally grasp the scale of the fanbase.” – Leighton
Dream Daddy has now taken the top spot on the Steam charts, and even non-gamers are mad about it – everyone’s keen on watching playthroughs of the game, and there are plenty of ‘tag yourself’ memes based on the game’s characters now floating around Facebook. How do you feel about the gaming community’s extremely positive reception of Dream Daddy, and did you expect it at all?
L I’ve been completely blown away by the response. It’s still a little hard for me to mentally grasp the scale of the fanbase.
V This game was really important to us throughout the entirety of development and I’m just so happy to see people are having as much fun with the game as we did making it. It’s a lot, for sure, but as the community continues to grow, I believe that we’ll get to see some really fun and creative stuff from a lot of really talented people.
Give us your best dad pun.
L My favourite Dad pun in the game is “Provolone 2: Lost in New York” and we can’t even take credit for it. Will Wiesenfeld (the musician, Baths) consulted on the script and threw that one out while we were reading through Hugo’s second date and it blew all of our other puns out of the water. He’s a pro.
V Not enough people comment about JD Slamminger, our literary-themed wrestler identity.
“… we wanted to show that sometimes you can do everything ‘right’ and it still won’t work out.” – Leighton
A lot of fans have been torn up by the ways the storyline for Joseph, the Cool Youth Minister Dad, ends. Is the fan reaction to Joseph’s endings what you were expecting?
L It was extremely intentional that you can’t get a ‘good’ ending with Joseph. In the same way that a lot of this game is about challenging and subverting dating sim tropes, we wanted to show that sometimes you can do everything ‘right’ and it still won’t work out. We didn’t write that ending because we thought it was the right thing for Joseph to do, we wrote it because it’s true to the character. Some of the most emotionally resonant experiences I’ve had with video games came from moments where I realised that I had messed up, or that there really was no way to get a positive outcome, and I wanted to try to recreate those kinds of feelings with Joseph’s path.
One of the biggest curiosities in Dream Daddy is Mary, Joseph’s enigmatic wife and a snarky wino mum, whose own story never really gets expanded on. Seeing as Mary has become a fan favourite, and #justiceformary is a popular hashtag amongst players, tell us a bit more about the inspiration and ideas behind her character.
V Mary was originally just a character who other characters could play off of, but the more we wrote her the more she seemed to demand her own storyline. It takes place through several date paths, but if players replay the game enough they’ll be able to learn a lot about her. I think it’s one of the more rewarding bits of the game.
“I hope that the success of Dream Daddy is something creators can point to in the future as hard evidence that [diversity] is what people want from their gaming experiences.” – Leighton
Even though the word ‘daddy’ inherently has male connotations, Dream Daddy is incredibly representative of the LGBT+ community – you can make your character transgendered, and it’s implied in the game that one of the dateable Dads is also trans. Furthermore, Dream Daddy might just be one of the most racially diverse games out there. Was Dream Daddy a statement of intent in the gaming community (which is infamous for its population of conservative, straight white males)? Or did you just want to make a game that mirrored real life in its cast’s diversity?
L We just wanted to make a game that mirrored real life. At this point, content that is inclusive and diverse should be the baseline. I think it’s pretty lazy (and uncreative) to try to make excuses as to why content shouldn’t be diverse. I hope that the success of Dream Daddy is something creators can point to in the future as hard evidence that this is what people want from their gaming experiences.
What does the future hold in store for you? Are you writing any more video games? And will Dream Daddy see any DLC releases any time soon?
V We have some fun things in the works that we can’t share just yet, but Dream Daddy fans can rest assured that they’ll be seeing some new stuff over the next year.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is out now for PC, Mac, and Steam OS.