There are books about writers writing books, and comics about artists drawing art, and even movies about movie makers making movies. But something I don't see too often? Games about game makers making games. And today, in my depressingly infrequent browsings through itch.io to find interesting things, I happened upon a game about game makers making games, the first that I've actually come across (although I'm sure there are more out there that I just haven't found yet).
two girls make a game is about Ella, a writer and coder, and Shiro, an artist, who happen to meet at a convention and agree to partner up for a game jam. They bond over their shared love for their favorite ship, and Ella is ecstatic about getting to work with an artist she idolizes. But with only twenty-eight days to finish their game, will Ella and Shiro succeed in creating a masterpiece, or will the deadline sneak up on them?
Ella and Shiro are both cute, adorable characters, if in slightly different ways. Ella is naive and at times overly enthusiastic, but consistently well-meaning; Shiro is quiet and withdrawn, preferring text communication over spoken word. They're both quick to inspire general hugging instincts in the reader, to the point that I found deliberately making worse choices in order to get the different endings a bit difficult because I didn't want to hurt poor Shiro, which is an impressive feat for such a short and small game. They're also both asexual, a fact which comes up very naturally and doesn't factor into much, and it's some very refreshing and much-needed representation. While writing this sentence, I realized that I haven't mentioned that this game was made for Ace Jam, a jam specifically created to inspire more asexual representation in video games. Perhaps the most basic but also the most important form of representation is simple existence, because contrary to what some people would like to believe, people outside of the gender and sexuality "norms" are just people who exist like anyone else. This is the kind of representation I appreciate the most, and it is well-done here.
The art is mostly black-and-white webcomic-esque ink style drawings, and while the backgrounds and transitions can be a bit simplistic at times, overall the art fits the short and sweet story very well. The messages between Ella and Shiro that make up a substantial part of the game are done in full color, as are the previews of the in-game visual novel that the leads are working on, which provides enough of a nice break from the otherwise monochrome color scheme.
The decision points in the game mostly involve choices Ella makes in her conversations with Shiro, and there are four different endings depending on your choices. There's a little bit of management style gameplay with the daily decisions Ella has to make regarding which part of the game to work on, and I found this part of the game surprisingly fun, but also disappointingly short. There's no real way to fail this as far as I can tell; with the exception of the art, which is a plot point that depends on your choices, you will always have enough time to finish everything and get a game completed. Despite this, and despite the lighthearted approach to a development process that isn't always nearly so pleasant to experience, I really enjoyed this part of the game. I found it charming in the same way that I find it charming to read about a fictional poet's creative process; it strikes a chord in a way that not many other things do for me. I'd like to see the concept explored further, whether in an update for this game or in a different game altogether.
Unusually, there is no music in this game at all. The developer encourages the reader to insert their own music and essentially create the soundtrack for themselves, but I suspect that this is less a design choice and more an inherent side effect of creating games for game jams: when you're in a time crunch, sometimes you just have to let something go, and the soundtrack, while important, is in my opinion not the most essential part of a game. I'm aware that the lack of music will bother a lot of people, and I agree that it can get a bit unnerving at times, but for me personally, it's not really an issue. I tend to mute the music in games so that I can have YouTube or podcasts or something going in the background instead, probably because I have a unacknowledged short attention span, and so the lack of music here isn't something that's going to bother me, but it is something to consider, because I know my opinion on this is not the norm.
So what we have here is a somewhat unconventional game, but one that ultimately works really well. The characters are likable and compelling, and the narrative is sensitive with its portrayals of social anxiety and asexuality, both of which I greatly appreciate. Most of the design issues can probably be attributed to it being made on such a strict timeline, which is something I'm pretty forgiving of, probably because I'm occasionally a game developer myself and I have some knowledge of the struggle. I can completely understand why the lack of music and the occasionally simplistic art and gameplay might turn some people off, but if you can get past those, there is a surprisingly cute story to be found here.
two girls make a game is available for free download (or name your own price) on itch.io.
Final verdict: Despite the lack of soundtrack and really meaty gameplay, two girls make a game has an adorably endearing pair of leads and a small but lovely story surrounding them, and the much-needed positive representations of asexuality, social anxiety, and game development make it a worthy read.
two girls make a game is developed and published by npckc. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.