“The essence of tragedy is a real conflict between the subject’s freedom and an objective necessity, a conflict which is ended not by the defeat of one or the other but because both, at once victors and vanquished, appear in a perfect indifferentiation” Friedrich Schelling
Don’t Make Love, developed by Maggese Studios, is an indie dating sim with an unusual twist: you play as either a male or female praying mantis. Using typed responses alongside body language and facial expressions the player must navigate the conversation in order to resolve a unique romantic dilemma. Torn between your feelings and the possible unfortunate consequences of mantises mating – decapitation and cannibalism of the male!
Interacting romantically with an AI mantis does feel somewhat awkward at first but I managed to play along nonetheless. Maggese state that you can “type your answers freely and watch the conversation unfold” but this is only true to an extent. I completed about 10 playthroughs and the beginning section of dialogue sets the scene and seems very rigid; I get the impression it is nearly impossible to influence in any major way. The end of the game reacts similarly, once a ‘decision’ has been made or recognised by the AI even totally contradictory input will not change the outcome.
Past this, the game responds appropriately as long as the player input is in line with the narrative and the few paths it can take, typing anything too off topic will result in no reply or one that doesn’t make sense within the context you’ve placed it. The following snippet of conversation is a good example of this:
Male – “You’re beautiful!”
Female – “I’m green . . .” (typed by me)
Male – (sad) “. . . and I’m pretty sure this’ll become a problem for us.”
The ambiguous facial expressions have little impact and the functionality of the body language (caress, hug, kiss) is also fairly limited in that it seems to mostly just break the immersion by taking the player out of the conversation briefly only to put you straight back after the event in a really unnatural way.
The artwork in the game is nice and makes clever use of a simple green colour palette and a combination of cartoon-like but slightly impressionist style but doesn’t offer anything too spectacular. Likewise, the music adds some tone to the game but isn’t prominent or overly noteworthy.
A single playthrough will take 5-15 mins but since Don’t Make love has multiple endings for each gender meaning there is definitely some replay value. Having said that, the dialogue does start to feel very repetitive and stilted in fewer playthroughs than it would take to see all possible endings and this really stunted my enjoyment. I found myself having the most fun with this game whilst typing silly responses and experimenting with (trolling) the AI, which elicited some amusing though often nonsensical replies.
Don’t Make Love was released in October 2017 is available on Steam and itch.io. It will set you back around £3.99 at it’s RRP and unfortunately, it doesn’t justify even its relatively small price tag. Overall, the subject matter and mechanical concepts are both really interesting but the AI and general implementation aren’t adequate and the experience really falls short as a result.