Through the blueprint of Betty

On August 19th 2014 we released Prologue as an experiment of sorts. We wanted to test the grounds of a full release (in which we found out the glass ceiling of RenPy… which we’ll discuss at a later date). We also wanted to release… something, anything. Not helped by the fact that people were expecting the game like it had been years in development or something.

And even if she’s not as much of a central figure of the plot in the final version, Betty was for all intents and purposes a trailblazer for us. She’s a very important character in VA-11 Hall-A’s development history.

We made her birthday the Prologue release anniversary for a reason, so let’s talk about Betty.

If you’ve read the other articles you’ll notice we usually start with a “base”. Betty’s base was “Granola girl veterinarian”, and here we see the first thing she paved the way for. Up until that point we had characters that, even if we treated them in a mundane manner, were cyberpunk in nature. A gynoid prostitute, a hacker, a hired assassin, talking dogs, their android caretaker… but here we had a veterinarian. Not a cyborg vet or anything of the kind, just a plain veterinarian whose patients just so happened to be talking dogs.

VA-11 Hall-A was supposed to be about the background people, so it was logical to have a “normal” person. Betty gave us the confidence we needed to add characters like Mario (just a delivery boy), Norma (just a girl with an overbearing mother), or well… Jill herself.

Of course, not making the cyberpunk elements come into play for her character to some extent would be a waste. So we took the granola girl base as a reference and came up with her ethos: her moral stance against augmentations.

It was something worth discussing after all. What happens when you’re able to enhance your capabilities not through practice and skill but through surgeries? Betty’s backstory shows the logical end of that kind of mindset, when some college friends of hers decided to go through a hand enhancement procedure with a shady guy, not unlike what some people nowadays do with tattoos or cosmetic surgeries.

But here’s where Betty as the vanguard for our learning experience comes again. The scene where she brings up this topic in the original prologue (and the subsequent discussion of this) is… like a ham punching you through the face.

Instead of bringing up the valid parts of the argument and pointing out the flaws of it in a balanced manner (“It creates a culture of getting better with money alone!” “But if you lacked an arm, does a prosthetic count as an enhancement?”), the result was more one-sided, so even if the points were valid it seemed more like I was slapping the player with a rant rather than discussing an idea.

I like to think I got better at this, I’m particularly proud of when Art and Stella discuss capitalism. Hell, even a slight change in wording for the redux Prologue made things more bearable. Starting with the fact that Betty now transitions to the topic with an offhand comment rather than bringing it up herself like a kneejerk reaction.

Honestly it’s more fun to discuss stuff through characters and plots rather than making a thinly-veiled manifesto. After all, the characters are thinking creatures in the context of a game, so it’s natural that they’d have opinions of their own on a variety of topics, that they’d banter back and forth. Thinking of a topic and then wondering how two characters would discuss it is a fun writing exercise to do.

The next thing Betty was the guinea pig for was her personality and chemistry. Up until that point we didn’t have as big a chance to try and make characters with depth or well-established dynamics, and Betty gave us that.

Betty’s personality was built upon the base idea of being Deal’s foil. As such, since Deal was more collected, rational (sorta… kinda…), and almost stoic, Betty had to be more emotional and irrational. Being “emotional” doesn’t refer exclusively to having mood swings, in Betty’s case she’s a person that, when she feels something, she feels it strongly. Her being irrational at things is just an extension of her acting on what she feels. She can accept how opinionated her stance on augmentations can be, but she can’t do anything about how strongly she feels about said topic.

Some emotional people might know very well how this is, so they grow a “hardened” exterior to keep things in check. This is why Betty might seem grumpy at a first glance, and also the part of Betty that I can safely say comes straight from me and my experience.

It was a good practice on how to properly create character depth for the full game. The fact that nobody thought her sudden change in character when she’s drunk was out of place is testimony to the fact that we might’ve been successful with it. It was this practice that led us to understand how to make characters whose personality ran deeper than what you initially see, or how to think through their inner workings.

On a sidenote, sometimes I fear these blogs come off as pretentious, like we’re bragging how “we totally did this awesome thing” in a medium where subjectivity is king, and for a game where I could very well document the different ways we’ve seen players react to our characters (not right now though).

I write these articles to guide you through the mental process that led us into the characters as they are in the final product. How they initially came to be, what went through our head as we wrote them, how they affected other parts of the game. These words aren’t made to force a “true interpretation” of characters or meant to be a masturbation session about how awesome we are. They’re made to document the creative process, and maybe do masturbate a little bit about the fact we finished the game at all. That’s a big feat for us.

As you can see it’s safe to say that Betty was the test subject and pioneer of what’s essentially VA-11 Hall-A’s characterization. But did she change anything at all between Prologue and the final release? Not really.

Her core character, personality, dynamic and inner workings remained the same. The only difference is that we wrote her having more experience under our belts by that point. If anything, since we already wrote her and Deal once, her sections were the easiest to come up with. Though I guess she became less grumpy. Even in the redux Prologue she was more tired than actually outright angry.

I don’t have many closing thoughts on Betty since I’ve already said everything…

Ah wait, there’s one thing. I’ve seen people groan and cringe at many of VA-11 Hall-A’s jokes. But I’ve yet to see anyone point out that Betty’s ex is called Veronica. I thought that one would be the obvious one.

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