DDLC: Write Me An Ending *LIVE*, Retrospective and Making Of...
On February 23rd, 2018, about 24-28 viewers tuned in to what was supposed to be a simple comedic playthrough of a modded Doki Doki Literature Club game. What they got was a little more than they bargained for: fake blood shooting through the screen, rearranged scenes involving Monika, and more. The stream went over pretty well, and you can briefly watch an archived version of here until March 9, 2018.
With that, I'd like to talk about what led to this stream, what went into it, and what I plan to fix in the future.
What led to DDLC: Write Me An Ending...
I've been pretty low-key on my like of DDLC. My blind reaction was essentially, "Yeah, I know where this is going, but it's cool anyway." I'm a fan of the wave of post-modern games that have been coming out of recent years, i.e. games that use the fact they are games to tell stories, starting with games like Metal Gear Solid 2, and moving on to games like Undertale, IMSCARED, and Spec Ops: The Line. I haven't said much until February, 2018, where I thought, "Heh, it'd be funny to do a DDLC comedic playthrough for Valentine's day." Though, at the time, I was still busy working on A Very Walfas Christmas 2017 (over a month late at the time). And when I finished, I was working on getting a webmanga version Virgin Killer Club! running by Valentine's day.
Finally, I decided, "You know what? I've gotta do a comedic DDLC playthrough by the time February ends." So, on Sunday the 18th, I scheduled the stream for Friday the 23rd, only giving me five days to prepare.
This style of Let's Play, one where there's an overarching story and planned-out gags, actually harkens back to the classic written Let's Plays of the days of yore, which were often done in-character and added a second meta-story on top of the original. One of my favorite of the classic Let's Plays is Travis343's Earthbound Let's Play. Of course, the leap into video Let's Plays has been a major shift for the genre, and most Let's Plays either focus on live commentary on the game itself (ala slowbeef, Diabeetus, ChipCheezum, really any Something Awful LPer, the birthplace of Let's Plays) or on the reactions and jokes of the players (ala PewDiePie, Markiplier, JackSepticEye, most of the Youtube LPers). There aren't many of these except maybe videos to do Abridged versions of the games, but few involving actual live playing of the game. And so, Narrative Let's Plays have been lost to time. When I do stuff like Doki Doki Literature Club: Write Me An Ending, Undertale ULTRA, and Spec Ops: The- HOLY S#!% A GAZELLE!, I do it with the aim of capturing the feel of the early Narrative Let's Plays: rather than focus 100% on merely my own reaction to playing, I want to tell a story using the game itself, but in a way the game never got the chance to do. My hope is if I do this enough, Narrative Let's Plays will eventually make a comeback, but one can only hope.
I already had the original idea pretty solid in my head: I'd make fun of the characters and the main knob-head oblivious protagonist, pretend Monika was my waifu, reject Yuri's confession with a David Caruso pun before getting covered in fake blood, and finish the stream by pulling out some sparkling grape juice for Monika, and then I'd quit the stream during Act 3 so I could have "special alone time" with Monika. That was the original intent, and many of the gags made it into the final stream.
But as I brainstormed gags for the stream, with four days left to prepare, something happened that'd change the direction of the stream completely: I discovered the DDLC modding community. It turns out DDLC is actually really easy to mod, and there's people already hard at work on making legit routes for the other characters, plus a Love Plus-style epilogue for Monika called Monika After Story, which lets you date Monika in a seperate DDLC folder, and Our Time, which is a legit vanilla Monika route in-game. There was no limit to modding the game, and as we've seen with the game itself (as long as you follow the creator's modding guidelines), the coding language is quite powerful.
And so, with the DDLC modding community's help, therationalpi's DDLC Modding Template, and this modding guide, I quickly learned Python scripting and went to work straight away.
The writing of Write Me An Ending...
It's funny how in a game about a girl who rewrites the story so she can be the leading girl, I ended up rewriting the story myself so she'd become the leading girl, though this wasn't always the case.
As I said, the original intent of the stream was to be something 100% comedic and goofy, similar to my gag somewhat-yearly play-through of Spec Ops: The Line known as Spec Ops: The- HOLY S#!% A GAZELLE. In fact, the very first thing I wrote was the ending with Monika and the champagne glasses, and then the gag with the cupcakes and the David Caruso pun. And to add to this, I was going to add a meta-story on top in all that advertising that painted DDLC like a standard visual novel, and that I had supposedly "beaten all the routes," even though they don't exist, and that I was pissed off that Monika, my "waifu" didn't have a route. Although I really like the idea of Monika being a sentient video game character, I will say for the record she's not really my "waifu": I just thought it'd be a really funny idea if somebody was playing DDLC, had Monika as a waifu, and thought, "Meh, it's fine is she kills all the characters if we can be together."
But then, much like the other things in DDLC, this joke turned into something really dramatic.
Since many of the gags relied on me becoming sentient of the game's little glitches and intricacies, I figured so would Monika. So, I thought it'd add to the realism and tone of the game if Monika revealed her sentience much earlier in the game and help add additional gags with me. However, by doing this, something very, very interesting happened: Monika went from being the antagonist to a tragic heroine. The story itself changed from being a horror game about a sentient video game character into a tragic romance between a video game character and the player in a slowly-crumbling world.
I liked the idea so much, I decided to make that the narrative of the stream.
I rearranged Monika's dialogue from Act 3 into the other acts, and by doing so, the story feels more like a traditional visual novel than a horror game, wherein a sentient video game character is actively trying to bond with the player. I can understand if somebody wants to say, "But that voids the point of DDLC: it's supposed to be about subverting visual novel tropes!" But there's more than one way to tell a story like this: after all, there's a reason so many modders are making vanilla mods for this game.
Of course, I couldn't lose sight of the fact this was going to be a comedy, so of course I had to work as fast as I could to come up with all of the gags. And since the game was going to break the fourth wall so much, I knew that by the end, I was going to break it even further with the fake blood and cupcakes. When my family visited that Monday and I told them the idea, what's funny was it was actually my niece, also an aspiring creative type, who suggested I use a cherry-flavored Kool-Aid Burst for the fake blood. Then, when HTFCirno2000 were out grocery shopping, I looked in the bakery for cupcakes, which normally sold for $6.78 for a dozen, and the baker told me, "You know, we can make you a dozen of the cupcakes you need for the same price as the cupcakes on the shelves." I simply couldn't turn them down, and on stream day, this was the result, and my jaw dropped to the floor.
With the short time frame to write everything, much of the stream came down to the wire. I was still writing up until 6:00 PM on Friday night, and I tried rendering a preshow video at 7:00 PM, but it didn't come out write, so I couldn't set up OBS in time since I was using it for the preshow instead. In fact, after all I had done, I had barely any time to clean up Act 3: after all of the changes in tone, I had to write all of the changes to Act 3 in only an hour. I'll get to what I'd do differently next time in the next segment, but still, rather than end on "special alone time with Monika," I thought it'd be better for the overarching narrative if Monika, after corrupting the game and destroying everyone else, ends up getting corrupted herself. It's hinted at throughout the game as it is, between Monika's dialogue of "being swallowed by a dark puddle" if you obsess over something, and our duet poem of Shel Silverstein's Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, that letting a mess pile up will eventually destroy you. So, rather than have a out-of-character moment where I delete Monika's character file, I thought it'd be karmic retribution if after destroying the game's code to be with the player, she wrecked the code so much that her victory is only short-lived. Plus, we get a reprise of Monika's poem, and even a moment where I, the player, feel regret over playing along with her and just letting her destroy the game like she did.
With only four days of writing prep, the stream was ready. Let's go over what happened itself.
The 2/23/18 Stream Itself...
Throughout the week, I was tempted to actually get Ophelia Genesis, who I've worked with before on numerous projects, including her heart-shattering performance as Alphys in Undertale Ultra, to voice Monika, but I wasn't confident enough that I'd gotten the script done on time. In future playthroughs, I'll see about recording voices while having the voice of Monika do it live (or something along those lines).
At 7:30, the pre-show video finished rendering, only for me to find out I chose the wrong aspect ratio in my rush, meaning I'd have to set up a slideshow through OBS itself. This meant I'd also have to prepare all the framing and everything once the stream started itself, meaning I'd be starting a little later. Although there are numerous moments in which I pretend I’m making a mistake when I’m not, this was not one of those cases: I really was underprepared when the stream began.
What I plan to do next time:
Obviously, the next time I do this, I’ll have all the frames prepared ahead of time, possibly hotkeyed for fast switching. Plus, if I hotkey my scene switches, I can do stream glitch effects as well.
Act 1 would be a standard playthrough until Day 2. The first major hint that something crazy's about to happen is when Monika mentions she's learning piano, and I talk about a (fake) easter egg in Yuri's (supposed) route where Monika mentions she's learning Python scripting and tries to make a dating sim, but the other characters think it's a horror novel. I say, "It's actually one of my favorite easter eggs," and I go to take a drink. While I drink, Monika briefly says, "I like that easter egg, too." When I look back, I don't notice and continue anyway. In the chat, numerous folks go, "Wait, did you see that?!," but I set up the code to remove the line from the history tab, meaning I wouldn't see it, and I'd tell them, "No, nothing happened!" I knew this moment would be the moment that'd hint that something different was at play.
Despite the audience vote, it was kind of lucky that Monika would go last on Day 2, because that's the second and more clear moment that lets the audience know, "Yeah, we're doing a modded run of the game." After talking to Monika, I rearranged her Act 2 dialogue and gave myself a bunch of random words to say to show this is going to be a version of the game where the fourth wall is utterly gone.
There’s also another moment that the audience could’ve caught that something wasn’t right: right after I picked Monika for who I want to prepare for the festival with, she has an extra line of dialogue, wondering why they have that choice in the game, and instead of saying, “Who do you want to go with, [player]?,” it says, “Who do you want to go with, Spaz?” It was a very subtle detail, so I’m not surprised nobody saw it.
And finally, having Monika mention one of my previous jokes and actually blinking at the camera when she reveals her sentience, I end Act 1 with the big shocker not being Sayori's death (which I treat as not a big deal and as a standard Bad End), but rather than Monika is sentient. Plus, it's hinted (and later confirmed) she removed the "Yes" function to going to Sayori's house to save her life (which isn't in the original game). Her messages after the ending are also a reference to real ending, and since it'd be hard to show the txt easter eggs, I incorporated them into the game itself.
What I plan to do next time:
Besides not forgetting to switch back from desktop view, possibly have more gags ready for the normal playthrough. Plus, possibly make more gags about how Monika doesn’t have enough screentime so that when she does come to life, it feels more justified.
Unfortunately, the messed-up menu doesn't work very well in the mod template from what I've seen, so I just had to make do that Sayori was still there.
Since Act 2 was where everything goes off the rails, I decided to save the majority of the jokes for this section of the game, changing it from a horror to a fourth-wall-breaking comedy. Here, I'm actually interacting with the game and characters directly. Though, for future runs, I really want to trim all the stuff we've already seen in Act 1.
Another great thing about Act 2 in this version is that it plays most of the glitches for comedy instead of horror: rather than the game world falling apart thanks to an omnipotent yandere, it's more the result of Monika's incompetent programming skills as she attempts to keep the show going on. It's already a meme in the DDLC community to give Natsuki a Snickers thanks to Monika handing her a protein bar to cure her glitchiness, so I decided to incorporate it into the stream itself. And, of course, I couldn’t resist putting a Steamed Hams reference in there (the gag goes back over a decade and I’m surprised it’s gotten a ressurgance lately). The gag with Natsuki singing the Scatman song was one of the final gags I added, and I only rehearsed it once or twice, and when I saw everyone's reactions in the chat catch up, I couldn't help but corpse right there and then.
Speaking of rehearsal, many of the sequences I rehearsed multiple times since I tend to stutter when reading dialogue from time to time: especially on longer streams like these. Plus, rehearsing the gags allows me to nail down the timing. Though, I personally think my performances for the Monika sequences were way better in rehearsal, where I actually found myself crying at some of the things Monika said, not to mention actually breaking down in tears when Monika faded out at the end of the second day. Hopefully, I'll get that way the second time around.
As for the Monika interludes, I found that by splicing her Act 3 dialogue throughout the game, it greatly deepens her character and sympathy for her. Of course, if this were a 100% serious runthrough, it'd also have the potential to make her reveal that she killed her fellow classmates all that much more unsettling. To give an order of how I added Monika interludes, it'd probably look something like this:
- First, since it was a modded version, I wasn't too confident the txt easter eggs would work, so I opted to add the notes in-game. At this point in production, I was still thinking it'd be 100% comedic. But then, when I added the "I hate this" note, and added music over it, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I thought, "Holy crap, this has potential!" And then I added the "Do you ever wonder what it's like to die?" speech to her note. And from that, I added the "Put your hand on the screen" sequence. When I rehearsed it, I was so moved by the experience, it made me wonder if DDLC could've worked like that. From there, I knew which direction I wanted to take Monika.
- After that, I added the scene in Act 1 where Monika reveals her sentience.
- Then I thought it'd be cool to try adding her "Do you believe in God?" interlude on Day 2 of Act 2. It worked so well that I added her dialogue from earlier about "What kind of cruel game is this?"
- Originally, Monika's "Can you hear me?" note would take place at the end of the Act 2 Prologue, and she's actually show the player a rough draft of Your Reality on Day 1, but I found it ran better without Your Reality in the game itself.
- From there, I began adding more back-and-forth dialogue as the player riffs the game and Monika gets on them for violating continuity and making fun of her friends.
- Then I added the shenanigans on Act 2, Day 2, where Monika and the player really start interacting in the middle of the day.
- Finally, after all that, I went and rewrote Act 3 to fit the rest of the story I had built up thus far. Though, I had to write Act 3 in the span of only a few hours: by the time I had gotten here, it was already 4:00 PM on Friday, with only a few hours left to prepare for the stream itself. I’ll expand more on that when we get to the Act 3 notes.
Another setup, though unplanned, was the Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout sequence, where Monika and I would perform a Shel Silverstein poem in tandem. Originally, I just wanted to do it for fun, but when looking for a way to wrap up Act 3, I thought it’d be a good idea to have Monika glitch the game so badly that her own file becomes corrupted, depriving her of the ending she worked so hard for. So, the poem ends up serving as foreshadowing to her own demise: the glitches pile up until Monika herself is swallowed up by them.
The gag with the chicken dance over Yuri’s death, as well as the fake blood, was one of the first gags planned out after wining-and-dining with Monika. Originally, I was going to get the chicken dance song off of Youtube, but decided it’d be easier to just play my kazoo over it. I also thought it’d be funny to respond to Natsuki with accidently making it look like I was “doing certain things” with Yuri’s corpse over the weekend, so she’s no longer vomiting over Yuri’s death, but the fact I “spent two nights” with Yuri.
The gag with the cupcakes was also an early idea, but I wasn’t sure how to go about getting the cupcakes. My original plan was to go to the local bakery, get generic white cupcakes, and decorate them, but they had no regular white cupcakes, and the only one they were selling, a deluxe gourmet cupcake, was nearly the price of a dozen. But then the baker told me that I could order a dozen custom ones for the same price as a regular if the designs were simple enough, and I placed an order for them. They really were as delicious as they looked, with buttercream frosting and chocolate marshmallow ears, and I must’ve eaten half of them. The other half I brought to my co-workers at work, who devoured the rest (but not before telling me how utterly cute they all looked).
Mistakes I made:
I forgot to clean up Monika’s Day 1 poem dialogue, so she says her usual dialogue twice in a row. Also, I referred to Natsuki as Slenderman instead of Crooked Man during her “PLAY WITH ME!” glitch. Also, after Yuri kills herself, I was supposed to go, “She comitted sudoku!,” though the line I said, “Well... That happened...,” also works.
What I plan to do next time:
Obviously, add tons more gags, as well as shorten some of the redundant scenes. Many of the gags I improvised and weren’t in the original script are obviously going to show up in-script next time. I’m also tempted to add more glitches, playing them mostly for comedy instead of horror.
I really think it’d be funny if I played Natsuki’s glitches more for comedy than Yuri’s horror. For example, for Natsuki’s “PLAY WITH ME!” glitch, rather than turning into Crooked Man, she turns into either a ridiculous chibi form of herself or a giant Snickers bar. Or, she could keep her Crooked Man form, but then it cuts to an RPG battle.
I don’t know if this would be too much, but I kinda like the idea of Yuri and Natsuki getting into a battle of Yo Mama jokes during their fight.
Act 3 and Epilogue
This is where it all started, and yet, it's also where I couldn't find the right tone last minute with all the changes I made. If Act 3 looks rough, it's because a lot of it was rushed. I worked on most of Act 3's revisions on the final day of writing.
Since Monika was no longer the antagonist, but since just ending abruptly with this being the "good ending" wouldn't fit the overarching narrative, I thought it'd be a good sense of irony and karma if Monika, after breaking the game so much, finally broke herself. Though, in hindsight, I think there should've been a better buildup to it: like the screen occasionally tearing and one of us hinting that the game could fall apart at any second.
I wanted to get the golden ending, which not a lot of people have seen and some even assumed were just part of the changes, so I changed the code to always unlock the golden ending by default, and then tweaked some final lines to fit the story. Since I got the golden ending, I moved Monika's normal ending dialogue to the isolated room scene. I actually kinda like that, because it makes her revelation that she really did care for the literature club that much more powerful.
I also thought it'd be a fun little callback to move Monika's "Save Me" poem to when she's destroyed. I added the word "pain" at the end since the poem never actually finishes in-game, and I thought it would fit.
I deliberately changed the delay time for Monika's voiced appearance so people would think the stream was over, and I added her laugh to the very ending after her song so I could crack a joke and we could laugh together one last time. I'm really happy that I got to do that, since it warps her giggle from being creepy to being genuinely heartwarming.
What I plan to do next time:
I really need to clean up Act 3's progression and my reaction to it. Despite this being the genesis for the stream, the final story I ended up didn't quite fit the original. I also want to make a slow build to Monika finally becoming completely corrupted, and instead of having her final "corrupt or missing," it'll just say, "monika.chr file corrupt. Please reinstall."
Also, despite rehearsing like crazy, I wasn't satisfied with my performance of the final duet. I did it perfectly previously, but I kinda botched it for the live performance. Oh well: technically speaking, if I had just received sheet music to a song I never heard before, I'd probably screw it up like that, too.
Other things I need to work on next time:
- Possibly get some voice actresses in on it; especially for Monika.
- Clean up redundancies.
- Work on acting for the live segments.
- Find a way to stop stuttering so much.
- Add more comedic glitch effects.
It's amazing how moving a few pieces of dialogue and exposition can radically change a story. By moving around a few pieces of dialogue, Monika goes from an antagonist to a tragic heroine. It also gives me a deeper understanding of her character: she previously states she's not good at standing up to the other members, and in the vanilla game, she only finally removes them from the game after the player witnesses the downfalls of the other girls, and after what happens with Yuri, she realizes that maybe treating the characters like that might drive away the player (which ironically happens in a vanilla DDLC playthrough). Even though I was only joking about Monika being "my waifu," I came out of this whole thing with a deeper appreciation for her character.
In addition, I wanted to give viewers roughly the same experience of playing the game: when the second act kicks in, the fourth wall completely dissolves, and anything is possible. Sure, it's more comedic than scary, but I still wanted to capture that tone of the game coming to life. Most playthroughs of DDLC focus mainly on the shocked reactions of the player, but for this, I wanted to capture the relationship between a sentient video game character and the player, all while letting the viewers have their own reactions as the story played out.
The modding community is still hard at work on making vanilla versions of each characters' routes, so in the future, there may actually be a "full" version of DDLC like the one I allude to in the backstory. It just goes to show how much potential DDLC has: despite being a deconstruction of visual novels, its cast and ideas really stick with players, and we all want to see more of the cast. Until then, all we can do is wait until these dedicated modders write everyone an ending.
Once again, I want to thank everyone who participated, watched, and/or helped out with this stream. It's been a total blast, and I hope to do more of these in the future: not just for DDLC, but other games as well.
Keep your pens moving, and don't get stuck in a dark puddle of ink,
-Spaztique and Monika