Dream Daddy: It's the dialog that makes the game

Twitter and Twitch are totally blowing up right now with the fun and sometimes racy adventures laced throughout Dream Daddy. Currently heralded by many as GameGrumps' magnum opus, the game has veritably knocked the dating sim genre (and to a lesser extent, the interactive visual novel as the two often intertwine) on its collective ass.

Here's how:

  • Dream Daddy lacks many of the mechanics and even core gameplay loops that one expects to see in dating sims, primarily having stats at all let alone stats to grind. The game's scoring system is quite simple: if a dialog choice elicits hearts, you did good. If you got splattered with eggplant emojis, you did FANTASTIC. Black spiders? You're not going to be man's dream daddy.

  • The gallery is skimpy with just a solitary pin-up per dad that you have to work hard to earn so if you were hoping for lots of close-up art rife with debauchery à la Junai Monogatari (or perhaps Roommates, if you wanted something racier than standard yaoi fare but not TOO saucy) you'll be disappointed.

  • There's no monetary system so you don't have to keep track of that. No buying gifts for wooing, any gift-giving is written into the dialog so you're on cruise control there.

  • Rather, the major diversion unseen in most dating sims is each dad's path has at least one minigame which you might or might not dig.

  • You also don't have random jaunts about Maple Bay where you may or may not run into one of seven potential paramours as is common in dating sims and sim-visual novel hybrids. Nope, you have a max of three dates with the man of your choice and the game just lets you know that off the bat. While interactions with the other dads who you aren't on a date with are more unexpected, everything's arranged via Dadbook with zero surprise. It's honestly a stroke of Fridge Brilliance, as busy single parents in real life often have far less room for spontaneity. Similarly, respecting real-life players' time is more Fridge Brilliance at work since the game frequently autosaves which makes save-scumming super simple so you can get nothing but eggplants for days if that last dialog choice didn't give you what you wanted.

No less, Dream Daddy has a die-hard following with people playing over and over trying to unlock all of the achievements and get the best possible ending. This is definitely because there is diverse representation among your prospective partners as well as their children and supporting characters. There's no token option in a sea of cishet white prospects. Nope: depending on how many dates you go on and who you want to pair off with, you learn that there are all kinds of families and sometimes family is you, your dad, and his seven boyfriends. Because come on, we've seen 20 million heteronormative monogamy-centric dating games already! In that sense right there, it's a game many audiences were waiting for for quite a while.

Dialog is the superglue that doesn't just hold Dream Daddy together, but makes it stronger than what the dating game genre often presents to players.

Diversity is definitely a major factor in Dream Daddy being a strong and appealing game. But that's not the only factor. People expect more than mere mechanics nowadays. If you want players to really get immersed in a game that isn't centered on reflexes, you need to hook them on the story. The premise of Dream Daddy is pretty simple: you move to Maple Bay with your daughter Amanda, a high school senior, and your neighborhood is full of single dads you can romance. The game ends with her graduation party, but how that party ends depends on the choices you made along the way. The narrative hinges on which dad- or dads- you pursue then decide to go on that third date with.

What makes Dream Daddy so engrossing is the dialog.

As it well should be because dialog is literally what drives this game: there's no monetary system to gamble with. No stats to grind. No transactional (and problematic portrayal thereof...) dates. No random interactions, you're all busy single parents so those dates are pre-planned. The dialog has to carry the game here, and by Dad, it does.

In a dialog-heavy game, you have a lot of challenges. You definitely don't want to bore the player by repeating the same points over and over. What the characters say and do needs to show, not tell, the player what this character is like. Even when the player is more or less beaten over the head with certain aspects of some characters (such as that Mary is a resentful and acerbic beard who loves to hit the bottle, and that Amanda is incredibly astute and more in-the-know about the ways of the world than many of the adults in this game world), it needs to set their expectations so those characters can surprise them later on and show that they're more well-rounded than you initially thought.

As a daughter of a single father, the dialog Amanda has with you as the main player also hit home for me. She's full of amazing and highly-quotable zingers that definitely keep you glued to the screen. She's bright and one tough cookie, but not without her insecurities and fears. You'll be laughing for days on end at the stuff she says to you, but also remembering what it was like to be that age and it feeling all too real.

Additionally, as someone who's been entrenched in subculture over half my life, I got an extra kick out of Mat's and Damien's paths and found some aspects of their narratives to be less surprising than someone would if they lacked a background of being that goth kid in high school who grew up to religiously attend punk and hardcore shows well into their thirties. I mean, who else died laughing at "Don't go on a third date with a guy in a Set Your Goals hoodie!" and "Punk's not dead, it just rides a minivan and has to get a babysitter"? We also can't forget "Penguins are the goths of the sea!" Admit it, though: even if you've listened to nothing but Top 40 all your life and are unfamiliar with differentiating cybergoth from death rock attire, you'll find this dialog entertaining.

My favorite dad to pursue is Hugo Vega, Amanda's teacher and father to the problem child, Ernest. You definitely expect him to have erudite and entertaining dialog, and his narrative has some surprises in store. The language used in both this father's and son's dialog choices fits what you expect of their characters- as well as the development you witness throughout this gameplay path which I won't spoil for you. Craig's path was enjoyable albeit more predictable, but his dialog makes you feel just like you're living out a friendship that picked up exactly where it left off.

There are things people love and hate about Dream Daddy. But if there's one major takeaway from several playthroughs, it's that compelling and memorable dialog can totally carry a game aside from its premise. It's okay to forego the kind of mechanics people expect in certain genres- after all, how else would games evolve and achieve innovation?- but people expect a lot from narrative and dialog quality if you're going to compromise in other aspects of design. Head over to The Coffee Spoon and get inspired!