Dating sim vs. Regular VN

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chensterrain
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#16 Post by chensterrain » Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:33 am

I personally would disagree with dating sims needing good storylines - when you have for the most part non-linear gameplay as most dating sims seem to, it becomes pretty difficult if not impossible to create a coherent storyline. Taking the Tokimeki Memorial games as an example, those games barely have storylines at all, but the well thought-out characters are what makes the games enjoyable, even if the characters themselves aren't particularly deep. (It seems like the vast majority of the time, when people say they hate 'dating sims', they pretty much only mean those '30-day spam your target with gifts until they fall in love with you' flash games you get on Newgrounds - those aren't the be all and end all of dating sims, y'know! Though that said, there are some pretty good ones...)

As papillon said, I definitely do think there are ways in which even a pure VN can be judged on gameplay, though obviously not if it's a kinetic novel. I've played VNs in the past where early, unimportant choices led to bad endings without any feedback whatsoever and games where your choices were ill-worded and felt completely random, and I'd consider those to be gameplay faults rather than problems with the storyline. But hey.

(Oh! And to answer the original question... dating sims is hard. :B You never quite realise how many events or variations you'll end up having to write until it's too late... or if, unlike me, you actually plan everything out beforehand, hurr. Even without a storyline, you quickly end up writing a ton of text the player isn't even likely to see on a single playthrough, so you might end up writing the same amount or more than if you decided to write a pure VN. The DSE handles the stats and scheduling for the most part, though, so it's pretty beginner-friendly. It's your call!)

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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#17 Post by Greeny » Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:48 am

chensterrain wrote:I personally would disagree with dating sims needing good storylines - when you have for the most part non-linear gameplay as most dating sims seem to, it becomes pretty difficult if not impossible to create a coherent storyline.
I think it's very much possible, just as long as you put enough effort. Maybe if you use the DSE then yes, you will be limited, because you're trying to work within a repetitive day schedule. But it's possible to subtly "weave" your stats into a branched but linear storyline, with an abundance of choices and stat-raising options. I think this is easier than it sounds, so long as you spend enough time planning. Planning before you start is extremely important, at least if you're working with advanced gameplay or branching.

Remember that it's a dating simulation. Before you use the omnipresent day planner schedule, think to yourself, "does it ever really work that way?". Admittedly, I'm discussing the ideal, not the reality. It's true that most dating sims use nonlinear gameplay and therefore limit their possibilities for a consistent, coherent story. But it's their own choice. I won't excuse them for it.
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#18 Post by chensterrain » Thu Mar 10, 2011 1:23 pm

Greeny wrote:Remember that it's a dating simulation. Before you use the omnipresent day planner schedule, think to yourself, "does it ever really work that way?". Admittedly, I'm discussing the ideal, not the reality. It's true that most dating sims use nonlinear gameplay and therefore limit their possibilities for a consistent, coherent story. But it's their own choice. I won't excuse them for it.
I guess it all comes down to what your 'ideal' is, really - it's kind of like the whole JRPG vs WRPG debate, with games that favour involved storylines being more linear with less room for customisation, and games favouring customisation generally having less in the way of deep storylines (in general, anyway - I'm sure there are rare games that manage to do both). As someone who favours customisation and non-linear gameplay in dating sims, I don't really see having a lack of a coherent storyline as being something that needs to be excused, as that isn't what I play those games for in the first place (and I'm someone who considers the plot to be the most important element in some games).

To each his own, I guess. I still think weaving a storyline into a stat-based dating sim, even with planning, is much easier said than done unless the game is made to be more linear than it otherwise might have been. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't have individual plot threads running through certain characters' paths, with events unlocked in a linear fashion, but once you get into 'which event affects which' and 'how many variants of this event do I need to write depending on what the player has already seen', writing a deep storyline is probably possible but would result in a game far longer than most straight VNs. (And though the whole day-planner system is unrealistic, I'm a huge fan! Though I'm probably slightly biased, what with the game I'm working on being DSE-based and all, hurr :B). I'd love to see someone actually pull it off, though!

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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#19 Post by papillon » Thu Mar 10, 2011 1:40 pm

For Magical Diary, events become a lot less non-linear in the second semester, when you're assumed to have already gotten to know people and decided on your main path approaches. Having a long timescale to work with and clear fixed-point events for structure makes that a lot easier to pull off. (I still wouldn't claim that I'm doing a "deep" story or a strong plot, though.)

Of course, you can have non-linear scenes and their difficulties without visible stats or a dayplanner. I'm playing through Devil Survivor on the DS at the moment, and the plot side of things is an enormous maze of decisions to make, not just what to say to people in conversations but also what locations to visit at any time, with a clock always ticking. Choosing where to go next is generally considered still a "pure VN" thing, but the result is that there are many scenes which can be seen in varied orders and some scenes will have impact on other scenes. If you didn't meet character X at 10 AM on day 2, then you don't get the option to say something to character Y the next day.

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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#20 Post by flowerthief » Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:00 pm

Wow, TV Tropes really has everything, eh? Now it's giving advice on how to make a dating sim. Even if the assessment on that page were not as subjective as it was, it would be irrelevant to our disagreement because it's clear now from the below quote where it is that you missed my point.
Megaman Z wrote:It's telling that the first thing listed under epic failure gets singled out ON the story that you're implying is not needed for a dating sim.
Where have I implied that? Where have I ever tried to tell you what criteria you should not judge a medium by?

I grade dating sims on the strength of their story or lack thereof. But I grade them on a lot of other things as well. I contend that there is no one thing that can make or break a game. If a game is lacking in one area, it might be able to transcend that weakness by being strong in others.

What I was pointing out is this double-standard you've imposed. People would like to have both good story and good gameplay as much as they can get. But is it fair to expect one medium to deliver on both of these, and the other to deliver only on one, especially given the natural conflict between narrative and interactivity? More of one tends to result in less of the other, you know.

At the risk of becoming pedantic I had better explain what I mean by a natural conflict between narrative and interactivity.

If you've ever heard the terms Ludology and Narratology, or discussions which contrast the two approaches in game design theory, this is what I'm referring to. The Narratology approach assumes gameplay (or interactivity) to be subservient to narrative. The Ludology approach assumes narrative to be subservient to gameplay. The conflict exists because one puts the author in control of where the story goes while the other puts the player in control of where the story goes.

I think simulations and novels make for a good comparison because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Simulations have you managing mundane details of a character(s)' daily life; interactivity is frequent or even constant. (In a game like The Sims those details can be as mundane as deciding when your character will use the bathroom) Visual novels have you reading large swabs of text with interactivity being very infrequent.

Think of some of the best stories you have read in novels. Would the author have been able to tell that story effectively if the player had been allowed to interrupt at every turn? If the player could insist, "I don't want to say or do the things you're making these character(s) say or do. I want to decide for myself", would the story have been so interesting?

Now think of some of the best simulations you've played, simulations that were rich in interactivity. Would they have been rich in interactivity if the author had been allowed to interrupt at every turn? "I'm not gonna let you make a decision, Mr. Player. I'm the one who decides what you'll do." What happens to the gameplay then?

With narrative and interactivity, more of one generally results in less of the other. That's a dilemma game designers have been struggling with. It's an unfair caricature of that dilemma to assume they are simply making excuses for having concentrated in one area more than, and at the expense of, the other. (And I see the opposite complaints from the other camp. "This game sucks! All you do is read! All games need to have good gameplay" Their unfair standard is yours in reverse)

It IS possible to do both story and gameplay well, but the scope of a project grows rather exponentially the more you try to deliver both. Some big-name Western RPGs are pretty much doing this, but the man hours that must be going into those projects has got to be crazy.

Some mainstream games make it work by sacrificing non-linearity. Uncharted, Final Fantasy, most modern shooters, etc. You get story and gameplay, but that story isn't gonna change much between replays.

However, sacrificing too much non-linearity/multi-linearity is not an option available to the simulation. It's the very hallmark of a simulation, I'd say. If a simulation becomes linear it stops being a simulation.

Dating simulations are in a particularly difficult position, because standards of story-telling have gone up in ren'ai games. Everyone wants more and better story (with good reason, because plot facilitates characterization, which facilitates ren'ai) but they're in a framework where it's hard to deliver that without losing some of the interactivity that traditionally makes them fun. And you see them get criticized for it from both sides when they try. The narrative-lovers find any story that they do have to be mundane. The game-lovers want less talk and more stat-building.

It's fine to not like datesims for failing to deliver on story, but you have to concede that visual novels are only able to succeed so much better in that area because they've done away with most of the interactivity that datesims still have. Datesim story-telling can't possibly live up to VN standards any more than VN gameplay can live up to datesim standards. If we can judge a datesim for its story we can certainly judge a VN for its gameplay.
and as a final bullet point, Visual Novels, if not considered an outright medium, are typically considered a form of interactive fiction, and Dating Simulations are likewise considered a type of Simulation Game. You can see from there why different standards are used when judging them.
They're all part of a big long spectrum the way I see it. A spectrum which we call "interactive medium" and which we'll some day be calling simply "medium". (But I could be wrong about that prediction)

Edit: I'd better reply to this part, too, just to make sure we're clear :)
Okay, let's judge a movie or a novel on gameplay.
That would be like judging Tetris on its story. One is 100% narrative and 0% interactive. The other is 100% interactive and 0% narrative.

But as long as a medium has both a narrative and interactive component, why can't you judge it on both components? I just say do it fairly. For a medium to have excelled in one area, it may have had to come up short on the other.
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#21 Post by Megaman Z » Thu Mar 10, 2011 4:51 pm

flowerthief wrote:I grade dating sims on the strength of their story or lack thereof. But I grade them on a lot of other things as well. I contend that there is no one thing that can make or break a game.
lemme stop you right there: the story in the given example ACTIVELY UNDERMINES THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE, and when you have something like that, no amount of pretty graphics or good gameplay mechanics will save you in anything that would be called a romance game.
What I was pointing out is this double-standard you've imposed. People would like to have both good story and good gameplay as much as they can get. But is it fair to expect one medium to deliver on both of these, and the other to deliver only on one, especially given the natural conflict between narrative and interactivity? More of one tends to result in less of the other, you know.
I'd bring up the endless debate over whether or not visual novels are games, but that's counter-productive to both of our arguments at this point.
At the risk of becoming pedantic I had better explain what I mean by a natural conflict between narrative and interactivity.

If you've ever heard the terms Ludology and Narratology, or discussions which contrast the two approaches in game design theory, this is what I'm referring to. The Narratology approach assumes gameplay (or interactivity) to be subservient to narrative. The Ludology approach assumes narrative to be subservient to gameplay. The conflict exists because one puts the author in control of where the story goes while the other puts the player in control of where the story goes.
Good point, and I think I can extrapolate some more details from there:

Visual Novels generally place story first, gameplay second, so I'd figure most of them are probably best done under the Narratology approach.
with Dating sims, again, there's a need for story (due to a little thing that I'll be the first to mention called immersion), but gameplay is a bit closer to the foreground. I wouldn't say a full Ludology approach is warranted since when you lose the linearity of a dating simulation, it stops BEING a dating simulation and just turns into a simulation game, but the same Narratology approach clearly doesn't work.

Which brings me back to the post that started this chain of conversation:
Of course you could say the reverse about VNs. "People take it as an excuse for having less well-thought out game mechanics and having flat gameplay. VN's should have the same standards for gameplay."
first off, pedantic note: Even if A implies B, B doesn't necessarily imply A. Just because the VN guys can call out the Dating Sim guys on lack of a story doesn't mean the Dating Sim guys can call out the VN guys on the lack of notable gameplay mechanics.

I'm gonna grab a different example to demonstrate, one that, despite no release in an English-speaking country, has managed to get an English translation. My example is Galaxy Angel - you know, the actual game that Broccoli released. It's mostly VN, part strategy game. The story is decidedly linear from chapter to chapter (all routes inside a chapter generally lead to the same result) until one very specific chapter in which the game forks off into 5 different routes. In the VN portion of it, your actions are pretty much limited to "respond X way to event" (none of which are random) and "go here", so it's not exactly what either of us would really call a dating sim. The strategy portion of the game pretty much entails you keeping an eye on the Angel-Tai and your ship making sure none of them get shot down, and don't even take up 10% of the overall time from start of story to finish (and all the missions are the same on all routes, just in case you were wondering). It's rather easy to get through most of them unless you've just been a prick to the Angel-Tai (in which case, sucks to be you)

anyways, back to previous post:
I think simulations and novels make for a good comparison because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Simulations have you managing mundane details of a character(s)' daily life; interactivity is frequent or even constant. (In a game like The Sims those details can be as mundane as deciding when your character will use the bathroom) Visual novels have you reading large swabs of text with interactivity being very infrequent.
Not all simulation games are dating simulations. Actually, while I'm at it, Dwarf Fortress actually could be classified as a simulation game with remarkable detail, and your interactivity is actually quite limited in it (limited mostly to specifying where to dig, what to build where, and what to trade - absolutely 0 direct control over the dwarves themselves). There are actually other simulation games where you only get to do stuff at predetermined points and then you have to watch the results unfold.
Think of some of the best stories you have read in novels. Would the author have been able to tell that story effectively if the player had been allowed to interrupt at every turn? If the player could insist, "I don't want to say or do the things you're making these character(s) say or do. I want to decide for myself", would the story have been so interesting?
No, it wouldn't, and that's actually part of the challenge of making a good branching VN: finding the best spots for a decision to go into a different route. (reconciling these routes is also tricky at times)
Now think of some of the best simulations you've played, simulations that were rich in interactivity. Would they have been rich in interactivity if the author had been allowed to interrupt at every turn? "I'm not gonna let you make a decision, Mr. Player. I'm the one who decides what you'll do." What happens to the gameplay then?
...why do I think of the relationship between a Game Master and a group of players in a Tabletop RPG when I read this?
With narrative and interactivity, more of one generally results in less of the other. That's a dilemma game designers have been struggling with. It's an unfair caricature of that dilemma to assume they are simply making excuses for having concentrated in one area more than, and at the expense of, the other. (And I see the opposite complaints from the other camp. "This game sucks! All you do is read! All games need to have good gameplay" Their unfair standard is yours in reverse)
See above where I said I wasn't going to get into the "Are Visual Novels games?" debate.
It IS possible to do both story and gameplay well, but the scope of a project grows rather exponentially the more you try to deliver both. Some big-name Western RPGs are pretty much doing this, but the man hours that must be going into those projects has got to be crazy.

Some mainstream games make it work by sacrificing non-linearity. Uncharted, Final Fantasy, most modern shooters, etc. You get story and gameplay, but that story isn't gonna change much between replays.
Congratulations, you just related Visual Novels to First Person Shooters in a way that actually seems sane. That does give me an idea for something to do once I get the hang of ACS for ZDOOM, though...
However, sacrificing too much non-linearity/multi-linearity is not an option available to the simulation. It's the very hallmark of a simulation, I'd say. If a simulation becomes linear it stops being a simulation.
So Princess Maker isn't a simulation? I can show that it's decidedly linear in overall progression, it's not that difficult.
Dating simulations are in a particularly difficult position, because standards of story-telling have gone up in ren'ai games. Everyone wants more and better story (with good reason, because plot facilitates characterization, which facilitates ren'ai) but they're in a framework where it's hard to deliver that without losing some of the interactivity that traditionally makes them fun. And you see them get criticized for it from both sides when they try. The narrative-lovers find any story that they do have to be mundane. The game-lovers want less talk and more stat-building.
Ah, I believe we've found the main point of this discussion again. I'm pretty sure there is a trick to balancing the two, but I also firmly believe that if you're not playing a romance game for the story and if you're not playing it to study it's inner workings, you probably shouldn't be playing it.
It's fine to not like datesims for failing to deliver on story...
I don't NOT like dating simulations for failing to deliver on story, I dislike dating simulations that have "stories" that actively undermine the entire experience.
...but you have to concede that visual novels are only able to succeed so much better in that area because they've done away with most of the interactivity that datesims still have. Datesim story-telling can't possibly live up to that. If we can judge a datesim for its story we can certainly judge a VN for its gameplay.
again, A implying B does not mean B implies A. The degree to which a Visual Novel is judged, at least by me, on its story is much more than a dating simulation is.


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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#22 Post by Miss-Mae » Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:26 pm

Wow, this is all very interesting, although I didn't expect to see a debate break out here... I personally like both dating sims AND VNs, so I guess it all comes down to preference. Anyways, I am going to avoid getting caught up in the debate, but it really is interesting to read everyone's points of view. :)
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#23 Post by flowerthief » Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:58 pm

Megaman Z wrote:lemme stop you right there: the story in the given example ACTIVELY UNDERMINES THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE, and when you have something like that, no amount of pretty graphics or good gameplay mechanics will save you in anything that would be called a romance game.
It's fine to not like datesims for failing to deliver on story...I don't NOT like dating simulations for failing to deliver on story, I dislike dating simulations that have "stories" that actively undermine the entire experience.
I haven't played that example so I can't be sure I'm on the same page as you, but your point seems to be that an aspect of a game--in this case, story--can be so bad that it poisons the rest of the experience. Fair enough.

But mileage varies, don't you think? More importantly, the same can be said of other aspects of a game, including gameplay or interactivity. I fail to see how this type of criticism cannot also be leveled at a visual novel or any other interactive medium. You don't think it's possible for a visual novel to have branching implemented so poorly that it undermines the experience for someone? Or gameplay that is so tedious that it simply gets in the way? Or not enough branching for a player who likes a lot of branching?

Do you think that a VN that lets you make 3 meaningful choice in how the story will branch is equivalent to one that lets you make 20 choices in how the story will branch? Because once you admit that they are not equivalent, you have admitted that it is possible to make critical statements about a VN's gameplay.

What about a novel that has some fun mini-games in it or some other form of supporting gameplay. Then take another that doesn't have any of that. Let's say you enjoyed the stories in both games equally, but the former was an overall more enjoyable experience due to the added gameplay elements. Are you not allowed to make such a statement? Why not?
I wouldn't say a full Ludology approach is warranted since when you lose the linearity of a dating simulation, it stops BEING a dating simulation and just turns into a simulation game, but the same Narratology approach clearly doesn't work.
The linearity of a given datesim might be little more than a time limit after which you either won or didn't win the girl or boy. The rest could be filling your schedule with activities in the order and manner that you please and various events whose appearance and order are dependent on that. Mostly non-linear stuff.

But there is some room in the genre for varying degrees of linearity. I stated that a simulation cannot lose too much of its non-linearity or it stops being a simulation, and that's true for dating sims. If you always see the exact same events in the exact same order and the exact same ending no matter how you play, it's probably too linear to be much of a simulation. Or you could say the simulation aspect has been minimalized.
So Princess Maker isn't a simulation? I can show that it's decidedly linear in overall progression, it's not that difficult.
Princess Maker has like dozens of different endings, doesn't it? All dependent on the many decisions you've made throughout its course. Sure, the progression of the overarching story is linear. Events along the way probably aren't (it's been awhile; can't remember for sure). All that micromanagement of your princess certainly isn't.

Anyway, I've clarified what I meant when I said a sim can't lose too much linearity in the above paragraph. If I'm gonna get the same girl or not get any girl no matter how I play the game, well, that's the non-linearity that a datesim can't afford to lose. Interactivity in most forms calls for a high degree of non-linearity by its very nature.
first off, pedantic note: Even if A implies B, B doesn't necessarily imply A. Just because the VN guys can call out the Dating Sim guys on lack of a story doesn't mean the Dating Sim guys can call out the VN guys on the lack of notable gameplay mechanics.
Why do you think that you can have it both ways?
Ah, I believe we've found the main point of this discussion again. I'm pretty sure there is a trick to balancing the two, but I also firmly believe that if you're not playing a romance game for the story and if you're not playing it to study it's inner workings, you probably shouldn't be playing it.
Other posters in this thread have demonstrated that your belief is not shared. I'm a bit stunned by your pronouncement, really. If someone is enjoying a romance game but not for its story you would really wish them to stop having fun? Unbelievable.
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#24 Post by Greeny » Fri Mar 11, 2011 8:12 am

Uh... why would anyone play a romance game not for the story? To practice their pickup techniques?
To enjoy the thrill of clicking buttons a whole lot?

Yes, a VN can be judged on its gameplay. It can have relatively objectively bad gameplay, i.e. branching that's put at really bad moments. How many branches there are, however, is a relatively subjective matter. Gameplay does play a role.

On the other hand, the role story plays in a dating sim is much larger. A dating sim without a story is a game where you click buttons to raise stats that, when high enough, will give you... nothing. The two aren't opposites. Fact remains that a dating sim is simply harder to make than a VN, and requires more work and consideration.

Let's say you put the same amounth of work in both a VN, and a dating sim.
With the same amount of work, the dating sim will have to make more sacrifices, and there for will be lesser than the VN.

Correct me if I'm worng, It seems to me that you want VN's and dating sims to be treated equally in terms of production. (i.e., what time is put into gameplay takes away from the time you need to put in story) Yes, they can be very much equal as games, in experience. But making a dating sim simply needs more work. But this isn't actually a significant obstacle, as long as you have more than one person on your team, people who specialise in each area.

That's why the large, commercial games require so many people and time. They choose to combine even more elements of gameplay, interactivity, graphics... And they can still have a good story. Like, for example, Mass Effect.
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#25 Post by flowerthief » Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:27 am

Greeny wrote:Uh... why would anyone play a romance game not for the story? To practice their pickup techniques?
To enjoy the thrill of clicking buttons a whole lot?
How about for fun gameplay?

The original Tokimeki Memorial is not noted for having a strong story. It has a story, but who was playing it for that reason?
Let's say you put the same amounth of work in both a VN, and a dating sim.
With the same amount of work, the dating sim will have to make more sacrifices, and there for will be lesser than the VN.
What's the point of a sacrifice if you don't get something out of it? If a developer makes a sacrifice of one thing for another, presumably they believe that their target audience is going to appreciate the "another". Whether that result is "lesser than the VN" is not an objective conclusion you can make. A very many people don't enjoy VN's at all.
Correct me if I'm worng, It seems to me that you want VN's and dating sims to be treated equally in terms of production. (i.e., what time is put into gameplay takes away from the time you need to put in story)
Well, production realities are whatever they are. It's not about what I want.

But I do lament the difficult position that datesims are in; that conflicting pressure to do better with story while still having fun and addicting gameplay. It's gotta be one of the reasons they went into decline in Japan and VN's boomed (another reason being that the Japanese, I think, don't demand as much open-endedness and interactivity in their games as Westerners do, as a comparison between their RPG's and ours seems to indicate...and the very fact that they have all those VN's over there unlike us).
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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#26 Post by SusanTheCat » Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:24 pm

*sigh*

I must be weird since I think it is much easier to program a dating-sim that to come up with a good VN. ;)

It could also be that I've been programming for 30 years. :)

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Re: Dating sim vs. Regular VN

#27 Post by Miss-Mae » Fri Mar 11, 2011 5:25 pm

Sounds about right, Susan. I might agree with you once I get the hang of things, but this is my first time programming anything. It's all new to me, so I'm a bit overwhelmed with all of the coding, haha. But it's good to learn new things. :)
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