Runtime Construct Doting
November 26, 2017
Girl gets job. Job is hella boring. Girl wastes time on her computer at job. Girl goes wikidiving. Girl has sex with her computer.
It’s a story we’re all intimately familiar with, I’m sure. A staple of the modern workplace. Thus, Jack Cayless has written and drawn a visual novel, Runtime Construct Doting, about just that. Naine is an outcast girl from Mallamarsh, a habitable moon of the gas giant Pearl in the Pollim system. She’s just gotten a job as a courier pilot for Perseus Couriers, which, as it turns out, involves very little piloting and quite a lot of sitting around waiting for the ship to get where it’s going. IO is the Artificial Emotion system tasked with keeping her company. She asks it various questions, and it does its very best to be helpful. And then she has sex with it.
“Episode 1: A Girl Wants A Biscuit” is quite short. It’s possible to play through to all six endings in an hour or so. The dialogue is witty, the art is nice if you like that sort of thing (which I do, so I’m not judging), and the decision points in the story do a good job of balancing “this option does what I expect it to do” with “unexpected things happen when I choose this option.” Where the option “I’ll just take the biscuit” might involve the protagonist getting aggressive or snarky in another game, which the option text doesn’t make clear, Naine just asks for a biscuit. And then you win! Because that’s the stated goal of this episode, after all. It’s a serviceable little visual short story, in other words.
What makes Runtime Construct Doting interesting is what it isn’t. It’s not an incredibly compelling story. It’s not an exploration of a complex character, nor of complex relationships and interactions between characters. It’s not a challenging gameplay experience. It’s porn and worldbuilding. That’s it. The reason those other things are missing isn’t because Cayless has failed to deliver those elements. Rather, he has chosen to leave them out. Chimneyspeak, the webcomic that was his first success as a writer/illustrator, involved fiendishly convoluted plots and deeply compelling characters. Redd, his second major webcomic, was an exploration of the interface between superheroes and late capitalistic military-industrial interests. (It was sadly cancelled before it could really dig into those issues, but Cayless elaborated on his Tumblr a bit about his thinking behind the story.) The Miskatonic was a side-scrolling action game exploring the implications of life in the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos setting, which was derailed several times during development and is now a visual novel telling the same story instead, which has fallen very, very far behind its intended delivery date of September 2016. Which is to say, Cayless has the chops to provide a much deeper story, but he has also run into one frustrating roadblock after another preventing him from delivering the stories he wants to tell.
So, is Runtime Construct Doting a waste of time? A bit of vapid porn? Not really. The worldbuilding is very rich, while also being unapologetically titillating. Naine is a fairly simple, hedonistic character, but she has depth and relatable motives. She’s hurt by her society’s rejection of her, and she wants to make a boatload of cash to prove her worth and make an independent life for herself. The story hints at complexity and drama that isn’t even fully foreshadowed in this first episode. Cayless clearly enjoys drawing cartoony girls with huge boobs, and, rather than committing to a project on the scale of The Miskatonic with a team of one, he has dipped his toe in the water, so to speak. If the first episode draws the interest of large numbers of cartoon-boob-loving fans, he has a solid foundation to build on and make a major project. If only a few people are on board, he can wrap it up in a few episodes and move on to the next project. It’s a pessimistic model, but one that allows for expansion.
The first episode of the game is available for free here, on the game’s Patreon page. Backers can download a version of episode one with a soundtrack, as well as future episodes when they are completed.