If you’ve not been part of the dating scene for a while, we’d encourage you to give Ten Dates a go. It’s a fascinating (and a little horrifying) window into what it must be like to date post-lockdown, with all of its social hang-ups and awkwardnesses. If you are a part of that dating scene, well, we salute you.
Having played Ten Dates, we were clearly still in the dating mood, as we took the opportunity to speed-date two of its creative forces: Paul Raschid, the writer-director of Ten Dates, and Charlie Maher, who plays Ryan in the game.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Ten Dates?
Paul: I’m Paul Raschid – writer-director of Ten Dates.
Charlie: My name is Charlie Maher and I play the character Ryan in Ten Dates. Ryan is the best friend of Misha and is tricked into going to a speed dating event.
Could you give us a quick rundown of the game?
Paul: It’s the sequel of lockdown interactive rom-com ‘Five Dates’. It follows two friends searching for romantic connection in London – you pick the one you want to play as. They find themselves at a speed dating event, where the player must navigate their encounters with five potential matches each (ten in total). Your decisions determine the rapport and chemistry and whether there are subsequent dates or indeed a happily-ever-after.
Charlie: I’ve heard the game being called a dating simulator before and that might not be the worst description. With each decision the player makes, they can shape their character’s personality and ultimately their compatibility with their date. They have the potential to go very well or to be disastrous.
The biggest change from Five Dates to Ten Dates is the option to play as Misha, a woman, when Vinny was the only option in the original. Going back to Five Dates now, it feels like such an obvious omission. Is it something you originally wanted to get into Five Dates?
Paul: It definitely was. I’m sure I have my original notes somewhere with a planned female story but with the limitations we were working under at the time during the first Covid lockdown in 2020, we had to opt for the Vinny story only. I’m delighted we’ve been able to return to this world and expand it with Misha’s story!
Both Ryan and Misha have a same-sex option, which was hugely welcome and felt like a great step forward. But that comes with its own challenges, as there is only one option for a player who wants to experience that form of relationship – yet, you have to draw a line somewhere. How did you land on the same-sex options that you did include?
Paul: We really wanted to create the most authentic, inclusive representation of modern dating culture in this game. We worked with consultants from the LGBTQ+ community to make sure the experience and chemistry between the characters felt real. From a character standpoint, I approached both as ‘chance meetings’ that occur in Ryan and Misha’s storylines. So, their personas expanded out from that traditional rom-com ‘meet-cute’ premise.
Starting with the speed-dating, a kind of ‘try before you buy’ with the dates, made so much sense. Where did the idea come from?
Paul: I wish there was a great eureka moment story but most of the time when writing, you’re just brainstorming in your head throughout the day and something jumps out. I considered revisiting the same dating app premise as in Five Dates but then when thinking through other dating setups that exist, speed dating felt like a really fun, semi-pressurized environment to explore.
As with Five Dates, the actual meet-ups in Ten Dates are often structured around games, like riddles and higher-or-lower. What do they offer Ten Dates that a more conventional conversation doesn’t?
Paul: I feel like gamify-ing a conversation makes learning about someone new a bit more engaging. Also, through games you can learn something unexpected that you wouldn’t in a simple conversation. Are they competitive? Will they do anything to win? A slip of the tongue is more likely to happen.
Charlie: I feel the games were a great way to break the ice and also revealed a lot about who you were dating. With some of the games you can see how competitive they are or their sense of humour or even learn what type of music they like. It felt like a nice approach to get to know someone in a more natural open way.
We loved playing Ten Dates, but we found it incredibly hard to turn off the gaming impulse. We found ourselves picking the option that we thought the date wanted to hear, that would get a reward, rather than the option we most associated with. It made us feel dirty! Is that something you think about when writing the game? Is there a right way to play the game, in your view?
Paul: Haha I’ve seen this conversation cropping up a few places now. I’ve always thought the most interesting way to play these games is to play as yourself and see who you click with best. We all have likes and dislikes – some we wear on our sleeves consciously and unconsciously. Sure, you may need to say things you don’t believe in to build good relationships with certain characters to see their full storylines but it just means they might be a different fit to what you are innately looking for on a personal level. It’s also cool to play the game and not click with anyone and end up single! I wanted the scope of outcomes to be massive because that’s what life is like. There is absolutely no ‘right’ way to play it.
Charlie: That’s a great question and one that kind of echoes what it can be like to date in real life I feel – where you might pretend to be something you are not, because you believe that that’s what the other person wants to hear. What’s interesting though, is that sometimes this can really backfire in Ten Dates, where what seems like the “correct” answer can really take you down a different path than one you had initially hoped for.
We also loved that Ten Dates was bold enough to tackle important topics, like Brexit, immigration, lockdown loneliness, various forms of abuse and boundaries. Equally, you’ve got a lot of players coming to Ten Dates with different views on those things, and a choice system that often dictates what is right or wrong. What’s your approach in including these vital topics, but also ensuring they feel satisfying to the greatest number of players?
Paul: When approaching such issues, I always try to give the player agency to give their view. This may be a view that their date agrees with or disagrees with – just as would happen in real life. Again, there’s no wrong or right answer here. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. Disagreements happen in life, so why shouldn’t they happen in these games?
Ten Dates often lives or dies on the natural chemistry between Ryan, Misha and the other actors. How do you ensure it’s there?
Charlie: This one is really for Paul the director but I can give an actor’s perspective. I feel this all comes down to casting and getting a sense of the actor, their personality and how they like to work. If you trust your judgement on these things then you just hope it will all gel together when they meet on set.
Paul: I always try to have the actors meet beforehand in an informal/social way. With Ten Dates, as we all stayed in the same hotel, I’d always grab dinner or a drink with any new actor arriving and their scene partner the night before we shot. This allowed them to connect as people and build a rapport. As a lot of the magic in both games came from improv, allowing the actors a chance to become comfortable with each other provided a great foundation for them to build natural on-screen chemistry.
How do you determine the order of what you film? It must be so hard to go from recording a conversation where the player is succeeding and the conversation is flirty, to one where the player is failing.
Paul: I always make sure we shoot as chronologically as possible. We run through the various options of one story strand before moving onto the next, as we work our way through the various beats in the overarching story. I’ve probably explained that really badly…
Wales Interactive work more with screen actors and FMV games than any other company. Is there any groundwork that you have to do with actors to get them understanding the value of these games and their potential?
Paul: Not so much anymore. Back when I started in 2019, I did need to explain the interactive format, how we’d shoot and what the end product would look like, to prospective actors. However, Wales Interactive and I now have a body of work out there that actors tend to research before I even meet them, so they connect with the format and its potential very early.
Charlie: For me the real aspect that interested me about being in an FMV game and also showed me how big they were, was the streaming element. Normally you would never get to see people reacting to your work, so it’s something completely new and an exciting element about the game. The community are very receptive and hilarious, to be honest. I remember looking up some streams for Five Dates and they have over 3/4 million views and that really hammered home the size of these games!
We associate the Dates series a lot with lockdown. In Five Dates, they were in lockdown, in Ten Dates they are finally dating after lockdown. Do you think the Dates series is indelibly tied to this time period? Where does it go from here?
Paul: I don’t think it is tied to that time period. Dating culture reflects the Zeitgeist of the time and we always aspire to keep the franchise grounded in realism. So, we’d make any subsequent game faithful to the time in which it is being made. That’s what we did with Five and Ten Dates. Who knows what dating culture will look like if/when we make the next one!
And finally, would you ever go speed-dating?
Paul: Haha, I’m very happily in a relationship now but if I ever needed to go for research purposes, I think it would be great fun!
Charlie: I’ve never done speed dating before but the closest I have been is “speed-friending”. I pulled a Misha on it, by surprising a friend and bringing them along and I actually ended up really enjoying it. So there’s hope I may be speed dating yet.
Having played and loved Ten Dates, handing it an eyelash-batting 4 out of 5 in review, we can see with confidence that it is well worth a purchase and play. Whether you are dating or keeping as far away from it as possible, there’s still a lovely character study at play here, and a rather good game too.
Ten Dates is out now on the Xbox Store, playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’s also on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC and mobile.