***HERE BE SPOILERS***
Ah there Mr BioLizard (cool handle by the way)
Having recently enjoyed your demo of LoveSick Darlings (albeit without having examined all offered permutations), I have been converted to your cause. So there you go.
I don't like to gush, but there is much in your work which impressed. Like someone else here, I was moved to the extent of opening an itch.io account. (Somehow, Steam just didn't seem the best forum for the job.) Now, before you start reading this post in earnest make sure you have the following to hand: strong caffeinated drink, some form of uncomfortable seating (anything splintery will work especially well), toothpicks to prop up eyelids if the former prove ineffective and finally anti-embolic stockings. Maybe a defibrillator too. Got all that? Now carry on.
I believe that many of your readers will easily relate to the teen troubles you've presented. This has a lot to do with the fact that you haven't been gratuitous in your portrayal of such scenarios. Also your characters grow and are disclosed in tandem with the plot, and you maintain internal consistency regarding the development of both. (Sorry - rambling a bit. Anyway, praise where it's due.)
I completed your demo in three sittings - more than others no doubt, but still it's not terribly common for me to do that. Especially for a demo of this size. According to Steam I clocked up 14 hours (that number might be rounded up, but it's a close approximation) as I danced along various decision branches - which I did in part to test your work but also to enjoy the different outcomes. Whilst I did not explore every single fork in the road, it was as one might say enough to inform and advise.
There were some specific points I wanted to share which may be of interest to you. You seem open to feedback.
To begin with, I greatly enjoyed your tutorials. They give the reader an opportunity to hear the author's direct message. A few VNs do break down the fourth wall, but not too many - and it is a nice personal touch. Obviously the tutorials also fulfil their main purpose in guiding one through the mechanics of the game.
Generally speaking, my Syd was on good terms with everyone apart from Grace. This last was (mildly) surprising, given that there were few opportunities for Syd to interact with her yet I opted for all available ones. Also Syd had done his reasonable best to lift up her friend Jayda, and I feel as though this should have garnered a little extra favour. (Specifically, Syd helped Jayda win the Students' Choice art award in what I considered an honest fashion, visited her house to play console games twice, and managed to get her and Maisy talking again.) Apparently Syd's relationship level with Grace is "mid-level dislike" or somesuch - given what I've stated, it does seem a tad unfair - but then again they're not best buds and she is snippy by default, so I'm not altogether fussed.
As at the conclusion of the demo, Maisy is apparently concealing secrets from my Syd. She likes to gossip but he does not, so whenever presented with options to enquire about secrets or propagate rumours, I refrained from doing such. Syd doesn't need to know what she got up to with Nacho in her bedroom, nor to where the couple disappeared at the tail-end of the exhibition evening. In any case, Syd is keeping a secret from Maisy about his involvement in said evening - but that's more to protect both Jayda and Stuart (Syd tends to show greater tact than Maisy). Generally my Syd seems to have a healthy relationship with her, aside from certain voiced concerns over Nacho which led to a (subsequently patched-up) disagreement.
Jayda is hot to trot for my Syd. I figured out fairly early during proceedings that their common fondness for gaming would help - they were both geeking out all over the place. Not much to say really - Jayda is a simple soul who (despite her depression) appears to be the easiest character to make and keep happy.
Steph apparently trusts my Syd. He got to see the inside of her house and was brave enough to pat the cat, but unfortunately also got to meet Mum (a coy way of putting it). She is apparently intrigued by him but uncertain of their friendship level. And she thinks Syd is keen on Maisy because the two spend so much time together. But seriously - two musical rehearsals at her joint? Plus they are well-known as being besties and he lives down the road from her anyhow? Der - of course they hang out a bit! Fair suck of the sav love! (By the way, well done for treating the topic of hoarding with respect.)
I generally like Stuart. He is quite a reserved fellow who cares about his friends. One obvious piece of evidence is his arrangement with Syd regarding Jayda's artwork. His hands were tied, so he discreetly enlisted help. He also felt some measure of guilt over dragging Syd into it (who absolved him) but was nonetheless properly grateful. Stuart also had the sense to shut down any future discussion of the matter.
I got Syd to tell his parents that he was interested in Steph not because he necessarily was, but because she would be the least likely of the three young ladies to be questioned by them (Jayda had by that stage visited Syd's place, and Maisy is a regular) and thereby avoid further embarrassment. Syd is definitely capable of this level of strategic thinking - it's not even necessarily deceitful, given that Steph is his crush anyway (or at one time had been, at least)...
Some of my other thoughts regarding moving any of the major relationships to the next level are as follows. My imagining of Syd would find it: extremely easy to get it on with Jayda (both gamers, she's easy to please, her father doesn't seem too concerned over him - however she's emotionally fragile and may turn needy); somewhat so with Steph (they're capable of and interested in holding intelligent conversation plus they're both quite observant people - however he did have the dubious pleasure of witnessing family dynamics at her residence and she's not sure what to think about the Maisy thing); and least likely but still reasonably possible with Maisy (she's frank when discussing her feelings with Syd so he'll at least know that part of what's going on, Syd gets along well with the rest of her family especially Albie, and finally Maisy and Syd are still best friends - however she's reckless whilst he's cautious, and their divergent views on Nacho may drive a deep wedge between them in the future).
My Syd was apparently one of a handful who only hugged Maisy in the prologue. I reflected upon this choice during my "review". In my mind there are at least two reasons as to why Syd might have refrained from kissing Maisy. One is that he simply had no desire to pursue this particular romantic relationship, regardless of whether he was interested in seeing someone else. But I also considered another possibility: that Syd did not want to take advantage of his best friend at a time she was vulnerable. He is, after all, a gentleman. Anyway, take from that what you will.
The exhibition event was wonderfully staged, I thought. Assuming that you are still reading my drivel, the rationale behind my decision to help Jayda ran thusly: having been given the mission by Stuart, I considered that Syd would probably be more concerned about Jayda's depressive state in the near future versus further down the track, especially after having been struck by the idea that he hadn't been there for her. I also reasoned that Syd would prefer to be circumspect in promoting Jayda's cause and not throw the contest (and I can hardly believe that you actually provided a plausible decision framework to cover that permutation - you da man!).
Anyway, given first that Syd was aiming for a discreet approach and second, that he would have less control over the situation by involving Maisy (she's a bloody loose cannon, not to mention she was bringing along an as-yet-unknown boyfriend), I determined that he would keep the matter to himself. Next, if Syd had found Jayda's artwork to be rubbish, then I as the player would not have allowed him "in good conscience" to promote it, in order that a more deserving artist be rightly decorated. However, because Jayda's painting stood strongly on its own merits, my Syd felt justified in taking his stand - and since he was strictly engaged in critique I did not consider his behaviour to be underhanded. I felt most righteous going Mortal Kombat on Nacho's ass given that Syd had sussed him out by then - and whilst Syd could have held back on Maisy's account, he had more than one friend's set of problems to consider. He could also more than likely repair any damage to his relationship with Maisy later (best friends, remember?).
I might replay the art exhibition scene to find out whether Maisy hangs around in the case where she's involved in the plot to help Jayda, but I have the feeling that that is unlikely (seems she is paying a price for Nacho's attendance). Also, I never checked to see what would happen if Syd left it all to fate - look at that, still doing homework at my age... (PS: I'd love to hang "The Girl and the Beast" up on the wall - how much do you reckon that would set me back?)
The next few matters are more difficult to write about since they involve a measure of criticism. One, I don't enjoy delivering it and two, this is your baby not mine. However you seem desirous of telling the best story you can - not only for commercial reasons or pride of workmanship but also because I believe you want to maximise your readership's enjoyment and perhaps also educate them along the way. So I think you will at least hear me out on that basis. Please understand that my intention is only to aid in enhancing - polishing - your creation.
I'm sorry to point out that there are a few typos. Maybe you already have measures in place, but if not and assuming that you are happy for someone with a talent for proofreading to go over the text, let me know. I can certainly handle the task competently - I'm not talking out of my back passage - and I would confine my activities to strictly proofreading (unless for some odd reason you also required assistance with spreadsheets - I'm not too shabby with those either). I'm also not seeking recognition or remuneration.
Beware of "lay down" versus "lie down" - an example of US English's pernicious influence on the local language. Syd should be "lying down" on grass, and "laying (an object/objects) down". Don't worry, I recall very few such instances - I know you'd never deliberately throw a "shrimp on the barbie"!
The final concern relates to an event I haven't reached on account of it occurring after the demo ends - the rally. I understand that it's partly a plot device to bring Sydney back to Sydney (most probably to face something unpleasant). You've provided a sensible selection of responses for Syd's backpedal. Aside from Syd, Maisy tends to be feisty enough to get her way regardless of parental objections and Jayda has a fairly permissive father (plus in light of what the presence of the "father's" housemate appears to suggest, Pete would probably support the cause more - ahem - intimately than most). Steph is obviously very close to her sister and would never be dissuaded from attending the rally. So the confirmed attendance of all of these characters is appropriately framed.
However the situation for the twins is, I believe, more challenging to justify. Given the surname Dao, they are of either Chinese or Vietnamese origin. We know from various hints that the family is wealthy and conservative, and also that the twins are under the thumb (as evidenced by their artistic talents being pimped for the glory of the family). So, you have established the Daos as observing a well-to-do East Asian family stereotype. To take to its logical conclusion, it would be uncommon at best for conservative East Asian parents to bless their children's attendance at a rally - particularly one for a cause which flies in the face of Confucian (forget Christian) values - and for the (teenaged) children to disobey or even argue with their parents' decision regarding their attendance, irrespective of their own views. I'm not telling you how to write your story but I do respectfully request that you please take the aforementioned into consideration.
That's basically it for my issues. Kangaroo crap cracked me up (toilet humour rocks), as did the banter leavening the story overall. These things transport me back to my high school days!
By the way I recognised some of the photo backgrounds - Lyneham shops particularly stood out (I've eaten kebabs there a couple of times). Defs our nation's illustrious capital - if not because of Lyneham shops then certainly on account of the road markings. I had saudade looking at that.
Totes hilar - I said I don't like to gush, but somehow all of this has dropped out! I'm not often moved to write such lengthy correspondence. I seriously hope you find some of it useful or at least entertaining.
In summary, whether in terms of plot, characters, scriptwriting or simply the rarity of an Australian VN set in Australia, it makes me very happy. Of greatest importance, though, is that it's a story told with heart. I should also acknowledge the contributions of others - I mentioned the BGs already, but the CGs, sprites and music are all quite something - so please let their respective creators feel the love. I really want to chuck some dollars your way and support your work, but it looks like your Kickstarter project has closed. (I thought I'd read something about stretch targets somewhere - has that all finished up now as well? If not, let me know. Also - I'd love to keep in the loop somehow.)
It would seem that LSD promises to be part of a continuing narrative, given the indication of a franchise named "The Darlings Series". In that case, I eagerly await not only the full release of your current title but more to come. But one step at a time. In any case, even if for some reason you were to stop at releasing this, I believe you could hold your head high and call it a job well done.
Keep it up!