There are vanishingly few game studios led by queer people, but one of them recently announced that they're hard at work on an interactive adventure-musical.
Called Chorus, the game is the work of Summerfall Studios co-founders Liam Esler and David Gaider. Esler, who's been developing games since childhood, has recently run the Australian Game Developers' Conference, while Gaider is known for his work writing intricate character-driven games. It's the first time the two have teamed up on a project, joined by composer Austin Wintory, actor and director Troy Baker, and fandom-favorite actress Laura Bailey.
Chorus came out of long conversations between Esler and Gaider, who have been friends for years, about the kind of game they wished they saw more of in the world. "It's one part dialogue and narrative-driven adventure game, one part interactive musical, and one part urban fantasy narrative/romance," Esler said in an interview with the podcast The Sewers of Paris. "It's bits of Buffy, bits of Dream Daddy, bits of Life is Strange, and bits of Dragon Age all rolled into one."
The story of the game concerns a mysterious singing Muse who bestows the player with magical powers of song. Dialogue choices, battles, and romances are conducted in musical numbers, with the player making choices that affect how the song progresses.
In a way, it's the game that Esler and Gaider were born to make. Before he worked in the game industry, Esler studied theater. Gaming was just a hobby for him when he was young. Noticing the lack of queer content in his favorite titles, he began tinkering with their components, crafting new content and sharing it online. Eventually, gaming replaced theater as his vocation, but now he's able to blend both together.
Gaider didn't expect to work in games at first either. Speaking with The Sewers of Paris in 2016, he recalled working in the hotel industry and leading live-action role play sessions with friends in his free time.
"One does not make a job out of things you do to creatively satisfy yourself," he told himself at the time. But when he was recruited to help write stories for games, he nervously took the opportunity, and like Esler, found that audiences were eager for more queer content.
"I didn't think I had a story to tell that other people would be interested in," Gaider said. Then he wrote the character Dorian for Dragon Age: Inquisition. That game features a story involving a character going through a fantasy-version of conversion therapy, as well as facing parental rejection.
"I finished writing it and I burst into tears," he said. Once he collected himself, he gave the script to his editor, who returned it to him in tears as well.
Chorus promises to be the most novel project yet for both of them. Working with a small team at newly-created Summerfall Studio, the game reimagines old gods in a contemporary setting, with multiple of romance options. Sample romances posted on their crowdfunding site include a same-sex encounter with Persephone, as well as stretch goals involving romance storylines with Pan and others.
With just over a day left in their crowdfunding campaign, the project just hit a funding milestone of 110% and is now able to add further romances. So far, enthusiasm from backers has been intense.
"We thought there was an audience there," Esler said. "People are like, 'holy shit, this game is made for me.' To which I respond, 'yes, it was.'"
RELATED | Dorian of Dragon Age: Inquisition: Why Gaming's 'Breakout' Gay Character Matters