In this guest post, Crispy Creative’s Kylan Coats shares the journey to the studio’s upcoming inclusive, queer title, A Long Journey to an Uncertain End, out June 28.
I’m Kylan Coats, founder and creative director at Crispy Creative. We’re a diverse indie studio comprised of both seasoned game developers and fresh talents who have worked at some of the most exciting studios in gaming, from Obsidian to Telltale Games, and on titles like The Outer Worlds, Batman: The Enemy Within, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and more. Our passion for creating immersive gaming experiences led us on a thrilling journey to develop our first title, A Long Journey to an Uncertain End.
From the beginning, we set out to craft a narrative-focused space opera that would resonate with players from all walks of life but is ultimately a queer experience. After a long time in development and following a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, Long Journey is soon to be released. With it, we can finally share our aspirationally queer vision of the future.
For our team, inclusivity and representation are not just buzzwords – they’re at the core of our creative process. Many of our team members, including myself, are part of the queer family. Throughout our careers, we’ve often faced pushback for including characters like us and the people in our lives in our work. This pushback wasn’t always outright homophobia or transphobia, but often a fear of getting representation wrong or of isolating players not in queer spaces. With Long Journey, we wanted to show other studios how easy it is to be inclusive, making gaming an accessible and welcoming space for everyone.
Unity provided us with the perfect toolkit to bring our vision to life. In doing anything new, we needed to prototype quickly and move fast. Unity’s accessibility allowed our small team to experiment and rapidly prove concepts. From character creation and diversity among NPCs, to a story grounded in fighting back against those who see the player as different or “other,” Long Journey shows players that the future really is queer.
When it came to developing Long Journey, we knew the importance of allowing players the freedom to express their identities. It’s why we set the player in the role of a sentient AI. As a digital lifeform, how should people refer to you? Do traditional pronouns work, or are neopronouns more fitting? Inclusivity includes both queer and non-queer players. We intentionally put the player in the role of a sentient spaceship where any kind of pronoun question would be relevant.
Tracking characters’ genders is nothing new; every game where you talk to more than one gendered character does it. It’s just a variable. We decided, just like the player’s name, to expose these pronoun variables to be player customizable. It was important for us to give agency to the player in both how they identify themselves and how others identify them. This is supported by the characters that populate our universe, who also use a diverse range of pronouns, no matter what planet they’re on or what they look like.
With the player’s “Ex,” the player can define not only the Ex’s pronouns, but the type of relationship the player was in (for example, what flavor of queer it was, if any). This intentional framing opens up the game’s narrative to a broader audience than it would have if we restricted it to an arbitrary, binary choice. Instead, the player can select traditional pronouns and be fleeing a straight relationship just as easily as using neopronouns in a queer relationship.
For our player avatars, we not only separated body types and customization options from gendered language, but intentionally included a breast-binding body type. We saw the reactions of players to this option in another game and wanted to keep that inclusivity ball rolling so as to not erase nonbinary and trans players’ experiences. Unity enabled us to easily implement all of these flexible systems.
Inspired by the visionary sci-fi works of writers like Becky Chambers, we aimed to create a setting in Long Journey that combined defiant optimism with inclusivity of underrepresented groups. In the game’s universe, all of humanity has mixed and mingled for millenia. We’re post-nation, post-race, post-gender, post-everything.
Creating a universe like this resonates not only with queer players but also with individuals outside of the community. Science fiction provides the perfect background, not only to imagine a more idealized future, but also to explore themes of resilience, empowerment, and found family. In a universe where humanity has moved past all our present-day phobias, what’s next?
We also thought a lot about how to strike a balance between addressing the struggles faced by marginalized groups and creating an empowering experience. Long Journey is all about an oppressed group striking back, so we’ve always been sensitive to the risk of retraumatizing players in similarly marginalized groups.
By framing the main character as an AI in a galaxy where AIs are marginalized and mistreated, we aimed to provide players from those communities with a safe avenue to engage with the game’s themes and content. This framing also gives insights to players outside of these communities on how it feels to have your very existence outlawed.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a space opera without sprawling space stations, horizon-spanning cities, and alien landscapes. Unity enabled us to bring the game’s setting to life, immersing players in a world that celebrates the vastness of life and adventure on the fringes of society. Experimenting with Unity’s shader system let us create a visually vibrant and stylized universe for the player and their crew to explore, and we’re pretty happy with how it turned out.
While you’re flying around space in Long Journey, players have the opportunity to hire a ragtag crew to help them in their escape and rebellion. This core cast includes a vibrant and diverse ensemble of queer characters, each with their own unique backgrounds and experiences – and the heart and soul of our game lies within them. We wanted to create an ensemble that authentically represents the rich tapestry of the queer community.
To start, we crafted characters who were not only visibly queer but also richly developed beyond their identities. Their personalities, eccentricities, and overall vibes resonate with players because they come from a place of authenticity. The lived experiences of our team and the people we encounter day to day informed each of our characters’ stories.
For instance, each crew member has a distinct skill set, aligning with their identities and contributions to the game world. Send Truly, an ace pilot and even better flirt, on a mission and watch them use their romantic flair to get the information you need. Or have the bionic engineer, Aylah, use her tech skills to repair (or sabotage) some key equipment. How would a drag queen or a disabled pickpocket be useful on a job? We asked our colleagues and friends from these underrepresented groups what they thought might work and put that in the game.
As for the situations and jobs themselves, we intentionally created scenarios where violence isn’t (or is rarely) the solution. The player has to rely on their crew’s innate skills and abilities to figure out how to be successful. Not only were these more difficult scenarios to solve, but they were much more interesting than violent options. Solutions had to involve a level of empathy not only for the crew, but for all people in the game’s universe. There are some pretty fun and fantastic solutions that are just as diverse as the people in it.
Whether it’s an ex-drag queen, a nonbinary, trans, disabled, or queer character, the characters in this game celebrate diversity. Your crew becomes a found family, which is a quintessential part of the queer experience. We know it’s something our players, both queer and not, will resonate with.
As we celebrate (and launch this game during) Pride month, our team takes immense joy in contributing to the queer gaming landscape with Long Journey. The customization of pronouns, an expansive setting, and a diverse cast of characters are testaments to our mission to help make gaming spaces more inclusive and accessible. Everyone deserves to see themselves onscreen.
Unity has been the best choice for our project. With it, we’ve been able to bring our vision of inclusivity, representation, and empowerment to life. It means a lot to my team to be able to have a real example of inclusivity and diversity done right. We hope that players agree and our game will be an example for other devs on how to broaden their player base by including the queer community in future games.
You can check out A Long Journey to an Uncertain End on Steam starting June 28. If you want to support this small, queer-friendly studio, give them a wishlist, buy the game, or review it to share what you think. Read more blogs from Made with Unity developers here. If you want to share your Unity expertise with the community, submit to the Unite 2023 call for proposals by July 11.