A Long Journey to An Uncertain End: Interview with Kylan Coats and Rowan WilliamsPlatforms: All
This month saw the launch of Crispy Creative's Kickstarter for their upcoming game A Long Journey to an Uncertain End. In the game, you play as a sentient ship in a universe where AI is prohibited, meaning you and your crew must evade capture. Along the way, you'll visit different planets, take jobs to earn supplies and fuel, and bond with your crew. The game features a diverse cast of loveable characters, and a lot of care has gone into making sure the game feels inclusive.
We got to chat with Kylan Coats and Rowan Williams from Crispy Creative about their studio, the inspiration behind the game, and why creating an inclusive sci-fi world was important to them.
- To begin with, could you give us a bit of background about your studio, Crispy Creative? It looks like you’ve been doing UX/UI design, but did you always know that you wanted to be making your own games as well?
Kylan Coats: The goal has always been to be an independent game studio. With that independence comes the freedom to take creative risks other studios shy away from. That said, the client work we do helps us keep the lights on while we work on our own games. It also helps us stay current on development trends and strategies that are going on around the games industry!
- A Long Journey to an Uncertain End has lots of the best science fiction elements; spaceships, a loveable crew, exploring new planets, and AI! Were there any particular sci-fis that inspired the game, or any favourites among the team?
KC: Visually we’ve drawn a lot from other space operas like The Fifth Element, but also from TV series like Cowboy Bebop and the illustrations of Moebius. Story-wise, Becky Chambers is a big influence, along with the Firefly series.
Rowan Williams: Personally, my love of sci-fi is all over the map. I grew up on Niven and Pournell and Heinlein, so classics like Lucifer's Hammer and Stranger in a Strange Land had a pretty profound effect on me, but recently I've been reading much more modern, progressive, and inclusive sci-fi, like An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon and Adaptation by Malinda Lo. That, I think, lends itself pretty well to writing in our diverse and inclusive 'verse.
- The game feels very inclusive, and has a great cast of diverse characters. Did you set off with the intention of doing this or did it just grow naturally as you began working on the story?
RW: Diversity is always front-of-mind as we explore these stories in order to keep them true to the people we're telling them about. One of our greatest efforts is to be authentic, and that requires doing the work of checking in constantly with our audience to be sure we're not just representing them through our own lens, but telling a story about them from their own experiences.
Part of the effort of making a diverse cast of characters is really owed to the early work Kylan did, as well. One of the first things he did was establish some core truths, which he’s called a diversity matrix. The matrix consists of four things outright: cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and monogamous. There is no one character that is all four of those things. That sets us up from the start with very clear intention behind designing these characters.
Also many, if not most, of our devs are queer. We’re drawing on our own experience and that of our friends and family to help to represent various aspects of the culture. That said, we’re very aware that we are representative of only our own experiences, and that’s why seeking out the voices of those who aren’t in the room is that much more important. It's tricky! There's a lot of intersectionality between characters in Long Journey, but we really want to get this representation right.
- As mentioned, the characters are great, when I was playing the demo I fell in love with each one of them straight away. Could you tell us a bit about the process of designing the characters?
RW: One of the first things we did when I came aboard the project was sit down and talk about what each character's background, general theme, and story arc was like, so that we knew as we were writing the story what those interactions would look like and how the characters were going to progress throughout their time with you. One of the approaches we have in mind is how we can focus on each character within their own right. I think that's what makes them so robust; they're people in their own right, outside of your interactions with them.
As for the demo, a lot of that fantastic dialogue comes from narrative designer Martin Hanses. All the work we did beforehand to establish those characters and their personalities is really brought to life through his writing.
- Talking of characters, in the game the player is a sentient ship, what was the idea behind this as opposed to having them play a human?
KC: We wanted to broaden the options for player identity in a way that made sense in our universe. What gender do spaceships and sentient A.I. have? Whatever they want! What gender are spaceships and A.I. attracted to? Also, whatever they want! Allowing the player to be a sentient ship opened up a lot of possibilities for things like neopronouns. We even set an example with the player’s holographic helper, C.O.R.G.I. who uses ze/zir pronouns.
Having the player be the ship also creates an interesting responsibility for and reliance on the crew. While the player can take everyone from place to place, they need their crew to keep themselves repaired and refueled. It’s an interesting balance that lets the crew be more than just pawns to send out. They’re people you want to keep happy, and in return, will have your back in a hostile universe.
RW: It's been really interesting representing this through the narrative. I think that, as you play the game, it's pretty easy to forget that you're a ship. You have a human avatar and your responses to people, your crew or otherwise, are pretty natural and easy-going, but we like to keep you pretty grounded about your reality. On-world descriptions range from the very sensory, such as talking about your landing pads and fuel capacity, to more cerebral, including fears about your presence as a ship on a world where people are, at best, naturally suspicious of you, and at worst, outright hate and want to destroy you.
- Do you have any plans for what comes next, or is A Long Journey your main focus at the moment?
KC: We’re a small studio and A Long Journey to an Uncertain End is still in production. Of course, we have ideas and prototypes for future projects, but for now A Long Journey is our main priority.