Summerfall Studios on Stray Gods and Australian games

In November 2001, Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed the face of musicals forever in a famous episode titled Once More, With Feeling. While the plot is standard Buffy – a demon wreaks havoc on the town of Sunnydale – it was special because it was one of the first mainstream “musical TV episodes” to combine hallmarks of the music genre with intense action and narrative storytelling. Without this episode Stray godsthe upcoming Australian-developed musical RPG would not exist.

“Once More, With Feeling” was the first inspiration Liam Esler, Managing Director of Summerfall Studios, gave when speaking to GamesHub about the title in development.

“It was very, very big [inspiration]’ Esler said. “From that perspective – sort of a look at ‘What has the TV musical done for TV?'” Stray gods will do the same for video games.

Game of the Stray Gods
Image: Summerfall Studios

From these roots comes the history of Stray gods growth. In the game you play as Grace – a young woman caught in strange, mythological circumstances and forced to confront her new destiny as a powerful and mystical muse. As she grapples with her circumstances, she faces a parade of Greek gods who want everyone some from her.

“We really wanted to have a protagonist that we felt represented the next generation of games… Grace’s story is very much the next generation story,” Esler said.

Her story will take players from frantic, god-soothing dialogue battles to immersive musical performances, sustained by a large cast of international voice actors as well as local talent. While Summerfall hasn’t revealed all the key cast members yet, we do know that popular stars like Laura Bailey (Grace) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Persephone) will play key roles in the game.

Remote voice recording at studios around the world allowed Esler and the Summerfall Studios team to create and record each action-packed song, occasionally waking up as early as 2:00 a.m. to lead the performances and oversee the creation process. While the coronavirus pandemic has complicated things, Esler has remained upbeat about the progress and the talent involved.

Songs and lyrics are by Austin Wintory (journey, Abzu), in which the Australian pop musician Montaigne and the band Tripod (Scott Edgar, Steven Gates, Simon Hall) were involved. Voice acting legend Troy Baker also serves as voice director for Stray gods.

According to Esler, everyone on the team is a “huge, huge” musical fan — with strong opinions and feelings about “what makes a good musical,” which helps shape how everyone works together.

Stray Gods Game Musical
Image: Summerfall Studios

“The songs are like the highlights of the story. When we queued up with publishers, we called them boss fights as a touchpoint,” Esler explained. These songs are supported by the game’s cinematography and comic book-like action, which is intended to resemble theatrical and stage performances and music videos.

“Full credit goes to our incredible art team, who truly are some of the most talented people I’ve had the privilege of working with, led by the inimitable Benjamin Ee [Art Director]’ Esler said. ‘Dave [David Gaider, Creative Director & Co-Founder of Summerfall Studios] and i had an idea of ​​what we wanted very early on Stray gods look. We brought Ben into the game very early on and immediately realized “that’s our protagonist” – I think [Grace] was the first illustration he did.’

“It was an immediate one [feeling] – “That’s what we’re trying to do.” Ben was able to create this really, really stunning, unique aesthetic that really leans into comics. We looked at many different games inspired by a comic book aesthetic, such as: The wolf among us and border areasand a few others and just felt like nobody really did nailed the aesthetics… We really wanted to take the idea of ​​a comic book come to life literally.”

The end result is a colorful and immersive narrative adventure, described as a collaboration between all members of the graphics team and the ideas of the game’s authors. Esler describes seeing Stray gods come together as the ‘most exciting, coolest thing in the world’ because ‘there’s nothing quite like it [the game].’

Stray gods and VicScreen are intertwined

Summerfall Studios occupies a unique position in the Australian video game industry and is a shining example of how creativity and fresh ideas can thrive with widespread support. As Esler clarified to GamesHub, the talented and passionate studio is currently hard at work Stray godsthe game wouldn’t exist at all without funding from the Government of the State of Victoria.

The recent success of Victorian titles such as cult of the Lamb, which sold one million copies in its first week on sale, is a clear indicator of the power of the funding. This title, like Stray godswas produced with support from industry association VicScreen.

“Without VicScreen and the government’s support Stray gods just wouldn’t exist,” Esler explained. “This was fundamental to the early development of the game, and securing funding from VicScreen meant we were able to take a creative risk that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.”

Game of the Stray Gods
Image: Summerfall Studios

“It’s rare to find yourself working on something that’s trying to make a difference New, and for which you are passionate. We were pretty confident there was an audience for the kind of game we wanted to make, but we knew that this might be a hard sell for some people… VicScreen’s support gave us the space and time to do that find out.’

In addition to VicScreen, Summerfall Studios also received support from Creative Victoria and the Victorian Music Development Office. With this help, the studio was able to continue to develop the game – and also reach for its “full” vision. Over the past week, Summerfall has been working with these organizations to record music with Orchestra Victoria – a feat that would not have been possible without collaboration and government support.

Meredith Hall, Marketing Director at Summerfall Studios, previously worked for VicScreen and describes the company’s goals as “[building] Better structures and better pipelines and better systems so that people don’t just get into the industry, they stay in it.’ Summerfall’s goals are similar.

‘[At Summerfall] we want to have a structure that allows it [new] People grow, learn and are supported,” said Hall. “Just as we’re trying to do that for the people we recruit, VicScreen is trying to do that for the state — they want to take teams of all different shapes and sizes with them with access to everything they need in terms of growth.”

As Hall makes clear, growth looks different for every studio – but the value of working with a company like VicScreen is that the consultants know how to approach the challenges ahead and work with the studios to determine their needs. While the funding side of the deal is critical, VicScreen also supports professional development tools and identifies unseen opportunities along the way.

Continue working Stray gods only started with initial funding from VicScreen. This money was used to develop the overall idea of ​​the game and how the branching narrative and songs worked. After several iterations of the project and considering what the audience was really looking for, Summerfall then turned to public crowdfunding platform FIG to raise further funds and gauge interest in an RPG music game. While creativity is valued, games are still a product that needs to be sold – and their development is based on the reality of demand.

Stray Gods music game
Image: Summerfall Studios

As it turned out, there was wild support for Stray gods (then known as Choir) – with the game’s FIG campaign raising $690,079 of the $600,000 goal via 6,018 backers.

“I’ve rarely worked on a game where there’s been such a vocal reaction from people saying, ‘This game was made for me,'” Esler said. “We thought very carefully about who this was for and what they wanted…it’s really exciting to see it all come to fruition.”

This public support led to future opportunities and growth.

Summerfall Studios wants to nurture new voices

As development of the game progressed, the Summerfall Studios team received further support from VicScreen – including a grant to hire younger developers to work on the project. The gaming industry is notoriously hard to reach, with a highly competitive field of talented individuals vying for limited spots in the growing gaming scene.

It’s extremely rare for high-profile studios to invite young voices, and for that reason Summerfall strives to help fresh perspectives thrive. With an experienced team of experienced personalities – including David Gaider, who previously worked on blockbuster titles such as dragon time – The studio is able to provide much-needed mentoring and career opportunities.

“Most of our team is quite experienced,” Esler said. “This puts us in a unique position to actually be able to support the development of junior staff. The juniors we are hiring came out of a multi-year conversation with VicScreen.’

While the process of hiring young developers has taken a lot of time, Summerfall has worked toward it from the start.

“A core value of Summerfall is that we want to be able to support the broader industry and we always knew very early on that if there was a way to train people properly we would jump on it and that’s what we wanted making sure we could contribute in that way,” Esler said.

“We have a great passion for the idea of ​​culture Add, rather than culture fit. It’s not just about hiring people who look like you…but it’s not just about race or gender. It is also the experience of each person we hire.”

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As work on Stray gods continues, Summerfall strives to expand the scope of its work and give new Australian developers the support and confidence they need to succeed. Over the next few months, the studio will welcome several new starters and continue to create magic as Grace’s story expands.

While no major development updates have been made available to GamesHub, we can expect to hear more about the highly anticipated project in the future.

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is currently under development. Summerfall Studios on Stray Gods and Australian games

Curtis Crabtree

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