Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with Tida and Charissa, founders of the indie game studio, Oracle and Bone—their first project is the yuri visual novel A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986. This time around, I had the chance to chat with members of Lunaris Games, the team behind the LGBTQ+ visual novels When the Night Comes and Errant Kingdom.
The team released their first game, the supernatural fantasy visual novel, When the Night Comes back in 2019. The game has received a great deal of praise for it’s immersive story and diverse cast of characters—featuring a main cast that consists primarily of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. In the game, you play as a Hunter who has been called to the quiet town of Lunaris to assist the local Enforcers with an investigation into a series of increasingly unsettling, supernatural murders. When the Night Comes was originally released episodically, with each new chapter drawing you deeper into the rich fantasy world of the game. Earlier this year Lunaris games released Errant Kingdom, a queer high fantasy visual novel which promises to be just as engaging as their first game—bring with it a new cast of characters and imaginative world building.
I was one of the many fans eagerly awaiting new chapters of WTNC, so I am super excited to have the chance to chat with the members of the team that brought such an amazing game to life. Kris, Anna, Kevin, Nadine, Lennox, and Marina, gave me a chance to pick their brains about their work with Lunaris Games and I just had to share with you! So without further ado, let’s turn things over to them…
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I absolutely loved your team’s first game When the Night Comes, and I am super excited to be talking you guys! I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Kris: I’m a UK-based writer and narrative designer, and also the director and co-founder of the studio. I specialize in horror, dark fantasy, and romance, but mostly vampires. I also write too much fanfiction when I should definitely be working.
Anna: I’m a Greek freelancer and I’m the sprite and lead character artist, and also the co-founder of Lunaris Games. I love mythical creatures (mostly mermaids) and making things magical and glowy. I’m also a big fan of dark fantasy, which is one of the main themes in both of our games so far, so working on them is a dream.
Kevin: I’m a marketing major and writer based in the U.S and I joined the team a few chapters into When The Night Comes to take over some of the routes. I’m now co-writer on Errant Kingdom and Call Me Under with Kris.
Nadine: I’m a freelance illustrator from Florida and I work as a character artist for Lunaris Games. I’m constantly inspired by nature and adore art nouveau and try my best to let those visuals influence my work. I’ve been a long time fanartist for many different games and shows but to actually take part as a developer for visual novels is a dream I’ve always envisioned. If I told twelve year old me where she was right now, she’d be over the moon.
Lennox: I’m a freelance artist based in Seattle. I joined the team shortly before When The Night Comes finished but had been a friend of both Kris and Anna for some time before that. I’m now a character artist on Errant Kingdom, and also assisted in the creation of the world and the characters.
Marina: I’m the background artist and one of the merch designers, and I live in Russia. My talents include overly saturated art, always complaining about how tired and sleepy I am, and going from 0 to feral when Dungeons and Dragons is mentioned. I sacrificed my social life for art and money and don’t regret the decision so far. I have to support my dice hoarding somehow.
Before I dive into your work with Lunaris Games, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?
Kris: One of the very first games I played when I was about eight years old was Final Fantasy VII. It made such a huge impact on my life and it was basically all downhill from there. A few other favorites of mine are the Castlevania games, the Dragon Age series, Bloodborne, Bioshock, The Witcher. All of these titles have massively influenced my life and my creativity, and to be making something narrative-driven, albeit on a smaller scale than your typical AAA RPG, is an absolute dream.
Anna: I started playing games really young. Growing up I was fascinated by open-world RPGs like Assassin’s Creed, Persona and more recently I’ve finally played Dragon Age. Games you can immerse yourself in a new world and enjoy a different story are the most enjoyable to me.
I wasn’t very aware of visual novels until around 2018 where I found myself becoming quickly invested in this new type of storytelling. I also met some of my favorite people while playing a visual novel, including most of the LG team.
Nadine: Much like any kid growing up in the late 90s early 2000s, video games were a very big pastime for myself and my brother. I still remember the day when we got our first Gamecube with Super Metroid and that was my first introduction to Nintendo. Growing up, The Legend of Zelda was a huge influence on my general mindset and inspired me so much so that I wanted to become a concept character artist for Nintendo after graduating from college. Though I didn’t exactly go the crystal clear path towards that goal I still think those desires lead me to the Lunaris team and I couldn’t be happier.
Kevin: I came from a background of MMO games, but over the years my favorite genre have been single-player games like the Dragon Age series and atmospheric games like Journey. Visual novels and interactive novels are actually new things I’ve just learned of in recent years!
Lennox: I was more or less raised on games like Sonic, Tomb Raider, Gex, and then Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy VIII was my first RPG and it blew my mind. I remember that I hadn’t played anything quite like it, how it was a story and kind of like a movie but in a video game format. The central theme was about love and playing it while I was in middle school really smacked me across the face about how I felt with romance. Despite how much I embarrassingly gushed about it to my mother and made her hate it, it fostered a deep love for telling interactive stories that resonated with the player. A living world to get lost in, fall in love, and sometimes cry over. After that it was literally all over for me, video games became my passion.
Marina: My first big love in games was the Tomb Raider series. I replayed Legend rather recently and it was much easier than I remember and I felt incredible nostalgia. I’m a big fan of RPG games too, my favorites being Dishonored, Assassins Creed, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Prince of Persia, and The Witcher.
Let’s talk romance! Both When the Night Comes and Errant Kingdom are queer positive romance games, but your team takes the representation a step further than most titles by including poly routes. Most media tend to shy away from polyamory (unless they’re vilifying it), so why was it important to include poly romance options in your games?
Kris: Polyamory is historically badly represented in media and is often used as a catalyst for love triangles and jealousy, which absolutely isn’t the case in reality. There are so many polyamorous people out there who are desperate to see themselves represented accurately, so a team with polyamorous members, we felt it was super important to use those real-life experiences and knowledge and try to present these relationships in a positive and accurate light. When showing Errant Kingdom at PAX West in 2019 I was actually overwhelmed with the excitement people were showing when they were told we had this rep in our games. This is definitely something we’ll continue to do in every one of our titles after having such a wonderful response. Another thing we represent in our games that is distinctly lacking in media is Asexuality. We have two ace love interests in Errant Kingdom and in all three of our titles there’s the option to play the games without romancing anyone at all.
Anna: The #1 goal for our games is to give the player healthy and meaningful relationships, especially when it comes to polyamory. Knowing those options aren’t usually available or get a really bad rep most of the time, we carefully created them and made sure they progress naturally without any hints of jealousy or the classic ‘love triangle’.
Kevin: Because it matters that someone portrays polyamorous relationships with the respect and humanity any relationship is due. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re making games. Why wait anymore for “someone” to do it? We might as well do it, too.
Both When the Night Comes and Errant Kingdom feature stories with diverse casts of characters—with love interests in all shades and hues, sexual orientation, and gender identity. How important is representation in the games that your team creates? What are some things that you do to ensure that your characters aren’t inherently tropey or stereotypical?
Kris: The sole reason we created Lunaris Games and endeavor to continue making these inclusive titles was because of the reaction we received to When The Night Comes. We might only have one female and one non-binary love interest in that title while we were testing the waters, and with that game being a hobby that got a little out of control in the best possible way, but that alone was received with such positivity that we realized we could go even further with the representation. Visual Novel’s and Otome are so often lacking diversity in the sense that in the more traditional titles there’s usually a white female lead and a cast of white men for her to romance. While those games are often wonderful, that doesn’t represent me or the majority of the LGBTQA+ or BIPOC community, and I was personally kind of fed up of not being able to find a game where I felt like I fit in or saw characters I was interested in romancing, as I know a lot of other people are. When we create our characters we do so quite selfishly in the sense that they’re what we as a team want to see. I think focusing too much on what we think people want and trying too hard to play into tropes sometimes achieves the opposite of the intention, so just putting our heads down and bouncing ideas off each other and getting excited about it is usually what gives us our best and most unbiased moments of creativity.
Anna: Representation is something that is lacking in most media. LGBTQA+ rep is also pretty rare in AAA games or it’s usually not done ‘right’. We need more diverse casts in games (and media in general) so we take a lot of time in making each character unique and so they stand out in their own way. It’s our #1 priority to do that. We always try our best to have characters people can relate to or see a bit of themselves in, and to present people of various backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities mixed with a little bit of fantasy. We aren’t perfect but we will keep learning, improving and listening to our audience.
Kevin: I remember everything I didn’t like in popular media growing up and I don’t do those things. Jokes aside, I think supplementing my media consumption with actual, non-fiction writing from queer writers is important. Diversity means diverse; it matters for the author to be diverse in the experiences they learn from, too, especially since writing creatively without bias is impossible. Besides, it’s not hard to just sit down before I commit to anything I don’t feel comfortable about and have a good, hard think about whether it’s going to be offensive or not. If the answer is “yes” or even “I can’t be sure” then I don’t do it.
Lennox: The main thing for me is that everyone is going to find something tropey or stereotypical. Everyone wants to see themselves in something and everyone will have a problem with something. Keeping that in mind, I think it’s important to tell the story we want as a team. It shouldn’t be rare in media that LGBTQ is represented because we are vast and plenty in number and all of our stories and experiences are unique. I think inserting part of our own experiences makes it passionate, vulnerable, and easier to resonate with. By doing that, it makes characters feel more real. Even if they may be fictional, the events and experiences we have are not. I believe that ultimately the more passion you have for a character, its world, and their growth, will make them feel natural and will resonate with others more easily.
All of your games have a fantasy element to their narratives. What makes this particular genre so appealing to your team?
Kris: With our shared appreciation of culty horror movies and video games, creating weird and wonderful worlds that literally anyone can enjoy and can do so alongside a community that wants exactly the same thing that they do is the ultimate dream. Being attracted to creatures that could kill you is kind of fun to play with too, and exploring the marriage of romance and dark fantasy is really interesting to me. There’s an endless list of possibilities that you can dive into when it comes to fantasy.
Anna: Personally, I am a big lover of fantasy/dark fantasy and magic things in general. Making things in different fantasy settings is incredibly fun for me, especially with giving characters magical abilities I wish I had.
Lennox: Fantasy has always been an escape for me when things were hard or I needed inspiration. The allure of the unknown and a world not like ours has always been an interesting prospect and allows for the imagination to go without restrictions. It’s been a place for me personally to just lose myself in something wonderful and dangerous, romantic and horrifying, without having to think much of the world I’m in. The possibilities are endless and being a grossly romantic person myself, it speaks volumes to me.
Q. Both WTNC and EK have extensive worldbuilding and lore, which you cover in great detail on your Tumblr and Patreon pages. Where do draw your inspiration from when crafting your stories?
Lennox: Lore building for me happens rather spontaneously as a product of just being inherently curious about various different mythos and classical stories. I really enjoy how theatrical mythology can be, as well as ridiculous. Reading about the origins of their conception from various different sources and how they’ve evolved due to religion or culture invites some compelling perspectives.
Kevin: If it’s cool, I do some research, then I sprinkle it in.
Lunaris Games is a queer positive indie development studio, and you are very vocal about promoting LGBTQIA representation. How much of your characters and stories are based on your personal experiences?
Kris: I think even where the characters might not even have parts of ourselves in them, all of our shared experiences as queer people, be it good or bad, are something that makes us who we are. Making worlds where people are queer without that being a point of contention or up for discussion within the story was very important to us. It’s part of who they are naturally and unquestionably. In fantasy, we have monsters and murder, and we don’t need things like queerphobia on top of that. So, without directly answering your question, we’ve definitely collectively poured a lot of our own personal experiences into these games and been vulnerable with our writing, and we’ll continue to do so.
Which characters from WTNC and EK do you relate to the most? Why?
Marina: From WTNC I relate the most to Alkar. We’re both fun, sometimes grumpy and also very much want to be left alone, but also secretly crave affection. As for Errant Kingdom it’s Erik for absolutely the same reasons.
Kris: For WTNC it would have to be August for me. I poured a lot of myself into them kind of unintentionally and actually went through a bit of self-discovery in writing them. For Errant Kingdom I don’t really personally relate to any of them but have the most fun writing Raiden because he’s such a flirtatious little shit but secretly super soft with a heart of gold.
Anna: From WTNC it’s a mix of Piper and Ezra. They’re both very passionate and work hard, and take no shit. For Errant Kingdom I don’t have a certain character I relate to but I mostly admire Maja. She’s who I want to be as a person, calm and super smart in a way that’s cool but also potentially kind of intimidating if you cross her or those she loves.
Lennox: August comes to mind easily for WTNC. Being passionate about your work and being misunderstood for taking it seriously or too much of a hard-ass is something I personally had troubles with, as well as desiring for love. Lucien is who I resonate with the most in EK. Few things call out to me more than wanting to be beautiful in a mysterious and dangerous way, while also being kind of a shit.
When the Night Comes was your team’s first foray into the game development world and I imagine that your team has grown considerably since starting that project. Now that your team has one completed work under your belt, what has been the most fulfilling part about creating games?
Kris: For me, it’s been the positive response to everything we create, specifically our non-binary characters and polyamorous relationships. August is hands-down our most popular and beloved character in WTNC. Them being non-binary and people of all genders and sexualities falling head over heels for them means so much to us. Having people message us telling us how the game has helped them or has made them feel better about themselves is such an honor, and also seeing people find their creativity after being inspired by our creations. As someone who has struggled with feeling like I don’t fit in and has had issues expressing my creativity in the past, knowing that something we’ve created has helped people in the same way things like Dragon Age or other media has helped me is amazing.
Anna: Sometimes it’s weird to think about how far we’ve come since our first game. It’s been 2 years since we started working and we’ve learned and grown so much. The most fulfilling part about this is creating something and it getting so much love. People streaming our games, writing reviews, and leaving sweet comments just melts my heart. People appreciating our hard work and getting inspired to write/draw/create in general is the best part for sure.
Kevin: That I helped create the narrative where these wonderfully diverse characters coexist and lead lives independent of their gender and sexual orientation, which is usually what those types of characters are limited to in popular media — if they appear there at all. It took work and so much coffee, but here we are.
Your team is working on the upcoming title Call Me Under, which is set for a 2021 release. Could you share a bit about this project and what we should expect from it when it is released next year.
Kris: This might sound strange but Call Me Under feels like our first project where we really feel confident in what we’re doing. I mean that in the sense that we’ve learned so much over the last two years that we now finally have the resources and knowledge to really pour everything we have into it and make it something incredibly unique. It’s a much darker story than anything else we’ve put out there and a much more ambitious project overall. We’re also going to be delving into having a rivalmance and exploring the complexities that come with such a relationship. We’re huge fans of both the Bioshock and Dishonored universes, which have both inspired this story, as well as Greek mythology. I think this one is going to be something really special and we’re so excited to share more later in the year.
Anna: For Call Me Under we’re definitely aiming for a more refined game, from music to art to how the protagonists interact with the world and characters. This time we’re diving into a way darker setting and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come (Also I finally got them to have mermaids in it).
Bonus Question: Since your team creates fantasy games—If you could choose to be any RPG character class (or classes), which would you choose? Why?
Lennox: Drow warlock. Dark elves are pretty and I love morally ambiguous races, and also Warlock because… eldritch patron.
Marina: I would choose Dwarf Sorcerer because I want to cast cool spells but without all the work that Wizards have to do. Though, some days I personally feel like a Barbarian.
Anna: I’m not very familiar with RPG classes but I’d probably be a Half-Elf Cleric or a Sorcerer because I love Fae, Elves, and would also prefer to zap my enemies.
Nadine: I’m a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan and general fantasy fan. I would have to say probably a wood elf rogue, because who wouldn’t want to live in the woods and sneak without being seen? Also, the aesthetic is right up my alley.
Kevin: I think I’d be a gnome wizard.
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to the Lunaris team for taking the time to do this Q&A with me! I really enjoyed reading their thoughts on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ representation in their games and their insight into the development of When the Night Comes and Errant Kingdom!
Below are some links to the Lunaris Games team’s social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.