Bryce Duzan is a queer writer and game designer. Previously, he’s made the Twine games Summonr and In Darkness, Dreaming, as well as the small tabletop game Plight of the Cursed. He values telling queer stories that lie off the beaten path.
I had the chance to talk with him about his latest game demo, Who We Are Now.
Full disclosure: we are apparently friends on Steam.
Ryan Troock: What about Visual Novels that appeals to you as a developer?
Bryce Duzan: A few different things appealed to me: I consider writing to be my strong suit, I’ve never really done any programming before, and I am terrible at anything art-related, so visual novels seemed like the perfect vehicle to tell the stories I want to tell. With a story like this, I’m not sure what other video game-based format you could tell it in, you know? Who We Are Now is sort of quiet, sort of sad, and those aren’t things you experience a lot in typical video games.
On top of that, I saw a vacuum of sorts. You don’t see a lot of visual novels that feature gay men of color as the main characters, and that’s something I wanted to change. When I started this project, I knew I wanted a diverse cast of characters with relatable problems. I want more people to be able to point at this and go, “Hey, I feel represented here.”
Ryan Troock: Xander’s story feels like it will be considering ideas relating to impulse and self-control, whereas Jesse’s appears to be more about self-worth. While writing for the game, did you approach each of these characters with an intent to explore a specific topic, or were the themes something that just came out during a more natural exploration of these characters?
Bryce Duzan: A little of both! When I started the project, I knew that I wanted each love interest to focus on a specific “problem” that they needed help with. As ideas came to me, I latched onto them. I knew I wanted a character with powers, so the problem came from how others would react to that power and trying to find acceptance in a community. Jesse’s story stems from being part of the upper echelon and the pain when all of that is suddenly taken away from you (or when you realize that it’s all been smoke and mirrors). The two other love interests that will be in the full game have similar issues; Ray’s story is about moving on from past trauma and living in the present rather than the past, and Nathan’s story is about identity and what people cling to in the face of tragedy.
Ryan Troock: Settings can so often just be flavour added to a story, but it feels like you’re taking advantage of the post-apocalypse to focus in on characters that might be more introspective simply because that’s all they have time to be. Was this an intentional choice in regards to picking the setting, or something that developed as you were writing?
Bryce Duzan: It was definitely intentional. One of the original inspirations for the game was thinking about other post-apocalyptic games and realizing that they kind of stop at “survival.” I wanted to explore, well, after survival, what happens next? Your needs are met, you can subsist, you don’t have to worry about starvation or danger, now what do you do? What does a “normal life” look like? What does happiness look like? I think each of the characters in Who We Are Now is grappling with that to some degree.
Ryan Troock: Wes - as a pacifist in the post-apocalypse - is quickly given a role in the community of Home. Can you talk a bit about your motivations for quickly setting aside the discussion on whether being a pacifist is even possible in such a setting?
Bryce Duzan: I think Mohra says it best. She tells Wes that they should celebrate the fact that Home is a place where you don’t have to fight. We’ll learn more about Wes’ motivations about why he decided to stop fighting and how he managed to survive in the full game. I think for Mohra, though, she is happy that Wes has returned and she wants to make sure he stays. If he doesn’t want to be a guard, then she is happy to find a different job for him.
At the end of the demo, Mohra talks about how everyone in Home is like family to her. Mohra, too, is a pacifist, and I think she understands the motivations about not wanting to fight.
You can play the demo for Who We Are Now here, and find the rest of his games at spincut.itch.io. You can also follow him on Twitter @Spincut.
The Kickstarter for Who We Are Now will be launching on March 15, 2017.