Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Get in the Car Loser is about growing up, having fun, and punching Nazis

Christine Love is most well known for her narrative-driven visual novels, but her newest project, Get in the Car Loser, is a departure from that lineage. It’s a stylish, and queer as hell JRPG about a group of friends on a road trip to save the world from the resurgence of evil. 

Moving away from her usual genre has been quite the learning experience for Love. Coming from a heavily narrative-based background, programming a JRPG is something completely new, and there have been some unexpected surprises in the learning. “Really, I’ve just been learning how do you make that work, how do you make that fun? And it turns out you spend a lot of time on stuff I hadn’t necessarily before,” Love told Gayming. “Like, normally I spend a lot of time on content, a lot of writing, but in this case it’s been a lot of polish and a lot of iterating.”

That’s one of the main reasons Love attends shows like PAX. It provides a chance for her to actually watch players engage with the mechanics she’s created, and see if they understand what she’s going for, if the systems are intuitive, that kind of thing. 

I had my own anecdote of this exact thing when I saw the game at PAX East. To get the group’s car to continue going forward once the dialogue options run out, you have to push a button. I didn’t realize this while playing and sat in the same spot for about five minutes before Love showed me what I was supposed to be doing.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as Love experienced this with enough other folks to change how the game communicated this mechanic. “There was a problem where once you ran out of conversation, you just press the button to…you hold it, you know? But that’s not necessarily intuitive and it’s often like I don’t know what’s going to be intuitive or not until I see people put it in their hands.” 

By watching people struggle with this and learning from it, Love and her team have now implemented a banner that clearly communicates how to drive, so there’s no more confusion, which is important, given the central mechanic and theme of the game is driving. 

In the demos shown at PAX, you follow three twenty-somethings as they abandon their university studies to take a sword of legend on a quest to defeat the newly arisen Machine Devil, an ancient evil that has a nasty habit of resurfacing every thousand years or so.

This is all framed through the lens of a road trip, complete with little gas stations in the middle of nowhere to fuel up, stock up, and chat with your companions. Road trip games aren’t all too common, but for Love the setting just felt natural. “I want to do a modern adventure story, and really that’s what the road trip is, like a modern sort of adventure,” she mused. 

Another key aspect of the road trip is party banter. From her experience as a narrative designer, Love is pretty well practiced in writing dialogue, and a lot of her favorite RPGs are those that prioritize conversations between party members. “My biggest mechanical influences here are JRPGs, but I think a lot about how Dragon Age or Mass Effect especially are really good at running banter with your party as you’re doing stuff, and the road trip fits that perfectly: you’re just in the backseat of the car, you’re chatting about nothing for hours at a time.”

Good party banter needs, well, a good party to bounce off each other. “Honestly, they’ve been really fun to write,” Love said of her characters. “They just naturally have some pretty good banter.” The road trip aspect helps with this as well. Alongside the bigger fantasy motivations driving the party, it’s ultimately a coming of age story where the protagonists are being thrust into adulthood and asked to decide what that means and how to cope with it. It’s a classic hero’s journey, one that has to ditch some of the tension that’s been in Love’s other work, like Ladykiller in a Bind, since it takes place in the confines of a car. 

“You couldn’t tell a story that has a lot of tension with this set up just because I mean, can you imagine being in the backseat of a car of people that you’re like constantly sparring with for 20 hours? That would be pretty difficult.” 

It’s a welcome change as the colorful cast of characters in Get in the Car, Loser, don’t really seem like they’d lend themselves well to a  super tense narrative. Grace is bold and self-assured, almost to the point of stupidity at times. Valentin is strong, supportive and chill. Sam is nervous and self-deprecating, a quintessential gay disaster. And Angela, the yet unseen fourth character, is an angel who’s grown tired of watching her peers do nothing in the face of rising evil. 

Love assured me that this is not a ‘Game With a Message™’, but that doesn’t mean it’s not political. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

The game’s story emerged alongside its general concept, “edgelord assholes who want to watch the world burn” summoning the Machine Devil. Love has spent a lot of time thinking about how to hit those big, dramatic RPG story beats while also not feeling the need to spell out why one would be preoccupied with evils, that was supposed to be long gone, returning. 

“Just with the political situation it’s hard not to think about this and I don’t know if I’m coming up with any great answers necessarily, like this isn’t a political treatise,” she said. “ It’s definitely not a game with a message other than punch some Nazis because they’ve got it coming, but I feel like, you know, that’s just the base preoccupation, that’s what we’re thinking about right now and I don’t know, it’d be disingenuous to pretend like evil looks like anything else.”

How evil is portrayed in the game has been a big thing for Love and her team. After realizing that there was a whole generation of people who somehow looked at Storm Troopers and thought ‘hey they’re cool’, instead of recognizing them for the fascistic, militarized force of evil they actually represent, it became extremely important to the team that the villains couldn’t be seen as cool or worth mimicking. 

“I don’t even think it’s like message-driven it’s just like ‘is this familiar? Ugh I’m sorry that’s familiar’ but also you know this is what evil looks like right now, this is how it acts, this is the sort of bullshit it tries to pull and this is why it’s actually pretty pathetic,” she said in regards to how the villains, and politics of the game more generally, are portrayed. 

Video games are rife with images of facism and other political and global evils that don’t actually have anything to say about them aside from borrowing an aesthetic, so it’s nice to see Love embracing that and trying to make a point, even if it’s not necessarily the overall point of the game. 

Despite our lengthy chat about narrative, characters and themes, what Love is actually most excited about the game’s release is seeing people interacting with the systems she’s built, and breaking them. “I hope people are approaching this game, you know, going to the store, buying items in game and putting together just the most broken build possible and having fun just messing up all the systems I’ve made,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what people build.”

Get in the Car, Loser will release sometime in the year 2020.

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