Sunday, June 16, 2024

StarCrossed Makes Shipping Your Faves Into a Mechanic

StarCrossed understands the appeal of seeing two characters standing in relatively close proximity to one another and feeling like they should probably kiss. It’s a pillar of the way the arcade shooter works: two players pick two characters, and as these heroes try to save the world, their relationship grows through dialogue presented in a visual novel style.

There’s no wrong answer when it comes to shipping two people together either, because Contigo Games has given players the tools to mess around with different pairings. It’s all about exploring different possibilities and, by design, making them all canon and accessible to everyone who wants them.

This fundamental design choice is one of many the studio integrated into StarCrossed to make it an inclusive game. Producer and Narrative Designer Francesca Carletto-Leon explains that, as the studio is itself made up of marginalized developers, it wanted to represent as many people as it could with whatever means it had at its disposal.

“It was definitely something we were intending to do from the very beginning,” Carletto-Leon said. “We wanted to make sure that we were borrowing tropes from the magical girl genre, but that also we were making an effort to make it more inclusive. Not only in terms of queer representation, but in terms of body type representation, skin tone variation, and just make sure that we are creating an inclusive experience that is accessible and inclusive to players.”

This extends to gender identity as well, as the “magical girl” genre title isn’t quite as all-encompassing as StarCrossed actually is. Two of its five playable characters are non-binary, and non-binary characters also exist in the supporting cast beyond its five heroes.

But despite the opportunity to basically stick any two characters on screen and make them fall in love, StarCrossed isn’t designed to be just one person’s shipping facilitator. It can be played solo, but Carletto-Leon says the game is intended to be a collaborative effort between two people.

“We have two characters on screen, and it works similar to a classic arcade shooter, but instead of shooting a projectile, you have one and it bounces back and forth between you and your partner,” Carletto-Leon said. “So it’s all about positioning, movement around the screen, and we wanted it to feel sort of like a dance with your partner as you’re sharing that space and navigating it together.”

When I played the game at PAX East, I saw how the game juggled all of this, and really dug what I saw. The intro was quick, and established several personalities and dynamics, which got me thinking about how different pairings could turn out. All of this was in service of what basically is like a spacefaring game of Catch.

Two characters, throwing a projectile back and forth between each other, and using it to take down enemies through position and coordination. It was simple enough that my partner and I were able to read each other’s movements fairly easily, and thus didn’t require a ton of spoken communication. But it didn’t feel like it was too simple, it just felt like the game has a natural sense of rhythm that makes smart plays easy to pull off without having to micromanage one another.

I was only able to play StarCrossed’s intro, but I’m interested to see how the basics presented grow more complex as the game goes on. The same can be said of the five characters. The intro establishes some of their values and personalities, but I’m curious as to how each of these can be challenged by both the gargantuan task of saving the galaxy, as well as pitting diametrically opposed viewpoints against one another.

StarCrossed is available on PC and Mac, and is targeting a PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One launch. Originally planned to release on the 29th of April, it has since been delayed on the PS4 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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