Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The real and bisexual inspiration behind En Garde!

If there’s one thing I always complain about, it’s that video games barely dare to be flamboyant anymore. While I love my overly serious, gritty, and dark adventures that can be found in Jedi: Survivor or Baldur’s Gate 3, my craving for something colourful, and genial, but with a lot of bite, has often been left unfulfilled.

Enter En Garde! from Fireplace Games, a swashbuckling adventure full of bisexual chaos, rapier-sharp combat, and witty dialogue that actually feels as though it’s doing something for the story and its characters, rather than drawing groans from those playing.

Players step into the shoes of Adalia de Volador, a gallant, but puckish, rogue who is tasked with dueling the Count-Duke to upheave his rule of tyranny and oppression. Set in a vibrant Golden Age’ Spain, Julien Fenoglio (Co-Founder of Fireplace Games) tells Gayming that they took particular inspiration from 17th century Seville, particularly in how it evoked themes of “rigid rulership and corruption, which is a hallmark of the swashbuckling genre” and is the exact thing players fight against in the game’s Story Episodes.

“In creating our version of this period for En Garde! we took a more evocative approach instead of striving for strict historical accuracy.” Fenoglio explained. “We think of En Garde!’s Spain as the Spain of legend and play. We’d draw from our initial pop-cultural inspirations but tried to nourish those tropes with material closer to their sources such as cloak-and-sword dramas and picaresque novels. Having a consistent setting also allows us to better highlight extravagant situations.”

En Garde! bisexual
Image Source: Fireplace Games

And there are plenty of extravagant situations to be had. Originally the look for En Garde! was Baroque paintings, which were pretty dramatic, but was far too gloomy for the camp atmosphere and dynamic established in the game’s characters and settings. Indeed, with each flourish of your rapier against your enemies, they cry out with glee and woe, cursing you, your wit, your good looks, and the general situation they’ve found themselves in. It may come across as silly at times, but the swashbuckling genre often leans on its more inane nature and is often better for it.

The tossing of barrels, the glamorous and near theatrical setting, and the cinematic burst of steel against steel in the game’s many swordfights all come together to paint a chaotic picture — but one that is full of inspiration from different realms of pop culture. It’s hard not to see the frilly shirts, tricorn hats, and luxurious capes and not think of characters like Zorro, Puss in Boots, and even Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya — all of whom, Fenoglio tells us, served as some level of inspiration for En Garde!. And yet, all of these characters and the media they come from usually follow a heterosexual protagonist, typically a man who fights back against oppression, all while a swooning gaggle of women follows close behind. A chauvinistic male fantasy from start to finish.

For En Garde! however, Fireplace Games wanted to do something different.

Adalia de Volador is bisexual, and while Adalia’s story is not there to solely highlight the bisexual experience, Fenoglio reassures us that Adalia will show significant affection to another woman. What most interested us, however, was finding out that Adalia’s character in En Garde! was partially inspired by a real historical figure: Julie d’Aubigny — a real-world bisexual opera singer and duelist.

En Garde! bisexual
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

What little is known about Julie d’Aubigny’s life in the late 16th century inspired rampant gossip, mostly due to her camp lifestyle where she wore men’s clothes, dueled others frequently, and kissed both men and women alike. These days many would have called her a living icon — and it’s not hard to see why — but back then? Miss d’Aubigny was seen mostly as a menace. Even so, her antics have been passed on as stories throughout centuries, and now her stories have taken shape in the form of Adalia.

Yet, even with such inspiration behind her, knowing her queer roots and writing them into existence proved difficult.

“Initially, Adalia’s character and identity were created in major part by Anaïs, our CEO, who has driven a lot of the creative direction. She has a knack for narration and a good sensitivity when it comes to queer representation.” Fenoglio explains.

Later, the role of writing was passed on to Fenoglio and Adrien Poncet, another Co-Founder of Fireplace Games who took to writing the queer romance between Adalia and another character as respectfully as they possibly could. However, writing dialogue and the relationship between these two women was not so easy, and they eventually felt that they needed to bring on a Sensitivity Reader to make sure that their portrayal of Adalia and her partner was as authentic as they could make it.

En Garde! bisexual
Image Source: Fireplace Games

The Sensitivity Reader quickly pointed out that, despite their best efforts, there were several instances of heterosexual bias within Adalia and her love interest’s flirting and dynamic. “I still remember, shortly after reading our drafts, they told us “This was written by two straight cis men, wasn’t it?” Fenoglio says. Changes were made and all in all, the co-founder tells Gayming that it was an incredibly valuable collaboration. “Part of me still yearns for even more overt romanticism, but I’m very happy with what we came up with. I hope it’ll come out as a more faithful portrayal and an exercise in restraint rather than a superficial representation. I’m personally very much looking forward to seeing players’ reception to this.”

Fun, flamboyant, and bisexual to its core, players will see whether Fireplace Games efforts and inspirations pay off when En Garde! releases for PC on September 16.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.