In narrative RPG Selling Sunlight, the player character has managed to offend the Sun. Forced to wear a magic mask that hides their identity, the lead must explore the world and figure out how to exist in a world where nobody really knows who you are, or beg the Sun to give you your life back.
But although the protagonist is of “uncertain race and gender,” developer CoseBelle Productions is still promising players a chance for good representation in its game. We spoke to the game’s main writer and programmer, Giada Zavarise, about this, discovering how an indie game like Selling Sunlight can teach even other, bigger games a thing or two about diversity.
Selling Sunlight Offers Players Representation, Despite Limited Resources
Speaking to me in an email, Zavarise tells me that the CoseBelle team wants players to “relate to our protagonist, to feel represented, and it’s only fair to give them as many choices as possible to build their own alter-ego.” It “makes sense to have diverse characters in a fantasy world,” the writer explains.
Zavarise also acknowledges that “the more options you try to include, the more you risk to forget something and inadvertently hurt someone” and that Selling Sunlight would have had more character customisation options, only nixed because of the small team’s lack of resources. But CoseBelle gets over these hurdles and bigger budget games, like Assassin’s Creed Unity, which have nixed character customisation altogether due to a lack of resources could take a leaf out of the indie developer’s book.
One way that the developer overcomes issues with choice is by “trying to keep everything related to your character’s identity as nebulous as possible and build a narration that will always work without never contradicting the player’s personal canon.” This shines through in Selling Sunlight‘s various dialogue options, in the beautiful hand-drawn fantasy locations that players can choose to visit, and in how they approach the different agendas held by the game’s NPCs.
It even extends to the game’s romance feature, with Selling Sunlight also allowing players to define their character’s sexuality. Zavarise says that “some [love interests] will be male, some female, and some will be neither, or both: not every culture in our game consider gender binarism to be the norm.” It also makes the game one of just a handful to feature non-binary characters.
The love stories will take the NPCs feelings and thoughts into account, and you won’t just be chucking presents at them to make them fall in love (as in Dragon Age: Origins.) “Your character is a shady, masked traveler of indefinite gender, after all: it won’t be easy for people to reciprocate your affections. They will have doubts, anxieties, and loads of questions,” says the developer.
CoseBelle does anticipate some challenges in putting together the game’s romances, though, as “writing them whilst not knowing the protagonist’s gender is going to be an exercise in word acrobatics.” But the all-female development team at least has a industry juggernaut it can turn to for advice.
Failbetter Games, the developer of Sunless Sea and Fallen London (which both feature LGBTQ characters), allows the Selling Sunlight team to work out of its offices and has also offered feedback on everything from writing, graphics and making spreadsheets. Hopefully interested players won’t have to wait long to see how this partnership has paid off.
Selling Sunlight is in development for Windows PC and Mac. A release date has not yet been announced, but a playable demo will be released in September.
Like this post? Like J Station X on Facebook.