Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical – Game Overview

David Gaider thought of wandering gods for a long time.

The famous lead writer and global builder behind Bioware’s dragon age series has been quietly working on the project since 2019 with Summer studiosbut had been considering the idea for much longer.

“Even when I was at Bioware, I wanted to do it. We had branching dialogue, but can we do branching *music*?’ Gaider tells me. ‘I was kinda half-joking, but more I was talking about it, the more people thought, ‘oh yeah, that would be really cool’. It was always on my ‘undo list’ that I wanted to try.’

PAX West 2022 is one of the first occasions when wandering gods is played by anyone outside the walls of Summerfall. ‘User interface [user interface] is really rudimentary at this point. The songs are a mix of scratch and real vocals,” Gaider says as he kicks off the preview. Despite all of this, he never seems anything less than both staunchly confident and extremely proud of how his dream is coming to fruition.

After playing that first snippet of the game for myself, I can absolutely see why. wandering gods is exciting.

Picture: Summerfall Studios

The demo began with a choice to be made between three different traits for the player character of Grace, played by Laura Bailey, each of which loosely leans on a different type of musical archetype. “These inform some of the options you will have,” Gaider tells me. “You make choices during the songs, (and) it’s not just about branching out the lyrics, it’s also branching out the musical styles.”

In practice, this means that during regular dialogue scenes as well as songs, players are presented with choices for their responses in much the same way as the dialogue wheels of Ag dragone or Mass Effect function. What’s truly amazing here is how smoothly the songs are able to shift their musical style and emotional tone based on these choices. It’s hugely impressive, even in this largely unfinished state.

Read: Stray Gods wouldn’t exist without Buffy and the Australian government

Constructing malleable yet cohesive songs presented a very unique challenge to Gaider and the composer Austin Wintorythe one they initially underestimated.

‘When I started, I thought, ‘Writing lyrics is like writing dialogue, isn’t it? How easy can this be? “, admits Gaider. “Not as easy as I thought.”

Luckily, Austin had previously worked with a Melbourne-based musical comedy group Tripod, who enthusiastically signed on as co-lyricists for the project. A Twitter interaction regarding the game by the Australian singer-songwriter Montaigne led them to sign on as well to contribute lyrics to the project.

Stray Gods Game Screenshot
Picture: Summerfall Studios

The first gameplay snippet of wandering gods opened with a scene introducing the player to Grace and her band as they hold open auditions for new members. It’s not going particularly well, and Grace is a little worried about it. As the proceedings end and everyone leaves, she takes the stage and begins to sing a melancholy lament over her lack of direction in life, but is soon interrupted by a woman who introduces herself as the Greek god, Calliope. A charming exchange of dialogue occurs and we’re immersed in the first of the games’ iconic branching duos.

“I think music is a shortcut to emotions that you don’t normally have…you have hours and hours of play to get someone to have a romance in a game like dragon agebut in the span of a song, you can invoke so much more emotion and do it so much faster,” says Gaider.

The duo presented me with choices ranging from upbeat and encouraging, to negative and defensive, all of which felt just as character-heavy as the dialogue options in Gaider’s previous works.

At the end of the song, I was thrown a bit further into a scene that sets up the gist of the story. I’m not going to spoil it, but an event occurs that puts Grace in a situation where she has a week to solve a mystery before the Chorus, represented by the Greek gods Apollo, Athena, Persephone and Aphrodite, executes her. wandering gods opens at this point, and the player can make choices about where to go and who to talk to much like a more traditional adventure game.

The game’s musical heart always remains front and center, even as the game develops. “The branching really starts at (this) point and the choices you make in the song start coming back,” Gaider tells me. “The idea is that the melody you chose will then have callbacks later in other songs, which ideally aren’t just any part of that song, it’s the one you specifically chose.”

“You’ll start to hear the encores over and over again until we get to the finale, which branches out so much. That was the biggest challenge, because the finale takes inspiration from all the songs and all the choices that you’ve done, sorted into a gigantic last number that basically matches all the callbacks from start of game to end.

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It’s an extremely ambitious idea, but the team seems to be taking the time to make it work. Much of the game’s cast is still under wraps, and Gaider and Summerfall co-founder Liam Esler repeatedly pointed out to me throughout our session that much of what I was seeing and heard was incomplete. “We’re still pretty far away,” smiles Esler.

Despite the precocity of the construction of wandering gods what i experienced was, he persists as my absolute star of the whole PAX West. I went back and listened to my audio recording of the preview session several times just to hear those wonderful songs again, and I can’t help but think that the game is really going to be something very special.

Stray Gods: The Musical Role Playing Game should be released on PC and maybe Wishlist on Steam.

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