Love Shore is a queer, science-fiction thriller visual novel currently in development by Perfect Garbage. I had the opportunity to talk with the game’s lead writers, Son M. and Emmett Nahil about the world of Love Shore, cyberpunk cities of the future, queer identity, Arab representation, and what it takes to get an indie game off the ground. The game is currently being funded via a Kickstarter campaign and has a playable demo for Windows and Mac.
Blake: Tell us a little about yourselves! What got you into game development, and how did Love Shore initially come to be?
Emmett: I’m a recovering art historian and academic who’s turned to writing all kinds of speculative fiction in my current career path. I’m fairly new to game development in the grand scheme of things, and I was approached by Son with the bones of what Love Shore would become. I was super-intrigued by the idea of co-writing a visual novel designed to showcase queer and non-white protagonists. I’ve been grouchy for some time about the state of diversity and inclusion within the English language VN community.
Son: I’m a Chicago-based horror writer who adores science-fiction. I’ve been obsessed with games ever since I was a child and I always wanted to write for one. After creating the initial concept for Love Shore, I knew I wanted to make a visual novel that looked into the world, its themes and the people that lived there. I ended up writing the majority of the world and overarching story in a PDF and approached everyone on my team, firstly being Zi (our background artist) and Emmett (my co-writer). Together, we gathered up the rest of the team and worked on creating Love Shore!
B: Let’s talk about the setting — it’s clearly inspired by cyberpunk works like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, etc. What made you specifically choose Love Shore’s — the city — aesthetic?
S: I’ve always been a fan of cyberpunk, despite its tendency to lean on problematic themes (I’m looking at you Blade Runner). I liked themes that dealt with “the self” and it often reflects in Love Shore. As for the aesthetic, who doesn’t like a good neon light city with tons of secret activity? Hotline Miami is often the first game that comes to mind when I’m trying to explain the feel of Love Shore, that bright violence and uncertainty plaguing players. I wanted those aesthetics and worlds we see often, but I wanted it with leads that looked like me.
E: Retrofuturism is so huge right now. Not only were we obsessed with the aesthetic possibilities of a cyberpunk world that wasn’t strictly dystopian, but we were excited about the narrative chances that could be taken in a cyberpunk world that has queerness and transness woven into the fabric of society. It’s something that is built into the aesthetic itself: cyberpunk is queer, and we wanted to play in that space.
B: Our protagonists, Farah and Sam, are mysterious, cool artificial “S.Humans.” What decisions are you making as writers to make them “seem human”? Would you necessarily call them cyborgs, or something else?
E: I think we do call them cyborgs out of necessity. It’s a very convenient shorthand for what these characters are, which is essentially a very imperfect mesh of biology and technology, created out of a market demand for children during a time of crisis. They have a different experience than the other human characters, but they have a lot of human experiences that allow them to relate to other characters. I think you’ll find that some of the humans feel more alienated from their own humanity than Farah and Sam are.
S: S.Humans are cyborgs… kinda. I think it’s more complicated than that. They’re not people who suddenly “enhanced” their body, so much as they were raised in that circumstance. Plus, in the world of Love Shore, S.Humans are the only ones to see the hidden gods of the underworld and their true forms.
B: Romance will play a role in Farah’s and Sam’s storylines — will there be queer characters? Given this is also a thriller game, will we see some tension between the main character’s personal lives and the overarching plot?
S: Yes! Emmett and I are both queer and we wanted to make a game that showcases characters that were like us. The entire cast is LGBT+ and it’s something we’re proud of. As for tension, when I approached Emmett, Love Shore was originally part of a horror story. Although a lot of the scarier elements have been dropped, it still carries a lot of tension and darker themes. Sam and Farah are both pulled into a world they refused to be a part of and now struggle to overcome the cruel circumstances of it. The overarching plot is there, the secrets of Love Shore are at your fingers, but how you engage with it and with who really changes the outcome of the narrative. We wanted to make a game where you had as many chances to make choices that are deemed “good” as you had “bad”.
E: Like I said, queerness is built into the game, both in the setting and in character. We really wanted to make a thriller game which didn’t place the narrative tension on the characters’ identities or make them ‘perform’ their identity. These characters are queer and they are also incredibly badass and troubled and complicated and we want to reflect their individuality in the routes you can take throughout the game! The tension in-game comes from those choices. We want to make people make difficult choices. But we’re never going to punish players by using the characters’ identities as plot devices.
B: What challenges are Perfect Garbage up against? We all know game development isn’t easy. What’s the workflow with everyone been like?
E: We’ve been incredibly lucky in that we have a fantastic team. Our biggest challenge right now is, because we’re an indie group, money is always something we have to be thinking about when looking into the future. Our attention right now is fully laser-focused on the Kickstarter campaign.
S: I’ve been blessed to work with understanding and patient people. Our teamwork has been amazing! The only obstacle I can truly pinpoint is getting the word out for Love Shore during our Kickstarter. Being a small indie team without a big name backing us really puts a strain on sharing our game. Thankfully, the word has been getting out and hopefully we get successfully funded!
B: The art in Love Shore is gorgeous. Were there any media that inspired the direction your team took?
S: We all made Pinterests. I love cyberpunk so I threatened everyone to watch the GITS movies and shared some of our favorite stories. Zi was a great influence, bringing in a bunch of non-western sci-fi to the mix and introducing us to new media. Plus, Kabo (Character Sprites and CG Illustrations Artist), Sonja (UI Designer) and Zi really built each other up and worked well together to tie their work aesthetically.
E: I made Pinterests. And playlists. And texted Son at literally all hours because I was re-watching Akira at the time and had some Thoughts and Feelings About It. I’m fundamentally influenced at all times by the way Fullmetal Alchemist incorporates robotics and magic into a semi-realistic setting, so that was a big influence for me when talking to Kabo and Zi about Love Shore as a world, and not just as an aesthetic exercise.
B: Who do you want to see represented more often in games? What do you hope to achieve by writing a story like Love Shore?
E: Where do I start, haha. I wanna see black and brown trans people represented all the time, in all sorts of roles, but specifically in sci-fi and fantasy titles. I wanna see non-white folks specifically incorporated into games without losing elements of their culture, and without being a mouthpiece for their trauma. With Love Shore, we hope to bring a normalization of queer experience, of brown experience, to visual novels! There’s so much good that can be gained from bringing specific inclusion to games Love Shore, and I want to be able to show other trans folks that it can be done, that we can have narrative space in games that doesn’t just make us objects of kink or suffering.
S: Love Shore has a lot to offer. The main characters are Arabs, the majority of the cast are people of color and the hidden gods within Love Shore act as a way for us to bring our culture into the mix. I will always say science-fiction needs more people of color, because we have some cool perspectives to add into the mix that haven’t been done before. With Love Shore, we want to bring a new perspective, not just to the cyberpunk genre, but also to visual novels.