Late last year, I was immediately enthralled by the demo for Call Me Under, Lunaris Games’ upcoming 1950s underwater tale full of immaculate visuals, vibes, and queer people to kiss. This weekend saw the release of its second demo, which is even better than the first. Somehow, even more so than before, I am dying to find out more about its world and characters — both of which are teeming with beauty to behold and secrets to unravel.
Call Me Under is an underwater mystery filled with eldritch horrors and dark magic. From my time with the game’s demos, the writing is poetic, almost lyrical at times. It manages to seamlessly blend horror and darkness with a gorgeous, seductive cast and extensive lore — all while telling a grander tale of two ancient entities, known as the Shadows and the Light, fighting for power. You are a faceless protagonist from The Surface, seeking to leave behind your troubled past and start anew in the underwater city of Styx. But the universe has other plans, for you find yourself caught in the middle of this otherworldly battle between two opposing forces.
“On the surface, it might look like a good versus evil story, but our goal is to really make people question the morality of themselves and those around them, and to ask exactly what defines ‘good’ and ‘evil,'” tells us Kris Wise, the game’s Lead Writer, Producer, and Narrative Designer. “Ultimately, isn’t everyone just trying to survive?”
A dark story like this is something Wise has wanted to pursue for some time. “As a huge fan of Bioshock, I’d always wanted to see a visual novel or romance-heavy game in a setting like that. I think it’s just so interesting being stuck under the ocean with a Hotel California, ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,’ threat hanging over your head.”
Wise has drawn from many sources of inspiration. For one, their fear of the ocean has allowed them to convey a constant fear of the unknown in the game’s tone. They’ve also drawn from Greek mythology and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. “It’s really just a delicious combination of themes that we can’t wait for people to unravel,” they share.
Call Me Under is special for the Lunaris Games team as their first full release. Their previous games, Errant Kingdom and When The Night Comes, were episodic. Releasing their first two games in episodes helped the developers find an audience, work as a team, and figure out game development as a whole. This project is a showcase of everything the studio has learned so far, as well as a chance for the developers to take their time. While there is still a lot of pressure, especially when making a game during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wise believes the game’s intricate story that is full of twists and turns will, “benefit from having our full attention over the course of this year.”
Though it’s everything about Call Me Under that has made it one of my most anticipated 2021 indies, it first caught my attention due to its star-studded cast. Among its voice actors are Robbie Daymond (Prompto in Final Fantasy XV and Goro Akechi in Persona 5), Allegra Clark (Josephine in Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bloodhound in Apex Legends), and Noshir Dalal (Charles Smith in Red Dead Redemption 2 and Udom Bedford in The Outer Worlds). The team was initially stunned at the talent interested in playing a role in Call Me Under. Most of the cast had private union auditions, with the one exception being Robbie Daymond. “I actually always had Robbie in mind for Blue when I initially started creating him, so the fact we were able to work with him for this is truly a dream come true,” says Wise.
It’s largely thanks to the team’s voice director, Souha Al-Samkari of indie game studio Truant Pixel, and casting director Michelle Rojas, that the cast of Call Me Under — and that of When The Night Comes, Lunaris Games’ debut title that is getting a re-release — is being brought to life by such an impressive roster.
While I’m already loving Blue, Adrien, and Callie, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t at least one character you’ll easily fall for here. It’s a testament to the incredible writing that I feel like I know these characters, given that I’ve spent two hours with them at most. With each member of the cast being compelling and attractive in about a million ways, I ask Wise which character has been their favorite to write. Though writing each one has been enjoyable, they pick Blue because they, “thoroughly enjoy writing juicy and complicated characters like him” with much going on beneath the surface; at the same time, this has made him the most difficult. They have also loved writing Penny, a perpetually tired journalist who is always done with everyone’s bullshit yet is driven by a strong sense of justice.
“I love writing a powerful woman who also crumbles into incoherency at the sight of a pretty girl,” says Wise.
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The vast charms of the characters in Errant Kingdom and When The Night Comes have resulted in a passionate community that was eager to push Call Me Under well past its Kickstarter goal of £40,000. Yet fans of Lunaris Games have much to look forward to, for Wise says this cast is absolutely their favorite.
“I can’t wait for everyone to really get to know them and all of their dark, dirty little secrets.”
As the team gears up for release later in 2021, it can’t be easy to wear as many hats as Wise does. While I know that’s typical for developers at small indie studios, I can’t help but wonder how they manage to do it all — especially during a global pandemic. 2021 is possibly the game’s most important year, so I ask them about what keeps them and the rest of the team going during the difficult times.
“The thing that motivates me the most is truly just the massive privilege of being able to tell stories about characters and worlds I’ve created,” they say. “That’s every creator’s dream, especially when you have such a supportive fanbase like we do who really embrace all of our characters as if they were their own. We’re also incredibly passionate about telling authentic and undeniably queer stories.”
The Lunaris Games team knows what it’s like to yearn for that kind of representation in the media. “Our whole team is LGBTQIA+, as are all of our characters, and seeing the response to that has been motivation enough for us to keep going,” says Wise. “We’re here to write messy queer characters with flaws who are human (and sometimes also not) and who aren’t your perfect cookie-cutter love interests.”
Call Me Under is scheduled for release on PC, Mac, and Nintendo Switch in late 2021.