In preparation for our “Gay games out of the closet” feature, we were lucky enough to be joined by Luke Miller of Up Multimedia for a lengthy chat. In it, he was happy to discuss My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant, including its development, reception, challenges and potential new projects for UP. The interview went so well, we thought we’d share it in its entirety with readers.
Steve Wright, Stevivor: Please tell me a little bit about Luke Miller and UP Multimedia.
Luke Miller: I’m an indie game developer from Melbourne Australia and Up Multimedia is my company. It runs out of my living room at the moment.
Stevivor: To you, what makes My Ex Boyfriend the Space Tyrant “gay”? Or, for that matter, IS the game a gay game?
Miller: I tried to make a game where everything was openly gay, from the characters to the vegetables to the aliens. And not just gay but un-apologetically gay. But is it a gay game? That is an interesting question. The aesthetics alone don’t make it gay but I think Tycho, the main character, and his interactions with other people in the game make it gay. It’s hard to describe but as an example I think people intuitively get that the title is homosexual.
Stevivor: If you identify the game as gay, what would you summarise it as if you couldn’t use “gay” or “homosexual” or the like?
Miller: A sci-fi adventure about love between two, maybe three, guys.
Stevivor: Was the game in response to a lack of homosexual games or role models growing up, just a spot of fun, or a game that fit a void in the current market? What started MEBTST!?
Miller: I grew up without many gay role models so it was definitely in response to that but also I thought it would make a fun game that would be unique on the market. Everyone has a million ideas, you have to prioritise the ones you think other people might like too.
Stevivor: Other gay games in the genre feature on-screen sex, penises, and the like. Did you make a conscious decision to exclude that from your own game? And if so, why?
Miller: Initially I thought the game had to have sex it in. It never occurred to me, and I think to most people, that a “gay game” could be non-pornographic. But as I worked on it I realised that I wasn’t making a sex game, I was making an adventure game. Tycho is literally having an adventure in space. If it led to sex that would be fine by me but it’s not essential. Pretty early on in development I dumped the hardcore stuff.
Stevivor: Light-heartened in tone and full of humour, other moments in My Ex Boyfriend the Space Tyrant are surprisingly heavy, with characters dealing with unrequited love, betrayal and even genocide. How did you balance the different tones of the game?
Miller: The tone was so hard to get right. When telling a story about a character you should tell one of their really important ones or else you might be wasting the audience’s time. So the stakes are high in Space Tyrant. Besides, it wouldn’t be an Australian story if it didn’t touch on dispossession and genocide just a little bit.
Stevivor: You’ve flirted with the idea of putting the game up for submission on Stream’s Greenlight program. You’ve had some supporters, but obviously, some opposition as well. Could you describe the types of arguments and statements you’re receiving from said opposition?
Miller: I knew it would be a tough sell. Greenlight is a pure democracy, everyone gets one yes or no vote per game. How is a game made for 5% of the population going to get through that, especially when a large chunk of the other 95% are actively downvoting it? It’s done pretty well on Greenlight though. PC games are the most exciting artform on the planet at the moment and for every person who wants a generic game there’s someone else telling you to push it further.
I get all the well-reasoned, regular arguments against an openly gay game that you’d expect: Drop dead, keep this faggot game off steam, disgusting, child abuse, this game makes me want to vomit, etc. You get little poorly spelled snapshots into people’s minds and you can see how tortured they are inside. It is very unpleasant and it does sting a little. Oddly this kind of hate makes me think of the poor gay kids growing up in places like Russia, Uganda and Malaysia where they get this stuff — and worse — without ever having put their hand up for it like I did by making a gay game.
Stevivor: Disregarding any of the straight-up homophobic opponents, are there any nay-sayers with logical, well-rounded arguments as to why the game shouldn’t be on Steam? What do you have to say to those arguments, if any?
Miller: Other than the legitimate “is it a good game?” question? Sure!
I’ve been blindsided a bit by some gay guys criticising the game for not representing them. That there aren’t enough different body types or ethnicities in it. To me that shows how under-represented LGBTI people are in games. One little indie game comes along and everyone looks for themselves in it. It is a diverse and inclusive game – more than people realise – but it can’t represent the full breadth of the rainbow.
The other argument I get from some gay men is that the game is too over-the-top and is making it more difficult for gay guys to be seen as normal. One fellow even suggested there shouldn’t be same-sex relationships in the first few gay games so as to ease-in community acceptance of gays. I see where they are coming from but I disagree one hundred percent. Some people think being non-masculine or camp is a weakness that must be hidden but in my experience effeminate guys, the ones that are obviously gay, are the toughest men out there because they’ve never had the luxury of hiding it from the bullies. Be yourself, if someone has a problem with that, it’s their problem!
It boils down to we need more queer characters in games because no single game can capture every life experience out there.
Stevivor: Now that platforms like the Xbox One and PS4 have confirmed that indie self-publishing will be possible, have you toyed with the idea of your game on next-gen consoles?
Miller: Of course I would love to see the game on as many different platforms as possible but the reality is that this is a game that has come from the open-source world. It was made almost entirely on Linux using open-source tools. Unfortunately companies like Apple, Microsoft and Sony will just not come to the party on open source software. My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant will run on any modern computer, literally any computer, as long as the manufacturer hasn’t artificially crippled their hardware. So really the ball is in their court on that … I’m sure they’ll cry themselves to sleep over it.
Stevivor: Joe Phillips did the artwork for your game, which seems to be a massive achievement in itself. How did he end up getting attached to MEBTST!?
Miller: I asked him and he said yes. It’s probably still the best day of my indie developer career. As to why he said yes you’ll have to ask him. I like to think that working on a computer game appealed to Joe as a new challenge — and any excuse to draw hot guys, right?
Stevivor: You’ve mentioned ideas for a sequel. Do you stand behind the non-nudity of your first game, or are you toying with more “mature” themes and visuals? Is the artist for the next game going to be Patrick Fillion, perhaps?
Miller: Space Tyrant is at its best when all three of the main elements – gay, science fiction, adventure – are complimenting each other. Does a game like that need nudity, does it need sex? If it does then it will be in there – just maybe not in the way people expect. The mind is the biggest sexual organ anyway.
I’d love to work with Patrick Fillion – if he ever wants to make a Camili-Cat adventure game I’m so there!
Actually, I’m debating how to draw the villain at the moment. Would doing him in a different art style to the rest of the game add to his villainy or detract from the immersion? I love these kind of creative decisions.
Stevivor: In a similar vein, can you walk me through the decision to have Tycho shirtless at the beginning of the game, after transport, and via an unlock awarded via game completion?
Miller: I wanted to do something dramatic and bold for an opening, something that says “it’s gay, let’s have some fun with it”. It’s also a twist on the old “start off in a room with amnesia and no equipment” opening that a lot of games use to introduce the setting and characters to the player. It was one way the game design overlapped with a gay sensibility better than in straight games. Oh, you want him to start off stripped back to nothing, ready for an adventure? I can do that! So those tighty whities have a technical reason for existing as well as being mere eye candy!
As for it being an unlockable extra? Well, it was expensive to animate all that skin so I was happy to get some extra use out of it. There was a bug in an earlier version of the game that meant you couldn’t unlock the underpants mode and I got more complaints about that than any actual game-breaking bug!
Stevivor: Is there room for over-sexualised games like Coming Out On Top and more innocent, parody-esque titles like MEBTST in the generic “gay” games genre? Does each type help or hinder the other?
Miller: I hope Obscura doesn’t mind me saying this but in many ways I consider Coming Out On Top to be a sister project to Space Tyrant. They were both developed basically concurrently, are of a similar scope in terms of content and indie audience, and we both have been learning from each other as we go along. I think the sensibilities behind the two projects are very similar — mainstream entries in a genre where there has been no mainstream before. Both projects are trying to raise the bar for gay-friendly offerings to gamers. I worry that the press will treat Coming Out On Top as an x-rated affair to be hidden under the table instead of a worthwhile game deserving of respect. Obscurasoft’s engagement with the community has been excellent. I can’t think of a gaming project that represents the diversity of the gay community more than Coming Out On Top — and that’s no accident, she has worked incredibly hard on it.
There is unlimited room for gay games from all angles. The more the merrier. Each game cracks open the scene just that little bit more. They bounce off each other and better games are the result. I only made my game because there wasn’t a gay sci-fi adventure and I wanted to play one.
I really encourage people to make queer games – toolsets like pyvida, twine and unity3D make it easier than ever. Thinking of making a gay game? Email me I can give you pointers!
Stevivor: What are journalists missing when speaking to you about this game? This is your time to highlight the angle we’ve overlooked.
Miller: Hah, well Steve you’ve asked the right questions! I slapped “gayest game ever made” on the Greenlight page and it went off like a rocket. But you’re one of the few people to stop and ask “actually, what is a gay game?”. I’m still figuring out the answer myself. After making My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant I am convinced that there is a unique gay experience out there that can be universally understood but is yet to be captured in game form. I can’t wait to play that game!
Thanks again to Luke for the chat.
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