Chorus, the first game from newly opened Melbourne developer Summerfall Studios has been successfully funded. Raising more than $620,000 USD with two days of the campaign remaining, Summerfall Studios has released a playable proof-of-concept for Chorus. Designed to demonstrate how the interactive and branching songs work in Chorus, the proof-of-concept is simply wonderful.
Despite warnings from Summerfall Studios on the download website (here), in the Press Release and in the actually proof-of-concept itself that it “is a very rough and early representation of a scene,” this playable slice of Chorus is divine.
It’s very short and is a scene that won’t feature in the finished game. It does, however, brilliantly demonstrate what to expect from the musical combat in Chorus.
The short playable scene features Laura Bailey as Grace and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Persephone. Persephone is annoyed that Grace has brought a human into the land of the dead. Clicking her fingers, she promptly murders the man, drawing the ire of Grace.
Even though there is only a minute amount of dialogue, the performances and writing instantly give you a feel for the characters. Persephone has an air of royalty. Someone who is so far above the petty squabbles of the low-folk that she barely registers them as people. Being a god has put her far above everyone else and so she is generally bored. Bored and contemptuous.
Grace, on the other hand, is plucky, feisty and clearly, doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit. She won’t back down from a fight, fair or not and isn’t about to be bullied by anyone. Even if they are a god.
These observations all come from the three or four lines delivered at the beginning of this proof-of-concept. It’s incredible just how much character and nuance has been packed into the voice acting and both the actors and Troy Baker (Voice Director) deserve tremendous respect.
Equally impressive as the voice acting is Chorus’ transition from dialogue to song. Anyone who’s ever seen musicals or performed in them (guilty) will understand the various ways that songs occur. Sometimes there’ll be a long intro. Other times songs begin in the background and slowly drive their way to the front.
One frequently used device in musicals is to have dialogue gradually morph into song. This is what Chorus does in this proof-of-concept. As Persephone and Grace are arguing, the music fades in and they begin to half-sing, half-talk before fully breaking into song.
It really does feel like a true musical and the music Austin Wintory has composed is wonderfully theatrical and modern. Given the visuals and comic book aesthetic Summerfall Studios is using in Chorus, it wouldn’t really make sense for the characters to break out into Rogers and Hammerstein style songs.
Once the song gets properly going, options appear at the bottom of the screen. These indicate the branching paths and different tones and styles that Grace can employ in attempting to win the song battle.
If you’ve ever played a narrative RPG before, this menu will look familiar. You’re given three options, each accompanied by an icon and a short description. The description is a rough idea of the emotion and direction Grace will go in when she sings.
For example, when choosing the strong-arm option (with a great little metal fist icon) Grace sings more forcefully, the music is heavier, more rhythmic and the tone is combative. If you select the star icon and attempt to charm your opponent, Grace is more like a contestant on a singing competition. She’s upbeat and confident and the singing is more lyrical and melodic.
Finally, the lightbulb icon (intuition/negotiation) sees Grace trying to reason with Persephone through song. Using information she’s gathered from other characters, Grace appeals to Persephone’s ‘humanity’ and good nature in an attempt to reach a compromise.
As the song progresses, if you choose an option that appeals to Persephone you earn Flow. Represented by a Harp and a number in the top right corner, Flow is what you need to spend at the conclusion of a song to determine the outcome.
If you earn enough Flow during a performance you can win the song. If you don’t earn enough to win you can also compromise otherwise you’re defeated.
Each of the conclusions ends in a different outcome which will change the story going forward and give players a range of different story paths to explore. In the proof-of-concept, if you win, Persephone is banished and Grace’s human friend is resurrected. While comprising will see the friend resurrected but Grace forced to sign an accord which means her powers will no longer affect Persephone.
It’s well worth playing through the demo a few times to get a feel for the different options, styles and outcomes.
It’s very early days for Chorus but given the success of the crowdfunding campaign and the incredible potential on display in the proof-of-concept, I’m excited. Chorus looks to be a completely unique experience definitely worthy of attention.