Creating Get In the Car, Loser!, an RPG road-trip adventure game in which high schoolers take on “machine devil cultists” to save the world, was a labor of love for its developers, Love Conquers All Games. I spoke to Christine Love, the game’s lead developer, about the team’s development process and how she approached tackling the story, in which the hero, Sam, deals with anxiety and self-doubt as a queer person.
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Sam gets roped into a world-saving quest of a road trip with her friend Grace and Grace’s partner Valentin. Writing this adventure was a balancing act for Love, as she navigated between its comedic moments and the heavier matters that Sam is struggling with. She wanted to make sure the story didn’t lean too heavily into its comedy, to the point where no room was left for characterization.
“I wanted Sam to be going on a journey and growing on this journey [while] going through a lot of anxieties and worries and fear,” Love said. “This is the story of her stepping up to becoming a hero. At the start of that story, she’s constantly [riddled] by self-doubt, taking herself down a peg, and making jokes at her own expense. Just anything to cope with her anxiety.”
Love drew on a lot of her own experiences when writing not just for Sam, but also for those characters who offer Sam advice throughout the game. Valentin, who is nonbinary, often serves as a voice for the kinds of things Love wishes people had told her when she was Sam’s age, like telling Sam to stop making self-depricating jokes and to be nicer to herself.
Love strove to portray the funny and endearing qualities of Sam’s insecurities while also making players want to protect her and get to know her better. “Ultimately, the comedic aspects are there to get you closer to her,” she said. “They just drop you into this group dynamic and make you immediately feel like, ‘Oh wow, I know how to relate to these people because we have good banter. We’re just shooting the shit and it’s fun.’ That’s a good end for the heavier stuff that everyone in the party has to go through.”
One source of inspiration for Love was Scott Pilgrim writer Bryan Lee O’Malley’s coming-of-age story Lost At Sea, in which a timid high school girl named Raleigh joins classmates she’s never spoken to on a road trip along the California coast. Love opted for a road trip story because stories that jam people into closed quarters for long periods of time provide an excuse to write about introspection, learning, and self-discovery.
Yoko Taro’s NieR and Drakengard series were also sources of inspiration, specifically for how the game communicates its lore. Similarly to how weapon and item descriptions expand the storytelling in Taro’s games, the various items and trinkets characters find along their journey in Get in the Car, Loser! reveal details about the game’s larger world. “That was a natural extension of what is an interesting feature on a road trip: finding junk at whatever stores you stop by on the way,” Love said.
The game’s combat has some Final Fantasy XIII in its DNA. Initially Love was terrified of designing this aspect of the game, since Get in the Car, Loser! is her first RPG. Previously she has created visual novels with choice-driven mechanics, but this time, she wanted to do something new.
“I’ve definitely written lots of games about girls dumping their feelings and going through hard times [and] learning a lot. But having a game where someone can throw a punch, and it feels good to do that, that was honestly totally novel to me,” she said. “I don’t want to make a game that’s just like the game I made before but is a slightly better version or a slightly different version. I want to be exploring new ideas, new themes, and even new mechanics.” Despite her initial apprehension, creating a battle system ultimately became her favorite part of working on the game.
Get in the Car, Loser! is free to play on Steam, and was funded from the success of the developers’ three previous games. Love’s decision to make the game free comes from her experience in 2010 making Digital: A Love Story, a visual novel in which the protagonist has to solve the mystery behind a girl’s disappearance using a bulletin board system on their 1980s computer. She said Digital was also a free game that was very popular amongst her earlier players, despite her thinking the game was “a little rough around the edges.”
The biggest challenge for Love and her team with Get in the Car, Loser! was to find a way to reach new players and introduce them to Love Conquers All Games and her writing style. When faced with the choice to have players buy the game or make it free and bank on making revenue from its DLC, Love Conquers All Games opted for the latter.
“I want[ed] to have something that was a good introduction to help reach out to people who aren’t already fans of my work who might be intimidated about buying the sorts of games that I do,” Love said.
Players who buy the game’s DLC, Battle on the Big Boardwalk, which Love described as its beach episode, will find a fun, light-hearted comedy with items and powers that Love thought might be “too unbalanced” or “too weird” to put in the main game.
“Hopefully people who are really into the game will go, ‘Oh, well I want to pick up the DLC [and] get the weird stuff [and] get the bonus content,’” Love said.
She saw Get in the Car, Loser! as an opportunity to tell a story that was relatable to her and touched on insecurities around queerness that she had within herself. “The fact that a lot of Sam’s anxieties and insecurities are coming from this personal place means that I can really explore metaphorically, what does this mean beyond the fact that she’s a lesbian, and how can we get into what these feelings mean,” she said. For her, it’s a matter of creating the kinds of games you want to see in the world. “I feel like if I don’t tell those types of stories that I want to tell, then I don’t think I can expect anyone else to.”
As far as what’s next for Love, she said Sam and crew may have more adventures in future DLC, and that she would love to continue working within the RPG space.
“After working on this game for four years, I’m just excited to finally see, ‘Did this work?’ ‘Is this reaching people?’ ‘Is this appealing?’ ‘Did people find it fun?’ Hopefully, I’ll be able to carry that forward.”