Spirit Swap: Lofi Beats to Match-3 To is a bright and bubbly match-3 style game coming to Kickstarter on April 13th. I had a chance to speak with Alex, creative lead from developer Soft Not Weak about the game and some of the features as well as having LGBT characters at the forefront of the game.
Lor Gislason: Firstly, I love the name of your studio Soft Not Weak. Can you explain what inspired this name? Maybe give us the SNW Origin Story?
Alex: We came up with the idea for Soft Not Weak autumn 2019 while talking about starting our own gamedev co-op. I’m a huge Farscape fan, and I was showing the show to my co-founders Morgan and Chris at the time. It’s a sci-fi show with the lovable misfits type cast. One of them is a blue very femme alien priestess with uh… unorthodox powers. In one episode she gets called weak and replies “soft, yes. Weak? No.” before bodying the guy… and that was such a nice moment it kinda stuck with! so we became Soft Not Weak!
LG: SNW is a worker-owned co-op. Can you talk a bit more about this?
A: Sure! The general idea is that we want the workers who actually make the game to be the ones benefiting from it, as opposed to investors and people who just hold capital. It’s tough because games are very expensive to make, but we’re doing our best. We started as 3 co-founders in October 2019 and are now 5 people. Our goal I to have a path into petitioning to become a worker-owner for any contractor we work with for over a certain amount of time (if they so wish). We have bylaws worker-owners have to agree to, sign and uphold and we vote on what hasn’t been decided yet. Since we don’t have enough capital to pay everyone salaries now, the 5 of us are not taking pay until Spirit Swap releases and hopefully recoups some of it or we get enough funds to afford it. Our 75k Kickstarter goal is going exclusively to paying our contractors the 40$/hour rate we offer. It’s important for us to pay our contractors well because we can’t say we value workers while simultaneously exploiting their labor if they’re not part of the co-op, so we try to be very mindful about that and treat them as the important part of the team they are.
LG: The aesthetic for Spirit Swap feels like a candy vaporwave explosion! Did it have this vibe from the beginning or did the style go through any changes during development?
A: “LOW STAKES, HIGH SATURATION” is my motto when it comes to Spirit Swap’s aesthetic. It was always going to be an explosion of color, a visual celebration of all that is often “too girly” for a “real game”. My main inspiration is the colorful plastic goodness of the 90’s fashion and tech, some of the vaporware movement but also the satisfying crunch that colors make when you mash pastels and neon together.
LG: Is it difficult to work closely together during quarantine, or is WFH the norm?
A: I’ve worked from home for previous jobs and I was a solo content creator for a long time, so I’m used to it. Most of the Spirit Swap team is scattered across North America, with some of us in East and SouthEast Asia and Europe, so we have to make do! We have a Discord dev server that is separate from our public Discord and that’s where we co-work and meet.
LG: Several of your studio members are trans and non-binary, and I’ve noticed the characters in the game are too! I’m non-binary myself and I absolutely love this, it feels really special to have a game where LGBT characters are front and center. I’d love to know what went into this decision.
A: All but one of us right now actually, haha! Honestly when I was first coming up with the idea for Spirit Swap I just made an offhand comment about “everyone is trans and non-binary!!” and everyone was on board, so here we are! We just wanted to make a game where we could see ourselves, for once, not much more to it than that. Although, there are unrevealed characters who aren’t trans, but that’s because they’re a crossover from… somewhere else. We’ll reveal them soon!
LG: Samar, the main character of Spirit Swap is a witch. Are there other magic-related jobs in this world? Wizards, Warlocks?
A: Yes, they are a witch… but they’re also a demon? I gotta be honest with you, everyone in this world can use magic, so “witch” isn’t really a job as much as… an aesthetic in Spirit Swap. If you’re more cottage core and little house on the prairie and potion brewing, you’re a witch! If you’re more neon and into body mods and EDGINESS and technology… you’re a demon! Unsurprisingly though, most people don’t fit in that binary and neither does our cast, so they all have witchy AND demony attributes! Some of them think of themselves as witches, some of them as demons, some are trying to coin a new name for their precise intersection… weimons? Deitches? Samar is still workshopping that.
LG: Characters also use multiple pronouns (he/they, she/they, etc). I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a game before. While having different pronoun options in games has been becoming more of a thing, it’s usually the choice between he/him, she/her and they/them and never alternating. Was this important to have a more varied and inclusive non-binary experience?
A: It was only important because it again reflected us as a dev team. We wanted to be intentional in showing that some people don’t settle on one pronoun whereas others will only answer to the one, and both are OK! A lot of the main cast was created by our dev team and contains their adapted OCs or reflections of themselves, and the pronoun usage reflects that! Our narrative team has been really good about mixing up the pronouns for characters that use more than one when writing for them, and that’s been a real treat!
LG: Can you talk a bit about the familiars (FamilarZ) in the game? Do they serve any gameplay function or are they just little buddies? I’ve seen the frog featured on the SNW Twitter account, it’s so cute! What other critters can we expect?
A: The FamiliarZ are the evolution of the concept of a witch’s familiar in Spirit Swap. Spliced with tech, they’re reflections of their owner and a part of their soul. They’re generally used to concentrate magic so you can fire off powerful spells. Gameplay wise, your FamiliarZ is what allows you to use spells, but at our current scope there isn’t any direct interaction you can have with them to affect the game. In a perfect world, I’d love to make it so that you can customize your FamiliarZ’s colors and stickers and have that affect gameplay, but that is way outside our current ability to fund or execute right now.
There are all kinds of FamiliarZ you can meet with their owners in game though! Off the top of my head, in-game we’ll have a chunky snake FamliarZ, a bunny FamiliarZ and some raccoons! I’ll keep who they belong to a surprise for now.
LG: Spirit Swap is a Match 3 style game. Will there be different gameplay modes? Multiplayer?
A: There’s gonna be several ways to play alone, of course: Story mode, VS CPU, the relaxing endless mode that is our demo… but also a whole part of the game we call “terminally unchill” which is our 2P local multiplayer vs, and our “go BHYG or go home” party mode we revealed in the Kickstarter with up to 8 local multiplayer!
Our team is too small to touch online play at the moment, so we’re keeping it to couch multiplayer.
LG: What is the story of Spirit Swap?
A: It’s pretty simple! You’re Samar, a witch who specializes in divination and uses that to excel at spirit swapping around the perimeter of her city at night. Spirit swapping is what you call regrouping fragments of a trans-dimensional spirit so you can send it back to its dimension unscathed. Usually you get a few crossing into Samar’s world to have harmless fun, as these spirits are the equivalent of curious teenagers in their home dimension. Lately, however, there have been more and more incidents of spirits breaking through and everyone has had to pitch in the swapping. Since Samar is a pro, they’re helping friends out where they can and trying to uncover the source. To make matters worse, the city has also been unusually crowded lately as a huge boy band prepares to kickoff their comeback tour in town.
LG: Will there be any accessibility options? Different fonts, colorblind mode, etc?
A: Yes! Accessibility is very important to us and we are planning to have fully remappable controls, one handed play, specific accommodations for colorblind people and HoH folks! We’re also looking into font options for dyslexic players. Our UI and UX lead is very passionate about accessibility and spearheading the effort, so we’re going to try to make this as enjoyable an experience for anyone regardless of level of ability or energy even!
LG: The Kickstarter for Spirit Swap launches on April 13th. Can you give us any hints at stretch goals, campaign rewards?
A: Haha, yes! We have a variety of rewards available, some digital and some physical! Digital awards include things like the game, the soundtrack, and a digital art book. Our limited edition physical rewards include items like shirts and cropped hoodies, thanks to the support of Dual Wield, our merch partner! As for stretch goals… let’s say the most exciting one will be making several characters we’ve introduced romanceable!