Afterparty from Night School Studio is a hell of a time. The narrative adventure follows two best friends named Milo and Lola as they die and try to escape hell by out-drinking Satan. As a follow-up to the studio’s debut, Oxenfree, Afterparty is a wholly different experience. Nintendo Enthusiast was fortunate enough to interview Adam Hines, co-founder of Night School Studio and lead writer of Afterparty. We discussed the team’s interpretation of hell, voice actors, and how the game makes players aware of their decisions.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Afterparty is a departure from Oxenfree. How did the team decide to switch from a horror game to a comedic adventure?
Adam Hines: We knew we wanted to make something tonally different from Oxenfree, if only to take a mental break from writing in a mode of creeping, constant dread. So why not do the exact opposite! Also, comedy games are rare, and many of the studio’s favorites like Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max, the Space Quest series, or Monkey Island stick to our bones because of how hard they made us laugh, so we wanted to try and fill what we saw was a bit of a void in the game space.
Players controlled one character (Alex) in Oxenfree. What was the thought process for using two playable characters in Afterparty?
Hines: It was always intended to feel like a buddy comedy a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Hot Fuzz. And if those movies were adapted into modern-day video games, you wouldn’t want to only play as one of those characters; you’d want to play as both, bouncing back and forth, so that’s what led us to make both Milo and Lola playable. Thankfully, it was a feature that flowed naturally with the dialogue system, but it was a challenge, sometimes, trying to avoid making the player feel like they were simply talking to themselves.
The team’s interpretation of Hell is incredible. The visual aesthetic makes a location usually depicted as a place of total suffering seem like somewhere fun to spend eternity. When creating Hell, why did you decide to make it look like one big celebration?
Hines: When deciding what our version of Hell would be like, we knew that we wanted the player to be intermingling and hanging out with both demons and humans, so it was necessary to come up with a story conceit that could justify that. It forced us to create the idea of there being “on hours” — turning torturing into a sort of 9-5 job thing — and “off hours,” when everyone scatters to their local watering holes, and humans and demons alike form bustling communities. It was important to us that it be fun to be in Hell, or at least appear that way when you’re not being flayed by some terrifying archdemon.
As someone who practices religion, I laughed a lot during some of the crasser and more provocative jokes throughout the game, especially ones that poked fun at my beliefs. When tackling the comedic dialogue, was anything off limits? Or did you not mind who might be offended, considering the subject matter?
Hines: We took full advantage of the fact that the game takes place in Hell, the worst place imaginable with the worst kinds of people, when it came to the humor. Everyone that lives there is a little crass, a little arrogant, a little full of themselves, or disbelieving that they even belong there at all, and that attitude’s filled most of the characters with what’s hopefully an amusing and endearing bitterness that comes out in the jokes. We felt that as long as the comedy came from the characterization, and we weren’t making fun of people’s actual beliefs, then it was probably okay.
Milo, Lola, Sam, Wormhorn, and Satan are all brought to life by stellar performances. How was it like working with a voice cast such as Janina Gavankar, Ashly Burch, Dave Fennoy, and Khoi Dao? Were any of the characters written for a specific voice actor/actress?
Hines: Your hellbound cab driver, Sam, was written specifically for Ashly Burch, so we were thrilled to get her and of course she knocked it out of the park. Also Wormhorn was always meant to be Erin Yvette’s role, as well, who played Alex in Oxenfree. Dave Fennoy we had in mind for Satan, and had gotten to know Janina through mutual friends, but Khoi came from an audition that when we heard it, we all went, “Oh, that’s Milo.” All the actors did a fantastic job, and we couldn’t be happier with how their performances elevated the material. We’d bring in actors for bit parts and then keep bringing them back just to add more lines because they were so funny and added so much to the finished product.
Drinking games were a nice change of pace from walking around to each location. Did these minigames come to fruition because they are so prevalent in drinking culture?
Hines: Yeah, the minigames were added both because it’s a natural inclination so many of us have to be “playing” some kind of game while drinking with friends, be it beer pong or just a regular ol’ drink off. We also wanted to add more “challenge,” for lack of a better word, to a game where your primary modes of expression are your walking speed and what you choose to say. It feels good in games to get better at something, and you can’t really get “better” at anything in Oxenfree, so we wanted to scratch that itch in this game, as well.
Afterparty does something that most games don’t: It makes you feel bad about not going through with specific tasks. Wormhorn got under my skin, continuously making me second-guess myself because of how she would chastise me for the choices I made. Were moral choices a big decision when coming up with the narrative?
Hines: It’s always difficult coming up with good, hard, messy, choice-based actions the player can make that we can adequately pay off and that also make sense narratively, but they’re so important to making these games “work.” Games have to hit back, so to speak, and if there’s no friction and danger, a game can quickly become boring and the stress involved in deciding what to say or what to do is the special sauce in these types of experiences. It’s difficult, too, making sure the player is aware of the fact that they’re even making decisions at all, and that the game wouldn’t be railroading them down a particular path regardless of what they chose to do. Wormhorn was a great tool for this issue, being able to break the fourth wall and really showcase what’s happening behind the scenes. It was fun coming up with what she would want to nitpick or question.
Afterparty and Oxenfree both have branching paths that invite players to go through multiple playthroughs. Afterparty has plenty of twists and turns to the story. As mentioned in the previous question, I played how I would genuinely answer questions but found myself wondering if I got the best or the intended ending. When creating each game, is there an ending that the studio treats as the “true conclusion”?
Hines: There actually isn’t! For Afterparty, there’s a few different endings you can get, of course, but we wanted them all to feel like the game couldn’t really end any other way, so the player wasn’t disappointed if they got a “bad” ending. I’m sure members of the team have their own preferred way to play through it, but there’s definitely no canonical one true conclusion, no.
With two console/PC games developed as a team, do you see narrative adventures as the focus of the studio? Or are you hoping to tackle something different in the future?
Hines: I think our focus will always be on the intersection of narrative and gameplay mechanics and making games that allow you to experience stories and play with stories in hopefully new and interesting ways, but how that’s actually done should change every game, both to keep us inspired and in business! Afterparty is modeled very closely after Oxenfree in that it’s a sidescrolling, walk-and-talk narrative adventure game with little emphasis on physical, abstract movement or puzzle mechanics, but that’s not to say our next game will have the same ratio. We’re definitely nervous of falling into a trap of being a one-note studio, so I’m expecting the next five years of releases will look pretty different from our first five.
Nintendo Enthusiast thanks Adam Hines and Night School Studio for taking the time to talk with us about Afterparty. The game is now available on Nintendo Switch for $19.99, and we really enjoyed our time with the narrative comedy in our review.