“Games don’t need to scold players to be diverse”: Song of Sparklemuffin’s inclusive, satirical adventure

The “culture war” we’ve all been enduring for the last God knows how long frequently feels exceedingly tiresome and depressing — and so every now and then it’s good to laugh at the absurdity of it all. That’s the thinking behind BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin, an upcoming Kickstarter-funded satirical RPG designed by well-established Canadian multimedia company Kerzner/Mediarts Entertainment.

BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin is a spin-off from creator and cultural critic Liana Kerzner’s YouTube series BOSSFIGHT, in which she explores and busts a series of common myths about the video game medium and gaming culture — and also features a variety of exaggerated, colourful, cartoonish characters that each mock aspects of life, popular culture and media in the 21st century.

BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin

No knowledge of BOSSFIGHT is required to enjoy BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin, though it features many of the same characters and likewise takes aim for the more ridiculous aspects of gaming culture through its script and narrative. This is designed to first and foremost be an enjoyable game rather than an educational or informative experience — Kerzner and company are keen for the project to pay homage to their own favourite classic games such as Zelda, Final Fantasy III, Monkey Island and Quest for Glory.

In BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin, you take on the role of the eponymous Princess Sparklemuffin as she discovers that she isn’t a damsel in distress after all — the ring given to her by her nanny is magical! And not only that, her nanny has gone missing — sounds like the perfect opportunity for a spot of adventuring and proving her heroism for sure!

True to their appearances in the BOSSFIGHT video series, each of the main characters in BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin parodies a particular aspect of modern culture. Sparklemuffin herself represents those who have grown up overly shielded from the more “problematic” parts of life, for example, while the rather on-the-nose Solomon Justice Walker is all about enduring with a pointless fight long after everyone is very, very tired of it all.

They’re joined by busty succubus Beelzeboob, the poop-flinging Princess Sparklepony, cynical bard Ayaan Jardine, lupine space ace Armand Heißerwulf, cultural critic catboy Maus and Princess Isibindi, supposedly the first princess in history — and, according to the game’s blurb, “the skull-splitting, club-wielding leader of the forces who fought back the demons of Hell a thousand years ago”.

Part of the philosophy behind BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin is, to quote the game’s Kickstarter page, “accept any person with a kind heart, no matter who they are, or how much they try to hide it”. And that’s clear from the inherent diversity of the playable cast, who neatly sidestep accusations of tokenism by their defining traits being about what they have done — or what they want to do — rather than what they look like.

“We think that the divide between games that include a lot of different people and games that are fun to play is artificial,” writes Kerzner on BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin’s Kickstarter campaign page. “Games don’t need to scold players to be ‘diverse’ or to examine topical issues. Every character and scenario in the game is there because we love it, and we feel it belongs. We don’t put in stuff for ‘woke’ points, or to pander. We see ourselves in every character in the game, even the wolf man who frequently crashes spaceships, and the unicorn who eats souls.”

With all this in mind, the current Kickstarter campaign has been designed primarily as a means of people to feel even more included in the project: it allows supporters to throw some early money at the project in exchange for getting a part of “themselves” incorporated into the game — be that a literal representation of themselves, their original character, their waifu, their favourite D&D monsters or even their fursona. Kerzner and co are keen to emphasise that there are indeed furries working on this game, so no-one should feel left out.

Interestingly, Kerzner and friends plan to adopt a classic shareware-esque marketing model for the new game, in which they will release a 6-10 hour “sampler” version of BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin for free and then subsequently release a paid “full” version for those who wish to continue Princess Sparklemuffin’s adventures. The initial Kickstarter is to help fund the development of this “sampler” version, with a subsequent round of crowdfunding to follow for the “final” version — the latter Kickstarter will incorporate more traditional backer rewards such as copies of the full game, T-shirts and the like.

BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin

“We know this funding model is unusual,” writes Kerzner on the campaign page. “Many games offer the opportunity for backers to have their names, portraits, captions or characters in the game. However, these assets usually end up being implemented quite late in the development process, because they’re done as part of the ‘final push’ crowdfunding campaign. This creates a lot of extra work for artists and programmers, and creates redundancies and inefficiencies that take away from, as opposed to adding to, the game.

“So we came up with the idea to do the crowdfunding first for those who want those in-game perks,” she continues, “so they can be implemented as part of the bones of the game, not just slapped on later. We also wanted to separate the costs of being in the game from the costs of buying the game, so that people who aren’t made of money have the opportunity to be included.”

So far the early screenshots from BOSSFIGHT: Song of Sparklemuffin are looking very nice indeed, incorporating not only a distinctive 16-bit RPG-style look and feel, but also influences such as the classic snarky death messages from Sierra adventures.

Kerzner and company hope to deliver the first phase of the project by the holiday season of 2022, so about a year from the time of writing. Crowdfunding for the remainder of the “full” game will take place in spring of 2023, and the final release is pencilled in for “sometime in 2024”. So you’ll be waiting a while for this one — but that shows Kerzner and co are serious about doing a good job on this.

Find out more and get yourself in the game over at the Kickstarter campaign page. You’ve got until December 1, 2021 to pledge your support!

Disclosure: Liana is a friend of the site and asked us to highlight the campaign on her behalf, since it may be of interest to the Rice Digital community. There was no financial (or any other form of) compensation for this article.

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Pete Davison
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