Best friends Milo and Lola are dead. They’ve gone straight to hell, and their only chance to return to Earth is to challenge and beat Satan himself in a drinking contest. It sounds like the setup for the worst hangover of all time, but Night School Studio’s new game, Afterparty, includes one more diabolical layer: Even in hell, everyone uses Twitter. Or, as it’s called in the game, Bicker.
Set to release in 2019 from the creators behind Oxenfree, Afterparty’s underworld is an international mishmash of cultures, myths, and commonly held religious beliefs. “It was important to us that we’re both paying equal amounts of respect and poking equal amounts of fun at all of that, and not really leaning into one particular take,” says co-creator Adam Hines.
The team also had to ponder how to measure morality in hell when standards of right and wrong change with the times. “What would get you in hell, maybe in 10 AD, now seems very unfair,” Hines says. “Or, back in 10 AD, they think, ‘wait you’re not allowed to do that? I was doing that last Saturday.’”
Although hell’s social media site, Bicker, could have been a one-off jab at Twitter, it plays an important narrative role in Afterparty. As Milo and Lola make their way through hell, you can glance at Bicker to see how the denizens of the underworld are reacting to their partying presence.
“You’ll have a real timeline of every single thing that is happening, and you can see how people interacted and what they thought of you,” says co-creator Sean Krankel. “So most of those feeds will be based on what you do. It’s not just random sort of events... if I were to walk along and trip and spill a drink, and you wanted to be like, ‘Look at this idiot,’ you don’t have to say it to me. I can just see the tweet go out via Bicker.”
In other words: “Hell is subtweeting,” Krankel says.
In this version of hell, both demons and the humans they torture head out to the bars to co-mingle after a long day of work, and Bicker is another layer where that socializing takes place. If there’s a party popping off, a few tweets can tip you off on where to head. Krankel describes both the game’s use of tweeting and texting (complete with drunk typos like “where the duck are you”) as an indication of how big this world is — both physically and socially. “There’s FOMO happening at all times,” he says. “Something is happening somewhere else, and you just can’t get there — and you will miss out on certain things, guaranteed.” As for why a cellphone would work in hell, Krankel and Hines both offer a joke: “Because it’s a hellish tool.”
Afterparty’s social elements are just a piece of its story about the social dynamic of drinking. “Everybody’s had a crazy night out,” says Krankel. “Everybody has had an experience that is worth retelling, because it was unpredictable and insane, and somebody got hurt, and somebody drank too much.” Night School hopes to bottle that feeling in a game. This means that your night in hell and the stories you tell about it might end up being very different from someone else who plays the game — the same way you and a friend might recall a night of drunken debauchery with a different spin.
The game toys with alcohol use in a darkly funny way. One type of liquor could give you courage, but another might make you literally vomit up your conscience, allowing you to only make awful choices. Drink too much and you might black out — though that might land you in unexpected situations as well. “We definitely wanted the mood to be kind of close to what it feels like when you go out yourself at night,” says Hines, “in what drinks you get and what mood you’re in, and how different drinks affect different people.”
Krankel and Hines describe crafting a game around alcohol as threading a needle. It uses drinking as a tool both for the game and its characters, rather than — as it is for some people — an outlet for problems like depression. “Every single person you meet in hell is going to have some kind of tragic aspect to them,” Hines says. “The inherent sadness that kind of comes with alcoholism in real life... We also don’t want to shy away from that. It will be a comedy, but it will be a dark comedy that also touches on a lot of different things. So we’re definitely trying to have our cake and eat it too.”