Chatting Stray Gods: Orpheus with Summerfall Studio’s David Gaider

Posted on July 9, 2024

A sweet, energetic, and absolutely rocking epilogue to last year’s divine epic, Stray Gods: Orpheus is a few hours of sheer joy and a must-play for anyone who enjoyed last year’s wildly ambitious musical-romp-of-the-year. This DLC adventure features half a dozen new music tracks and a surprisingly touching narrative that swings in and out of comedy and tragedy. It’s a bite-sized, incredibly cathartic bookend to the story of the Idols, providing extra depth and narrative context to its world.

Stray Gods: Orpheus takes place after the events of the main game, putting you in the shoes of the titular ruler of the underworld. In a very BioWare-like move, the DLC allows you to import your save. Depending on your choices as former protagonist Grace, Orpheus’ fate at the beginning of the story may vary. Regardless, he’s soon visited by portal-aficionado Hermes, who invites him into the modern world for a whirlwind tour. Having not left the underworld for centuries, Orpheus has missed a few things, and hilarity quickly ensues.

The weight of your main story choices can be felt throughout Stray Gods: Orpheus, affecting the narrative pathways and even which characters and songs you’ll encounter. It’s satisfying and respectful of player agency, a treat for hardcore fans. The new songs themselves are absolutely sublime, with composer Austin Wintory partnering again with lyricists Montaigne and Tripod’s Simon Hall, as well as newcomer Tom Cardy to craft a tight set of complete bangers. Performers Anthony Rapp and Erika Ishii (playing Orpheus and Hermes respectively) are once again exceptionally cast, bringing emotional depth and just the right amount of humour to their roles. One song in particular lets Rapp absolutely go to town with his stunning rock vocals and it is positively shiver-inducing.

Preaching to the Chorus

We had the opportunity to interview writer David Gaider about this release, where we learned more about the inspiration behind Stray Gods: Orpheus and gained insight into Summerfall Studio’s creative process.

Orpheus has a lighter, more comedic tone compared to Stray Gods – what made you go for this vibe?

“That’s the sort of character we introduced him with in Stray Gods, even if you didn’t get to see him for very long – quippy and irreverent, and more than a little full of his own magnificence”, said Gaider. “He reminds me of Frasier from the TV show, and it’s a fun trip to dip your toes into someone who’s so fun (and fun to write!).”

Anthony Rapp and Erika Ishii are playing their established characters from Stray Gods – were they involved in the direction of the characters and story in Orpheus?

“I definitely had their voices in my head when I was writing, and that made things much easier as I could play to their individual strengths as actors. We often played with the lines as we recorded, as they already knew these characters quite well. I don’t recall ever turning down suggestions from them – it was a fun time.”

What was it like bringing Tom Cardy into the musical fold? Has it changed how you compose together?

“Tom mostly worked directly with Montaigne and our composer, Austin Wintory, as opposed to myself. I entered the picture, with him, when it was time to offer direction or give notes on a song’s iteration. It was really lovely letting him loose on the song-writing – Tom is an utter madman, in the best way.”

So many choices players make in Stray Gods affect the outcome of the story – how was the process of reflecting these choices when importing a save into Orpheus? Did you find any potential outcomes restricted the kind of story you could tell?

“Mostly it was incorporating reactivity wherever it made sense, and to ensure that there were enough references that a player felt like their choices in the original game mattered to the world. It’s a process I’m familiar with from my earlier work at BioWare. The only thing I found amusing was that the one decision from the original game which had the most reactivity was for an Orpheus who kept the throne of Hades – there’s so much content which reflects the possibility of Orpheus still being King of the Underworld, but only something like 5% of players in the original game did that. I guess those ones are in for a treat!”

Can you elaborate on why Orpheus and Hermes were chosen to be the focus of this story?

“We knew the DLC was going to have to be pretty short, and only had a budget for six songs – three full branching songs and three shorter ones. If I centered the DLC’s story on Grace, it would have needed to bring in all four romanceable characters… or the fans would surely (and justifiably) riot. And I couldn’t center it on one of those romanceable characters while excluding the others, for the same reason. So it was always going to be a side trip with some of the other characters in the game (while still meeting Grace, because how could we not?), and I just chose the ones that delighted me the most. I had a lot to choose from!”

Was the idea for Orpheus marinating before Stray Gods’ release and critical success? Were any parts of it influenced by feedback you received on the base game?

“Honestly, a story that involved Hermes going on a road trip with some other character was a bit of an inside joke within the team from early on – they’re so very beloved by everyone at Stray Gods – so it was always in the back of my mind.”

Without spoilers, what’s something you’re proud of achieving in Orpheus?

“I got to write two of the songs! When I started Stray Gods, I discovered (to my dismay) that one’s ability to write didn’t necessarily also extend to writing lyrics. I was good at revising other peoples’ lyrics, but writing my own? Awful. It’s one of the reasons we immediately looked at bringing on Tripod and Montaigne as our lyricists (Simon Hall from Tripod also worked on Orpheus, joining Montaigne and Tom Cardy). I decided to try again on Orpheus, hoping I’d learned a thing or two, and after my second song Austin Wintory told me he was both surprised and impressed by the results – and had no notes on it, in fact! My happiest day.”

What’s next for Summerfall Studios? Can we look forward to more stories told in this musical roleplaying style?

“Hopefully! I think, for now, we’d like to give the music a break, but there’s no reason we can’t return to it again in the future, especially considering how much we learned about the process. Summerfall’s focus is on creating character-driven stories, much like Stray Gods was, and there’s a lot of different ways to explore that. We’re just thankful to be given the opportunity, and to be so supported by organizations like Vic Screen and our publishers at Humble Games. It’s been a real trip.”

Stray Gods: Orpheus is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC.