A sweet little rabbit on a quest to bake a breakfast cake in a hand-drawn world of colourful furry characters, how could this possibly go wrong…
Well that’s what we’re going to find out today on Digital Diversity as we talk to Poppy, creator of Parsnip, about a game that is up there as one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played as well as possibly one of the most delightfully twisted.
Kaiju: Welcome to the Digital Diversity project, Poppy, fantastic to have you here to talk about Parsnip.
Please tell us a little about who you are and what Parsnip is all about?
Poppy: I’m Poppy and I am a very nice and lovely trans woman who writes games! I love telling stories, animals and spooky things so one day Parsnip happened.
Parsnip is a game I made with my friend RT during university as a side project. I wanted to tell a story about a children’s cartoon characteresque rabbit that naively wanders through the world ‘helping’ people, when in reality he is a very annoying and destructive presence. I also wanted to explore writing various different queer characters with fun personalities and a lot going on in their life, albeit through the eyes of a bunny who doesn’t really care. RT wanted to do some great 2D animation, which she certainly succeeded at!
K: The first thing that struck me about Parsnip was the visual style of the game; the backgrounds are all gorgeous watercolour paintings and the characters feel like something out of a vintage children’s book. I’m curious to know if you built the story you wanted to tell around the visual design, or the other way around?
P: RT was very insistent that the main character was a rabbit, and wanted to work in the style from the start. I essentially wrote with this and moved the story to a somewhat darker place than the art would suggest. I liked the idea that Parsnip was this happy cutesy rabbit in a world that wasn’t happy and cutesy. It was fun to write his interactions with the other characters, who I think all have much more grounded personalities (and character designs!)
K: The other characters are definitely an experience. Playing through it I was often wondering just how much they have had to put up with from Parsnip over the years.
Point and click adventure games are a rare treat these days, especially bright and happy ones, so seeing Parsnip on my play-list was a real delight. Do you have much of a history playing adventure games and has making something like this made you want to do more like it?
P: Parsnip only moved in a few weeks ago, but that was all it took to grind them down! I actually have never been that into point and click adventure games, because most the ones I played were kind of unintuative and dull. That said I love watching playthroughs of some of the more bizzare ones like harvester. Parsnip was intentionally very straight forward since I didn’t want to create and poorly thought through puzzles, and wanted to concentrate on dialogue and character. Making it was a lot of fun, and its definitely something id like to do in future with a character who actually cares!
K: When you do make that game make sure to let me know, I’d be super keen to play it.
Parsnip is far from your only game; your portfolio has plenty of visual novels including games like The Testimony of Trixie Glimmer Smith and your newest game Three Lesbians in a Barrow. Do you have themes that you like to make sure you include in your projects, or a particular style you like to work with?
P: Most of my work touches on horror, particularly weird horror in some way, though I try to keep things quite lighthearted. They are also all quite gay, with Parsnip being the least gay to Three Lesbians in a Barrow being the most gay. I also tend to write stories that share the same world, I like exploring different characters in the same situation!
K: So queer and scary, in a nice way, is what Poppy is all about? That’s a good style to have. Although now I’m kind of curious how other developers I’ve talked to would rate their games on the least-to-most gay scale…
Point and click adventure games aren’t really your thing, as you’ve said, are there certain genres of games that you do feel really passionate about? Games that have inspired you in your own work or that you find enthralling in themselves?
P: When I was super depressed during my teens and early 20s I liked strategy games a lot because crushing my enemies cheered me up, but now a days I am much more into visual novels like Analouge: A Hate Story, ‘story driven’ games Like LiS and Dark Souls. I have played a lot of Dark Souls. I really enjoy the range of storytelling you can have with them, from cosntantly making choices and interacting with characters in LiS to being a small bit of a horrible machine in Dark Souls.
I suppose I really like relaxing games, Meadow was one of my favourite experiences, visual novels are slow and easy to take in, and Dark Souls is incredibly therapeutic.
K: Finding those cathartic, therapeutic games is darn important, definitely. I’m glad you have those outlets that seem to help and give you the good feels.
This wouldn’t be Digital Diversity if I didn’t ask you lots of queer questions: if it’s not too personal I’d love to know more about how who you are affects the games you make and play? Have you found games that you feel well represented in and or are the games you make a way to express who you are in an industry that you might not feel included?
P: As someone who prefers stories about characters who are at best useless trashfires and at worst downright despicable, I think there is a lack of good bad queer characters. I can find bad bad queer characters in any story written by a cis het dude, I can find plenty of good good queer characters in a story written by an LGBTQ writer, but I think the bad role model camp is sometimes a little empty. I can see why that is, people want to see themselves in their characters and represent LGBTQ people nicely! But I want my bitchy bickering bisexuals dammit!
While not all my characters are queer, much like in real life they are the main characters. Not seeing myself in games for most my life, particularly after I came out was sad, so creating characters like Trixie and Tabby was important to me both in terms of representation and as an outlet to explore my own feelings. The Testimony of Trixie Glimmer Smith in particular discusses Trixie’s feelings about her early transition in some detail. The tricksie of Trixie glimmer smith is that she is me.
A look behind the magicians curtain.
Certainly as I started developing my own games and exploring the indie scene where I now dwell almost entirely like some kind of goblin I found a lot more representation that I felt I could connect to. Butterfly Soup, Hate Plus and any game that lets me pick my pronouns to give some examples off the top of my head.
K: “Bitchy Bickering Bisexuals” sounds like an awesome title for a game, I hope someone makes that soon. The useless trashfire character is totally relateable, we need more of those.
It definitely feels like a starting off point for a lot of the devs I’ve talked to that they will often make their own games in a way that feels representative of themselves, before discovering other games that feel right too, I think it’s a community thing where the more you associate with the groups making those games the more like you are to find yourself.
Have you got any projects currently underway you can tell us about? Or maybe stories you are really keen to get out there but haven’t started working on yet?
P: I’m not currently working on any of my own games now that I have a job in games, but I am doing some writing! Very slowly. Painfully slowly. Why do writers do this to themselves.
My writing is mostly short horror stories about lesbians in the 1890s-1920s since I love that genre.
One includes vaping estrogen.
K: I mean it works with nicotine, so vaping could be a suitable method for absorbing estrogen. We need to get science on this!
Are there any big lessons you’ve learned so far in your game making journey That you think would help others on their own paths?
P: As cliche as it sounds I think having confidence in your self and just making the game you want to make is the best way to get going! It took me years of trying stuff and giving up because I didn’t feel confident in my abilities, my stories and my writing. Even a few weeks before I released The Testimony of Trixie Glimmer Smith I was considering giving up on it! But people enjoyed it, and it was worth the time I spent on it!
If you want to tell a story, tell it! Even if you don’t think you can!
K: Well that seems like the perfect positive point to finish up this interview. Thank you so much Poppy for joining me on Digital Diversity. Parsnip is a beautiful game and I can’t wait to play your other games.
Any final thoughts or shout-outs you’d like to share?
P: I’ve run out of thoughts, just make all your straight friends buy LGBT+ peoples games! Make them do it at gunpoint if you have to!