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Drag Queens, Fighting Games and 'Backroll' Netcode: A Chat with the 2022 Winner of AT&T's Unlocked Games

Working on Drag Her! is "a dream that was made possible by AT&T," says narrative designer Jessica Antenorcruz.

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You may not have heard of Drag Her! before--not the most unusual thing for an unreleased indie game--but this drag queen fighting game is poised to take the gaming world by storm when it hits PC, Mac, and Nintendo Switch in 2023. And AT&T is helping to make it happen.

Among AT&T's many efforts to support women in tech is the Unlocked Games competition, which showcases the work of independent game developers who identify as women. Drag Her! from Fighting Chance Games was this year's winner, and we sat down with narrative designer Jessica Antenorcruz to chat about the spoils of victory, doing LGBTQ representation their way, and teaming up with all these awesome real-life drag celebrities.

"Our. Game. Is. Awesome!" she said. "It's fun, it's stupid, it's silly, it's campy. It's just kind of a celebration of drag, but also video games, because we grew up playing just the most bonkers games…And we decided that a bunch of drag queens and drag kings should be in a fighting game!"

Jessica Antenorcruz
Jessica Antenorcruz

As Drag Her! is an independent game, however, money is always a concern. The team put together a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, while simultaneously competing for $100,000 in the Unlocked Games competition. Antenorcruz said that money is going to change everything not just for Drag Her!, but also for her own personal life. Because it means that, after having to work a side gig at the library during much of the game's development, she gets to draw a salary and focus her attention more fully on Drag Her!.

That money also led to some quality-of-life improvements to her home workspace--which she described as "not set up for me sitting here and working for eight hours"--and a fix for her headset that broke just minutes before they presented Drag Her! at AT&T Unlocked Games. "It's really exciting to be able to have a salary and work on a video game. That’s a dream that was made possible by AT&T!"

And that's a good thing, too, because Drag Her! is built to take full advantage of a modern, faster, low-latency connection, like 5G from AT&T. Fighting games are among the most fast-paced and twitch-oriented types of video games, and much lag simply isn't tolerable. Fighting Chance uses rollback netcode--or "backroll" netcode as they like to joke--that makes playing against someone on the other side of the world feel just like playing with somebody on the couch next to you.

"We had a really interesting demo playthrough, and we played with people in the Philippines, and we played with people in Thailand, and there were no issues with lag or anything," Antenorcruz said. "And that was really exciting to us."

With all that stuff handled, it allows the players to focus on what really matters: the incredibly dope roster of drag stars that Drag Her! is bringing with it, which includes former RuPaul's Drag Race contestants Alaska 5000, Manila Luzon, and BenDeLaCreme. It wasn't easy putting this crew together--"nobody has really had drag performers in a video game before," Antenorcruz said, so they had to figure out what the business side of things would even look like.

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Fortunately, though, they "had a lot of really early support from local drag performers" in Southern California, Texas, and Pennsylvania, where the bulk of the team members live. And she cited Dragula season 2 winner Biqtch Puddin and season 1 contestant Pinche as two of those early supporters who helped pave the way for Drag Her! to actually happen. But it’s still an indie game, and money has been a limiting factor at times--they haven’t been able to work out deals with every drag performer they've tried to recruit.

But it doesn’t sound like Drag Her! is hurting too much from those omissions.

"Luckily, our current roster is insane and full of people who are like, 'We love it, we see it, we understand what you're doing, we want to be on board'."

Naturally, of course, the Fighting Chance crew thought that Drag Her! would be a great opportunity to inject an LGBTQ perspective into gaming in a purely joyful way--no tragedies or sadness allowed.

"It's obviously a very queer-celebratory game, not just in content, but in all of the facets of it, the team behind it, etc," she said.

"I think a lot of times in games, it can be a very somber topic, right? There's a lot of more serious stories about it, and those are important--and those are our stories, too. But why can't we just have fun for one time, you know? We just wanted to throw out a really silly, fun game. And I think we're doing it."

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