Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Releases Today!

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Today we pushed the big red “publish” button for Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail! (Disclaimer: the button was neither big nor red, it was more of a salmon color.)

If you haven’t seen any of my other posts about Echoes of the Fey, it is a visual novel that blends the mystery of detective fiction with a high fantasy world. Missing people! Elves! Conspiracies! Spells! A bleak post-war world! A bleak post-war world that also has the occasional sirin! (That’s a bird with the face of a person). Depending on how deep you get in the sidequests, it’s anywhere between 4-6 hours long, with a 2o+ song soundtrack and multiple ending variations depending on how you perform your investigation. The central mystery of the episode is wrapped up, but The Fox’s Trail kicks off a multi-part story that will be continued in future episodes.

Head on over to our itch.io storefront to purchase the game! You’ll get a Steam key when we release on that platform and a DRM free version now. Or check out the first two parts of the prequel novella over on the Woodsy Studio blog!

Echoes of the Fey Out TOMORROW! (And new trailer)

We’re just one day away from the release of my first visual novel in fully collaboration with Woodsy Studio, Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail. So today we have a release trailer, inspired by classic noir detective films.

If you’re interested in the world of Echoes of the Fey, check out the Woodsy Studio blog, where I’ve been publishing (in installments) a short story/novella that takes place before The Fox’s Trail. This story introduces a number of characters that will be important in the first two Echoes of the Fey visual novels.

You’ll be able to buy The Fox’s Trail tomorrow at woodsy-studio.itch.io, which will get you a steam key when we release on steam (with trading cards and achievements) as soon as we’re through Greenlight!

Echoes of the Fey – Vocal Theme

Yesterday, we debuted the vocal theme for Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail. Check it out!

This is the first time I’ve ever (co)written a song for a game, so I thought I’d write a bit about the thought process that went into it. It all starts way back at the beginning of development, when we were brainstorming about the aesthetic of the project. For some important story reasons (specifically the motivation behind the Human/Leshin war) there was always going to be a light steampunk element to the world. Traditional steampunk is a little played out/a bit of a cliche, so we aimed for a variation on the idea.

The fledgling machinery of our world isn’t powered by coal or literal steam, but magic drawn from Fey rifts. It’s clean energy. The world isn’t (visibly) polluted by its use. So I guess our aesthetic is Clean Steampunk? I don’t know, that sounds like a bad Skyrim mod so maybe I just need to come up with a new term.

ANYWAY, we aimed for a musical style that would reflect fantasy with an ethereal sci-fi touch. And we immediately seized upon Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack for Legend as an inspiration. Now, I realize this is a somewhat controversial work to cite. Legend was originally scored by Jerry Goldsmith, who was replaced by the studio near the very end of production on the film. Tangerine Dream was chosen to (bizarrely) appeal to a more youthful audience, because apparently the kids were way into new age electronica in 1986. A lot of people prefer the Jerry Goldsmith score and think the TD score (completely in only a few weeks to meet the deadline) is dissonant with the visuals of the film. Jenny (my co-writer, artist, and composer on this project) think those people are crazy.

A few months into production, we watched Legend again and I was struck by the over-the-top cheesy ballad that closes out the film.

Is it a good song? I’m not even sure. But it evokes a certain time in fantasy/action film making that is incredibly distinct. Legend wasn’t the first film or the last to end on a dreamy ballad that casually drops the title throughout. The Neverending Story and The Last Unicorn, for example. And if you widen the definition of the credit song ballad to take out the requirement of naming the title, you draw in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Princess Bride, and a ton of other films made from the mid 80s through the 90s.

Video games have their own version of this phenomenon. Final Fantasy games starting with VIII have prominently featured jpop ballads, and the Kingdom Hearts spinoffs have followed suit. Final Fantasy IX is probably the best one.

Final Fantasy XV is going to have a cover of Stand By Me by Florence and the Machine instead, if you want to know how bizarre things have gotten over at Square-Enix.

Thinking about these traditions gave me an idea: why couldn’t we do something like this for Echoes of the Fey? We were already shooting for a sound that invoked the fantasy films of the mid-80s. Why shouldn’t we have a vocal theme song.

This should have been a hell of an undertaking, since neither of us can sing. But we were lucky. The voice actress who plays Sofya in Echoes of the Fey, Amber Leigh, is also a singer. Once she said she was down to record the song, we knew we had to do it. Jenny wrote the composition and a version of the lyrics that, unfortunately, could have been seen as a spoiler for some of the events of The Fox’s Trail. That was fine for a song that played over the credits, but we decided that we wanted to use it as a promotional tool as well.

So I took a crack at songwriting. Let me tell you, it is not as easy as my previous experiences with penning lyrics: swapping words around in popular songs to make twitter jokes.

My first pass had the correct number of syllables on each line, but apparently it matters where you put the vowels (especially in a slow paced song) because I was trying to force Amber to hold some really terrible sounds.

So I did a second pass, and with Jenny’s help (and patience) we arrived on the lyrics we are using today. And we’re really happy with it! Our final product feels like a mix between the cheesy fantasy ballads that inspired us and the eerie Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalementi collaborations of the same era. Which is a fantastic result for me, since this project is all about mashing together fantasy and noire and making them kiss.

Hopefully you enjoy the song and I look forward to everyone playing the game that inspired it in (hopefully) a month!

Echoes of the Fey Greenlight Campaign and Update

I’m happy to announce that yesterday we officially launched the Steam Greenlight campaign for Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail. If you want to check that out (and vote yes!) the page is here. We’re hoping to be able to release later this summer simultaneously on all PC platforms, but Greenlight is a mysterious black box so fingers crossed!

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We touched on our progress in the Greenlight page, but I thought I’d give a bit of a wider picture the current state of development. Our engine (the framework we use to put in scenes, GUI elements, items, and choices) was completed–except for some minor polish–several months ago. We’re using GameMaker Studio for the first time, so this was a fairly significant step. GameMaker can work for pretty much anything 2d, but it’s not hardwired for a lot of text input/drawing. Once that was done, we were basically just been working on content–writing, art, music, and the such–for a while. Of course, that’s what people come to visual novels for.

As of today, the script is basically done. And almost all of it is in the game. You can play through from beginning to end and pretty much the only thing you’ll miss out on is the end of one side quest and the optional epilogue scene with a character of your choice. The soundtrack is finished except for some polish on a few older songs and a vocal song that will play over the credits. We’ve received but haven’t processed/put in all of the voice acting (that’s actually a very late step in development because when we do that we have to fork off a new branch of development for the mobile version, which will have significantly less voice work).

All the character portraits are complete and in-game. The only thing left to do on them is optional dyes for Sofya’s outfit, which will be rewards for getting gold pieces from side quests. Backgrounds and the overworld are mostly complete. One building that’s part of a side quest isn’t fully interactive yet, but that’s about it. Several CGs are complete and in the game, but there are more to do. And of course there’s testing! With over 100 choices in the game, testing will be something of an ordeal but (of course) we’re going to do it to make sure we launch as bug-free as possible.

I also promised a short story prequel and that’s started but I definitely need to get to work when I have the time (thanks, Overwatch). We’re hoping to be ready in the next month, then take a couple weeks to focus on marketing and release in the very near future! Of course I’m being completely vague about release dates because (especially with a two person team) things happen and I really don’t want to set a date then miss it.

In the meantime, follow development over at the new official twitter for Woodsy Studio, and just in case you missed it before, vote for us on Greenlight!

You Shall Not Pass: Bloodborne, Dark Souls 2, and Cutting Open the Gameplay Loop

From the lamp, I run straight down the stairs on the left, past a crazed huntsman. He notices me but doesn’t have time to attack. He’ll follow me, so I just keep sprinting. I veer left again down another set of stairs. There I find two monstrous creatures with a hammers where their hands should be. I roll around them, only briefly slowing down if my stamina is drained. Past them I find an elevator which takes me to a bridge full of more bloodthirsty huntsmen. If I just start crossing the bridge and retreat, a giant fireball–a trap meant to wreck me–will clear most of them from my path. Once the fireball has passed, I juke around any enemies who survived the blast of flames. At the end of the bridge stands another hammer monster. I wait to see where he’s going to attack and I roll around him in the other direction. There’s a huntsman with a shield behind me after I dodge so I still can’t slow down to take in the scenery. Instead, I head for the branch to the left, up another set of stairs, and find my destination: a door made of fog.

Over a year later, I still remember the path to Father Gascoigne in Bloodborne. Every turn, dodge, and trap is etched into my mind from the dozen or so times I ran the obstacle course the first time I played the game. Gascoigne is the first major challenge of Bloodborne. He’s a highly mobile boss who transforms midway through the battle into a furiously aggressive monster. For a beginner, he serves as a bottleneck, forcing players to learn how to parry with your offhand weapon, a mechanic that becomes increasingly important as the game goes on. Mastering that mechanic makes Gascoigne relatively simple (and there’s a hidden item that can assist as well) but for a lot of people, including me, he’s the first major roadblock in Bloodborne.

The difficulty of Gascoigne makes the run above all the more important. Learning to beat Gascoigne means studying his attack patterns and practicing how to counter them. And, like many Bloodborne bosses, fighting him often feels like beating your head against a wall until it finally breaks. Anything that gets in the way of trying the boss again is a frustration, so it is a relief to run to the fight without being forced to deal with enemies along the way.

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Echoes of the Fey: Building a Better (More Equal) Fantasy World

Fantasy realms are pretty shitty places for women. Women generally aren’t in recognized positions of power. They are used as chess pieces in political machinations. They are constantly under the threat of violence and that violence is used to motivate male heroes (and inspire hatred towards male villains).

In modern fantasy, there are usually exceptions–women who wield power behind the scenes or who take on traditionally male roles within society as established in the setting–but these are explicitly portrayed as exceptions.  That’s progress of a sort, but it still leaves something to be desired. Daenerys Targaryen is great, but she doesn’t make up for the fact that the majority of female characters in Game of Thrones wield little-to-no power in-universe.  And I don’t just mean major, viewpoint characters but also background characters. (To stave off criticism, I’ll say that the TV show at least puts the occasional male prostitute in the brothels and female warrior among the wildlings, and GoT is hardly the worst offender in this field.)

I don’t think this is a controversial statement, though I know there are plenty of people who don’t think it’s bad. And for those people, there’s plenty of books, movies, and games out there for you. I’d just like to see something different. So when I’m crafting my own fantasy setting for my own game, I want to do something different.

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My Next Game: Echoes of the Fey

Last week, I finally released 26 Gy, a project that has been weirdly hanging over my head for way too long. So, what’s next? Something big, that a few of you might already know about. For my next project, I’m fully teaming up with Woodsy Studio for a multi-project visual novel series called Echoes of the Fey. This isn’t a new partnership by any means–I did court/debate dialog on Serafina’s Crown and she did music/art on The Closer: Game of the Year Edition–but this is the first time we’re going to fully invest on the same project.

Echoes of the Fey takes place in the realm of Oraz, a land split between Humans in the east and Leshin (the politically correct term for Elves in Oraz) in the west, with a great forest separating them. Leshin do not age and can use powerful sorcery called Fey Magic. Humans aren’t so lucky, though they eventually learned to build large machines—Fey Reactors—to harvest the magical energy used by the Leshin.

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Leshin – Art by Jenny Gibbons

The activation of the Fey Reactors sparked a Leshin invasion of the East. Stronger, faster, and capable of magic, the Leshin thought the war would be over quickly. It wasn’t. Humans fought them tooth-and-nail with superior numbers and dragged the conflict out over thirty years. Eventually, Leshin sentiment turned against the war. The people overthrew their religious government and came to terms with the Humans. They restored the original borders and began a new, unstable era of peace. That’s where our story begins.

I know this sounds like a typical Lord of the Rings derivative, something I’ve been hesitant to write for long time. But it’s not. Echoes of the Fey is high fantasy with a twist: it’s not really high fantasy. It is a detective series, inspired as much by Raymond Chandler as J.R.R. Tolkien. The main character is not a king or a prince, and her goal is not a throne or the salvation of her people. She is a private investigator, and all she wants is enough gold to pay her rent and keep her in whiskey for the foreseeable future.

Sofya Rykov- Concept Art by Wendy Gram, Coloring by Jenny Gibbons

Sofya Rykov

Sofya Rykov is a veteran of the Great War and a victim of its final weeks. The daughter of a wealthy noblewoman, she had secured a cushy position guarding a Fey Reactor deep in Human territory. In the last days of the war, the Leshin launched a desperate attack on the reactor and detonated it, killing thousands. Well within the blast radius, Sofya should have died that day. But she barely survived, and in the wake of the disaster found herself with unstable magic powers that no Human before her has ever possessed.

Frightened of what Humans or Leshin might do to her if they discovered her powers, Sofya withdrew from society and now ekes out a living as a mercenary, investigator, and (occasionally) con-woman. She is assisted by her friend and doctor, a Leshin by the name of Heremon ir-Caldy.

Overworld Character Sprites

Character sprites by Jenny Gibbons

Each chapter of Echoes of the Fey will start with a client, a mystery, and an angle that will force Sofya to explore her own magical abilities as well as the evolving relationship between humans and Leshin.

While the realm is nominally at peace, the truth is that new wars are brewing. During the conflict, Humans united under the banner of the powerful House Lapidus, which now asserts a claim to an empire that spans from the Leshin border to the eastern coasts of Oraz. Imperial troops spread across the land attempt to maintain Lapidus rule against other ambitious families and county governments.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, the new Leshin leaders—The Alliance of Free Cities—struggle to unite a people previously only united by their religion. New extremist factions have emerged in the wake of the old clerics disbanding.

Echoes of the Fey is centered on the Human border city of Vodotsk, a scarred city that had been occupied by Leshin forces for decades prior to the peace accord. Humans and Leshin, just months separated from a brutal war, struggle to co-exist peacefully. The ruling houses of the region are defunct and control of the city shifts between an interim county government and newly-arrived Imperial officers and sympathizers who seek to add the lands to the Lapidus tracts.

The Fox’s Trail

The first full episode, The Fox’s Trail, involves a missing Leshin veteran and the youngest son of a wealthy Human house, Eduard Galkin. The Fox’s Trail will be a choice-driven visual novel with multiple endings and character side quests scattered throughout Vodotsk. In preparation, I (hopefully) will be releasing a free short story/novella The Prophet’s Arm, detailing an early case involving a key side character in The Fox’s Trail.

Hopefully all of this is coming in May 2016, but we know how things get delayed so I’m not ready to put a full release date out there for either the VN or the novella. We work fast and a good amount of the game is already finished but, you know, shit happens.