We’ve got achievements! We’ve got trading cards! At some point in the near future, we’ll have a demo and soundtrack DLC! Go check it out!
We’ve got achievements! We’ve got trading cards! At some point in the near future, we’ll have a demo and soundtrack DLC! Go check it out!
For the first time in almost thirty years, the land of Oraz is at peace. For three decades, the Humans and Leshin of Oraz waged a brutal war over the right of Humans to power their cities and machines with magic. But the Leshin people have overthrown their theocratic leaders who pushed to extend the war and ushered in a new era of reconciliation and reconstruction.
This peace, however, is fragile and strained under the shared history of the two peoples. This is true nowhere more than the city of Vodotsk, a historically Human city that was occupied and ruled by the Leshin for years. Old grudges among the Humans have re-emerged. Leshin who lived there for years as rulers must decide whether to return beyond the Great Forest or stay as second-class citizens. And the wounds of the war threaten to re-open whenever the two peoples come into contact.
Echoes of the Fey is a series of detective stories set in the high fantasy world of Oraz starring Sofya Rykov, a Human private investigator with a dangerous secret: following a near-death experience in the war, she spontaneously developed the ability to use magic. She is joined by her Leshin partner, Heremon ir-Caldy, a doctor fascinated by Sofya’s magic but fearful it will soon come at the cost of her life. Together, Sofya and Heremon navigate the mysteries and tensions of Vodotsk, the city they intend to make both their hiding place and their home.
The first visual novel episode of Echoes of the Fey, “The Fox’s Trail” releases summer 2016. In “The Fox’s Trail,” Sofya and Heremon are retained by a Leshin woman to find her son, a prison guard who allegedly died during the last days of the war. Finding the missing Leshin will force Sofya to confront the nuanced relationship between her people and Heremon’s.
To complicate matters, Sofya’s magical powers have taken a confounding turn, allowing her to transform into an unassuming alley cat. Despite Heremon’s warnings, Sofya is certain that this ability will assist her in uncovering the latest mystery to plague Vodotsk.
“The Fox’s Trail” is an English-language visual novel with multiple story variations. Will you uncover the truth behind the mystery on your own? And once you do, what will you do with that information? Your investigation will change the future of the city and its people. Over 100 individual choice points exist throughout “The Fox’s Trail.” Some will improve your relationship with the characters. Others will provide you critical information. And some will change the fate of the people you will come to know. Explore Vodotsk in side-scrolling segments and assist other characters in minor side-quests to uncover more about the history and lore of the realm.
You can find a full, detailed walk-through in the Steam community (may contain spoilers!)
Written by Malcolm Pierce and Jenny Gibbons
Art by Jenny Gibbons and Wendy Gram
Music by Jenny Gibbons
Programming by Jenny Gibbons with use of VN Edge Engine by ThinkBoxly
Sound design by Jenny Gibbons
Sound effects by: Drew Becker, Adobe Audition Library, Free SFX
“The Fox’s Trail” also features voice acting–fully performed critical scenes and expression lines throughout–by the following awesome voice actors:
SOFYA RYKOV – Amber Leigh
HEREMON IR-CALDY – David Dixon
ARKADY VANZIN – CJ Aulenbach
EDUARD GALKIN – Dillon Taylor
EMILIA OSBORN – Michelle Michaels
LUKA TETERIV – J.P. Daman
TIATHA IR-ADECH – Kristyn Mass
ANYA SAITOV – Helen Edgeworth
VIOLA ARISTOV – Olivia Steele
SIMION IR-SHEAF – Jacob Anderson
PRISONER: Isaac Lawson
Hello visual novel fans! I’m happy to announce that Serafina’s Crown is out TODAY on Steam, with a full set of achievements and trading cards that are all new to this version. And for the week of release, it’s 15% off. I’m excited to finally bring the world of Darzia to Steam. Go check it out here and enjoy! http://store.steampowered.com/app/449340/
First of all, let me be frank: I haven’t had much formal training in music. I rarely know which terms to use when, or how to technically describe some of the tactics I use while composing. But I grew up surrounded by musicians, started churning out my own music in middle school, took a couple college courses in composition, and kept churning more out. I’ve recorded about 19 full CDs of music altogether. So I’d like to think I have a decent amount of experience.
I’ve always composed with keyboard synthesizers using a wide array of digital instruments. I use software like Cakewalk or Ableton Live to record each instrument on separate channels. For me, the process of picking out the right sounds can take up at least half–if not much more–of the full time required to complete the song. Even once I’m done recording, I go back and keep changing the sounds–or adding new ones–until I’m satisfied.
It’s fantastic that the digital platforms for composing gives me that freedom. But as a result, I’ve noticed that almost all my songs tend to accumulate more and more instruments as they go from start to finish. In the beginning of the song there may only be two instruments; by the end there are ten, all playing at once in a mad dramatic frenzy.
After spending time with some other local musicians in Game Jams or panels, I’ve realized that my instrumental tendencies are not necessarily good ones. While I’m proud of my ear for instruments, I shouldn’t let the arrangement overwhelm the the structure of the song itself–or in many cases, keep me from thinking about the overall structure in general.
Here’s a version of the main theme for my upcoming visual novel, Echoes of the Fey. It is more or less a normal composition of mine in terms of number of instruments.
The overall feel of the soundtrack was very inspired by the “Legend” soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. But it was after I saw the movie “It Follows,” composed by Disasterpeace, that I started considering how many instruments I used. I was in awe of how a few simple digital sounds could create such compelling music, without complex instrumentation (that’s not to say, of course, that Disasterpeace didn’t work some brilliant technical wizardry to stretch those sounds the way they did).
This forced me to think more deeply about the notes I was playing rather than obsessing over adding more instruments, drums, or sound effects to amp the drama as the song played. It also made me spend more time with the one or two instruments I did select, adding reverb, flangers, or other effects until they sounded just right. Here’s the result for Magic Energy:
I haven’t adhered faithfully to this rule all the time, I confess. But I’m trying to at least break my old habits. So far, I’ve learned that less can be more, even when it comes to increasing the drama of a song. I even made a song that only uses one instrument, and I’m damn proud of it. I can only hope that my music sounds as good as what inspired it!
Which version do you like better?
Voice actors are now cast for Echoes of the Fey. See the original VA posting here.
For thirty years, the continent of Oraz was wracked by the great war between its peoples. The East was ruled by the kingdom of the humans, divided up into counties and family houses. Beyond the great forest of the west were the Leshin, undying men and women with a strong connection to the Fey, capable of powerful magic. When Humans learned to tap into the Fey with technology–powerful Fey reactors–the Leshin staged a decades-long invasion to disarm Humans of their Fey reactor technology.
As the years drew long, the Leshin resolve for war weakened and was propped up by a shrinking group of religious fanatics. In the last days of the war, these fanatics staged a suicide attack on the city of Onigrad. In what would come to be known as the Immolation, extremist Leshin mages detonated the city’s Fey reactor, killing thousands of humans.
Horrified by the actions of their religious leaders, the Leshin people revolted and the new government surrendered to the humans, ceding all lands seized in the invasion. The Immolation ended the war, but with a loss instead of the victory the extremists hoped for.
One Human soldier, Sofya Rykov, survived the blast radius of the Immolation. She awoke severely injured and as she recovered, she found that she now had a connection to the Fey that was stronger than any Leshin mage. She could use magic previously unthinkable by humans. This is an ability she can barely control and must hide from everyone around her. Disowned as a traitor by her family, Sofya opens up a shop as a private investigator in Vodotsk, a town on the Human/Leshin border.
Tiatha ir-Adech’s son is dead. Or is he?
A Leshin soldier, Folren ir-Adech was supposedly killed while rising up against his extremist superiors when they attempted to execute several human prisoners of war. But Tiatha claims she never felt him die through the Fey, and his bonded pet fox remains in Vodotsk as if seeking its master. Not many humans would help Tiatha, but Sofya Rykov isn’t most humans. Besides, she just learned how to turn into a cat and that has to be useful in tracking a fox.
Female, mid 20s – The daughter of a powerful human noblewoman, Sofya was supposed to have a comfortable life in the Imperial Court. The events of the Immolation, however, imbue her with mysterious and unstable magical power that she must hide from all other humans. To make matters worse, she is disowned as a traitor. Hides her injuries–both physical and mental–behind a reckless optimism and a fondness for drink. Now works as a private investigator in the border city of Vodotsk, using her magic to secretly take investigative shortcuts.
Male, late 20s in appearance (actually much older as a Leshin) – Heremon is a Leshin (elven) medic with a stoic and analytical personality. Feels responsible for Sofya, who saved his life during the Immolation. Stays by her side out of a mix of affection, concern, and curiosity regarding her magical powers. Is deeply distrustful of other Leshin, due to the trauma of the Immolation.
Male, mid 30s – The Patriarch of Vodotsk County Krovakyn Church. A fanatic true believer, Arkady has quickly climbed the ranks in the church by feigning an interest in politics and a loyalty to the Emperor. Keeps his composure 90% of the time, but at times betrays the wildness of his devotion to the goddess Eszther.
Male, early 30s – Imperial Inspector for the city of Vodotsk, plagued by a youngest-son inferiority complex. Was never the best soldier or socialite, now he’s assigned to be the Imperial police force for a city that isn’t even technically part of the Empire. Gruff and desperate to prove himself. Butts heads with Sofya, who he sees as a threat to his legitimacy as inspector.
Female, 20s in appearance (again, much older since she is a Leshin) – Powerful and well connected Leshin. Looking for her son, Folren, who is believed to have died during the war. Convinced he is either still alive or buried improperly, she hires Sofya to find out what really happened to him, but may have alternate motives for the investigation.
Male, early 20s – Like Sofya, Eduard is a high-born noble who found himself in the wrong place in the last years of the war, and now at the center of Sofya’s investigation. Eduard conceals a dark secret from his time as a prisoner of war behind a flamboyant and flirtatious playboy persona.
Female, early 40s – Lady of the Krovykan Church in Vodotsk. Devoted to the people of the city and her own brand of populist church teachings, which she developed while secretly ministering during the city’s Leshin occupation. Jealous of the outsider Arkady’s position as Patriarch.
Female, mid 30s – Arch-Commander of the southwest region, Imperial Army. An army lifer who has spent most of her time in command positions due to her family’s wealth. When she was young, people didn’t think she deserved her job and she reacted by becoming one of the most ruthless and pragmatic leaders in the Imperial Army. Now struggles with peacetime and her place as an Imperial officer in an Empire that isn’t recognized by her family’s lands.
Female, mid 20s – A commoner who lived in Vodotsk during the occupation and Folren ir-Adech’s ex-girlfriend. Spent her entire teenage and adult life living under Leshin control and learned to be resourceful and clever. Was well-regarded as a smuggler and white hat grifter. Has had some trouble adjusting to human culture since the end of the occupation.
Last weekend I participated in the STL Scatterjam 2015 with Malcolm Pierce and musician Sarah Wahoff. Scatterjams are a type of game jam that started in St Louis last year. Teams are encouraged to form up long before the jam begins, thereby skipping the awkward phase of most game jams in which teams are hastily formed amongst strangers. While it’s still good to try working with new people during a jam, for a Scatterjam you have more time to reach out to other members of your community and ensure the team you form is a good fit. Group festivities are only at the beginning and end of the jam; while working on games, teams can scatter as they please to work at home or elsewhere.
It’s a broad theme that can encompass almost anything, so my team had a hard time deciding what sort of game to make at first. We drank beers and threw some ideas onto a white board. But as soon as Malcolm said, “What if you’re a vampire detective…” we knew we were on to something fun.
We decided to use RPG Maker like last year, and Malcolm is the RPG Maker expert, so he got to building the environment while I sat down and started drawing. We decided to put all of our assets through a specific color pallet, so that the tiles that come packaged with RPG Maker would have a fresh look. Sarah started composing some melodies, and we all dove deeply into the work.
On the second day of the jam I took a short break from drawing to try collaborating with Sarah on music. I haven’t had many chances to collaborate with other musicians, so I really enjoyed rearranging one of her melodies into a new piece. You can hear the song we made together in the game, and a little clip of it at the end of the trailer.
Finally, I asked David Dixon if he had any interest in throwing his voice talent into the mix, because I’ve really enjoyed working with him on projects like the Serafina’s Saga animation and Serafina’s Crown. My team and and I tried to voice the rest of the cast with our own humble VA efforts (and less than ideal recording setup).
By the end of the game jam, we had this!
It has some pretty rough edges like anything that comes out of a game jam (and a few of the art assets may be a little familiar :p), but altogether I’m proud of our little dark comedy. There’s about 20-30 minutes of playable content altogether, including alternate endings.
If you give it a try, I hope you enjoy it!
My first three games (Serafina’s Saga, Quantum Conscience, and Serafina’s Crown) were all made with Ren’Py. Ren’Py is fantastic software that is free, easy to use, and reasonably versatile. When I first started making Serafina’s Saga, I knew very little coding outside of HTML, and I was very grateful for a program that required no programming knowledge to get started. After going through the typical tutorials and regularly checking the forums for help, I was well on my way to completing my project.
With Quantum Conscience, I wanted to make something more unique, and to do that I needed to push beyond the standard VN boundaries into the land of programming. I was lucky enough to get some programming assistance from “CheeryMoya” & FunnyGuts” (twinturtlegames.com), who already had a basic infoscreen system I could use, and they gave me some helpful tips on adding a system for reading thoughts. At this point I still had no idea what I was doing with the code, but I was able to get a system up and working. Gradually, as I began to customize and tweak the code, I learned what each line or function meant and what purpose it served. Eventually I was able to add a little code of my own.
Around the time I finished Quantum Conscience, I knew enough coding to be dangerous, but I still couldn’t program something new on my own; I just knew how to mess with other people’s code. So I decided to take programming seriously. Inspired by a local group of women called Coder Girl, I signed up for Harvard’s free CS50 course online. I made it a little over halfway through the course, and although I never finished, I learned enough about programming to jump-start Serafina’s Crown and add the mini-game debate system completely on my own.
By the time I finished Serafina’s Crown, I felt confident enough to call myself a programmer. I also wanted to keep pushing into new boundaries and add more “gamifying” elements to future visual novels. Specifically, I wanted to add a simple world for the player to roam and explore in between cutscenes. Although I could add these elements to Ren’Py with a lot of programming, I wondered if it was time for me to try a new engine. I considered RPGMaker, but it doesn’t yet have enough graphics or porting options for my tastes. So I turned to Game Maker.
My first few attempts to start a visual novel in Game Maker were extremely difficult and overwhelming. It took a ridiculously long time for me to get the tiniest parts of a text system working correctly. Then I found the Edge VN Engine by ThinkBoxly. It was well worth the price to get some solid code to start building a visual novel in Game Maker.
The Edge VN system was a sleek and solid platform from which to start building. But I still needed to build a lot; I remained a long way from the comfortable environment of Ren’Py to which I’d grown accustomed. I needed to add an in-game choice menu, a character costume layer system, character expression changes, branching dialogue systems, and a basic menu system altogether … all things that come default with Ren’Py. Fortunately, the EdgeVN creator, Luke Chasteen, was very helpful to me in my endeavors, and has since continued to add related features to his Edge VN engine.
Altogether, the transition from Ren’Py to Game Maker has not been an easy one. It has taken me several months to set up a coding environment from which I can comfortably write and expect to run smoothly like Ren’Py. Personally, I wanted to grow as a programmer, so I accepted the challenge along with the time sacrifice required. I continue to code other aspects of the game beyond the visual novel scenes, which in my case involves adding a 2D side-scrolling world with parallax layers, animations, and an inventory system. But now that I finally have a foundation with which to build my next visual novel, I am excited about all the possibilities ahead. The flexibility of Game Maker will allow me to add almost any gaming element to my visual novels that I desire.
A lot of things have been changing for me and my little studio over the last few months. Firstly, I got a new full time job in the games industry, and I have been very excited to work with a great group of devs, artists, and game testers. I’m learning a lot every day and that makes me happy indeed.
But I’m not done making my own visual novels, and although I technically have less time to work on them now, that will be balanced by the fact that my team is growing. Along with Malcolm Pierce, my co-writer for Serafina’s Crown, artist Wendy Gram will join the team for my next visual novel! The visual novel will also be created with Game Maker (thanks largely to the Edge VN Engine by ThinkBoxly) which will allow me to add more game-play elements into the story than in the past.
I can’t tell you much about the new visual novel story just yet, except that it will be a fantasy noir of sorts, with an all new world and all new characters. Here’s a peek at two of the main characters:
And here’s one of my compositions for the game thus far:
And for the last bit of news, from now on my games will be published through a collaboration with Thesis Games. I look forward to sharing more with you as game development progresses!
On many occasions, I have seen this question asked, or someone has asked me directly: “Do you have any tips for writing female characters?” My answer to this question is simple:
I’m sure I’ve written plenty of bad female characters. Men aren’t the only ones who struggle with this problem. We have all seen women portrayed a certain way in mass media, or through society’s expectations, so we tend to approach female characters as being distinctly female long before we start focusing on them as well-rounded characters.
In one of the first novels I ever wrote, my main character was a pathetic, swooning, boy-crazy snooze-ball. She embodied some of the worst stereotypes that women are typically given in popular entertainment. It didn’t matter that I was female and writing a female character. I didn’t sympathize with her at all. I was just writing a woman as I thought she was supposed to be written.
I didn’t realize my mistake until many years later. Before that, I tried switching over to writing male protagonists. I guess after that first disastrous novel, I thought to myself, “Wow, women are no fun to write about at all.” It wasn’t until many years later that I understood how blinded I was by my own acceptance of a woman’s typical role in mass media. And oddly enough, it was my boyfriend – now husband – who helped me realize my error.
Since then, I have tried to get better at writing strong, interesting female characters. I’m still working on improving. And that doesn’t mean I never write a female character who has lots of weaknesses.
Another mistake I see a lot of writers make when trying to write “strong female characters” is that they make her completely perfect, with barely any weaknesses whatsoever. That is not an interesting character. That is a robot. Just make her human, with a decent balance of strengths and weaknesses that will keep us wondering whether she will overcome each challenge she faces.
If you continue to struggle with writing good female characters, as I do, try to take gender out of the equation completely when you’re first coming up with your characters. Outline their back-story, personality, and circumstances before you slap them with a male or female label. Or try switching the genders after you have fleshed out your general cast, and see if that might make a more interesting combo.
I’m not saying you can’t have any differences between your male and female characters. However…
Otherwise, gender simply shouldn’t play a large role in creating your characters. Yes, we may have different bodies, different hormones. But the differences are not black and white, and they fall in a scale from one person to the next. We are all human, and the rest is circumstantial.
Over the last couple of years, I have discovered that writing stories with branching plot paths might be one of my favorite creative processes in the world… and also the most frustrating.
I truly believe that every writer has a different style and process that works best for her, and while techniques exist to help any writer execute her vision, the truth is that there is no one or even best method for strong writing in general. Personally, I have always fought against the motto that a lot of writers intone when asked how to write: “Writing is editing,” they often say. “Writing your first draft helps you get your thoughts onto paper, but the true writing happens during your second, third, or even fourth draft.”
For me and my own writing style, that motto is bull shit. Yes, I believe that editing is important. Yes, I’m willing to admit that maybe I need to do more of it sometimes. But for me, something magical happens when I write that “first draft.” I don’t approach it lightly. I spend a lot of time thinking, planning, and feeling what I want to portray before I start writing. And once I do start writing, I feel as if my words come to life as I write them. I feel as if my characters are really in the room, saying what I tell them to say, moving as I tell them to move. I feel a bond between myself and the world I’m creating that is fundamental to my ongoing muse. I discover the story even as I’m writing it. The characters tell me more about themselves as I write them; they lead me towards the twists and turns of the plot, even if my outline disagrees with them.
Often, as I write that first draft, I will stop and rewrite some of my freshest paragraphs, tweaking small sections until the scene flows to match what’s in my head. Sometimes, I’ll need to change something earlier in the story to support something new that I’ve discovered while writing the new scene; if so, I make that change immediately.
Generally, this is my process. Although I go back and edit some later, those changes tend to be surface-level, polishing the pace and consistency of the story. My “first draft” is my most important, my most treasured, and often the closest to my final form of the story. This is not to say that I never go back and rewrite scenes or even delete scenes if necessary—that agonizing process writers love to describe as killing your babies. For me, the reason that it’s so difficult to go back and change something from my first draft is because it feels wrong. When I tried to describe this feeling to my sister once, I told her, “To me, that scene already happened. To go back and change it would be like enforcing time travel. It’s just… wrong.”
This is just how writing works for me. When the story feels right, it feels right—it feels real—and I don’t just casually change it for the sake of wrapping my book or script into a perfect, tidy package. I’m not saying that’s a writing style to which every writer should aspire. It’s just what works for me, for better or worse, and that’s that.
If re-writing means time traveling through your story, then writing a branching narrative means forming parallel universes.
This, I can do. When I first start creating parallel universes, it doesn’t feel wrong. It feels plain fun. “What if Blaire lets something slip in this scene, and Amalek discovers his secret? Well, let’s find out!” As I write an alternate branch, sometimes I have so much fun that I worry I’m being indulgent. But I can allow myself to do it anyway, because I want my audience to experience an outcome catered to their own decisions for the story, and this allows both me and the player to have fun in the process.
Writing branching plot paths also allows me to discover new aspects of my characters that would have remained hidden, otherwise. For example: while writing “Serafina’s Crown,” I actively fought against making Arken a romance-able character, despite the fact he’s probably my favorite character in the series. Next, I made the mistake of allowing the player to flirt with him, as Odell, on multiple occasions. And while writing one of those flirtatious branches, I felt both myself and Arken finally cave. “Arken wouldn’t ignore a cute girl flirting with him repeatedly,” I had to admit. “He just wouldn’t.” So at last, I started writing a romance path between Odell and Arken. In the process, Arken’s emotional baggage started rising to the surface, and resulted in some great scenes. Now, out of all the other romance possibilities for Odell, Arken is probably my favorite and most meaningful option.
Writing branching plot paths can be exhilarating, enlightening, and altogether very rewarding for both me and my audience. Until, like a bug flying into a spiderweb, I get trapped in it.
And this is when writing branching plot paths quickly transforms from being my favorite process in the world to the most frustrating and confusing ordeal. That “reality” I so enjoyed exploring and discovering when I started writing the story starts to slip from my grasp. While writing one branch, I’m distracted by thinking about what’s simultaneously happening in another branch. “Oh, Blaire and Amalek totally trust each other right now. Except… they were at each other’s throats just a minute ago! Wait, no, that was a different plot path.” I struggle to hold all the different paths in my mind until it starts to feel like a maze. Events start to lose significance to me as I write them, because they don’t feel like reality anymore, just one of many possibilities. And then the writing process which I initially found so exhilarating becomes purely exhausting.
The moral of my story, I suppose, is that writing a story with significant plot branches is no walk in the park. It may seem like a blast at first, and you may feel as if the universe has opened up and given you permission to do whatever you please without consequence. But if you want your full narrative to remain a significant experience from start to finish, branches and all, then maintaining your plethora of plot paths becomes a trying task, indeed.
As I continue to write large interactive narratives (Serafina’s Crown will be my third), I search for ways to ease the symptoms of emotional melancholy and logical dizziness. Sometimes, I try to focus on one plot path at a time, so that I can give it my full attention before working on another. But this doesn’t always work, because for the sake of outlining and tracking production, I need to see all the threads of my spiderweb and how they connect to each other before I continue.
It’s difficult. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally draining and technically confusing. But if you push through the difficulty, writing an interactive narrative can be one of the most rewarding creative endeavors you’ll ever experience.