Announcing Echoes of the Fey: Fuel Your Choice Exclusively with Mountain Dew and Doritos

Today, we’re proud to announce our newest addition to the Echoes of the Fey franchise, Echoes of the Fey: Fuel Your Choice. We think this program speaks for itself, so check out the video below.

Making Games at the End of the World

Malcolm Pierce is one half of Woodsy Studio; cross-posted from redbirdmenace.com

The Bus Station

At three ‘o clock in the morning, the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is a hostile environment, but it isn’t the passengers at fault. This is a bus station, after all. Some of the people there are sprawled out across a few seats. Others are a day or two behind on a much-needed shower. But there is nothing glamorous about bus travel, especially trips stretching across multiple days and several layovers. Anyone forced to put up with those circumstances deserves a certain level of leeway.

The St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is oppressive because it is a strange little building nestled away behind the home of the St. Louis Blues. Most directions to the SLGTC force drivers to arrive at the wrong part of the facility. The heat (more on the heat in a moment) is turned on. Everyone is sweating, even people who just arrived. And there are no water fountains.

A television above the waiting area blares an infomercial for a product called Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a chemical compound found (in extremely tiny amounts) in salmon and greater, but not terribly meaningful amounts, in krill and shrimp, giving the flesh of these sea creatures a pink-ish hue. It is also produced synthetically and injected into fish-based pet food, to give the cheaper meal a more healthy color. It is not approved for human consumption, but it can legally be fed to other salmon (which is messed up) to improve the pink tint of the inner meat.

The infomercial playing in the waiting room of the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center claims that Astaxanthin will reverse aging. It will remove and prevent wrinkles. It will restore eye function. All for the perfectly reasonable price of sixty dollars a bottle .

At three thirty, the infomercial mercifully ends, only to be replaced with (presumably) the late-night edition of the local news. I hear the stories you expect from the local news in 2017. A suspect has died in an officer-involved shooting during a drug bust. Hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery were defaced. Donald Trump tweeted again. The high temperature today, on February 22, will be in the mid 70s in St. Louis.

I wonder what the hell I’m doing in this bus stop, waiting to go to a conference about making video games.

The bus outside honks twice and I line up inside the stuffy terminal to board. The first thing I hear when I’m inside is a passenger telling someone he just met how he lost his finger on the job and was then fired for it.

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Echoes of the Fey Episode 0 Out Now!

Imagine being the only survivor of an explosion that kills thousands of people. That is the fate of Sofya Rykov. And survival is just the beginning of her tale…

Download free

Today, we released Echoes of the Fey Episode 0 – The Immolation for FREE on itch.io. We will release on Steam February 7, 2017 with achievements and trading cards! Look for it here.

Episode 0 is a standalone chapter in the Echoes of the Fey visual novel series and the first game by Woodsy Studio made in Unreal Engine 4. This installment is an introduction to the world and characters for new players, but also provides important backstory for fans who enjoyed Episode 1 – The Fox’s Trail, also available on Steam.

As in The Fox’s Trail, you play as Sofya Rykov, but before she gained her magical powers and became a private investigator. An officer in the Imperial Army, Sofya is tasked with guarding Leshin prisoners at Onigrad, a city which will soon become famous for its fiery destruction. Sofya will also be able to explore the prison and learn more about the world from her prisoners, though with an impending disaster about to hit the prison, she will have to balance how to use her time before staging her escape.

Episode 0 is a short adventure game/visual novel, with ~15,000 words and a playtime of approximately one hour, intended as a bite-sized window into the world at the very end of the war between Humans and Leshin. It was also a chance for us to rebuild our game engine in Unreal 4 on a small scale, before embarking on the creation of a full length title that we hope we’ll be able to release by the end of 2017. Hopefully you enjoy Episode 0 and, if it’s your starting point on the series, continue on to play The Fox’s Trail.

Written by Malcolm Pierce and Jenny Gibbons
Art by Jenny Gibbons
Some concept art by Wendy Gram
Music by Jenny Gibbons
Marketing Consultation from Carol Mertz

Voice Acting

Sofya Rykov – Amber Leigh

Heremon ir-Caldy – David Dixon

Rolan Volkov – Paul Hikari

Muriel ir-Kilmun – Helen Edgeworth

QA
Kara Kirchherr
Ben Cook
Gene Kelly
Zachari Barnes
Jacob Anderson
Edward Henry

Made in Unreal Engine 4


Press kit

New Trailer for Echoes of the Fey Episode 0: The Immolation

With the game now content-complete (we’ve been in the bug-fixing and polishing stage for the last week now), we’re happy to reveal our latest trailer! Episode 0: The Immolation will be out later this month for PC for FREE! And if you’d like to see us on Steam day-and-date with itch.io, don’t forget to VOTE on Steam Greenlight!

 

 

Woodsy Studio: 2016 in Review

By all accounts, The Year of Our Lord 2016 was a trainwreck. David Bowie died. Carrie Fisher died. Actually, so many people who were important to us or likely important to you died that it’s nearly impossible to name them all. The Oscars should just be a long tribute to the lost, punctuated by an occasional award handed out to La La Land (because you’re absolutely kidding yourself if you think Hollywood isn’t going to heap the statues on a musical love letter to Hollywood). But the deaths were just part of it. The UK cut off its own nose to spite its face and left the European Union. The United States elected to the presidency a sentient sack of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner who aspires to fascism, but with ill-fitting suits. The environment… we don’t even want to think about that one.

In light of all of this, it is strange to think of 2016 as a good year by any measure of the term “good”. But for Woodsy Studio, 2016 was full of growth. When the year started, we only had one game out on Steam–Quantum Conscience. All of our released titles were made in Ren’py and RPG Maker. Here’s everything we’ve accomplished and released in 2016, in relative order:

  1. After completing his experimental game 26 Gy, Malcolm Pierce joined Woodsy Studio as a full time partner.
  2. Serafina’s Crown became our second game released on Steam, with achievements and trading card support.
  3. We fully moved from Ren’py to Gamemaker Studio in order to accommodate 2d side-scrolling sequences. 
  4. Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail, our first game in Gamemaker, released first on itch.io and shortly afterwards on Steam.
  5. A prologue novella, delving into some of the lore of the world, Echoes of the Fey: The Prophet’s Arm, was published on our blog and various e-book sites.
  6. We made another move, this time from Gamemaker Studio to Unreal Engine 4. This allowed us to create 3d environments and better manage large resources like sound files. This required building our own visual novel engine in UE4.
  7. Our first UE4 game, a free introduction to the characters and world of Echoes of the Fey, Episode 0: The Immolation was posted to Steam Greenlight.
  8. Full builds of The Fox’s Trail were created for Android and Fire tablets and are now in the testing phase.
  9. We began work on the script for Echoes of the Fey: The Final Drop (working title), the second full installment in the series.
  10. Echoes of the Fey: Episode 0 went script and feature complete (on the second to last day of 2016) and is now in the polish phase. Both the Android version of The Fox’s Trail and the PC version of Episode 0 should release in January 2017.

All of that was just one year of game development for Woodsy Studio, and we’re especially proud of everything we accomplished in a year that most people would rather forget ever happened. Right now, all of our games are on sale via the Steam Winter Sale. So if you haven’t checked them out, there’s no better time.

But what comes next? We believe the world is going to need inclusive, intriguing, and fun art more than ever as we approach 2017–which, as much as we’d like to hope, probably won’t be much better than its predecessor–so we’re not going to let up. As you can see above, we have ports and a free episode lined up for the early part of the year. There may be more–more systems, more small games–that we can’t talk about just yet, but rest assured there will be content.

For the first time in the ~3 year history, we’ll be starting the year with both of our principals (Jenny and Malcolm) working full time on Woodsy Studio games and, specifically, Echoes of the Fey. This is a scary proposition for both of us, but we think it’s a long time coming. The Fox’s Trail is out, and we’ll be putting it on as many platforms as will allow it. Episode 0 is essentially done and will soon be ready as a free taste of the series. Which means we’ll be pouring our time into The Final Drop.

With both of us committed to the game, Echoes of the Fey: The Final Drop will no doubt be the largest, most involved Woodsy Studio visual novel yet. We hope to push the bounds of what a VN can be and offer an awesome mix of story and gameplay beyond anything we’ve attempted. And looking back at what we’ve accomplished in 2016, we’re confident we can deliver something new and exciting!

So look forward to Episode 0 in the coming month, The Fox’s Trail on new platforms shortly afterward, and (later in the year) a completely new Echoes of the Fey story in The Final Drop.

Let’s Greenlight Echoes of the Fey Episode 0: The Immolation!

Today we’re proud to release our first official trailer for Echoes of the Fey Episode 0: The Immolation and launch our Greenlight campaign with the hopes of releasing on Steam and other PC platforms simultaneously!

Episode 0 is a short prologue to Echoes of the Fey that we will be releasing FOR FREE in early 2017. This installment will take our players back to before Sofya Rykov was a private investigator and before she could use magic. In Episode 0, Sofya is an officer in the Human Empire with a (relatively) cushy assignment, guarding non-essential Leshin prisoners in the fortified city of Onigrad. Of course, anyone who has played Episode 1 or read The Prophet’s Arm knows that Onigrad is hardly the safest place near the end of the world.

The Immolation is also the first installment of Echoes of the Fey we are developing in Unreal Engine 4, utilizing 3d backgrounds and dynamic camera angles for dialog sequences. Transitioning to UE4 has been a lot of work–especially since we’re working with all new environments!–but we’re sure that the work we’re doing on this short project will help us in the future. And we think that both fans of Echoes and new players will enjoy this introduction to Sofya, Heremon, and the world of Oraz.

If you want to see Echoes of the Fey Episode 0: The Immolation, click the link below and throw us a YES!

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Why We’re Making Our Next Visual Novel in Unreal Engine 4

We’ve been quiet over at Woodsy Studio for the last month or so, but with good reason: we’ve been busy! Shortly after releasing Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail on Steam, we decided to switch our development platform from Gamemaker Studio to Unreal Engine 4. This is no simple task. For Gamemaker, we had a very helpful base to build off of with ThinkBoxly’s EdgeVN system. With UE4, we don’t have such luck. There is a module for sale, but it seems unequipped to handle large multi-scene VNs, so we are building from the ground up using the UE4 blueprint visual scripting. On top of that, we’re converting to 3d backgrounds, which means re-making a lot of our general world assets to 3d models.

Most people are totally confused when we tell them we’ve decided to switch to UE4, and that’s without the troubles mentioned above. UE is best known for big-budget 3d games. It isn’t known for indie development or user friendliness. Unreal is total overkill for a visual novel, especially when the most GPU-intensive thing we’ve pushed out in previous games is a high resolution character sprite. So, why are we going to all this trouble to switch to an engine that is (on its face) worse for indie 2d development than our previous platforms?

To start, I need to go over the problems we had with Gamemaker. I don’t want to make this post a big list of complaints about GM–which I think is fantastic for certain kinds of projects–but addressing a couple of these is unavoidable. First off, audio files.  The way GM handles audio files was frustrating from start to finish. Importing them was clunky. We couldn’t make batch changes to groups of sounds. And a couple times, references to entire groups of sounds just disappeared.

These would be annoyances for any game, but because of the nature of our (partially) voiced visual novels, we had over 2,500 sound files in our game. Any task related to the sound was a huge ordeal for us and, in the end I think the sheer number of sounds ended up creating our other problem with GM: porting.

Our first (still work in progress) screenshot from Episode Zero

Our first (still work in progress) screenshot from Episode Zero

Before we switched to GM, Woodsy Studio was releasing its games on Windows, Linux, Mac, and Android phones. However, so far we’ve been unable to bring The Fox’s Trail to any platform other than Windows. The problem is different on each platform, but without going into too much detail, our suspicion is that our sounds (or more specifically, the size of our sound files–2.8 gigabytes before compression) have something to do with it.

Finally, drawing backgrounds has been one of our biggest hurdles. Every room requires a background and these are Jenny’s least favorite thing to draw. They are also large, contiguous sprites that are difficult to break up into 1024 x 1024 pieces to keep our texture page size down (which is needed for performance reasons, especially on mobile). Moving to 3d environments is theoretically possible in GM, but would require rebuilding a huge amount of what we’ve already  And it’s not what the engine is designed for.

I really do want to stress that Gamemaker Studio is a very good option for all sorts of games, we just decided it wasn’t right for us. Because going forward, these problems were only going to get worse. For episode 2, we’ll have the same–if not more–quantity of voice acting clips. We’ll want more backgrounds. And we might want to go to native a native 1080p resolution, at least for the PC version–further exacerbating file size and background creation issues.

All this added up to need to change. But again, the question comes up: why UE4? Why not Unity, which seems to be the favorite choice of indie devs everywhere? A couple reasons. No matter what engine we switched to, we were going to have to re-learn everything. Ren’py uses python and GM uses gml, its own language, so there was no real chance of transferring our knowledge perfectly over to either of our options.

A UE4 material we made for our visualization of a fey rift.

A UE4 material we made for our visualization of a fey rift.

Also, out of the (metaphorical) box, UE4 is fantastic at making your game look good. I don’t entirely know how the guts of either engine work, but it seems very easy to use the UE4 cameras and lights (as they are implemented without plugins) to make our art pop compared to what I’ve seen of Unity. And the material system lets (relatively) inexperienced programmers do some amazing things with shaders in a visual scripting interface.

Finally, I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian and everyone using Unity because the common knowledge is that Unity is more user friendly just makes me want to go down the road less traveled. And we’ve discovered that this common knowledge might be wrong.

It has been just over a month and a half since starting the conversion and we already have a full dialog system set up (developed by us from the ground up), with working choice menus and overworld exploration like in The Fox’s Trail. We’ve built out our first environment and imported the first handful of scenes for Episode Zero. Converting to 3d environments has allowed me–a person who couldn’t draw if my life depended on it–to take over a portion of the art process, building 3d models based on our original drawings. This required learning Blender along with Unreal Engine 4, but for a long time the art burden has fallen entirely on one member of the team and I’m more than happy to finally help out.

An Episode 1 asset re-made in 3d (again, work in progress).

An Episode 1 asset re-made in 3d (again, work in progress).

At first, I likened trying to make a visual novel in UE4 to using a rifle to kill a fly. Yes, it can get the job done but it will be harder and a ton of overkill. Now, I’d use a different tortured metaphor: it’s like putting together Ikea furniture with powertools. It’s still overkill, but the power tools have a lot more uses than just putting together Ikea Furniture.

So, when is Episode Zero coming out? Right now, we’re tentatively saying “TBD: Winter”. And yes, we mean this upcoming winter. I don’t think we can commit to anything more than that, but since we have so much of the framework already done and Episode Zero is a smaller project, we hope that you’ll be able to enjoy the first visual novel developed in UE4* fairly soon.

*I don’t know if we’re really going to be the first UE4 VN. I couldn’t find any. Correct me if I’m wrong!

 

Demo-ing After The Fact: A PixelPop Retrospective

Watching strangers play your game is terrifying. It’s especially terrifying when your game is already released. The flaws you see can be corrected, but they can’t be contained. They are already out in the world, installed on the hard drive of everyone who has bought and played the game. Even if they are minor issues–even if you are incredibly proud of the game you put out there–the smallest of imperfections can drive you crazy because there’s nothing you can do to fix them for all the people who have already experienced them.

Despite that, we attended this year’s PixelPop Festival with a demo of Echoes of the Fey Episode 1: The Fox’s Trail.

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PixelPop Festival, now in its third year, is St. Louis’s annual gaming convention. It features competitive events, talks from developers and others in the industry, and of course demos of upcoming and recently released games. It ran from October 8-9 this year at a new location, the St. Louis Science Center.

There are a few reasons we brought Episode 1 to PixelPop. First off, right now we’re in a transitory period. If we’d committed to GameMaker Studio after finishing Episode 1, I’m sure we’d have a (very rough, very early) build of our next release, Episode 0: Immolation to show off right now. But we decided to make the rather huge leap to Unreal Engine 4, which necessitated rewriting our VN system from the ground up and learning how to make 3d environments. So you might say we’re a little behind schedule. Second, we wanted to test controller support before submitting a build for approval on console. Handing folks a controller at a convention to see how they use it seemed like the best way to get an idea of how accessible our build would be.

Fortunately, the results were great. We’ve brought our visual novels to various events, but none were more welcoming than PixelPop. Demo-ing a visual novel is never easy. VNs don’t have small, digestible chunks or “vertical slices” that can be carved out and used as a standalone example of the overall gameplay. We basically have two options: start players at the very beginning of the game and hope the first few scenes are compelling, or pick out a spot in the game we know is exciting and start players there.

For our very first demo at Anime St. Louis earlier this year, we took the later route. We skipped ahead in the story to when the player can control Sofya’s transformation into a cat, which allows them to spy on various characters and have a little freedom in the overworld portion of the investigation. We wanted people to see the beginning of the side stories, and see the very first hints at the mystery central to the game. Unfortunately, we found that people were just confused. Dropping people in the middle of the story left them with too many questions, and the core gameplay of a visual novel just doesn’t work if you don’t understand what’s going on.

Going forward, we decided to start our demo at the beginning. Our game starts with a nice CGI, an introduction to the world, and then a short scene with a cat, all of which are at least conducive to drawing people in. This meant that the demo would not feature the full extent of the exploration/investigation, but we recognize that the story is the draw and that needs to make sense.

On the first day of PixelPop, we committed to our usual strategy of encouraging players to use headphones. The first few scenes are heavily voiced, and we’ve got some rad music we want people to hear. Convention demo areas are usually pretty loud, so we figured the best way to make sure all of it is heard is force headphones.

However, we quickly discovered yet another problem with demo-ing a visual novel. Even a small portion of the game–the first investigation sequence of the first day–can become a 30+ minute experience if a player gets into the game and goes everywhere they can. And there are pretty much two reactions we had to our demo. Either people immediately didn’t like the game (too much reading which, hey,I get it) and left after a minute, or they stuck around for a while and played through several scenes. We loved seeing people get deep into the demo, but with only one demo station, it limited the number of people we could engage. We put the game on a larger monitor to the side so passers-by could watch, but that wasn’t quite enough to entice anyone to stand and observe the demo. So we decided to bring a set of speakers for the second day.

Despite the loud demo floor, we found that the speakers encouraged people to stand and watch the demo, which for a visual novel is almost as good as getting them to play it. Granted, we had the opening music in our heads all day, but I think it was worth it.

All in all, we had a great experience showing off Echoes of the Fey to the crowd at PixelPop. We’d encourage any local developers (and any developers who can make it to STL with relative ease) next year to join us!

 

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Out NOW On Steam

The day is here, friends! You can now get Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail on everyone’s favorite PC gaming platform, the launcher we all know and love, Steam.

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!

Steam Achievements and Us: Why We Added Achievements for a VN

With less than a week until Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail hits Steam (August 16, thanks to a quick turnaround), I thought I’d discuss one of the larger steps in preparing a game for Steam: Steam Achievements.

Steam achievements are a funny thing to spend time on, because in a lot of ways they are completely meaningless. They don’t give you access to anything. They are easily hack-able. And, unlike Xbox Achievements and PSN trophies, there’s no running count across all games to pad out. There is no ultimate objective in getting Steam achievements.

The visual novel is also an unusual genre for achievements. Some people see achievements as a badge of skill and, well, there’s really very little pure skill involved with playing a visual novel. Sure, there will be endings that are more difficult to get, but it’s just merely a matter of knowing what to do, not executing it.

So why add achievements if they represent so very little, and require (fairly simple, thanks to Game Maker Studio) coding and art? Our answer is twofold. First, people like achievements. Even if they’re meaningless, people like seeing them pop up every so often in the corner of the screen. It’s fun, even if we all know it doesn’t confer any real bragging rights. Ultimately, games are about fun and adding achievements is worth it even if only a handful of our players have more fun because of it. And on console platforms, achievements/trophies are mandatory so people are used to VNs/casual games awarding them for story progression alone.

The second reason is a bit more self-serving. You see, the ratio at which players acquire Steam achievements is publicly available. You can go and look at what percentage of your playerbase has each achievement. This is incredibly useful for a VN developer because it (a) lets you know if there is some part of the story where you lose players’ interest (a steep drop off between achievements that always pop when you reach certain milestones) and (b) informs you what choices players are making in the game. Several characters have side quests in Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail and we want to know who has the highest completion rate. There is also at least one big decision late in the game that we definitely want to track, even if it’s just out of curiosity. So we put an achievement on it.

This helps us in numerous ways. Since Echoes of the Fey is a series, we can use this information to find out which characters we should bring back/feature more in future episodes. We can see if we should focus more on the depth of the side quests or (if they’re generally neglected) we should siphon attention away from side content to lengthen the main story (or make more of it mandatory.)  And when it comes to the big choices you make in The Fox’s Trail, we can use the statistics to decide what will be the ~canon~ ending. While we definitely intend to feature a save import for Episode 2 (or some way to play with your decisions from The Fox’s Trail intact), there will need to be a default ending and we can base this off the numbers we have.

Various factors can throw off these numbers–either people hacking the achievements or bundles adding a bunch of new users that never play (or only leave it running for trading cards)–but the ratios should remain informative. Anyone who is hacking the Steam achievements is probably adding all of them across the board, and people who buy in bundles and never play don’t get any achievements at all.

As long as there is nothing prohibitive in your engine, we’d strongly encourage developers to add achievements, if nothing else for their own stat tracking. There are so few ways to get information about how others play your games that it’s an entirely worthwhile endeavor (and there are plenty of people who appreciate the achievements, even though on PC they are less meaningful).

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail will be out August 16, 2016 on Steam.