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!
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.
The second Sofya stepped into the pub, every eye in the room was on her. There were a dozen Leshin seated throughout the surprisingly spacious tavern and every one was curious why a Human would dare to join them.
Normally, Sofya felt rather comfortable around Leshin. Spending so much time with Heremon over the last few months helped with that. But she’d rarely visited their side of the border, and mostly interacted with them as minority in post-occupation Vodotsk. This was different. Now, she was the only Human in the room.
“Do you see any soldiers around?” Sofya asked quietly.
“No one dressed as such,” Heremon replied.
“Good. I don’t see Braden here and I need a drink.” Sofya headed for the bar but Heremon grabbed her arm.
“We need to be careful. There could be an ambush.”
“They tied up their horses out front. Not a very good ambush, if you ask me.”
This is part 2 of a multi-part short story detailing one of Sofya Rykov’s cases prior to The Fox’s Trail. Part 1 can be found here
Sofya was not surprised to find that the Imperial checkpoint was abandoned. Emperor Lapidus had set various temporary encampments on the roads leading into the Great Forest to prevent the Leshin from removing gold and other valuable minerals from human lands during the transition, but now there was no reason to maintain them. In fact, Imperial troops in the borderlands had been reduced to the minimum, because the locals resented their presence. Very few of the western houses were pledged to Emperor Lapidus and he personally controlled no lands beyond the Great Plains. Even though the Empire had liberated them from the Leshin, the people, especially outside of the cities, saw Lapidus and his allies as new invaders rather than defenders of the Human realm.
As the hired carriage pulled up to the abandoned site, Sofya surveyed the area. They were not far from the forest, but most of the nearby trees had been cut down to construct a small guard cabin along the road. Even from a distance, Sofya could tell that the cabin, hastily constructed to give the guards a warm place to sleep, was already falling apart. The road itself branched off into a dirt-paved lot where, months ago, carriages departing human territory would be searched for contraband.
“This really the place?” the driver asked. “Doesn’t seem like there’s much out here.”
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 (completed 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.
I'm at the tax pro / I'm at vape shop / I'm at the combination tax pro and vape shop pic.twitter.com/p9cPu4h7PD
— Malcolm Pierce (@RedbirdMenace) May 26, 2016
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!
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/
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.
Hey everyone, I suppose an introduction is in order. This is Malcolm Pierce, aka Redbird Menace. I helped out with Duma/debate dialog in Woodsy Studio’s last game, Serafina’s Crown, and I’m here to write about my involvement in the upcoming Echoes of the Fey, an ambitious multi-part visual novel series. 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.
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 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.
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 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. As development continues, I’ll drop by the Woodsy Studio blog for story updates and character profiles. So stay tuned!
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.