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.

Mission Statement

wslogo2smallToday, we planned on posting a recap of our weekend at the STL Scatterjam, where we worked with two awesome artists from the Saint Louis area to create a fun little  3d flying/score attack game, Schrodinger’s Phoenix. It was a lighthearted post that featured more jokes than actual insight into our development process, in large part because I’m better at writing jokes than 3d flight tutorials.

After the events of yesterday, we decided that it wasn’t the right time to post something so lighthearted. It felt tacky, uncalled for, and tone deaf. And it would not reflect our current feelings. So instead, this:

In the past, we have shied away from being explicitly political with our blog, our site, and our forward-facing promotion in general. That’s not to say we have tried to hide anything. Play our games or read Jenny’s novels as Jayden Woods or check out my personal site and you’ll get an idea of where we stand pretty fast. But we didn’t think there was any reason to make a post like this. It seemed indulgent, perhaps, or attention-seeking in a way that we weren’t entirely comfortable surfacing. We believe that has changed.

The election of Donald Trump is an attack on marginalized people in the United States. Forget traditional left-right politics. Forget the shortcomings of his opponent. Forget the problems with the two-party systems. This particular candidate was especially vile and his victory despite such open toxicity is terrifying. He spent months saying horrible things about minority races and minority religions. He was accused of sexual assault by a dozen women and was caught on tape essentially admitting to that assault as a matter of course. He chose as his Vice President one of the most regressive politicians on LGBT issues, Mike Pence, whose policies led to a massive Indiana HIV outbreak and who has paid lip service to supporting conversion therapy. Despite all of that, and being essentially unqualified, Trump won the election and will be our next president.

After last night, it would be easy for marginalized people to believe that the country hates them. And that’s why we think it’s important to say that Woodsy Studio stands with the people who look at Donald Trump and fear for their future. No matter what happens, we intend to keep creating games featuring people of color, queer, and disabled characters. We intend to write stories that subvert cultural expectations about minority religions, sexuality, gender politics, monogamous relationships, and power structures both elitist and populist. These have always been our goals, and they will continue to be our goals. And when we stumble, we will strive to do better.

We believe art and entertainment–and you probably believe games are at least one of those two things–shape how people see the world and see each other. And we believe that creating games with compassion and inclusivity can only make the world a better place.

That doesn’t mean our games and stories won’t be fun. Of course they will be fun (we hope). This isn’t a change of direction for us, just a statement of the direction we already had. You may have noticed this in our games, you may have not noticed it. We aren’t making strictly political games, but we do recognize that everything is political to some extent, and those politics must be confronted and improved whenever possible. We believe that it is important to be very clear on that statement right now, however, because today the world seems to be pointing in a very different direction. The tide may seem strong, but we will push against it in with what little power we have.

We’re not the only ones. We’re fortunate that so many folks in the indie games community are also working towards the same goals, because we know we can’t do this by ourselves. We are two people and a few pets, working out of the bluest part of a red state. And we also know that making inclusive games is no panacea. People from so many walks of life are going to suffer because of this election, and we will always look to do more. Visual novels don’t restore health care to those who will lose it. Games don’t prevent deportation or detainment. We know we’re not saving the world. But this is what we do. This is what we make. And this is how we intend to proceed.

-Woodsy Studio
Jenny Gibbons
Malcolm Pierce

 

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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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.

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Release July 12!

Hey everyone! We’re happy to finally confirm that we’re releasing Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail for the PC on July 12, 2016. Up until now, we’ve stuck to the cagey “Summer 2016” because we weren’t done with the game and we didn’t know just how many bugs we’d have to squash as we wrap up our development cycle. But now that we’re deep in the QA phase, we can nail down our release.

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Initially, Echoes of the Fey will be available through our itch.io page at woodsy-studio.itch.io.  We’re still waiting on Steam Greenlight, so if you haven’t voted there yet, please head on over and give us a thumbs up! Once we’re out on Steam, any itch.io purchasers will receive a Steam key so there’s no reason to wait.

Leading up to the release, I’ll be publishing a short story, Echoes of the Fey: The Prophet’s Arm, in chunks on this blog. The Prophet’s Arm takes place before The Fox’s Trail and details Sofya’s first meeting with one of the side characters in the game. So be on the lookout for those posts, as well as additional information about our release as it is finalized!

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!