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miraclr: A New Visual Novel Project

Hello Woodsy Studio fans! Today, we’re announcing miraclr, a new, small scope visual novel project that we hope to release for Android phones in early September with a (possible) iOS and Steam release later down the line.

What is miraclr?

miraclr is a comedic workplace romance starring the biblical (and apocryphal) archangels, told  in a mobile office collaboration app.

In miraclr you play as an unnamed human recruited to assist the archangels of heaven with the creation and implementation of the first true miracle in over 400 years. Because you can’t visit them in their office, you are  given access to miraclr, an app used by the Archangels for intra-office messaging. It looks a little like Slack, with similarly structured channels and PMs. (Very early screenshot below)

When you first start up miraclr, you will decide on a time zone and a scheduled time for daily morning meetings. From then on, miraclr will unfold (mostly) in real-time, whether or not you have the game open. Your co-workers (the Archangels) will talk among themselves, ask for your input, and private message you for both work and personal reasons. Your timely responses–or lack thereof–will affect how the story unfolds and romantic relationships.

Why a new game now?

Woodsy Studio is currently in the middle of developing Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament, the next episode of Echoes of the Fey and the follow up to The Fox’s Trail, which just released two weeks ago on Playstation 4. So why divert our attention and resources away from that?

First off, The Last Sacrament is going to be a big game. Easily the largest and most complex we’ve ever done. We’ve made lots of progress–all but a few environments are done, half the game is playable and the RiftRealms mini-game is getting close to its final form. We still believe we’re on track to release in 2018.

But right now we need a break from it. We want to get something new out for people to play. We’d like to expand our presence on mobile, something the scale of The Last Sacrament just doesn’t allow with a two person team. And finally, we want to explore other methods of storytelling and experiment a little with what our audience wants from a visual novel style game.

With Echoes of the Fey, Woodsy Studio largely moved away from the traditional visual novel format and dating sim conventions. We’re bringing those back with miraclr, which will feature multiple romance paths and more focus on character/dialog than the mystery stories of EotF. It will also be a bit of a return to an older style for me (Malcolm), since most of my writing experience is in comedy. This will largely be a return to my writing style in The Closer: Game of the Year Edition, though with fewer baseball and philosophy jokes for a different audience.

When will it be done?

miraclr is a unique project for us, in that we’re hoping for a very quick turnaround. The format (a slack-like messenger app) limits the scope of the project, especially in regards to artwork. There will be CGs, emojis, and “photos” shared by the angels in the channel, but we intend for the main draw of miraclr to be the writing and unique time-based format. It won’t be a terribly long game–a visual novella if you will–but there will be seven days of content and multiple branches.

We’ve already proto-typed a version of the app that can display the story in real-time and have most of the first day written, which along with some initial art only took a few days. We also know that Echoes of the Fey is the main focus for our studio, and we can’t let a new project take too much of our focus away from that.

With all that in mind, we’re targeting an early September release date for miraclr. Hopefully you’ll be playing it soon!

For updates (as well as Echoes of the Fey info) follow us on twitter at @WoodsyStudio.

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Out Now on PS4!

We know a lot of you have been waiting to play Echoes of the Fey on PlayStation 4 so we’re happy to let you know that our first installment, The Fox’s Trail is out NOW for $7.99.

Did Folren ir-Adech die during the war between Humans and Leshin? Or is there a darker truth behind his disappearance? Investigate the mystery now on PS4. But don’t think we’ve forgotten about our PC users! We recently pushed a patch on Steam that improves controller support to match the PS4 version and fixed a couple minor issues regarding options menu functions and Steam Achievements.

Finally, we’re still hard at work on our next title, Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament, with the majority of the script complete and a good portion already in game and playable. Keep an eye on us at @WoodsyStudio on Twitter for updates, screenshots, and other Echoes of the Fey news!

 

PS4 Release in July and Steam Sale!

This week, Woodsy Studio has two big announcements that we’re happy to share with our fans (and, of course, folks new to our games). While we’re hard at work on our next title, which promises to be an exciting continuation of the Echoes of the Fey series and our biggest game yet, we still want to bring our current titles to as many people as possible.

We’re coming to PS4!

First off, Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail will be coming to PS4 in July! If you held out to play on your TV–or you just prefer a console, or you were waiting on trophies–now is your chance. This is the first Woodsy Studio game to release for PS4 but we don’t plan for it to be the last. It’s our full intention to continue to release the Echoes of the Fey series across as many platforms as possible. We do all our porting in-house (and there are only two of us!) so moving to Unreal Engine 4 should help with the turnaround and we hope our next installment will be out on PC and PS4 in 2018.

PC Summer Sale

Second, for folks who haven’t played our games on PC, there’s never been a better time. All of our games are on sale for 33-50% off as part of the Steam Summer Sale. You can also pick up all three of our Steam titles–Quantum Conscience, Serafina’s Crown, and Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail for under $9 in our bundle!

If you’re all caught up on our games, then we still have some awesome news for you. Echoes of the Fey: The Last Sacrament will be playable at PixelPop Festival in St. Louis on August 5-6 and XPO Game Festival in Tulsa, October 13-15. If you’re in the area, come check us out for a sneak peek at Sofya Rykov’s next adventure, as well as a chance to try and early build of our in-game board game, RiftRealms.

That’s all the news for now, but stay tuned for more updates, more console release information, and (soon) an in-depth look at the new mechanics we’re adding in The Last Sacrament.

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Seeking Voice Actors for “The Last Sacrament”

****AUDITIONS NOW CLOSED****
Thanks to everyone who auditioned! Here is the resulting cast:
Nikolai – Christopher Vitemb
Katerina – Sara Secora
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About the Echoes of the Fey

Echoes of the Fey is an English-language visual novel series that combines the magic of high fantasy with the mystery of the classic detective novel. You play as Sofya Rykov, a private investigator operating in a town on the contentious border between the Humans and Leshin (Elves). While her job is to uncover secrets, Sofya has a dangerous secret of her own: unlike other Humans, she can use magic. It’s a handy trick for solving cases – in the rare instances she can control it.

About Episode 2: The Last Sacrament

The Last Sacrament will be the next installment of the ongoing series. Sofya’s loyalty grows divided when politics clash over the town’s water system. Her childhood love, who also happens to be the Emperor’s daughter, seeks Sofya’s protection from mysterious threats. But a ruthless politician seeks a fourth drop of Eszther’s Sacrament — the consumption of which is the greatest heresy against the Krovakyn Church — and he will go to any lengths to ensure that Sofya delivers it to him.

Released episodes:

Episode 0: The Immolation
Episode 1: The Fox’s Trail

Payment and Expected Work

– Payment will be $0.50 per line. Lines are categorized as each block of dialogue that appears on the screen at once, and can range from about 1-40 words, typically 1-2 sentences. They can also be “expression lines,” which are even shorter clips of dialogue used for emotional punctuation throughout the game. Payment includes at least two takes of each line, preferably more.

– The amount of recording needed is not yet set in stone. Shortly after choosing the cast, we will request a recording of expression lines (30-60 short lines of expressive dialogue). After that, we will request some scene dialogue over the next few months as our budget allows.

Rating/Maturity

This game will contain some adult language and sexual themes. However, we expect to remain in the Teen / PG-13 rating category.

Audition Process

Please record the included audition lines for the role that interests you and send them in either .wav or .mp3 format to jenny (at) woodsy-studio (dot) com. Multiple takes and styles are highly encouraged so I have a good sense of your range. Auditions will remain open until March 12, 2017.


Katerina Konstantinova Lapidus

  • Female
  • American accent
  • Appears both as an adult (20s) and teenager (about 13 years)

Katerina has a kind and empathetic nature, but she also grew up as the daughter of the Emperor during a time of warfare. Her kind nature is frequently in conflict with her need to firmly represent her father’s interests and crush her opponents. She rejoices in any opportunity she finds to kick back and behave like an ordinary young woman. She hates being called “princess” or any other unnecessary flattery. This is why she enjoys Sofya’s company so much. Sofya has never cared for politics, and always knows how to forget about all problems and have fun.

Katerina will mostly appear as an adult in the story, but there will also be flashbacks to her as a young teenager meeting Sofya for the first time. Therefore there are audition lines for both adult and teenaged Katerina (around 13 years old).

Please send lines for both adult and teenage Katerina, as she will appear as both in different parts of the story. Teenage Katerina should sound younger/higher-pitched.

Adult Katerina Audition Lines
KATERINA (angry): All of this was about a photograph?
SOFYA: I don’t know. But, Kat, take a deep breath. You’re okay.
KATERINA: I’m sorry, Sofyuska. I just… I had no idea that this might actually happen. When I hired you… I didn’t really think…
SOFYA: You didn’t think you were really in danger?
KATERINA: Not real danger! Not like this! I thought they’d throw vegetables at me or tag my carriage.

Teenage Katerina Audition Lines
SOFYA: Thank you, Kater– Uh, Lady Lapidus.
YOUNG KATERINA: PLEASE don’t call me that. I’m so sick of everyone sucking up to me.
YOUNG KATERINA: Just call me Kat.
SOFYA: Okay… Kat.
YOUNG KATERINA: Now, if you’re going to be stuck in the castle for the winter, maybe we can at least have some fun.

 

Nikolai Fyodorovich Melinkov

  • Male
  • American Accent
  • Late 20s/early 30s

Nikolai Fyodorovich Melinkov is the eldest heir of House Melinkov. House Melinkov is one of the wealthiest families of the west and one of the staunchest opponents to Imperial control of the borderlands. They are led by Nikolai’s grandmother, Alma Melinkov. Nikolai is the heir because his father (Alma’s son) died during the war and Alma’s daughter is a church matriarch.

Nikolai never wanted the responsibility of leadership. He is a man who enjoys fine dining and classy entertainment. If he had his way, he would run a theater or prestigious tavern rather than control his family’s domain. He also believes that his dying grandmother, Alma Melinkov, is much better suited to protect the family than he is. For this reason, he will use whatever tools he possesses to extend Alma’s life and protect the family’s interests in the meantime–even if that means breaking the most sacred law of the Krovakyn Church and blackmailing Sofya to help him.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We would like Nikolai to sing at some point in the game. Payment for recording song vocals will be a flat $50. Please include a singing sample with your audition

Audition Line 1:
NIKOLAI (firm, threatening): You will do as I say, Lady Rykov. My sister has ten copies of this photograph. If I do not wire back to Volgrad with other instructions within the hour, she will send it to Patriarch Arkady here in Vodotsk. However, if you deliver the Sacrament to me, I will destroy every single copy of the picture and the glass impression.
Audition Line 2:
NIKOLAI (determined): We are GOING to build a dam, and we’ll make the Leshin pay for it!

Audition Part 3:  Please include a singing clip!


I’ve also posted auditions to the following sites:
Newgrounds
Casting Call
Voice Acting Club

Send all audition clips and any questions you might have to jenny (at) woodsy-studio (dot) com. Thank you and good luck!

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Echoes of the Fey – Episode 0: The Immolation

Episode 0: The Immolation is a FREE, standalone chapter in the Echoes of the Fey visual novel series developed in Unreal Engine 4. Play as Sofya Rykov before she became a private investigator and before she was cursed with unstable magic powers. An officer in the Imperial Army, Sofya is tasked with guarding Leshin prisoners at Onigrad. She feels safe enough to drink, sleep, and party to her heart’s content. Then one fateful night, a massive boom rings out from the Fey reactor…

Download free for PC!

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.

Play as Sofya Rykov 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. When disaster strikes the prison, Sofya must balance every second of time before staging her escape.

Episode 0 is a short adventure game/visual novel. At ~15,000 words and a playtime of approximately one hour, it provides a bite-sized window into the world at the very end of the war between Humans and Leshin. It’s also our studio’s first venture into Unreal Engine 4, providing a small preview of a full length UE4 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

Woodsy Studio Winter Visual Novel Sale!

The Steam Winter Sale is here, and with it we’re offering discounts on all of our games! Quantum Conscience and Serafina’s Crown are 33% off, while Echoes of the Fey is 25% off! On top of that, we bundled all three games together at an even deeper discount in our Visual Novel Bundle, which is only $11. If you already own one or more of our games, the bundle is even cheaper. The Winter Sale is the perfect time to complete your collection!

For those who already have our games (thanks!) we’ve also put the soundtracks on sale through Steam, so check your DLC tabs for the sounds of Woodsy Studio.

If you’d rather buy on itch.io, we’ve got a similar bundle available for Serafina’s Crown and Echoes of the Fey, as well as individual discounts on each game.

As for us, we’re hard at work on the next installment of Echoes of the Fey, Episode 0: The Immolation. If you’d like to see that on Steam early next year, head on over to Greenlight (after picking up some games) and vote!

 

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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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!