BOOK OF HOURS: the Early Draft Edition
I updated our Steam page at the end of last year. Check it out if you haven’t seen the new screenies!
“There was a storm. It smashed the ship like an egg. But I seized this book as the sea seized me… then the sea brought me here to Brancrug.”
BOOK OF HOURS looks like it’ll end up five times the size of Cultist Sim. The whole game is set in a single location (see below), but there’s a hell of a lot to dig into with the story, nine different origins to choose from which direct your initial interests, and that’s before you get into the lore in all those books or the nine Wisdoms. We wouldn’t normally attempt a game as large of this – it’s just the two of us + friendly freelancers – but we’ve a big leg-up from Cultist Simulator. It provides the basic code framework (things nobody thinks of but you have to do before launch, like saving and loading systems, or Steam achievement integration) and the core mechanic (card + card = new things + new story). This means we can focus on improving things from CS while building out a new world for BOOK OF HOURS. It’s not a roguelike, which makes us a bit nervous because we’d love people to replay the game as much as people replay Cultist Simulator. But it is big, deep and visually charming, like Chi at the bottom of a well.
We’ve been really hustling these last two weeks to get a first-look demo of BOOK OF HOURS in Steam Next Fest at the start of February. We’re on track for that – just! – so look out for more info in our newsletter, going out next week. It’ll be pretty rough around the edges, but it should give you a good understanding of where we’re going with the final game. You’ll crawl your way out of the freezing sea to the door of an old friend, charm some suspicious rustics who just want to be left alone with their pints of bitter, and eventually cross the Cucurbit Bridge all the way to Hush House, where you’ll unlock the first room of the library. Until I played an earlier build this week, I hadn’t realised how large this game world is.
In the meantime, this means I have a great many other things to update you on. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Firstly, we confirmed the final look and feel of the overall game world – goodbye old cliffs, hello turquoise sea. It’s still WIP (don’t look too hard at the beach) but the vibe is there. We’ve also revamped the misty effect that the game opens with, which form the fog of war you spend the first part of the game unlocking. I’ve a lot of work ahead of me representing the different seasons (including Numa), and animating various parts of it to bring it alive. But I like where it’s going, finally.
More importantly, Alexis has finally been writing content! He’s focused on the first half hour of the game, with our upcoming demo in mind – which is why he has been reading up on Cornish hospitality in the ’30s, and why he left a card on my desk which just says ‘YARG’.
“At last, the light of a hurricane lamp bobbing in the dark. As it approaches, a face looms out of the night.”
A face! Quite a rugged face, but not a rock, or a vengeful sea-bird, or a poisonous snail. This face helps you to the nearby village (banishing Brancrug’s misty fog of war), where you end up dripping interesting patterns into the well-worn wooden floor of The Sweet-Bones. But it’s not exactly an overwhelming welcome:
“After the Restoration of 1930, the New King’s agents came looking for his enemies in these parts… and they weren’t gentle about it. Since those days, the locals are suspicious of foreigners. No-one in the Sweet Bones will talk to me.”
Using your character’s chosen skills, an old friend and your own actual brain, you must convince the villagers to aid you. Once you have, it’s on to Hush House, to unlock the first of very many unusual rooms…
Now, books. You’d expect a game christened ‘That Damn Library Game’ to have quite a lot of them. But how to represent them is a surprisingly thorny issue, because they have to fulfil lots of sometimes contradictory requirements. They must be small enough to fit reasonably in rooms designed for humans; they have to be large enough that players can click on them realiably; they have to be complex enough to tell you something meaningful about their contents just by looking at them; they must be simple enough that Lottie doesn’t lose her mind. Most importantly, they’re also the meeting point of our two different art styles – the vibrant, vector-style element art we’ve kept from the cards of Cultist Simulator, and the textured, illustrative style of the world of Hush House. Because books are now objects, not cards. They exist as real-world items you’ve carefully organised on a shelf in the library, but they can also be used within the UI as part of recipes with cards and other objects. So they need to straddle two quite different and demanding worlds. And you thought books were just opportunities for Hokobald of Pocsind to complain about the various iniquities perpetrated against him! #BIGHUFF
Anyway, we’ve come up with the following, which I think does all of the above very nicely. There are lots of different designs (in various sizes, so they look interesting together when you arrange them on a bookshelf), but you get the idea from the two examples below:
We can also use this style to differentiate the nine different starting roles you can choose for your Librarian. You start every playthrough freezing and storm-wrecked on a beach, your only possession a carefully-wrapped journal. These journals accompany you through the game, ‘evolving’ into different versions of themselves as your Librarian progresses.
“My journal – I’m sure of it. The storm scattered my thoughts, but each page I turn is familiar. I begin to recall now why I came here… and the knowledge I yearn for.”
While I’m futzing about with books and AK’s writing about cheese, Adrien continues his great work populating Hush House. The Curia-period rooms are now totally complete, so puzzle over what, exactly, needs so large a cage in an upper room of Gullscry Tower; settle select guests in the moony Severn Chamber; be grateful that the unseen servants of Hush House clean the morgue for you; and don’t set foot in the Hall of Division if you’ve ever insulted a Hint.
We’re also working with Clockwork Cuckoo for our card art, so perhaps you’d like to try and guess what skills are represented by their latest batch of sketches. We only pick one from each group to become the Final Icon, so look out for a number of polished versions of these in the final game.
If you’ve seen our latest screenies, we’ve also been revamping the UI. UI is the part of game dev that’s interesting to artists and lethally boring to anyone else, so I won’t go into too much detail. But there’s one new change you might find interesting:
Alexis still has nightmares about the tooltips from Fallen London. If you’ve ever played a Paradox game you’ll probably know what I’m talking about: hovering over something brings up some extra information about that thing, which is a really useful way of explicating deep and complex games without overcrowding the user’s basic experience. The downside is that you can often end up in a terrifying SCP-like tangle of tooltip after tooltip after tooltip, ending up more confused and distracted than you were before. So we’ve come up with the above approach for the deeper lore in BOOK OF HOURS: it’s optional (only displaying if you click on it), linked to other relevant parts of the game through aspects, and visualised separately from the main text. This is something Alexis wanted to do in Cultist Simulator, actually – we just never had the time.
Anyway, you’ll see all of the above and more if you choose to give the demo a go next month. So I leave you with news of a totally different project! I received a few enquiries about the Lucid Tarot over Christmas, so I just wanted to confirm that the deck is very much still going to happen, and it’s probably still going to happen this year. Here are a set of Swords cards I drew over the holidays to prove it’s still an active project – nice to see some familiar faces, eh?
More news on the demo next week! Get hype, Librarians.