The Message of the Swan
“In Brancrug Village, they tell of Thirza Blake’s boast that she crossed an ocean in the Bounds by clinging to a broom of lignum vitae after a shipwreck. The pedant Strathcoyne points out that lignum vitae sinks in water. ‘An ocean of mercury,’ Thirza replies, and then, to provide a suitable punchline, clouts him on the head with her broom.”
See, BOOK OF HOURS is a fun game. People hit each other over the head with cleaning accessories! And we named this sprint after Joan the Wad (‘wad’ being Cornish slang for ‘torch’), who’s the Cornish pixie queen and a sort of chaotic-good pagan version of Saint Christopher. Depending on who you ask, either Joan looks after those who carry her talisman as they make their journeys or she, er, leads them into a bog. Whatever the truth, researching it taught me that her husband is Jack o’ the Lantern, of Halloween pumpkin fame, and it’s nice to think of the Piskie king and queen being in some way included in light-heartedly spooky celebrations each year even if nobody knows they’re there.
But while piskies play, game devs work. I’ve been focused on two big art tasks since we last blogged: seasonal art and the skybox, which (as those of you in the beta will know) was until recently a vast blinding square of blue. It’s a bit of a cliché for a British couple to get excited about the weather, but BoH‘s weather is inspired by paper-theatre and I kind of love it!
There are a few mechanical changes that take place during different weathers (different resources and opportunities), and this only gets deeper with seasons. You’ll be able to harvest Lenten Rose from the Scent Garden in spring, for example, but Fragrant Chalice from the same plot in summer. There’ll be stickily bountiful bees in the Kitchen Gardens when it’s warm, and cornucopic vegetables in the autumn. Most importantly, of course, there’ll be a CHARMING CHRISTMASSY ATMOSPHERE when Brancrug Village is coated in snow in wintertime – and I may even add Christmassy bunting up the Grand Ascent. Let’s just see how quickly I finish my other art tasks!
Numa is the outlier here. Capricious as fog, it’s the season of mists and silence and gently foreboding stars, and it occurs only once every nine seasons, never at quite the same time as before. It has the power to reshape the world you’ve come to know…
“The smithy fire still glows, but through the window I see a gaunt, eyeless shape working the bellows. There is no sign of Denzil, and I know better than to interrupt this visitor…”
…and offers unique opportunities not available at other times.
“Afterwards I don’t remember what work I performed, except in scents and sensations – leaf-mould, a rhythmic musical clicking like melodious castanets, soft blue flame like antique gaslight. And cold; I remember that where we went, it was cold.”
So, you know. Pour libations to the Velvet when it comes, enjoy its spooky bounty, and don’t spend too long outside.
AK, meanwhile, went on a writer’s retreat last week (read: AirBnB’d a pared-back ex-Coastguard lookout and asked me to change his Netflix password). He powered through a terrifying amount of item descriptions – over 500 of them, I believe – except it wasn’t 500 descriptions he had to write. Every object in BOOK OF HOURS needs at least two descriptions, one for when you’re casually engaged with them and one when you’re really considering them, so he wrote over 1,000 loreful snippets about candlesticks, armoires, buckets of seawater, and a weird fern that looks like it has a face. He ended up with a spreadsheet that looks like this:
And I’ve seen him cross-referencing everything with various lore docs, artwork, Unity notes and aspects. It’s TERRIFYING – sort of like a nice granny sewing an anatomically perfect but Cubist interpretation of a kitten in cross-stitch, listening the entire time to AC/DC played backwards.
He’s also been writing room descriptions (which, er, also need two versions). You’ll see the first description when you initially discover the room by unlocking one just next to it: this one explains the problem you need to resolve before you can enter it. You’ll see the second when the room is unlocked and restored to its former glory, giving you a toothsome morsel of lore. The closest analogue to the effect is the expedition mechanic in Cultist Simulator, where you’ll find out a little about the specific vault you’re exploring (‘The ascent to the cave through the high passes will be dangerous. Whatever waits in the darkness below is probably more dangerous still’) and have an opportunity to supply Followers and resources to overcome those obstacles. You’ll need help from specialists in BOOK OF HOURS – you’re a librarian, not the A Team, Jim – but once you’ve found the appropriate item or helpful assistant, you’re in.
“A thick and freezing murk, like a clinging black mist, roils at floor level. Not theoplasma exactly – the ragged remnants of some chilly Wood-thing? Or a good old-fashioned ghost, decayed to half-elemental energies? Some local will probably know.”
– the Pale Chamber
We’ve also been sprucing up the Wisdom Tree (more on that later) and drawing more card art, so I just want to share with you the truly horrible image for ‘Wormwood Dream’:
Didn’t wanna sleep anyway.
The next beta: SOLAR
Beta opens again next week with the SOLAR build, including for the first time the ecclesiastical complex dedicated to the Church of the Unconquered Sun, and also the melancholy Gullscry Tower rooms – look out for at least one new friend here. SOLAR will run from Thurs 25th May to Friday 9th June, and will be available for testing for the first time via GOG as well as Steam. Existing beta players will regain access, and we’ll send a number of new keys out to new people over the two weeks the beta is live.
We should also have some exciting news for you – particularly people who really want to play the game, but haven’t been sent beta keys yet – next week. More on that later. 🤫
Finally, those of you who speak another language which isn’t English
We get asked a lot about localisation. The short answers in rough order of importance are: we’d love to do it; it’s expensive and difficult; it has to happen post-launch. We haven’t yet decided what languages to translate the game into (candidly, this decision depends on how well BOOK OF HOURS does when we release it!) but we have some starting ideas, and I’d love to get some localised store pages live before release to let people know we’re thinking of them. So if anyone reading this is fluent in any of the following languages…
- Simplified Chinese
- Brazilian Portuguese
…and is willing to translate about a side of A4 for us, please email email@example.com to let me know! We will be extremely grateful and include you in our prayers to the Sun-in-Rags. 🙏
2 comments on The Message of the Swan
The productivity of you two is pretty incredible, especially as “a small indie company.” I have trouble getting all my chores done, and I’m the one in charge of assigning the chores!
Everything looks fantastic, as always. It’s very cool that you two can create such a Great Thing from the disparate parts that most of us pass by without comment.
Something I love about RPGs as a medium is that in this type of game the devs end up doing a lot of world building via dialog/text, and it becomes a balancing act between how much story you want to tell and how much space you have to tell it in. The best games reveal their lore and story in small but beautiful snippets and amazing art that together reveal tons about the world surrounding the character. Supergiant Games have proven themselves masters of this form of story-telling (see Bastion, Transistor, and most recently Hades), and it looks like you guys are pulling it off as well as them. While I couldn’t really get into Cultist Sim, I’m strongly looking forward to seeing what you’ve done with Book of Hours.