Sept #2: SERAPEUM

Happy secret library sprint! Anyone notice anything different about the website? Ha ha me neither because staging site issues mean our designers haven’t been able to push it live this week after all. Which is a bummer, but not enough of a bummer that we’re going to push a new site live on a Friday and spend all weekend going OH GOD and HOW DID SOMEONE DO THAT and THE SITE IS SENDING EVERYONE TO A PHISHING WEBSITE IN NEVADA

(True fact: The Lady Afterwards was briefly purchaseable on this site, and someone found the link and nearly bought it before sensibly asking us if it was legit and us nuking the page into the sun. TLDR: websites are tricky and you should never give them an inch.)

Speaking of The Lady Afterwards, it’s now 🎉PRINT READY🎉! We’ve had most of the boxed edition items for a while, but the final versions of the 27-page Game Runner’s Guide and 15-page Secret Histories Rulebook will arrive on Wednesday next week, to shrieks of delight and/or horror when I realise there’s a typo on the cover. (It’s okay, they’re only proofs – I already found two typos on the page where I joke about being mildly dyslexic. 🤦‍♀️)

I can’t share much of the scenario without spoiling it for everyone, but I can gesture to what’s inside by sharing the contents page and the updated A3 map. Ommmmm nom nom nom.

One of the most significant recent changes was giving all our major NPCs faces, characters and relationship states. It took a long time to find relevant ’20s photos for everyone, but it really adds a new dimension to the game and should make it a lot easier for the Game Runner to get into character. Here’s an early section where we intro the NPC system:

The typo on this page is already KNOWN and NUKED >:(

Separately, we have The Secret Histories Rulebook, where Cultist Simulator is squeezed into a set of TRPG rules like some sort of arcane sausage. Here’re a couple of examples which don’t give too much away: the Chart of Days mechanic, and something AK mentioned a while ago – having to be really clear about things that we’re not normally up-front about.

We received a lot of feedback early on with Cultist Simulator that people wanted either some sort of glossary, library or other form of list in-game to track progress and show them how much was left to discover. There are lots of good reasons to do something like that – I love seeing a progress bar go up, or ‘x/9 collected’ somewhere in my quest inventory – but it would’ve punctured Cultist Simulator like a cat’s claw to a balloon. Cultist‘s whole thing is peeling back layer after layer of lore-snippets and comparative references; if we’d said things like ‘You have read the blue book and there are four more blue books you can find’ or ‘The Mansus is a physical place where magical people live, and there is a river in it full of salmon and grebes’, I don’t think you’d be reading this blog now.

Anyway, we’ve had to solidify things for the Game Runner to be able to do their job, but we hope we’ve managed it without draining the invisible world of too much of its mystery. YOU DECIDE!

One clarification, before we move on: after multiple enquiries, we can confirm that anyone buying the boxed edition of The Lady Afterwards will also automatically get the digital edition, too – in case they want to play with people who aren’t in the same physical place as they are.

Now, what was that video game we’re allegedly developing, but haven’t been sharing much of recently? Ah yes, BOOK OF HOURS. Updates have been slow because AK’s in the final throes of Cultist code rework (also the reason our tech support has been so shoddy recently. Thank you for bearing with us!), so I thought I’d share some of his design as it relates to the game’s soundtrack. This week we received a second round of BOOK OF HOURS music from composers Maribeth Solomon and Brent Barkman. They’re beautiful – a bunch of Cultist homages, a bunch of new tracks, a scary Wolf-Divided song that isn’t so menacing I don’t like listening to it (here’s looking at you, “The Old Must End”).

So let’s do a deep-dive into creative direction for music in a video game. Here’s what AK started with for BoH:

We also needed specifically musical references. When I was helping out with Sunless Skies‘ soundtrack I went into a lot of detail about specific instruments, but AK’s always been a big-picture kind of guy. So he suggested particular composers and big themes (like Sunless Sea was a game of ‘exploration, loneliness and survival’, while Cultist was a game of ‘apocalypse and yearning’).

Now for the game-specific stuff. AK already has a rough idea of BOOK OF HOURS‘ plot, and we know we want the game to follow a much more repeatable, seasonal cycle than Cultist Sim. The Hours are good thematic touchpoints: they each represent different parts of the world, and underpin the whole game – but they’re rarely interactable with, and easy to forget in mechanics. I love the idea of them and their music laying the foundation for the player experience in BoH.

We work with Maribeth and Brent to develop the final soundtrack, and our creative direction moves around and changes over the course of composition. Names and briefs morph as we develop actual, listenable tracks to work with, but here’s an early snapshot AK sent to commission, develop and assemble first passes at the soundtrack.

As Maribeth puts it, “The grid becomes a conversation in words and music… It’s a  conversation I cherish like a hidden story only I can excavate. I usually arrive somewhere else, somewhere unknown, and swim or travel back to new ideas. We fill out the grid together and walk around in a new space together.” See? THE CREATIVE POWER OF ART FTW!

I have dreams of using my otherwise useless knowledge of ’30s jazz for trailers (think “Blue Moon” from Fallout: New Vegas, but like, on a major budget), but I’m sure we’ll use at least one of the final tracks listed here too. Can’t wait to share them with you!

Next week, expect photos of our office – very Chapel Perilous, which is, of course, also our wedding theme – and FINALLY MAYBE THE NEW GODDAMN WEBSITE.

Have a lovely weekend for now! We’re off to play Psychonauts 2. 🧠

6 comments on Sept #2: SERAPEUM
  1. That all looks rather good. The photos are a nice touch. I sympathise with you about the typo on the page with the dyslexia joke; I tend to have them when I’m pointing out other people’s typos.
    On that subject… on the ‘Mechanics of the Invisible World’ page, I believe the closing hyphen should be before ‘than’. Either that or you need a second ‘than’ after ‘appealing’.

  2. I can’t fathom having a brain big enough to come up with such a wonderful music spreadsheet (that second screenshot is fantastic). Sound design seems like a fun process!
    My friend and I across the pond share a deep love for Cultist Sim and are eagerly awaiting the digital version of A Lady Afterwards so we can play together. <3

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