What will you do with Thirza’s Knife?

Spoilers ahead. Skip to the food pictures if you don’t want spoilers…

HOUSE OF LIGHT is a good-sized expansion with an unusual congeries of different features, which I’ve been assiduously altering from a congeries into a constellation, and I’ll talk about that, but UP FRONT let me say that absolutely nothing here is 100% confirmed or promised, everything may change up until release day, and if I get any grouchy emails complaining there are ‘only’ seventy cooking recipes then I’ll… well I’ll sigh, mark them spam and get on with my day. It’s not much of a threat.

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…

I really wanted cooking in the launch version of BOOK OF HOURS, but it was one of the half-dozen things that didn’t make the cut (a very casual way of describing the late-development triage process, which fails to evoke all the weeping forlornly at spreadsheets and bank statements). This makes it hard to connect meaningfully to the skill system. The risk with ancillary systems added later is that they can be disconnected from anything meaningful, so they just roll around under the surface of the game like one of those horrible oil globules under a steroid user’s skin.

Fortunately we have a natural use for them: salons! Which is to say, picnics, elevenses, supper, etc, where you invite visitors to chat about the invisible arts. Of course that basic outline immediately poses half a dozen questions, each of which has a couple of misleading answers before you get to a workable one, and then where the workable ones create further questions.

The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone…

For example: how  many slots do you need in a Salon verb? Ooh probably about ten, we need to revamp the verb window no that becomes wildly impractical, so instead let’s allow the Salon to respond to food placed in the room. This feels much more immersive for the Librarian, but also means reworking (a) some quite central code and (b) some of the room art – all those neatly placed chairs on the viewer side of the table made it impossible to arrange food on the table. (When I was testing the refectory I had to stack food on the mantelpiece.)

Okay then, how do food Aspects tie into the Salon process? Obviously if you want a good conversation about Resurgences & Emergences you stack the salon with as many Grail and Moth dishes this doesn’t work because much of the reason for the slot system back as far as Cultist was to make it impossible just to stack up twenty identical objects to power through an Aspect requirement. And we don’t want people maxing out Grail numbers by filling the room with cake:

This is no longer a viable strategy.

So currently, instead, individual guests have some basic dietary requirements – usually based on their traditional interests (Arthur wants a meal with at least one Lantern-aspected dish) but with some variations (al-Adim doesn’t drink, Yvette isn’t fussy). This immediately throws up some silly preferences (Dagmar won’t eat much besides Aglaophotis Soufflé, Agdistis will eat basically anything because most foods contain Heart) which will entail a final brow-furrowed tuning session and probably some post-beta tweaks, but much of which will stand because it’s basically a game and because the alternative – hand-assigning a hundred-plus food preferences to twenty-plus guests with no particular mnemonic structure – is no fun for anyone, least of all me.

So you set up your Salon in one of the five or six rooms where you can hold it (it’s nice to make more use of the Hall of Voices), you invite your guests and.. wait invite guests? Visitors show up once a season. We need to do something about that, too. So in HOUSE OF LIGHT (and this feature may migrate back to the vanilla game) you can get someone’s address once you’ve helped them out at least once (though Hokobald, paranoid as ever, will basically only give you the general location of a manhole behind a pub where he might sometimes check for correspondence). You can then write ’em an invite, send it via the Postmistress, and they turn up. If you like you can write a number of invitations in advance for your big do. Or you can actually summon them so you can push through the Visitor stories to get to the new late-game Visitor Further Stories (all the systems connect! more on this anon).

And this brings us to the winnowing phase of design, after answering a lot of these questions:

al-Adim travels a lot, do we worry about him turning up after sixty seconds while Yvette who lives in London also turns up after sixty seconds? No. It adds nothing and it makes people think too hard about exactly where everyone is; anyway a lot of our visitors have Uncanny Means of travelling. (Travelling at Night, even.)

What if you keep spamming invitations? do people stop turning up? No. This would be hassle to code, hassle to signal, and would punish people who accidentally invite the wrong guests. There is a rationale (‘when the Librarian asks, the invisible world listens’) and there is a nod to the requirement to put some effort into invitations (there’s a low-ish Aspect requirement that you can satisfy with Soul cards and the right ink, and of course Hokobald will only turn up if he gets an invitation written in Orpiment Exultant). But as with the order forms there is a hazy line between making the invitations feel like some business, so you’re not just clicking buttons on a spreadsheet, and making players jump through hoops – a line that for some people we’re already on the wrong side of.

Do you get unique Salon responses from guests for relevant food and drink? Now we’re really in the meat of it (olol). I would like visitors to have unique lines because other visitors are present. I would like people to comment on the wine. I would like people to comment on paintings hanging in the room. I would like people to have conversations that reference ongoing stories. But that right there is a requirement for – well the maths depends on how you work it, but we can easily get up to ten or twenty thousand unique lines. Or a madlibs approach like the CK3 feast system – which is fine for what it is, I like CK3, but it’s a lot of work and it’s the opposite of the handcrafted Hush House feel. And we’re not even at the headline feature for HOUSE OF LIGHT story content – the Further Stories for Visitors / Lighthouse Institute stuff – and I’d quite like to get the expansion out this year. So the answer is ‘some much smaller subset of some of the above’.

I haven’t even talked about how the cooking system works. Or Thirza’s Knife. OK so briefly: making food is much more like a traditional crafting system, though you get a little bit of potential input from Spices & Savours. Milk plus flour with a mixing bowl (CAKE TIME) is dough, dough plus eggs is cake batter, cake batter plus honey is Cornish Honey Cake (never, never to be confused with Devonshire Honey Cake). Some of the recipes require knives. We don’t actually have a kitchen knife in the game, so if you want to chop onions you might need to bring down Sebastian’s swords from the Hall of Division. Or find Thirza’s Knife, which has probably never been used to cut up anything lamentable, probably.

The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…

Wait AK what are salons for? apart from ‘deciding not to invite Hokobald’? And what’s the difference between elevenses and a picnic? and why can you only hold salons once a season? For that you’ll have to wait until my wife wrestles me back to the blog to write another update. Right now I have aspects to assign to cake.

Did somebody say cake? LB here, and I have been made very hungry over the last week as I drew all the delectably 1930s dainties that AK’s requested so far for HOUSE OF LIGHT. It requires quite a bit of research – what is the history of Pyrex? What the hell is fish ‘Monte Carlo’ style? – but I hope the consistency will really create an unusual, European historical sense of reality and you can all enjoy making prune whip for people you don’t like. The below isn’t exhaustive – I already have a host of new food to draw, from mushrooms on toast to something alarmingly called ‘Walls-of-Ys’ – but you can already pick a pretty nice meal for yourself from what we have!

You can see in the header image of this blog post how rich, joyful and tasty a full spread of food looks, and how much life it adds to Hush House. AK’s mentioned we had to adjust some rooms to facilitate soirées, but the end result can have surprisingly sweet outcomes. The Refectory looks warm and inviting, like a welcome-home banquet for a long-travelled friend – but how suitably melancholy and sweet is a tea-party in winter in the Physic Garden? I feel like Valentine Dewulf would have been much the better for one of these.

In other news of things that hopefully brighten your life, we have another MERCH LAUNCH to announce – our limited edition Hours notebooks, now available in the shop. I tried to make them classy and BOOK OF HOURS-y, and I’m delighted with how they’ve turned out. If you have need of a gently occult notebook in your life – to write your hopes, your dreams, reminders of BoH recipes, etc – these guys are for you.

Finally, we’re moving offices next month so are running a major 40% off sale off almost everything else in the shop (the one other exception is the newly-restocked Wisdom Tree pendants, which I’ve just relisted. People selfishly bought them all, but other people also wanted them and were sad, and we can’t have that). So along with the new notebooks, go nuts on our biggest ever merch sale, and help us save our ancient backs by not having to lug 10,000 Lady Afterwards up some stairs.

5 comments on What will you do with Thirza’s Knife?
  1. I don’t think your cake recipe would work very well. 😉 You could add yeast and make an enriched bread like panettone, or you could swap the milk for butter and get a traditional (pre-baking-powder) cake. You’d probably have to beat the egg whites first as a way of getting air in without baking powder. I’m almost tempted to try it. Almost. 🙂

    More seriously, the expansion sounds fun, looking forward to trying it.

    1. This is another really good example of the winnowing process! Very few recipes have only two ingredients. Fewer still have only one. And a kitchen where the only equioment is a sharp knife, a mixing bowl, and a pair of spice scales would be a daft reality TV challenge. But I decided early on that all recipes would be either one or two ingredients, plus sometimes one of three pieces of kitchenware, because otherwise the combinatorial explosion escapes from the lab and kills me even before it goes airborne.

  2. I’m so excited for this to come out!! I really hope it comes out before the fall though because I’m gonna be out for two years and that would be a bummer. At least it’s something to look forward to!

  3. You say that’s a “tea party in the Physic Garden” – but that’s clearly coffee being served! 🙂

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