Howdy friends! I’m Brandon, Lead Narrative Designer at Ocean Drive, and a writer/designer on Veil of the Witch. The Communications team, in their infinite wisdom and mercy, have decided to give Jin Sang a reprieve from writing blog posts so he can focus on actually making the game, which means it’s ya boy’s turn to work a shift in the content mines.
In our last dev log, Jin Sang talked a bit about how the concept for VotW came about, from a studio and business perspective. In this post, I’d like to follow up on that, and talk a bit more about the game’s story — specifically, what relation it has to the previous title, and why we made some of the choices we did when setting out on this project.
Fair warning: if you haven’t finished Lost Eidolons yet, this post will contain major spoilers for that game. So read it at your own peril, cuz I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon, feeling pretty spicy, and I’m sick of being coy.
Here we go!
SPOILER STUFF STARTS HERE, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
To talk about the premise of VotW’s story, we should start with a quick recap of the first game, and how this one arises from it.
The first Lost Eidolons is, in my view, structurally a tragedy. It’s a classic tale about a small-town guy with a good heart, who finds himself drawn into a war that sparks a struggle within his own heart.
In the game’s opening hours, the set-up seems pretty straightforward: it’s a righteous struggle for freedom between an underdog (the once-great House Feniche of Benerio) and a brutal imperialist regime (the Ludivictan Empire).
But when the bad guys go down unexpectedly early, the game’s real conflict comes into focus: a chaotic civil war between former allies, with just a whiff of class struggle. And once ancient gods come into the mix, it becomes a battle for one man’s soul that decides the fate of a continent.
I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of things about Lost Eidolons that the team might do differently today, with the benefit of hindsight. But as a writer who came onto that project a few years into development, this is one of my favorite aspects of the original, and I think one of its most successful elements: it zigs when you expect it to zag, and fully embraces the moral complexities of low fantasy.
So when we decided to embark on Veil of the Witch, one of the first questions we had to settle was: how far after the first game is it set, how connected are the two, and what does the world of Artemesia look like now? Because really, so much of the setting’s future is decided by a single question: Does Eden go on to become a good ruler, or a bad one? Does he break the cycle of morally compromised leaders, and turn Artemesia into a better place? Or does he fall prey to that same cycle, his principles falling by the wayside as he pursues the power to uphold them, in an endless self-destructive spiral?
Tough question! Especially because the original game has multiple endings. It’s no wonder so many RPG series just sidestep the whole issue and time-jump 200 years between games.
I’m a pretty firm believer that every game in a franchise like this needs to be able to stand on its own two legs and tell a satisfying self-contained story, or all that great worldbuilding ceases to be an asset, and instead becomes a weighted blanket that smothers creativity. But you also want to build on previous entries, honoring the experience of existing players, or you run the risk of the world and franchise losing any kind of consistent identity.
This is a bull I expect we’ll have to wrestle for every new game in the series. But for this particular title, we decided to set the story 5 years out from the first: a span of time that lets us play in the same space (and share some characters), while granting enough distance to let us see how the world has changed as a result of Eden and the player’s efforts.
Five years on, Artemesia is a land in the midst of healing and rebuilding. In the capital, Eden and his allies have set up a transitional government with two priorities: getting the continent back on its feet after a devastating war, and establishing safeguards against the kind of corruption that led to that war in the first place. The result is that they’re doing a pretty decent job, but they’re slow to respond to threats, because they’ve got their hands full with a million other things.
So that’s the backdrop we’re playing against.
From there, Veil of the Witch’s story kind of emerges naturally.
There’s a slowly growing antagonistic faction, on the edges of the world. Specifically, a neo-fascist Imperial cult secretly amassing on Anareios, a remote island off the coast, where dire developments can be mistaken for distant rumors. The bad guys are dabbling in dark magic and necromancy. People are going missing. The locals are starting to whisper about shambling figures in the misty countryside, and how dangerous it is to travel certain roads alone.
Our new protagonist (whose name and gender are customizable, but we call Ashe by default) is an unlucky outsider traveling to Anareios on a personal quest. Then their ship hits the rocks, and suddenly they’re stranded on a zombie-infested island where the only way out is through. They’re joined by fellow survivors, some of whom are new faces, and some of whom are returning characters from Lost Eidolons. (And for those who enjoyed the first game, we take some of these characters in wildly new directions that I think you’ll really, really enjoy.)
<Super early look at VotW characters. Can you make out any of them?>
Most of the game’s plot is still shifting ice, but here’s the stuff I can tell you that’s not likely to change.
The hero isn’t quite so earnest this time around. Eden’s sort of a typical fantasy hero; Ashe is more of a cunning antihero, here to do a job, and doing it for their own reasons.
The Eidolons are, let us say, not so lost anymore. As in, you will meet one in the game’s first few hours.
While the setting is still generally low fantasy, we’re playing with the boundaries of that, and infusing a hefty dose of dark fantasy (one of my favorite genres). Lost Eidolons will probably never be the kind of world where heroes teleport between nations or ride dragons into battle. But it might be a world where a traveler willing to venture far enough off the map’s edge can find strange entities in shadowy places to cut fell pacts with. (If you’re a fan of Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or Ursula Le Guin, I think you’ll feel right at home here.)
It’s a roguelite where you die and restart a lot, and those things aren’t just hand-waved as gameplay contrivances; they’re incorporated directly into the story.
<Another super early look at the defeat screen. It’s not going to look like this when we’re done>
Because of this, the narrative structure borrows from games like Hades, and incorporates a lot of looping elements. Much of the story is told through unlockable flashbacks, random events, and repeating encounters that iteratively offer new dialogue.
We’ve said in a few previous posts that this game won’t be as story-heavy as the first. But I’d like to clarify that point, for bookish dorks like me whose hackles go up when they hear stuff like that.
Veil of the Witch is NOT a story-free zone. It will have plenty of story. Our goal is just to tell that story with a lighter touch, more modern narrative design, and a core loop that’s a little more organically gameplay-driven. Instead of an hour-long battle followed by an hour of cutscenes, now it’s ten minutes of combat followed by a few minutes of talking.
Brisk. Exciting. Dark. Mysterious. Doing more with less.
These are the story and narrative design goals for Veil of the Witch.
At least, if it all works out as planned. But who knows? We’re still pretty early-days on this project, so it could still turn out disastrously! Game development is hard.