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Resurrecting and delivering our indie game after 5 years - Part II: On the Brewing of Universes

We continue our journey through the development an occult stealth indie, this time with details about the narrative development, including the creation of the protagonist and how Its strong personality influenced many of our creative decisions.

Welcome back to our series about occult stealth action game Qasir al-Wasat! In Part I we discussed the origins of the development team and the beggining of the project. This second section brings you details about the narrative development, including the creation of the protagonist and how Its strong personality influenced many of our creative decisions. So step over this chalk circle, hold tight to this ritual key and let us guide you to a world far away from here. 
The magical chalk circle

A creature from another world

Qasir al-Wasat began with the concept of an invisible protagonist and all the implications that it brings. This trait would become the core influence on the game’s creative decisions, especially the character's personality and the game’s narrative.  

It is only natural, then, that we began the development of Qasir´s narrative by understanding Its protagonist as best as we could. 

Being invisible and wishing to remain unnoticed, Subtle’s possible interactions with the human world would always be cold and distant. But more than Its physical relation to this world, our protagonist's detachment became reflected in Its reproachful opinions of humans. In this way, It always takes the role of an outsider.

The invisible nature of this creature and the medieval setting we had in mind implied some sort of supernatural origin, a dæmon from another plane of existence. In researching suitable options for Its home dimension we came across this occultism manual called Ars Goetia. Throught it we gaining understanding of the 72 governing spirits and went on to establish Goetia itself as a full fledged world. A warring realm, where other Goetians would be fighting an endless war, result of their strong individual personalities and a complete absence of self-restrictions. A strong and yet delicate hierarchy is in place, as these powerful, and mostly brute, spirits keep struggling for power and supremacy.

Different from Its compatriots, we decided Subtle would have a fragile constitution, making It much more careful about Its actions. To survive in such a world It must observe, be furtive and make the right decisions. That doesn't mean It is less ambitious than Its compatriots, as Subtle is definitely up for challenges and isn’t afraid to take risks.

 Concerning Goetian Spirits

In the eyes of a demon

When taking a creature such as Subtle to the human world there is a cognitive shock that keeps the spirit distant and critical of humans and their behavior. In the eyes of this Spirit, humanity in general is weak willed and unable to do what’s necessary to effect into the world their true desires.  

Nonetheless, Subtle is curious about their way of living (a singular trait in a Goetian), and even more curious about human creations, objects of art in every format. This is Subtle’s redeeming trait. 

To use this during the game development we created a scale comparing things Subtle would distance itself of (seeing them as caricatures and archetypes) and things It would see with fresher eyes, in more detail and with more praise. This way, humans would be at one end of the spectrum, and objects of art at the other. This would become a central influence in the game’s creative development, especially when related to the asset’s creation.

A selection of inhabitants from another palace 

Building a fortress, stone by stone

In parallel to the protagonist development, there was also the process of creating a mysterious palace. The setting to which Subtle’s would be summoned to should be an interesting one, from the spirit’s point a view. Therefore, it should be somewhere it would like to explore and understand better.

Having decided for a medieval syrian setting, it was only natural we would take inspiration from the One Thousand And One Nights tales. All of this made o Qasir al-Wasat a palace of wonders, with infinite treasures and a deep mystery. Ancient forces that are built into the fortress, creating and unknown territory even for those who think they know the place. To this setting we added a powerful wizard, one with knowledge that might be useful to our protagonist, and several inhabitants from different backgrounds and with singular stories.

Farid ibn Abihi al-Saahir 

How we told the story

As the players goes through Qasir al-Wasat, they walk alongside Subtle and follow what interests It and what It would normally do or react. Apart from inlaid elements, the narrative is revealed through three main avenues.  

The first one is navigating through space. By exploring the palace the player creates its own narrative. As the player walks around Qasir and decides to pay attention to some objects or to listen to some of the inhabitants, a new story naturally emerges.

The second is listening to dialogs and monologs by the other inhabitants. Some of this stories are only musings about the inhabitant’s life, but sometimes Subtle might discover important information on the central narrative. Having several narratives inside a central story corroborates to the A Thousand Nights feeling, as traditionally a character inside one will be the narrator to another, and in this one there will be another story, and so on.

The last way in which Qasir’s tells its main plot is through what we called remarkables: objects and letters that might catch Subtle’s interest and which help in the exposition of deeper or simply more complex information. Doing so through beautiful artistical objects not only keeps the spirit interest’s in character, they also establish an atmosphere of magic and wonder.

Using these elements we built a system where the player could navigate and make their own choices. There is no morality into the game itself - mostly because the protagonist has a very straightforward moral system Itself - but there are choices that are more or less in character. The game was built in a way that staying in character would help the player achieve more interesting results.

Eavesdropping on the Sorcerer's guards

Coming up, a visual journey

Part III will get into detail over the visual development of Qasir al-Wasat, where we hope to give a better understanding of which were our references, how the visual style was created and how the final assets were made.

Until then, we'll keep posting more content about the game's development on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, stay on the (chalk) loop!

See you soon!

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