Inspired by and based on Eastern European folk tales, storytelling and narrative, and led by Nicolai Troshinsky's illustration work, the game is a beautiful journey through the woods. But you have to make your own way - and it might not work out for you, as unpredictable outcomes, for better or for worse, await you every time you play.
I was extremely impressed by its aesthetic, and even more impressed to read about the process, study and research that was going on behind the scenes, informing this curious game the likes of which I'd never seen before. It didn't fit my slightly out of date notion of 'gaming' - despite being a fan of such beautiful contemporary games as Firewatch, Hohokum, Poto and Cabenga and the strange Papers Please which are illustration-led and work in a very different way from the platform / level-up format I knew in my teens and early 20s, I've been outside that world for too long, and was excited by this way of being re-introduced.
Hannah and Ed at Twisted Tree are clever people. They talk of things which in themselves sounds to the layman like a series of Dark Arts - AI, procedural generation and storytelling - and indeed producer Hannah has a PhD in Games-influenced Theatre and Theatre-influenced Games. In this article, she breaks down why this way of playing is so different and what she and Ed are trying to do:
Ed explained what they were looking for over the phone and I got to work researching Eastern European folk tales, Cyrillic script, Slavic languages and typefaces, Yuri Norstein films and folk art:
I started sketching in pencil in my sketchbook, and moved through rounds of feedback till a look was arrived at that was neither too Goth, too spiky, scary, menacing for playful - a balance that was tricky but very enjoyable to achieve as I immersed myself in the rare indulgences of fine-honing, endless tweaking and refining; we had quite a bit of time on this, which felt like an unusual pleasure:
The first problem was how to avoid what's known as 'Faux Cyrillic' - a device I've used myself on teen fiction to create the immediate suggestion of an exotic, somehow dangerous foreign language - which is the mimicking of the backward-appearance of some letters used in Soviet or Russian languages. Although it can look startling and impactful when done carefully and in the appropriate context, this was something to be avoided for this identity. So that was deleted from the concepts!
I moved to ink pretty quickly once early sketches were done; much as I love the look of a pencil drawing, it's often much easier for a client to visualise the weight and impact of a piece of type when it's rendered - albeit crudely or as a rough - in the actual medium it'll eventually appear in:
Ed liked the moon, but was wary of anything whimsical that might in any way Disney-fy the look - so this ink-washed moon was cut:
The letterforms were drawn freehand with a calligraphic nib pen, about 1/8" wide, with some strokes made with a 1/8" wide nib. The flourishes were done with my standard dip pen and favourite nib - but an older one, a little bit worn, to ensure the line wasn't too 'clean':
The final logo with its 'insignia' version, in colours to suit different uses within the game:
I'm really looking forward to seeing the game in its full and final form, and spend hours, the way I used to, playing the afternoons away. Thank you to Ed and Hannah for giving me the opportunity to get stuck into this job; it's gone down as one of my favourites, I think.