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Mask of the Rose: from here to release

Greetings, Delicious Friends! This month, I’d like to update you with a general overview of the state of progress on Mask and let you in on some of the challenges we still face in the last few months of production.

Artwork

We’ve now finished artwork for all the characters in the game. You’ll have met most of the major players if you’ve played the Mask of the Rose Demo, but we have almost as many secondary characters to introduce in the full game, including some familiar faces included thanks to our backers.

Including the Tentacled Entrepreneur

Our other primary type of art in Mask is location art. Our pipeline for backgrounds uses three steps: render the basic geometry of the scene in 3D; add colour and detail with digital painting; then light and animate.

We now have all the backgrounds present in the game, but many still need bringing to life with this final stage; adding in animated elements such as fog and swarms of bats, and the character lighting that makes London appropriately atmospheric. This kind of work sounds minor, but it’s the difference between the game looking “just okay” (and a bit flat), or looking polished and inviting.

Writing

Mask is split into three seasons; Confessions, Yule, and Love. In the demo, you experience a (much truncated) version of the Season of Confessions (you’ll have more time to look around and introduce yourself to the cast in the full game). This is followed by the Season of Yule, which introduces the murder investigation and is the longest season in the game. The Season of Love is shorter, but arguably the most important; this is when the murder mystery concludes and tender feelings blossom amongst the characters.

Currently, writing has been done up to the end of the Season of Confessions and the end of the Season of Yule, although we’re still weaving some additional characters into the Season of Confessions. We’ve introduced a second writer to the project, James, to help Emily by writing the plotlines for specific characters. Those who enjoyed his work on the Church in Fallen London will appreciate what he’s done with the not-yet-Bishop-of-Southwark!

The remaining goals are to reach end to end playability and bring all the threads to satisfying conclusions in the Season of Love. This is what Emily and James will focus on finishing in the next few months.

Tech and Gameplay

All of the major user interfaces are now in the game. Séamus and Toby recently finished work on a nifty “codex” menu that stores all the player’s information, such as relationship events, murder clues, and a conversation log.

Forgive the redaction, we'll show you more of this further down the line

The biggest gameplay feature still in progress is Storycrafting, the player-driven storytelling mechanic we use in different ways to represent the player character taking “commissioned” work for NPCs and theorising about the murder. Storycrafting involves activities like crafting love stories for Pages, generating page-turning plots for Rachel, as well as a few “tails” you might not expect. Alongside tech and UI work, this feature also requires writer work to populate the features with story possibilities.

Sound

Composer Laurence Chapman has delivered versions of most of the pieces in the game, and we’ve signed off on them ready for recording. We still have a few left to hear and approve, which he’ll be delivering to us between now and May, with a final recording session organised in June.

As well as new tunes you didn’t hear in the demo, you’ll hear fresh versions of familiar themes in the full game. The music is being re-recorded with live instruments (the demo mainly used solo piano performances and sampled instruments). We’re very excited to share the soundtrack with the world and think backers who nabbed it will be happy with the final product. The soundtrack has become a “work music” mainstay for some of us at Failbetter already.

For my part, I’ve finished up on the ambient sound design which complements each unique location you visit.

“Just Ship It!”

All that sounds like we’re pretty close to done, right? Well, yes and no.

We normally prioritise the biggest and riskiest chunks of work first, to allow us to produce an end to end playable build as soon as possible. That leaves us with a long list of smaller tasks to mop up. Some examples:

  • Art: Icons for use in storycrafting and wardrobe choices for the player.

  • Writing: Content for achievements and backer rewards.

  • Tech and Gameplay: Audio and graphical options, such as support for letterboxing on ultra-wide screens.

  • Sound: Special sound effects to punctuate particularly dramatic moments.

The full list (it’s a spreadsheet, of course!) is a great deal longer. On their own, these tasks are small, but in aggregate they become time-consuming.

A second time-consuming activity is polish and bug fixing. Hemingway said “the only kind of writing is rewriting”; so applying the same logic, the only kind of game development is fixing bugs. (And because we’re making a narrative game, it’s rewriting as well.)

Finally, there’s significant work surrounding the release of the game, work which, if it is done well, is invisible to the player. Particularly notable is that we are planning to ship on Switch at launch; the first time we’ve done simultaneous release on console and computers. Developing for Switch is a bit like trying to make a mobile version at the same time as the PC version, and on top of that, there’s a rigorous process of console certification.

None of this should be read as a pessimistic assessment. We’re still on track for a fabulous romance this Autumn; but although the finish line seems tantalisingly close, the team and I know that the last mile is the hardest.