DEVELOPMENT BLOG
Abbie

An update on Season: a letter to the future

Hello travellers,

We have an important update on the status of SEASON: A letter to the future.

We are fortunate to have such a passionate and talented group of you following the game. Seeing your lovely fan art, reading conversations about your personal adventures in Discord, and viewing your reactions to our trailer has warmed our hearts, and we thank you for the support.

With this in mind, we have made the difficult decision to delay the release window to Q1 2023. We want to ensure that we are able to push for quality without it affecting the wellbeing of our team. SEASON has always been a labor of love for the team and this additional time will let us polish and refine the game to make it the special experience we set out for it to be.

We look forward to bringing you the world of SEASON: A letter to the future, and appreciate your patience while we continue to work hard on it.

With love,

Queer Game Highlights / June 2022

Hello fellow travellers!

As Pride Month draws to a close, we wanted to take a moment and highlight some of the titles that caught our attention from itch.io’s Queer Games Bundle 2022. It is an absolutely stellar amount of games from a variety of queer creators. A $60 bundle that holds 588 treasures to discover.

This bundle is a direct way to support queer developers, and provide you with a wonderful selection of experiences to choose from. Before even reading our list below we recommend you grab the bundle before its time runs out (just a few days left now!), then take a peek below at some of our recommendations of what you should take a look at first. They vary in genre and even medium, and there is something for everyone below!

SPACE / MECH / PILOT – THE UNIVERSE DRIVE

A stellar space idle RPG, SPACE / MECH / PILOT lets you become a powerful pilot, exploring the cosmos and earning a whole new arsenal of weaponry all while you multitask!

With some stylish charm and a whole bunch of extra bonuses in THE UNIVERSE DRIVE, there is a ton to unpack here and we think it is a special gem in this bundle that should be discovered!

A Normal Lost Phone

Scrolling through someone’s phone can be a surprisingly intimate experience… and A Normal Lost Phone challenges you to take a peek at a stranger’s phone to piece together what happened to its owner.

By poking through the apps, the messages, the photos and more you will act as voyeur to a coming-of-age story that explores themes like homophobia, depression, queer identity, and more.

It’s a unique experience that is worth more than a glance, it deserves a proper look!

A Mortician’s Tale

What happens when we die? Well, in A Mortician’s Tale you get the unique perspective of Charlie, a recent Funeral Director graduate who is taking her first steps in this important and often overlooked role that sorts out our physical bodies at the end.

It is death positive, honest, informative and even occasionally funny as you prepare the bodies of the deceased, attend funerals and talk to the loved ones, and deal with your own interpersonal relationships.

It is a short but surprisingly deep experience.

Electric Zine Maker

Zines are basically peak queer culture and with the fancy Electric Zine Maker now you can make your own! With an interface that is part MS Paint, part KidPix, part Storybook Weaver – it gives you many of the tools you’ll need to create your very own zine.

They are even working to add even more tools, more features, and even a little story that unfolds through its interface and characters.

An art toy that is very much worth your time!

What’s your gender?

Part game jam game, part art installation, and all-around dialogue about gender identity, What’s your gender? has to be experienced to be understood.

Through exploring a non-euclidean labyrinth, you will explore how gender is perceived and how we identify ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

We really recommend stepping into this void and seeing what you can learn.

2064: Read Only Memories

Inspired by old-school adventure games, 2064: Read Only Memories takes that classic approach and introduces a modern story and a futuristic setting. Set in Neo-San Francisco in the near future, it is a futuristic society with advances like genetic alteration, and (potential) artificial intelligence. When the first sapient machine crashes into the life of a struggling journalist, nothing will ever be the same.

With an all-star cast, a lo-fi synth soundtrack, and a branching storyline that explores what it means to be human, 2064 is a bundle standout.

We should talk

With one of the most unique takes on dialogue choices we’ve seen in a game, We should talk explores the meaning of words and how they affect our relationships. The game takes place over an evening as you chat with friends, and your partner via text. The direction the evening takes all depends on your choice of words.

With multiple ends and branches to take, We should talk is a unique experience on the power of words.

Later Daters

A dating sim from the fine folks at Bloom Digital Media, Later Daters has you step into the shoes of a senior who has just moved into Ye OLDE Retirement Community. There are many new neighbors to meet and date, and it is up to you to see who is the best fit for you!

Exploring intimacy through a unique perspective, Later Daters features LGBTQ and Poly inclusive romances, a senior character creator, intimate adventures that explore themes of mortality & vulnerability, and more!

Heaven Nor Hell

A tabletop game for two players, Heaven Nor Hell by Kienna S puts you and your partner in the shoes of two otherworldly immortals who are very much in love – but it is a forbidden love. 

Through prompts and scenes, you will tell the story of your relationship. These are the stolen moments on Earth over the eons where you found each other and yourselves.

tumblr feels at 2am

Scrolling endlessly through your feed, the only light in your room comes from your laptop as you struggle to keep your eyes open. Images of all sorts pass by – jokes, memes, GIFs from TV shows you don’t watch… you scroll looking to see what you might add to your queue. The content that fits your aesthetic.

This solo journaling tabletop game by Taylor Curreysmith recreates that feeling.

Frame 352

Pick up a camera, pocket a handful of coins, and print out that zine. (This is how that Broken Social Scene song goes right?) Frame 352 by Maxwell Lander is all about walking around and finding the cryptids that lurk just out of sight.

In a genius bit of streamlined game design, Frame 352 gently prompts and pushes you to get out and move and also think creatively about the world around you.

Glitter Hearts

It is time for your very own magical girl transformation scene. In Glitter Hearts by Greg Leatherman, you will create your very own magical character to do battle with the forces of evil. With 3-6 players, a pair of six-sided dice, and a few hours you will do battle and also explore what your everyday life looks like when you’re not battling evil.

A great starting place for folks who haven’t dived into the world of tabletop role-playing games, Glitter Hearts is worth getting some friends together for.


These dozen games are just a small part of of the Queer Games Bundle that is available on itch.io! We hope this helps convince you to grab the bundle and support queer creators. These games are all inspirations and come from some of the most talented folks in our industry, and they should be supported.

If you want to chat about these games, or other games from the bundle, we’d love to hear your thoughts over on our Discord!

Happy Pride 2022 from all of us at Scavengers Studios! <3

Be safe in your journeys, and never forget.

With love,

Narrative Design Interview / June 2022

Hello fellow travellers!

Welcome back to our monthly blog posts, where we’ll be looking more in-depth into Season: a letter to the future – and peek behind the curtain to see what inspires our team. We’ll use this space to tell you more about our world, our characters and the talented team of individuals working on the game.

In this month’s instalment, we will chat with Narrative Designer Megan Hutchison about the world of Season, its roots, and what we can expect from it when we explore it soon.

Caption: Season: a letter to the future

Questions with Megan!

1. Let’s start off with one that lots of folks get wrong, what exactly does a Narrative Designer do?

On Season, the narrative designers do story integration into gameplay mechanics. That is a bit of a wide net that I’ve cast there, but it is easiest to think of narrative designers as the bridge between game designers and writers. We take the words and story that the writer is trying to communicate and figure out how to build it into the world of Season. We do this by creating quests or things in the game to discover along the way. 

We are very lucky to have such a small team on Season, and we support each other with the sprints’ tasks. For example, sometimes the writer might want some help figuring out lore that builds off of the landscape, or we might help with integrating accessibility text (subtitles). One of my tasks is ensuring the grammar in the game is Canadian (all the extra u’s and l’s). The narrative designers (there are two of us!) end up doing a lot of different things to support the development of Season.

 

2. How does a video game tell a story differently to a book? Or a movie? What is it most like?

It can be a bit of both! Games are intermedial products that blend different areas of creation together to build an experience. Narrative games are a byproduct of the media that came before them. 

I find that books and movies hold control over the reader. You don’t have much agency as a reader – you can either read or not. There are no choices in where you go or what you choose to learn about; that’s where games differ. In Season, you choose where you go, so you can change the order of what you learn or explore sections to uncover more information. For this reason, a player is often referred to as a “cyborg”; they use the controller as a piece of technology that encodes their intentions for the game character to do. So through the controller, you become a cyborg and have agency. 

Dr. Alexander Galloway has a wonderful collection of essays in his book: Gaming Essays on Algorithmic Culture, where he compares video games to movies. Regarding framing the camera, we can see inspiration from filmmaking (and Oli talked about this too in his interview below!). The team looked at their favourite movies to decide how the camera would act within the game. 

Any of the narrative scenes are designed the same way as you would a movie. You have a script that turns into a storyboard, and then you animate the characters, add lighting, voice acting, and polish! 

Video games are unique, but we are still just trying to tell a story and have the viewers be entertained.

 

Caption: Season: a letter to the future

3. In these blog posts we’ve talked a lot about what inspired Season, what specifically inspired you while working on the game?

I take inspiration from my studies and past experiences. I studied filmmaking in undergrad and worked in a theatre for a while on sound design. Then I did a masters in literature. Now I’m working on Season and doing a PhD in game studies. 

The class I keep returning to is one I took for my masters, taught by Dr. Sandra Singer on trauma studies. Which I know sounds dark, but I love dark things. We learned about the collective memory of events,  which is best described as a question, like “where were you during 9/11?”. This question for people alive during that time triggers a memory of when they learned of the fall of the towers. For me, I was in school and too young to understand what had happened, but my parents could tell me exactly what they were doing on that day. It’s the idea that events tie us all together, we all have different perspectives of an event, and piecing those together will give us a better view of the moment in time they lived within. 

As Estelle meets people, I remind myself that we are writing a story that isn’t egocentric. Estelle is there to show you the world and learn; everyone has a story to tell.

4. Are there any early concepts while developing the game that didn’t make it in but still stick with you?

I had written a lot of lore that isn’t in the game. For example, I really like thinking about death and burials, so I came up with a history of how people were buried in a place that Estelle visits. But none of that made it into the game. Some may think “aww man that’s a bummer,” but I would disagree with that. The practice of writing that lore made me understand the world better, and pieces of it inspired other storylines. Even though an idea isn’t in the game in its original form, it still makes an impact on the story and the team. 

For me, that’s the meaning of collaboration.

 

Caption: Season: a letter to the future

5. Without spoiling too much, what will players find familiar about the world of Season?

I find the farmlands really comforting and familiar to my life. If you watch our gameplay trailer, you can see the cows, which always reminds me of my grandfather’s farm. I grew up surrounded by these lovely large dogs (the cows act like giant dogs), and caring for them was a lovely pleasure. 

With that, the locations in the game have some unique features, but they are pulled from the experiences and places that our team has visited. Some of the fears and stories of the characters are also very relatable to issues we would see in reality.

 

Caption: Season: a letter to the future

6. Is there any recent media, games or otherwise, that could have (or did!) inspire Season?

I am very new to game development, so I was given homework by my coworkers to learn more about level design and narrative design. I must say, getting homework to play games is pretty rad. 

Oli had me play Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to understand how quest items can be hidden in a space that makes them not obvious but also work in the scene. He explained it as a radius of a location. Items should be placed by importance, with the least important items placed further away from the middle. For example, when approaching an area, a narrative item far away should introduce the quest, but it needs to be placed where it is framed by a player entering the area. Then the key to the quest is in the middle, encouraging players towards the pivotal point. 

There are other games I looked to for guidance as well: Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, to understand how a mystery can be set up. Tell Me Why for emotional storytelling. Outer Wilds for world-building (I managed to permanently die in this game while streaming to the studio…). Finally, Disco Elysium for the gold standard for dialogue.

Caption: Disco Elysium

7. The world of Season is vast and rich, with a storied history. Is there any little tidbit or teaser that you love that you can share?

The Season’s history is based on the ages of our own world. We tried to base the way of life in each of these ages on what happened in our reality.

 

8. For any aspiring (or current) Narrative Designers that might read this, what is one piece of advice you might offer them?

Find mentors to support you. I am extremely lucky to work at a studio that listened to my interest in narrative design and took a risk on the community manager to teach her about things like how to use the Unreal Engine, and everything else that goes with game development. 

My other piece of advice is to keep reading. I have a background in academics of games, and you can learn a lot from reading about game development. There are a couple of writers that I love, so I’ll tell you all about them. Matthew Thomas Payne inspired a lot of my masters research from his books Joystick Soldiers, and Playing War. For a look at Queer Studies in games, Bonnie Ruberg is your person, their book Video Games Have Always Been Queer is a great place to start.  If you are more interested in learning about ethical choices in games, then check out Miguel Sicart, and start with Play Matters. Finally,  if you want to look at gaming cultures, Mia Consalvo is your researcher. Her most recent book Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames, looks into gamer cultures of what we consider to be a “real game” or respectable to admit to playing. 

Finally, leave your ego at the door. No matter your background, you will always have something to learn from discussing ideas with your team. Find that supportive environment and steal all the wisdom that you can.

 

Caption: Tell Me Why

9. What in Season feels most like home to you?

When I started to work on Season, I made a big move from Brampton to Montreal. I had been living in isolation with my family, surrounded by all I knew. It felt like I was breaking this safety bubble and what I knew to head into the unknown. It was the first move I made to be a real adult and live alone. As I worked on Estelle’s story, I felt comfort in this woman going off to explore the world for herself.

10. Is there any place, or person, in your life that directly inspired your writing on the game?

I mentioned my grandfather earlier. As I write, he keeps popping into my head. He grew up in Paraguay on a farm and went by horse to school. In his youth, he was an engineer aboard a ship, travelling around South America. He did many things before settling in Canada on the Ontario / Quebec border and became a farmer. As a child, I would follow him to the barn to feed the animals and then to the workshop. Every time I was in that workshop we would silently work, I would clean up the wood shavings and he would carve me a wooden bowl. I did that with him every time I visited, and he taught me the power of silence and connection. 

Sometimes it’s not what you say; instead, being together can make all the difference. 

The world of Season is complex, as are the people you meet. I like to think the place we built is one my grandfather would like to explore.

Caption: Megan at her Grandfather’s farm

Thank you for taking the time to read our update! We’d love to hear your thoughts on our Discord, where you can talk to the developers, share your own inspirations, and learn more about Season.

Don’t forget that we also have a newsletter that will share some different information you won’t get in our blog posts! In our following missive, we’ll be sharing details about our upcoming Developer Q&A!

Be safe in your journeys, and never forget.

With love,

Level Design Interview / April 2022

Hello fellow travellers!

Welcome back to our monthly blog posts, where we’ll be looking more in-depth into Season – and peek behind the curtain to see what inspires our team. We’ll be using this space to tell you more about our world, our characters and the talented team of individuals working on the game.

In this month’s instalment, we will be sharing a deep dive with Level Designer Oli Reeves about what goes into making a world fit for players to discover.

Caption: Season [WIP / Alpha]

Questions with Oli!

1. What considerations do you need to make as a level designer to keep things unique to Season’s Art style?

In regards to Season’s art style and my approach to level design, two elements came to mind regarding our aesthetic: lighting and composition. Given that the art direction is driven by a variation of toon shading, we have only two nuances of lighting: shadow and light. This also affects the number of lighting options we can use to guide the player. 

Under those circumstances, we have to reinforce other composition aspects to lead the player. We use strong focal points as attractors, leading lines to make the environment easily readable, and contrasting colours and movements to catch their attention. The stylised silhouettes of our structures work with our rich palette to create landmarks that can be seen from far away to influence our players’ path.

 

2. What inspiration do you pull from with your design recommendations?

As with any creative effort, I love pulling references from real life to understand how things fit together. Whether from architecture, urbanism, or landscaping, you can’t ever go wrong by starting with references. Google is your best friend!

I’m fond of the principle of designing with intention. In other words, I first identify what our goal is, whether it is to lead the player in between two locations, guide the player toward an eye-catching landmark or tell a story within a given space. Once we have a goal set, we can then use paths, composition, shapes, VFX, sounds, and the rest of our LD palette to sell that goal we put in for ourselves.

 

Caption: My Neighbour Totoro

On the artistic side, I lean on Ghibli-esque inspired visual style aesthetic. The pastoral environments and soothing compositions in My Neighbor Totoro and Ni No Kuni are full of inspiring ideas and anecdotal environmental moments, like a torii gate hidden among a bamboo grove or a rickety wooden bridge crossing an overgrown rivulet.

On the design side, I take inspiration from browsing concept arts, watching movie analyses and generally being a lover of the visual arts. There’s a lot to learn from the masters’ works, and looking is generally free!

3. How does one get into the field of level design?

I believe there are several ways to become a level designer because this design field requires a vast array of skills, depending on the project. A background in architecture or urbanism can be valuable assets when creating believable environments; writing skills and narrative-focused minds help add context and stories through the layouts created; an eye for detail and an artistic education will lead to compositions that are easy to read and inviting for the player; technical knowledge in node-based programmings, such as Unreal’s Blueprints, helps create a prototype quickly and share your vision more concretely. 

Lastly, but most importantly, adaptability and communication skills are key. Level designers are often the glue that binds all the other departments together since we are in charge of the playground. Being on the ground, level designers are the bridge between the art team in the world and the game design team.

 

4. How do cinematography techniques work into level design?

Much like other visual media, the field of level design borrows heavily from composition and framing rules. We are creating a living tableau that the player can explore at their leisure. Techniques such as leading lines, use of colours and textures, rule of thirds, negative space, contrast and lighting, parallax, and framing are all skills that find their use in movies and video games. As Tony Zhou put it, every frame is a painting.

 

Caption: My Neighbour Totoro

5. The “golden path” describes the main path developers want players to follow through a game. How do you determine what goes on that path and what goes to the sides?

As I was ramping up on the project, I sat down with our narrative team to determine the flow of our map. In other words, we went over each location to determine their value for the world and the story we wanted to tell. We then determined what path they should take if we never wanted them to backtrack. 

This process left us with a handful of minor locations that either told side stories or exposed complementary information to understand our world or our characters. I went over those locations to reinforce their themes and visuals to ensure that each one of them stood out. We want players to feel rewarded if they go off the golden path.

 

Caption: Season [WIP / Alpha]

6. How do you get players to follow the golden path? Are there any tricks or methods you use?

Players are often very curious and eager to explore the world. They can easily be diverted off the main path into side areas. To guide them through a more open map, they need to be able to figure their way around by using landmarks, much like in an attraction park. We can treat these landmarks as points of interest that the players will focus on, mostly out of curiosity but sometimes out of need. For instance, if a character informs them something is interesting at the lighthouse, players are likely to use it as a point of interest for their next destination. The path to these landmarks needs to be visible so players can plan their journey. On the way there, we strategically place side paths with clear forks in the road to give agency to the player. We make sure the path loops back to the main road they were on, with the landmark they were following in sight, so they can pick up where they left off!

 

7. How has technology, or new ways to develop games, changed how level design works and is implemented?

One of the greatest technological advancements in our field in the last decade is the democratisation of game development. Game development is becoming more accessible with the help of node-based programming, asset stores and engines that have free versions. This makes it easier for new developers or students to get a good looking result straight out of the toolbox. Obtaining results fast allows them to test things out and explore ideas that otherwise wouldn’t fit in tight schedules.

When I graduated from college, several projects looked amazing, and we were proud to raise the bar from the previous cohorts. Less than a year later, students from the following cohorts were simply blowing us out of the water with the arrival of UE4. Their projects looked incredible, and so did the cohort after them and the one after that.

 

Caption: The Last of Us Part Two

8. What are some of your favourite examples of good level design? What makes them good?

Very much like food or music, taste in level design depends on each person and varies wildly from one game to another. My favourite level design decisions might not be everyone else’s cup of tea, and that’s perfectly fine.

That being said, I would say the series that has stuck with me the most in the last years in terms of level design is the reboot of the Hitman franchise. The amount of agency they give to the player and the richness of options and scenarios to reach and assassinate targets are astounding. IO Interactive delivered several playgrounds that fully exploit their game loop: explore, investigate, locate, assassinate and extract. 

There are several other games I could name as honourable mentions, such as Red Dead Redemption 2 for its open-world design, The Last of Us Part Two for its impeccable use of lighting, framing and atmosphere, but the Hitman reboots are the games I feel have pushed the boundaries of level design as we know it.

 

Caption: Hitman [2016] – Hokkaido, Japan

9. How does level design differ in games in different genres? Compared to other games, what considerations do you have to make for a game like Season?

I find genres are an interesting question in video game culture. Unlike movies, where genres are usually determined by the feeling they aim to evoke, whether horror, romance, thrill, video games genre is often established by using their camera, like a first-person shooter, side-scrollers, third-person adventure. Some games even allow you to use vastly different cameras to play with. This and non-linear exploration or non-linear storytelling can create design challenges when guiding or pacing the player. 

In the case of Season, our third-person camera and non-linear approach to world-building allow me to create picturesque environments ripe for exploration with the help of our art team, where I can hide interesting things in nooks and crannies based on the story intentions of our narrative team. I love the “organising the treasure hunt” part of level design.

 

Caption: Season [WIP / Alpha]


Thank you for taking the time to read our update! We’d love to hear your thoughts on our Discord, where you can talk to the developers, share your own inspirations, and learn more about Season. You’ll even get to see one extra level design mockup/WIP that we left out of this post!

Don’t forget that we also have a newsletter that will share some different information you won’t get in our blog posts! In our following missive, we’ll be talking about how our protagonist interacts with the world and how she records her travels.

Be safe in your journeys, and never forget.

With love,