This is a really charming game. Just the right length to get the story across and consistently funny all the way through. It feels as though it's a set up for a series, and the characters are interesting enough that I'd love to see more of them <3
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Why Goblins? (and not Orcs)
In the first two weeks following our demo release, we’ve been getting a lot of comments from various sources about how it’s tempting to call the cast of The Inverted Spire “orcs" rather than "goblins." Given their humanoid shape and miniature tusks, this is entirely understandable!
There is, however, a story behind why yours truly (the writer) ultimately made the conscious decision to call them goblins.
Are you curious? Then by all means, read on!
As a long-time fantasy enthusiast, I was first introduced to orcs through J.R.R. Tolkien, who came to the word by way of a conflation in Old English etymology with a Latin-based word for a god of the underworld (Orcus).
In Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythology, they were a species “bred in mockery of the elves.”
This, dear reader, is where it started to get a little weird for younger me.
Tolkien’s orcs, by some bizarre twist of fantasy Social Darwinism, are inherently evil. Themes of "corruption" vs. "blood purity" run rampant in his work. Descriptions of their features also bear an uncomfortable similarity to orientalist caricatures of the early 20th century, and Tolkien himself gives lip service to the connection.
I do acknowledge that Tolkien also went out of his way to condemn race science in his personal writings. This interpretation has no bearing on my opinion of the man himself. However, it is not uncommon for unconscious bias to slip into fiction. Even as a child, reading his books and watching the movies for the first time, such troubling parallels with the racist war propaganda of his era were hard for me to unsee.
I was later reintroduced to orcs through Dungeons and Dragons.
This time, upon being given the opportunity, I was very excited to play a half-orc character.
It is here that I learned “racial intelligence penalties” were a part of character creation. Setting aside the dark real-world history invoked by this statement alone, I also learned the option of a fully orcish character was not accommodated by our setting. This was because orcs as a group were described as inherently "brutish" and "uncivilized." Characteristics that were supposedly kept in check by the presence of human genes in a half-orc.
Once again I felt myself staring down the barrel of some very uncomfortable parallels that made the experience feel bittersweet.
I will not beleaguer the point too much by dwelling on this topic, but suffice to say, I am a person who was, unfortunately, forced to confront legacies of racism at an early age. I still adore high fantasy, even if the racialized history of 20th century fantasy settings is a difficult one to shake.
If you are interested in learning more about it (and the recent social media hubbub somehow passed you by), James Mendez Hodes has some excellent articles on this theme (a link to his blog: https://bit.ly/3m1cp59). He is also far from the first to write at length on this topic, and indeed, it is a very common critique of "inherent racial traits" and other disconcerting staples of fantasy species in worldbuilding.
I would like to add that I have since observed many writers and artists reclaiming orcs through the lens of decolonization and anti-imperialism. This gives me joy to read, but it was not a trend I wanted to engage with through The Inverted Spire.
Goblins, by comparison, are fae creatures that I first encountered through folklore.
Their representation as a codified “monstrous race” in high fantasy settings, with all the biological essentialism that implies, was not known to me until much later.
Legends of goblin-like creatures as mischievous troublemakers around the world have also turned the word into a colloquialism. It’s pretty common in my circle to hear people refer to themselves, in a fondly self-deprecating way, as “goblins.”
One might even be tempted to say that goblins, like many other fantastical, but oddly sympathetic outsider monsters, have become a part of certain branches of queer culture.
Goblins also have an awkward history, in the pages of the occasional contemporary fantasy world, of being laden with anti-semitic stereotypes: they are depicted (whether out of subconscious internalization of such ideas or genuine intent) as greedy, power-hungry bureaucrats with a caricatured appearance straight out of a Nazi political cartoon.
This, I must confess, is a trend yours truly takes unique pleasure in subverting.
But even the word “goblin,” as it is employed in The Inverted Spire, is ultimately a linguistic convenience.
You see, (plot twist) the creatures of New Order are not derived from a specific goblin legend. This comparison came to me later, after perusing the first sketchbook drafts of the cast, which were human/spotted hyena hybrids.
The finalized designs of our characters have departed a great deal from their origin. However, aside from their spots and fangs, there is one other essential feature that remained intact:
Spotted hyenas have long presented a challenge to traditional narratives about mammalian sex differentiation in biology. Their unique external genitalia and matriarchal social hierarchies aren’t an easy fit for century-old Western taxonomies of sex and gender.
With The Inverted Spire, creating a society without a concept of gender was my ambition from the start.
All goblin designs are intentionally androgynous. Whether a particular goblin reads as “masculine” or “feminine” is up to the player’s discretion, but the goblins themselves recognize no such duality. Even in the context of reproduction, a gestating partner is simply “very patient.”
Androgynous, deeply imperfect, but nonetheless loveable oddballs— as I stared at the sketches in my notebook, I felt “goblins” was just the word for it.
Aha sorry for the cliffhanger x') But it's wonderful to hear you enjoyed it so far. There's still a lot of world and story to see! You're welcome to follow along with out dev logs as we continue to update the artwork and music and ensure the rest of Chapter One is just as, if not more polished than the game jam demo! Any feedback along the way is very much appreciated <3
That's so awesome to hear!
I hope the full chapter one release will live up to your expectations. Feel free to follow along with our dev log updates if you're interested in watching it come together ~<3
I love all the musical choices and subtle animations that bring this story to life!
The choices you're given feel very open-ended and there's a consistent feeling of wonder and mystery established from the very start. It makes you want to keep delving deeper into the intriguing world of the game.
I'll definitely be following this project as it develops <3
I just had a chance to see your video this evening. Thank you so much for taking the time!
The feedback was great. Especially when it comes to balancing contrast in the portrait art and text placement more generally. We'll be updating a lot of visual elements from their early game jam form as we go along, and that's definitely something to keep in mind.
It's also great to hear that you enjoyed the game so far <3 We would love to hear your thoughts on the upcoming full chapter one release.
Thank you <3 I can understand your frustration! I'm always on the lookout for games that rely on simulating complex character interaction as a primary mechanic. Off the top of my head, Quarantine Circular and Galatea come to mind as really interesting examples of innovation in that area.
DEMO available here: https://yozhikisblue.itch.io/the-inverted-spire
If you're anything like us, you've probably played many narrative-based games promising choices that really matter, and found yourself occasionally frustrated by the options that are actually available.
Sometimes the choice you'd like to make out of sheer practicality or personal preference simply isn't there. Other times, the existing choices can feel stifling because you're trapped between pure-hearted, heroic altruism and moustache-twirling evil.
So what makes a game where choices are diverse and fulfilling?
What makes a game where choices feel like they matter every time?
With our first official dev log on The Inverted Spire, we'd like to dive deep into what we really mean when we say our story offers meaningful choices.
Don’t worry, this entry won’t be containing any spoilers! (though you may be able to discern a little more about the direction of the story if you read closely)
To begin with, I would like to assure you that in The Inverted Spire, there are no purely “good” or purely “evil” routes in the traditional sense. This is not to say that you will not be making moral decisions, so much as those decisions will always be complicated by context.
It will not always be clear which is the kinder choice. Factors such as group morale, mutual trust, self-preservation and even the impact on relationships with individual characters make every choice a balancing act.
Rest easy that you will not instantly die or reach a “bad end” based on a single decision. You may, however, damage the trust of individual characters in ways that will have severe consequences later in the story.
All options are weighted to give the player the maximum possible maneuverability in their role as the player character.
The protagonist will rationalize any choice the player makes. Even choosing non-interference can have consequences just as, if not more interesting than injecting yourself into every conversation. Similarly, choosing to read, and in some cases, alter the minds of other characters can have a variety of unexpected and cumulative results.
Every decision you make in the Inverted Spire has a combination of the following consequences:
1. It will change the immediate response of the characters around you.
This isn't just a matter of one or two throwaway lines. Entire dialogue sequences leading into the next decision point differ significantly from one choice to another.
2. It will change how the protagonist’s personality is perceived by others.
All choices are weighted on their degree of “dissidence” and “compliance” according to the State of New Order citizen reputation algorithm.
All of the characters in The Inverted Spire were raised with “the equation”, and know it implicitly. Assertiveness and standoffishness will be noted, as will attempts to build mutual trust or sow discord. Patriotic and rebellious sentiments towards New Order will also be remembered in equal measure.
Other characters in the Inverted Spire all have different perspectives on New Order and their own idiosyncratic approach to life. Those who are more closely aligned with your choices may be more likely to trust you. You will also find it easier to read like-minded characters, and may notice details about their behaviour that would otherwise pass you by.
Sticking to expressing a particular set of views or a particular approach in dialogue can open up more extreme options in the same camp. Alternatively, changing your behaviour over time or choosing to act in a way that other members of the cast may perceive as out-of-character can have unexpected results.
3. It will alter the protagonist’s affinity for individual characters.
Some actions and responses will have a more pronounced impact than others. For instance, mentioning a topic that sparks another character’s interest is not weighted as heavily as declaring that you think they’re lying, or revealing their secrets before the rest of the group.
*(Note that revealing secrets will not always have a negative impact depending on the context, and some characters may genuinely appreciate having their opinions questioned.)
Affinity will also affect how individual characters respond to your choices. Low affinity characters will put less trust in the protagonist’s words, and are less likely to support their claims. They may even challenge the protagonist directly.
In some cases, the protagonist will express themselves differently (and their words will land differently) depending on their affinity. For example, attempting to reassure a character with low affinity may not have the desired effect. Similarly, the minds of low affinity characters will be more difficult to read and alter.
High affinity characters may spontaneously come to the protagonist’s aid, seek out your support, or try to involve you in their schemes. Depending on the player’s approach, they may even open up about their past lives, develop a strong sense of camaraderie with you, or express romantic interest over time.
4. It will have delayed consequences for the direction the story takes and the choices that are available to you.
Not all consequences of your actions are immediately visible.
Having access to a key piece of information may completely change your perspective on a character, and offer new options in response to their claims.
Choosing to trust another character may leave the protagonist blind to their shortcomings. This can lead to disastrous results, but it may also earn you an ally when you need them most.
Your choices may also have cumulative results for how the characters interact with one another. For instance, provoking a character into a state of extreme anger may cause the rest of the group to grow more wary of them. It may also backfire, depending on your relative affinities, and cause the group to turn on you instead.
To give a more visual demonstration, let’s have a look at what a decision point looks like in-game:
And compare that with what it looks like in the overall branching structure of a single chapter:
As you can see, the options also return to recurring narrative “anchor points.” These are either events or moments of self-reflection that transpire regardless of player choices. Anchor points keep the branching structure of our story manageable from the developer perspective. They also maintain narrative cohesion from a storytelling perspective.
The above example is taken from an early-development model for Chapter One to keep spoilers to a minimum. Its structure is made possible by the entire cast being kept together in a single place during their introductions.
Later chapters have an additional feature that will be familiar to VN fans- the narrative branches off depending on your character affinities, causing anchor points to become increasingly more dispersed.
As experienced developers coming from a web and learning software background, we are very cautious of the possibility of “feature creep”. Keeping the story as open-ended as possible without creating an insurmountable workload for our small indie dev duo is always a delicate balancing act.
This is also where you can help!
Making sure choices are meaningful and well-balanced is one of our highest priorities in creating The Inverted Spire. We will be relying on playtesters and individual player feedback throughout development to make sure we are producing consistently interesting choices with engaging results.
This means your feedback on story content between individual chapters is always appreciated!
We may not be able to follow up on every suggestion we receive, but will absolutely be listening to community feedback on what will make The Inverted Spire the most captivating story that it can be. ~<3
Ah, thank you so much for taking the time to point the odd words out! The longer the story gets the harder it can be to spot those sneaky typos, and we definitely want to keep them to a minimum.
It's also great to hear that you enjoyed the world and story so far. We'll be posting devlogs with our process, so feel free to follow if you'd like to be the first to see updates on the complete first chapter release! <3
Thank you so much for your feedback <3
It's great to hear the character expressions can be impactful. The first chapter is mostly complete, and reading character behaviour is a big part of the decision making process throughout that portion of the story ("the first descent") so it was very important for me to make that effective!
We're also looking at character-specific themes in the music going forward, as this is certainly a very character-driven story.
We hope our soon-to-be chapter one release will live up to expectations!
Thank you for you thoughts, and for such in-depth feedback as well! There's actually quite a lot more of the game completed than the demo suggests (we just couldn't get it polished in time for the jam) so hopefully you won't have to wait long. I'm also preparing some devlogs to track our progress. You're welcome to follow along for those if you'd like <3
I deeply enjoyed the writing in this game <3 The character's range of expressions were all too relatable, and the depth of research and world-building background knowledge that it rested on was a pleasant surprise. To be fair, I already love all manner of queer history and magical realism (or fabulism, if you prefer) so I may be any easy sell, but even so, I could feel that this was a labour of love. I only regret that I hadn't heard about it before the Bundle for Racial Justice! I'm now excited to check out Catacomb Prince once I get the chance.
P.S. To the writer: if you happen too come across this review, as an illustrator/indie comic creator who loves queer historical fantasy, I would love to create art for one of your visual novel projects someday- Sincerely, Nicholai aka. yozhikisblue