Spotlight #6: What a Wonderful World
Good tidings, grovetenders!
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ryan Howard. I’ve been working with Chip Theory here and there for about two years, providing editing and a small amount of writing contribution to their more recent games. I’m doing the world-building and scenario book writing for Cloudspire, and I’m here today to talk to you about some of the world and story aspects of the game.
However, before I do that, allow me to offer a quick caveat: I know the thing that a lot of backers want to know more about is gameplay, so let me assure you that this update is not taking away from the time Adam, Josh and Ghillie are spending bringing you that information. They are still planning on bringing you an update for every remaining weekday of the campaign, and I offered to write something for Sunday as a kind of bonus spotlight for the curious. Your regularly scheduled gameplay/unit-based spotlights will resume on Monday.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to a few details I really enjoy about the world of Cloudspire!
Faction fact: Most of the races of Ankar are descended from races on The World below, but it’s likely that the Source created the grovetenders.
When CTG approached me about writing for Cloudspire, they wanted the game to a bit more serious in tone than the Too Many Bones universe has been, something a bit more epic. It’s a bit silly to say that you want a sense of realism in a game where a giant race uses slings to hurl boulders at a bunch of bird people, but they and I wanted the story of the world to be grounded in relatable, internally logical concepts.
That’s where the Source comes in. When we were first brainstorming the story of Cloudspire, we discussed why real wars actually get started, and one of the biggest reasons is an attempt by one power to grab something, like land or energy, from another power. From there, it was a natural step to make the root cause of the Cloudspire war an energy crisis, as the introduction of the Source would provide both a reason for the different races to be fighting and a good story driver for both how the islands of Ankar ended up in the sky and why they are all now slowly crashing together.
Faction fact: Before establishing dominance over their own island of Thrad, the brawnen first had to subdue the isle’s dominant predator species, the traxxyrs.
We applied the same logic -- why do people fight? -- to each of the races. Propaganda is an ever-present aspect of most any war. In Cloudspire, it is no different. Fighting against an embodiment of evil instead of a fellow power-hungry nation or faction is a lot easier sell when trying to rally and mobilize forces.
For the narora, brawnen, and heirs, their primary goal is to gain more land or Source, but they motivate themselves in different ways: fanaticism for the narora, martial pride for the brawnen, and bigotry for the heirs. The grovetenders, meanwhile, are not fighting an offensive war, instead seeking to protect their borders from occupation. These concepts will flavor the game and be explored in a more in-depth manner in the full art and scenario book, where characters embedded in the military or leadership of each of these races will be spotlighted as they try to process the conflict and culture in which they find themselves.
Faction fact: The narora are likely descended from humans, but generations of prolonged Source contact have warped their physiology.
While pleased with the direction the game has taken based on the more serious theme, we also wanted to make sure it had a unique personality that fans could grab onto, similar to the way every TMB fan has their own favorite Gearloc. With that in mind, we've developed leader characters for each faction, not only to flavor the events and scenarios, but also to fill the roles of many of our hero units. You may have already seen chips (not with finalized art) of Kram the Mighty and Jaelana Nestor in action, and I can’t wait to see what you think of other heroes like the powerful grovetender earthshaper Ybanthe or the life-giving griege queen Echri.
When differentiating the races, CTG wanted to not only differentiate their goals and motivations, but their appearance and play style as well. Each of the races functions and looks very different from any of the others and focuses on a different fighting style based on their biology: rough and tumble fighting for the brawnen, quick strikes for the heirs, energy manipulation for the narora and unit summoning for the grovetenders. When settling on how each of the races would look and act, CTG and I worked to come up with concepts that were both narratively satisfying and fun to play. And, of course, Anthony LeTourneau is bringing it all to life in the stunning art you’ve seen on the Kickstarter, plus a lot more.
Faction fact: The heirs have a rigid caste system and are ruled only by those resembling brightly-colored songbirds.
Ultimately, the integration of art, story and gameplay is the most exciting thing for me about working on Cloudspire. As it stands today and as it will stand when it’s completed, the game is not a collection of concepts that simply needed a theme, nor is the theme a narrative arc that happens to have a game attached to it. Each element informs the other, with the gameplay drawing on theme concepts when it comes to designing each race’s units and the theme incorporating gameplay elements into how its characters look, think, and act. The original narrative description of the narora’s Source consumption and energy output led to units like the burnout and the lightrous, while the grovetenders’ unique summoning gameplay informs their narrative portrayal as a peaceful race with a strong connection to the Source and their surrounding environment. We want you to know, understand and love the story of this world, in the hopes that your gameplay experience is more immersive and, most importantly, more fun!
That’s all from me, folks. Thanks for reading!
Bonus faction fact: The griege are coming, and when they arrive, they will seek only order.
The following is an excerpt from the Cloudspire novella included in the hardcover scenario/lore book.
“Papa, where did the other islands come from?” --- Kram the Mighty strode down a cobbled backstreet of Leviatown, his brow furrowed at the memory of his son’s bedtime question. Mik had always been an inquisitive child, and Kram liked it that way, but he seldom talked of the Joining when he was at home. Mik must have asked about the other islands because he’d heard about them in school, and if he heard about them there, Kram knew he was also hearing many questionable opinions about what should be done about them.
He’d been in the middle of trying to explain the situation in what he hoped was a nuanced way while also still being digestible to an 8-year-old when Cax arrived with news of urgent business at the great hall. Kram received assurances from his top lieutenant that she would make arrangements for keeping watch over Mik before giving his son a hasty hug and setting out for the palace. He often missed his wife Meng, but it was times like these when he most cursed the wasting plague that had swept through the population not long after Mik’s birth.
Meng would know what to say. She might even know if I’m doing the right thing.
After a few minutes of brisk walking and melancholy thoughts, Kram approached the outer garden of the great hall. He didn’t live far away, and he had a swift gait besides: at six arms high, Kram was one of the tallest non-zerker brawnen on Thrad.
Before alerting the guards of his arrival, Kram slowed his pace in the sparse outer courtyard to gaze up at one of the royal residence’s few overtures toward fine art: a larger-than-life statue of his grandfather, Vaed the Conqueror, locked in mortal combat with a traxxyr, the reptilian beasts that were once the brawnen’s mortal enemies. Kram studied the gritted teeth and flared nostrils of his ancestor. He admired, for the umpteenth time, Vaed’s oversized spiked mace, which the sculptor had captured mid-swing toward the skull of the embattled reptile. The traxxyr’s talons had latched onto Vaed’s arms, and its wings were outstretched, as if it meant to make off with the brawnen race’s most storied general. Instead, it was destined to fall to the prowess of a brawnen warrior, as so many of its flesh and blood brethren had done a generation ago.
Things must have felt so much simpler when you were around, Kram thought, shooting a jealous glare up at Vaed’s visage. Of course, the brawnen were struggling to survive back then, but everyone knew what had to be done. It was the brawnen against the wild, Thrad’s sentient island race against an unthinking predator species that would gobble up anything it perceived as vulnerable. These days, the shape of the enemy and what should be done about him seems much murkier.
Kram wrinkled his nose at the thought and moved on, scaling the rough-hewn stone steps to the great hall two at a time. As he reached the top, two guards stood a little straighter, each one attempting to put on the face of a model soldier in front of their general. Kram, who valued discipline but had little use for ceremony, nodded smartly at both women and inquired where in the great hall he was needed. One of the guards said they’d been told to direct him to an old storage chamber off of the main cellar.
“Any idea what this is about?” Kram asked. Both guards shook their heads.
A few minutes later, Kram was in the cellar and talking to another pair of guards outside the storage room. They too were in the dark about what was inside, but they were under orders to strike the door twice with their clubs when Kram arrived. After they did so, Kram directed them to take up new positions at the top of the cellar stairs before he opened the door and walked into the smaller chamber.
Once Kram was inside, it took a moment to process what he was seeing. The room was lit by a trio of lightly-swaying lanterns, their triplicate illumination casting a strange geometry of shadows over every solemn face. Close to the door stood the brawnen premier, Awsh the Great, his hands clasped and his eyes lost in thought. A little further in stood Grund, Awsh’s chief adviser, whose gaze darted toward Kram as he walked into the room. Toward the back of the room, Kram could see Claff, a high-ranking brawnen lieutenant currently assigned to border defense. Kram was surprised to see Claff most of the three, as his current assignment would normally keep him far away from the island’s capital.
While the three brawnen were an odd group to see in a small earthen room once used to store the royal wine supply, the subject that rendered Kram momentarily speechless was the other figure in the room, the one his countrymen had all been focused on at the time of his arrival: a mildly-bludgeoned, fully mature heir, currently hogtied to a support beam near the chamber’s back wall.
We'll be back with another spotlight update tomorrow!
Josh, Adam, Josh (Ghillie), and Ryan :-)