Hi guys! My name is Andrew and I’m the lead developer on Tunic, which will be available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on September 27.
Tunic is a classy action adventure about a little fox in a huge world where you explore, fight monsters and find out secrets. However, the core of the game is about mystery and exploration. Before starting work on the project (originally called Secret Legend), I wanted to create a game that captures the feeling of vast unknown – The delicious feeling of being released into a world full of secrets. A stranger in a strange land, ready to uncover its mysteries.
One of the ways I like to help players feel like they’re in a world that’s not meant for them is to fill the game with a strange, hard-to-read language. Instead of a sign telling you what’s around the next corner, it shows you some confusing symbols. Instead of the inventory screen labeling everything logically, it would use the same unknowable runes. It’s intended to evoke a sense of transgression – like you’re playing something you shouldn’t. When I was a child learning to read, I would play games and be confused with the words in them. What better way to evoke that sense of childlike wonder than to let the text itself be a mystery!
The more I think about it, the more I realize that my love for this kind of mystery doesn’t just come from the games, but from the manuals that use them. (Or “Instructions” as they are often called.) I would rummage through these materials non-stop, while my friends were playing the game. They fill my head with thoughts of great adventures, incredible treasures, and terrible creatures – all unaffected by the reality of the cartridges that actual games have to. Fit.
And so, within the first few months of development, Tunic had its own language and started its own manual. In its final form, the manual is something you collect gradually as you play through the game. Like those old guidebooks, each page is packed with information – illustrations, tips, maps, and of course, secrets.
One of my favorite things about vintage manuals is their sensitivity to composition and variety of art styles. 8-bit drawings leave a lot to the imagination, so there will often be illustrations: some of them sumptuous, some of them charming doodles. We’ve managed to capture that variety in Tunic’s manual, with experts handling the lavish side of things and I providing the doodles.
Another important part of capturing the feeling of flipping through an old guidebook is its physicality. All is well and good when looking at a nice clean image, but it’s more fun to glance at something that feels like a real object. We’ve put more effort into recreating artifacts of the old printing process, even going so far as to see staples in the middle of the book. By pressing the X button, you will be able to zoom in on each page and see the details. To help make it as realistic as possible, I built a real-world version of the manual and then proceeded to demolish it. Fold it, tear it, glue it and dye it. Then I scan each individual page for in-game use. The effect is small, but I think it is worth it!
The real world version of this tutorial is blank! That way we can put together whatever we need without reprinting and redoing a new guide – important for a game that is localized into 27 languages!
If you’re thinking “wow, it sure sounds risky to make a game that keeps everything a secret and only offers help with an unreadable manual,” you’re right. However, it seems we have hit the mark with Ao Dai! When players find a secret hidden in plain sight, they feel like they’ve made the real discovery. It’s true that a game’s job is to communicate its mechanics and systems, but if you frame that communication as a mystery that needs to be solved, the reveal is even sweeter.
We really hope you enjoy Ao Dai!