Singaporean game development house Witching Hour Studios is taking a step up. After having found success with tactical RPGs on mobile in the Ravenmark games and Romans In My Carpet, the studio is now working on a larger action-RPG called Masquerada: Songs and Shadows.
It’s early days yet, but it’s clear that the studio is aiming to go big with Masquerada, already namedropping Bioware and its RPGs as an inspiration, and with the first screenshots showing off a game with a similar palette to Supergiant Games’s Transistor.
Siliconera spoke to Ian Gregory, the game’s creative director, to find out what Masquerada is, and more pointedly, to talk about the studio’s ambition with this striking RPG.
To get us started, could you give a brief overview of what Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is?
Ian Gregory, creative director: Masquerada is an isometric view role-playing game set in a city of intrigues – Ombre. The player follows the exploits of an Inspettore, Cicero Gavar, as he’s called back from banishment to solve a disappearance. Combat is party-based and can be played tactically with pause-play or live for a more action oriented experience. We’re adhering to the two pillars that ground our development – story and mechanics.
You describe Masquerada as being the “pièce de résistance” of the whole studio. How come? Is this a game you’ve been wanting to make for a while?
That refers more to the scale of what we’re trying to do more than anything else. Most wouldn’t know this, but Ravenmark was always a proof of concept that a Singaporean studio could do something deep and broad. Whether we’d have the technical skill and creative scope to make something for a global audience. Masquerada is the culmination of all the skills and experience the team has garnered over the years.
You’ve compared it to having the “sophistication” of a couple of BioWare’s RPGs. What do you mean by this? In what ways is it similar to those games?
This returns us to the two pillars I had mentioned earlier. What draws people into BioWare’s lovely games is the intertwining of the narrative and world with the gameplay mechanics. We’re trying for that same depth, where characters aren’t cardboard cutouts, rather, ones existing in a believable world that exists beyond the game. Combat that would satisfy both the action gamer and the strategist. They’re lofty goals, sure, but ones worth having, we think.
The only area that we thought beyond us is branching dialogue and plots, which is beyond the time constraints and budget of a small team like us for now. We’re hoping to pull that into the project that follows, if Masquerada does well. This lack of branching does have a silver lining though, as it allows us to tell a tight story with a flow we can craft closely. I’m sure our audience would prefer a tale well told rather than a saga less inspired.
What kind of world is it set in? I’ve seen mention of the city’s politics being a part of the game – care to explain?
Masquerada is set it in the coastal city of Ombre, the only place in the world where magic exists. Magic has shaped society in strange ways. From the way the city looks at death and religion to the distribution of power among its denizens.
Also unique to the city, of course, are the masks. Without which, the people can only summon a trickle of magic. These masks work as batteries to the will of their users and can roughly be translated as raw power to the various guilds of Ombre. Each of them vying for control and dominance. As a finite resource, you can imagine how vicious things can get.
Thankfully, they only work within the city and its surroundings, so the fight for control of them are quite insular. Cicero, the main character will have to swim through their politics and age old vendettas.
What did you look to when coming up with the game’s visuals for inspiration? I’m particularly interested in the costume design.
There are many influences that find their way into Masquerada. The more obvious ones are other great games like Bastion, Transistor, and The Banner Saga. Subtler ones such as color palette and style are drawn from French comic book artists. Being an Asian studio also means we draw from Japan, which we’ve turned to for ability animations.
The costumes lean heavy on history and geography – Venice and its Carnivals. From there, we push the otherworldliness of Ombre. We repeat often in the studio – it doesn’t have to realistic, but is has to be believable. So don’t expect oversized pauldrons and helmets you can’t see out of.
I’ve seen mention of a 500-page script. Is it possible to see it all in one playthrough? Will you let people focus on story rather than challenge if they want?
With no branching paths, a playthrough will see you through all of what we intend – for the main story, of course. There’ll be side dialogues here and there a player might miss. We’re definitely keen on a Story Mode for those more intent on forwarding the plot.
Will there be any kind of multiplayer in Masquerada?
Nothing is planned on that front, no. The system does have potential though. We’ll need to see how the single player experience is received before we even think of going in that direction.
Finally, what platforms has it been confirmed for so far? Are there any others that you’d like to bring it to?
PC first! We’re still talking to Sony and Microsoft, so we can’t confirm anything yet. iOS really depends on how the game does, to justify porting to a touch control system.