From Software released the Sword of Moonlight development tool in Japan back in 2000. It’s what the studio used to create 3D RPGs, specifically its King’s Field series for PlayStation (the predecessor to Demon’s Souls), and as such the tool can easily create King’s Field-like games. Not long after it was translated into English by a fan. Given its age, you may think that no one would be using Sword of Moonlight still, but there exists a small community that are keeping the flame alive.
The latest big project using Sword of Moonlight, at least among its English-speaking community, is called Moonlit Corpse. The idea is make a game using the tool with the Surrealist technique of Exquisite Corpse.
If you don’t know, Exquisite Corpse is a game traditionally played with stories or drawings. With a group of people, you pass around a piece of paper, each person adding their own contribution without seeing what has come before it, and then folding the paper over before handing it to the next person so that they can’t see what they’ve contributed. At the end, the drawing or story is revealed to the whole group, usually being a non-cohesive whole that might be hilarious, terrifying, or outright confusing. The Surrealists enjoyed Exquisite Corpse as it channeled a group’s subconscious creativity.
The person who started up Moonlit Corpse a year ago is Rylie James Thomas. He remembers there being Exquisite Corpse games made by people in Doom and Knytt Stories, and wanted to bring that to King’s Field. Really, what he was hoping for was a project that would encourage him to use Sword of Moonlight. He liked the development tool’s simplicity, but also that it “doesn’t seem too fussy about making things ‘correct’.” Unlike, say, the Unity Engine, it doesn’t moan as much if something doesn’t work properly, instead allowing mistakes to exist if you want them to.
Plus, Sword of Moonlight allows you to not only use the default assets to create King’s Field-like games – which Thomas describes as “pulse slow, dreamlike, fantastic, first-person adventure games” – but also allows you to import your own 3D models and textures using fan-made tools. So, if you wish, you can double down on the eerie underground burial chambers occupied by hoards of skeletons as in King’s Field. Or you can try a different style of architecture using the gloomy and dreamy concoction of poor draw distances, early 3D, and lo-fi textures that now seem so terribly PlayStation-era.
Siliconera spoke to Thomas to find out a little more about Moonlit Corpse, especially how it was organized, what the results have been so far, and when we can expect to play the finished result.
What are the logistics here? i.e. how are you and the others applying the practice of exquisite corpse to making these maps?
It’s a little bit tricky when you’re working with these kinds of tools I guess. And we’ve had to do a lot of general figuring out related to using Sword of Moonlight as the existing English community around it is pretty small. We adding to one of the existing wikis actually as were were figuring things out, and look forward to contributing in that way a bit more when things are done. We’ve been taking turns with the project file, passing it round like a piece of paper, each player getting a map or three to work on, and free reign over designing enemies, items, NPCs, etc. So just peaking at that stuff functions somewhat like the way word sand lines are left in the writing and drawing versions of Exquisite Corpse work, I guess.
To make a two-way portal between maps you need to specify the location where the player will appear, and likewise do the same from the other map (if that makes sense), so you end up leaving doors in any map you’re connecting to (unless you’re warping wherever the map maker has set their default start location). We have some things that are more player-centric things like items that carry over and counters/stats that are shared. Unfortunately it requires someone to kind of oversee things, and go back through at the end and make sure things link up and stuff, so a lot of the nice surprise gets spoiled for me, but everyone else should get a proper exquisite corpse type experience.
Have you seen any results from the collaboration yet? If so, how would you describe those maps?
Three are done so far. I don’t want to spoil things for the other participants, but maybe I can say that one is quite peaceful with an interesting secret path, one is built a lot upon what other people contribute (almost like a Share Cart equivalent maybe?), and one is very carefully detailed and lively. The Sword of Moonlight tool is really easy to use and has lots of flexibility with how you can place objects so everything so far… you can see peoples’ hands in what they’ve made, while all still feeling dreamy and King’s Fieldy.
Is there anything specific to King’s Field that encouraged you to to use it for this project other than it having the tools necessary for it to happen?
Hmmm. I think I was mostly just excited about using the software, and noticed a few other people playing round with it too. I really like playing with quite focused game making tools like this, so a big part was just me wanting an excuse to play with this one. But more to your question: it seemed King’s Field is a perfect fit for this type of thing. It already feels like some kind of videogame dream world, so clunking a bunch of different maps together seems like something that would only enhance that. And it has a really strong, pulse-like rhythm to it that I think will tie things together. I remember there’s at least one Doom exquisite corpse game, and that was in the back of my mind too.
Will you be able to release these maps publicly? And if so do you how you might do that and when?
Yep! It seems to run fine on Windows 7 (or maybe there were weird things with the compass display, I can’t remember anymore), and we’re doing the actual editing stuff through a Windows XP virtual machine, so it’ll run fine on Mac and Linux too if people set something like that up. It feels like an appropriately awkward program, I think.
I’m really not sure when it’ll be ready. I kinda assumed it would only take a few months, but it’s already been a year! We’ve lost quite a few people along the way (and wouldn’t mind a couple of new ones as long as they’re nice), and I hesitantly expect it to be done this year.