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I've got a new game coming soon! (And for free this time.)

Hi everyone,

I haven’t gone out much this year, but instead I’ve been obsessively working on a new game, “Home: A Quarantine Story,” which will be on Steam and RMN on September 25th—for free! It’s the story of a young woman who, visiting her family for the first time in four years, accidentally infects them with COVID-19—and then finds herself trapped there.

Like To the Moon or Gone Home, the game has no combat or puzzles. Instead, the player explores her family home, gets to know her family members, and watches old tensions unfold. The story is built on relatable, real-world themes, and (because of my background as a professional novelist) emphasizes a text-heavy approach that recalls literary fiction.

I haven't written much fiction over the last few years because I've become so obsessed with making games, so I've sort of considered this new project (which is much shorter than The Pale City, probably about 3 hours) a test of whether I would keep going or switch back to focusing on fiction. I've worked on it for most of the last 5 months, and I feel it's smoothed out a lot of the rough edges from The Pale City.

Anyway, here is the game's page on Steam, which has more information and a trailer:

And RMN: https://rpgmaker.net/games/11613/

The game is due out in a few weeks, but it's completely ready now, so I'd be happy to send out review copies to anyone who was interested. Feel completely free to PM and I'll get a copy your way!

I'm really grateful to anyone who played The Pale City, and if you liked it, I hope you'll enjoy this one as well. (Though, actually, it's much less horrifying and nihilistic, so I'm hoping it would appeal to some who didn't like The Pale City as well.)

Stay safe out there!



The Pale City is 40% off on Steam!

Hi everyone,

Just a quick announcement that The Pale City is currently on sale for 40% off on Steam. This brings the price down to $4.70, so I'm hoping most players will think it's a pretty good deal.


Otherwise, I've been hard at work on a not-so-secret new project. More information on this coming soon! (Fortunately, it's likely to be a much, much quicker project than The Pale City.)



Walkthrough (and a New Review) Now Available!

Hi everyone!

First things first: especially as many players have mentioned the difficulty of The Pale City's normal mode, I’ve decided to post a guide on the website. The current version includes a list of sidequests and missable items, as well as a (very brief) walkthrough to keep players from getting lost. Eventually, I also plan to add a list of tips, as well as strategies for a few of the game’s more difficult battles.

The walkthrough is available here. It’s been a busy few weeks since I’m also teaching courses for my university online, but I’m hoping to fill in the missing sections by the end of April.

In other news, there’s also been a new review of the game at The Indian Noob. The writer (justifiably) wasn’t totally impressed by the game’s visuals or combat, but seemed to really enjoy the writing as well as the experience as a whole. It’s especially exciting to see the game maybe reach new players in India. And, in particular, the writer did an amazing job picking text-based screenshots that show the game’s writing and themes–so good, in fact, that I think I’m going to steal a few of them for the Steam page!

This was, I’ll admit, definitely me trying to do a Planescape moment. I don’t do them nearly as well as Chris Avellone, but I’ll always love those moments (in both Torment games) when you walk into a random house, and find something that just blows your mind, which is an effect I tried to implement on and off throughout The Pale City.

Or, of course, those moments where The Pale City is written more like a book than a game. I’ll admit I sort of hid paragraphs like this for a long time, as I worried they would scare players away from the game. There have been criticisms that, by focusing on such a text-heavy approach, I’ve sort of forgotten The Pale City is a game rather than a book–which is probably true. However, for a few rare players out there, I hope they enjoy the approach I’ve taken here.

Thanks a lot to anyone who has played the game and cared enough to hunt down this post! As always, I’d be very eager to hear from you with any comments, questions, or suggestions—especially anything you’d like to see covered in the walkthrough.

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com)


The First Batch of Reviews!

It’s been a very exciting (and equally stressful) week for The Pale City. Fortunately, the first batch of reviews are in, and they’ve had some fascinating things to say about the game.

The most recent is at Save Or Quit, who are also doing a giveaway. This review gives a great general overview of game’s story and combat mechanics.

“While only being about 9-10 hours or so, and admittedly rough around the edges, the well of ideas that spring forth from The Pale City is impressive and telling of the vast imagination of its main creator, Kyle Muntz. If you’re a fan of charmingly odd worlds, worthwhile character studies, or distinct and rewardingly difficult combat systems, then it is without any doubt worth checking out.

Also, there was this early review at Bago Games, which has some fascinating insights into The Pale City’s game design, and maybe my favorite capsule description of it:

“The Pale City is an engrossing game that’s dripping in story for anyone who wants to explore it. This is not a traditional RPG, and to be honest, it’s not really a traditional anything, but that’s what makes it so intriguing.”

Another very kind, thoughtful review by Sofi at Sleepy Toadstool gave some great glimpse’s of the game’s world and atmosphere:

“The Pale City is great fit for fans of retro-looking RPGs, especially those who want a more adult and complex story to really dive in to. It has an excellent and well-crafted fantasy world, mostly conveyed through its writing.”

Also, the review at Lovecraft Video Games, who describes The Pale City “fantasy with undertones of cosmic horror in a truly strange world,” gave a great insight into the game’s Lovecraft influence. And, of course, in the interest of fairness, Hey Poor Player gave a mixed to negative review, which would be useful to check for anyone who has reservations about whether to pick up the game.

I’m extremely grateful for the generous coverage all these venues have provided, and also to Jar Arlyeon for the game’s first review on Steam! I’m currently hoping there will be more reviews on Steam soon in order to appease the almighty algorithms, and will be waiting the next few days with bated breath.

Thanks for checking in, and I hope to have more updates soon!

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com.)


The Pale City is Now on Steam!

Seven years ago, I started working on The Pale City--and today, it's finally on Steam! It feels strange and surreal to actually have this out in the world, since the weight of finishing it has hung over me for what feels like most of my adult life.

The game will be on sale for 6$ (25% off) all week. There's also a new trailer, courtesy of my amazing girlfriend and her vastly superior editing skills. I feel lucky that early responses have been quite positive, including the first Steam review. There have been two full-length reviews so far--one at Bago Games, which focuses mainly on the writing, and another at Lovecraft Video Games, which focuses on the world and ways it ways influenced by cosmic horror.

Steam is a funny platform because you have to physically press a button to release your game. Yesterday I stayed up to hit it exactly at midnight. I was 22 year the I began this game; in a few months, I'll be turning 30. There's a lot of support, updates, and polishing left to do, but it really did feel momentous to hit this button and feel one chapter of life end as another began.

My sincere gratitude to anyone to anyone who gives it a try! And please do write to me if you've got any comments, questions, or need help, as I'll be providing full support for players through the game's discussion forum on Steam.

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com)

Game Design

The Pale City Now Has an Easy Mode!

This one surprised me a little. As early testers actually played the game, one thing about The Pale City has come up quite frequently: the difficulty. The game isn’t Dark Souls hard, but it’s designed to be challenging. The fights are impossible to win by just pressing “attack” and occasionally using a healing potion. But however important the combat is, but I’ve always seen it as secondary to the writing and atmosphere. And if the game is really so hard, won’t it keep a lot of people from experiencing the story?

I really started thinking about this because of a helpful email correspondence with one of the early reviewers of the game, who found the game punishingly difficult. The game has been tested a lot, but always by what I would describe as “hardcore” players, who described it as “tough but fair”. (Particularly my brother, a longtime soulsbourne gamer who occasionally feels the current version isn’t difficult enough.) But players unfamiliar with RPGs or who just don’t want to die much—including, the more I thought about it, many of my friends in the literary community—might find the game so tough they just couldn’t play it.

That’s why the last, most surprising addition to The Pale City before release is a “story mode”. I’ve always been fond of this in games like Pillars of Eternity, but strangely never considered adding it to mine. Over the last few weeks I’ve added, implemented, and tested the story mode, and it will definitely be included in the published version of the game on March 20th, though unfortunately it wasn’t included in the version that went out to reviewers.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s some info on the game’s two difficulties:

Normal difficulty: This mode is very carefully balanced to give the player relatively little advantage over the enemies. Enemies in this mode are just as strong as Vasek: they often have similar stats and hp, but come in large numbers, and can take you down in a few turns. Monsters have drastically more hp and higher stats. Each of them require very different strategies, and you’re likely to die at least a few times, as the game is constantly forcing you to adapt new tactics for new situations.

Items are in short supply, and all healing is slow. Gear is your main way of strengthening the character, but it’s expensive and there are only a few pieces of new armor in the game—particularly an extremely strong sword that, if you want to purchase it, requires you to limit your spending throughout almost the whole game.

In general, I would recommend normal difficulty for players with previous experience with role playing games, particularly JRPGs. It’s the most thematically relevant way to the play the game. But the developers of Pathologic thought the same thing—and most people think that game is unplayable! So it’s good to have an alternative.

Story Mode:

Story mode starts with (but isn’t limited to) small balance tweaks, especially in the early game. This time you can actually buy most of what you see in stores. You’ll also have healing potions in reserve for every battle. But Vasek also has access to different equipment—including a new set of “plate mail” that makes it possible for him to tank. Vasek can never get quite as strong in this mode as he could in normal difficulty. But players will be much better prepared to get through the more difficult sections of the game, and some enemies (particularly the hidden boss) aren’t nearly as tough as the original versions.

Some of the new options are slightly out of character—I strongly feel Vasek would never wear plate mail. But it changes the feeling in an interesting way, almost to the point it becomes… a traditional rpg. Story mode may be a good recommendation if you want something closer to a Final Fantasy difficulty curve. It’s not as easy as some easy modes—you may even die once or twice—but now Vasek feels more like an RPG protagonist and less like a Game of Thrones character. It was actually really satisfying to try out some of the game’s more complex strategies, which are just barely enough on normal difficulty… and mow down enemies like it was 1997.

I’ll most likely be tweaking the balance of this mode for a while after release, but I’m quite happy with how it plays for now. I’ll be very excited to hear what players think of it… especially players who might have been scared away by the original difficulty!

Anyway, only 8 days until the game comes out. Thanks to anyone who has been following along! And I appreciate all the support from everyone who has checked out the game so far.

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com)


The Pale City's First List!

Hi everyone, a very small update today. But was very glad to discover The Pale City had been listed at GamerKeys.net as an “Upcoming Hidden Gem” on Steam in March. Please do check out the list here.

There’s a lot of creativity and variety on display, which is definitely a testament to the imagination of independent games. I’ve always had an almost neurotic habit of hunting through every RPG, adventure game, or walking simulator released on Gog and Steam every year, which is often a jarring reminder of just how difficult it is to find something decent to play. That makes me especially grateful for the writers out there putting together lists like this.

Two weeks until the game comes out, so please do stay tuned!

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com.)


Rediscovering Narrative Adventure Games

One unexpected consequence of spending so much time prepping The Pale City for release—it’s inspired me to want to do more gaming again! (In combination with a very good sale on GOG around Christmas.) Most importantly, I’ve only had my laptop with me while waiting out the Corona Virus in California, which means… no AAA games! This is actually a very welcome development, because it helped me get back into a kind of game I haven’t played in a long time: adventure games, whether point and click, walking simulator, or any of the other weird permutations that have come up over the last few years.

Adventure games and I have a difficult, sometimes rough history. I played Full Throttle (one of the old Lucas Arts point and click games) as a kid, back when you had to actually close windows and open DOS to start a game. I loved it then, and was surprised as an adult to see how well the writing and visuals help up. A few years ago I played Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and Primordia, and both loved them and was driven insane by the puzzles. (Not to mention some utterly failed attempts at Myst.) I’m just not very good at puzzles and don’t enjoy them very much. But very interesting things have happened in the genre over the last few years and helped them push their storytelling in some very interesting directions. A few years ago I played Gone Home, Night in the Woods, and a few others and loved them, so it was great to see what’s come out then.

Adventure games are also dear to me because, in weird little ways, they had a lot of little effects on The Pale City. I love the use of environmental text, which is really important in The Pale City—and adventure games do it a lot better than anyone else.

1: Kentucky Route Zero

Finally done! There’s not much more that can be said about this game, but it was striking to see how much I still enjoyed surrealism. A lot here recalls modern experimental literature or film, but the game also feels very fresh at a time when (for me) even the most radical avant-garde art just feels… tired. The game brings together an incredible usage of images, music, and space for an experience that’s constantly twisting, but just structured enough so it feels like a narrative with realm emotional and thematic weight. It all just feels very fresh, modern, and relevant. I’ve been extremely interested in Kentucky Route Zero for years (their trailer was even the inspiration for my trailer for The Pale City), but I had always assumed the finished game would be a disappointment—sort of like Sword Brothers: Sword and Sorcery, which had a lot of atmosphere but was ultimately pretty forgettable—and I’m very glad I waited so long to play the whole thing as a unified experience.

Heavens Vault

Really an incredible game and one of a kind experience. It takes place in a bizarre, mind-bending universe where you sail between islands in space, all connected by interstellar rivers. The whole thing has a profound, otherworldly mood, which is complimented by the lore—which struck me as genuinely unique and fresh. The writing is also extremely good, at least in the first half, where you take place in long, 15 minute conversations that (rarely, I think) do an amazing job capturing what actual conversation feels like. The system is a little bit like Oxenfree, but the story is just much more interesting… at least until the end, where a lot of what it was building sort of deflates. Even the translation mechanic turned out much more interesting than I expected.


The only real point and click game on this list. It’s much less ambitious than the others, but I still liked it. “Urban fantasy” is a popular genre for novels, but I barely ever read it—probably the last the last book I finished like this was American Gods, and that was a long time ago. But something about the graphics, delivery, and the narrative really made this game work. I especially liked how the game took very intense, high-stakes encounters with demons and otherworldly beings and used them to create funny, adventure-game style puzzles. Also, I don’t usually enjoy detective stories, but the case-structure felt really nice and had a really great rhythm. I also played Gemini Rue immediately afterwards but didn’t like it nearly as much, largely because the system in Unavowed felt so much more refined—just one click to explore the environment!

What Remains of Edith Finch

Just really, profoundly awesome—not the story, exactly, which seems a bit silly by the end, but the moment to moment experience of playing it. You play as someone exploring an empty house, so I had assumed this would be like Gone Home. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s hard to say how without spoilers, but I’ll just settle for saying this game isn’t what you expect it to be, and it’s almost unbearably clever from moment to moment. I’ve always been a big fan of “walking simulators” where something actually happens—especially the Stanley Parable and Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs (which, in weird ways, inspired a lot of the monologues in The Pale city), so it’s cool to see the evolution has taken over the last few years.

On Games as Escapism

Playing adventure games turned out to be the perfect escape from the stress of trying to publicize The Pale City! If all of these games have something in common, it’s a great use of space. Every single room is carefully designed and very clearly connected to the story, and they respect the player’s time by constantly giving you real narrative content. For some reason I may never have the old, pure love for the genre that I do for RPGs, but I’m very glad that games like this exist, and I’ll look forward to coming back to them even if it takes me another five years.

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com.)

Progress Report

First Review of The Pale City! (and other coverage)

It’s been an amazing few days for The Pale City. Maybe most excitingly, the first review of The Pale City from a Steam Curator is in!

Also, a few websites have been amazingly kind and published posts about the game’s release on March 20th. The first is RPGamer, which is extremely exciting because I’ve read reviews there for years to track down a bunch of obscure RPGS–I’m hoping now people can do the same with mine. Same for Turn Based Tactics, another great site dedicated to Role Playing Games; and also huge thanks to Steven Long at Ghetto Gamer.

It’s been a grueling few weeks trying to run a “PR Campaign” for The Pale City. (Calling it that makes it sound like something more impressive than it actually is, since it’s just me sitting in a cafe with too much coffee and writing emails all day, haha) It’s been quite difficult, which makes me especially grateful for all the people out there using their platforms to help isolated devs. Same for Kumada at RPGmaker.net, who reached out to help test and finalize this version for reviewers.

Thanks to anyone who has been following along so far! Only five weeks left now and the Pale City is headed for Steam.

(Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com)

Game Design

My Life As a Bottom-Feeder: On Hunting Music in the Public Domain

It’s fortunately long past now, but the weirdest phase of work on the Pale City came quite early. The game took great joy in reminding me of my limited range of talents. Writing (the fun stuff) was less 10 percent of the work, which I would never have imagined possible for a 70,000 word script. Programming was the biggest challenge—the game eventually did most of what I wanted, but it grew erratically, one feature at a time over the course of months or (sometimes) years. I always knew I couldn’t program. But there was another, less expected obstacle: the music.

I had a very specific vision in mind for The Pale City’s sound. RPGs are a bombastic genre—they assault the player with flashing lights and loud music. Sometimes I’ve wondered if these explosions of sound and light are a way to make up for the text-based gameplay. The result is basically an interactive slot-machine: this wild, colorful set of feedback loops as a reward for mashing one button (“attack”) over and over. Even as the player explores towns, the songs brim over with drama and fantasy clichés—any rpg gamer can recognize music from a home village or world-map the moment they hear it.

My vision for The Pale City was the opposite of all that. I kept thinking of the cold ambience in David Lynch films: that roaring quiet as the camera pans in towards darkness. (You can hear this influence quite clearly in the first dungeon, and in a bunch of different permutations throughout the game.) Sometimes I wanted almost no music at all, just the dull clamor of humans being alive; others, a sort of delicate quiet, with the faintest echo of music in the distance. Another inspiration came from watching my brother play Dark Souls. That game is mostly just environmental noise, but the few songs it does have (usually during boss fights) bloom majestically from the silence. They feel epic, huge, and important. This was an effect I wanted to imitate, even if I do use music more often than Dark Souls.

The game was completely silent for nearly a year. All that time I wondered—where the hell was I going to find music like this?

There was only one option: the public domain. I was shocked to discover the range of stuff I could choose from—thousands of songs on over two dozen websites, from choral music in ancient genres to little blips of noise so minor it’s shocking a human being ever bothered to record them. But as anyone with a Netflix account knows, too much can be just as daunting as too little. Most of it didn’t fit or simply wasn’t any good. Then, even when I did begin finding things, it seemed impossible to unify them.

The result was string of the strangest weekends of my early twenties. Every Friday, when classes at IUSB had finished for the week, I woke up and scoured the public domain every day until six in the evening on Sunday. Slowly, I accumulated a library of about 400 audio files. This collection is still sitting on my computer today, and resulted in many more evenings listening, categorizing, and figuring out how to use them. I’ll admit to an oddly personal pride from assembling it all, less like a dragon with its hoard than a rat in its den—a sort scavenger king. Some evenings I just listened and felt proud of all the stuff I had dug up; occasionally I built new areas specifically to suit certain songs. And even now, that library of audio files (eventually, I used only about 30 percent of it) gives me a weird sense of accomplishment.

It can be hard to find what you want in the public domain, but there’s a lot to find if you look long enough. A part of me even enjoyed my time as a bottom-feeder. The hunt has its unique rewards: the shock of spotting something useable amidst mountains of junk; the satisfying click of fitting puzzle pieces that were never meant to go together; the lowly, flee-bitten glow of scavenger’s pride. Fortunately, in the end it mostly worked out—the soundtrack is one of my favorite parts of the finished game. But, to be honest, next time it might be easier just to do the music myself.

Originally posted at ThePaleCity.com: https://thepalecity.com/2019/12/20/my-life-as-a-bottom-feeder-on-hunting-music-in-the-public-domain/
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