Many of us may have, at some point, felt a deep longing (probably spurred by a certain young adult fiction book series) to be swept away to a magical school of spells, potions, and general sorcery. Various games and other media have given us various ways to explore that fantasy over the years, but today, Eastshade Studios has announced a new, musical take on the idea with its upcoming RPG, Songs of Glimmerwick.
Songs of Glimmerwick is a story-driven RPG where magic is cast through music. Players will attend magic classes, learn to play different songs to cast spells, grow a magical garden, make potions, and take on quests to get to know the various denizens of Glimmerwick. There are moth races, forest expeditions, and festivals to attend, mixing plenty of optional mini-games and side quests alongside a main storyline. Characters are customizable, NPCs both major and minor will be voice acted, and the game’s music will be composed by Eastshade composer Phoenix Glendinning.
Eastshade, naturally, was the previous game that Eastshade Studios worked on, with the same trio — Glendinning, and developers Danny Weinbaum and Jaclyn Ciezadlo returning for Glimmerwick. Put their screenshots side by side, and Eastshade (a first-person exploration game about painting) looks absolutely nothing like Songs of Glimmerwick (a top-down RPG about attending a magical university). And yet, the two are more alike than they appear.
Weinbaum and Ciezadlo tell IGN that just as with Eastshade, they wanted to create a world with an extremely strong sense of place. At its core, they say, Songs of Glimmerwick is about exploring a new location and getting to know its citizens. Players should feel that Glimmerwick is a character in its own right.
“A lot of developers will say they want their games to feel like real places, but then they’ll have all these other goals too, and truthfully, a sense of place is just gravy to them,” Weinbaum says. “It’s not just gravy to us. We literally sacrifice every other design goal at the altar of sense of place. We really mean it. So when players step into Glimmerwick for the first time, if they don’t get the overwhelming feeling that they’ve arrived somewhere, we’ve failed.”
How are Weinbaum and Ciezadlo accomplishing this “sense of place”? One key way is through design. Ciezadlo says that in both Eastshade and Glimmerwick, they stuck to a hard-and-fast rule of asking themselves, “Why would this be here?” every time they placed something in the world, be it as small as a footstool or as big as a cave.
“Having even a quick narrative about why something is in a specific place, how it got that way, or who put it there, etcetera, lends a stability that helps so much with world-building,” she continues. “For example, say I (as the designer) want to place a tent out on a beach — so I ask myself, ‘Who is staying here, why are they out on the beach?’ Let’s say it’s someone fishing — so maybe I’ll put some baskets of fish and fishing poles. ‘Okay, are they here alone or did they bring their kids, how long are they staying, did they bring anything to pass the evenings?’ They’re almost silly questions, especially if the NPC has no dialogue and this is stuff that the player doesn’t need to know about, or is even introduced to, but I think it does translate and make the world feel more alive to consider these things.”
Weinbaum says that this very thing — designing worlds with a “strong sense of place, explored through non-combat mechanics” — is the core goal of Eastshade Studios.
So often in games magic is a click that we have no hand in performing. I wanted to explore learning and casting spells in a way that felt a little more personal and hands-on.
While Eastshade’s primary mechanic was painting, Glimmerwick delves into music. Players will learn different spells as three-to-four note melodies they can play to interact with the world, whether that’s speaking with trees or causing clouds to make it rain on their magical garden. Longer versions of these melodies can be practiced in class as minute-long rhythm games to improve spell efficacy and power.
“I’ve always loved games that use music as a gameplay verb and I also love any and all media about witches and magic schools,” Ciezadlo says. “I really wanted to combine the two and see a world where magic and music are intertwined. So often in games, magic is a click that we have no hand in performing. I wanted to explore learning and casting spells in a way that felt a little more personal and hands-on.”
Though officially called an RPG, Songs of Glimmerwick doesn’t feature combat. It does include a skill tree allowing for customization, and potentially different ways to solve various problems the player might run into as they explore. And players can also express themselves through different dialogue options and quest decisions as they interact with the various citizens of Glimmerwick, get to know them, and help them with their problems. It’s another way in which Glimmerwick shares roots with Eastshade, which didn’t have a skill tree, but did encourage creative, alternative solutions to various problems.
In that regard, Weinbaum reflects, Glimmerwick and Eastshade both are almost adventure games, too.
“That word [adventure] is starting to lose meaning with regards to genre, but in principle, an adventure game contrives impasses for the player, and they need to figure out what item or person is needed to surmount it,” he says. “We’ve noticed a lot of great games fundamentally have these adventure game bones, even if nobody thinks of them as adventure games. We think we’ve gotten pretty good at making adventure game bones, pacing it well, and tying auxiliary loops into the impasses we create as goals for the player. We feel if the impasses align with the story well, and the solutions are kept fresh, when we layer other game loops on top of that, and tie them in natural ways, we’re confident we’ll have a great game.”
Alongside the magic, music, and questing, players will also have charge of a magical garden where they can cultivate different plants using the spells they’ve learned at school. Weinbaum says that there are some farming sim mechanics involved here, but the team aims to “design away a lot of the tedium that is common in the genre.”
“Stylistically the farming sim genre is fairly grind-heavy, which I think is a conscious choice for a lot of titles, both because some find relaxation in the repetition, and to extend playtime,” he continues. “We want Glimmerwick to feel denser, like you come across something fresh every play session, whether that be interesting story beats, a new area, or a plant that surprises you when it gets to full growth.”
With elements of RPG, farming sim, adventure, and even rhythm game, it can be a bit tricky to pin down exactly what genre Songs of Glimmerwick belongs in — a question Weinbaum says the team struggled with, too.
“I did a whole research dive on the history of the term RPG, and read a lot of reddit posts from people arguing over ‘Is X game an RPG or not’ to try to understand what the word means to most people nowadays,” he says. “Some people think an RPG is a game that offers multiple ‘roles’ to you and you pick a playstyle, and others have a looser definition where you simply pretend to be a particular character. At the end of the day we felt like RPG was closest.”
Songs of Glimmerwick is currently planned for PC and consoles sometime in 2023. When it does arrive, Ciezadlo hopes that the magical university at Glimmerwick and its surrounding areas comes across to players as a “real living and breathing place” that offers “a sense of peace and calm to players as well as offering interesting stories.”
“After Eastshade we got a lot of messages from people who picked up painting after playing the game,” she concludes. “I thought that was amazing. If anyone got inspired to take up an instrument after playing Glimmerwick I think I’d just be over the moon!”
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.