Date: September 21, 2022
Foretales is a story-driven card game, where your choices can affect the outcome of the narrative. It’s a unique experience, and playing the game got us curious about exactly how it all came together. We recently got to talk to Developer Alain Duverger and ask him some questions about the process of making Foretales — we also asked the game’s talented composer Christophe Héral about the making of the soundtrack. Read on for the full interview (and when you’re done, check out our review of the game)!
EIP: What came first, the narrative or the cards? In other words, did you set out to make a game in the style of Cultist Simulator/Reigns, or did you have a general concept for the narrative and decide it would work best in a narrative card game format?
Alain: I wanted to make a different type of narrative game for a long time. Something with a few simple systems you would play with and that would drive a larger scale storyline. Over the years it passed through different stages: a card game, something more akin to a puzzle game where you would piece a story together. It was pretty vague… And then I played Cultist Simulator which brought the card-based concept back to the front of my focus and unlocked a few things in my head. I was really impressed by the evocative power of a few cards placed like that on a board, but I wanted to push that further. Tell a real continuous story and not bits of narrative threads in a common universe. At that point though the story was definitely not written. Like, at all. I just knew the kind of choices and the sense of discovery I wanted to have in there.
EIP: What was the biggest challenge the team faced while developing the game?
Alain: Definitely finding the right balance between mechanics and narration. Selecting the systems that made more sense to influence the story and get rid of anything else that would get in the way or drive you to focus on something that was not important for us. The combat system, for example, it’s very purposefully simple. Because we didn’t want Foretales to be a combat game. To some extent, you can even be penalized by the game if you rely too often on violence. So why create a lot of complex and interesting mechanics for something you don’t really want your players to engage in? Instead we had to find other types of systems to give equal importance or event more importance to the non-violent solutions, but always staying as simple as possible.
We iterated over 8 months to reach the current state of the game. It’s certainly not perfect, but it does serve its purpose. Maybe one day we will iterate on another title and perfect it. Or someone else will! I’m convinced that there are awesome things to do with this yet.
EIP: What impact do the branching narratives have on the overall story?
Alain: Foretales offers choices at different scales. You got your micro decisions: how you will behave in each and every situation to gain resources or get rid of hostiles. More important decisions like how you will try to solve one particular objective: do I enter the prison by bribing a guard? Is there a secret entrance somewhere? Can I turn those peaceful citizens into enraged rioters that will storm the gates of the prison? And finally you’ve got those big major choices where you decide who you will try to save among your possible companions. Because it doesn’t seem like you can save everyone.
The game lets you explore all those levels of choices to forge your own path that will lead you to one of the endings. Oh, probably not a super happy one, but if you persist and explore enough of the storylines, better outcomes will start to emerge.
EIP: Can we get an idea of how many different endings the game has?
Alain: There are 6 major endings in the game with a few variations depending on your choices.
EIP: What are you most proud of in Foretales?
Alain: Of course all my teammates’ work because Foretales is a huge pile of data and illustrations done by a very small team. But most of all, the reception of the game after these first few days: people definitely got what we wanted to do here. When we started I was really afraid that no one would see the point of this. Turns out, most people playing the game do understand why it was made like that and they seem to think it’s a great idea indeed to make this kind of mix between cards, game systems, and narration. That’s my greatest reward. Turns out, my initial hunch wasn’t wrong after all. It took effort but we turned it into something enjoyable.
EIP: What do you think Foretales does well, or even just different than other games?
Alain: I think the mix of narration and game system is truly unique. The proportions of those aspects, the amount of choices offered without falling into a sandbox game where you have to tell yourself your own story.
EIP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Alain: Even if you don’t like card games, do give Foretales a look or a try. We’ve got quite a few players who admitted to us they were surprised that the game was really different from what they would expect of the genre. And on the other hand, hardcore fans of tactical card games do appreciate the change of pace and a different approach to a medium they know and master.
EIP: What was it like creating the soundtrack for Foretales? Did you find it challenging, or did the game’s characters, setting, and story quickly inspire music?
Christophe: Once Guillaume from Dear Villagers introduced us, Alain crossed the country in August 2021 to present his project to me. There was a real musical challenge for this narrative experience that you have to complete potentially multiple times. Each time you may choose different characters for different quests and it will impact the music: the first time you may hear a bass clarinet and the next time a cello, you are making the orchestration as you play. I love this kind of work, it’s really playful.
EIP: If you don’t mind giving away your secrets, can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process? Do you usually start the same way, with a melody or chord progression, or does it vary song to song? Is there an instrument you generally compose on?
Christophe: There’s really no secret to reveal or to bury deep in some dark catacombs. I like to start by looking for a leitmotif, a theme, something that you can sing. Then I look for colors with instruments, sometimes exotic, sometimes from the instrumentarium of the orchestra. It depends on the mood. The piano is a good instrument to compose. It’s both melodic and harmonic and it’s also fairly neutral.
EIP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Christophe: In this game, one of the most important things was that we needed to write something closer to a quatuor [quartet] rather than a full symphonic orchestra. Raphaël Joffres did a great job, in the spirit of Foretales, sometimes composing, sometimes arranging and did the whole integration. A great collaboration!
A big thank you to Alain and Christophe for answering our questions, and to the whole development team at Alkemi for creating such a wonderful narrative adventure!