Nine months have passed since the release of Tunic, the Zelda-like action-adventure game about a fox hero in an alien world; nine months for its community to unearth secrets and more secrets, decipher its multiple hidden languages and solve the enigmas of the curious role-playing game.
This jubilant treasure hunt by the community delights both Tunic creator Andrew Shouldice and PowerUp Audio co-founder Kevin Regamey, the latter decisive in the creation of Tunic’s hidden secondary “sounding” language. The game already has an initially incomprehensible written language scattered throughout the game’s banners, manual, and other places, which the community has cracked down into a readable alphabet.
But its audio language, discovered a bit later, is a very different marvel. If you are curious about the details, Regamey has recently created a huge thread on Twitter explaining how he created itwhich is a real treat for music theory, audio and ARG geeks:
Tunic’s been out for a while now, sooooo…
Let’s talk about audio secrets! pic.twitter.com/efjtNw7RDZ
— Kevin Regamey (@regameyk) October 20, 2022
As entrenched as this language (which the community has dubbed “Tuneic”) is in Tunic, it may come as a surprise to learn that was not remotely part of Shouldice’s initial plans for the game. She came into contact with Regamey almost by chance through a mutual friend in 2015 who knew that Regamey had a penchant for exactly that kind of keeping secrets. A few years earlier, Regamey tells me that he had made a game called Phonopath in an effort to get a job at Valve.
“Phonopath is basically a puzzle based entirely on audio files,” says Regamey. “It’s like 28 phases, and the goal is to find a password hidden within downloaded audio files, and you find them through spectrum analysis and signal processing and through knowledge of music theory.”
This is a true music game for geeks, designed specifically for people who work with audio, and inspired by Notpron, the ARG from Portal 2 and the ARG from I Love Bees. But what he felt was missing from all of them was the opportunity to do more with the audio elements. Phonopath therefore was conceived as an exploration of what was possible.
“All the audio components on these ARGs were very rudimentary,” says Regamey. “It was like, ‘Reverse the file. It’s Morse code,’ or whatever. It was really, really easy. I was like, ‘Man, an audio file has so much more puzzle potential.'”
“Content for Nobody”
Although Regamey’s speech was well received, he was told to run again in six months, which he used to co-found PowerUp. Which brings us back to his meeting with Shouldice, who already had the visual component of the secret language planned (referred to by the community as Trunic).
“The visual component of the language was something that was already there from the beginning as part of the design and was just meant to make you feel like you were somewhere you didn’t belong,” Shouldice says. “There’s more going on here. It’s unreadable. People often refer to the feeling of receiving an import manual and not being able to read it. That kind of feeling was what they wanted to invoke.”
Regamey and Shouldice talked at a party, and afterward Shouldice sent Regamey a very early version of the game. Regamey returned a treatment of the game with her own audio as a sample of what her working relationship could be. Shouldice loved it.
“And at the end there was a text on the screen, a glyphic text, the first glyphic text that had been written by someone other than me,” Shouldice recalls. “And I had never read texts in this language that had not been written by me. So I thought, wait, I don’t know how to translate this. I have to go find my notebook, because I had never read it, I had only written it.”
Regamey intervenes: “It said ‘Sound treatment by PowerUp Audio’. And in the corner it said: ‘Cool game, bro'” (“good game, brother”).
Both they knew they had to work together. Regamey set to work creating a complete audio language for Tunic that ended up being woven into not only the sound effects, but some of the music tracks as well. It’s a wildly complex system that both Regamey and Shouldice admit most players will never see. Regamey refers to it as “content for nobody”, although he acknowledges that it’s not really for “nobody”, but that it is such personal content that in most cases it is something that the creators enjoy.
And yet people find these complex and deeply buried secrets: It’s natural for someone to do it when thousands of people are playing.
“All it takes is a crazy, passionate geek saying, ‘This game is for me,'” says Regamey. “This puzzle is what I need in my life. And they put it on the Internet and everyone already knows it.
Hiding all the secret stuff…was more like acknowledging the player from the designers point of view.
“Let’s say we hid an input sequence, some kind of cheat code, some kind of Konami code in the game that would be found by solving an audio puzzle. Well, they wouldn’t even hear the audio puzzle. They would just look for data, they would find the code Here’s the answer. So hiding all the secret stuff was more about player recognition from a designers point of view. It’s that special moment, you turn around this rock and there’s something there waiting for you. And we thank you much that you looked under that rock.”
Regamey then adds that his favorite experience with the community inquiring into his musical language is being messaged on Twitter by people who want to point out misprints. “They tell me, ‘That should be A flat and not B flat.’ They’re right. Of course. Good job.”
Search and definition of secrets
I ask them if there is something that players have not yet found in Tunic. The answer is yes, of course, but it’s also a bit more nuanced than anything else that should have secret-finding communities scrambling to hunt down every last Easter egg.
“There comes a time when what is considered a secret changes,” Shouldice explains. “There are things that are secrets literally only to me that aren’t game content anyway. They’re just things that we can know about him that have special meaning to us or something like that. Also, this torpedoes my previous statement , but in a game like this you can never say, ‘You’ve done it, the fun’s over, everyone go home.’ Because I think that would ruin the magic in the first place. But there comes a time when it’s not just that there’s a chest that no one can get to or no one has discovered. But there are other things like meaning and connections. I’ve seen people go through the game’s lore and make fascinating discoveries. I guess that could be called a secret. Maybe the gift What keeps happening is that people reinterpret things that exist and that aren’t just the fragments of the record”.
Tunic was in the making for at least seven years, and its success has allowed Shouldice to take a well-deserved break. Although fans are curious to know what Shouldice do nexthe’s not quite ready to answer that question yet, though Regamey tells a bit of his thought process.
“I’ll jokingly mention that I had my wedding earlier this year,” says Regamey, “and this guy, [Shouldice] He rolls out, I’m drunk on the dance floor and he whispers in my ear: ¿DLC de Tunic? The next day I asked him and he said: ‘I don’t know if he was serious.’ So no promises.”
I ask Shouldice directly if we should expect any expansion, to which he replies, “Not in any way that can be published.” It seems fair to me.
The two elaborate a bit more afterwards: the length and enormity of Tunic’s layers mean that committing to something like that (DLC, a sequel, whatever) would be a huge thing. The public’s expectations would be daunting, especially considering the many secret layers, such as multiple languages.
For now, they are content to enjoy Tunic’s critical and commercial success. It was nominated in three categories at The Game Awards (Best Action Adventure, Best Indie Game, and Best Indie Debut), which Shouldice calls a “significant honor.”
Every day there’s a little voice in my head that says, why don’t you panic and jump on to the next game?
“Being here and having our names listed three times is kind of surreal, you know what I mean? I wish I could experience the difference between when I started working on it and now. Because it’s been so long it’s hard to take it all in “.
Regamey turns to Shouldice: “Do your parents now think it’s a real job?“.
Shouldice replies, “I should ask them what they think I do. Tough question.”
A moment later, he continues: “I think what it means for the success of the game and the support from Microsoft, whether it’s the 2018 announcement, or being on Game Pass, or the continued support from other platforms and the team and everything, means that I can breathe. Still, every day there’s a little voice in my head that says, ‘Why aren’t you just panicking and jumping to the next game?’ And that’s the challenge right now. But it’s good.”