It’s been nine months 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 find the secret within the secret, decipher its many hidden languages, and solve the curious ARG puzzle at its heart.
This jubilant community treasure hunt pleased both Tunic creator Andrew Shouldice and PowerUp Audio co-founder Kevin Regamey, the latter of whom was credited with creating Tunic’s hidden “audio” language. Tunic had a cryptic early written language scattered across the game’s symbols, in-game manuals, and other locations that the community had deciphered into an easy-to-read alphabet.
But its sound language, discovered a little later, is a very different marvel. If you’re curious about the specifics, Regamey recently ran a huge thread on Twitter explaining how he made it all catnip for music theory, sound, and ARG enthusiasts:
Tunic has been out for a while, sooooo…
Let’s talk about audio secrets! pic.twitter.com/efjtNw7RDZ
– Kevin Regamey (@regameyk) October 20, 2022
Since this language (dubbed “Tuneic” by the community) is deeply embedded in Tunic, it might come as a surprise to learn that it wasn’t part of Shouldice’s original plans for the game. He was connected to Regamey almost by chance through a mutual friend in 2015, who knew Regamey had exactly that hobby of keeping secrets. A few years ago, Regamey told me he had created a game called Phonopath as part of a “glorified portfolio piece” in an attempt to land a job at Valve.
“Phonopath is basically a puzzle based entirely on audio files,” says Regamey. “It’s about 28 stages long, and the goal is to find hidden passwords in downloaded audio files, and you find them through spectral analysis and signal processing as well as through theoretical knowledge. music.”
It’s a true music enthusiast’s tool, designed specifically for audiophiles and inspired by Notificationthe Port 2 ARGand I Love Bees ARG. But one thing he feels they all miss is the opportunity to do more with the sound elements. Then Phonopath was intended as an exploration of what was possible.
“All the audio components of these ARGs have always been very rudimentary,” says Regamey. “It was like, ‘Reverse the file. It’s Morse code,’ or whatever. It’s very, very easy. I said, ‘God, there’s so much potential for puzzle games in one audio file.’”
“Content for no one”
While Regamey’s pitch went well, he was asked to sign up again after six months, and he instead spent that time co-founding PowerUp. Which brings us back to his meeting with Shouldice, who planned the visual component of the secret language (known to the community as Trunic).
“The visual component of the language is something that existed very early on as part of design, where it was just meant to make you feel like you were in a place where you don’t belong,” says Shouldice. “There’s a lot going on here. It cannot be read. People often refer to the feeling of receiving an import instruction and not being able to read it. That kind of feeling is what is meant to be called up.
Regamey and Shouldice talked at a party, and then Shouldice sent Regamey a very early build of the game. Regamey sent back his own audio-accompanied treatment of the game as a mockup of what their working relationship might look like. Soice likes it.
“And finally, some text appeared on the screen, the glyph text, the first glyph text ever written by someone other than me,” Shouldice recalls. “And I have never read texts that were not written by me in this language. So I was like, wait, I don’t know how to translate this. I need to go get my notebook, because I never read it, I just wrote it.”
Regamey interjected: “It says ‘Process audio with PowerUp Audio.’ And then in the corner it said, ‘Great game, man.’”
Both knew that they had to work together. Regamey took care of creating a full audio language for Tunic, which was ultimately incorporated not only through sound effects but even some of the music. It’s an incredibly complex system that both Regamey and Shouldice comfortably admit that most players will never see. Regamey calls it “content for no one,” though admits it’s not really for “nobody” — it’s just personal content and primarily something for creators to enjoy.
And yet, everyone do uncover these complex, deeply buried secrets – it’s only natural to have thousands of people playing at the same time.
“All you need is a crazy geek who likes to say, ‘This game is for me,'” says Regamey. “This puzzle is what I need in my life. And they just put it online and now everyone knows.
“It’s really hard to hide everything in modern games…You just jump in and decompile it…Let’s say we hide some input sequence, some kind of cheat code. , some of the Konami code styles in the game that you will find by working out some sound puzzles. Well, they won’t even hear the audio puzzle. They will just mine the data, find the code. Here is the answer. So hiding all the secret stuff… is more about admitting the player from the designers’ point of view. It’s that special moment when you turn this rock over and there’s something waiting for you there. And we appreciate you so much for searching under that rock.
Regamey later added that his favorite experience with his community of delving into the language of his music is being DMed on Twitter by people who want to point out typos. “They were like, ‘That should be apartment A, not apartment B.’ You’re right. Sure. Good job.”
Search and identify secrets
I asked the pair if there was anything the player hadn’t found in Tunic. The answer is yes, of course, but it’s also a little more nuanced than anything that has secret-searching communities scrambling to hunt down every last Easter egg.
“At a certain point, what is considered a secret will change,” explains Shouldice. “There are things that are literally secrets just for me with no in-game content. It’s just something that we might know about that means something special to us or something else. Also, this kind of torpedo breaks my previous statement, but a game like this, you can never say, ‘You made it, the fun is over, everyone go home. .’ Because first of all, I think that would ruin the magic. But at some point, there’s not just one chest that no one can get or no one finds out about. But there are other things like meaning and connection. I’ve seen people look at the game’s story and do interesting decompressions about it. I guess you can take it as a secret. Perhaps the gift that continues to be given is that people reinterpret things that exist as more than just bits on a disk.”
Ao Dai display (Nintendo Direct – September 2022)
Tunic has been in the making for at least seven years, and its success means Shouldice may have a well-deserved break. While fans are certainly curious about what Shouldice might do next, he’s not quite ready to answer that question yet – although Regamey does talk a bit about his thought process.
“I would joke, I got married earlier this year,” said Regamey, “and this guy, [at Shouldice] he rolled out of the wedding, I was drunk on the dance floor and he whispered in my ear, he said, ‘Tunic DLC?’ And then I asked him the next day and he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m serious about that.’ So there are no promises at all.”
I asked Shouldice directly if we were expecting anything, and he replied, “Not suitable for publication in any way.” Fair enough.
Both explain a bit later: the length and number of classes for Tunic means that committing to anything like it – DLC, sequels, whatever – will be a huge undertaking. . Audience expectations are going to be tough, especially with as many layers of secrecy as there are languages.
For now, they are satisfied with the critical and popular success of Tunic. It was nominated in three categories at The Game Awards – best action adventure, best indie and best standalone debut – which Shouldice called a “significant honor”.
“Being here and having our name on the list three times, that’s weird, you know what I mean?” he says. “I wish I could experience my delta when I started working on it until now and just feel the difference. Because it’s been such a long time, it’s hard to fit it all.”
Regamey turned to Shouldice: “Do your parents believe it’s a real job now?”
Shouldice replied, “I should ask them what they think I do. Difficult question.”
Moments later, he continued: “I think how much the success of the game and Microsoft’s support mean, whether it’s the 2018 announcement or the Game Pass availability or the support Continuity from other backgrounds, groups and everything, which means that I can breathe out. Even so, every day there’s a little voice in my head that says: ‘Why don’t you panic and jump into the next game?’ And that is the challenge at this point. But it’s a good thing.”
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.