Night in the Woods, a highly successful game kickstarted back in 2014 is finally being released Feb. 21. It’s a title that’s been highly anticipated since its funding, and to get a taste of what to expect from the game itself you can look no further than the supplementary games Longest Night and Lost Constellation, available for free on Itch.io.

Before diving right into things, it’s worth describing what exactly a supplementary game is, because it’s not something the game industry sees incredibly often. These two games aren’t demos, they’re entirely separate entities from the main game built with the intent to establish tone and build a world for the main game to take place in. Essentially, they were tools the developers used to create their engine and style of writing that they turned into standalone products to serve as a direct tie in to their main product.

That being said, playing these games isn’t required to understand the main title, but you would be doing yourself a grave injustice to skip them.

 

Longest Night

Longest Night, released in December 2013 and the shorter of the two narratives is a very brief game about some friends sitting by a fire, recounting the myths and legends that surround the 13 constellations that gleam in the sky above them.

The game is played by linking up the stars to form these constellations, each formation followed up by a conversation between the cast of characters. Each constellation has its own story built around it, with the four anthropomorphic pals giving their two cents on what the story actually means and how they relate to it.

The dialog that took place is something I found myself relating to much more than I expected. There’s a trend in media that when there’s a group of characters like this in a story they’re often teenagers, or prepubescent, something I expected even moreso with the characters being represented as somewhat cute little animals.

Then they started talking about how they couldn’t get full time work because companies could care less about covering you for health insurance and… yeah. It turns out they’re all just around twenty years old, and Mae, the main character, is a college dropout. Its these little things that make their conversations hit much closer to home and feel truly genuine. I feel like I could hang out with these kids, or even be one of these kids.

While Longest Night is a standalone side-story, the cast of characters featured within it are also going to be present in Night in the Woods as well, making their introduction reason enough to play this game alone.

 

Lost Constellation

Lost Constellation, released a year later in December 2014 features gameplay much akin to what can be expected of Night in the Woods. It’s told as a bedtime story to Mae, a fable about a crocodile astronomer named Adina looking for a constellation lost from the sky, embarking on a mystical journey to find it.

Trudging through a snowy and desolate landscape, Adina finds herself tasked with understanding a new culture of gods and ghosts, interacting with the world through conversation, with objects found in the trees and the snow, and by building snowmen. That’s right, snowmen. Ghost snowmen, in fact.

This is where the games visual sense of melancholy begins to manifest itself within the story. To make her way through the landscape, Adina must channel the souls of those who have died within the same forest through snowmen to guide her to her destination. Those snowmen lead her to a Forest God, locked in a centuries-spanning conflict with a character known as The Huncher, a magic-wielding Fox hidden deep within the forest. If Adina is to find her constellation, she has to get past these intimidating beings and live to tell the tale, all with limited prior knowledge of the area she is to navigate her way throughout.

The dialog is what really steals the show. Without the power of conversation, Adina literally couldn’t progress. Where I enjoyed the feeling of reality that Longest Night’s dialog brought to the table, the way Lost Constellation employs dialog trees to highlight character development and learning is equally interesting. I felt interested in exploring each potential line of dialog instead of worrying I’d choose the wrong branching option; which is something that I feel morality-based branching dialog systems in games often get wrong. This game felt like an excellent experiment in exploration, and I found myself wanting to dive even deeper into the world once it was over.

Lost Constellation really hits the balance between macabre and humorous on the head. Sure, there’s literal ghosts and corpses, but the dialog had with those ghosts and other characters is so cavalier and off-hand that it’s kind of hilarious. Adina is placed in some fairly terrifying situations, yet still finds her way out of them almost entirely through witty turns of phrase. It’s that ability to take the edge off at just the right moments and still make points about the world and the characters in it at the same time that makes the writing of this game so noteworthy.

The two games work in tandem to build both a lore for Night in the Woods, and set the tone for the actual story. The two games act as two sides of the same coin: one showing a more modern story of friends that subtly introduces story elements and primary characters, and another that serves more as a backdrop for the bigger picture of the in-game universe as a whole- maybe even foreshadowing what’s to come. The Longest Night side of the coin gives you a taste of the in-game world of Night in the Woods through the introduction of its characters, while the Lost Constellation side shows you the darker underbelly of its mythos, and just how solemnly beautiful it’s willing to get with its writing.

The development studio, Infinite Fall, took two different experiments in game development and turned them into two brilliant pieces of exploratory supplementary material for what’s bound to be a great game. Focusing on smaller projects first is a smart way to get into game development, and making your smaller projects directly tie into your dream project is even smarter. I’m incredibly impressed with what the studio has laid the groundwork for here, and I’m excited to see how the final product stands up.

  • NyuuuuSaaaan

    Oh man, how have I not heard of this sooner? Pretty much every aspect of it looks exciting.

    • Right? Night in the Woods gained a pretty quick cult following, but I’m hoping it gains even more fans once the game releases this upcoming month. It’s too cool to pass up!

  • Mantas Krisciunas

    This reminds me of the Kentucky Route Zero mini-games Cardboard Computer published in-between episodes and William Pugh’s statement about creative marketing (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/288395/William_Pughs_journey_from_The_Stanley_Parable_into_Crows_Crows_Crows.php)

    • I actually didn’t know about either of those, what an interesting read! I’m a big fan of doing things this way, and I’d love to celebrate more devs that decide to do things in line with this train of thought. It’s good marketing, and a way to make your experience tangible and more rewarding in the long run.