One of eXplorminate’s most anticipated games for 2018 is, without a doubt, Thea 2: The Shattering. We’ve had a couple updates on its development so far, but those have dealt mostly with the mechanics of the game. What about the lore? We wanted to know more about the story of Thea, so we “sat down” with the lead writer for Muha Games, Mila ‘Yuuki’ Irek, and asked her a few questions about what she has in store for us.
What is your professional background? My understanding is that it wasn’t in gaming.
When I was recruited by MuHa I was an academic, doing my PhD in Fantasy literature. It wasn’t really going well for me, because I wasn’t enjoying it. Then MuHa came along and said, “Hey, wanna make a game with us instead?” And I was like, yup! And as for my writing, apart from all the English lit education, I’ve always been writing and lucky for me, Khash [Editor’s Note: another developer at Muha Games] was one of my very few readers and liked my work so that was my portfolio and how I also got the job.
How are you improving your craft as a writer?
This isn’t going to be anything you haven’t heard before, but I improve by reading a lot and writing a lot. Reading is really important. It helps you to get to know different styles, expand your vocabulary, and just keep on top of current trends. And practice is obviously key. Having my work professionally edited and proofread also helped a lot; I was able to notice my own bad habits and fight with them to a certain extent, at least.
When you were writing the lore for Thea: The Awakening, did you write with a sequel in mind or did the spark for a sequel come later?
It came later. I mean Thea is a huge world, the action of the games takes place only in the eastern parts of the entire world, so there was always abundant potential for more stories. But we had no plans for a sequel when I first wrote Thea.
Overall, how would you say people reacted to the lore you presented in Thea: The Awakening?
I was overwhelmed by how much people liked it. I think the Slavic flavor and dark tones work really well to give people something a little bit different. I was really proud when some folk said they got interested in Slavic folklore and culture and said they never even knew Slavic mythology existed. That was really gratifying to hear.
Now of course, there are always some naysayers, and some people don’t like the mix of high fantasy with Slavic myth. They would like the Slavic stuff to be more historical. But I always highlight Thea: the Awakening (Thea 1) is fantasy, a child of my crazy brain, so I guess you can’t please everyone.
Was that surprising to you?
Yes, very. A pleasant surprise of course. And such warm reception certainly made it easier to keep on working.
With so many different types of quest endings in Thea 1, how did you approach writing the lore for Thea 2?
Well, Thea 2 happens a long time after the events of Thea 1. Through play, you will be able to uncover what really did happen in the past and how it influenced the present, but it won’t necessarily be straightforward. In essence, I decided we will have to go for a canonical timeline, but one that acknowledges the other choice as much as possible. So I hope this will work and give returning players the a satisfaction of learning how and if their own choices shaped this new, shattered Thea.
Can you give us just a brief synopsis of what’s happened in the world of Thea since we last saw it?
Well, in a nutshell, the world is once more in peril. There was a brief time of peace and regrowth after The Awakening, but a new danger grew from beneath the earth. Be it the waking of the giants, or some other force, something was disturbed in the core of the world and it seeks to come out.
One day, without warning, the earth shook and the world shattered into pieces. Lands were divided; seas flooded the fields. Just when it looked as if the end was nigh, The Shattering ceased – but a faint thud is forever heard coming from the ground, and new cracks continue to appear, portending the coming of the end. The gods have a strong pantheon now, but their power is tested again as they try to hold the earth together and prevent another shattering. The gods’ chosen ones are called upon to make sure the people of Thea survive and to fight whatever enemy lurks in the ground.
Which of the new gods/goddesses are you most excited to write about? Why?
I wouldn’t be a good mum if I chose one! Every new deity brings a new story and a new side to the pantheon, so they all had their own high points for me. I did like the darkness of Nyia and exploring her backstory. Triglav was a challenge for their complex trifold storyline. Marovit and Dzievanna were interesting as they relate more to the other races of Thea, not just humans, so their story was made to fit the fantasy world and that was fun to play with – Zorya in Thea 2 also has her link to orcs made more prominent. Stribog was a nice change as I made him more elemental, primal, and least humanoid of the lot.
What are some of the ways religion and mysticism will be represented in Thea 2?
Thea 2 expands the world and lore towards the other factions more than Thea 1 did. As such, the new pantheon and new religion had to be made less human in a way, and more inclusive of the other cultures and ideas. I mean, at its core, it is still the cosmic tree pantheon, and humanity remains its core, but many of the gods are now also worshipped by other species and this in turn changes the gods too.
I would also say that because the gods start from a stronger position in Thea 2, their influence on the world is also felt more, so mystical powers will be more prominent.
Thea 1 gave players the option to win via quest. Will Thea 2 follow that model?
Yes, certainly. We will also have other win conditions. As ever, we try to make Thea as open to different play styles as we can, but quests will remain a way to win for sure.
How will changing children from a resource type to a character type impact how you write stories and quests for the game?
Well, I’d like to say this made me nicer to children, but nah. This is Thea.
In terms of gameplay, it is likely you won’t have as many children, as all children will now grow up after a certain time. So in this respect, in the quest design, I do take care of the numbers more (i.e. don’t kill as many children). But, in general, Slavic demons still pray on the young most, so the writing hasn’t changed much there.
I understand that there will be more limitations on the size of groups in Thea 2 compared to Thea 1. Is that correct? And if so, how has that affected your quest writing?
It affects the quest design from a technical point of view, so the challenge/reward scale, but not the writing itself as much. This has always been the bane of Thea for a writer. In Thea 1 too, I could never assume how many people you would have in your group and this remains true.
Can you reveal the new races besides humans players will be able to play in Thea 2?
Races remain the same as in Thea 1, with some additions to the demon world. So the major factions will be humans, goblins, orcs, elves, dwarves, and then you will have forest demons, night demons, beasts, creatures of light and darkness. You will be able to start with a non-human character, although in essence you will still belong to a human faction. So the idea is your faction is related to the pantheon, and non-humans can now convert to this from the start.
What sorts of opportunities and challenges have arisen from adding new races for players to play in Thea 2?
It provides more variety and fun mostly. We’ve always strived to give choices and freedom, so this is another way of trying to achieve that. It will of course impact your contact with other factions, they may be more or less friendly depending on who approaches them.
How was your experience at Digital Dragons this year?
It was good. We got a lot feedback for the demo, so we know we’re going in the right direction. It was just amazing to see a piece of the game being played already. For me, it is always such a milestone to achieve this and somehow work goes better for me now. Like I have a visual stimulus to keep me motivated. And of course my quests work, so that’s awesome! Now I can actually test them and see how it is in game. It’s priceless.
Where are you in terms of lore development for Thea 2?
The core lore was done many months ago. The main plot is kind of in my head still, but slowly making its way into quest design.
Of course there are changes constantly, as there must be with a game world. It cannot be stiff, it has to remain flexible. And I must start work on that bestiary for Kickstarter rewards too, so yeah, there’s some work to be done there. We’ve also recently completed the names for different playable races. That was a fun chunk of lore to create and strongly influenced by our backers too, especially the goblin names.
Is there anything else you’d like the fans to know about Thea 2 before we close?
We’re really excited about how the co-op mode will work in Thea 2, and this was a new challenge for my quest design too. We want players to be able to do quests together and even challenges, so we really hope this will turn out fun. Story wise, the way it works is you form your own mini pantheon together, so up to three (tbc) gods will be trying to save Thea together, which is another changefrom how it worked in Thea 1.
We’d like to thank Mila for joining us and answering all our questions. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MuHaGames. Keep checking eXplorminate in the coming months for more updates and previews.