Court of Ashes - chriscratel
Hello Councillors,

A few more bugs have trickled down over the past couple of weeks, and our team has been working hard to patch them as they are reported.

You may have noticed a few small patches come through these past two weeks, and this post is just to provide a little bit of context to what was updated:

  1. A few scenarios had missing triggers and would not appear or would appear with the wrong information. These triggers have been updated.
  2. Loading the game on certain machines led to a black screen. The load system has been refactored to process scene loads more sequentially.
  3. Some machines were able to run the game at non-compatible resolutions. The game now defaults to 1920x1080 for first-time users if their resolution width or height is higher than that.

Our team has been so pleased with all of the kind words and constructive feedback that has come through for the game. As well, we'll continue to personally respond to each bug report and suggestion request.

We're so happy to continue making Court of Ashes the best that it can be.

Stay turned for another announcement in the next couple of weeks. A major update is coming just in time for the holidays. :)
Rise to Ruins - (Sin Vega)

There’s a coat in a window on my way home and I want it. Or possibly a blazer, I was in a hurry. It is purple and the shop had put a sign saying “VAMPIRE” over it, but I don’t need to use the cover of the worst holiday as an excuse. Which reminds me: when did we agree that Halloween was an entire bloody month and not a single day?

The Pleasuredome does not recognise this false season (also I coincidentally booked half of next week off anyway). It is time, then, for a resolutely pumpkin-free Unknown Pleasures, our regular selection of the very best games on Steam that aren’t getting their due.

Styling it out this week: Bickering nobles, micro planets, and robotic angels.


Court of Ashes - chriscratel
Hello Councilors!

Thank you all so much for the wonderful feedback you've provided for Court of Ashes so far! Following comments and private messages from players, we've patched the following issues in our latest build:

  • When loading a file after saving and exiting the application, duplicate scenarios would appear which had already been addressed on previous turns.
  • When visiting councilors after numerous interactions, the game would sometime crash upon conversation start.

In addition, some players ran out of scenarios to consider in the late-game and our team has already begun writing more content for that area. At the time of publishing, we've produced seven new scenarios which were finished in time to be delivered with this build. If you already have a game in-progress, these new scenarios will not be available until your next playthrough.

Thanks for all your kind words, your constructive feedback, and for playing Court of Ashes. You really are the best fanbase out there.

With great respect,
Chris Cratel & The Cratel Studios Team
Court of Ashes - chriscratel

Hello, Councilors!

As this message is being written, Court of Ashes is building in the background before packaging and upload to Steam. With it, so too are our own sentiments building. Court of Ashes will be available to play at 6:00am CT.

The release of this game doesn’t mark the finish line for us, but rather a grand goalpost from which to proceed. There are innumerable features we’re interested in adding to the game post-release; a few animations, controller support, a number of scenarios, additional scenes, etc. The old quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, sometimes attributed to da Vinci, sometimes Vasari, and sometimes even others certainly applies to this situation.

In short… we’re not done.

With that thought in mind, we are delivering what we set out to deliver:

  • We offer five distinct characters, each with their own perspective of an overarching story.
  • We set out to deliver 60 special scenes unlocked by affinity and actually created 79.
  • We wanted around 250 scenarios and, through playtesting and balance, arrived at 238.
  • We logged in around 189,000 words and 1.5million characters. This smashed our original goal to make 100k-130k (general novel-length) words of focused content.

Ultimately, what we set out to create was something that you would enjoy playing. Every component that went into Court of Ashes was scrutinized and debated, sometimes across many months. The game itself has gone through four playable iterations, each one marching towards the title which you will see today; a distillation of the good and a rejection of the bad.

In that spirit, there is nothing preventing us from creating a fifth iteration. If you find something which vexes you, we want to know. If there’s something you enjoy, we’d love to hear it. If you find a bug, and I’m afraid that with the legion of narrative branches and variables which shape the world of Court of Ashes there will be some, please let us know. This is our first game and we’ve delivered our very best up to this point… with your feedback will grow better still.

Thank you for all of your support up to this day. We really hope you enjoy what we’ve created. It is for you, after all.

Yours reverently,
Chris & C.S. Cratel
Court of Ashes - Palace Steward
Hello, Councilors!

I hope you will forgive my absence in writing. I can assure you that nothing less than a life-changing event could draw my attention away from my responsibilities to you and this game’s development.

A lifechanging event it was; I’m married now!

While I could spend all day talking about the experience, I had better begin my foray into the topic of this entry, UI enhancements. If you were around for the introductory devlogs, you might recall a confession; as the lead developer for Court of Ashes, my background is neither technical nor artistic. While C.S. Cratel is a programming whiz, my own journey into game development rests on a foundation of bootstrapping and good-natured gumption.

The studio has been fortunate to work with many talented artists, but the job of tying their independent works together into a homogenous whole has been an experience unto itself. I’m happy to say that we’ve reviewed this problem recently, and the project is all the better for it.

Court of Ashes UI has recently undergone assessment and refactoring in order to create a better experience for you. To review the previous summit of our best efforts:

We now realize that what we had approached was only a landing by which to climb higher:

C.S. created the mockups needed to give the entire strategy section a facelift. His improvements have given the scene more depth by removing flat maps and scrolls, instead substituting them for layered images and UI overlays. Additionally, the currency “stamps” are being retired for coins of distinct shape and color for better recognition

To be sure, these features are still being concepted. There are numerous flourishes which can allow these ideas to rise still higher. What can be said is that Court of Ashes is still growing, improving, and reaching the point where it’s as interesting visually as it is narratively.

We've created a UI “hub” that anchors into the bottom right of the screen. It tracks affinity, turn number, action counts, navigation, and game options without making a huge clutter on the screen. It also animates, making sure each scene is never too static.

The new day end page gives more finality to the day/night cycle than just a black screen fading out.

The dialogue itself is receiving more framing devices and improved texts/margins for readability.

A driving philosophy behind CoA development is to offer something different and exciting to the genre. Just as the decisions the player makes while playing the game matter, we treat
every decision that goes into the development of the game as equally impactful.

All of this to say that we are still working ever-diligently to make this game still better for you, our most revered players.

With kindest regards,
Chris Cratel, Cratel Studios
Court of Ashes - chriscratel

The soundtrack for Court of Ashes remains one of the most pervasive features of the game and it does so for good reason, it’s wonderful.

You may call me biased if you’re interested in such frivolous matters as being correct. But then, I’m developing a creative work; all things that in the game are those which I’m biased towards.

It must first be stated that the soundtrack, in its entirety, was composed by Eric Britt of Orchestorm Productions. How exactly we came across Eric’s work is a mystery lost to the sands of time. What is remembered is his Minute Waltz, the first thing I found when I was shown his Twitter page by C.S. Cratel. As I remember, it was Haydn-inspired and possessed an ominous urgency which I still cannot adequately describe.

After retaining Eric’s services and working through many variations of character, location, and overarching themes, it became evident that there was a magic within the track that lead us to hire him in the first place. In an exceedingly generous gesture, Eric offered up his Minute Waltz, which was re-envisioned into the Gilded Waltz and now serves as the theme for Court of Ashes. Give it a listen.

Having captured the style, Eric set about learning more about each council member in the game, internalizing their character, and providing a voice for them accordingly.

Bruno, the General of the Armies, whose honor is only outstripped by his pomp and self-image: listen

To Brida, the Alchemist Royal, who eccentricities only compound as time goes on: listen

Ever-distinct as well are Regina’s, Armis’, and Janpier’s themes whose personalities range from motherly to prissy and aloof respectively.

These themes stand in contrast to one another and represent the unique vocation and nature of the cast in Court of Ashes. If this were not enough of a feat by which to laud Eric, the real magic presents when the characters come together.

A cornerstone of the Court of Ashes experience resides in the council chamber. The player has to make choices that affect the outcome of a nation at war while attempting to prove their right to rule over what’s left. In doing so, not everyone agrees most of the time.

As actions are taken which support one of the council member’s goals, so too will the player’s affinity with that member grow. As the player grows each bond within the council, so too is the council’s theme made whole.

The council theme is offered below for consideration. Opening with motifs of Bruno’s Bound by Honor, the track segues into Regina’s chirping and Brida’s whimsical strings around 0:35 and those voice sing back and forth before joining together at the bridge around 1:30. Janpier comes in keeping it holy at 2:12, and Armis’ staccato trumpets complement at 2:36. Then, in what still amazes me, all of the voices sing together at 3:07. Absolute magic.

As if it weren’t laudable enough to create a breadth of sounds which are as distinct as the persons they represent, there should be no shortage of accolades for joining those distinct voices into a homogenous sum greater than its parts.

To proudly present my bias again, I love this soundtrack, and not just because it’s for my game. It’s a stellar series of works which describe the nature of their subjects in ways which words fail. Actually, that last part is presumptuous; words may exist which convey these ideas adequately. They are, however, beyond my command and I wrote the characters.

As a final note, I’ve always been a fan of imagery through sound. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to Eric’s work. If you know of an image-provoking piece to share, I’m all too anxious to hear it. If not, there are plenty of other noteworthy tracks which are not mine to share at

Respectfully yours,
Chris Cratel, Cratel Studios
Aug 7
Court of Ashes - chriscratel

The title today, commonly used to represent a body of text, yields as both the topic and heading of today’s log: the volume of writing which has come to be known as Court of Ashes. A volume which spans over 110,000 words and hundreds of pages of dialogue in the main story and affinity scenes alone. Following from this, it is difficult to estimate the number of words in the scenarios, of which there are over 250, but here is one scenario with the outcomes removed for your consideration:

Fallen Priests
While escorting a group of the displaced citizens to the capital, a number of priests were slain in Memreal. No witnesses remain but you have it on good authority that the party was felled by a group of Memrealan horticulturists, mistakenly believing the refugees to be the bandits that had been stealing fruit from the farmers’ orchards. Still, there is a lot of active fighting going on in the area, and it would be easy to report this as a Viteran attack. The capital has issued no response yet and the Church of Light is dispatching an inquisitor to consider the matter. How will you respond?

Allow the inquisitor to conduct an impartial investigation
Support the inquisitor’s effort to investigate the matter without interference and, if the Memrealans are found to be the culprits, turn them over to the Church of Light for judgement.

Redirect the search
Without any witnesses, and with a few days to prepare, the evidence could be made to convince the inquisitor that Vitera was responsible for the attack.

While you’re not completely certain of the story that you’ve heard, accidents do happen and good faith needs to be exercised. Reporting the rumors might demonstrate the Crown's goodwill in the face of adversity.

In creating more than 250 individualized scenarios, the impetus has been on creating situations which only exist inside of the universe which we create. While it is difficult to have supremely original ideas on all counts, the interplay between the situation, the factions involved, and the outcomes constitute a mini-narrative which may only take place within the individualized setup that is Court of Ashes.

With regard to characters, the same prudence is applied. In the manifestation of the five council members, each has their overarching personality and purpose. While in possession of distinct ideas, those singular characteristics do not always declare themselves as one-note responses to all situations. By adapting to a changing narrative, the Coinmaster contemplates management theory in a back alley brawl, the Alchemist Royal attempts to power the country’s trade caravans with turtles, and the Rector to Her Holiness considers whether the Book of Light is actually telling the faithful that cannibalism is the true path to righteousness. More prosaic still, but the General of the Armies refuses to deploy the troops when a battle looms and the pacifist Chief Minister puts citizens in the direct line of combat.

These responses are not driven by some thoughtless eccentricities (though there are plenty of eccentricities) for the sake of writing farfetched scenarios, but responses to situations as befits the talent and understanding of each council member at the moment of their presentation. What is certain is that through each flawed application of an idea, the characters of Court of Ashes grow, adapt, and become more equipped to deal with matters of state. The game’s tagline is “Learn to Rule before there is nothing left to Rule Over” and I could think of no more fitting a summary to 110,000 words and counting.

Inquiring minds wonder, how would you respond to the Church of Light and its inquisitor?

Respectfully yours,
Chris Cratel
Court of Ashes - chriscratel

Greetings and welcome. As an introduction antecedes most relationships, let me begin by apologizing for my tardiness in writing to you.

Court of Ashes, though announced only two weeks ago, has a storied past reaching all the way back to 2016. The days, evenings, and nights of unwavering devotion needed to bring this project to where it is now may seem like a fine enough excuse for developing in relative silence, but those activities do not subtract from the attention owed to you, the person who will (hopefully) purchase my game.

In that spirit of full atonement, let me devote myself as fully to these annotations as I do to the development of my actual game.

My game? Whose game? Court of Ashes is being developed and published by Cratel Studios. Folding the development under the auspices of a “studio” is mostly a formality; Cratel Studios is co-owned by me, Chris Cratel, and my husband, Christian (C.S.) Cratel. If I use the first-person possessive when describing Court of Ashes, it is merely as a token of pride and affection. Pride, not only for what we’ve created but, for what it’s taken to create in the first place.

As much as I’ve committed myself to an introduction, I’d sooner like to depart from talking about myself. Approach any deli counter and order bologna on white bread and you will be in possession of the allegorical equivalent of my person. To my husband’s credit, he can at least pass for mortadella on rye with a slather of mustard.

So, to the (deli) meat of the subject: what is Court of Ashes?

Court of Ashes is a narrative-driven adventure.

Court of Ashes is a scaled-down nation management sim.

Court of Ashes is centered around building rapport and learning to be a good leader.

Court of Ashes is filled with over 250 singular and expressive scenarios to solve.

Court of Ashes is told through the lens of five distinct playable characters.

Court of Ashes is meant to be played multiple times.

Court of Ashes is outfitted with 18 separate endings interspliced with multiple sub-endings.

Court of Ashes is presented with unlockable outfits, locations, and scenes.

Court of Ashes is not a romance story.

Court of Ashes is not an epic, open-world RPG requiring hundreds of hours per playthrough.

Court of Ashes is not developed with the intention of producing freemium/DLC content (though our artist wants to draw unlockable canine versions of each council member post-release).

Court of Ashes is not a 1998 Toyota Corolla, still runs great, $800 OBO.

While I could derivate each of these points into ever-increasing lists of what Court of Ashes is an is not, I would much rather take the time to dilate on each of the major features surrounding the project… the real “what’s in it for me” proposition behind the idea of you purchasing this game.

In the coming installments, I want to talk about the 60 individual affinity scenes, the original soundtrack and symbolism behind the music choices, the branching narrative and 18 base endings, the 250+ scenarios and what a scenario actually consists of, and, most importantly, what we’ve learned throughout our development to make this game better for you.

So, putting to bed the matter of my introduction, let me leave you with a question; who are you? If you’ve gotten this far, I would be so eager to meet you, reader.

Until next time,
Chris Cratel

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