Lady Thalia: A Postmort3m

Another Spring Thing has come and gone, and with it another chapter of Lady Thalia’s escapades. But even though this is our third (!!) entry, there are still always new things for us to learn, so without further ado: here is our postmortem! (We’re sorry it’s late… again.)

The general ideas for The Masterpiece of Moldavia actually came up when we were first brainstorming the previous game (The Rose of Rocroi). Since the villain in LTRR is very loosely based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, the idea of basing more characters on classic British crime or crime-adjacent fiction had been living in the back of our minds. The idea to pit Thalia against a Sherlock Holmes-like detective was the natural follow-on from there, especially since we’d then have the mirror version of the plot from LTRR to work with (i.e. Thalia asking Mel for help instead of the other way around). The characters of Oscar and Yorkie came from a similar source—in this case, the Raffles and Bunny stories by E.W. Hornung. While these technically originated the “gentleman thief” story archetype, predating Arsene Lupin by a good eight years, they were never quite as popular, and they’re mostly notable these days for how intensely homoerotic they are. Since we’d already established that Thalia was in a lavender marriage, it only made sense to use this as inspiration for her husband and his partner. And finally, the idea for setting the game in the British Museum came from a running joke between the two of us that we should make a future game titled Lady Thalia and the Elgin Marbles. (Jokes are a dangerous thing around Encorm, who has never met a joke she didn’t want to follow through on.)

Joking aside, we felt it would be tasteless to have Thalia steal any of the museum’s real dubiously-acquired antiquities, so we set about making one up. To keep things safely in the realm of fiction, we wanted to go for a region that isn’t a focus for the museum in real life; it had to be one that Britain tends to see as lesser, but we wanted to stick to Europe to avoid any white-savior implications, so we settled on Eastern Europe. Originally we meant to have the art piece come from a fictional country, but we discovered the painted churches of Moldavia in the course of our research, and since we also wanted a large piece that would require the Power of Teamwork™ to steal, they seemed too fitting to pass up. (The specific content of the fresco is not directly inspired by any of the real churches, but instead depicts the historical victory of Moldavian ruler Stephen the Great over the invading Ottoman Empire in 1475.) In general, we try to handle social issues with a fairly light touch in these games; our views on artifact repatriation aren’t exactly subtle here, but we tried to at least avoid lecturing and keep the focus on the fun stuff.

After being down to the wire last time, we wanted to make sure to manage our time better, but, as our playtesters know, we didn’t really succeed at this. We improved upon our previous process by, uh, having a plan at all, but what we didn’t do was account for the fact that there might be multi-day periods when we weren’t capable of writing due to health issues or being busy at work. (Both of these things are problems we have pretty routinely, so why this didn’t occur to us is a mystery.)

We’ve learned a few Twine tricks since we started this series, and this time around we were determined to make widgets for as many things as possible. This went pretty well, despite the terrible string concatenation crimes EJ had to commit in order to create a single widget that could be used for relationship tracking for all characters. Widgetizing everything, no matter how simple, cut down on both time spent coding and time spent fixing typos.

The added efficiency may have encouraged (or at least didn’t discourage) our tendency to make each successive game longer than the last. Masterpiece of Moldavia is almost 50,000 words long, of which a player will see almost 30,000 in an average playthrough. (Don’t ask us how much time we spent cutting and pasting to obtain these figures.) The first game was about 25K total/15K per playthrough and the second was about 40K total/25K per playthrough. Like last time, we didn’t go into it with a sense of how much longer it was going to be, and this did not help with our time management problems. Still, we did learn a lot and this will hopefully help us do even better on that front the next time we write a game. (More on that later.)

Back to the game: In our last postmortem we discussed the difficulties of writing a sequel, especially in the delicate balance of making the game accessible to new players without boring our long-time fans. While we generally succeeded last time, it turns out that this task in fact gets harder the more sequels you write, especially when you aren’t writing the kind of series where the status quo remains the same across installments. Based on the feedback, it seems everything more or less made sense to newcomers and they weren’t at a disadvantage in understanding how the gameplay worked, but apparently we fell down a bit on introducing the characters (Thalia in particular) to a new audience. We’re very familiar with her and her various foibles by this point, so to us her string of wins early in the game was intended less to show off how awesome she was and more to provide a contrast to exactly how badly things go for her in the back half. But of course, if one isn’t familiar with her flaws, she can easily come off as obnoxiously perfect instead. To be fair, this wasn’t a universal complaint among newcomers to the series, but we think it’s a valid one and will be keeping it in mind for future installments.

One of the many reasons we insist on shaking up the status quo is that it makes it much easier to shake up the puzzles from game to game. The idea to stick to one venue for Thalia’s nighttime activities combined with our increased confidence with Twine allowed us to write a series of interconnected puzzles across a map instead of the usual linear gauntlet of challenges. We were very worried about this (especially because of the difficulty this added to debugging) but again, it seems to have been well-received. More worrying for us were the daytime segments, which are getting harder and harder to keep fresh (from our perspective) due to the focus on conversation mechanics, but given that we haven’t heard any complaints about those either, perhaps we’re just overly paranoid.

After all our games together we’ve also settled into a fairly comfortable division of labor based on our particular strengths. EJ is a very talented writer, particularly when it comes to character writing, while Encorm has a good head for puzzle design and physical descriptions (it helps to not have aphantasia). The workflow for the games once we have the outline nailed down usually goes thus:

  1. We figure out what puzzles and challenges should be present in a particular day and night, and how they affect each other.
  2. Encorm starts coding the structure of the act while EJ begins writing the dialogue-heavy day section.
  3. Once the structure of the act is complete, Encorm starts writing the more action-and-description focused night segment while EJ finishes up.
  4. EJ moves on to write any dialogue in the night section (such as the confrontation with Miss Marshall in the museum), while Encorm goes back to punch up scenery and action descriptions in the day segment, with both of us editing each other’s work along the way.
  5. EJ writes the interlude while Encorm gets a head start on coding the next segment of the game.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though; while we didn’t step out of our individual comfort zones as much as during Rose of Rocroi (mostly thanks to time management issues) there are segments where EJ did more of the action writing and Encorm did the dialogue instead. We think they blend fairly well into each other (or at least, nobody’s commented on it), but we do hope to move outside our individual comfort zones in the future.

Finally, due to the increased ambition of this game, we really never would have finished it properly without our playtesters. We never managed a proper playtesting round on the previous entries in this series, and we were determined to do it this time—even though that meant recruiting people three days before the deadline when our game was about 75% written and 25% debugged. Our playtesters then put a heroic amount of work over those three days testing, debugging, communicating with us, and then doing it all over again when we sent them another revision (upwards of 2-3 times a day)! Despite the chaos, we found this to be an incredibly rewarding experience, and thanks to their help we had multiple reviewers comment on the game’s high level of polish after it came out. Thank you all so much—we truly couldn’t have done it without you.

And at the end of everything, we had another game. At this point we are always happy to hear from the usual fans (who won’t hesitate to tell us if we’ve strayed), but we were very pleased to get good feedback from players both old and new. As such we’d like to inform you all that yes, there will be another sequel. However, we can’t promise it will be in Spring Thing 2024. Between the fear of letting the games get stale, the desire to also work on other projects, and several life events falling in March and April ’24 it’s likely that we’ll be taking a bit of a break from Lady Thalia. But never fear—she’s too magnetic to leave behind for long, especially when her story isn’t finished.


This postmortem is a great advertisement for those of us who didn’t play Lady Thalia over Spring Thing and sort of meant to. Well, I can verify, one of us, at least!


Thank you for sharing your process.

This was enlightening on 2 accounts : first on the inspirations behind your game, I am a fan of Holmes and Lupin (and Thalia) and it’s cool to be introduced to new works ; second because the way you collaborate is very interesting, it goes beyond the usual “the one who writes, the one who codes”, with clearly identified strength in both areas that you manage to distribute efficiently and transparently to the readers.

Congrats !


Thanks! If you haven’t already, I’d recommend looking at the author’s notes for all three games – we typically list the works we draw from there as well, including some fairly deep cuts. You might find even more interesting stuff there. :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks for your thoughts on the workflow as well!


This is a pretty personal question, so feel free to decline to answer it, but I’m fascinated by collaborations, especially between partners. My husband and I collaborate on art pieces all the time, and it can be rough. The question is: what’s your process for decision-making when you disagree about something?


The main thing we try to do is recognize when things are starting to get heated, or when we’re just going in circles and making no progress, and walk away for a while. I will admit that I’m prone to getting upset if I feel like someone’s telling me my ideas aren’t good (which is usually not actually what’s happening, to be clear; it’s just my Brain Problems), whereas Encorm understandably gets frustrated if she feels like a planning session is going nowhere, and at the point where either of those things has started to happen, we’re not likely to be able to resolve anything right away.

Usually, what happens in the end is less that one person’s ideas totally win out over the other’s and more that we figure out how to synthesize the two. Sometimes this seems like a hilariously simple solution in retrospect, but when you have your head down in a project it’s easy to develop a sort of tunnel vision. One of the biggest conflicts we had while making LTMM, for example, was about what should happen in the night segment of Act III. We each had an idea of what it could look like, but mine had limited opportunity for slow/messy points and Encorm’s had no connection to the day segment; neither of us was happy to give up our own idea for the other’s given those shortcomings, and we couldn’t figure out how to do them simultaneously. After a couple rounds of failed attempts to hash it out, we realized we could just do both things sequentially. We had gotten so wrapped up in the shiny new “integrated nighttime puzzle” model that we’d kind of forgotten that was an option.

So far, we haven’t run into any disagreements that we couldn’t resolve by taking some time to think it over individually and coming back to the discussion later with a clearer head (although sometimes it takes a couple cycles of attempting to work it out and then putting it aside for a while). If we ever ran into a situation where we really couldn’t reconcile our different ideas, I feel like it would suggest either a deep flaw in the concept (or at least, a situation where we had fundamentally different ideas of what the thing as a whole should look like) or some external stresses being displaced onto the project. At that point, we’ve agreed that we would just drop the whole project, at least for the time being, because clearly either the idea or the timing just isn’t working out. We’re fortunate that this is a hobby that we make no money from, so there’s no pressure to keep hammering at something if we’re not feeling good about it. This is all supposed to be fun, and if it’s not, then there is literally no reason to do it; we try to keep that in mind.


Mm, walking away and sleeping on it is such an effective strategy. I have a cousin who’s just my age and we’re both into programming but we approach things from very different angles. But we’ve always been close: if you see pictures of us as babies and toddlers we’re often sitting back-to-back on the floor doing completely different things but…together. When I got out of college, his employer was looking for another programmer so I went and worked with him and lived with them for a couple years.

And we’d do programming projects together after work too, and that was almost always our resolution when we were butting heads: he’s a night-owl, I’m an early-bird, so “Fine. We’re not getting anywhere, and it’s late; I’m going to bed.” And then the next day we’d usually find that we had come to the same conclusion about how to resolve it, though there were a few memorable occasions when we switched sides and argued the whole thing again the other way around the next day. Or yeah, a few times when we dropped a project or went our own separate ways when we really didn’t want compatible things.