I just can’t stop talking about this game. It’s one thing to analyze the limited SteamDB update history and pick over the two trailers again and again, and another thing entirely to get a full 13-minute teaser with the official November 25th release date! My mind is alight and the hills are alive with the sound of screaming Homestuck fans. To celebrate our gay merriment, I wanted to analyze the gameplay teaser, especially since some of the things it revealed bear upon my previous Act 2 theory post.
Just today (at the time of writing), the Act 2 OST was posted to Steam, giving us the game’s full 27 track list! That can tell us a bit more about the game’s structure too.
Obviously, there are some minor spoilers ahead. If you didn’t want to watch the video — or look at the album’s Steam page — for that very reason then you won’t want to read this post either.
First, Act 2’s title!
“1: the amount paid by or recoverable from a charterer of a ship for such part of the ship’s capacity as the charterer has contracted for but fails to occupy
also: the unoccupied space in such a ship”
You can interpret this title in a few ways. The most obvious double entendre- type meaning is ‘people on this train will die,’ which isn’t surprising to anybody familiar with Alternia and the wider Homestuckverse beyond the fairly tame Act 1. Alternatively, there’s something already dead on board. Then there’s the literal definition; in that case, who here is considered the charterer, what ‘cargo’ have they failed to supply, and how will they be made to pay for that failure? Finally, there’s the secondary definition. Is there some empty space on the train? If so, is there some unknown cargo or stowaway hiding inside it?
Then there’s the 20th and final track on the OST’s A-Side, ‘Ghost Train.’ There’s an obvious connection between this song title and the Act title. Given we’ll probably see the Act’s title in the end card and Ghost Train — as the last A-Side song — will probably be the credit song that the end card is paired with, it’s a pretty appropriate match. If there was something already dead on board, some literal dead freight, something that knows or is related to an ‘Old Secret,’ then that thing could have or be a ghost. As a rustblood, Xefros is uniquely qualified to interact with ghosts, should he possess the mediumship abilities of his caste.
Dead Freight is a cool title! I’m excited to find out what it means, especially in relation to this ominous song.
The Timeline: I Know I Put it Around Here Somewhere…
So I got the timeline back to front.
Instead of meeting them towards the end of the game, it seems like Zebede and Charun will be the first characters we run into — we have a pair of fake horns (chosen at Zebede’s hive) and a fishing rod (likely taken from Charun) by the time we get to the train station. So where does that leave us?
- Track 1: For some reason, Joey and Xefros won’t be able to take the train we see them running towards at the end of Act 1 and the beginning of the release trailer. In old concept art, it’s shown that the station gets bombed just before they arrive — perhaps this will still happen at the start of Act 2. With this station gone, they’d need to go looking for another one. This takes them out of town.
- Tracks 2–4: They come across Charun’s hive — the first scene of the teaser — which seems to have evolved from this beautiful piece of concept art. Here, they fall into the river and down a waterfall, presumably giving us our first bad ending/death. Given Charun lives beside a river (and evolved from the 3D-concepted ‘gatherer’), it makes sense that we’d get the fishing rod that we’ve seen in promo images and trailers here. We also see some troll horn-coloured traffic cones in the pile of garbage, a pair of which Joey will pick up for her troll disguise.
- Track 5 (maybe 6 & 7 too?): Leaving Charun, they come across Zebede’s hive, possibly while running away from the flying creature that we’ve seen attack them in the surrounding forest. Here, Joey — finding a set of cornucopias — chooses the horn type for her troll disguise. She also learns a communicative bee dance.
The title of track 6, ‘Homestead,’ lends itself to farming and ranching (Skylla) more so than forested beekeeping (Zebede) in my mind, so it’s possible that Zebede only gets track 5 and we stop off at Skylla’s house before reaching the train. ‘Shell Game’ doesn’t seem to fit either location, though the closest things we’ve seen to shells are the cornucopias in Zebede’s hive.
- Track 7?: They make their way to the second train station where everyone has gathered for Jeevik Week (not to evacuate Outglut as I thought — for some of these people, that probably is their motivation, but it seems like this is more about partying). The music for this section is interesting, which is why I’m unsure about the placement of Shell Game. As we hear when Joey is talking to Elwurd, the train station doesn’t seem to have a dedicated theme. Instead, there’s normal train station ambience and music played over the speakers — they use ‘Old Secret’ (which was used for Boldir’s theme in Friendsim and shows up as track 19 on the A-side of Act 2) and ‘SERVICE CAR’ (Marsti’s Friendsim theme) in this scene. This could mean that any Friendsim song, despite being unlisted on the Act 2 OST, is fair game for use in this section.
- Joey and Xefros meet Marvus, who — for whatever reason — wants to help them get tickets for the train.
- Track 8: Once on the train, in the rust/bronze car, Fiamet messages Joey.
- Tracks 9–10: Joey and Xefros move to the gold/olive car. Azdaja and Konyyl must play significant roles in this section — ‘Quadrant Confusion’ (track 9) is almost certainly named after their vacillating relationship and Azdaja gets his own song, ‘The Prince of All Mustardbloods’ (track 10).
- Tracks 11–15: They move to the jade/teal car, where we get the Phoenix Wright-esque section.
- Track 16: They move to the cobalt/indigo car.
- Track 17 & B-Side Tracks 3–6: Finally, they arrive at the purple car. The four Dark Carnival B-Side tracks are evil clown variations of the A-Side Ticket to Ride tracks (the themes for each of the non-purple cars).
- Track 18: Joey and Xefros attempt to hijack the train.
- At some point, the train tracks are going to be absolutely destroyed. This might be related to Joey and Xefros’ hijacking of the train — maybe they heard from somebody with prescience or insider knowledge (Fiamet? Scratch?) that the train needed to be stopped before it derailed.
- Tracks 19–20: The end. An Old Secret will finally be revealed — if you’ve been following Hiveswap from the beginning, you’ve been waiting to hear this song for four years.
It looks like there’ll be no shortage of mortal peril in Act 2, so rest assured if you were missing that in Act 1 where there was only one game over. At the beginning of the gameplay teaser, Joey and Xefros end up plummeting over a waterfall because Joey chose to be taken by the river, probably killing them. On the train, you can choose to be killed by Ardata in her cabin for the good of snuff film entertainment.
During the latter death, Joey references reloading the game, which I think is a tongue-in-cheek 4th wall deal more than it is a meaningful comment. Having said that, it’s totally possible that she gets some kind of ‘insider knowledge’ about the nature of her reality as a story being told through a medium. Either way, Act 2 seems to present not only more choices than Act 1 but actual consequences too, which is a nice change of pace reminiscent of Friendsim.
We learn quite a bit from this brief Chittr exchange!
As we see from Trizza’s follower count — each follow being ‘chumpulsory’ — there are 1,117,328,182 trolls on Chittr, and at least that many on Alternia. Given trolls (as insect humanoids) are, effectively, an r-selected species dedicated to intergalactic colonization, I imagine that number is just the amount of Chittr users. Cridea has 1,117,328,181 followers, only 1 less than Trizza — because the two hate each other, we’ll assume the absent follower is Trizza herself. That makes Cridea the most popular and well-liked person on Alternia. People don’t follow her automatically or out of self-preserving obligation; they just think she’s really neat, giving her social power almost equal to that of the heiress. That crazy level of influence is probably what’s protected the Grubbles from culling so far, Cridea being their ‘biggest fan.’
Even for a violetblood, Cridea is obscenely wealthy, living on her own ‘Jeevik Island,’ which seems the place to be during Jeevik Week. It also seems to be the intended destination at the end of Act 2, though whether we’ll ever reach it is anybody’s guess.
Fiamet shows up, giving us more of the conversation that has been teased multiple times so far. Most notably, they speak like an oughties fanfiction author — “Remember, reviews are always appreciated~! Flames will be used to roast marshmallows~!” Besides distinctly characterizing her, this (paired with the continued use of tildes) is another major connection to Calliope, one among many that I discussed in my previous post. She only has two followers, is basically unknown to Xefros, and has no listed location. That last part isn’t crazy given her situation as a violet-posing limeblood and rebellion leader, but it could be very interesting if it relates to any titular ‘dead freight’ (unoccupied train cargo space): is she already hiding on the train?
Rest assured anybody whose biggest criticism of Act 1 was its lack of varied gameplay: even beyond narrative and horn-based choices, Act 2 will be way more mechanically involving than its predecessor!
Joey learns a bee-directing dance from a book in Zebede’s hive, which means, going forward, we’re going to be able to learn and use different dancing techniques for different puzzles. While we don’t know how many of these techniques will feature in Act 2, nor how often we’ll actually get to use them, it’s a really fun evolution of Joey’s abilities. Variety is always welcome. Additionally, now that Joey and Xefros (and whoever else we might add to our party) have teamed up, puzzles are becoming more complex! We get to see the beginning of the pair’s train hijacking attempt, which features character swapping, toe-tapping, and telekinesis to avoid the conductor’s wrath. This is a far cry from the ‘dance on the pile of boxes’ puzzle-solving of Act 1.
Then there’s the entire Phoenix Wright-esque section, which includes at least eleven characters. We get a full inventory of evidence, the ability to choose witnesses and then to press their testimonies, a timeline of events, and three or four dedicated tracks (12–15): it’s serious business! We also get new talksprites for all of the characters involved, which is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to see from Act 2. Best of all, we get ones for Joey and Xefros. They’re both adorable.
Something you might have missed because it’s not super obvious is Nihkee’s quick time event: in the launch trailer, we see Joey bedecked in pirate gear narrowly dodging a punch. In the gameplay teaser, we see this cutscene again in context, but Nihkee punches Joey square in the face. Given two very different outcomes for the same snappy cutscene, it’s probably a QTE! While they’re not the most gripping gameplay feature of all time, it’s fun to sprinkle a few QTEs in here and there. Having to react fast breaks up the slower gameplay loop if nothing else.
- Apparently, mind honey can have some crazy effects on all psionic trolls, not just goldbloods. Even Xefros, who has weak telekinesis, is wary. For some reason, it’s ‘chalky’ too.
- Continuing the Alternian tradition of blending normal words with murdery words and making a job out of it, Joey could make a good prima ballereaper.
- Joey embraces lesbianism.
- Zebruh’s mixtape is as bad as you’d expect it to be.
- The train features a ‘lusus caboosus’ to store passengers’ lusii. Presumably, it’s the small, uncoloured car on the end. Xefros mentions sneaking into it to sleep, meaning passengers probably aren’t allowed to enter normally.
- Fiamet is one of the rebellion’s four tetrarchs.
- Trouble is stirring in the jadeblood car over a forbidden romance novel.
And that’s all of the important stuff that we got from the gameplay teaser and OST track listing! It’s funny to think that this is the last time I’ll talk about the game before its imminent release, but you can expect me to talk about it a whole lot more once we do finally get our hands on it; you’ll find all of that coverage right here on Medium.