GDC 2019 INTERVIEW: Covens (Raincrow Studios)

Friday, April 19th, 2019

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Covens | Logo

Covens is a mobile game that peels back the shroud of the everyday world to expose the magic and witchcraft beneath. You play as a witch who claims real-world locations (called Places of Power), masters hundreds of spirits, practices witchcraft, and competes in seasonal tournaments to place as high as possible on the leaderboard. During GDC 2019, I caught up with Mariah Flick, Katie Brooks, and Hayley Tilghman to talk about what Covens is all about, how players will get to play in the seasonal tournaments, what the development team learned through the beta process, and more.

You can download Covens now for Android platforms, with iOS to be released at a future date.

You can find out more about Covens at the Raincrow Studios website, by liking them on Facebook, tweeting at them on Twitter, subscribing to the official subreddit, and following them on Instagram and Redbubble.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.

Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and y’all are?

Mariah Flick: My name is Mariah Flick and I am an artist at Raincrow Studios.

Katie Brooks: My name is Katie Brooks, and I am the community manager at Raincrow Studios.

OR: What is Covens?

MF: Covens is a real-world-based game of magic and witchcraft, played in our own real world. It is a mobile game that you can interact with real world lore, real world locations, you can fly anywhere in the world and just experience the magic within what we already have.

“Our game is very much affected by the real world, seasons will change certain aspects of gameplay.”

OR: Why augmented reality?

MF: It’s not augmented reality in the sense you would see in Pokémon GO, where you see the phone and a spirit will pop up. It’s more augmented reality in the sense that we are using real-world time and moon phases and [seasons] to kind of change what you can interact with via that. It’s not in the sense of what you [normally] think of augmented reality. But the real-world game is what we want to enforce, because the lore in the world is so intricate and so deep that we wanted people to explore it too.

KB: And you can also – it’s real world, because the map that you’re traveling around on, you’re interacting with real witches. Let’s say that you go to India, and someone has a coven there, you can interact with them. You can fight them, you can fight the spirits there. So, it’s a bit different than the regular augmented reality that you would think of, because with our map, you don’t actually have to walk around. You can choose to sit and play it or you can walk around with it, because it does [also] work with GPS.

MF: You can fly anywhere in the world- you can go to Greece while in Virginia. It’s great for that too.

OR: What’s the story behind Covens? How did it come about?

KB: Covens is about five, seven years old now. Our boss is extremely into this lore in the real world. You can walk around and see this too in the game. You can go to a location and find out the lore about a specific place, and he’s always enjoyed stuff, it came through this passion.

OR: Which came first: the storyline, the mechanics, or the art?

KB: I would say the story. Story is a huge influence on this game. Even outside the game, there’s going to be graphic novels and more that’s going to be inferred, because you read objects- you find the story through exploring items and reading and such of that nature. So it’s story based that you have to look for, if you want to find it.

OR: So I’ve been checking out Raincrow Studios on Twitter, and I’ve seen a lot of posts of supernatural lore and history. On February 5, y’all said “We show many places in our game that have supernatural histories in real life.” How specifically do these places tie into game?

MF: There are several places that are extremely important. For example, Brocken Mountain in Germany is a huge witch-lore place. So I think there is a place of power there, there’s a garden nearby. So in the game itself, you can go there and interact very specifically with that. There are going to be quest exploration things. The Bell Witch- that’s another famous lore place in West Virginia. There’s a garden there, so you can explore and interact with the story of the Bell Witch there.

Some of the lore will be more physically represented in the game, and some of it is just kinda ‘oh here’s a really cool spirit that you can find and battle and summon as you wish too.’

Covens | Flying

You can fly anywhere in the world in Covens, even if you are still at home. (Image courtesy of Raincrow Studios).

OR: Do I actually have to visit Germany?

MF: There is actually a ‘Fly’ button in the game. So you can fly, you can travel, from the comfort of your home in your PJs and go to Germany and see what’s going on with all the other witches of the world and fight them and help your covenmates and all those wonderful things.

OR: Covens has been in beta testing for awhile. What of the testers has surprised you about [the game]?

MF: There’s been a lot of really cool suggestions that they’ve given. For example, they really want to be able to name their spirits. That’s just a cool little-.

KB: Yeah, like the Bargus that follows them around.

MF: -Yeah, I want to be able to name my Bargus. So it’s just like adding little things like that that has been nice.

Hailey Tillman: Am I allowed to interject?

OR: Of course, would you mind introducing yourself please?

Hayley Tilghman: I am Hayley Tilghman, and I’m another illustrator on the team.

The one I was thinking of was the ‘Fly’ mechanic, that actually came out -if I remember correctly- of beta testing. There was a glitch in the game that allowed you to spoof your location, and players actually responded really positively to that than being tied much more directly into your real-world location that you had to walk to. But the ‘Fly’ mechanic came out of a glitch that was exploited by players to fly around and find spirits that were not in their local area. So that was another that, while I was not around personally, I had heard about and thought was really neat. It enhanced the game a lot.

Covens | Playing

You can play with -or against- other witches and spirits in your area. (Image coutesy of Raincrow Studios).

OR: There’s a tournament coming up- the 2019 Summer Tournament of Witchcraft. Could you tell me a bit about that?

MF: Each season marks a new Tournament of Witchcraft. So at the start of every equinox or solstice, a new tournament of witchcraft begins. This resets players, so if you’ve been playing for two or three years, anyone who wants to start, it doesn’t intimidate them. You don’t lose any of your things, it just resets the leaderboard. Because our game is very much affected by the real world, seasons will change certain aspects of gameplay.

HT: You get different cosmetic options, spirits will show up in different parts of the world, things like that. It’s a way for players to not feel intimidated to join in on a game that’s been going for several seasons. They feel like they have a real shot at becoming a top player, even though they are new.

OR: So there’s a tie-in comic coming: John the Revelator. How does the comic specifically tie into the game? Why make a comic?

MF: John the Revelator explains the tie-ins between Vampire Tribunals, which is another game that we’ve been working on, and Covens. It explains the relationship between the vampires and witches, and these comics are where a lot of the story comes from. So you can read the comics if you want to, and learn more about individual characters that you’ll find and infer more about the story and enhance your own gameplay. It’s still your story, you can roleplay it how you want, but you’ll have more of the history around you in these comics.

HT: I think that’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Eventually when we release Vampire Tribunals, it is- not a cinematic universe- but it is going to be one map and players from Vampire Tribunals, Covens, and any other games we come up with will be playing all on the same map. And so Vampire Tribunals is about vampires. Covens is about witches. These vampires and witches interact with each other, and that’s what John the Revelator is. It explains why these two different sets of magical beings are interacting and what their relationship is. It gives you a little backstory about that. You don’t have to read those comics, but it widens the world a little bit.

Covens | John the Revelator Comic

Raincrow Studios has a planned tie-in comic, John the Revelator, that will explain the links between Covens and other games that are to be released by the studio. (Image owned by Raincrow Studios).

OR: You have a third game as well- Sons of Enoch. How does that tie into Vampire Tribunals and Covens?

HT: Sons of Enoch is this guy who goes around and who hunts magical beings. So you have the vampires who are vampires, the witches who are witches, and then you have the sons of Enoch who go around these magical creatures that are doing evil.

MF: They’re human, and there’s going to be- this game is further down on the scope of what we’re making and they are documenting a lot of this stuff too [in-game lore].

OR: This game is currently coming to Google Play. Are there any iOS plans?

[All]: Yes.

KB: iOS takes a little bit longer through the- you have it in a more ‘polished’ state to get it out. So Android comes first for most of our games, because it allows you to work out the kinks a little bit more [easily] while it’s still in a beta testing.

OR: Will players who play [on Android] phones be able to play against [Apple] players?

[All]: Yes.

Covens | Clothes

You can customize your witch with outfits and other cosmetics in Covens. (Images courtesy of Raincrow Studios).

OR: Will there be microtransactions?

MF: There’s cosmetic options. That’s the primary form of monetization in the game. So every season, new cosmetics are released for your characters, so you can change how you look and stuff like that. There’s also some ‘soft’ microtransactions. There’s something called alignment in the game. Depending on the spells you cast, you can be a light or a shadow witch. There’s potions that you can buy to help you shift further towards a shadow or light school, but you can’t boost yourself up necessarily through these transactions. It’s heavily cosmetic.

OR: How do players interact with each other in Covens?

MF: They can spellcast on each other and create a coven. And with a coven, this game encourages teamwork. So you can fly to your covenmates and help them out. You can all attack a spirit together, take a place of power together. Places of power can be owned by covens, and it’s very team-based player-versus-player.

I think that the coolest thing about it, again, is the fact that you are interacting with other players who are not just in other covens but who are playing the other games that offer different mechanics and lore but who are playing on the same map together.

OR: Donald M. Murray once wrote: “All my writing- and yours- is autobiographical.” What of yourself do you see in Covens?

HT: I see a lot of my clothes in covens, I’m the illustrator. *laughs* I would say, from an art perspective, I see a lot of my stylistic choices in there. I sure Travis- the boss who is writing a lot of this- sees a lot of his childhood interests in this. When he talks about it, you can see a lot of the story means a lot to him and he’s a very good storyteller. And you can feel that he has a passion for these things in the game that are tied into things he was interested in as a child and as a young adult. He loves storytelling.

MF: Yeah, who as a kid didn’t want to be some sort of magical being? And this lets you role play [that] in the real world. You can be in San Francisco, casting on another witch that’s also in San Francisco. You get to relive those childhood- I’ve always loved this stuff. I grew up with comic books and animated stories about magical youth characters and [so] that’s a great thing for me. I’m like ‘Yes! More! Magic!’ It’s just amazing.

OR: What’s the update schedule like for this? How often can players expect new content?

HT: We have a tie-in program called Creatrix that allows us to manipulate the real-world events that could come up in the game. So, that is sporadic. Depending on our mood, we could put in live events and stuff like that. We could summon spirits that would appear, in say, San Francisco, and have players go battle this large spirit. On a more regular basis, we have the seasonal tournaments at the start of the equinox and the solstice where large numbers of cosmetics are released. The leaderboard is reset- that’s the more reliable large content [patches].

OR: What’s the level cap at the moment?

HT: Technically, there is none, but realistically-

MF: I think it is twenty?

HT: You can theoretically go to whatever, but since the tournaments are only held for three or four months at a time, more realistically, you can only realistically hit level twenty, twenty-five, something like that. But theoretically, it is unlimited.

Covens | Places of Power

Various real-world locations will be ‘Places of Power’ for players to visit and capture for their coven in Covens. (Image courtesy of Raincrow Studios).

OR: When a tournament is over with, does everyone’s stats and levels reset?

MF: The leaderboards reset. You will still have your same alignments. So if you are a shadow witch and you want to get to that 14th alignment to get the more powerful shadow witch spells, you will still have that alignment. So that can carry over. But, for example, if you are at the top of the leaderboard, you just have to build up the same points [again] to get there.

You keep all your cosmetics, you keep all the things that you’ve been buying. So you keep the same character, just the numbers reset.

OR: To someone who may not know anything about [Covens], but is thinking about picking it up, what do you have to say to them?

HT: I think it is a game that has a lot of depth to it, a lot of storytelling. I think that the coolest thing about it, again, is the fact that you are interacting with other players who are not just in other covens but who are playing the other games that offer different mechanics and lore but who are playing on the same map together. It’s very exploratory- you can go around the world. You get to pick up different spirits, you get to pick up different items, you get to enhance your character. There’s a lot to do, I think, and it’s very central.

MF: I agree with that one-hundred percent. I’m proud of what we’re making.

OR: And when does Covens come out?

HT: Covens comes out Wednesday.

OR: And for iOS and Android?

HT: Android definitely, iOS hopefully.

OR: Thank you very much.

Where would you like to take over a Place of Power? Have you started playing Covens on Android?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it. Do you want to do an interview? You can reach me at