A visual novel with a unique local setting is available now on Steam courtesy of Path of Exile writer Edwin McRae. The Falconers: Moonlight is a supernatural thriller set in 19th century New Zealand. As its name suggests, it is part of The Falconers IP, a series that mixes historical fact with supernatural thriller and fantasy fiction.

The Falconers are an international organisation of monster hunters devoted to protecting European colonists from Cullers, entities that would thwart the spread of 'civilisation' into the wild frontiers. As such, Falconers stories are based in the 19th century colonies of the European empires: Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Germany, Russia, and of course, New Zealand. In The Falconers: Moonlight, heroine Cassandra Winter embarks on her first quest: an investigation into a recent string of deaths and disappearances from the mining town of Moonlight, as rumours of monsters that stalk their human prey in the mist-clad forest swirl.

Path of Exile's Edwin McRae goes weird west with The Falconers
Edwin McRae and Rachel Rees.

McRae hatched the idea for Moonlight while housesitting in St Bathans, an arid and desolate spot in the middle of nowhere in Central Otago. "It occurred to me at the time, 'why doesn't New Zealand have more westerns? Why don't we do westerns?'" he says. That prompted him to create a "weird west" monster hunter, but he needed a small west coast of New Zealand mining town to act as a backdrop for the intrigue and bloodletting. He settled on Moonlight, a fairly empty mining town on the west coast founded by Scotsman Captain George Moonlight.

"It's a real place, there's nothing much there," McRae says. As such, he borrowed aspects of neighbouring towns Blackball and Brunner to create an amalgamated, fictional Moonlight. The historical figures in the game are also a blend of fact – gleaned from museums, local spots, and research – and fiction. A favourite character for McRae is Irish lady Biddy "Little Biddy" Goodwin, one of the few female miners of the time, who McRae says "drank away everything she earned out of the ground".

Path of Exile's Edwin McRae goes weird west with The Falconers

The Falconers: Moonlight was almost a graphic novel rather than a game, but then McRae was approached by a friend of his regarding a visual novel. That friend was and is Kirawat Sahasewiyon, a former student of McRae's who handled production and coding duties on the game from his native country of Thailand. McRae's partner Rachel Rees joined the team as story editor, and Thai artist Ares (Rusharil Hutangkabodee) handled the game's anime art. "She's got this really sort of macabre gothic edge," says McRae. Moonlight was then released by Sahasewiyon's studio, Bionic Penguin.

Path of Exile's Edwin McRae goes weird west with The Falconers

Development took about a year all-up, and it was pretty much smooth sailing despite McRae facing a steep learning curve when it came to the visual novel format. He says the main challenges were creating meaningful diversions and interactions within a relatively linear story, and also managing branching pathways without the whole thing becoming ridiculously complicated. The sheer bulk of writing to be done was also daunting: Moonlight is a compact visual novel, but it still weighs in at more than 40,000 words.

McRae is keen to release more Falconers content, but for the moment is seeing where his current projects go. These include a Falconers graphic novel, and a novella he's writing with American Chris Kluwe. There will also be mobile versions of Moonlight emerging at some point – probably on Android first, as that particular market is strong in Thailand. However, iOS will also get a look in.

"There will definitely be more Falconers stories," McRae says. However, in the spirit of The Falconers' 'open air' multi-medium development, he just needs to figure out which platforms suit it best.

The Falconers: Moonlight is out now on Steam for NZ$12.