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The Kristala Dev Blog - Issue #28

Hello, faithful feline-lovin' friends and fantasy aficionados! Welcome back to another magically entrancing issue of the Kristala dev blog.

This is the only place where you'll receive a monthly, in-depth look into the entire development process for 3D dark fantasy ARPG Kristala, an indie game built in Unreal Engine 4 by the incredibly talented team at Astral Clocktower Studios.

As mentioned above (and frequently touted across all our social channels), Kristala is a dark fantasy game—which means we definitely want our characters and environments to properly convey that particular element.

We really loved how the demo was looking at the end of 2020, but we thought it embodied a bit more whimsy than it did darkness, so we've officially embarked on a complete overhaul of the entire demo level, including character models, level design, environments, and more.

Now we're well on our way to achieving the proper vibe for the game, and we're ridiculously excited to show you some of the changes that have already been implemented over the course of the last few weeks.

Are you ready to get dark, dear friends? Trust us...we've got you covered.


Concept Art

As part of our demo overhaul, we recently welcomed a few new team members into our motley crew in order to help us better establish the dark-fantasy vibe we're going for—including the newest member to our Concept Art team, Harold.

Luckily for us, Harold is incredibly adept at understanding exactly what we mean when we put in requests like, "Can you hook us up with something ominous and slightly menacing?"

For his first concept piece, we tasked Harold with an environmental shot showcasing the first Kristal Checkpoint that appears in the Dalamase swamp level featured in the Kristala demo.

The Dalamase lies within Nisargan territory and contains several moss-laden, bog-entrenched, abandoned fishing villages that pockmark a vast, overgrown, tree-laden swamp.

Here's a look at Harold's interpretation of the Checkpoint and its surrounding environment. The denseness of the trees and the wetness of the ground really drive home the "this environment is a creepy, murky swamp" vibe, which we're suuuper stoked about.

After seeing how stunning and chill-inducing his first piece was, we wanted to see Harold's rendition of a portion of the Dalamase's Dark Forest.

This eerie, tree-laden level area of the Kristala demo is chock full of strange, secretive creatures that may or may not welcome your presence. One such oddity is a stick-like, mannequin-esque being called the Twigativa (or, as we like to call them, Twiggies) that vaguely resembles a cat-like Anagativa.

What makes these creatures especially horrifying is the fact that only some of them seem to be capable of life. While many remain still, unmoving as they stand sentry over the Dark Forest, others unexpectedly come to life without warning.

The hard part for you will be determining exactly which ones are which... ;)

We mentioned earlier about the abandoned fishing villages that line the Dalamase swamp. After finishing up the Twiggy concept pictured above, Harold then moved on to a third environmental concept featuring one such village.

For this piece, we also had Harold try his hand at reimagining the appearance of the Lantern Trees that can be found throughout the Dalamase. These lush, stunning, luminous trees are not only ridiculously beautiful, but they also serve a very important in-game purpose too.

As you make your way through the swamp, you'll quickly discover that many of the enemies that dwell within its boundaries either omit or dispense a poisonous substance that'll slowly eat away at your health bar.

To combat this type of noxious damage, simply consume the fruit of the Lantern Tree to receive a boost in poison resist. Doing so just might help you survive a bit longer amongst the poisonous flora and fauna of the Dalamase.

Up next for Harold? Tackling a concept for a damp cave level area that's home to a very secretive creature featured in the Kristala demo.

The narrow entrance to this cave widens into a cavernous room to reveal several clusters of glowing crystals and a series of mysterious doors. We'll let you discover for yourself exactly where each doors leads, but for now—enjoy this look at Harold's Nisargan cave concept.

Last on Harold's list of concepts for this sprint was an environmental piece showcasing an area of the Kristala demo that we've been referring to internally as the Treehouse Clearing.

Featured prominently in this concept is the hulking trunk of an enormous Jhacanda tree whose thick network of branches supports the weight of a gigantic Nisargan treehouse dwelling.

We love how the treehouse itself is illuminated by several sources of light that shine out from its windows like a beautiful beacon of warmth amongst the dreary, damp fog of the Dalamase.

Curious about Harold's process for building out each concept's composition? Stay tuned to the Kristala dev blog—and to all our socials—to learn how you can get exclusive, behind-the-scenes access into Harold's entire, step-by-step process.

Although the feline-like Anagativa and the rodent-like Kotakaya are the most prominent creatures featured in Kristala, the Kota aren't the only rodent race that thrives on planet Ailur.

In fact, contrary to your typical Kota foe, the Hemani are friendly rodent creatures that have willingly integrated into the Ana way of life. For this reason, most Hemani you'll meet along your travels are more than happy to assist you however they can.

One such creature featured in Kristala is a sweet and gentle Hemani named Cloudette, an NPC you'll encounter in a unique level area called The Hermitage.

Before we show off Cloudette's beautiful concept—created by an incredibly talented concept artist (and friend of studio) named Amanda—say hello to Game Producer Allie's IRL hamster, Cloud, who served as the furry inspiration for Cloudette's character.

With the help of our friend James, a super gifted concept artist, we were able to cross off another important character concept this who serves a large role in Kristala's core storyline.

Svar Ekat is a hairless Anagativa who originally hails from the Sykomana clan, a mysterious clan that's gifted in the art of both telekinesis and telepathy. Bored by the perceived monotony of his home clan's lands, Svar eventually severs ties with the Sykomanans and sets out on his own as a rogue, covert traveler.

We don't want to say too much about Svar just yet, but we can assure you that this furless feline has a fiendish face you won't soon forget. Don't believe us? Just have a look at the concept for Svar and we think you might agree.

As a rogue wanderer traversing the wilds of Ailur, you'll rarely spot Svar without some sort of blade or staff in his grasp. We're still working out which of the beautiful weapons that James designed will be Svar's go-to form of defense, but we definitely wanted to show them off too.

These are all so gorgeous and detailed that you'll most likely end up seeing each one of these featured in the full version of Kristala in some capacity.

Which piece do you think matches Svar's aesthetic the best? Which piece is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section below.

In ACS concept artist l_aciel's world, badass armor was on the menu this sprint—something she's ridiculously adept at designing.

We've showed off l_aciel's base armor concepts for the six clans of Anagativa in past issues of the Kristala dev blog, but we think this next concept is her best work yet.

Members of the raven-coated Myrtuna clan are incredibly skilled in the art of necromancy, an ancient area of focus that closely aligns them with Ailur's spirit realm. Although this connection with spirit has its benefits, it also allows souls that have passed onto the spirit realm access back into the living world.

In order to maintain order and properly police spirit access, a group of gifted Myrtunan warriors decided to band together to form Ailur's elite group of Spirit Hunters. Here's a look at the Spirit Hunter armor set that will be featured in Kristala.

Shifting gears back to the dark-fantasy overhaul we're currently performing on the demo, our next character concept features a revamp of our mutant Gilsanka enemy that's native to Ailur's sprawling swamplands.

Freely roaming the abandoned waterways and bogs of the Dalamase's abandoned fishing villages, these fish-like Gilsanka are one of the only enemies in the Kristala demo that engage in combat using both melee and magic combat.

Here's a look at several versions of this aquatic mage, followed by a peek at a few of the weapons you may find the Gilsanka wielding in game.

Stay tuned to the programming section of today's dev blog to see how you can expect these baddies to behave in battle.

The last concept we were able to cross off our list this sprint is a character concept featuring a jolly and loveable Ana NPC named Neil of Nisarga.

As his name suggests, Neil is a member of the Nisargan clan. He's a merchant NPC you'll meet as you embark on your journey to becoming a Raksaka warrior.

Like any merchant, Neil of Nisarga has all the trinkets, items, spells, and charms you'll need to surely aid you on your way. We especially love how Neil's concept captures the colorful, eclectic, hippie-like aesthetic of the peaceful, nature-loving Nisargans.


3D Character Design

If you thought our concept artists were the only ones bustin' buns this sprint, you'd be sorely mistaken. Our 3D modelers were just as ambitious during the month of March.

For today's 3D modeling updates, our resident character modeler, Bianca, kicks things off with her work on the second and third Kotakayan Soldier variants featured in our demo—including their leather- and buckle-adorned armor.

After finishing up the Kota soldiers, Bianca then started in on the models for our custom, fish-like Gilsanka mage enemies.

Using the concept we shared with you earlier in this issue as her guide, Bianca started by blocking out the initial shape of the Gilsanka model.

Once she had the base down, Bianca then started adding in the unique details included in the concept, like the sharp, pointed spinal fins along the character's head, neck, and back—and the fine, thin webbing between its fingers.

Bianca also blocked out the ropes, shells, and hooks that serve as the Gilsanka's armor. Stay tuned next month to see how this enemy's model progresses.

If you've been keeping up with our dev blogs over the past couple issues, you'll know that we've been working hard to come up with a way to create realistic-looking fur for our various animal-like characters.

This sprint, 3D Generalist Joe continued working with hair cards to create the fur for our Kota soldier models in a way that keeps their overall polycount as low as possible.

Moving forward, Joe will continue to refine and improve the look of the fur, adding a dither effect to the hair shader to soften the edges of each card.

With Joe working on rodent fur, Lead Character Modeler Pete started creating hair cards in Zbrush and applying them to our female main character to familiarize himself with how they work and how they can be manipulated.

Once he played around with the cards a bit, Pete found them rather easy to create and, surprisingly, pretty practical to individually edit. Here's a look at some screenshots Pete shared with us during this beginning phase of the process.

After working with the hair cards for awhile, it dawned on Pete that he could actually create a proxy texture that would easily troubleshoot the orientation of each card.

Essentially, if the green arrows pictured below are prevalent, the hair cards will look correct; if the red bars attached to the arrows are too prominent—especially in the silhouette—that represents something that needs to be addressed further.

To further test this, Pete isolated an area on the model's brows that would be easy to control and manipulate.

Next, Pete exported the hair cards into Unreal in order to build a universal hair shader that could then ultimately be applied to every fur-havin' character in Kristala. Convenient, right?

While building up the hair shader, however, Pete struggled to find a way to actually bake out the flow map information (meaning: the directional flow of the hair cards) onto an image pulled from the 3D suites our modeling team typically uses, like Maya and Blender.

Though the reasoning behind the necessity for this is ridiculously technical and specific, the presence of the flow map itself greatly improves the look of hair and fur in Unreal.

Why? It's through this very flow map that Unreal generates the life-like shapes of specular highlights that naturally occur from various light sources on fur and hair.

After a bit more research, Pete was finally able to to start the official furring of our Nisargan female player character.

During his first official pass, Pete was finally able to make the textures and shaders work in tandem. Though the fur cards in the screenshots below still need quite a bit of editing, Pete is definitely on the right path.

Stay tuned to future issues of the dev blog to learn where you can find a complete, step-by-step, detailed tutorial on how to create and master the process we used to create realistic fur using hair cards.


3D Environmental Design

In the world of 3D Environmental Design, ACS team member Cass kicked things off this sprint by continuing his work on the large, decrepit Cathedral that serves as a centerpiece for our Nasahara level.

The once-grand Nisargan city of Nasahara was tragically ransacked and set ablaze by a band of ruthless Kota soldiers during the Great Kotakayan Rebellion. The resulting destruction was so brutal that many of Nasahara's beloved structures and landmarks were obliterated, leaving its streets abandoned to this very day.

Even so, some say they can still hear eerie laughter and menacing whispers emanating from the city proper, a frightening set of sounds that seem to grow louder the closer you get to the massive Cathedral.

Here's a look at Cass's texture work for this beautiful structure, one of the few buildings that still stands after the carnage that took place in Nasahara so long ago.

Once he was done texturing this piece, Cass then started laying out the design for a stained glass window that adorns the Cathedral and adds a bit of color to its singed hallways and ruined pillars.

The rounded window composition features a whimsical and bright Nisargan scene that starkly contrasts the devastated state of present-day Nasahara—almost frighteningly so. Hovering above a grassy, sun-kissed field floats the Nisarga clan's shard of the ancient Sacred Kristal.

In addition to his revised model for the Cathedral, Cass also started remodeling a few of the swamp houses and homes that will be featured in the Kristala demo level.

There are several of these structures that need redone, so be sure to stay tuned to future issues of the dev blog to see Cass's updates on each piece.

With Cass hard at work on the houses themselves, 3D Generalist Karena continued working on some furniture that will be featured inside these swamp structures—including the bed and sleep set that's pictured below.

To highlight the fact that this bed is a Nisargan bed, Karena created a patchwork quilt for the bed's spread. Nisargans are jolly creatures that utilize found objects and collected items to create various pieces of decor, so the pieced-together feel of this quilt fits them perfectly.

In addition to working on the Nisargan bed and accompanying comforter, Karena also started working on the design for a consumable item that will be used as part of our quick-travel warp system.

We initially had a few crystal-encrusted rocks as consumable items to initiate warps, but we ultimately felt like the items were a bit confusing and not unique enough from one another for players to easily determine which item would perform which kind of warp.

To replace the rocks and make the warp items easier to differentiate between, we thought it might be super cool to create a brand new consumable that features a butterfly wing (or two, depending on which warp item you find) encased within a shard of brilliant crystal.

Here's a look at the butterfly wing Karena designed, followed by a peek at the progress she's made thus far on the outer crystal that will contain the wing itself.

If you tuned into our last issue of the Kristala dev blog, you may remember that our 3D Generalist, Nick, had been working on creating 3D versions of each of our six Anagativa clan crests.

The first crest Nick tackled this sprint was the Lyumina clan crest. The Lyuminans dwell on large, floating islands that hover amongst the tallest peaks and jagged crags of Ailur's sprawling, snow-capped mountain ranges.

The Lyuminans settled so high above sea level in order to be as close to the light of the sun and stars as possible. But why?

Every Lyumina craves the light; they harness its energy to use as a form of defense against their enemies—a necessity for them to be able to properly utilize the magic contained within their Sacred Kristal.

Here's a peek at the 2D concept for the Lyumina clan crest, followed by Nick's 3D rendition.

Up next for Nick? Creating the Keoza clan crest that features an intricate tribal design behind a heavy hammer and massive anvil.

The Keozans are island-dwelling creatures that utilize the hot magma of Ailur's active volcanoes to forge awe-inspiring weaponry and armor. Because of this, the Keozans are incredibly adept at blacksmithing and can craft awe-inspiring, intricate designs.

The hairless Sykomana are one of the most mysterious and unique clans of Anagativa. They're incredibly adept at mastering mental-based abilities—such as telepathy and telekinesis. Both quiet and secretive, the Sykomanans are truly talented in matters of the mind.

To properly represent their unique abilities, the Sykomana clan crest features a pair of clawed, Sykomanan paws cupping a swirling and intricate bundle of thought.

The sixth and final crest that Nick adapted into 3D form was the Tandara clan crest.

The tundra-dwelling Tandarans live amongst the snowy landscapes of Ailur and expertly wield a weather-based magic. Because of the icy, harsh conditions of their clan lands, the Tandarans are especially skilled hunters and fishers that utilize antler and bone from their prey to strengthen and bless their weapons and armor.

Here's a look at Nick's interpretation of the Tandara crest, which features several antler-adorned blades piercing a solid chunk of ice.

With all six crests now completed, Nick was able to move on to a few 3D pieces that will replace some of the demo level's existing models.

One such piece is the revised model for our Kristal Checkpoints. These places of rest not only allow players to save their game and level up, but they also play a key role in how our warp system works.

You can learn more about our warp system and how it functions in the programming section of today's issue, but for now, have a look at Nick's updated model for the Kristal Checkpoint.

Another crucial piece to our demo overhaul is creating and placing a bunch of trees to highlight the dense, desolate, overgrown feel of the Dalamase swamp level.

With concepts Harold created as his guide, Nick took on the challenge of modeling out six unique, moss-covered boughs for this exact purpose.

Just wait until you see how our Level Design team has strategically sized and placed these throughout the demo to really drive home the thick, swampy vibe.

Remember the concept of the Treehouse Clearing level area we shared earlier in today's issue? Our 3D Generalist, Joe, spent a majority of this sprint modeling out the truly gargantuan tree and house that serve as the centerpiece for this concept.

After creating a low-poly mesh for the tree, however, Joe started to worry about how high the polycount for this piece would ultimately end up being.

Joe will continue working out how to best implement the leaves and branches without drastically increasing the polycount over the course of the next sprint, but here's a look at how the tree and accompanying house look so far.

What's a true Nisargan abode without a few comfy, cozy floor pillows?

This sprint, our 3D modeling Intern, Iuliia, created a few pillow models that can be used to decorate the floors, couches, chairs, and beds found throughout our Nisargan level areas.

We absolutely love how colorful and bright these pieces are; they definitely properly represent the aesthetic of our peaceful, hippie-like Nisargans.

In March, we welcomed our friend Shelly back to the ACS team. Shelly is an incredibly talented modeler and texture artist who's extremely skilled at creating realistic and lifelike props, foliage, and furniture.

As her first task upon her return, we asked Shelly to create a couple brilliant blooms and fungi to help populate our new and improved Dalamase swamp level area.

Next, we tasked Shelly with creating and texturing a new version of our Lantern Tree based on the concept provided by our art team.

After playing around with a few different shapes for the poison-resist fruits that bloom amongst the branches of the beautiful Lantern Tree, we finally settled on a version that we think properly conveys the beauty and majesty of this stunning structure.

With flowers and foliage out of the way, Shelly's next task was to create a few props and pieces of furniture that can be used throughout our Nisargan level areas.

We really love the attention to detail Shelly includes in all her pieces—like the rust, moss, and mildew you can see throughout the textured models below.