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The Kristala Dev Blog - Issue #32

Welcome, beautiful creatures!


You just left reality and fell into a portal to the fantasy world of Ailur, the fictional planet that serves as the setting for 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG Kristala—an indie game developed by women-owned independent game studio, Astral Clocktower Studios (hey, that's us!).


Since our last issue of the blog, there have been a ton of exciting changes and updates that we can't wait to share with you, including a summary of our exhibition at the fifth-annual Play NYC tabletop and video game convention.


Join us for a rundown of our first in-person con since the pandemic began, and then we'll dive right into what our ridiculously talented development team has been up to over the past month as we get closer and closer to completing the vertical slice for Kristala.



 

Kristala at Play NYC 2021


Since the pandemic began, we've exhibited Kristala at a few awesome virtual conventions like IWOCon and Game Carnival; and while these cons are fun and feature a ton of interesting panels and industry speakers, they don't quite replace the value of in-person conventions.


That's why we were super excited when we learned that this year's fifth-annual Play NYC convention would be held in person (with tons of awesome precautions in place to ensure all devs, speakers, and attendees were kept safe and healthy).


In addition to being our first in-person convention in over two years, Play NYC was also the first time we've exhibited a version of Kristala that features our brand new player character and custom combats animations...plus a fast-paced, exciting mini-boss fight!


You'll read a lot about the work that went into making our Play build smooth and seamless in this issue of the blog, but check out this article from our friends at NoobFeed and the following video from Piercing Metal that explain a bit more about the exclusive build of Kristala we exhibited at Play NYC.


We can't wait to go back again next year!




 

Concept Art


If you've been following along with our game development journey over the past few months, you likely already know that we've recently made a ton of changes to the look and feel of the Kristala demo.


...And we're talkin' "replace every shrub, flower, tree, house, and enemy" changes.


In order to initiate these changes, however, it was vital that we had proper environmental and character concepts to work from so that our 3D modeling team was fully capable of bringing the Kristala that exists in our minds to life in Unreal Engine.


When we last left off with Concept Artist James, he'd been working on redesigning a ton of the Nisarga clan weapons to better match the realistic feel of our updated player character and level design.


This sprint, James worked up fresh designs for a bunch of the armor sets that will be featured in the game, which you can see pictured below. Each set has its own purpose and lore in planet Ailur's vast history.


If you'd like an in-depth walkthrough on the meaning behind each of these sets, consider joining us as an official Kristala Patron to receive tons of behind-the-scenes story goodies.








With the updated armor sets handed off to our 3D modelers, James then whipped up a few fresh concepts for some of the remaining items in the Kristala demo that needed to be replaced with newer models, including:


  • Keys to unlock various gates and doors

  • Rings and tail charms that will assist during gameplay

  • A wooden door for an important level area

  • Sketches of disturbed graves (did someone say zombies?!)

  • Patterned carpets to adorn various Nisargan dwellings


As mentioned above, you can get additional details on each of these individual pieces (and the roles they play in the Kristala demo) by joining our new Patreon campaign, where we regularly share a ton of behind-the-scenes tidbits and exclusive content.








While James worked on completing the above item concepts, one of our other talented artists, Harold, started reimagining some environmental pieces for each of the six clan capital cities.


While the Kristala demo will only feature one clan of Anagativa, the Nisarga clan, the full version of the game will allow players to choose between six unique clans, each with its own culture, customs, and magic specialties.


The entirety of Anagativa clan territory on Ailur is comprised of six vastly different biomes, each one coinciding with a specific clan. As a result, members of each clan have adapted their unique way of life to match the environment in which they live.


Check out all six of these sweet pieces Harold designed this sprint. Let us know which clan environment you'd choose to live in by joining the conversation in the Kristala Discord community.








Once finished with the environmental concepts for the six clan capital cities, Harold then joined James in completing a few designs for items that still needed to be replaced with custom assets in the Kristala game build:


  • Modular tunnel pieces

  • In-tact and broken Amulets


You'll notice that the amulet in the second concept below includes both an intact and broken version. There's a specific role the damaged piece plays in the Kristala demo's core storyline, and it coincides with an NPC we've been keeping under wraps up until this point.


We'll soon be unveiling more details about this character in an exclusive Patreon post, so be sure to join one of our three affordable tiers so you don't miss out.




When we last left our third Concept Artist, Nicholas, he had just finished blocking out the general shape and build for an important and resourceful NPC featured throughout Kristala: Brutus the Blacksmith.


Like many Anagativa hailing from the islandic Keoza clan, Brutus has a wide build with broad shoulders and strong, muscular arms and legs. Because of their adeptness at crafting weapons, many Keozans have evolved to possess this same brawny stature.


Like other talented blacksmiths that came before him, Brutus utilizes the hot magma flowing within the active volcanoes that pockmark Keoza clan territory to produce impressive blades, axes, staves, and other powerful weapons and armor.



After taking some of these details into account, Nicholas further refined Brutus's concept, testing out several ways to somehow incorporate the Keoza clan crest—an insignia that features an anvil and hammer—into the character's clothing and adornments.


As you can see in the progress shot below, we ended up deciding to add the clan crest as an embossed emblem on Brutus's leather apron.


Nicholas is still working on finetuning this character's overall aesthetic, but we really love the progress he was able to make on Brutus this sprint. Check it out!



 

3D Modeling


Much like our concept art team, our 3D modelers put in a ton of work this sprint to create fresh designs that will replace a bunch of the existing assets featured in the Kristala demo.


If you were able to catch the last issue of our development blog, you may remember that one of our talented 3D artists, Bianca, has been hard at work creating a ton of weapons for our rodent-like Kotakaya NPCs.


This sprint, Bianca slightly shifted her focus to work on creating some fresh Anagativan weapons instead. While Kota weapons and armor are adorned with tons of brass gears and other steampunk-inspired elements, Ana weapons have a much more organic feel.


Here's a look at some of the gorgeous pieces Bianca whipped up this month.



While Bianca chugged away at weapons, 3D Generalist Hassan worked on creating a few important environmental pieces needed to replace a few old, existing assets in the Kristala game build, including:


  • Magic flower consumables that boost XP in game

  • Several intact and crumbling gravestones

  • Decorative rocks and modular cave tunnels

  • Several sets of stairs to access various level areas

  • Welcome signage for The Dalamase, the level featured in our demo


You can learn more about each role these elements play in game by joining the ACS Games family as a Patron. Doing so earns you access to behind-the-scenes goodies like lore, secret characters, interviews with our dev team, and much more.









In the last issue of the Kristala dev blog, we showed off some of the props our 3D Environmental Modeler, Cass, had been working on that will be used to detail the various water villages that comprise The Dalamase.


Decades ago, a devastating war broke out on planet Ailur between the feline Anagativa and the rodent Kotakaya. Led by the Mad King Edam, the impenetrable Kota army laid siege to the ample waterways and forested paths of the peaceful Dalamase.


As a result, this once-bustling cluster of fishing villages was completely devastated, and its frightened denizens fled, never to return again.


In fact, the Dalamase remains abandoned to this day, with aging fishing nets and shabby lanterns, rugs, and furniture now the only signs of the life that once thrived here.


Here's a look at some of these items Cass was able to work on this sprint.







When we last checked in with our Lead 3D Artist, Fede, he had made some serious progress on the fresh models for our small-, mid-, and large-size Kotakaya soldier variants. He'd also started modeling the intricate armor for the smallest variant.


This sprint, Fede was able to continue working on the soldiers and armor he'd started, polishing up details and working on intricate textures.


Soon, Fede will be experimenting with our custom fur shader and working with hair cards to create realistic fur for these toothy baddies. Here are some shots of Fede's WIP.




With the Kota soldiers well underway, Fede then spent some time this month working on a few mutated enemies you'll find in the Kristala demo, including the gnarly leeches and undead Kota baddies pictured next.


Many members of the Myrtuna clan (one of the six clans of Anagativa that inhabit Ailur) are extremely gifted in the art of necromancy; they possess the ability to communicate with those who have passed on from this world and dwell now in the spirit realm.


This is the reason why enemies that have already perished—like the Undead Kota in progress below—are able to walk now again amongst the living. Stay tuned to see how these creepy creatures progress even further.




We showed off a few of the Nisargan weapons one of our 3D artists, Bianca, created when we kicked off our 3D Modeling section, and now we'll be showing off some of the Kotakayan Great Axes 3D Generalist Joe was able to model this sprint.


The bronze details on these axes—including all the gears, screws, sprogs, and tubes—are all indicative of the overall aesthetic we're aiming for for the Kota species.


We can't wait to see how these impressive pieces look in the hands of our newly redesigned Kota soldier enemies.



With the axes complete, Joe was then able to work on designing one of the many light sources that will be used to help illuminate the darkest corners of The Dalamase. The stunning lantern pictured below is powered by the organic magic of the Sacred Kristals.


After nailing the painting and texturing in Maya for the lantern, Joe then worked on properly setting up this model in Unreal Engine.


He initially struggled to get the smudged look of the glass textures to show up properly in UE4, but after applying a multiply node he was finally able to get it juuust right.


Here's a look at the original lantern in Maya, followed by some of the shots Joe snagged while trying to get the glass textures to appear properly in engine.




Unsurprisingly, Joe, Cass, and Hassan weren't the only modelers working on replacement props for The Dalamase this sprint. 3D Generalist Karena also spent some time wrapping up a few ongoing designs over the past month.


In our last issue, we shared the progress Karena had made on some stunning mushroom models that will dot the many villages, caves, and pathways of The Dalamase—including a light source called Bioshroominescence that you’ll be able to equip in game and brighten some of the darker level areas of the Kristala demo.


Here's a look at the textures Karena was able to add to these pieces over the past few weeks. You can also see how the Bioshroominescence item will be attached to the player in game.






Another modeler who worked on items and props this month is 3D Generalist Nick, who designed some furniture pieces and wooden rope shelves using concepts from our art team as his guide.


Because of the abundance of hulking Jhacanda trees that are native to the Nisargan forests of Ailur, lumber and wood is never in shortage in Nisarga clan territory and Jhacanda wood is used heavily in this naturalistic clan's villages and homes.


We're blown away by Nick's attention to detail in his modeling and texture work. Take a look...







With the props complete, Nick was able to join Joe in creating some of the weapons and armor sets you'll see our Kotakayan enemies wielding in game.


Though it's not exactly a weapon, per se, the gorgeous shield Nick created below still possesses the signature bronze details, gears, and other mechanical elements that help embody the overall Kota aesthetic.


Once he's completely done with this particular shield, Nick will then begin working on several Kota blades that we can't wait to see in 3D form. Stay tuned!



Last up for our modeling team is an update on the progress our Art Director, Pete, recently made to the Gilsanka fish-mage baddies you'll be battling in our demo.


The particular Gilsanka featured in the following screenshots will actually replace the current, stand-in model for the Kristala demo's mini-boss, Lophi the Lost. Poised to attack with both magic and melee combat, Lophi's boss fight will be both challenging and intense.


As you embark on your Raksaka Proving at the start of Kristala, you'll also be tasked with uncovering who's behind the terrible curse that's infected Ailur and transformed its creatures—including Lophi and his fellow Gilsanka—into mutated beasts.


To help showcase the physical damage from the curse, Pete made sure to add a monstrous exoskeleton to Lophi to make it seem like the curse is literally ripping apart his scaly flesh.


Fun Fact: The exoskeleton is a mix of locusts and isopods, both parasites that can live within a fish's mouth. Pretty sweet detail Pete added, right?






 

Level Design


When we last left our Level Design team, they'd been working on replacing stand-in assets with new, custom items from our 3D modelers to ensure our demo level was in tip-top shape for our exhibition at Play NYC.


To start her workload for this sprint, Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, worked on addressing a bunch of small revisions for The Dalamase, such as:


  • Building lighting

  • Fixing interactive water BPs

  • Adding boundaries to the Leech Pit level area

  • Adding boundaries to various water villages

  • Fixing collision on trees

  • Adding additional light sources to dark areas for improved navigation





Tiff then turned her attention to an area of focus that has caused both her and Level Designer Ian some serious headaches over the past several month: fog.


It may not seem like it would be a difficult piece of the game-dev puzzle to figure out, but we've struggled to make the fog in our demo level look realistic without also causing sight issues for players in game.


Interestingly enough, many games have tried and failed to properly implement fog, and it can honestly end up being something that turns players off altogether from a game.


After playing around with the settings for our local, atmospheric, and lens fog materials, Tiff tried adding a gradient to the entirety of the fog to allow the nighttime sky to remain visible while maintaining an eerie, semi-thick fog at ground level.



Still though, even after adding this gradient, the fog material wasn't quite right. It looked decent in screenshots and still frames, but when we tested gameplay in UE4, we feared some players might still experience sight issues during combat and regular gameplay.


To make sure the fog wouldn't be a hindrance at Play NYC, Tiff experimented with a few additional options for addressing the material—testing out lessened fog, barely there fog, and no fog at all. You can see the outcome of each option in the three graphics below.


Ultimately, we ended up going with the "barely there fog" option for Play NYC, but our level designers will likely continue tweaking the fog material as Kristala's development continues.





With Tiff addressing changes for our Play NYC build, Level Designer Ian spent some time this sprint working on a material to add tessellation and displacement to the landscapes of various level areas.


If you're not already familiar with these Level Design terms, here's a little explanation that breaks down each one:


  • Tessellation: segmenting the landscape into smaller-and many more-pieces

  • Displacement: Vertically adjusting the new pieces in order to create both elevated and lowered zones


Take a look at how these functions look in practice, showcased here on the landscape for the Graveyard level area that will be featured in the full Kristala demo.



Once the tessellation and displacement were achieved, Ian then worked on creating a custom fire and smoke particle in Niagara that will be used on torches that line various rocks and cave walls in the Kristala demo level.


Ian initially ran into a few snags in the process when working out spawn points, but he ultimately created some super realistic flames and smoke.



 

Programming


When we last left our Programming team, they'd begun the painstaking process of completely overhauling all old code in Kristala—code they'd only worked with before, not created themselves—so that they understood the game's blueprints and code inside and out.


Looking back now, it's super impressive how quickly our team was able to break down and redo everything in time for us to exhibit a version of Kristala that had much smoother and more seamless gameplay than any previous build.


Our Play NYC build also showcased some brand new content too...like a mini-boss fight with the fish mage Lophi the Lost.


We'll soon be replacing Lophi's stand-in model with the custom model we showed off earlier, but here's a look at some gameplay captured while working on Lophi's programming.



In addition to Lophi's boss fight, our Play NYC build also included new menus and UI our Lead Programmer, Rodrigo, implemented (which you can see below), and an animation he applied to the game's stat bars to make them more visually appealing.


Rodrigo also added an animated Game Save/Loading icon too, which we ultimately ended up changing to a blue hue (vs. the red one featured in the below clip) to better match the overall vibe and aesthetic of the level itself.






 

Rigging / Animation


With the implementation of our new player character in the Kristala game build, there were a ton of animations we needed to adjust to better fit the new character's slightly altered frame and stance.


Though we'll ultimately be replacing all character movement with 100% custom animations, our exhibition at Play NYC (aka a short deadline to meet) made us decide to simply retarget the old character's existing movements to fit the new character's model.


Luckily, our Producer Allie made quick work of the retargeted animations and ultimately ensured we had all the new movements needed for impressive gameplay at the convention.






Once she'd implemented the retargeted animations, Allie tackled some more "housekeeping items" in preparation for presenting at Play NYC, including improving upon our existing weapon trail effects.


Here's a little clip Allie snagged while making changes to these combat VFXs.



With animations needed for the convention handled, Lead Animator Klaus was able to continue working ahead on the fully custom animations that will replace the existing combat animations seen in most of our old gameplay footage.


Some of the movements Klaus was able to check off his list this sprint include:


  • Blocking

  • Directional Dashes

  • Combat Combos

  • Swap Shield/Staff





Last for our animation updates are a few progress clips of the work Animator Mario's been putting in to make sure our spider and leech enemies have just the right mix of creepy and crawly in their animations.


The model for the leech in the videos pictured below is one our Lead Modeler, Fede, recently wrapped up. The model for the spiders is just a stand-in for now, but it will eventually be replaced with a custom model as well.









 

Kristala Original Soundtrack


Music is an important piece of the Kristala puzzle. Not only does it help set the mood and provide some background noise, but it also serves as an important storytelling device.


Because of this, we've been working incredibly hard to ensure the original soundtrack for our 3D dark fantasy action RPG is packed with harrowing tracks and magical songs that really allow players to feel something.


You can get a peek at some of the tracks that will be featured on the original soundtrack for Kristala on our official Kristala Soundcloud page.


All songs are composed by our incredibly talented resident musical wizard, AdLibPiano.


 

Welp, that'll do it for another exciting installment of the Kristala Game Dev Blog! Thanks so much for tuning in and lending us your support. It truly means the world to us.


If you've been digging these development breakdowns, we'd love to hear from you! Leave us a comment here or join our Discord community to chat directly with our dev team and stay up-to-date on all things Kristala.


Until next time, dear friends, thank you for your continued support...and thanks for stopping by.


-The ACS Games Dev Team










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