Greetings, friends and fantasy aficionados!
Welcome back to another installment of the Kristala dev blog. Here you'll get a front-row seat to the exciting development process for indie game Kristala, the inaugural title from female-lead Astral Clocktower Studios—an indie games studio based in Central PA, USA.
Since we last met, we've been kicking dev for Kristala into high gear and we're super stoked to share everything we've been working on over the past month.
In today's issue, you'll get an update on all the custom 3D assets we've been working on for the capital city of Nisar, plus a peek into our process for creating a fully functional facial rig for our female main character. We're also giving you a special first look at some new environmental concepts and progress made to our newest WIP level area.
Ready to take a break from the mundane and dive head-first into the magic of Kristala?
We've got you covered.
3D Asset Design
In the Kristala demo, you'll play as the chosen warrior from the nature-loving Nisarga clan.
Members of this cheerful and artistic clan value the power and beauty of the natural world; because of this, the Nisargans built their clan villages and towns amongst the sprawling Jhacanda forests of Ailur.
One such town is the capital city of Nisar—a cozy conglomerate of tree homes and huts that are situated high atop the thick boughs of the mighty Jhacandas.
Over the past few sprints, our 3D Environmental Designer, Cass, has been working on modeling out the three individual sets of tree houses that will be featured in Nisar.
This month, Cass was able to fully texture all three sets of Jhacanda tree houses and officially cross this ongoing task off his to-do list.
Let's take a look at Cass's impressive work.
Now that he's no longer working on the Jhacanda houses, Cass was able to shift his focus onto another big architectural modeling task.
In the Nisargan city of Nasahara—the burned city—stands the remnants of an old Kristal Cathedral. During the Great Kota Rebellion, Nasahara was ravaged by fleets of Kotakayan soldiers who set the city's streets ablaze under orders from the Mad King Edam.
Though many important Nisargan landmarks were ruined during the siege, the Kristal Cathedral of Nasahara remains erect to this day. Its crumbling pillars and singed passageways are now grim reminders of the carnage that nearly claimed the entirety of the city.
Although Cass already created an impressive model for the cathedral last year, he wanted to revise his structure to better match the current aesthetic of the level, which shifted over time as our Level Designers worked through detailing the Nasahara level.
Take a look at Cass's updated cathedral model below. We're looking forward to seeing how Cass textures this beast of a model once he's done crafting it.
With Cass hard at work on the Cathedral, one of our 3D Generalists, Karena, has been working on creating some custom 3D assets that will decorate the individual tree houses and huts featured in the Nisargan level areas of Kristala.
Because each of the six clans of Anagativa featured in Kristala has its own designated traits and characteristics, our dev team has been cognizant of adding minute details to each individual model to help show off individual clan aesthetics.
Naturally then, each asset featured in the Nisarga clan levels possesses a subtle nod to the Nisargans' overall naturalistic vibe—including the wooden textures and leaf details showcased in the 3D assets Karena's been working on over the past sprint.
In our last issue of the Kristala game dev blog, we showed off the initial model of this quaint table and chairs Karena's been working on for Nisar. Here's an update on the textures for the outdoor table and leaf shade Karena created.
Once the table itself was completed, Karena then moved on to detailing its accompanying chairs. After working on some initial square-shaped seats, Karena wondered whether a set of round-shaped chairs might better match the circular shape of the table.
To combat her uncertainty, Karena created two sets of chairs to share with our team.
After reviewing Karena's work, we collectively decided to utilize both the regular, square-shaped chairs in addition to the stump-like chairs in the Nisargan level areas of the game.
Here's a look at the final, textured pieces for this fun, outdoor table set.
With the table and chairs crossed off her list, Karena revisited a model she'd previously created for a rope bridge. These bridges will connect the tree houses of Nisar and allow the town's denizens to safely travel from one abode to another.
We really love how detailed the bark and rope textures are on these pieces. Check it out!
For Karena's last task this sprint, she began modeling a natural-looking wooden bed frame and accompanying mattress and pillows for a Nisargan sleep setup.
As we mentioned prior, our 3D modelers are incredibly adept at adding individual clan aesthetics into each of their pieces. The twisted branches and vines featured on Karena's bed frame model below are definitely fitting for the nature-obsessed Nisarga clan.
In addition to mastering the six magic specialties of the ancient Sacred Crystal on your Raksaka Proving, you'll also be faced with battling an unrelenting stream of skilled Kotakayan soldiers decked out in steampunk-esque attire while playing Kristala.
With some incredible concepts from our art department as her guide, our 3D Character Designer, Bianca, has been working on modeling a few base armor sets for our three variants of Kota soldiers.
This sprint, Bianca finished texturing and painting the armor set for the smallest variant of these rodent-like soldiers.
With the first armor set completed, Bianca then moved on to modeling the battle attire for our mid-grade soldier variant.
We really dig what she's got thus far and can't wait to see how she paints and textures these pieces. Once completed, Bianca will move on to crafting the third and final armor set for our burliest Kota soldier variant.
In 3D Generalist Nick's neck of the woods, some incredible progress was made on a few important, custom 3D assets that will be featured in our underground sewer level area.
Beneath the streets of Nasahara lies an intricate sewer system that was used by the city's Anagativan denizens to escape the fire and brimstone of Nasahara's intense burning during the Great Kota Rebellion.
Within this underground level area lies several impressive stone structures that will be available for exploring in the game. This sprint, Nick kicked things off by modeling the open bathroom and group bathroom structures pictured below.
Once the pieces were modeled, Nick then moved on to texturing them. He created both a "clean" version and a "grungy" version to help highlight the dirt and soot that has accumulated underground over time.
You can see both versions of the bath houses below.
Before diving into his final sprint task for this month, Nick first took some time to retexture our female player character’s whiskers so that they work properly when skinned/animated.
You can see some additional update shots of the whiskers later on in this issue, but here's an initial look at the retextured assets Nick completed.
The last task Nick completed this sprint was to model a Nisargan Leather Leaf armor set based on the concept created by our incredibly talented artist, l_aciel.
We've included a photo below of the concept itself to help refresh your memory on how detailed and intricate this armor set is.
Nick started by modeling out the base armor set your see featured on the right. Once the base set is completed, Nick will then build upon it to create the cloaked version and accompanying helmet featured on the left to fully complete this gorgeous set. Stay tuned!
If you've been following our dev blog over the past few months, you'll know that our third 3D Generalist, Joe, has been working with various programs to find a solid method for creating realistic fur for our Kotakaya and Anagativa characters.
This sprint, Joe tried a first pass at using hair cards for our base Kota soldier variant. After his initial attempt in Unreal Engine, Joe realized that the result still leaves much to be desired, both in terms of hair-card placement and shading.
Thankfully, after a second pass using the DitherTemporalAA node plugged into the opacity, the fur looked much softer and a bit more realistic, as desired.
That said though, the shader is still pretty basic and only utilizes the default masked shader with a bit of subsurface coloring.
Ideally, the Hair shader can be used again once Joe has a better understanding of how the tool works. He'll continue playing around with hair tools until we land on a solution that works best for our characters and properly captures their intended look.
With the fur tasks on the back burner for the time being, Joe moved on to creating a realistic Kotakaya skull that will be used in conjunction with the Anagativa skulls he'd previously created.
Both skulls will be used to help highlight the history of carnage and destruction that took place in various level areas featured in Kristala.
Now that our Level Designer, Elsie, was able to move on from detailing our Nasahara level, he's been making some headway on the next level area on his list—the underground sewer level.
As we mentioned earlier in this issue, this sewer system was used by the Anagativa of Nasahara to flee the carnage of war and escape to safety when Nasahara was set ablaze by Kotakayan sentries.
The sewer system remains largely abandoned to this day, but don't be surprised if you encounter signs of life as your traverse this eerie level.
Let's take a peek at Elsie's progress on adding a bit more detail and intricacy to the sewers.
Last issue, we showed off the new custom cursor our Lead Level Designer (and sometimes Programmer), Tiffany, implemented to replace the stand-in cursor featured in previous iterations of the Kristala demo's tutorial section.
This sprint, Tiff worked on fixing the positioning of the cursor and finally figured out the answer to an issue we were experiencing in which the cursor wasn't showing up properly within the main menu area.
Tiff also fixed the way the Inventory menu displays when initially opened, before tweaking some auto settings to discover why icons weren't updating properly in various menus.
Lastly, Tiff made some revisions to the Boss and Tutorial Walls we're working on implementing in game, adding a smoke effect and redoing the materials on the wall itself to make it more accurately match the visual we have in mind for these assets.
These walls will prevent players from passing through to a particular restricted area until they've completed a certain task—like defeating a boss or completing a tutorial section.
In other programming news, we recently added a new Gameplay Programmer, Rodrigo, to our game dev team. He's been working behind the scenes for the past few weeks to get familiarized with our game build in Unreal Engine 4.
The sprint, Rodrigo was able to discover what was causing an issue relating to our player character's positioning while in Save mode, and he also cleaned up a few level blueprints and rearranged a couple functions to components and actors.
Now that he's prepared to work directly in the game build, we're looking forward to seeing the improvements Rodrigo makes to our current build—and where he'll help us take Kristala in the future. Please join us in giving Rodrigo a super warm welcome to the ACS family.
Over the past several weeks, our Character Concept Artist, l_aciel, has been working on completing a detailed concept featuring the base armor sets for our three variants of Kotakayan soldiers.
Each week, l_aciel adds more and more detail to these rodent-like rangers. As each variant's armor set is completed, we've been passing these along to Character Modeler Bianca to recreate in 3D form.
Take a look at the progress l_aciel made over the past sprint. These are still works in progress, but we're really enjoying watching these concepts evolve.
With l_aciel hard at work on the Kota armor concepts, Environmental Concept Artist, Ila, has been working on a few environmental concepts for the Nisargan capital city of Nisar.
Ila has already created two beautiful concepts featuring the treehouse villages of Nisar and spent the past sprint completing her third concept for Kristala—a closeup snapshot of the statue of Atreus Stone, leader of the revered Raksaka Warriors.
Although all Raksakans forego their clan affiliation upon completing the Raksaka Proving and becoming one of these famed warriors, their individual achievements are still celebrated amongst their hometown clan members.
Because Atreus Stone—originally hailing from the Nisarga clan—rose in ranks to become the leader of the Raksaka in present-day Ailur, he's incredibly respected amongst all clans, but especially amongst the Nisargans.
This is why a statue of his likeness was erected within the Nisargan capital city of Nisar.
Here's a look at Ila's progress and completed concept featuring the Atreus Stone statue. We're obsessed with the way Ila captured the sun's rays shining through the trees in this piece.
Game Production / Rigging / Animation
This sprint, our Game Producer and Rigger/Animator, Allie, kicked things into high gear to cross off a bunch of tasks on her ever-expanding list of things to do.
First, she worked on properly setting up the eyelashes and whiskers on our revised female main character. During the process, however, she realized that the lashes appeared to be set up to sit on an eyelid that's shaped differently from the eyelids on our new character.
This posed some questions as to how the lashes would ultimately fare when it comes time to establish blinking animations. Though the ear and face whiskers seemed to fit properly, Allie would need to alter the eyelids to make them fit with the character model's lash line.
After separating and repositioning the lashes—essentially inverting their shape—the lashes seemed to work.
Once the eyelashes were exported, they did ultimately work, but Allie realized the whiskers needed to be attached to the model's head itself in order to have the textures work properly when everything was connected.
Thankfully, Allie was ultimately able to get the whiskers and lashes properly fitted to the character. We love how incredibly lifelike everything looks.
Check out these shots Allie shared with the team as she worked through this process.
Once she had everything skinned and looking as it should in Maya, Allie then brought the character model into UE4 to see how the new lash and whisker additions showed up in engine.
How stunningly gorgeous do these textures look in Unreal?!
With the whiskers and lashes properly skinned and attached to the player character, Allie then moved on to inspecting the base variant of the Kotakayan soldier our 3D Character Designer, Bianca, recently created so she could check its textures for skinning/weighting.
During the process, Allie realized the normal map on the Kota soldier model was making the textures appear strange.
The nose of the character is intended to be a soft, fleshy, nude color, but one of the textures on the normal map was making the nose appear the same color as the rest of the texturing.
Before making any adjustments to the normals, however, Allie decided to bring the model into Unreal; once she did, the nose textures thankfully looked much better.
Though we may need to ultimately up the roughness just a bit on these textures to prevent the character's fur from looking abnormally shiny, we're pretty stoked with how this ratty boi is looking in UE4. We love how his armor set came out too.
Check it out!
Speaking of armor, Allie also had a chance this sprint to finish skinning the Ancient Angler armor set that will be featured in the Kristala demo.
In the past, the armpit areas of our armor sets have proven to be difficult to get just right during the skinning process. Luckily, Allie's attention to detail coupled with her overall skinning expertise allowed her to handle this set's armpit area without issue.
After completing the skinning on the Angler set, Allie shifted gears and brought our player character's undergarments into Unreal to prep them for proper animation.
With the undergarment textures displaying as they should in UE4, Allie then created new animation sequences for our character's backwards run and flip movements.
These revealed some minor issues in the skinning on the arm, hips, and neck line that Allie is currently working on fixing, but take a look at these stunning stills she captured while working on the new animations.
We also provided some clips that capture the new run and flip animations themselves.
Finally, to round out this sprint, Allie spent time working on a full custom facial rig to allow our character to properly emote and react to various stimuli within the game world—like ears that twitch when a sound is heard, or jowls that bare teeth when faced with enemy confrontation.
Allie made sure to thoroughly document her process as she went, so we hope you enjoy the below content featuring the intricate movements we can now create in our animations thanks to Allie's custom facial rig.
Kristala Featured at IWOCon 2020
Did you know that Kristala has been accepted as an official selection at this year's IWOCon digital convention? Sail the high indie seas with Astral Clocktower Studios and other talented indie developers as you explore the IWO island in a fun, engaging mobile app.
If you missed it, check out this recent issue of IWOCon Dev Talk featuring the team behind Kristala.
Also, be sure to wishlist the IWOCon app now on Steam and get ready to sail the high seas!
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.
Kristala Stream Team Corner
Here's a look at some of our favorite moments caught live on-stream and compiled by one of our awesome Brand Ambassadors, Pat.
Although we're not currently streaming on a regular basis anymore, we'll let you know where you can catch more live, in-depth development streams for Kristala super soon. Stay tuned!
Thanks for tuning in to another installment of the Kristala Game Dev Blog. If you've been enjoying our monthly development updates, we wanna hear about it!
Register for a site account and leave us a comment, or join our Discord community to chat directly with the members of our dev team and stay up-to-date on all things Kristala. You can also follow our dev journey on social media via the links below.
Until next time, thank you for your continued support...and thanks for stopping by.
-The ACS Games Dev Team