Updated: Jan 15
Hello, loyal Kristalans and faithful fantasy fanatics!
Welcome back to the ever-enchanting Kristala dev blog, where you'll get a front-row seat to the development process for the inaugural title from the leading ladies at Astral Clocktower Studios—a female-owned indie games studio based in Central PA, USA.
It's been a hard year for all of us, especially for independent creators. Without in-person conferences and events, it's been harder to gain exposure for the game, so we're incredibly appreciative of your continued love and support for Kristala.
Without you, we wouldn't be able to do what we do on a daily basis, so truly—from the bottom of our hearts—thank you, friends. You make all the struggle and strife worth it.
Okay, okay...now that the mushy love stuff is out of the way, let's dive into what you can expect in this issue of the Kristala dev blog.
Today we're serving up some seriously exciting updates, including a look at our new, custom game cursor; updates on our new player character's rigging and animation; and a sneak peek at our newest WIP level area. Plus, you'll get a first look at some of the incredible environmental and character concepts we've got in the works too.
Ready? Good. Let's get immersed in the dark fantasy world of Kristala.
3D Asset Design
This month, our resident 3D Environmental Designer, Cass, continued working on the three sets of Jhacanda tree houses we've been showing off in the past couple dev blogs. He was able to finish modeling all three sets before getting started on some seriously impressive texturing.
As many of you already know, the Nisarga clan is our nature-loving clan whose members value the power and beauty of the natural world of planet Ailur. Because of this, the Nisargans have erected their villages amongst the boughs of the great Jhacanda forests.
Jhacanda trees are impressive in both their size and aesthetic; they resemble traditional Sequoia and Redwood trees that exist in our human realm. Their impressive height provides the Nisargans with a key defensive advantage when it comes to approaching danger.
Here's a look at the models for the third set of Jhacanda houses, as well as a look at the texturing Cass started for the first set of houses.
In Issue #23 of the Kristala dev blog, we showed off the models Cass created for the sewer pipes that will be featured in one of our underground level areas.
This sprint, we had Cass make some amendments to a few of the sewer models to include key doors and passageways that will be needed to properly traverse this level.
Be sure to check out our Level Design section later on in this issue to see how this new sewer level is coming along. For now, here's a peek at the revisions Cass made to the sewer pipe models.
While Cass continues on the Jhacanda tree houses, 3D Generalist Karena has been working on modeling several platform-based tree houses that will be featured in the Nisarga clan's capital city of Nisar.
If you recall, last sprint we showed off Karena's work on the cylindrical tree homes she started. Unlike Cass's houses that are attached to the sides of the trees, Karena's models are designed to encircle the entirety of the trees' trunks, with the trunks themselves stretching up through the center of the house—kind of like a fun little tree-house kabob.
This sprint, Karena created a square version of the house to complement the cylindrical versions and add some variety to the villages of Nisar. Because these houses are larger in size, they'll be inhabited by more prominent members of the Nisargan clan—like scholars, warriors, musicians, and artists.
Here's a look at the models for the square houses Karena created, as well as the platforms they'll be placed upon in the Kristala game build. We can't wait to see these textured!
In addition to the tree houses themselves, Karena also modeled an outdoor table and chairs crafted from sturdy Jhacanda wood. To really highlight the Nisarga clan's natural aesthetic, Karena added a large leaf shade to the table too.
We're excited to see what else Karena dreams up over the course of the next sprint. Stay tuned for updates!
At the start of Kristala, you'll discover you've been selected as the Chosen Warrior from your selected clan to embark on the famed Raksaka Proving.
In addition to mastering the six magic specialties of the ancient Sacred Crystal, you must also battle your way past hordes of skilled Kotakayan soldiers who are hellbent on ensuring you fail your mission.
We've already shown off the three (incredibly impressive) variants of Kota soldiers our 3D Character Designer, Bianca, masterfully created. This sprint, Bianca started working on the base armor set these raucous rodents will don in battle.
After she finishes up this first set, Bianca will then move on to the additional sets our concept artists are currently working on. You can get a peek at their progress later on in this issue.
To kick things off this sprint, 3D Generalist Nick worked on revamping our Hooded Armor Set in order to make it seamlessly fit our new player character model.
After sharing the initial revisions, Nick then lowered some of the values to a darker shade of grey and lowered the intensity on the emissive levels to better match the original armor set's painting and texturing.
Then, Nick further updated the chainmail beneath the individual pieces of the Hooded set and added additional detail to the symbol on the breastplate to really give it its final wow factor.
After finishing his work on the armor set, Nick then shifted his attention to finalizing the new model for our female main character.
Last sprint, we showed off the base model for the character's teeth, gums, and tongue. After splicing the model into three components—the upper jaw, lower jaw, and tongue—Nick was able to get them properly textured.
Nick also updated the model's fur and eyelid textures before crossing this one off his ever-growing to-do list. Check it out!
With the armor and character revisions completed, Nick moved on to a brand new task: a dungeon prop list! This dungeon will play and important role in the game, and we're super stoked that it's starting to come together.
First, Nick modeled and textured a modular grand staircase and a heavy metal/wood dungeon door. The door itself has two meshes—one for dynamic use and one that is simply for decoration if desired.
The dynamic mesh will allow the door to be animated and properly opened and closed.
Lastly, Nick completed a modular prison cell block and an initial variant of a rock-debris pile that will both serve important roles in our upcoming dungeon level. We can't wait to see this come to life even further as Nick continues working through his list of assets.
In our last issue, we introduced you to one of our newest team members, our 3D Modeling intern, Iuliia.
To get her feet wet, we had Iuliia kick things off by working on a couple prop furniture models that will be featured in the Nisargan houses and villages you've been reading about in the past few issues of the Kristala dev blog.
This sprint, Iuliia was able to completely finish up and texture the second of the three table variants she's working on for the Jhacanda tree house villages.
As a refresher, here's a look at Iuliia's first table, followed by the table she completed this sprint. We really love how natural-looking and raw each of these tables are; they really fit in perfectly with the Nisarga clan's aesthetic.
Due to his prior experience with Blender, we tasked 3D Generalist Joe with trying his hand at creating realistic fur/hair for our Anagativa and Kotakaya characters this sprint. Although the process is new for Joe, he managed to get a super basic groom to work in Unreal Engine.
After nailing down an initial workflow, however, Joe noticed some strange box-looking shadows appearing below the character. The fur itself also didn't exactly line up with the model's textures beneath, so Joe then decided to try the process in Maya instead.
After a little more research, Joe deduced that the only way to get a groom to match a model's base textures is to utilize the shader editor in UE4, which must be setup with some scripting in Maya.
Interestingly enough, UE4 will attempt to do the process automatically with a sphere projection, but the textures still don't ultimately line up the way they should.
Below is a look at the process in UE4 with a sphere projection so you can see how it works. The second photo, however, shows how this tool doesn't work quite as well with a more complex mesh. The bright pinkish color in the character's fur should not be there.
Next, Joe tried working the same process in Maya instead of Blender.
The effects seamlessly imported into Unreal just fine with physics working as they should, but Joe still couldn't get the root UV to properly transfer—ultimately delivering the same look in Maya as the Blender attempt using generated root UV's.
Though Joe intended to try out working with hair cards instead, he quickly realized that weight-painting all the individual cards for a rigged mesh would ultimately end up being...well...a giant pain the ass.
After returning to working with the built-in Groom Tools in Unreal Engine 4, Joe was able to get a much better grasp on how we can utilize these tools to make realistic fur for our Anagativa and Kotakaya characters.
As you can see in the chest on the image below, the effect can look quite nice when the hair is groomed correctly. Getting different hair colors to read properly will most likely need to be done manually with a groom-per-hair-color, but Joe is pretty confident that using the Groom tools will ultimately be easier than using hair cards.
Although there's still some dithering and noise on the shadows, it can likely be solved by playing around with quality settings. We'll be sure to update you on Joe's progress as he continues to work on creating our characters' fur.
Before we move on to this sprint's level design work, here's a fun test video Joe shared with us for tax. Enjoy!
If you've been paying attention to our development process over the past several months, you'll know that our Level Designer, Elsie, has been working relentlessly to finesse and finalize our Nasahara level.
This sprint, Elsie was finally able to move on to the next level area: an underground series of sewer systems that connect Nasahara with the rest of the Nisargan clan lands.
When Nasahara was ravaged by Kotakaya soldiers during the Great Kota Rebellion, this sewer system was used by the Anagativan denizens of Nasahara to flee the carnage of war and escape to safety.
Much like Nasahara, the sewer system remains largely abandoned to this day, but there's definitely plenty of creepy crawlies still scurrying about down below.
After piecing together the initial layout for the underground sewer system, Elsie realized we'd need to make some amendments to a few of the sewer-pipe models in order to allow for various doorways and passageways needed to properly traverse the level.
While Elsie waited for the revised models from 3D Environmental Designer, Cass (which you already saw in the 3D Modeling section above), he moved on to trying to set the right lighting in Unreal Engine for the sewer level.
Here's a peek at the basic lighting and basic layout for the sewers. Stay tuned for more updates on this excitingly eerie level area in future issues of the Kristala dev blog.
With Elsie already hard at work on a new level area, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, and Game Producer, Allie, each worked on drafting up some diagrams for use in concept art and in upcoming levels that will soon be added to the Kristala game build.
Here's a look at Tiff's diagram for our Myrtunan Caves level, as well as a diagram Allie drafted up of the City of Nisar for our concept art team to utilize.
In addition to leading our Level Design team, studio Co-Owner and Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, has also stepped in to guide Kristala's programming as we work to get some of our new programmers up to speed.
First, Tiff kicked things off this sprint by going through all the textures and materials in our game build to make sure they’re fully optimized. She also fixed an issue with we were having with our journal entry items that was preventing text from displaying correctly. Ultimately, the incorrect logic was in place, which was at the root of the issue.
Next, Tiff transferred updated materials and textures she'd been working on in her backup project to the main project. She then adjusted the materials and the look of our tutorial and boss wall before merging a few assets and updated their LODs for better texture streaming.
Last, Tiff worked on implementing a new custom cursor our Marketing Director, Sarah, designed to replace the stand-in cursor featured in previous iterations of the Kristala demo's tutorial section. We're super pumped to have a much more aesthetically accurate cursor.
Our Character Concept Artist, l_aciel, has been working on some armor concepts for our Kotakayan soldiers over the past couple weeks.
These are still works in progress, but here's a look at the evolution of some of the armor concepts thus far. Stay tuned to see the finished pieces and get a look at how they'll appear in 3D form.
Last sprint, we introduced you to the newest member of our art team, Ila, who specializes in Environmental Concept Art.
Ila's first task for Kristala was to create a concept of one of the Jhacanda tree houses villages featured in the Nisargan capital city of Nisar. We shared some progress shots of Ila's work in the last issue of the dev blog, but here's a peek at the finished concept.
After finishing up her first piece, Ila then started in on another concept for Nisar, this one featuring an overhead view of the city proper itself.
Here's a look at Ila's process for the new piece. Once she's finished up with this concept, she'll move on to creating one that features the Nisargan status of Atreus Stone, the revered leader of the Raksaka warriors in present-day Ailur.
Can you spot the statue in Ila's overhead concept below?
Game Production / Rigging / Animation
This sprint, our fearless Game Producer, Allie, continued working on the custom rig for our new female main character, specifically focusing on ensuring the rig could handle the sophisticated animations needed to make our feline character as lifelike as possible.
The image below shows three chains of arm bones in the rig Allie created. She made copies of the arms before disconnecting the arms from the skeleton to set up an IK/FK switch in the arms, which is crucial to ensuring we can apply smooth combat animations.
After finishing up with the arms, Allie added another set of IK/FK switches to the legs as well. The pink arm below is the result arm that's controlled by the IK or FK controller arms. The FK arm is yellow, and the IK arm is green.
When the FK/IK switch slider is moved to 10, the character's arm is then in IK mode. You can see the pink result arm follows the green arm whenever the character's hand is moved.
When you then go over the switch slider with the arm and turn it over to FK mode, the pink arm then moves back over to where the yellow arm is.
This happens invisibly, of course, in the animations Allie creates so she can seamlessly switch back and forth between the two different modes of movement. Ultimately, this flexibility is incredibly helpful for combat animations where the character is swinging a weapon around with two hands.
You can see in the images below that Allie set up three individual sets of legs so she can work out the same system on those limbs too. You'll know you've properly set up your IK/FK switches when you move a body part and you see three appendages.
Now that all the IK/FK switches are finally implemented on the custom rig for this character, Allie's ready to bring her into the game build and start working on custom animations.