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The Kristala Dev Blog - Issue #31

Hello, and welcome to the official Kristala dev blog, where we break down the development process for 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG Kristala each month.


If you've been keeping up with our dev blogs already, you know that they're pretty hefty when it comes to content. But did you know that we actually hold back A TON of screenshots, lore tidbits, tutorials, and video walkthroughs each month?


Why, you might ask? Well, we've been carefully and strategically saving some of our best content in anticipation of finally launching the official Kristala Patreon campaign.


When you become a Kristala Patron, you'll instantly gain access to even more behind-the-scenes development content—like more comprehensive dev blogs; first looks at secret bosses, characters, and enemies; and in-depth lore and story goodies. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!


Becoming a Kristala Patron also means you'll unlock a special, secret code that'll gain you tons of bonus entries for our upcoming PS5 giveaway!


That's right—skip the hassle of trying to track down a PS5 (and save your hard-earned monies!) and try your luck at winning a FREE PS5 Disc Edition, courtesy of women-lead indie games studio, Astral Clocktower Studios.


You can learn more about the exclusive content you'll receive when you join us as a Kristala Patron throughout today's issue of the Kristala dev blog, but for now, let's get into this month's titillating game dev updates!


 

Kristala at Play NYC 2021


After over a year of exhibiting at various online game conventions, we can't properly tell you how stoked we are to be presenting an exclusive build of Kristala—featuring our revamped demo level—at this year's Play NYC convention.


Not only is this our first in-person convention since the pandemic began, but it's also a bit of a homecoming for us since Play NYC was the very first convention we ever exhibited Kristala at back in 2019.


If you're not familiar with the event, Play NYC is New York City's premier gaming convention. Hosted at the Metropolitan Pavilion in the heart of NYC, Play NYC blends tabletop games and video games into a super fun event for anyone and everyone.


Featuring the latest releases from studios large and smalland from developers old and newPlay NYC celebrates every facet of gaming in a way that only the Big Apple can.


The con kicks off on Saturday, August 7th and runs through the following day, August 8th. We'll be live-streaming during the event, so be sure to stay tuned to the Astral Clocktower Studios Twitch channel and our other social channels to join us in the fun!



 

Concept Art


While most of our dev team focuses on preparing an exclusive build of Kristala for Play NYC, our talented concept art team has been pumping out fresh designs for current weapons and items that still need revamped before our official vertical slice is complete.


If you haven't been following our dev journey for very long, you may be surprised to learn that we recently decided to give our entire demo level a complete overhaul in order to better match the realism of our new player character.


This means that our artists have been diligently working on cranking out fresh concepts for existing weapons, armor sets, consumables, and other important goodies.


In particular, artist James has been focusing on some of the key weapons for our Nisarga clan, which is the only clan that will be featured in the official Kristala demo as a playable clan. In the full version of Kristala, you'll be able to choose from one of six different clans.


You can unlock even more concepts from James—including previously unreleased weapon designs—by joining us as a Kristala Patron.



With revamped weapons well underway thanks to James, another of our talented artists, Amanda, worked on revising the concept for an important merchant NPC that will help you score all the wares and goods you need to complete your Raksaka Proving.


Because Neil of Nisarga hails from the nature-loving Nisarga clan (as his name so adequately conveys), Amanda made sure Neil had the signature, tabby-like markings that can be found on most Nisargans.


Even cooler, Neil is modeled after studio founder Allie's IRL late father, Neil, who had a penchant for all things animal and a deep love for the Grateful Dead.


Here's a look at Neil's initial concept, followed by Amanda's revised version that really captures the true essence of this beautiful memorial NPC. We really love the realism Amanda captured in Neil's new concept, which is definitely what we're going for with these revisions.



Next up on our list of revised concepts are the beautiful potion consumables concept artist Ila worked on this sprint.


For some items in the old version of the Kristala demo, we used stand-in props from the UE4 marketplace as place holders until we could create our own, custom designs and 3D models.


We really love the elegant look of Ila's new potion concepts—complete with traditional Ailuran tags that let players know exactly what each potion contains within its glass bottle.


You can get a full breakdown of the Ailuran alphabet and its linguistic rules by joining our development journey as an official Kristala Patron, where our Lead Narrative Designer, Emily, will walk you through exactly how she created each individual character.



In the last issue of the Kristala dev blog, we showed off some of the items artist Harold had been working on to help detail the various fishing shacks and abandoned cabins that pockmark the Dalamase—the Nisargan level featured in the upcoming Kristala demo.


This sprint, Harold continued working up fresh concepts for some of the aging items that will help detail this once-bustling, now-vacant series of villages.


In addition to these items, Harold also started working on base sketches featuring each of the six clan biomes for our feline-like Anagativa characters. We'll be sharing some of Harold's finished biome concepts in our next issue, so stay tuned!



With artists James, Amanda, Harold, and Ila working on revised concepts for items currently featured in the Kristala demo, our fifth concept artist, Nicholas, began working ahead on a fresh design for an important character you'll meet in the full version of the demo.


Brutus is the resident blacksmith players can periodically visit to score new weapons and upgrade existing pieces in their arsenal. Because of his propensity and skill for blacksmithing, Brutus hails from the islandic Keoza clan.


After The Shattering, the ancestors of present-day Keozans gravitated toward the fieriest piece of the ancient, Sacred Kristal, landing at the base of a large, slumbering volcano along the coast of Ailur's largest ocean.


It's here the Keozans thrive to this day, utilizing the hot magma from the now-active volcanoes surrounding their clan territory to forge awe-inspiring weaponry and sets of armor.


Here's a look at the start of Brutus's concept. Nicholas will now craft this character's clothing and tools before going back through and detailing the entire piece.



 

3D Modeling


Our concept artists aren't the only ones working hard to fully transition all the assets featured in the Kristala demo from their current state into pieces that better match the overall realistic aesthetic of our revamped demo level.


In fact, our 3D modeling team has been working overtime just to ensure we have all the models needed to replace the existing assets in the Dalamase: the Nisargan level that's featured in the demo.


Last sprint, our 3D Character Modeler, Bianca, took a break from character design to help with a few steampunk-esque weapons for our Kotakayan soldier enemies.


Because the magic of the six Sacred Kristals is an organic substance, we purposefully designed our Kotakayan species to be more adept at science and technology in order to contrast the organic magic of the Anagativa.


Here's a look at some of the Kota daggers Bianca whipped up this month. You can see the metal gears and details that help to make these blades undoubtedly Kotakayan.



With the daggers complete, Bianca then moved on to modeling the new version of a statue of Ellaria Keyva, the first of the Raksaka warriors, using a revised concept from artist Harold.


Unsurprisingly, Ellaria—who originally hailed from the Nisarga clan but denounced her clan affiliation after completing her Proving and becoming a Raksaka warrior—is widely celebrated to this day by all the Anagativa that exist on planet Ailur.


This statue now proudly stands at the heart of the Nisargan capital city of Nisar, reminding all hopeful Kristalans about what it truly takes to take on the Raksaka Proving and become a famed member of the Raksaka.



Last on Bianca's to-do list this sprint was recreating a few Anagativan plushies that will serve an important role in the Kristala demo's storyline.


You can see more of Bianca's work—and learn exactly what role these Ana stuffies play in Kristala—by joining us on our Patreon journey for as low as just $1 per month.



The series of fishing villages that comprise the entirety of the Dalamase are pockmarked with aging, abandoned fishing cabins and shacks.


The Nisargan denizens that once dwelled within these structures were callously driven from their homes during the Great Kota Rebellion many years ago, and the homes remain abandoned to this day.


In previous iterations of the Dalamase, we utilized Unreal marketplace assets for these shacks, but with the aid (and incredible talent) of 3D Generalist Hassan, we now have plenty of custom 3D fishing cabins for you to explore in game.


Here's a look at just a couple of the dwellings Hassan was able to create this sprint.



With the fishing shacks complete, Hassan then worked on modeling a few other important items that will be showcased in the upcoming Kristala demo, including the Lantern Tree, Lantern Fruit, and Gravestones pictured below.


The Lantern Tree is one of the Dalamase's most stunning wonders. It's not only beautiful and luminous, but it plays an important role in gameplay too; the luscious fruits of the Lantern Tree provide a powerful resist to the poisonous plants and creatures found in this area.


Without the Lantern Tree, you just might unexpectedly find yourself buried beneath one of the moss-covered tombstones Hassan also whipped up this sprint... ;)



Speaking of trees, the Lantern Tree wasn't the only flora Hassan created for the Dalamase this sprint. Because this cluster of villages is located within Nisarga clan territory, there was no question that it needed plenty of trees, flowers, ferns, and shrubbery.


We knew we'd need a bunch of varied tree models, so we had Hassan team up with 3D Environmental Modeler, Cass, to tackle this task and properly detail the Dalamase to give it that signature Nisarga look.


We think both modelers really knocked it out of the bark (yes, that was a terrible tree pun...DON'T JUDGE US)!



In addition to the trees, Cass also started working on a few hanging lanterns and fishing nets that will be placed throughout the various fishing shacks and cabins in the abandoned Dalamase villages.


We can't wait to see what all these look like when they're fully detailed, textured, and placed in the Kristala game build.



In our last issue, we introduced you to our newest 3D Generalist, Fede, who was just getting started on modeling the base, mid-size, and large variants of our Kotakayan soldier enemies.


The Anagativa and the Kotakaya have been at odds for centuries, with contention coming to head during the Great Kota Rebellion. Since the Anagativa emerged victorious from that war, the creatures of Ailur have been at relative peace.


Still, unrest remains and a new battle is brewing. During Kristala, you'll be faced with many Kota enemies that are working to keep you from succeeding at becoming a Raksaka warrior. These soldiers Fede designed will be the most prevalent Kota enemies you meet.



After nailing the anatomy and base models for all three Kota soldiers, Fede then focused in on creating the armor for the smallest variant using a concept from our Lead Character Artist, Pete.


Wanna see what this set looks like fully textured and detailed? We'll be showing off Fede's completed model and accompanying armor set exclusively via the Kristala Patreon, so stay tuned for details on our official launch.



Once he was finished with the Kota soldiers, Fede then spent some time creating the 3D models for a few of the enemies that will be featured in the Kristala demo—like the Shroom beast and Gromphas insect pictured below.


The Shroom beast is one of two mushroom-based enemies you'll find in the Dalamase, and the Gromphas possesses an appendage on its backside that omits a poisonous gas.


Don't worry though...we've strategically placed poison Antidotes and Lantern trees throughout the level to help you survive any unexpected poison attacks.



We already showed off the Kotakayan daggers Bianca modeled this sprint, but she wasn't the only modeler focusing on Kota weaponry this month.


One of our talented 3D Generalists, Joe, was also able to texture and detail some pretty badass weapons you'll see our Kota enemies wielding in game—including a huge Great Hammer and several steampunk Rifles.


Which of these weapons are you hoping a Kota foe drops after defeat? Let us know in the comments on this post or join our Discord community to share your feedback.



With the Kota weapons completed, Joe then returned to the mushroom lantern he'd started last sprint to give it its finishing touches and final details.


In Kristala, a mysterious sickness has befallen planet Ailur, blanketing all of Ailur in a thick darkness that can make it hard to see where you're going during gameplay.


But worry not, young warrior. We've strategically placed items like this lantern throughout the entirety of the Kristala demo to help light your way and guide you through the dark and misty Dalamase.



In our last issue, we showed you the progress 3D Generalist Karena had made on a special consumable that, when selected from your Inventory in game, will allow you to warp to the last checkpoint you visited.


The sprint, Karena was able to finally nail the crystal-like texture she was aiming for for this important item. She may still add some additional details before this baby is brought into Unreal Engine and placed in the game build, but we love what she's got so far.



Once she was happy with the butterfly crystal warp consumable, Karena then shifted gears to model up a few environmental props and items that were still needed to complete the Kristala demo revamp.


First, Karena took on a few of the torches that will be ignited to help lead you towards important areas in the Dalamase. She made sure to add a bit of rust and wear to the textures to help show the age of these pieces.



Once the torches were complete, Karena then got started on a few mushroom models that will be used to detail the muddy ground and craggy, rock walls of the Dalamase.


As we mentioned earlier in today's issue, the Dalamase is a level area within Nisarga clan territory. The Nisargans don't just have an affinity for the natural world of Ailur; they truly view nature as a vital component to their very well-being.


In short, it's a necessity. Because of this, we've made sure to really amp up the foliage, ferns, and fungi in all Nisargan level areas. We're really excited to add Karena's shroomies into the mix once they're fully textured and complete.



To ensure gameplay combat in Kristala is both varied and exciting, we're bringing you tons of enemies to battle in the demo, including the stick-like creatures featured in the video below.


Unlike the other enemies you'll encounter in the Dalamase, the Twigativa—or Twiggies, as we lovingly call them—aren't actually native to this lush, tree-laden area of Ailur.


...But wait! How did they get here then, you might ask? There's actually some pretty cool lore behind these Twiggies, and their origin is related to an important NPC we've been keeping under wraps for the time being.


You can hear all about how the Twigativa came to be in a special installment of The Sagas of Kristala, which will be released via our official Patreon campaign. For now though, check out the weaponry our 3D Generalist, Nick, created for these branch-like baddies.



It's true that the Twiggies you just saw will certainly be formidable foes, but we're pretty certain they won't be nearly as annoying during gameplay as our next batch of baddies.


Blessed with their own special strain of magic, the fish-mage Gilsanka pack quite a punch—especially since they're armed with an entire arsenal of spears, clubs, blades, and saws that Nick was able to model this sprint.


We really love how each weapon has an aquatic element to it...like the barnacles on the club and shield, and the literal crab that tops the GIlsanka staff.



Speaking of the Gilsanka, we're incredibly excited to give you a sneak peek at the base model for these fishy mages, which is a work in progress by our Lead Character Modeler, Pete.


Although Pete will be adding a ton more detail to this model before calling it complete—including frills, gills, and lots of fins—we just couldn't wait to give you a glimpse of this new Gilsanka model.


Wanna see what this baddie looks like completely painted and textured? We'll be showing you an in-depth look into Pete's process for creating this mage (including his finished piece) as part of our upcoming Patreon campaign. Stay tuned!



In between his work on the Gilsanka, Pete also spent some time this sprint making some slight revisions to the teeth and tongue for our Anagativan player character.


We really love how lifelike and leonine these chompers are. Check out the Animation updates later in this issue of the Kristala dev blog to see what these babies look like added to our character and fashioned into a ferocious sneer.



 

Level Design


With the Kristala demo revamp well underway, our incredible level designers have been working overtime to place all the 3D models our art team is churning out and adjusting particle effects, landscape materials, and other goodies in UE4.


With our exhibition at Play NYC coming in just over a week, most of the grunt work is already done for the redesign, and all that's left is addressing minor adjustments and issues.


To kick things off this sprint, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, spent some time tweaking the fog material and lighting for the Dalamase Leech Pit, then detailing its surroundings with plenty of luminescent, glowing mushrooms.



After detailing the Leech Pit, Tiff then worked on setting up an important scene in Unreal Engine that will be featured as the Main Menu screen for our Play NYC build and for the Kristala demo itself.


To get started, Tiff first focused on laying out the scene itself before going in and adding various particle effects to the crystals pockmarked throughout. She then adjusted the lighting, added our signature dancing fireflies, and perfected the overall angle of the scene.


The finishing touches? Adding in the new Kristala logo and menu settings in Unreal to see how the whole things looks when complete.



With the Main Menu screen in place and ready to go for our exclusive Play NYC build, Tiff was then able to return focus to adjusting the level itself to ensure the lighting and landscape materials are juuust right.


After wrestling to find a fog material that wasn't too opaque and didn't blind players in game, Tiff finally landed on a low fog material that adds just the right amount of whimsy and mystery to the entire level.


We're still fiddling around with the fog to get it exactly perfect, but here's a look at some of the low fog Tiff created this month.



With Tiff working on fog and setting up the Main Menu, Level Designer Ian was able to work on setting up some previously unestablished level areas for the Kristala demo, like the Treehouse Clearing, Overlook, and Spider Forest level areas.


You can learn all about each of these level areas in detail by joining us as an official Kristala Patron, but for now...here's a peek at some of the work Ian did on these important areas.



In addition to working on the Spider Forest, Treehouse Clearing, and Overlook areas, Ian also started placing materials for the Graveyard level area that will be prominently featured in the Kristala demo.


After placing some of the 3D gravestone models from Hassan that we shared earlier in this issue, Ian then tweaked and edited the ground material in the area to add some variation and to make it look sunken in and raised up in certain areas.


With the addition of a Graveyard in the level, you can guarantee that you'll be meeting some gnarly beasties in this area of the Dalamase...



To round out this sprint, Ian spent some time creating a custom ground material to make the entire level look wetter and muddier. He also tried out a few different fog settings to help Tiff with nailing the perfect fog material for the Kristala demo level.


If you're curious about learning exactly which settings and materials achieved each of the three foggy screenshots below, join us as a Kristala Patron and unlock access to detailed level design walkthroughs and process explanations.



 

Programming


Our incredible Gameplay Programmers—Andy, Julian, and Rodrigo—work together like a well-oiled machine. You'd think they've been working together for years, but in reality...the three have only been working together on Kristala for just under a year.


None of our three talented programmers were part of the ACS dev team when we first began development on Kristala, which means they've had to work with blueprints and code that initially belonged to someone else...a fact that has caused more headaches than hoorahs.


Because of this, we recently made the bold decision to completely scrap all existing code and start again from the ground up so that Andy, Julian, and Rodrigo know the game's code like the back of their hands.


Thankfully, this risky decision has already paid off immensely when it comes to Kristala's programming and gameplay mechanics, and we couldn't be more excited to unveil our programming team's fresh work at the upcoming Play NYC convention.



What's most impressive about our three gameplay programmers is that each one possesses a unique strength and programming prowess in different areas of focus.


Andy is our resident enemy extraordinaire and has dedicated his time this sprint to writing and setting up the base C++ classes needed to establish sophisticated Gameplay Ability System (GAS) magic in Kristala.


Using everything he's learned about data tables and working with GAS so far, Andy spent time this month planning and implementing the tree behavior and combat mechanics for our Gilsanka fish mage enemies.


We'll be sharing a ton of gameplay footage featuring the Gilsanka and other enemies soon, but here's a peek at a funny blooper Andy captured while working with this saucy (and apparently dance-obsessed) enemy.



With Andy working on our Gameplay Ability System, programmer Julian was able to focus on deleting unused functionality from the player character's blueprints and preparing the game build for our new systems.


After cleaning up the existing files, Julian then reconnected the abilities system and established interfaces for both AI and animBPs for characters; he also created the animBP for the game's new mesh and set up displayed items for Equipment.


Lastly, Julian worked on setting up the proper equipment for Kristala's various armor sets, including the Myrtunan Enforcer set featured in this video Julian snagged while working.



With the programming revamp well underway, our Lead Gameplay Programmer, Rodrigo, kicked things off this sprint by refactoring menu widgets and redoing the tutorial section of the Kristala demo using both Blueprints and C++ coding.


Rodrigo also created functionality for widgets that changes input tags like <Inventory> or <Switch Left Weapon> to their respective icons in real time when shifting between a keyboard and a gamepad. This will ultimately help the game's localization since we can now write text with tags instead of concatenating text and images. SCORE!


In addition to constructing the Equipment and Inventory systems, Rodrigo also spent time this sprint working on Leveling Stats and working with C++ to declare operators to various classes—like Stored Equipment shown in the below screenshot.


This ultimately helps simplify our code and—the best part—can be applied to the entirety of the game’s programming. #WINNING



Andy, Julian, and Rodrigo have all worked super hard to recreate the existing code in Kristala in their own way, and we couldn't be more excited about where our programming is headed.


If you're interested in getting detailed walkthroughs from our programming team—like a full, in-depth breakdown of our new Leveling Stats system—be sure to stay tuned to future dev blogs and to our socials so you can be the first to know when we launch our Patreon campaign.


 

Rigging / Animation


For the past few weeks, our Lead Animator, Klaus, has been diligently working on skinning and rigging our new player character to get her ready to be implemented into Unreal Engine and kicking some major ass in the Kristala game build.


In addition to implementing the character's revised teeth and tongue, Klaus also modified some of the model's bones to better match her overall anatomy before improving the skinning on her base body and skinning several of her armor sets.


Klaus also created a custom facial rig to allow the character to properly emote during gameplay.



With the skinning and facial rig complete, Klaus was then able to start creating some custom combat animations for the player character—featuring the base Longsword weapon you'll have in your arsenal at the start of the game.


With a light combat attack completed—along with idle, run, sprint, and walk animations—Klaus then added a fourth hit into the mix before polishing the combo, dividing it into various hits, and finishing all the recoveries.


We love how smooth and intense Klaus's animations are, and can't wait to see them in action in the Kristala game build.



With Klaus tackling animations for the player character, Animator Mario worked on rigging and animating the various Spider enemies that'll be featured prominently in the Kristala demo (hey, we don't have a level area called the Spider Forest for nothin').


Here are just a few of the combat animations Mario was able to complete for these spidey bois. You can get a full tutorial on how our animators work by joining us as a Patron and signing up for the official Kristala Patreon.



Although Studio Founder Allie recently handed over the animation reins to Klaus and Mario in order to fully focus on her role as the Kristala's Game Producer, she was able to jump in this sprint to help with a few odds and ends related to animation.


First, Allie got the full-body Myrtunan Enforcer and Leather Leaf armor sets featured in the Kristala demo wired up for animation testing in the game build. She also tested out some of our imported 3DS Max animations in UE4.


We're drooling over how gorgeous both of these armor sets look in Unreal and can't wait to see them in action in the demo.



 

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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