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The Kristala Dev Blog - Issue #36

HELLO, FRIENDS! We know it's been a miiinute since we've shared some in-depth development updates from Kristala with you, but we're SUPER STOKED for you to see everything we've been working on since the last time we met.


If this is your first time joining us, thanks for stopping by to our little corner of the interwebz! You're currently tuned in to the official Kristala Dev Blog, a monthly compilation of all the development done on our first game, Kristala: a Dark Fantasy ARPG created by women-owned indie game studio, Astral Clocktower Studios (hey, that's us!).


Since we last met, things have legit been poppin' off over here. Not only did we finally reveal the first official gameplay trailer for Kristala, but we also took part in a super exciting rapid pitch event held by our friends at Xsolla...and snagged free tickets to the 2022 Game Developers Conference (known as GDC to all the cool kids)!


GDC is the game industry's premier professional event, championing game developers and the advancement of their craft. It's a place where tons of devs have the chance to exchange ideas and help shape the future of the industry .


Although two of our studio owners, Allie and Sarah, are attending the conference virtually, our third owner, Tiffany, is attending in person. Stay tuned to our socials for more updates from GDC! We'll be sharing them all week.




 

Kristala Official Gameplay Trailer


OK, so y'all know we couldn't just casually mention our new official gameplay trailer without giving you the inside scoop, right? RIGHT?!


If you've caught our last couple dev blogs, you may recall that we've been hinting at something BIG we've quietly been working on for quite some time now...something we've been absolutely bursting at the seams to share with you. AND NOW WE FINALLY CAN!!!


Behold, friends! The first official gameplay trailer for Dark Fantasy ARPG Kristala.



Not only does this new trailer feature a ton of sweet cinematics created right in Unreal Engine using our own models and animations, but it also showcases two new characters you’ll meet in gameplay during Kristala too.


The first character reveal is of Dava Nititra, a powerful necromancer originally hailing from the Myrtuna clan. Dava is shown in the opening scene of the trailer, and you’ll be invited into a vision he has via his third eye for the duration.


Only the most magically skilled Myrtunans learn how to open their third eye, and Dava is the only Raksaka Warrior in Ailur’s recent history to do so.



The second character reveal features the first major boss you’ll encounter in Kristala: Hiratrola, the Abandoned Son.


We don’t wanna give away too much of Hira’s backstory right now—that’s for you to figure out as you play—but just know that Hira is a very large ogre who’s become a very angry, large ogre via a mysterious, powerful curse that’s suddenly befallen planet Ailur and transformed its creatures into mutated, bloodthirsty beasts.


Another cool trailer tidbit, especially for our friends who enjoy metal music? Hiratrola is voiced by David Simonich, the lead vocalist behind the American deathcore band, Signs of the Swarm.


We’ll be sharing some clips from David’s recording sesh for Hiratrola—plus many more making-the-trailer goodies—over on the Kristala Patreon hub, so join us over there if you’d like to snag some exclusive Kristala content you definitely won’t find anywhere else.



 

Concept Art


When we last met, our concept art team was working on finalizing a few last-minute items needed for our Vertical Slice. With all core mechanics and elements now in place, the last thing on the list is to add any last-minute assets and address bugs.


One of these last-minute asset additions was creating a few remaining menu icons to represent various combat actions you'll see in game...like visual representations of our shield parry, staff parry, and riposte maneuvers.


As our resident icon extraordinaire (and really, our resident all things extraordinaire on account of how ridiculously versatile and talented he is), we had one of our artists, James, work on these last few remaining icons to kick things off.


Here's a peek at those designs, in the following order:


  • Shield Parry Icon

  • Staff Parry Icon

  • Riposte Icon





With these icons completed, James was then able to turn his attention back to creating a few detailed concepts featuring a bunch of the custom VFX we've got in the works.


First, James worked on the concept for our Warp VFX sequence. Throughout Kristala, you'll find tons of useful items via the various pickups we've got in game. The warp consumables are small blue crystals that will allow you to fast travel between various Checkpoints you discover.


You can get a peek at the Warp consumable crystal in action during actual gameplay a bit later on in this issue, but here's a preview of the initial design James whipped up for this one.



Next, James tackled some of the effects that will be featured in the epic mini-boss fight for Lophi the Lost, including effects for Lophi's Teleport, Staff Parry, and Spear Slam maneuvers.


Once a normal fish that dwelled in the ponds and waterways found in Dalamase, Lophi was transformed into the bipedal beast pictured below via a powerful curse. The curse not only mutated Lophi himself, but mutated the rest of his Gilsanka species too.


Even before the curse ravaged Ailur, Gilsanka fish contained a unique magic that made them a highly valuable and sought-after delicacy. Now, with their magic amplified via the powerful curse, the mutated Gilsankan magic makes these fish mages a more than worthy opponent.





Last up on James's list of custom VFX concept designs for this issue is the following effect that triggers for the Nisargan Longsword Special attack. This new design will replace the existing, stand-in effect you currently see in Kristala gameplay footage.


We really love how this new effect feels most certainly, undeniably Nisargan given its stunning green hues and swirling, tornado-like movement. This one also vaguely reminds us of the Nisargan Reaping Winds spell, one of our absolute favorites to wield.



With all the VFX on his list wrapped up, James then turned his attention to revamping the starting armor set for our fire-wielding Keoza clan.


Keozan artisans are widely known for producing some of the strongest armor and sharpest weaponry in Ailur. They have ample access to extremely hot temperatures within their volcanic forges, allowing them to create thin, breathable, metal armor that's as hard as diamonds.


This signature armor style almost looks more like layered leather than platemail, and many Keozan armorsmiths add fine etching into the platemail to give it a personal touch. Scratchcraft, as it is known, is traditionally done with an artist’s own claws.


This thin armor comes in handy beyond just its use in combat too; in the jungles surrounding Keo, it's customary to wear for protection around the ankles and wrists. This helps protect wearers against snake bites, contact with dangerous plants, and other undesirable exposure.




The last designs on James's list this month were a few concepts for some creepy enemies that you'll most definitely meet as you make your way through your Raksaka Proving in Kristala.


As we're sure our fellow dark-fantasy aficionados and RPG lovers know, it's rare to stumble upon an epic fantasy novel or video game that doesn't feature at least one spider enemy (that's also way larger than any spider has any business being tbh).


And, well...Kristala is no different (sorry in advance, arachnophobes). In fact, the world of Ailur is rife with several species of poisonous, web-wieldin', eight-leg-havin' spider baddies.


Though each species has its unique strengths and weaknesses, all of them are downright creepy. Trust us. Oh, and don't even get us started on the creep factor of these egg sacks...







To wrap things up, James closed things out by whipping up some ridiculously badass concepts for a mushroom-based enemy we've got in the works.


After seeing the various design options James put together for this task, we immediately realized we'd be incorporating more than a few of these bad boys in game on account of how absolutely terrifying and unsettling these sketches are.


Literally every single design James created for these mushbeasts (which are known as Masarusa in native Ailuran) immediately sparked new story and lore ideas, so we're looking forward to developing the overall Masarusa backstory further. Stay tuned!



With James super busy working on effects and enemies, one of our other super talented artists, Jud, continued working ahead on some gorgeous environmental concepts to help bring the clan capital cities to life—including the six "player residence" areas and item callouts.


First, Jud tackled the Myrtuna clan's capital of Myr, which is located deep within the dark and damp catacombs of Ailur. Featuring a vast web of buildings and abodes that slowly snake up the catacomb walls, Myr is a mysterious city of labyrinthian paths and alleyways.


Because the Myrtunans are used to life with so little light, many of their crafted light sources feature a low, violet glow that's gentle on this clan of necromancers' sensitive eyes.


Here's a look at the player start area for Myr that Jud created—plus a few of their corresponding item callouts.






Shifting from the Myrtunan aesthetic to the Nisargan aesthetic is almost, quite literally, a night and day experience. Where the Myrtunan necromancers prefer to live in darkness and secrecy, the Nisargans are more than happy to live life fully and unabashedly in the light.


Once she'd finished up the overviews and callouts for Myr, Jud spent some time working on this gorgeous overview of the village marketplace featured in Nisar. Sprawled amongst the dense Jhacanda forests of Ailur's west, Nisar is always bustling with life.


If you'd like to get a peek at Jud's callouts for the individual merchants and stands shown here, head on over to our Patreon and check out our recent posts.



In addition to the overview for Nisar, Jud also worked this month on assisting our third artist, Harold, with some callouts for a few of the unique houses featured in this capital city's renowned treehouse villages.


As our resident nature lovers, the Nisargans are fascinated and drawn to all things nature related. In fact, many Nisargans have a deep, almost religious respect for Ailur's natural elements and are incredibly in tune with the vast flora and fauna that exist on Ailur.




Like we mentioned above, Jud wasn't the only artist working on concepts for Nisar . Our third concept artist, Harold, also worked this month on detailing a few overview pieces and associated callouts for assets featured in this great Nisargan city.


First, Harold focused on an environmental shot that showcases some of the stunning treehouses that pockmark the outskirts of Nisar. We really love the cylindrical look of many of the houses shown here.


We also really love how authentically Nisargan all the furniture pieces and props Harold created feel. With all the patchwork bedding and rough-wood finishing on the furniture pieces, you can really tell exactly which clan these assets represent.






In addition to the village overview for Nisar, Harold also worked on an environmental piece for the mysterious cave that houses the beloved Nisargan Sacred Kristal.


Covered in delicate moss, glowing green crystals, and exotic vines snaking up its steep rock walls, this cave is nestled deep within the heart of Nisar and protected by a powerful Nisargan nature magic that prevents intruders from getting too close.


Each clan capital serves a similar purpose in both housing and protecting the six shards of the ancient Sacred Kristals. As the cornerstone of Anagativan culture, it only makes sense that these precious, magic-infused fragments would be fiercely guarded at all times.



 

3D Modeling


Our concept artists weren't the only ones kickin' it up a notch over the past couple months. Our 3D artists also put in a ton of WERK, and we've got a boatload of super juicy models fresh from the game dev oven to share with you, so let's dive right in.


Up first, one of our super talented 3D Generalists, Bianca, started by modeling the three crystal consumables that will be used most in the Kristala game: the Health Kristal and the two mana Kristal consumables that refill your magic bars.


Although you'll have six unique magic specialties to choose from at the start of Kristala (depending on which clan of Anagativa you choose to play as, of course), there are only two types of magic you can actually level: Eminence and Malediction.


The Eminence magic in Kristala is represented by a Champagne mana bar and the Malediction magic is represented by a Purple mana bar.



With crystal trifecta complete, Bianca then moved on to creating some 3D assets based on a ton of 2D concepts and callouts handed off from our art team.


All of the assets pictured below that Bianca created this month will be featured in the capital city of Nisar...but the best part about all these custom pieces we're creating for the Nisargan territory is that many of them can be repurposed and used in other clan areas too.


Here's a peek at a couple fruit crates for various market stands, some furniture pieces and accompanying assets to help populate homes, and a wooden walkway that will be used to connect various houses and abodes found in Nisar.





Bianca wasn't the only modeler working on custom assets for our Nisargan clan territory this issue. Our resident Environmental Artist, Cass, also spent some time cranking out a few pieces that will be found in our Vertical Slice, plus some assets for the capital of Nisar.


First up from Cass was a redesign of a simple rusted gate that's featured in Dalamase, the level that you'll be able to explore in the Kristala Vertical Slice.


Cass originally modeled the gate our level design team had already placed in the game build, but after some more detailing and polishing, we realized that the gate might look a bit more naturally aged if we gave a little face lift.


After adding some rust to the texturing and bending and breaking a few of the rungs that comprise the gate's overall structure, we think Cass finally nailed it. Check it out!



With the gate redesign complete, Cass was able to join Bianca and a some of our other modelers in creating needed assets for Nisar.


The flower vase Cass created below might seem simple, but we really love how lifelike each intricate flower is in this piece and can tell just how carefully crafted each detail in this piece is.


Of course, Nisar wouldn't really be Nisar if it wasn't absolutely loaded with tons of natural elements. That's because the Nisargans are the only clan of Anagativa that not only live in the depths of Ailur's sprawling Jhacanda forests, but also practice a highly powerful nature magic too.



Once Cass completed his starting tasks, he was able to focus on the larger task we had him working on this month: creating the hulking Jhacanda trees that will hold up various clusters of treehouses in Nisar (which Cass was also able to begin blocking out too).


The biggest struggle by far with these pieces is properly ensuring that the trees are big enough around to actually support the houses that rest upon their bases.


After some back and forth to get the sizing of the Jhacanda trees just right, Cass finally found his groove and cranked out several different trees before adding in the blocking for the tree houses themselves, which will be added in after they're created and textured.







Props on props on props. That seems to be the theme of our 3D modeling updates this issue, since so many of our artists are working on custom assets that will help fill in all the little details for the capital city of Nisar.


3D Generalist Joe was another talented team member to work on modeling and texturing a few props that will be handed off to our level designers and placed in Nisar (and beyond).


In addition to the series of candles shown below, Joe's main task this month was to not only create a bunch of wooden crates and storage boxes, but to also work on the logic for implementing destruction on the crates too.


After an initial pass on adding the destruction, Joe was able to figure out a better pipeline for creating more realistic shatter effects with wood using the program Houdini. Check out all Joe's pieces below—including a video to show off how the crates destruct when engaged.








Okay, so remember how we mentioned a few minutes ago just how many modelers worked on 3D assets for Nisar to be featured in this month's dev blog? Well, when we said many, we actually really meant most.


Our next two 3D Generalists, Nick and Hassan, joined Bianca, Cass, and Joe in tackling a ton of the callouts for this Nisargan capital city. Both teammates are super talented at creating furniture and large wooden structures, so they were the perfect pair for our next set of assets.


First up is a table and chair pair created by Nick. Because our Nisargans live in the Jhacanda forests of the west, they serve as our resident woodsmiths and carpenters and thus supply most of Ailur with its wooden furniture pieces, which can be found throughout all the clans.


Although some of these pieces might appear rough and "unfinished" to the untrained eye, a Nisargan piece of woodwork is always incredibly strong, smooth, and rarely chips or breaks.




With Nick working on a few of the base furniture pieces, Hassan was able to focus in on a few of the larger wooden structures and accompanying models that will help detail the elegant treehouses of Nisar.


In addition to living our best Beauty and the Beast moment with the bookcase and ladder you see pictured below, Hassan also whipped up a ton of aging, hardbound books that will be paced on the bookshelf itself.


With a little help from our Lead Narrative Designer, Emily—who created a whole-ass Ailuran language from scratch—we whipped up some really fun titles for these books, written in Ailuran characters. Some of our favorite titles Emily created?


  • Cover Your Poop (and Other Stories for Kittens)

  • Who Peed on the Carpet?

  • Ouch! What to Do When You Don't Land on Your Feet







We mentioned earlier about some impressive, larger structures Hassan created for us this month, and the below model is definitely one of them.


This pretty little piece is where you'll start the game if you choose to play as a member of the Nisarga clan. Hassan had already created a model for this asset, but we decided to make a few aesthetic changes and optimizations before calling the Nisarga Clan player residence complete.


Regardless of which clan you choose to start the game as, you will always begin in the designated player residence within your clan's capital city.




Now that Hassan had developed a new workflow for optimization with the Nisargan player residence, he was able to apply that same knowledge and process to the large Jhacanda tree and corresponding Blacksmith hut that will also be featured in Nisar.


When you begin Kristala, you'll be able to visit a few key NPCs before starting your Raksaka Proving. In addition to the Blacksmith hut, where you'll be able to snag all your starting weapons of choice, you'll also be able to visit the combat trainer to learn how to actually use your weapons.


Although Kristala is definitely a Soulslike title, we wanted to implement a few elements aimed to give players who are unfamiliar with the genre an easier time with Kristala's challenging gameplay. Adding an optional combat-training element was crucial for us to help properly introduce new players to the difficult Soulslike format.







Last up for our modeling updates are a few stunning pieces created by our Lead 3D Artist, Fede (the only artist that didn't actually spend time working on pieces for Nisar this month).


As you may already know, the main antagonists in Kristala are the Kotakaya soldiers that will be constantly patrolling Anagativan clan lands and doing the absolute most to ensure you fail your Raksaka Proving and never become a famed Raksaka warrior.


You've already seen a bunch of our base Kota soldiers in previous issues of the Kristala game dev blog, but Fede was able to dive in on the armor for our mid-size soldier variants to show off this month. We're obsessed with how steampunk this set is shaping up to be already and can't wait to see what this armor looks like when fully textured.



In addition to starting the armor for our second Kota soldier variant, Fede also made some adjustments to the intricate, mechanized weapons you'll see our base Kota soldiers wielding in the Kristala Vertical Slice.


Using the initial weapon originally modeled and textured by 3D Generalist Nick, we had Fede go back in and make some slight revisions to the textures for the sword and shield you see pictured below.


The goal? To make them a bit less shiny and to give them more of a dark-fantasy vibe. These revisions will also allow the weapons to better blend with the dark vibe of our Dalamase level, so we're definitely really loving the changes Fede made.




Another asset we had Fede work on (that will replace an existing, stand-in asset in the Kristala Vertical Slice) is a special cave door that leads to one of our absolute favorite level areas that's featured in the Dalamase level.


We've been keeping this area under wraps since we made some serious lighting and detail adjustments to the Kristala game build, so you'll just have to wait until you play to see what's behind this mysterious cave door.


What we can tell you is that the place beyond was once home to a prominent NPC you'll meet during gameplay. Oh...and you'll most definitely need a key to get through this door, so do be sure to search Dalamase high and low for the items you need to progress on your Proving.




With the Kota weapons and cave door replaced, the last thing on Fede's to-do list for this round of updates was to create a custom model for the powerful staff our mini-boss, Lophi the Lost, wields during battle.


As you can most definitely tell from the screenshot below, Lophi is an anthropomorphic, fishlike creature complete with a set of super sketchy, razor-sharp teeth.


Once a regular fish native to Dalamase, the Gilsanka were transformed into the bipedal beasts they are today once the curse arrived to their lands. They emerged confused and angry, though perhaps none more than tragic Lophi.


You can read more about Lophi's story in this installment of our Lore series, The Sagas of Kristala, but for now let's take a look at the awesome kelp-like staff Fede expertly designed for Lophi. We can't wait to see some sweet water spells shooting out of this baby in game.




 

VFX Design


Speaking of water spells, the first thing that comes to mind when we hear those words is the incredible custom VFX for mini-boss Lophi the Lost's various water-based incantations, created by our ridiculously talented VFX Artist, Daryll.


Don't worry...we'll show off said spells in just a little bit, but first we've got a ton of other goodies to share with you first—starting with the new visual effects for the various pickup items you'll encounter during gameplay in Kristala.


In addition to what we consider a "regular pickup," which contains the more commonly found item consumables in ARPG Kristala, Darryl also created the effect for our special pickups called "Kristal Memories."


These brief snippets of audio gradually reveal key bits of story info and lore. Although the audio will trigger upon consumption, you will definitely have the option to skip it if you choose too.




Another consumable item that will especially come in handy in our Dalamase level is the Antidote Shot. This powerful antivenom has the ability to cure you of poison damage, which you're bound to encounter in the Nisargan clan lands.


Perhaps one of the most remote of the Nisargan villages, Dalamase was once a thriving mecca for trade; many Anagativa traveled from distant lands just to sample the magical properties of the Gilsanka fish that swim its many waterways.


Sadly, when the Kota Rebellion erupted across Ailur, Dalamase was left ruined and abandoned. Over time, the poisonous flora and fauna of the surrounding Jhacanda Forests moved in and began to overtake the village. It remains this way today.


Having this Antidote Shot in your possession will most definitely make your time in Dalamase a bit more pleasant, so we suggest keeping a keen eye out for these precious pickups.



Another line of defense against the creepy creatures you'll encounter in Nisargan clan level areas is your Nisargan magic. As you make your way through your Raksaka Proving, you'll collect and level up unique spells as you go.


Depending on which clan you choose to play as when you start the game, you'll level up on either Eminence magic or Malediction magic...and many of your individual spells can even be leveled too.


One of the most prominent Nisargan spells—those incantations that call upon the powerful nature magic contained within the Nisargan sacred Kristal—is the Mistletoe Spell. You'll begin with the Mistletoe Dart, and can then level up with the Mistletoe Bolt and Spear versions too.




It's hard to choose exactly which of the following two Nisargan spells is our favorite, because they're both so freakin' cool (and we're not just saying that because we're developing this badass game).


Not only are the Earthquake and Reaping Winds spells shown below super powerful and helpful incantations, but they also look absolutely stunning thanks to the custom effects Daryll created for them this month.


We really love the warm oranges and deep reds the Earthquake Spell projects, and there's something so eerie and ethereal about the cool, soft greens contained in the Reaping Winds aesthetic. Let us know which one you like best in the comments section below.




As we shift out of spells and move into combat movements and action-based maneuvers, the VFX just keep getting cooler and cooler, like the below sequence Daryll created for our warp in and warp out effects.


As you play Kristala, you'll periodically encounter large, cylindrical stone structures with large, floating crystals that will ultimately (though unsurprisingly) become one of the most relieving sights to see as you progress through Kristala's chellenging gameplay.


Why? These Kristal Checkpoints are your safe haven. Not only will they save your progress and serve as rest areas where you can recharge and level up, but they're also powerful waypoints to which you can fast travel as you play.


Here's a look at the custom effects that will trigger when you warp to a Kristal Checkpoint. Daryll really knocked it out of the park on this one, don't you think?




If you're familiar with the Soulslike formula already, you know just how challenging combat can be, how important dodging and blocking are, and how much it sucks to lose your XP upon death.


And because we fully understand just how crucial these particular elements are, we really wanted the Kristala equivalents of these actions to impress—and trust us when we tell you that Daryll did not let us down.


If you don't believe us, just take a look at the custom effects we implemented this week for our basic sword attack, block, and loot-XP actions. Each of these beauts blends so well with the dark fantasy vibe of our Dalamase level, and we can't wait to show them off in gameplay.





Alright, alright, friends...we promised you water spells and now it's time to deliver. Remember that boss Lophi the Lost we mentioned earlier in today's issue? Well, although Lophi is technically a mini-boss, he still definitely packs a wallop.


In addition to some seriously wicked melee attacks, Lophi also wields a large staff that expertly expels water-based spells with (sometimes alarming) ease. Not only does this make Lophi's fight super satisfying, but it also makes him one of the coolest enemies in our Vertical Slice.


You'll have to wait to actually see these fluid-based incantations in the Kristala game build, but we have no problem showing off these isolated shots of some of Lophi's magic-based attacks in the meantime.




Lophi also has some seriously cool combat moves that don't involve magic that we're super excited to finally see in action.


Two of our favorites are the epic Spear Smash attack Daryll created, as well as the badass Teleportation move Lophi uses to throw you off your game—pun totally intended—and easily close the gap between you and imminent battle.


As the first boss you encounter in Kristala, Lophi is intended to be manageable, but definitely still challenging. Think you've got what it takes to take this fierce fish mage down?




 

Level Design


We've already shown off so many impressive and stunning updates our team tackled this issue, and we've still got so many more to go...including our next bit of updates from our wildly talented level design team.


With the blocking and general placement complete on our Vertical Slice, our level designers have moved on to ensuring the things like lighting, fog walls, textures, and optimization are good to go within our Dalamase level along with starting final detailing and making Dalamase feel real.


Before she jumped in on finessing some of those items, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, first replaced our player character's eyes with new ones our modeling team created. The new eyes are much more slitted and and catlike, which we absolutely love.


In addition to replacing the eye textures for our player character, Tiff also replaced our Nisargan female warrior's starting shield too.




With those small revisions made—and the rest of our Level Design team working ahead on new level areas beyond the Dalamase level featured in the Kristala Vertical Slice—Tiff was able to shift her focus to adjusting fog walls and lighting.


We've definitely spent a lot of time on making tweaks to the lighting in particular, but since Dalamase is a rather dark and dreary level, it's absolutely vital that we ensure players can still adequately see what they're doing (particularly during combat), while still maintaining that dark fantasy vibe.


With the aid of Lead 3D Artist Fede and Lead Animator Klaus (who both have experience working with lighting in Unreal Engine), our team was able to get the lighting and the fog walls juuust right. Check it out!