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The Kristala Dev Blog - Issue #29

Welcome back to another exciting issue of the ever-enchanting Kristala dev blog!

Although this is typically the only place where you can get a monthly peek into all the development that goes into Kristala—a 3D dark fantasy ARPG from female-lead Astral Clocktower Studios—things will soon be changing.

In a few months, we'll be kicking off our very own Patreon where you'll be able to get even more detailed and comprehensive dev blogs that include first looks at new models, inside access to previously unrevealed characters and NPCs, and a glimpse into how our programmers, artists, modelers, and animators do their thang.

Plus, for just a few bucks a month, you'll unlock access to exciting interviews, educational tutorials, informative walkthroughs, and intimate, live development streams hosted by various members of the ACS team.

We'll be sure to keep you posted on all the sweet deets as we near our Patreon launch date, so be sure to stay tuned to our socials and public dev blogs for updates and announcements (including an exciting kick-off contest where you can snag a FREE PS5). Score!

In last month's dev blog installment, we introduced you to the progress we'd commenced on the overhaul we're currently giving to the entirety of the Kristala demo—including characters, enemies, levels, and more.

Ready to see how things are going now in the fantasy world of Ailur? Let's dive in...


Concept Art

In our last issue, we introduced you to a bunch of new team members that recently joined our growing family, including our newest Environmental Concept artist, Harold. Right away, Harold dove into creating fresh, detailed concepts for each level area in the Kristala demo.

This sprint, Harold continued working through his list of concepts, starting with a few pieces that show off the small, abandoned fishing villages that lie at the heart of the Dalamase swamp.

During the Mad Kotakaya King's reign years ago, Dalamase was hit especially hard by the Kota rebellion and its Nisargan denizens fled the area in search of safer ground, leaving behind the aging shacks and algae-covered cabins that remain in Dalamase to this day.

Here's just one of the three concepts Harold created for these unique water villages. We really love the contrasting blue and orange tones in this piece.

With the concepts for the water villages complete, Harold then moved on to creating a piece that showcases the Graveyard area of the Kristala demo and its accompanying Mortuary House, a landmark that plays an important role in the demo's gameplay.

Here's a look at the front- and back-yard views of the Mortuary House area.

As you make your way through the Dalamase, you'll eventually encounter two bodies of water-like substances that tie into gameplay—a Poison Pit and a Leech Pit.

While you can probably make some assumptions as to what roles each Pit will play in the game based on their names, we're keeping the exact details under wraps for the time being.

For now, feast your eyes on these eerie and moody concepts.

What's a good fantasy ARPG without a mysterious Dark Forest and a creepy ol' Spider Maze? Those with arachnophobia beware, because we've got more than one eight-legged fiend that dwells in this dark and creepy level area.

Judging by the size of the webs in the concepts below, you better believe these babies are not only enormous, but also hungry for fresh blood.

If you want to see more of Harold's stunning concept pieces, be sure to stay tuned for details about how you can become a Kristala Patron and see even more gorgeous artwork.

With Harold tackling our environmental pieces, our newest Character Concept Artist, Amanda, took a stab at redesigning and imagining some of our demo's enemies (and by "took a stab at," we mean "absolutely killed it," of course).

Up first on Amanda's list of creepy crawlies was a redesign of the branch-like Twigativa enemies that are sprinkled throughout the Dalamase.

Although some of these Twiggies stand still and remain without sentience, others unexpectedly come alive without warning. The trouble, of course, is discerning which ones are just lifeless mannequins and which are poised to be a royal pain in the tail.

Here's a look at the concepts Amanda created for the Twiggies and their weapons.

Because the Dalamase is a swamp-like environment with plenty of darkness and moisture that's perfect for fungal growth, we knew we had to include some mushroom beasts in the demo.

We really love how Amanda took this task and ran with it—creating the two unique shroom creatures you see pictured below. It goes without saying, of course, but we're pretty sure that these fungi aren't actually fun guys...

For an in-depth look at these character concepts and their accompanying turn-arounds created for our 3D modelers, stay tuned for more information on our Patreon page where you can get a special, behind-the-scenes peek at our process.

Back in the world of environmental concepts, another of our artists, Ila, took on a concept from our ever-growing list of items and props.

Because of the curse that's befallen Ailur, many of its villages and towns possess a dreary and ominous aesthetic that makes the world of Kristala incredibly dark and dim. To help players see during gameplay, we've had to get creative with some of our light sources.

One such illuminating item is this adorable, glowing mushroom lantern Ila created. Be sure to check out our Environmental Modeling section for a look at this piece's 3D counterpart.

Next up in the realm of items and props are the Kotakayan weapon concepts pictured below that were created by our super talented Concept Artist, James.

If you're new to the Kristala dev blog, you may not yet know that our rodent-like enemies, the Kotakaya, are specifically designed to have a Victorian, steampunk flare...which means their blades and staves are adorned with lots of bronze and gears to amp up the steampunk vibe.

One of the magic staves James designed below was created for a super important Kota character that we'll be revealing in our upcoming Patreon content. Stay tuned for more details on how you can become a Patron and be the first to devour new Kristala character reveals.


3D Character Design

Last sprint, 3D Character Designer, Bianca, started blocking out the model for our new fish-mage Gilsanka enemies.

This sprint, she continued creating various details and refinements for her base sculpt—adding in aquatic webbing to the arm pits and shaping the spiky dorsal fins and back plates you see pictured in the screenshots below.

Bianca also modeled out the intricate ropes, shells, hooks, and cloth pieces that comprise the Gilsanka's armor. We especially love the scale-like indentations Bianca has started to add and we can't wait to see how he looks with painting and textures.

If you're curious about the backstory behind how the Gilsankan mage got its magical powers, stay tuned to the Kristala game dev blog so you can learn how to become a Patron and get exclusive access to Lore pieces featured in the Sagas of Kristala before anyone else.

In our last issue, we showed off the realistic fur our Lead Character Modeler, Pete, had started creating using hair cards and a custom fur shader.

This sprint, Pete continued on the fur journey by utilizing a plugin for Blender to edit the individual hair cards and have them follow a more orderly flow of fur. The plugin helps the fur look less rigid and scruffy looking, which ultimately helps us achieve a more lifelike look.

The texturing featured in the below video is just a stand-in, but you can see how this plugin helps us better tame this feline fur.

As Pete continued playing with the Blender plugin, the custom shader, and the hair cards, he got closer and closer to the realistic look of the fur that we're going for.

In order for the hair cards to work properly with the textures, the plugin, the shader, and the cards must all work in tandem. If Pete changed just one of the three even slightly, it would yield drastically different results on our character.

Take a look at the two screenshots Pete shared with us below to see how altering just one small thing changed the way the fur appeared.

After a ton of additional research and experimentation, Pete was finally able to get the fur to a place that really makes it look lifelike and realistic with our Nisargan player character's tabby-like textures applied.

This fur-creation process ended up being a huge undertaking for our modeling team, and we really learned a lot about how hair cards can be created and manipulated to achieve the results we're looking for.

If you'd like to get an in-depth tutorial about how to create realistic fur like this in Blender using hair cards and a custom shader, be sure to join our upcoming Patreon for a step-by-step walkthrough from Pete.

Earlier in today's issue, we showed off the revised concept our Character Artist, Amanda, created for the Twigativa enemies featured in the Kristala demo.

This sprint, one of our 3D Generalists, Nick, started modeling the base for this branch-like baddie. Although the silhouette for this creature is relatively simple, its twiggy details proved far more challenging than initially thought.

Luckily though, Nick was able to get a nice head start on replicating the stiff and mannequin-esque vibe of this enemy's concept. Catch more of Nick's work in the Environmental Modeling section coming up next.


3D Environmental Design

Over the past few weeks, our 3D Environmental Modelers, Cass and Hassan, have been working on modeling and texturing the various shacks and cabins that pockmark the Dalamase swamp.

Because there are several water villages featured in the Kristala demo, we wanted to create a nice selection of varied swamp-house models to make the environment super unique and dynamic so as to avoid model fatigue.

Here's a selection of some of the models Cass and Hassan whipped up this sprint.

As we've alluded to several times already in today's issue of the dev blog, many of the villages that dot the Dalamase were erected over various bodies of boggy swamp water.

Why? Before it was ravaged and taken over by the Mad Kota King's army, the Dalamase was a booming fishing town known for its rare selection of exotic fishes. Its denizens built their villages right on the water so they could catch their wares at a moment's notice.

Naturally then, the houses featured in these water villages would need some connecting bridges to allow Nisargan fisherfolk to navigate from one structure to another. Here's a few of the bridge models Cass and Hassan created for this very purpose.

Last issue, we showed off the models our 3D Generalist, Karena, started working on for the crystal consumable items players can use to access our warp system.

After finishing up the piece, however, we realized that the model and its textures didn't quite match the realistic look we were going for with these chunks of crystal shards—even with a sweet glass material Karena added to create some additional depth and dimension.

After several attempts at finessing the piece, Karena decided to scrap the initial sculpt and start over from scratch. We're really diggin' the realistic look of the new model so far, and we can't wait to see how it turns out. Stay tuned!

We already showed off Nick's work on the new Twigativa enemy models in the 3D Character Design section of today's dev blog, but that's not all he worked on this sprint.

In addition to the Twiggies, Nick also revisited a few of his old armor sets to add additional refinements and details that better match the vibe of our revamped demo level.

Specifically, Nick revised the fine stitching you see on the Nisargan Leather Leaf set pictured below. Just wait 'til you see this new armor set on our revised player character in the revamped Kristala demo level.

Last up on Nick's to-do list this sprint was modeling some of the clubs, blades, spears, and staves our fish-mage Gilsanka enemies wield. We're obsessed with all the sea-like details included in these weapons—like the barnacles, claws, and rusted metals.

These are just a small sampling of the Gilsanka weapons. If you'd like to check out the full selection, stay tuned for details on how you can become a Patron and get a detailed, inside look at how we design and model our weapons and armor.

If you've been staying up to date with the Kristala dev blog, you'll know that our third 3D Generalist, Joe, has been working on modeling the gigantic Jhacanda tree featured in our Treehouse Clearing level area.

As its name suggests, this towering tree holds in its branches a large Nisargan treehouse that may or not contain valuable treasures to help you during gameplay.

With the tree finally finished, Joe then shifted gears to work on a list of items and props needed for our eerie Nasonder level.

During the Great Kota Rebellion, Nasonder served as an underground dungeon that held hundreds of Anagativan POWs. In addition to being held against their will, the prisoners were tortured daily by savage Kota soldiers driven by a deep and dark hate.

Some remnants from this bloody Rebellion—like the torture table Joe created below—can still be found in Nasonder's cells to this day. Travelers beware...

To round out his sprint, Joe began modeling a glowing mushroom lantern that'll help light your way as you traverse the murky, overgrown pathways of the dark Dalamase.

Using the concept we showed off earlier as his guide, Joe effortlessly captured the whimsical allure of this helpful prop. He's still working on adding some more detail to the lantern and some varied color to the mushrooms and crystals, but we already love where this is headed.


Level Design

Revamping our entire demo level is no easy task, but there's no one better suited to take on the challenge than our talented Level Design team.

Over the past few weeks, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, has been carefully blocking out the revised version of the Dalamase, placing materials and detailing each level area to match the dark and whimsical concepts created by our Concept Art team.

Tiff naturally started with the initial level area you'll encounter in the demo—the very first Kristal Checkpoint of the game.

After getting the landscape materials and swamp assets laid out, Tiff then started adding vines and moss to the trees, strategically placing some glowing mushrooms, and establishing the right amount of ferns and additional plant life to help set the mood.

She also played around with the lighting and set up a cool fog material to amp up the fantasy aesthetic even further. Take a look at these stunning graphics that highlight just how much careful detail Tiff is putting into the new level.

Once she finished the Kristal Checkpoint area, Tiff then moved on to detailing additional level areas, adding in some of the abandoned houses and accompanying assets to create the various fishing villages of the Dalamase.

We especially love the double moons Tiff created and showed off in the video below. We think the presence of more than one moon helps highlight the fantasy vibe of planet Ailur.

What do you think of the new direction of the demo level? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, and stay tuned to future issues of the dev blog to see hat else Tiff whips up.

With Tiff working on the beginning portions of the Dalamase, the newest member of our Level Design team, Ian, got started on blocking out and detailing the underground Cave level area that's home to an important NPC featured in Kristala's storyline.

After the cave environment was established, Ian then went back through and started adding more details—like glowing crystals and the signature fog found material that can be found throughout the Dalamase.

Once the lighting and fog was in a good place, Ian then added in some smaller rocks and a few gorgeous, glowing mushrooms to create an alternative light source and ultimately help illuminate the cave's details.

We'll be varying the mushrooms a bit from the single instance that's featured in the videos below, so stay tuned for future updates.

Next, Ian added in a custom moth particle just outside the cave's entrance to help draw players near with these glowing, moving lights.

Pretty fitting for a game that features cat-like creatures, wouldn't you say?

In addition to working on the Dalamase, Ian started blocking out the next level area that follows: Nasahara.

Once a bustling mecca for Nisargan entertainment and trade, Nasahara was absolutely ravaged when the Mad Kota King's rebellion found its way to the city's streets.

The town was set ablaze, and its frightened denizens were forced to escape through the city's sewer system, fleeing the home they love in search of peace and safety.

Though Nasahara's streets were damaged, many of its buildings and structures remain standing to this day. Decades have now passed since Nasahara's tragic burning, and nature has slowly begun to reclaim what was once rightfully hers.

To highlight this, Ian worked with the spline tool in Unreal Engine to add vines, ferns, weeds, and other flora and foliage to the level.

Lastly, Ian played with the lighting and fog in Nasahara to give it the signature creep factor that will continue to be a theme throughout the entirety of Kristala.

If you're interested in learning more about how our Level Designers work their magic, tune into future issues of the dev blog to join our Patreon and discover how Tiff and Ian take a level from initial blocking to finishing details—and everything in between.



Last sprint, our talented Programming team was able to make some incredible improvements to the Kristala game build in UE4, including adjusting enemy behavior, establishing the warp system, and tweaking our Dodge functionality to be juuust right.

This sprint was no different.

To kick things off, Gameplay Programmer Andy continued working on the game's poison system functionality, ensuring that the poison no longer begins causing damage prior to reaching its max threshold.

Andy also improved the poison functionality for our spider enemies, implemented a hearing stimuli on the game's AI that allows them to hear players approaching from behind, and fixed a bug that caused enemies to scream non-stop under specific circumstances.

We're certain our testers are especially happy to have that last one addressed.

With Andy working on the poison system and perfecting enemy behavior, Gameplay Programmer Julian was able to work on adjusting our directional projectiles so that they're able to hit smaller and shorter enemies at close-range.

If you've ever had a chance to play existing builds of Kristala, you'll know how helpful this particular improvement will be when it comes to the aggravating, baby Gromphas bugs.

With the directional projectiles adjusted, Julian was then able to play around with creating zones and blends in Unreal Engine 4's Music Manager to make clean transitions between various music tracks within the game build.

Be sure to check out the Sound Design section of the dev blog for a sneak peek at some of the beautiful tunes that will be featured on the original soundtrack for Kristala.

To round out this sprint, Julian worked on a simple Backstab mechanic that will allow players to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and deliver a critical attack.

If you're a seasoned action RPG lover like us, then you already understand how necessary—and oh so satisfying—this particular mechanic can be. Stay tuned for an even more satisfying backstab mechanic in the future.

In addition to addressing some bugs we uncovered while watching a few of our favorite streamers play Kristala during the IWOCon digital convention, our third Gameplay Programmer, Rodrigo, was able to add some beautiful weapon trails to combat movements.

You can check out some in-depth walkthroughs of how our programmers do their thang—and some of the functionality they're working on for the Kristala demo boss we're currently keeping under wrpas—via our upcoming Patreon launch.


Rigging / Animation

Now that our dev team is growing and expanding, our Game Producer and former sole Rigger and Animator, Allie, was finding it more and more difficult to manage our entire team and lead all aspects of development without some additional help in the animation department.

Luckily, we recently added two new Animators, Klaus and Mario, to our team. This will allow Allie to remain focused on biz dev and sprint planning and execution while Klaus and Mario tackle our custom rigs and animations.

This sprint, Allie was still able to address a few animation tasks before handing everything over to our new team members. Here's a look at some animation tests she performed in Maya on a rat model that we'll be redoing to better match the Kotakaya cultural aesthetic.

Before he can dive right into full animation, Mario needed to first get comfortable using some of our rigs and animation programs.

He too started off this sprint by working on some test animations with the old Kota soldier rigs. You can see his work on attack, sniff, and idle test animations below.

Although he joined us near the end of our most recent sprint, our new Lead Rigger and Animator, Klaus, brings a ton of experience and talent to our team.

He's only just begun working with our models, but in the short time he'd been with us during the month of April, he was already able to rig up the largest variant of our old Kota soldier and get him lumbering about with this custom walk animation.

We'll have a ton of new animation-related content coming your way really soon, so be sure to tune in to future issues of the Kristala dev blog to learn how you can become a Patron, learn all about our animation team's process, and help support our development journey.


Events - Kristala Featured at Game Carnival 2021


Sound Design

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.


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


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