Hey there, gorgeous! Welcome back to another exciting issue of the Kristala Dev blog.
This is the place where we break down the development for 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG Kristala, an indie game currently in development by the talented team at women-owned indie games studios, Astral Clocktower Studios.
Here's how it works: each month, we share all the progress every branch of development has made as they collectively work towards completing Kristala's vertical slice—from stunning concept art and 3D models to custom animations, level design, and everything in between.
In conjunction with our biweekly Patreon updates, the dev blog is the only place where you can get detailed access to all things Kristala. We hope you enjoy this month's updates, and we appreciate you being here and supporting us along this journey.
As we move closer and closer to completing the vertical slice for Kristala, our dev team has been working hard to finish all the designs, models, and mechanics that will be featured in Dalamase, the level area that's featured in the slice.
One of the key mechanics that will make Kristala different from any other dark fantasy ARPG title is the unique Feline Skill Enhancement leveling tree that will allow you to acquire and level up on various skills related to being one of our feline-like Anagativa characters:
You'll be able to find various items throughout the game that can be cashed in towards acquiring skills on the Feline Skill Tree—like the below Tiger's Eye consumable items designed by one of our incredibly talented artists, James.
These pieces will vary in both shape and strength. The larger the stone is, the more impact it will have within the Skill Tree.
In addition to the Tiger's Eye consumables, James spent a bulk of this sprint working on concepts for all the custom visual effects we'll need for various items, spells, and special attacks for weapons.
James was also able to continue working on some of the clan-specific armor sets that will be featured in the game, like the following two sets specifically designed for the Myrtuna Clan, the spirit-summoning necromancers who dwell in planet Ailur's underground caverns.
Because of their unique relationship with death, the Myrtunan aesthetic is heavily influenced by spirit. Their armor is adorned with bones and other fragments from the bodies of clan members who have passed on as a way to honor those who have fallen in battle.
In contrast to the darkness portrayed by the Myrtunans, the fair-haired Lyumina clan's aesthetic is all about celebrating and seeking control over light.
Skilled Lyumina clan artisans known as lightcrafters carefully infuse armor and weaponry with the powerful magic contained within their Sacred Kristal, charging them with an intense electric energy that can be harnessed and discharged by the wearer or wielder as desired.
Here's a peek at the starting armor set for players who choose to begin Kristala as a member of this light-wielding clan.
You can see all the concepts James whipped up for our custom VFX—as well as a look at his redesign of the six sacred clan Kristals—by joining us over on Patreon, where we share even more exclusive concept art, 3D models, progress on new levels, and other juicy dev updates.
While James tackled consumables, VFX, and armor, one of our other artists, Harold, continued working on concepts for key environmental areas that will be featured in various levels in the Kristala game.
Each of the six clans has its own specified area within Anagativan territory. At the heart of each clan's designated area stands its capital city. No matter which clan you choose to play as, you'll begin at a starting point within your chosen clan's capital city.
Because the nature-magic wielding Nisargans are featured in our vertical slice, we had Harold work this sprint on creating key environmental snapshots of the Nisarga capital city, Nisar.
Here's a look at just some of the pieces Harold created this month, including the Blacksmith's shop and the stunning treehouse that will serve as the game's starting point for players who hail from the Nisarga clan.
Last up for our concept art updates this month is a peek at the redesign for the crab-like enemies that will be featured in Kristala's vertical slice: the Dalakin.
Because these creatures dwell within Nisarga clan territory, artist Amanda took care to ensure their concept design featured some unique, nature-inspired elements...like the stone, moss, and lichens you see featured on the Dalakin below.
Wanna see more of Amanda's work from this sprint? Join us as an official Kristala Patron to see her rendition of the Undead Anagativan enemies that will be featured in the game.
...Yes, you read that right: ZOMBIE. CATS.
Once our concept artists are done doin' their thang, they hand their designs over to our 3D Modelers, who then help bring the 2D designs to life in 3D form. They're responsible for capturing the essence of each concept and replicating individual details as closely as possible.
The modelers on our dev team are ridiculously talented and they do a damn good job of bringing our character, prop, and environmental concepts to life.
In our last issue, we showed off the progress one of our 3D Generalists, Bianca, had made on some of the Anagativan weapons that will be featured in game, like the Myrtunan Shiv you see pictured below.
This magic-imbued weapon is intended to look homemade as it was the chosen weapon of an Myrtunan prisoner who escaped confinement. Discovering and wielding the shiv in game will serve as the player's first encounter with the Myrtuna clan's malediction-based magic.
Now that we've seen Bianca's completed Shiv, let's take a look at some of the other weapon and shield designs our modeling team cranked out this month.
First up is a look at the progress 3D Generalist Joe made on the Nisargan Blight shield that can be found in the wilds of Dalamase, featuring an Anagativan skull surrounded by several pairs of clasped, clawed hands.
You'd be wise to seek out this particular shield when traversing the dangerous flora and fauna of Dalamase. Why? It possesses a high resistance to poison that just might help you stay alive a bit longer.
Another shield you'll be able to find in Dalamase is this Nisargan shield that one of our 3D Generalists, Karena, worked on this sprint.
Covered in Ailuran runes and inscriptions, it's imbued with the powerful nature magic contained within the Nisargan sacred Kristal shard, an eminence-based magic that calls upon the natural elements of planet Ailur to aid warriors in battle.
Here's a peek at Karena's work on this magic wooden and metal shield design.
Another artist working on weapons this sprint was 3D Generalist Nick, who took on the models for two twin blades that have some unique lore in the game.
Both the Venom Handscythe and Malignant Handscythe are each extremely powerful weapons on their own, but truly shine when wielded together.
Although the Venom Handscythe can be rather easily found in game, the Malignant Handscythe has been lost to the wilds of planet Ailur for decades. Each weapon has a truly unique special attack that will make quick work of any enemy you encounter.
If you can seek out and find the long-lost Malignant Handscythe and wield both blades at once, no beast or creature will be safe. Here's a peek at turnarounds for both of the Handscythes Nick was able to complete this sprint.
Next up in the realm of weapons and armor are two Nisargan blades crafted by our wonderful 3D Environmental Designer, Cass.
Although he'd already completed the base models and initial texturing for the Nisargan Impaler and Rosethorne Swords prior to this sprint, Cass spent some time this month further refining each design and finetuning its details.
Because our studio owners encourage a collaborative and engaging development atmosphere, they've established a peer review system that each concept, model, animation, and level must go through before it's considered complete.
Once a peer review for a 3D model is done, the original artist then goes back through and makes refinements before handing the finished piece off to our level designers for placement in the game build.
You can learn more about the criteria included in our overall peer review process by checking us out on Patreon for insights into how our studio is run.
In addition to refining the Rosethorne and Impaler, Cass shifted gears to create some custom boulders and rocks that will be used throughout the entirety of the game.
While it would be easy to simply use existing environmental pieces like rocks and trees from the Unreal Engine marketplace, it's important to us that the bulk of Kristala's assets are completely custom pieces that are created by our team.
To us, creating a game isn't fueled by a desire for money or fame or notoriety, but rather a deep-rooted passion for the art of game development and design. Our ultimate goal is to create a gameplay experience that feels completely individual and unique to players.
Here's a look at Cass's custom boulders in progress, followed by some additional 3D props and assets some of our other team members created this sprint.
As we mentioned above, Cass wasn't the only artist on our team to create custom props this sprint. One of our incredible 3D Generalists, Hassan, also spent some time working on some of the remaining props needed to fully detail the sprawling fishing villages of Dalamase.
Because of its ample waterways and aquatic passages, Dalamase was once a bustling conglomerate for fishing and trade. Though its villages now lie abandoned after Kotakayan forces laid siege to the land decades ago, remnants of Dalamase's roots still remain to this day.
Take a look at just some of the detailed boats, hooks, and poles Hassan created over the course of this month. You can see all of Hassan's designs—as well as get a deeper look into his process—when you join one of our three Patreon tiers.
In the realm of character design, our Lead 3D Artist, Fede, truly shines. Over the past few issues of the Kristala Dev Blog, we've been showing off the progress Fede's been making on designs for our Undead Kotakayan soldiers and their armor.
Covered in patches of sloughing fur and exposed flesh that peek out beneath shards of tarnished and aged armor that's embedded deep within its skin, this creepy creature is truly something horrifying to behold (but in, like, the best way ever).
Though truly intimidating, you might be surprised to learn that this bad boy is only the smallest version of what will ultimately be three variants of Undead Kota. We're saving the full reveal of this ratty baddie for our Patrons, but here's a little sneak peek to hold you over.
After knocking out this gnarly zombie boi, Fede then spent some time working on the material for our redesigned Twiggy enemies, adding a light coating of yellow pollen to the models that will slightly glow in game.
We thought this particular detail might be a great way to help illuminate these enemies in the nighttime lighting of our Dalamase level, especially since our Level Design team has recently adjusted the lighting in the entire level to really give it that creep factor.
While Fede worked on the Undead Kota and Twiggies, our Art Director, Pete, turned his focus towards completing the models for our fish-mage Gilsanka enemies and working on a redesign of one of our existing armor sets, the Ancient Angler set.
Before diving into those tasks, however, Pete first made a few adjustments to our female protagonist, a model he initially designed months ago to replace our old player character. While these new revisions are rather minute, you can see the improvements if you look closely at the Before and After shots featured below.
We think the thinner nose area in particular really helps give the character a daintier, more streamlined appearance. What do you think?
Over the past few Dev Blog issues, we've shared screenshots of Pete's progress on the model for our vertical slice mini-boss, Lophi the Lost—a magical fish transformed into a mutated, bipedal creature thanks to the curse that was unleashed on all of Ailur.
With Lophi's model complete, Pete then altered the colorways on the initial design to create several more variants of Gilsanka enemies that you'll find throughout the second half of Kristala's Dalamase level.
Here are two of the different texture variants Pete showed off this sprint. Join our Patreon to read one of the newest installments of The Sagas of Kristala, which details Lophi's tragic backstory.
In Issue #33 of the Kristala Dev Blog, we showed off Pete's base model for the new version of the game's Ancient Angler armor set. Forged by Fishertiva that used to dwell in Dalamase, the Angler set features lots of leather and fishing-related elements.
With the model complete, Pete spent the bulk of this sprint carefully texturing this set, which beautifully showcases his keen eye for detail. Every stitch of leather and fold of fabric is so carefully placed, and the Angler set has quickly become a favorite amongst our team.
You can behold the full Ancient Angler armor set in all its glory by becoming an official Kristala Patron, but here's a little preview just to get your blood flowin'. ;)
As we move towards completing the vertical slice for Kristala, our level designers have been focusing on combing through each level area of Dalamase to not only ensure all assets are properly placed and detailed, but that everything is streamlined and optimized too.
Two of the key areas of focus for our team during this finalization phase are ensuring the lighting and fog particles perfectly convey the eerie, nighttime, dark fantasy vibe we're going for in the game.
After tweaking the lighting in some of the Village areas you'll be able to explore in game, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, showed off some before and after pictures that highlight how the lighting appears now after adjusting the glow of the sky to rely more on ambient light.
Tiff also spent some time this sprint playing around with the particle effects for some of the torches that line various rock walls and passageways in Dalamase.
The fire from the torches now gives off a little flicker action to make it more dynamic and allow it to interact a bit more with the overall environment. The flames now appear to twinkle and dance as a light breeze blows through the dark pathways of Dalamase.
In addition to the above adjustments, Tiff also crossed off a bunch of other small tasks from her to-do list. Here's a rundown of just some of those items:
Fixed streaming volumes
Added foliage to cover incoming streaming levels and help guide the player towards the proper path of progression
Updated the moon material and resized the sky sphere
Adjusted Post Process Volume exposure to create more realism
Last up on Tiff's itinerary for this month was to tweak and adjust the fog particles throughout the Dalamase level to ensure they provide the right level of hazy creepiness while also allowing players to still be able to properly see while traversing the level.
By creating patches of fog (vs. layering the entire level with fog materials), the entirety of Dalamase now looks much more realistic and properly captures the perfect amount of nighttime eeriness for a fully immersive gameplay experience.
We can't wait to see what you think of the level environment while playing. Here are a few shots Tiff snagged after tweaking the fog.
With Tiff adjusting the lighting for the village areas of Dalamase, Level Designer Ian was able to focus on the Cave level area you'll be able to explore in game.
This area—which you'll need a special key hidden somewhere in Dalamase to open—is one of the only level areas in the vertical slice that is free from enemies. It's home to a special NPC we haven't revealed yet too...one who plays a very important role in Kristala's core storyline.
You can learn more about this secret character by joining us over on Patreon, but here's a look at how the cave is looking now after Ian spent some time playing around with lighting this month.
Beyond tweaking the cave lighting, Ian also adjusted the light coming from the horizon to join Tiff in working to amp up the nighttime vibe of the level and give it an additional element of realism.
With that task complete, Ian spent a majority of this sprint working on some special environmental scenes that will be included as part of a trailer we're currently preparing to show off all the exciting elements that you'll experience in Kristala.
We won't be sharing any screenshots or video of the trailer publicly (at least not until it's been officially released), but you can find a few juicy sneak peeks at Ian's over on our Patreon.
Before we dive into our Programming updates for this month, here's a little footage that shows off how our Dalamase level is looking following all the work Tiff and Ian put into the Kristala game build this month.
Stay tuned to future issues of the dev blog for more updates from our level design team.
Before we dive into the meat and 'taters of our programming updates this month, we'd like to take a moment to officially welcome our newest Gameplay Programmer, Federico, to the Kristala dev team:!
Though just getting familiarized with our code, Federico dove right into the game build to tackle some of the outstanding programming tasks we still need to complete before we can consider the slice done—like playing around with our footstep system and adding a particle spawn for testing.
In addition to implementing the visual element of the footstep system, Federico also adjusted the sound of the footsteps themselves so that they sound louder or softer depending on whether you're running, walking, or jogging in game.
This is obviously still a huge WIP, but we wanted to show off this clip Federico shared while working with the footstep system. We can't wait to see what else Federico brings to the table as he learns the ins and outs of Kristala's programming.
While Federico worked on the footstep system, one of our other gameplay programmers, Julian, worked on a bunch of outstanding tasks that still needed to be handled before we could consider the vertical slice complete, including:
Adjusting our casting animation/programming so that magic can be cast from a staff equipped in either the right or left hand
Refactored blueprints and fixed animation bugs
Updated the player character's general movement
Started implementing an IK Setup
If you aren't familiar with Unreal Engine or with programming, an IK Setup refers to Inverse Kinematics (IK), which provide a way to handle joint rotation from the location of an end-effector rather than via direct joint rotation.
In practice, an IK solution can be used to keep a character's feet planted on uneven ground to create more believable interactions with the surrounding world.
Here's a look at the IK Setup Julian implemented in action. You can see how the character's feet still look as they should, despite one foot being on a plane that's higher than the other.
With Federico and Julian working on aspects to make our character interact more believably with Ailur's environments, our Lead Gameplay Programmer, Rodrigo, worked with the game's menu systems and gameplay tutorial to address some outstanding tasks.
First, Rodrigo brought a bunch of updated weapon models (and their corresponding menu icons) into the Kristala game build to make them viable selections during gameplay.
He then implemented a new icon in our tutorial that depicts a shield/sword combo within a single icon; this icon is indicative of Julian's recent programming change that allows players to equip swords and shields in either the left or right-hand weapon slots.
Beyond the menu/tutorial updates, Rodrigo spent a large portion of time this month reviewing our damage system, solving bugs, implementing stats components in C++, and updating the Kristala project to Unreal Engine 4.27.
Rigging / Animation
With so many models for new enemies coming down the figurative production line, our animation team has been working overtime to ensure we have a vast selection of custom movements for each enemy.
As we mentioned before, creating Kristala with custom-made elements is super important to us, especially when it comes to animations. Smooth, quick combat is a cornerstone of any ARPG game, so it's vital that the combat in Kristala feels super believable.
For the past few weeks, our Lead Animator, Klaus, has been working on custom movements for our redesigned Twigativa enemies. Forged from branches and twigs from the Jhacanda trees that are native to Nisargan clan territory, these Twiggies are prevalent in Dalamase.
While many are incapable movement and simply stand sentry over the dark forests of the area, some magically come alive at random and attack.
With Klaus working on the Twiggy animations—as well as over 20 different static poses for the immobile, decoy Twiggies—our second Animator, Mario, was able to continue working on the custom movements for our creepy Spider and flea-like Gromphas enemies.
For the Spider, the only animation Mario had left to finish up was the jump attack animation he's been making improvements to in 3DSMax based on feedback and guidance from Klaus.
Now that all the custom movements for the Spiders are complete, they can be handed off to our programming team to be implemented in the Kristala game build.
With the Spider animations now complete, Mario continued working on the custom movements for our bug-like Gromphas enemies.
Another species native to Dalamase and mutated by the proximity of the curse that's befallen Ailur, these flea-like chompy boys may seem rather unassuming. Ruling them out as a threat, however, would be foolish as they possess a gland on their ample abdomens that omits a poisonous, deadly gas.
If you stumble upon a group of Gromphas enemies in game, you'd be wise to systematically attack from afar to avoid an untimely demise.
These Gromphas animations are still works in progress, but here's a look at Mario's progress on these poisonous creatures' attack, heavy stagger, and melee attack movements.
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.
Thus concludes another rousing and exciting installment of the Kristala Game Dev Blog! We couldn't be more excited to be inching closer and closer towards the deadline for our vertical slice, and it's such a pleasure having you along for the ride.
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, sweet creatures, an immense and resounding thank you for your continued support...and, as always, thanks for stopping by.
-The ACS Games Dev Team