Well hello there, gorgeous creature! We're so happy you're joining us for another epically magical installment of the Kristala Dev Blog! If you're new 'round these parts, let us help you get properly acquainted...
This is the place where we break down all aspects of development for 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG Kristala—an indie game in developed by the wildly talented dev team behind women-owned indie games studio, Astral Clocktower Studios.
When we last met, we shared some exciting updates from our time exhibiting at Play NYC 2021, and shared all the work that went into ensuring the exclusive build we prepared for the convention was in tip-top shape and ready to be played.
Since then, we've been laser-focused on our next big milestone: completing the entire vertical slice for Kristala. ...Which means we're inching closer and closer to the official release of the game's demo too. YAY!
As you can imagine, this month was quite a busy one, so let's dive right in to what each branch of development for Kristala has been up to since our last chat.
Now that our concept art team has nearly completed the designs for all existing assets and items in the Kristala build that needed to be replaced with fresh assets, they're now able to move on to creating brand new items that don't yet have 3D counterparts.
If you're a big lover of fantasy games (and we're betting you are!), you likely already know that no Dark Fantasy Action RPG game is complete without a vast array of armor sets....and Kristala is certainly no different.
In fact, our six clans of Anagativa will each have dozens of intricate sets of armor that incorporate the primary color schemes, environmental materials, and general details that encompass each clan's unique and rich aesthetic.
This sprint, concept artist James started chipping away at creating some base armor concepts for each clan, starting with the nature-loving Nisargans.
Because the Nisarga clan dwells within planet Ailur's vast, forested lands, their armor typically features a stunning array of vibrant, green hues and warm shades of brown. Their leather armor is often decorated with twisting vines, animal imagery, preserved flowers, and other natural craftsmanship.
In stark contrast to the Nisargan aesthetic that celebrates the enchanting beauty of Mother Ailur, the Myrtunan aesthetic perfectly captures the mystery of this clan of necromancers' communion with the spirit world.
For a Myrtunan, death is not a macabre ending but rather an anticipated beginning. Death is simply another state of existence, and when a Myrtunan leaves her Ailuran body behind, the occasion is often marked by a raucous, days-long celebration.
In fact, it isn't unusual for Myrtunan warriors to adorn their armor with bones from loved ones who have passed on to the next realm. Doing so, they believe, imbues the armor with the spirit and strength of those who no longer dwell in the living world.
It's true that members of the Myrtuna clan are widely regarded as some of Ailur's most mysterious Anagativa, but no clan is more perplexing and mystifying than the desert-dwelling Sykomanans.
Masters of telekinesis, telepathy, and other matters of the mind, the Sykomana are the only breed of Anagativa that have no fur on their bodies. Perhaps a strange evolvement for creatures that live in an environment that provides little protection from the harsh sun, and yet still this clan has found a way to thrive.
Sykomanan metalsmiths tumble the gritty desert sand to create a smooth, hardened metal for for use in armor. Highly disciplined mages known as gold augers use their unique psychic skills to transform gold from a soft, pliable metal to a rock-hard, razor sharp material.
For this reason, golden weapons and pieces of armor are distinctly Sykomanan, and you won't find this precious metal within the other five clans' aesthetic.
Just as sun and sand reign supreme in Sykomana clan territory, snow and ice are the predominant elements found in the vast tundras of Tandara clan land.
The Anagativa that dwell in this frigid, harsh environment are thus covered in long, sleek fur to protect them from the bitter cold. Similarly, their clothing and armor is comprised of layered furs and skins, sourced primarily from the native Gelba—large caribou-like creatures—that thrive in this frigid environment.
Tandaran armorsmiths also avoid using metal in their craft, as it tends to amplify the cold air. Instead, fixtures or fastenings are crafted from native wood, antler, or bone.
If you'd like to learn more about each clan and see even more of James's impressive armor concepts, join us as an official Kristala patron.
With James taking over as our resident armor aficionado, artist Harold continued working on bringing the Nisargan capital city of Nisar to life via his gorgeous environmental concepts.
Harold's first piece this sprint was a snapshot of one of the many lush courtyards that can be found in Nisar's city proper, featuring a stunning statue of Atreus Stone, the leader of the revered Raksaka warriors in present day Ailur.
Although all Raksaka are required to forego their clan affiliation upon successfully completing the Raksaka Proving, there's an immense sense of pride in the achievement—a pride their former clan members don.
Unsurprisingly, no amount of pride is greater than the pride the Nisargans feel knowing the leader of the Raksaka hails from their forested lands. Many hopeful Kristalans regularly visit Atreus Stone's statue to pay their respects in the hope of becoming the next Chosen Warrior to take on the Proving.
Another keystone of the great city of Nisar is the stunning Kristal Cave that houses and protects the Nisarga clan's emerald shard of the ancient Sacred Kristal.
In addition to rapidly evolving the Anagativa into the sapient, intelligent creatures they are today, the Kristals are also the source of the powerful magic the six clans wield.
Because of this, the Kristals are widely coveted by other Ailuran creatures—primarily the rodent-like Kotakaya—and must be protected at all times. Thus, the Nisargans keep their shard of the Kristal deep within the depths of the Kristal Cave, which is always guarded too.
The effects of the powerful nature magic housed within the Nisargan Kristal has, over time, had a profound effect on the Kristal Cave's hollow interior, transforming it into a bright and vibrant grotto blanketed in glowing fungi and an iridescent, crystalline shimmer.
The third area within Nisar that Harold worked on this sprint was the treehouse dwelling that will serve as both the Nisargan player character's abode, as well as the starting point for the player in the Kristala demo.
While you can only play as the Nisargan female protagonist in the demo itself, you'll be able to play as a warrior hailing from any of the six clans in the full version of the game. Each clan's capital city will have its own unique starting point.
Stay tuned to future issues of the Kristala dev blog to see even more environmental concepts of Nisar, including the Blacksmith's workshop, the combat training yard, and snapshots of other treehouse dwellings you'll be able to explore.
With armor and environmental concepts covered, our third artist, Nicholas, continued working on the concept for Brutus the Blacksmith who will assist you with garnering weapons and training for combat during gameplay.
In our last issue, we showed off Nicholas's progress on the details he's added to give this NPC the signature Keozan look. An exotic breed of Anagativa that dwells on Ailur's remote, volcanic islands, the Keozans are known for producing some of the strongest armor and sharpest weaponry that exists on Ailur.
This sprint, Nicholas worked on adjusting the Keoza clan crest on Brutus's apron—an insignia that features a large anvil and massive hammer—to ensure the crest was easily visible and recognizable.
You can see the three options Nicholas shared with our team below. We ultimately ended up choosing the first option to include on the character in game.
With our art team working ahead on fresh concepts, our 3D modelers have been sifting through our existing concepts to get started on transforming the 2D designs into 3D form.
In the August issue of the Kristala dev blog, we showed off the concept for a special amulet that will play a key role in Kristala's core storyline. This gorgeous, stark-blue stone encased in woven threads of Jhacanda tree bark will appear in both in-tact and broken forms during gameplay.
This month, one of our talented 3D Generalists, Bianca, worked on bringing both versions of the amulet to life. Here's a reminder of this asset's concept, followed by an in-progress turnaround and a snapshot of the finished piece.
Want to know more about the role the amulet plays in game? Join our Patreon to receive exclusive narrative details and tidbits of lore you won't find anywhere else.
With the model for the amulet prop completed, Bianca then worked on designs for the three variants of Nisargan magic staffs that will be found in game, as well as the model for a magical, Myrtunan shiv weapon.
The green crystal featured on the staff helps indicate that it's a Nisarga clan weapon, and the purple details on the shiv make it distinctly Myrtunan.
We've specifically designed the six clans of Kristala in this way—each with its own set of unique signature colors—to help players discern from which clan various weapons and armor sets have originated.
Bianca wasn't the only modeler working on props this sprint. One of our other 3D Generalists, Hassan, also spent some time knocking out a few pieces that will be found throughout the game, including disturbed graves and a gorgeous quill and inkwell pair.
We showed off Hassan's initial work on the model for the disturbed grave in our last issue, and you can see the updates he added this month in the first screenshot below.
Naturally, these environmental pieces will be found next to various headstones within the Graveyard level area we're currently working on detailing in Unreal Engine, but you'll have to wait until you play to find out who—or what—is actually doing the disturbing.
In addition to the assets above, Hassan also worked on creating new 3D models for the various potion consumables you'll find in Ailur. Each potion we've showed off below has a very specific effect on gameplay:
Champagne Potion: Refills your Eminence Mana bar
Red Potion: Refills your Health bar
Violet Potion: Refills your Malediction Mana bar
Green Potion: Cures poisoning
Much like Bianca and Hassan, our 3D Environmental Artist, Cass, has been working through a list of props to create based on concepts from our art team (like the fishing lamps and angler nets we showed off last issue).
This sprint, Cass completed his list of props before moving on to some seriously cool weapon designs. Before we get to those though, here are a few turnarounds showing off Cass's angler nets and rusty and broken gates.
You can also see some cool shots below of a few of the Nisargan rugs that will be placed in the various tree houses and dwellings that pockmark all of Nisarga clan territory.
And now...it's weapon time! We know how much Cass loves to create intricate weaponry, so we were super excited to see his renditions of some of the unique Nisargan blades you'll be able to wield in game.
Both the Nisargan Impaler and Rosethorne swords Cass worked on this sprint will be available to you in the Kristala demo.
When wielded, each magic blade omits an AoE special attack that momentarily paralyzes unsuspecting enemies and provides a brief window of time during which to strike and kill.
Cass isn't quite finished with the designs for these impressive blades just yet, but check out his progress on the Rosethorne and Impaler so far.
As you battle your way through the Kristala game, you'll undoubtedly stumble upon various gates and doors that prove to be locked when you attempt to pass through. To proceed, you'll need to seek out the individual keys that fit each lock and grant you entrance.
This sprint, 3D Generalist Joe worked on modeling the various keys that will need to be found in the Kristala demo, including a few gate keys and a unique key to a special cave level area.
We love how intricate and detailed the keys pictured below are—especially the one that features an Anagativan skull with glowing, green eyes.
Speaking of skulls, Joe was able to model another skull-adorned asset this sprint in addition to the keys: the stunning Nisargan Blight Shield.
A treasure of the Dalamase region, the Blight Shield was forged by native Nisargans to absorb the most virulent attributes of the poison contained within the area's deadly flora and fauna. Wielding this shield in game will provide a resistance to this poison that just might end up saving your life.
As you can see below, this intricate piece features a series of interwoven Anagativan hands clasped around an eerie green center that encases another Ana skull. Joe is still making further revisions to this piece, so stay tuned to future issues of the dev blog for updates.
Although many of Dalamase's natural plants and foliage can be downright deadly, some elements found in the series of abandoned fishing villages can greatly aid you on your journey.
One such item is an equippable fungus called Bioshroominescence. As its name suggests, this radiant, cerulean mushroom can be found in game and equipped to your character as an additional light source.
One of our awesome 3D Generalists, Karena, has been working on this item for the past several weeks, finetuning its model and adding careful details...like the leather stitching on its strap and the intricate markings on its cap.
With the model nearly completed, Karena then started playing with the actual glow of the item, testing out whether the source of the light should come from the top of the mushroom's cap or from underneath the cap where the fungus's gills are.
We ultimately ended up deciding to have the luminosity originate from the top of the cap so that the item will function as a sort of natural flashlight.
Here's a look at both versions of the glow test, followed by a shot of some similar-looking fungi Karena modeled that will be placed throughout Dalamase, either on the ground or attached to various boulders and walls.
Last up on our list of props for this sprint are some seriously stunning Kotakayan weapons designed by another one of our talented 3D Generalists, Nick. In addition to Cass, Nick has often been our go-to artist for whipping up impressive weapon models.
If you're familiar with some of Kristala's backstory and lore, you may already know that the general aesthetic for our rodent-like Kotakayans takes inspiration from a sort of mechanical, steampunk vibe, which you can definitely see in the weapons Nick designed below.
Adorned with tons of bronze gears, tubes, sprogs, and bolts, these blades will be wielded by the hordes of Kota soldiers and officers you'll be battling in game.
With most of the modeling team working through environmental assets and props, our 3D Modeling Lead, Fede, continued working through his list of custom enemy models that will be featured in Kristala.
We showed off the very start of the undead Kota soldiers Fede was able to begin in our last issue of the dev blog. These gnarly zombie baddies are the smallest of what will ultimately be three different Undead soldier variants.
After nailing the base model for this beast, Fede then brought the rat in engine to begin tweaking the hair shading and playing around with hair cards to create random tufts and patches of fur. Check it out!
Last up for our 3D modeling updates is a look at the details our Art Director, Pete, has been adding to our Gilsanka fish mage mini-boss, Lophi the Lost.
Known as the Lost Child of the Dalamase, Lophi was once just a mere water-dwelling creature similar to the fish we see on our own planet Earth.
Naturally imbued with their own special brand of magic, the Gilsanka became land-dwelling, two-legged creatures once the terrible curse made its way to the shores of the Dalamase and evolved them into the mutated enemies they are today.
Part of your journey in Kristala will include figuring out who's behind this terrible sickness that's befallen planet Ailur and transformed its creatures into hideous, murderous beasts.
With Lophi's model and textures nearly complete, Pete spent the first half of this sprint finetuning this beasty baddie's details and adding some additional flare to the character's fins and spines.
Here's a look at some comparisons between the initial model vs. the further embellished version of Lophi. You can read more about Lophi's history by joining us on Patreon and checking out the newest installment in The Sagas of Kristala.
With Lophi finally complete, Pete then began work on the redesign for one of the armor sets that will be featured in the Kristala game—the Ancient Angler armor set.
Although Dalamase—the first level area in Nisargan clan territory—is now abandoned, it was once a series of bustling fishing villages. Back then, it was surrounded by lush, forested lands that were home to dozens of Fishertiva who made quite a lucrative living from catching and selling fresh fish from the area's ample waterways.
The Ancient Angler armor set is thus adorned with nets, hooks, and lures, as well as a unique angler's helmet, that help give it its name.
Here's a look at Pete's initial blocking and detailing on this beautiful set. Stay tuned to future issues of the Kristala Dev Blog to see how this model progresses.
With our exhibition at the Play NYC convention now behind us, our level design team was able to return to adjusting some of the remaining minor details that still needed to be addressed in our Dalamase demo level, such as lighting and visibility.
In addition to fixing some lighting errors and searching for any lighting-related issues that could be causing FPS drops, our level designers began overhauling the lighting in the entire Dalamase level to give it a much darker, more nighttime feel.
To do so, our Lead Level Designer, Tiffany, started by decreasing the direct light intensity and adding more ambient lights, such as lanterns, torches, glowing fungi, and firefly particles.
With the overhead lighting decreased, however, we needed to come up with a clever way to ensure our player character could still easily be seen at all times, especially during combat and when traversing through the darkest areas of the level.
To accomplish this, Tiff added a slight glow to the outline of the character to give her some subtle contrast to the dark surroundings and environment. This way, you'll be able to easily see every swing of a sword and flick of a magic stave.
Here are some screenshots so you can see how effective the solution Tiff came up with is.
Once we'd settled on addressing the lighting to make it look more like an unsettling nighttime scene, it was all hands on deck. Level Designer Ian also jumped in the game build to assist Tiff with tweaking the level's lighting settings and amping up the ambient light.
In particular, Ian added more wooden lamp posts and crystal lights to Dalamase, carefully adjusting each one to ensure it gave off the proper intensity needed to make an impact on overall visibility.
Once he'd addressed the lighting for the "open air" level areas within Dalamase, Ian then turned his focus towards our crystal cave level area.
He realized we'd been a little too generous with placing glowing mushroom assets throughout the level, to the point where they'd almost become more of a distraction vs. an enhancement.
To address this, Ian combed back over the cave and deleted a bunch of the glowing fungi, replacing them with non-glow variants. He also decreased the overall amount of mushrooms in general to make the area look more realistic and natural.
Now the crystal cave is free of lighting issues and the glowing shrooms guide players to the proper path of progression and towards important zones in the cave. Additionally, the gap issue you can see at the end of the video below is now fixed too. Take a look!
After adjusting the lighting, Ian then shifted gears to work on addressing some of the minor level-streaming issues we'd pinpointed during playtesting at the Play NYC game convention.
In particular, there were a few level areas that seemed to be at the root of the issues, causing assets to load in more slowly than the character's entrance into various creepy pathways, spooky nooks, and eerie crannies.
Here's a look at some of the issues in action, followed by a clip Ian snagged after fixing one of the "problem child" areas.
Following our exhibition at Play NYC, our programming team had a ton of minor issues to address, including adjustments to our camera system and fixes to our tutorial prompts and menu systems.
First on the list of adjustments, however, was implementing a few tweaks to the boundary area for our mini-boss arena and to the fog wall that prevents players from proceeding to the arena until an action is completed.
You can see the fog wall in action below, followed by a video our programmers captured to show off the boss arena boundaries.
Next up to address? An issue that randomly started appearing that was preventing our player character from visually reacting to any hits she received, which you can see highlighted in the clip shown below.
To fix the bug, one of our Gameplay Programmers, Julian, modified the root blending in the character's animation montages. He then made some other animation-related adjustments to our Blueprints in Unreal Engine, including:
Polishing the way items are consumed and spells are cast
Bringing the new model for our Leech enemy into UE4 and transferring the stand-in Leech's AI to the new version
Fixing blending for dodging, combat, and miscellaneous actions.
Updating root blending for casting (directional and non-directional), as well as for slashing.
Adding the logic for charged heavy attacks. Also fixed logic error in the code
Implementing sprint attack animations, changing walk animations, and correcting dash rotation issues
Next, Julian worked with our Lead Rigger/Animator, Klaus, to make some serious adjustments to our camera system that now allow the camera to hone in on and push out from enemies at various times during combat.
These changes give Kristala's combat a much more immersive and lifelike aspect, making you feel as if you're really in the thick of battle when playing.
Here are a few clips to show off some of these camera adjustments. What do you think?
With Julian addressing camera adjustments and animation programming, our Lead Gameplay Programmer, Rodrigo, was able to work on troubleshooting a bunch of the bugs that popped up after Play NYC, like adjustments to our game-start tutorial.
Rodrigo also worked on establishing a character spawner system, assisted with updates to the way our fog wall functions in game, added some prompts to our Main Menu screen, and addressed an issue that was granting players nearly infinite XP in our Level Stats menu.
Rigging / Animation
Over the past few weeks, our Animation team has been working hard to replace a bunch of our existing, stand-in animations—for both our player character and all our enemy NPCs—with custom movements crafted in 3DSMax.
Our Lead Rigger and Animator, Klaus, has taken on the task of creating all the original animations for our player character, while our second Animator, Mario, has been working through the movements for the enemies you'll see featured in the Kristala demo.
This sprint, Klaus was able to make some impressive progress on a ton of the animations still needed for our female main character, including:
Magic staff pivot animation
Projectile cast animation
Earthquake Spell cast animation
Select staff and shield animations
Strafe walk and run animations
Charged attack animations
Longsword sprint attack animation
Receive damage animations (staggers and directional knockdowns)
New walk cycle animation to fetter fit blending
In addition to working on his own animations for the player character, Klaus also helped guide Mario on which adjustments to make to the individual animations for our Leech and Spider enemies. Both enemy models and their animations will soon be brought into UE4.
The following is a list of the custom movements Mario was able to work through in 3DSMax over the course of the past few weeks:
Heavy/Light Melee Attack animations
Spit Projectile animation
Rise and Rise-Off animations
Once Mario implemented the revisions and adjustments to the custom movements for the Leech enemy, he then worked on finessing the original animations for the three gnarly Spider enemies you'll be battling in various level areas of Kristala.
The Spider movements proved to be particularly intricate due to the number of legs spiders have and the way they tend to move at different moments in time during even a simple walk cycle.
Luckily though, Mario's keen eye combined with Klaus's careful guidance ultimately ended up making quick work of these creepy crawlies' jump, jump attack, and melee attack animations. Here are a few clips Mario snagged while showing off his work.
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