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Nikolay Bondarenko from AurumDust discussed the production of art for the upcoming turn-based RPG Ash of Gods. The game will be available on Steam on March 23th.
We are a small team, mostly located in Russia. All of us have worked with games for a long time, with titles such as Aura 2: The Sacred Rings, Dead Reefs, Cradle of Magis, King’s Bounty, Royal Quest, GameNet platform, and many more. Our core team is Nikolay Bondarenko (the Studio Head), Dmitry Erokhin, Igor Podmogilnikov, Alex Bogomolets, and Max Fomichev. We are living proof that Slack and the ability to communicate effectively are enough to get the job done.
Ash of Gods
Well, this is one of the first things that I talked about in 2016. In 2007, I had an idea for a game – it focused on turn-based battles with card-style mechanics. Players would try to take control of ziggurat’s which granted the owner control over a region. There would be some simple moral choices at first which could result in a small profit now and big problems later, or abstinence and prosperity. A little later I found similar ideas in the books of Sergei Malitsky (the modern Russian fantasy writer). A few years later, I had the opportunity to give that idea a new life as Ash of Gods.
Populating the game
Now that we’re closer to the end of the project, that part doesn’t feel complicated at all. Our art director Igor now puts these scenes together in 1-3 days. When we first started, it would take us 2-3 weeks per scene and it was very difficult. Before we started working on the game, we wrote a book which the artists had to read to understand the characters and their stories.
As with the characters, the art process is built on a multitude of iterations – from the first step with a textual description of the scene to the first rough sketch that can be done in 1-2 hours. There are several stages of drawing that include painting and many go-overs with color correction, which are made by our environment artist Andrei Zherdev. If you consider the design – it is mainly the architecture and terrain of northern Italy and Spain, but the key reference, I repeat, is the text.
We always start working on combat scenes after all the landscape scenes have been drawn, allowing us to understand exactly what will happen and where. All fighting scenes are divided into two large parts – plot and random events. The latter is drawn to represent some abstract area on the map, where they can occur, such as forest and steppe, deserts, mountains or forest-steppe. The plot ones are strictly tied to the scenes of the environment and are also described in the text.
Yes, there are 54 full-height dialogue characters in the game. I think that the most difficult part is the face and, perhaps, a pose. Those took the most time and energy. As in the scenes, it all starts with a text description. Then comes a succession of reference photos from Pinterest with individual elements for clothing or color. We also use a couple of absolutely wonderful books – “Fashion in the Middle Ages” and “Medieval Fashions” to work with the clothes of characters. If you look at this video – here you can see the whole process from start to finish.
From the very beginning, we decided that we would spend no more than 3-4 days on a character in order to do everything in time. And, to the very end, we managed to observe this, well, except for 5-6 characters, which we painted for more than a week – these are the main characters and several complex NPCs. I also talked about this process here.
All the animation in the game can be conditionally divided into 3 groups: FX, character, and combat. With the first, everything is relatively simple – a text description, storyboarding and phasing FX by the animator. With a character as well, the key characters “get” the animation of the eyes, hair, clothing elements. Secondary characters only get the eye animation. Combat animation is the most difficult; it’s almost classical rotoscoping and a very long, complex and necessary process. In the game there are more than 30,000 frames carefully drawn and painted by hand – this is approximately 41 minutes of continuous animation. Mostly we used Harmony Toonboom and Flash / TvPaint.
The main team is comprised of 12 people. We periodically brought in different people and companies that helped us with the development of the game. From the management point of view, it’s classic Kanban (a scheduling app), based on Jira, and multichannel with a bunch of integration in Slack, bots that perform routine or control timelines and sound an alarm if something goes wrong. With that said, we still do have a mild autocracy 🙂 If we talk about the team that was engaged in the art – all this was done by 4 artists and 2 animators. If you want some advice, these are my five tips on how to stay organized and on task:
- Limit Creativity without stifling it, you have to know when to say “That’s good, stop there!”
- Set and observe deadlines at all costs
- Measure everything that can be measured – from time to audience response
- Never ask people to do what the machine can do (for example, mark time spent on the task)
- Never lie
We are very close to the PC release and we plan to have the game available on Steam on March 23th. The game’s page is already set up and you can add the game to your wish list. We also have some big plans for console and mobile platforms, so wait for some interesting announcements rather soon.