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Developing Visuals for Deck-Building Roguelike Tamarak Trail

Yarrow Games told us about the development process behind Tamarak Trail, showed early concepts of the game, and explained how characters, VFX, and environments are made. 


Tamarak Trail is our studio’s first project, although Piotr, Michael, and Lynden had worked together previously. The studio is technically based in Ontario, Canada. However, our team comes from Canada, Poland, the United States, France, and Belarus. 

Our team consists of:

  • Piotr Lipert - Coding, Game Design, Team Manager
  • Yvan Bladet - programmer, handyman
  • Michael Noble - Composer, SFX
  • Alyxandra Guevara - Music Producer
  • Aleksandra Czachor (Ola) - Game Design, Lead Organizer
  • Joanna Michalska (Asia) - Dice Art/UI Art/Art
  • Kiryl Zub - Junior Developer
  • Sawa Białczyńska-Lipert - Art
  • Maciej Miszczyk - Game Design
  • Lynden Joudrey - Art Direction, Animation, Art 

We also are fortunate to have many wonderful musicians that appear on our soundtrack. 

Tamarak Trail

The initial concept combined the idea for a dice-based roguelite, an illustrative art style, and a musical vision. Somehow these three elements came together and felt like a cohesive project from the start. The name draws inspiration from a quaint nature trail located in Timmins, Ontario – Tamarack Trail. Our aim is to immerse the players in a world that is both enchanting and perilous.

Early music:

Early dice art concepts:

Early character concept

Early game prototype

Early outline for the Ghost Cult Area

Art Style

We aimed to capture the aesthetic reminiscent of old illustrations like that of Ivan Bilibin as well as the paintings of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven (Canadian landscape painters from the early 20th century). There is a certain warmth and timelessness in their art that we felt would translate well into a tactile dice-based game. 

We don’t have anything against automation and AI, but going 2D for the visuals – with the exception of the dice – felt right for this project. 

Asia: The most difficult part of working on ability icons is coming up with ideas. I once asked ChatGPT to come up with an idea for a particularly tough ability. Here’s what it came up with, along with the goofy sketch I made based on it. Suffice it to say that ended up being the only time I used AI for the project.

Character Creation

Here is a breakdown of the idle animation of the Ghost Trio – an enemy you will encounter in the Teapot Cult Area. The concept was to have ghosts make elaborate costumes to make themselves appear scarier. 

The process starts with a sketch to the final image in Photoshop. The final image is then cut into pieces to be animated in After Effects. I have a rough idea of what I want to achieve in the animation at this point and try to plan accordingly. 

Once in After Effects, the character is animated in different stages depending on the specific effect we aim to achieve. For instance, with the Ghost Trio, it was crucial to maintain separate transparent layers for the ghostly elements. Therefore, those components were animated independently from the puppet that the ghosts carry. I’ve outlined the effects used in the video, but the glow effect does a lot of the heavy lifting for the ghost characters.

Finally, the animations are exported as PNGs and assembled as sprite sheets in Photoshop. Once this process is complete, they are fully prepared for implementation within Unity 3D, where they will be set in motion.

Visual Effects

During the later stages of development, we realized that our visual feedback was insufficient, prompting us to incorporate additional visual effects. It was Steve Escalante, representing our publisher Versus Evil that suggested we use our dice art as inspiration for visual effects. The dice art – created by Asia – contains a lot of animals and beautiful designs, so we try to capture that in the effects. 

Here is a breakdown of an effect for our Magician character:

A simple animation is created in Photoshop frame-by-frame. This method is used for nearly all of the effects, including dust, explosions, and flames. We believe this gives our effects a unique look that is consistent with the rest of the art style. While this process can be time-consuming, we maximize efficiency by reusing these animations in various contexts. For example, a dust cloud animation can be repurposed as a puff of smoke or a poisonous cloud.

The frames are then brought into After Effects and adjusted to fit the desired look. We’ve outlined some of the common effects used in the video. 

Once we’re happy with the look, the frames are exported, put into sprite sheets, and brought into Unity 3D. We make small adjustments to color, transparency, and size in Unity to make the effects look nice with the rest of the assets. 


The environments were inspired by the wilderness of Northern Ontario, particularly in the autumn. We took thousands of reference pictures across many Provincial Parks in Ontario for reference. The atmosphere found within these forests is truly magical, and our aim was to imbue our game with a glimpse of that captivating essence. 

A. Y. Jackson Park in the fall, Northern Ontario

The environments were created by combining different forest layers to achieve the look in the game. While the number of layers may appear abundant, they serve a purpose by creating captivating parallax effects during key moments in the gameplay, making the effort worthwhile. Here is a breakdown of the layers in one of our combat scenes:


Piotr: Making UI with 3D and 2D elements work. At first, we stacked cameras with different renderers on top of each other, and the whole system was built around it. Sometime later we had to upgrade Unity to accommodate porting and the whole feature was removed. We had to rebuild the UI entirely from scratch, which proved to be a daunting process in the midst of development, consuming a significant amount of time.

To address this setback, we wrote new shaders specifically designed to render 3D elements. Additionally, we opted for a unified lighting approach, utilizing one type of lighting for all elements of our project.

Yarrow Games, Game Developer

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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