Everstar, in the form we have shown in the Kickstarter campaign, is a gameplay centric prototype meant to prove out various mechanical systems and production pipelines. What this means in English is that we built it to show that the full game can be built and to give us a full understanding of what it will cost us to build it.
It’s easy to see what we have done in Everstar and imagine that we are showing a final game – it definitely looks comparable to AAA games from 3 or 4 years ago. However this is only our prototype, an early look at working software. We wanted to show everyone the early game in motion (instead of just concept art and a few paragraphs), so that a pledge to Everstar would be a pledge with confidence. Once we start focusing on the graphical look and feel then Everstar will really start to look sweet!
This update we wanted to give you a look at where we came from in developing our visual style, and where we are going with Everstar.
Finding the Character Style
We did some interesting character style exploration early on to get a feel for how our characters would look. We avoided a photo-realistic approach because we wanted to transport the players to a new and magical land, and really open up the possibilities for expressiveness and emotion without trundling through the uncanny valley.
We began with some pie-in-the-sky character sketches that exhibited an array of proportions and outfits:
Using these characters as a touchstone we quickly identified what we liked and what we didn't. This helped us determine the form our student characters would take. For example, we decided the short and stubby anime proportions were a non-starter (G, H), while certain flourishes like extravagant hair (I, A), layered clothing (E, B, L), and clear readable expressions (E, A, L) are good for the game.
Next we zeroed in on the first character to build out; we chose three of them as a starting point to be modified given the general feedback on style – we chose A, D, and L.
From here we integrated some gameplay considerations: we wanted to build out a Stalwart character first (Stalwart is an in-game job that lets characters specialize in sword & shield), and we wanted to see a male and female version (since in our game ANY of your characters can potentially become a Stalwart).
Based on that approach we chose to run with the female character and to develop her into the Tessa character, and our first prototype character. Here's an early version of Tessa:
From here we began to experiment with the target character rendering style. Tessa was our guinea pig, and given what we liked and didn't like about the earlier concept, we were able to create an array of cool looking Tessa’s all done up in different styles:
We really liked the comic book style of B, but since the roots of our game are not in comics it really didn't make much sense. The Disney styling of E was also rejected early on, as we felt it would turn away some older gamers who might otherwise get into our coming-of-age fantasy game. F was popular for good reason, it’s a cool style that walks the edge between realistic and stylized – ultimately we felt we couldn’t pull it off to quality with our small team – and, in motion, it would likely fall into the ‘uncanny valley’ without a ton of work.
It’s fun to imagine what the game would look like with the construction paper aesthetic of A, or the vinyl toy quality of C – ultimately though everyone kept gravitating to D, and that slightly exaggerated, wonderfully silhouetted version of Tessa is the one that we ran with.
The next step was to draw up a model sheet, a series of images that Anwar could use to sculpt out the 3D Tessa and then apply color and material to her.
Tessa was our first 3D character to make it into the game. Our first pass on the model is what you see in the prototype – with Fryda Wolff voicing her in a cute Granin accent (modeled after the charming Tennessee affectation).
The Clanroots, as our first creature, went through a similar (but much less arduous process). Creatures are always fun to make, and imperfections or strange proportions just add to their monstrous-ness as opposed to human characters who just end up looking strange. We started with a wide set of shark and dinosaur hybrids, with a variety of proportions and features:
Soon after we arrived at a final design and coloration:
Followed by a model sheet. Note that the creature model sheets don't require as much detail, since there is plenty of room for the 3D Character Artist (Anwar in this case) to add his own touches and flourishes:
Tessa and the others have a ways to go before reaching our art target. The texture and shading detail will be enhanced to closer match the concepts, and their faces will be reworked given what we learned in building our facial animation system, so that all the facial expressions will be cleaner, more expressive, and will sync better with dialog.
Believe it! We will make this even cooler
Fluid and properly weighted character animations are integral to any modern game. The animations in our prototype are functional but not pretty – again this is just an indicator of where we are in development. Most of these animations are either from an animation library or were created by our gameplay designer!
One example of a polished animation is the VaDraug summoning sequence, specifically the shot where he climbs out of a magic pit and rears back in anger. All the character animations will be of similar quality in the final game.
General Art Style Notes
The adults featured in the prototype are completely placeholder models. We are working to create a distinct adult character styling that fits in the Everstar world. More to come on that later!
Don't worry Frederick, we'll still love you after your make over
We are planning to experiment with Unity 5’s Global Illumination and to tweak and polish the Marmoset character shaders currently in use. This means that the overall rendering look, lighting, and detail in the game world should improve dramatically before launch. The characters will “pop” more in gameplay, and look richer in the cinematics.
The environment art style will perhaps see the greatest changes between the prototype and final game, and will impart a unique visual style to the whole Everstar experience.
The prototype environment has rich colors but no real style
An artist named Eyvind Earle is our major inspiration for the Everstar world style. Eyvind’s work hit the mainstream when he did the styling and background art for Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” His work has a fanciful, evocative sense that speaks for itself – in case you are curious here are links to a few of his works that have most inspired us:
We hope you've enjoyed this look into the past, present, and future of the Everstar art styling! It's been a challenge trying to raise above the holiday buzz in the gaming press, but we are starting to see some cool coverage, such as this interview over at RPGamer:
...and this one over at RPG Watch:
Big thanks to Michael at RPGamer and CouchPotato at RPG Watch for believing in our game! And to all of you who have pledged your support, thanks so much for keeping the dream alive :)
The Everstar Team