#IWOCon Dev Talk: Kristala
Kristala is a 3D Dark Fantasy Action RPG that transports you into the role of a sentient, anthropomorphic feline warrior who must master the six magic specialties of the ancient Sacred Crystal in order to become a famed Raksaka warrior.
Astral Clocktower Studios is a female-owned independent game development studio based in Central PA, USA. Born from the passion of three fantasy fanatics and animal-loving gaming gurus, the studio set out to create a title that effortlessly combines the heart-racing thrill of fierce combat with the epic wonder and imagination of saga-driven lore. Backed by the creativity and talent of a dev team whose members are 50% female, ACS aims to use its diverse, collective voice to bring something new and fresh—but still deliciously tasty—to the indie gaming community.
Q: Looking back, how has your project changed/evolved since the idea was first conceived?
If you took the time to scroll back through our social accounts or peruse early issues of our monthly dev blog, you’d literally be able to see the drastic changes that Kristala has taken over the past two and a half years. When we first started out, Kristala looked vastly different than the dark fantasy ARPG it’s morphed into today—from the characters and concept art to the game mechanics and main storyline.
When we first started brainstorming for the game, we imagined it taking on more of a cheeky and pun-laden tone—with feline-like characters called Purrsons traveling to Meownt Catnip and battling a boss named Mr. Cheese who uses his noxious flatulence to deal damage during combat, for example. In comparison, our sleek, sophisticated Anagativa warriors must now journey to the sacred mountain of the revered and elite Raksaka Warriors while using the magic of the Sacred Crystals to battle the rodent-like Kotakaya who are armed with razor-sharp teeth and blades. We’ve seen a lot of games featuring cat characters that are cute and funny and silly, but we’ve never seen a game that features anthropomorphic felines as the protagonists of a serious, combat-heavy, story-centric game. Our goal is to bring something unique and fresh to the community with Kristala—something that’s never quite been done the way we’re doing it.
We really hope the rest of the world falls in love with Kristala just as much as we have.
Q: What is something that makes your game unique?
Since the beginning of development for Kristala, we’ve kept the idea of replayability top of mind. Because of this, we designed the game and its story in a unique way that allows players to really connect with and relate to many of the characters, themes, and storylines we’ve baked into this baby. Not only will players be able to relate with the magic-wielding, feline-like Anagativa or the steampunk-inspired, rodent-like Kotakaya, they’ll also connect with several sub-groups of each that have their own individual traits and characteristics—from a clan of necromancers gifted in the art of foresight to a faction of knowledge-seeking Kota willing to defy their own race for the greater good of the world. Because our player characters are divided into six individual clans—each with its own unique magic specialty and abilities—the options for leveling up and customizing your character are nearly endless. From the physical look of your character to the specific class and clan you choose, you’ll get a different gameplay experience every time. Plus, our characters are anthropomorphic felines, which means players will be able to level up even further using a completely unique Feline Skill-Enhancement Leveling Tree, which will unlock special, cat-like abilities like leaping, stalking, or enhanced night vision.
Q: How do you deal with negative feedback about your game?
As with any other creative-based profession, it can be terrifying putting something that encompasses so much of yourself out into the world for potential judgment and critique. It’s not easy hearing that something you’ve created doesn’t resonate with others or that people just flat-out don’t like what you’ve done—especially when the negative feedback is centered around something that’s integral to your game, like the main character or crucial plot points and combat animations.
When we do get negative feedback, we try to use it as a learning experience…as fuel to improve on aspects of the game that we might not have even considered before. It can be hard to remain objective when you’re so close to a project, but that’s why we’ve also compiled a kickass team of Brand Ambassadors to handle replies to negative feedback or interaction with dreaded internet trolls. This way, our core development team can continue working on the game without feeling defeated, and our Ambassadors can deliver the feedback in a way that’s constructive and can be turned into a positive. In truth though, we’ve found that most people who provide less-than-stellar feedback are just trying to help and aren’t actually being mean for the sake of being mean. Sure, you come in contact with people like that every now and then, but connecting with other developers and forging relationships with like-minded folks tends to yield constructive feedback that ultimately provides an opportunity to learn and grow…and we’re all about that.
Q: What is the best way to keep the dev team solid/connected/supportive?
We’ve found that the best way to keep our dev team connected and supportive is by creating a safe, open, and engaging space where every individual feels like his or her ideas are not only heard but encouraged too. Because we’re a remote team, forging and sustaining a collaborative culture has always been something we’ve kept top of mind as studio owners. We work together via a Discord server that gives our team members hands-on access to the entire development process for Kristala. Plus, the conversational nature of Discord allows everyone to share regular updates within certain channels. Additionally, we hold biweekly sprint-end video meetings where team members share what they’ve been working on over the past two weeks; the meetings help build accountability and allow our teammates to physically see and hear one another, which helps us bond and connect even further. Beyond the sprint-end calls with the entire team, we also hold regular mini-meetings that focus on specific aspects of development—like modelers meetings or story writing meetings. While these smaller meetings are required for certain team members, every team member is invited and encouraged to attend. This collaborative approach allows people who may specialize in one area of development to branch out into other areas if they choose to. Our motto is if you want to learn, we’ll give you the space and the tools to do so. It’s that kind of flexibility and encouragement that’s truly made our dev team into a dev family.
Q: What is your engine? Why did you choose that game engine for your project?
We chose Unreal Engine for Kristala for a variety of reasons—the first of which is simply because our founding owners were initially trained in Unreal while pursuing their Bachelor’s degrees in game programming. It certainly made sense at the time to utilize what we already knew the best. Beyond that though, we really value and respect Epic’s ongoing commitment to indie studios via their Megagrants program. It’s not easy to self-fund a game—let alone a game with as large a scope as Kristala’s—so the fact that Epic not only understands that but celebrates it too really means something to us.
Truly though, the biggest reason we chose Unreal was because of its high graphical quality. We have a really specific vision we’re aiming to achieve with Kristala, especially when it comes to its aesthetic. Anyone who works with Unreal already will understand how incredibly powerful of a tool it is. Plus, we find new uses for it nearly every day, and Epic Games is continuously adding new functionality that makes it even more useful and valuable to us as time progresses—like the virtual production tools for facial capture.
Wishlist IWOCon 2020 here.