Written by our artist Mirko Ćalušić:
Painting a background for Saint Kotar is rarely an easy thing, not only because we put great care to make our scenes look as good as possible but also because it is a dynamic process, requiring constant collaboration between the artist, writer and programmer. Every background must not only look good in an illustrative sense, but it also needs to fulfill gameplay and story needs. To make things easier for ourselves, we approach the creation of every scene in clearly delineated stages.
The first step consists of research and gathering reference. Since the world of Saint Kotar is based on a real region in Croatia, for most of our backgrounds we gather photo reference from real locations. Along with the gathered reference, a scene usually begins with a tentative description of its appearance and the story/gameplay elements on the scene.
The second step is creating quick concepts to define the compositional elements of the scene. These concepts are usually very rough and sketchy, and painted in black and white, but they do a good job at giving us an impression of what the scene will look like. Once we are happy with the overall look, we begin with creating the polished scene assets.
Although all of our scenes are digitally painted 2D images, Unity is in essence a 3D engine, and our characters are 3D models which move in the three dimensions of space. This makes it crucial for our 2D assets to be fairly accurate in regard to perspective and scale. Thus, our backgrounds are painted over a 3D base created in Blender. This base not only helps our artist paint in the right perspective, but it is also used directly in-engine by our programmer to help define walkable areas, interactive hotspots, etc. Sometimes the 3D base is very detailed, other times it is little more than a few boxes that stand in for more complex landscape elements. Either way, the next step is painting over the 3D base. We use a lot of photobashing and texturing in order to be ale to create our highly detailed scenes, but we also take great care not to make things look too banally realistic and boring, and to preserve a hand painted feel. This step is by far the most time consuming. A lot of revisions are done during this stage – sometimes changes in the script necessitate modifications to the scene, and sometimes the opposite is the case: a painted scene can give us some surprising new gameplay and story ideas. It can also happen that a finished scene simply does not work as intended in game. All of this requires us to go back to the drawing board and redo certain elements.
The final step consists of creating animations and effects. A painted background looks pretty, but it is, of course, static. We put in a lot of effort to imbue our scenes with motion and life: lapping waves on the lake, rolling fog, flocks of birds, clouds gliding across the sky, and so on. These effects were made using a variety of methods. For fog, smoke, clouds, flames, etc. we use particle effects in Unity. For our water effects we made a shader that makes our 2D water look almost three-dimensional. Most of our animations are created externally. Some are rendered in Blender, others are hand-painted in Photoshop. Either way, they are imported as sprite animations into Unity. Where it was necessary, we also used a few 3D models directly in Unity. Our approach is flexible, and it always depends on the needs of the scene.
And... that's it! Hopefully we’ve given you an interesting insight into our process. With your continuous support, we'll continue creating many more wonderful places in the world of Saint Kotar and beyond.
Find Your Humanity
#FindYourHumanity is our new marketing campaign that we've launched last week. The goal we set is to reach new players and raise awareness about Saint Kotar, as in our recent research we found out there are lots of people who like this combination of a dark story in a point & click adventure genre (not all of them have to be comedy, right?), but have never heard of this project. Help us to reach them, get the word out and invite people to visit the game's store page on Steam and GOG to add the game to their wishlist (or "Notifiy me" in GOG's case). Clicking on "Follow" on Steam helps too. Adding the game and following it there allows players to get notified about the release discount as well as the news regarding the upcoming new version of the demo/prologue.