Star Stable January Blog: Erissa & Game Production

This month we’re taking a deep dive into the redesign of Erissa. Followed by a look at game production and the work of our producers. Enjoy! 

Erissa Redesign

By Matilda Geijer (Senior Concept Artist)

Hello everyone! 

My name is Matilda, and I’m a Senior Concept Artist at Star Stable! Today, I’ll tell you a little bit about the process of creating the look of Erissa and how character development doesn’t always go as smoothly as planned…

Working on our fourth Dark Rider was certainly a challenging process, and she went through many different iterations before gaining her final form. Let’s start from the beginning…

The 4th Dark Rider had yet to appear in the game, although a codename “Nihili” had been used. When we first started looking into her appearance, it was during the same time period when we worked on the updated looks of the other Dark Riders, Sabine, Jessica, and Katja. Elise was the fourth Dark Rider’s working name, but after we had gotten a bit further in her development process, Chiyo was the name that we felt was right for her. 

The design was approved and made it all the way to the 3D and rigging stage. We released some pictures of her to the community, and we got some feedback that we weren’t expecting. After some consideration, we decided to act on it, revert the design, and start over. This was not an easy decision, but we felt it was the right thing to do at the time. 

It was back to the drawing board again. I started brainstorming together with our Art Director Ullis, and tried to approach it with the mindset of taking the opportunity to create an even better design! This early brainstorming phase is my favorite part of the production; you get to really work your creative muscles, and we had a lot of fun gathering inspiration and ideas. 

This time, we tried to make sure we better understood who she is and her purpose in the world. We wanted to keep the playful and colorful vibes and some unsettling elements that convey her trickster personality - all is not as it seems. Crocheting became one of the biggest inspirations for her clothing and magical powers. I recently learned how to crochet myself, and it was a lot of fun looking around for patterns since I wanted it to be possible to crochet many of her outfit details in real life. 

I started simple, sketching many quick and loose character ideas to try out the new direction. Early on, we found some elements we liked and wanted to move forward with - such as a chunky, somewhat chaotic sweater. After that, I started narrowing down what sort of clothing items fit her, which was helpful to do in grayscale since it helped me focus on the shapes and contrast before starting to work on a color scheme. When we found clothing and color designs we felt were strong and memorable, I could move on to explore the details of how her face and hair looked, as well as some sketches showing her personality. One of the things I enjoy most about my work is seeing a character come to life in this way, the puzzle pieces falling into place one by one until the whole is complete. Sometimes, it feels more like discovering the character rather than creating them.

In the end, I’m very happy with the result of her redesign. She’s certainly stirred the community, and in a way, that seems like the perfect way for her to be introduced - an agent of chaos indeed. I can’t wait for you all to get to know her!

Game Production

By Jane Skullman (Executive Producer)

There is one function within game development that you usually don’t see or consider when playing a game, and that is the production role(s). Within Star Stable, we call it Producer. 

My name is Jane Skullman, and I am the Executive Producer for Star Stable. My main function is to make sure we have a joint vision of the game, how we can deliver on that vision and that everyone else in the game development team can do their job as well as possible. 

What is game production, and what does a producer do?

Game production is a function in the game industry that you don’t see or experience when the game works as intended. The producer is the communication glue and the multiplier of every other craft making the game. 

Game production is a leadership role where you guide the team to create an amazing experience for players. As a producer, you're the gatekeeper of the game's vision, leading one or more teams. The role involves providing clarity, structure, and facilitating the roadmap ,projects and solving problems. This includes actively managing project scope and prioritising to maximise value for players, the company, and shareholders. Shareholders are our supportive partners in the game-making journey. They're people who own a part of the game and believe in its success. Think of them as fans who not only enjoy the game but also invest in its growth, helping ensure the CEO leads the company in the best way possible. They're not in the game trenches every day; their primary focus is on the long-term outcomes.  

The scope is the size of the project and when setting the scope we also calculate who needs to be involved, what value it will bring, what risk we can foresee, and to what cost. 

Imagine you and your friends crafting a pizza adventure. Scope in a pizza adventure is like agreeing on the amount of pizza to eat with friends at a specific event. The value: enjoying tasty bites and having fun together. Watch out for the risk of a late or wrong delivery —consider taking pizza-protecting measures! The cost is what you and your friends can afford.

But also beware of scope creep, the sneaky extra orders that can turn your pizza fiesta into a delayed, costly escapade. Setting the right scope is crucial for a game producer to deliver desired value on time. 

Who else is involved in the production? 

When creating the roadmap, we have input from our Stakeholders. We have several stakeholders in the game; one of the most important are you, our players. 

It matters a lot what you think when we decide what to prioritise and focus on. We do this by getting input from our social media and support teams and through our analytics team, where we can see what kind of features you engage with, what you like to interact with, and what you spend your Star Coins on. In 2023, we also got a new tool and started using in-game surveys to ask you questions directly. 

The game's main stakeholders from an internal perspective are our Game, Art, and Technical Directors. Most of you know them by name, Stacy, Ullis, and Ismael. This trio sets the vision and decides the direction of the game. While they dream big as they should, we as producers are the people that sometimes have to say no and be the realists in the room.  And don’t get me wrong, we also like to dream big, but someone needs to have an eye on reality and know what our teams can do within a certain period of time and also balance it against other initiatives.

Our game development team is a stakeholder as well. They have detailed information about the game's construction that we have to consider when building new features or content. The game development team are our designers, artists, animators, programmers, and quality assurance (QA) experts. The QA team is a very important group of stakeholders who know all the dark corners of the game. QA goes beyond bug hunting, they also ensure that the game consistently delivers an engaging and fun experience throughout the whole game.

We also have our board and our business directors (our CEO, CMO and CFO) as stakeholders. The benefit of having a board is that you get access to strategic advice from experienced leaders and can connect to a larger network within the industry. Both the board and our business directors are also interested in you, our players, being happy and thinking the game is worth spending time and money on. 

What does the process of production look like for a Live Service game?

One thing that differentiates Star Stable from other games is that we are a Live Service game. This means that we don’t have one long period to develop the game within, release it, and never come back to the released content. Instead, it means that we constantly monitor what is happening in our game and what you are interacting with in order to improve and adapt based on those actions.  

It also means that we have a very strict process for releasing each update, which today includes four different platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, and since this fall, Android. For two of the platforms, iOS and Android, we need to send in the latest update of the game that is about to be released in order to get it approved by the guidelines provided by Apple and Google. This is the reason why it sometimes seems we make strange decisions on when to do a hotfix and solve live bugs. 

What the production team looks like for Star Stable

At Star Stable, we currently have 6 producers, including myself. I have the privilege to be part of all areas of the game’s development, and to help I have 5 specialists. 

We have Ali, whom you have met in the Aug blog posts during 2023 where he shared the future of our engine. Ali is our technical producer and he is responsible for the game's performance, what platforms you can play on, and that our content creators have the right tools in order to create the great content and features. His closest allies are our tech teams and our Technical Director. 

We have Dan and Juliana, who are responsible for having more players discover the game while having a smooth onboarding experience. Juliana rules the initiatives for our website and launchers, and Dan, the game's early areas. You previously met him in a blog post where he explained the new onboarding experience, and Juliana shared the work on the character creation tool in May. Both Juliana and Dan have the marketing teams and Business Directors as their closest allies.

Mariana, who is the newest member of the producer team and started in October last year, is responsible for the continued experience of the game. This is one of the largest areas, consisting of several project teams, which is needed since their focus is everything related to quests, events, and quality-of-life improvements. Her closest allies within the company are myself, our Creative Directors and the development team. 

Last but not least is Karin, who is responsible for our Horses, Player Avatar, and pets in the game. She is also new to the producer role but has been in the company for many years. If you have been to any of our live events, you have certainly met her since she was the cost-hostess of Star Stable Live. Her closest allies within the organisation are our Game and Art Director and what the people we call Equestrian Experts. A fun fact is that several of the horse artists and animators own their own horses. 

This is my team of Producers, and I couldn’t be more proud of this crew. Since I started two years ago, we have made several changes to improve our production pipeline. The aim is to deliver more, but also more of the right things.

2024 focus areas

Last year, we tackled significant projects like Horse Progression, introducing new animation handling, the new player avatar, and our 4th platform, Android. Big projects like those take up all our team's time, leaving little room for other tasks. But, since we did accomplish all of this last year, we have more room to experiment in the coming year. So, this year's goal for production is to deliver things through iteration. We sort of started this last year by adding dressage and lunging as prototypes that you could try out during two of our festivals. Both of these features will be added to the game permanently this year, and we have made some changes based on your feedback. One new prototype we will add this year relates to another equestrian discipline you have been asking for. This will be released for a shorter period, and then we will continue to work on it based on your feedback.

Other things we will do in iteration during 2024 is to improve your wardrobe and your home stable. So, instead of having one big release of these things, we want to give you smaller chunks of goodies during the year. 

Iteration and further development on Gen 4 horses, the player avatar, and the game's UI depend on things happening in Ali’s team. One is a rendering refactoring, where we update the code that takes care of how our artists' assets look in the game. This refactoring is also tied to us dropping support on some devices that have operating systems and graphical cards that are not even supported by their manufacturers anymore. Another project that goes under the “exciting” name UI 2:0 needs to happen to allow our content teams to handle game UI and HUDs more smartly and cohesively. Ali shared info about this here LINK. And you can already now when logging into the desktop launcher see what we are aiming for in relation to recommended computer specs for Windows and Mac.  

Last but not least, my promise to you is to put additional effort and focus on fixing current live bugs and improving our processes so fewer bugs enter the game in the first place. I am equally passionate about no-bugs-in-the-game as you are.

Interested in becoming a producer? Look me up on LinkedIn and let me know how I can help you.