In this month’s blog we have some great behind the scenes insights from the making of the new quest, Storm Over Devil’s Gap. Plus an exciting update on the Player Character! Make sure you also read our special extra blog about Horse Progression in case you have missed it!
Hey, Yo! This is Nadia Elaissaoui, Game Writer, and Harri Jokinen, Game Designer, and today we’ll be discussing the magic behind the game design and story in the latest primary quest, Storm Over Devil’s Gap. Heads up—there will be spoilers!
We’ve both worked on previous primary quests, namely One Of Our Witches and Through The Vala Portal. Harri also worked on the Sabine primary quest for the 2022 Equestrian Festival and the Yeti quest during the 2022 Winter Festival. Nadia’s duties as a Game Writer span different side quests, festival content, and, of course, the main story. In total, there were two writers and two designers working on this quest.
Star Stable Online’s primary quests are an epic tale that has been told for over a decade, and the origins of that story can be found in the even older Starshine Legacy games. Therefore, a strong collaborative effort is made between narrative and gameplay designers to create compelling quest experiences. We aim for a sense of novelty while staying true to the beloved Soul Riders, Guardian Horses, their allies, and their foes.
This quest was the biggest one we’ve tackled yet. Concorde’s transformation, entering Devil’s Gap, coming face to face with the Vala, and traversing the Wild Weave are just a few of the story beats we reached in this release!
We start the development of every primary quest by referring to our detailed story roadmap, digitized story bible, and armfuls of writers' notebooks, which guide us in a clear direction while still allowing room for creativity to flourish. For instance, Linda’s otherworldly vision was something that grew from brainstorming sessions, in addition to the thought-provoking Pool of Pandemonium cave scene in Devil’s Gap.
Speaking of which, Devil’s Gap has had many visions over the years; at one point in 2018 it was even under consideration for being turned into a concert arena! Eventually, we decided to embrace the aesthetic of the Vala and give them a home befitting their ancient, mystical roots. Star Stable Online is its own game, with unique characters and a standalone story, but we don’t want to forget the game’s origins, so our brilliant artists and level designer drew inspiration from Devil’s Gap in Starshine Legacy, transforming it to fit SSO’s unique style of design.
When it came to the most important part of them all, Concorde’s transformation from a foal into a fully-grown Guardian Horse, the whole team came together to ensure the moment felt just as grand as we’d been building it up to be. We were lucky to have the opportunity to work with an animator on this project, who created full storyboards for this cutscene. Those storyboards were then iterated as a group, and the final form of the cutscene was developed over a span of many weeks.
Developing these primary quests is above all a team effort, which the Concorde transformation exemplified. The sound design, music, writing, game design, art, QA and animation that went into creating this quest had to merge together to create a seamless final result.
From a broader perspective, this quest represents the end of one story arc and the beginning of the next. After all, we haven’t spoken to the Keepers of Aideen in a while… And what is Sabine planning to do with Rúnhammar?
Hi there! My name is Madeleine Asp and I am an Environment Artist. I am pleased to have the chance to talk about the new areas created for the primary quest.
We love working on primary story quests! To support the quests, we want to create epic experiences, and for an Environment Artist, that means creating incredible environments to discover and explore! We knew that for the next step in the primary story quest, we needed to find a way into Devil’s Gap. We had a lot of discussions on how the player will get to experience Devil’s Gap, and in the end, it came down to two options: create a location in a "space" or in the "world." Both have their challenges and advantages. A “space” is an area you get teleported to that takes you away from Jorvik, while the “world” would mean it takes place on Jorvik without the need to be transported elsewhere. The "space" option would be a cave that takes place underneath Devil’s Gap. But a cave would be limited in size, and we wanted a big area to support gameplay, so we decided to use the surface of Devil’s Gap in the "world." Perhaps in the future, we need to delve deeper underground into the heart of Devil’s Gap.
For Devil’s Gap, we wanted to respect the old design from Starshine Legacy but make it even more interesting with a lot of places to explore within it! The themes we loved from the old Devil’s Gap were the narrow cliffs and spooky atmosphere, but to make the area more rewarding to explore, we created sub areas with their own themes. For example: a swamp with a river running through, more greenery on the highest levels, and a lot of fog and pandoric influence on the rocky lower levels. As we know, the Vala witches inhabit Devil’s Gap, and when they draw magic from Pandoria it affects the surrounding area. This shows itself through pandoric crystals, mushrooms, and withering trees.
Not only did we want to create epic locations to support the main quest, but we also needed visual effects for the magic used in the cutscenes and the Chaos Vortex. Pandoria is not inherently evil, but when it seeps through into the world of Jorvik it gets very dangerous! So, the Chaos Vortex needed to represent that danger visually on a massive scale - this required a lot of investigation on how to achieve this. Fortunately, Jan Mostowski, the shader wizard, can figure out a solution to any problem!
In the primary story quest, we learn that the Warden Trees are connected by a magical root system, which we have to travel through to get to Devil’s Gap. Figuring out what this area looks like was interesting, and our talented concept artist Matilda Geijer did an amazing job on that. Creating locations in-game based on concepts can be a challenge due to limitations of the engine, especially when you really want to capture the beauty of a concept.
Earlier I mentioned the Vala drawing magic from Pandoria. Well, the Wild Weave is magical but not at all based on Pandoric magic. It is instead based on the Magic of Aideen. While Pandoric magic corrupts, the magic of Aideen heals. And so, the design needs to represent that magic, which is why we went with a golden color scheme with lots of greenery.
The contrast in the design of these two locations should make this primary quest experience especially exciting and engaging! We hope you enjoy exploring them.
While the game team has been working hard on updating the new player avatar in Star Stable Online, we on the WebX team (responsible for developing our web services!) have been busy bees too! 🐝
We’re working on using the game 3D assets to update the character creation page on Starstable.com. Sounds simple… just copy paste, right? Nope! The game tech and 3D assets are very different in-game vs on the web, so this has been a huge adventure for us, in collaboration with our trusted companions on the Character Game team.
We (well, our web wizard Oliver!) have had to experiment a lot, bump into a lot of challenges, ask the internet for support, interview 3D artists, tech artists, animators... and also celebrated a lot of wins by solving one little or big issue at a time. I think I've never seen Oliver this happy. It’s been a joy sitting beside this creative (and sometimes frustrated) energy!
We will soon, like very very soon, release a brand new web page where we’ll display the web version of the in-game character. Why? So you can get the chance to try out the character for a while before it's in the game with some of the new customization options. It's also handy for us as a way to try out the new feature with a large audience. We can test and test before release, but we'll always learn even more once features are being used and explored by you. Once this character page is out, we have an opportunity to find any weirdness we haven't found during the development phase. And this is crucial, as we’re also rebuilding the registration page to include the new player avatar. The switch has to happen simultaneously when the new character is released in the game, so any new players can create an avatar with the new customization options.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that we are redesigning the website from scratch (code and all!) and have been doing so for a year now. Most things happen underneath the hood, so you won't notice - like replacing legacy code and really old (weird) solutions. Unfortunately, this means building everything from scratch while also keeping things up and running in the meantime. To take on the challenge, we're working on switching out one little piece at a time. This is quite time-consuming, and you might see some inconsistencies here and there for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, you’re also noticing that we’re adding new features that make it easier for our Content Managers to easily update the website and add new pages, such as the festival pages and the horse pages!
So exciting! Hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for the June edition of the blog!