Category: Bastion

You wouldn’t know it from how little we’ve posted lately, but we’ve been very busy working on our game the past few months.


Same game, new name

The most obvious change, if not the most significant, is that it has a new name: Conclave. For the first year and a half of development its working name was Bastion, but you might have heard about the recent launch of another game by that name. Although we were using the name first, we didn’t think a legal battle would be in anyone’s interest, and it gave us a chance to come up with something better. The word “conclave” refers to an assembly or gathering, and we think that’s fitting for a game designed to bring friends together online. It also has an important in-game meaning, which you’ll hear more about in the future.

Besides the name change, our summer can be summed up in three words: development, development, development. We received a hugely positive response when we demoed the game at the “Made in MA” event on the eve of this year’s PAX East, and since then we’ve been working to complete everything that wasn’t ready then. To make sure we’re staying on the right track, we’ve also invited small groups to playtest our changes. If you haven’t received an invite, don’t worry; we expect to begin an open beta of the game soon.

The improvements we’ve made include:

  • dozens of new character and foe abilities
  • interactive terrain for our combat challenges
  • forks in the story where party members can vote on a course of action based on their skills
  • thoroughly revamped quests and challenges
  • a more responsive and graphical interface

Each of those could be its own post, but right now it’s time to get back to work. It won’t be long before you’ll all be able to see the results.

Come see us at PAX East and Made in MA!

The 10×10 Room team will all be attending PAX East in lovely Boston, Massachusetts this coming weekend. Will you be there? If so, let us know so we can meet you.

We’ll also be demoing Bastion: Call to Arms at Made in MA on Thursday, the night before PAX East opens its doors. This is an event for Massachusetts-based game companies who want to show their wares and meet other folks in the Massachusetts gaming community. We attended last year, and liked the event a lot, and are now proud to be among the exhibitors.

Bastion Runes Brushset

Bastion makes liberal use of free art from many sources (a topic for a future blog post: it’s remarkable what great work one can access for free, and we want to give the folks who have helped us in this way as much exposure as possible). Given how important the free art community is to our game, it’s only fair that we make a small contribution back. With that, here is the Bastion Runes Brushset.

At some point, I’ll make one of those schmancy brushset titles that shows the runes off in the best possible way, but for now, you get this simple image of each of the ten runes in the set. The runes were drawn by our one and only Derek Bruneau, then processed by me to make them appropriate for use as brushes. There are many more runes in the Bastion world than this, so there’s a good chance another brushset will eventually be in the offing.

We use the runes many ways in the game, all of which you’ll see soon. Runes make their way into quest images, battlemaps, and more. Soon, we’ll teach you what each one means (hint: if you download the brushset, each rune has a label). All are free for your noncommercial use. Attributions and linkbacks are much appreciated!

Battlemap Preview 2, plus tokens

If you haven’t yet seen Battlemap Preview 1, you might want to check that out too.

Last time around, we gave you a look at some of our outdoor battlemaps. Let’s go underground for the next one, then take a look at some of the creature tokens that will be populating the maps.

At a certain point in your Bastion questing, you might learn of problems beneath the Bastion itself. Problems that can only lead to everybody’s favorite place…

…the sewer! But you’ll find that the sewer is far from the bottom of the Bastion underground.

What might you find in a sewer? Probably some rats:
Or perhaps some diseased rats: Or possibly even some unliving rats: Or how about a, well, whatever he is: Ewww. Let’s hope we don’t meet that one.

Battlemap Preview 1

In Bastion, every combat takes place on a battlemap. This will feel familiar to most D&D players, especially in the age of miniatures play, as well as to the folks who enjoy turn-based computer RPGs.

There’s a great deal to be said about the how and what and why of creating battlemaps, and you can expect some posts along those lines soon. For now, though, how about some simple eye candy?

A battlemap set at the site of a recent shipwreck.

This is the wreck of the Seamaid, a ship from the north whose contents might contain certain revelations for the denizens of the Bastion. All that sea means a serious chokepoint at the middle of the thing, for good or bad.

All of the battlemaps are top-down, like this one. We are favoring a pretty realistic look to the graphics, balanced against the need for visual clarity: a map that’s too busy, filled with lots of contrasting bits, can make it hard to tell what’s going on, and we’d rather be overly simple than confusing. This map is among the busiest; it probably represents an outer limit of visual clutter.

Oh, heck, how about another?

A beach landing on a deserted (?) island.

This is from the same side quest, as the characters make their way to a landing on a dangerous island.

Want to see more of these? Let us know in the comments.

Bastion: A look at the art process, part 3

Forgeborn Male, Final

The final portrait, in full painted glory.

(This is the third and final installment of the “art process” series, looking at the development of the first art for Bastion.  If you haven’t yet seen them, you might first want to read part 1 and part 2.)

Once we saw the drawing for the Forgeborn, we knew we were in very, very good shape.  He was looking nice and broad in the shoulders now, barrel-chested and buff.  It was clearer what the look of the runes would be in the final painting.  The ruins were clearly present in the background.  And we could also see his rune-pouch more clearly.  Chris had responded to each of our topics.

My only concern at this stage was whether we were too close to classic D&D dwarf territory.  This is something we have to watch with all our art, as well as our character races, our monsters, our skills and abilities… almost everything in the game has to find a sweet spot between looking like Dungeons & Dragons (or Lord of the Rings, or World of Warcraft – the other two major cultural touchpoints for fantasy narrative and gaming), and simply feeling alien to players.  Different parts of the game handle this issue in different ways; in the case of the portrait art, and our concepts for the core races, it led us to develop races that are new and unique, but are clearly humanoid and share some characteristics with more common fantasy archetypes.  We also made sure to have races and images that are likely to appeal to a variety of different types of players:  the Forgeborn are great if you want to play somebody who looks solid and menacing, while those looking for a prettier face might pick a Lumyn, Nix, or Trow.

So, was our dude too dwarfy?  Was the beard a bad idea?  Derek and Justin said that no, the beard was not pushing the portrait into dwarfland – that once we had color, all would be well.  So we simply asked Chris to go ahead and turn the drawing into a final painting.

It didn’t take him long, but we still had to wait around a few extra days before actually seeing the final result.  This was because the process of photographing the art is apparently fairly laborious, and Chris was hoping he could save some time by photographing both the Forgeborn and Lumyn paintings together… which meant the Lumyn painting had to be completed as well.

Now, the process of getting the Lumyn ready for prime-time was pretty different.  Truth be told, we didn’t have to provide much feedback on the Forgeborn to get him from sketch to final painting; if you compare the big sketch with the final product, not much has changed.  Most of our work came in putting together the initial description of the art.

With the Lumyn, it was quite a different situation.  We asked Chris to come up with a character who showed qualities of leadership, as well as alchemy.  The result was not quite what we anticipated.  I’ll put the first Lumyn sketches up again here:

Lumyn Female Sketch

When we saw this, we all realized that “leadership” had not been a specific enough term.  We were thinking of battle leadership:  somebody who can direct tactics, calculate odds, and rally the troops.  What Chris had sketched was a different kind of leader:  something like a senator, a demagogue; someone who could lead in the city itself.  This poor Lumyn looked like she might break if she ever went on a wilderness adventure!

Before going back to Chris, we worked a lot to better describe our needs for the portrait.  For the first time, we offered up a specific visual cue, going through the archives of Magic artwork in search of a character that really showed off the leadership pose we were looking for, and eventually settling on this:


Here, we see a figure who is attractive, but strong; somebody headed forward into the forest, but looking back, either to consider, or to the (unseen) people who are following her.  It’s a good portrait pose:  you can see much of the body, and also get a great shot of the face.

It felt a little odd to be putting an image in front of Chris:  was this a good idea from an artistic direction standpoint?  Would it seem too constraining to Chris, or limit his imagination?  But we went ahead and did it, because we knew how important it was to get this pose right.  We then also asked him to move the Lumyn to a wilderness setting, asked him to emphasize heroism and action, and also asked him to put in more of a sense of her as alchemist – another problem with the original sketch, but less important (as we could always put alchemy in a different portrait if it wasn’t going to fit here).

Chris was very nice about all the changes we were asking for, and quickly produced a new sketch that was much, much closer to what we needed:

Lumyn Female Sketch 2.0

Didn’t he nail it?  The pose, the practical-yet-elegant clothing, the setting, the other party members in the background, being beckoned… well, we felt pretty good at this stage.  There were still a few tweaks:  wanting to see that the markings on her face appear throughout here body, and therefore needing some skin to show up elsewhere; making sure the markings didn’t seem to be tattoos; trying to get more alchemy in.  With that feedback, Chris produced this drawing:

Lumyn Female Drawing

Yup.  Our only feedback was that the head looked a little small proportionate to her neck; Chris agreed, noting that he’d been trying to emphasize the elongated bodies of the Lumyn, but that the gorget then made things look odd.

And so finally we come to the end result:  our two portraits, complete:

Forgeborn Male, Final

Lumyn Female Final

And that’s that.  We were very happy with the end result, as well as the process itself, and now Chris is hard at work finalizing the next two portraits, which you’ll see soon in our new gallery.

Bastion: A look at the art process, part 2

Forgeborn Drawing

The Forgeborn from the first article, now a drawing

With our artist selected, we needed next to think through our budget, the details and sequence of what we were commissioning, come to terms with the artist, and start the back-and-forth communication with him about what we wanted.

Of course, that makes it sound like a neatly ordered process!  The reality is a bit more complicated, because we were doing many things in parallel.  Justin was speaking to Chris about the scope of the project, and starting to communicate details of the Bastion world; he was also getting information about pricing on the portraits.  Meanwhile, we were scrambling to decide exactly what we needed.  We had not yet picked a specific deadline for a release of the game, nor did we have some external force – a conference, a meeting, etc. – driving us to have a particular packaging of the game ready by some specific time.  This meant we were getting the portraits done simply because they needed to be done sometime, and because we knew we wanted whatever version or demo of the game we showed off to already look good – and because our own vision of the denizens of Bastion would sharpen for being able to see examples of each.  (What we perhaps did not anticipate is how much we would learn simply from being pushed to describe these people, and their capabilities and environs, in detail.)

In our portraits, we knew we needed to show off a lot of different things at once.  These portraits needed to serve as exemplars, conveying identities and qualities, whether used as illustrations or userpics.  We knew we wanted to show all of the following:

  • Each of the five playable races of Bastion
  • Both genders
  • Each of the five known magical Traditions practicable by the characters
  • Common archetypes fantasy players might choose to portray
  • Common skills
  • Common situations

But if you try to show every combination possible of the above, you end up with a combinatoric monster that quickly eats whatever art budget you happen to throw at it (and you need to recruit an army or artists to boot).  So we decided to see what we could accomplish in ten portraits.  Ten gave us each possible combination of race and gender.  We then decided that every Tradition would be represented.

At this point, Justin sent Chris a huge email with the lowdown on all sorts of things about the Bastion setting:  background for the world, descriptions of each race, details of the Traditions, and so on.  Then he described what we wanted out of the portraits.  Chris liked the email, but asked that we give him more specific descriptions of how different elements should be paired up in the portraits; he was afraid that if it were left to him, he would mess up, forgetting to represent something somewhere.

So we went back, and started thinking through how to fit all these elements together.  Here, we did a lot of “overloading”, to borrow a computer science term.  This is a way of saying that we packed many meanings, many interpretations, into each portrait description.  A Mezoar looks out over a ruined expanse, holding his spear:  does he represent a warrior?  An explorer?  The idea of scouting?  A Lumyn calls and beckons to companions in the background.  Is she a leader, rallying the troops?  A Dreamsinger?  A mix of detail and ambiguity would be our friend here, allowing a small number of portraits to be used in many ways, and giving users a better chance to find a portrait that fit their ideas of a character.  We typed up ten descriptions that were our best effort to create this brew.

Lastly, Justin talked with Chris about the scope of each portrait.  He could invest different levels of effort, and put more or less effort, into each portrait, depending on how much we wanted to budget for them.  Chris sent some samples of the kind of work he could do for our target $ amount; this helped a lot, and we quickly agreed on our price point.  He also noted that the poses would probably not vary much from character to character, less for budgetary reasons than because of how we intended to use the portraits:    Then we picked two portraits to get started – a male Forgeborn warrior, and a female Lumyn Dreamsinger – and Chris got to work.

He was fast.  Really fast!  The first sketches appeared in days.  Now, bear in mind at this point that we had no idea how the artistic process would actually work.  Would we get lots of questions?  Would a painting just appear one day, crafted from whole cloth?  So I didn’t know exactly what I would find when I opened that first email (this was the point where Justin handed off artistic communication duties to me).  What we saw was the image from part 1:  Forgeborn Male Sketches

Three different sketches, exploring different poses and composition.

Chris also sent some ideas and questions for the Forgeborn.  Could we put him in a volcanic and ruined setting?  What sort of build should he have?  Did it matter what his weapon looked like?  Was he right to interpret the “skin like smoldering coals” as primarily dark, but with some grey and red elements?

I took the sketches back to Derek and Justin for their feedback, along with Chris’s message.  This is where we benefit a lot from being a team of liberal arts majors:  nobody feels unable to say valuable things about art!  Everybody was really excited; there was something validating for us in seeing that our project now had quality art associated with it, albeit in sketch form.  And we all agreed that Chris had really hit the nail on the head.  I assembled and collated everybody’s feedback; here’s the text of the critical feedback I gave Chris:

  • Everybody is very excited about what you have produced. We all agree that you’ve managed to evoke the essence of the forgeborn here.  As a result, most of our feedback is on the nitpick level.
  • Everybody loves the weapon, and the way the runes appear on it is spot-on. The solidity of the weapon matches well with the body and pose of the character.
  • The simple perspective, and a posture that reveals almost all of the face, both work well for enabling crops of the sketch for special purposes, particularly close-ups of the face that would work well for identifying a character in a chat or a turn summary.
  • Are we correct that what we see atop the character’s head is hair, and not flame or smoke?
  • There is room for the forgeborn to be even a little broader than this, though not much. The risk is them verging into classic fantasy dwarf territory, which is not what we want; however, the sense of granite-like sturdiness and power that you created is great, and could perhaps go even a bit further.
  • Are the runes a part of the character’s skin, or floating above it? We would prefer the former, and to keep runes off the center of the character’s forehead, so as to avoid any confusion with the rendering of a True Sight practitioner (who will manifest a sort of third-eye glow in that spot). The runes themselves are great: simple and angular is good.
  • On a related note, such runes are associated specifically with runecasting (the character’s magical ability), and not with the forgeborn per se. As such, there will be forgeborn without them, and other races who show them as well. However, there is no reason the runes on a forgeborn can’t manifest a bit differently from those on other races. For example, they might glow a lava-red, in keeping with the skin being like smouldering coals. They might even feel carved into the forgeborn’s skin, where they look more like paint or tattoos on another race.
  • There’s an object that might be a pouch on the side of the character. A pouch would be great; runecasters probably have a belt pouch where they keep physical runes.
  • You mentioned ruins as part of the background, and I would love to see that, as the environs of Bastion should include plenty of these. What you have right now looks like classic Greek- or Roman-style columns; that could work, but perhaps they could be taken a less-marbly, and more rough-hewn and natural direction, somewhere between the Parthenon and Stonehenge (for lack of a better descriptor). The idea would be to have an ancestral forgeborn ruin, in keeping with the volcanic environs.

You can see from this a number of questions that were on our minds that were very particular to creating art for a game.  We had to make sure our characters stood out from traditional depictions of fantasy races like dwarves and elves.  We had to focus on visual elements that tied together with in-game equipment, like the rune pouch.  We needed to do a lot to define the look of magic in our game, and to depict different kinds of magic so that each was immediately recognizable and distinct.  And we had to achieve that mix of familiar and exotic that allows players to feel they are in a fantasy world, but still something they can recognize and interact with – even down to the architecture.

Chris responded to our feedback, asked for a bit more information about the skin of the Forgeborn, then proceeded to create the drawing you saw at the beginning of this post.

In the third and final post in this series, we’ll look at the female Lumyn, and how both she and the Forgeborn made it to painted form.  Here’s a sneak peek at the Lumyn sketches:

Lumyn Female Sketch

Bastion: A look at the art process, part 1

Forgeborn Male Sketches

The first sketches for the Forgeborn, as provided to us by Chris Rahn

This is our first post that specifically relates to Bastion, our primary project here at 10×10.  We’ll say more about Bastion as we get closer to having something ready for release; for now, suffice to say we believe we’ve hit on some important ideas about how a socially networked world interacts with old-school roleplaying, and that Bastion explores those ideas.

Though none of us are artists, we quickly determined that good art was critical to the experience of Bastion.  Bastion is a fantasy world, completely inhabited by nonhuman races.  It contains a lot of story, and flavor needs visualization as much as words, if not more so.  And so we decided that we needed to make art a part of the creation of Bastion from nearly the very beginning, paralleling the development of game mechanics and code.  (Ironically, I was the last one on the team to really embrace this idea, and I’m the one serving as our acting art director.  Go figure.)

Players of Bastion can choose from any of the five races who have made the Retreat to the city of Bastion.  We decided that it was critical to illustrate these races for players, and to give them a variety of options to choose from when selecting character portraits; we also knew we would tell better stories if we could visualize our own creations better.  So we began with character portrait art.

Immediately, we had a fork in the road to consider.  Should we try to find a starving artist to do the work?  A friend?  Or make the investment in an established artist?  In the end, we decided on the last approach.  Clichés like “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and “a picture is worth a thousand words” exist for a reason; we needed to count on having spectacular art in place, art that would convey that this is not a dorm-room project, but a complete, professional, and, well, awesome game that deserves your time and attention as a player.  Established artists also have the benefit of extensive portfolios; you can browse and find an artist who really matches the aesthetic of your game.

To find the right artist, we looked at sources like Magic: The Gathering cards and Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks, searching for art that evoked Bastion for us:  heroic, but mature; epic, nostalgic, dreamy; a little dark, but not horrific.  Each of us began posting images from sources that we liked, with Justin really taking the lead.  He also began writing to some of the artists, trying to get a sense of pricing and availability.  Remember:  none of us had worked with game artists before, nor portrait artists, though two of us at least had experience with creative teams and design/UI contractors.

Before long, we’d identified Chris Rahn as a likely portrait artist for Bastion.  He was available, friendly, responsive – and we loved the fit of his style with our game.  Of particular note were illustrations he had done for many cards in the Shards of Alara block for Magic.  These were images of real adventurers:  powerful, noble, but not cartoony; characters who could face the dark and turn it back.  And as Justin wrote to him about our goals and setting, you could tell that Chris was engaged by what we were doing, that he was into the idea.

I think that matters a lot.  An artist can be committed, efficient, and talented, and those are all good traits – but ultimately, you also need for him or her to care about what’s being created.  How many times have you seen a movie where it seems like the actors or director just didn’t care all that much?  And you could tell, couldn’t you?  The same goes for game art.  It is art, not just something you put on an assembly line, and cannot be treated as a mere product, by either the artist or the creative director.

In part 2, we’ll look at how we decided what should be in our first two portraits, and look at the back-and-forth process of refinement of the initial sketches.

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