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The Forest of Akeron

Hi everyone, it’s Claire back at it again with some fun environment art updates! We’ve been working to flesh out the world of Akeron, and I wanted to share some art with you that we’ve made for the first section of the game. (Also get ready to see a lot of our lost soul taking in the scenery!)

Our current environment for the first chapter of The Phantom Keeper – a work in progress!

When you begin your journey in The Phantom Keeper, you have just fallen into the land of Akeron, in a forest just outside one of the major cities. While some paths exist, they aren’t often travelled, and there’s a lot of exploring to be done – and a lot of Phantoms to find!

Since this is the game’s first impression, we wanted to make sure to nail the feel and aesthetic of the area. After doing a very simple color pallete sketch, Sera did an awesome concept sheet full of trees, plants, and mushrooms and the two of us got to work implementing it.

Once we had these sketches, Sera and I worked together to create everything needed. I used blender to create the models, and we split the task of creating textures for the models and for the ground. While we still have lots of props to go, we’re happy with the overall look of an other-worldly forest.

In addition to the props, it’s important that there be some amount of movement in the background. It is a forest after all, it’s alive and moving! Having all objects be static can be distracting for the player, and make it feel unrealistic. So I decided to try my hand at developing a wind shader!

A shader is essentially a piece of code that tells the game where to put the pixels at any point in time. I added some noise to the shader’s code, so that it warps the image based on a set of numbers that can be easily adjusted, as seen in the gif above. This shader is applied to all of our plants to create some idle movement in the background. It was fun to make, and you can see it in action below!

He’s just vibin in the forest

Aaaand that’s it! Thanks so much for checking these out, be sure to hop into the discord server or comment below if you have any questions! Till next time! πŸ™‚

Anger Starter

What’s up, everyone? Time has been chugging along over here, and it’s finally spring! I can now go on walks and still feel my face when I get home! 🌸

So! In this post I’m going to be talking about my personal favorite starter — Anger! If you’d like to read more about the general process and philosophy behind all of these starter designs, check out my last devblog post here! And without further ado…

Anger Starter 😠

Though I personally love this Phantom, during our initial tests with people, a lot of folks were put off by how scary-looking the original design was so I had to dial it back a little bit… πŸ˜…

Like most of the other Phantoms so far, we have to go through a few different iterations to get to where we are, but the original design vomit sheet was pretty diverse!

Reminder: a lot of the designs that weren’t chosen might show up later as Phantoms! Just not as starters πŸ‘ And the “final” design that we chose is even still subject to change!

When thinking of anger as an emotion, most people link it with the element of πŸ”₯ fire πŸ”₯, and I wanted to curb that expectation of typings in The Phantom Keeper. Games like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and other RPGs use a lot of elemental types but our game is meant to be different, using emotions instead! Not all of the Anger Phantoms will be fiery, not all of the Sadness Phantoms will be water-based, etc! And what better place to start than a starter!

The inspiration behind the Anger starter was pretty simple: the yeti, Abominable Snowman, or Meh-Teh! I was looking for a cryptid, monster, or animal that could look intimidating, but still be somewhat… fluffy? So here we are! Big ol arms, tiny little legs, big angry eyebrow/horns, and somewhat cartoonishly scary claws!

And the Abominable Snowman is…? A polar bear | Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Yeti is purported to live in the Himalayan mountain range, and is described somewhat similarly to Bigfoot / Sasquatch and other ape-like cryptids. There have been numerous reported sightings of Yetis, starting with pre-Buddhist Himalayan people supposedly worshipping this “wild man” who was depicted as an ape-like creature. These people also shared tales of the Yeti to warn people away from dangerous animals, and to stay close to the community (similar to countless other cultures!).

During the 20th century, more Westerners began climbing the Himalayas and describing huge footprints on the mountain (many of these were later thought to be bear tracks). Like most cryptids, a majority of the “evidence” of the Yeti’s existence comes from eye witness reports. However! There are a few pieces of physical evidence — almost all of which has been disproven 😬 A scalp found by Sir Edmund Hillary (the first man to scale Mt Everest!) in 1960 (later determined to be from a serow, an animal similar to a goat), some mysterious footprints (later determined to be bear tracks), and even a finger were reported to be proof of the Yeti! (The finger was later found to be human through DNA analysis, possibly from a monk’s corpse… yikes.) Various hair, teeth, and tissue samples thought to belong to Yetis have also been tested against the DNA of known species. Most of these have been found to be from animals such as cows, bears, horses, and dogs.

Ending Notes!

So yeah! I only went through one Phantom this time around, but I really like talking about cryptozoology soooo πŸ˜…

I hope you enjoyed reading, and if you have any questions or comments, please let me know either by commenting below ⬇️ or by hopping on the Pine Drake discord server! I promise I don’t bite, but I cannot say the same for our lil Anger starter (gottem, tied it back, nice)! Thanks for reading! πŸ‘‹

Battle Time!

Hello again! It’s CJ. This week, I wanted to take a bit of a dive into the gameplay of The Phantom Keeper – a bit of a continuation on the post that talked about the inspiration games. While I won’t go into detail about every aspect, I do want to talk about a few of the fun features we plan to have in our current battle system.

Type Matchups

The first thing I wanted to share about our battle system is something that a lot of RPG players are familiar with – type matchups! Adding in type matchups is an easy way to add a bit of complexity into battles, without being too confusing. While we wanted to keep the basic formula of type matchups the same (rock does more damage to scissors, scissors deal less to rock) one thing that we are experimenting with is what the types are. While usually types are based on elements or damage sources, we chose to use something more thematic to the setting of our game – emotions!

The full list of types in our game, as they currently stand, are the following:

Note – this list may change! We may add/remove/rename some of these in the future.

The idea behind this is that because phantoms are a culmination of a person’s feelings, their form is based on their most prevalent emotion in life. Because of this, some phantoms are stronger against other types – a calm phantom will be better to deal with an anger one, but anger is strong against love – or other anger types! We plan to play around with these matchups, trying to keep an even mix of both making the matchups make sense logically, but also making sure no one type is too much better than another – at least not without drawbacks!

Action Commands

The other fun mechanic we are bringing into our battles is action commands! Action commands are basically a quick-time event, or mini-minigame that occurs after you select an attack or ability. The result of your attack is then modified based on how you did – if you messed up the action command, your ability won’t be as effective, or it might not work at all. However, doing it perfectly might reward you with a bit of extra damage, or another free turn on a buff-type of ability!

The reason that we wanted to add action commands was that we felt it made combat more interesting. It adds a bit of risk with every move – you might calculate out that a certain move will do exactly enough damage, but only if you do the action command correctly. It also helps to break up the monotony that turn-based combat can have, making the battles feel more interactive than just picking a move. In general, action commands make you feel more like you’re the one fighting instead of just giving orders, while still not being as stressful or intimidating as real-time combat can be!

For our game, action commands are going to take many forms. Because we plan on having lots of different phantoms, each with their own set of abilities, we wanted to make it so that the action commands could always feel a bit unique to each phantom. To do this, we plan on having a few categories of action commands, assigning them out based on the phantom type! For example, anger attacks will be all about mashing buttons as fast as possible, while calm attacks will focus more on balancing things! We’re excited to try and add as many different kinds of these action commands as we can, both to keep combat interesting and to help make each phantom feel unique!

I don’t have another picture to add so here’s a pic of my family’s dog, Moose, who is a good boy

And that’s it for this post! I’m sure I’ll share more about the game’s mechanics in future blog posts, but I wanted to give some insight on where we are taking things so far. I also felt like this was a good continuation to the post about our inspiration games, showing how we are taking ideas from both, then combining them and adding our own twist!

Meet Grimlee – A Joy Phantom!

Hi everyone – Claire here! I know you all saw the concept art for this Phantom in Sera’s last post, but the one of the exciting parts about game development is that eventually things start to move and take on a life of their own. Grimlee has come a long way since Sera’s original drawing, including getting a name for itself, so let’s take a look at where they are now!

Look at them now! All grown up and three dimensional and all that. Of course, Grimlee didn’t get that way without some help, so let’s backtrack a bit.

First, Sera makes a turnaround of Grimlee for my reference. The drawing includes notes about shape, form, and how certain aspects of how the creature moves. I then use this reference to sculpt Grimlee in Blender and paint their face on in Substance Painter. After this, I take some time to give Grimlee some bones in a process called rigging, and create animations for them.

We wanted Grimlee to be very bubbly and squishy – they are a Joy Phantom after all! Many of their animations were focused on being comical. Our goal is to make every Phantom convey their personality through their animations, and Grimlee is specifically a mischievous trickster.

You might notice that Grimlee has an aura glow around them. All Phantoms glow in the color of their inner energy, determined by their type. All Joy type Phantoms will have this orange glow around them, whereas a Sadness type may have blue instead, and so on! Phantoms can change between their aura form and physical form at will – when you encounter them in the wild, they will simply be glowing balls of light until you engage them in combat.

And that’s Grimlee! There will probably be much more to discover about this Phantom as you continue your adventure… who knows, maybe this Phantom will be your Kindred! Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to leave comments down below or reach out in our discord server!

Joy / Sadness Starters

How’s it goin’, gamers?! It’s Sera, back at it again with some fresh new concept art content! πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰

In this blog post, I’m going to be writing about some of the starter Phantoms and what inspired their designs! You can read more about what exactly these starter Phantoms are in Claire’s previous post and maybe a bit more about individuals in the future, but here I’m going to be discussing specifically their appearances: what we were going for, and how we got there!

Phantom Design?πŸ€”

For starters specifically, we pushed very hard for Phantoms to be cute, likeable, and immediately recognizable. So! Things that tend to make creatures likeable and baby are using a lot of rounded shapes, biggish eyes, and by making them small! To make things immediately recognizable, we strove for unique silhouettes (dang, I almost spelled it right the first time), and differing colors from one another.

For future, non-starter Phantoms, we’ll also have more non-baby creatures, and I’ll get to flex a little more on some creepy/cool stuff πŸ’ͺ😈.

Joy Starter 😁

The first Phantom we revealed (and the first one with a finalized design)! Remember this promo image I did?

There they are! The design is simple, but we felt it would make a likeable and cute starter for people to bond with. Their design pretty much hasn’t changed from the original giant sheet of phantom concepts that I sketched up (maybe to be revealed in the future, it has a lot of possible spoilers).

The Joy starter was mostly based on the pretty well-known character from Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat! The Cheshire Cat had always been my favorite character in the story, and I thought that devious energy would synergize well with happiness and make it a bit more interesting. Fun Fact: did you know that Lewis Carrol possibly got the inspiration for the Cheshire Cat from a creepy stone carving of a grinning cat? Neat!

That, and BIG GREMLIN ENERGY is always at the top of my priorities list. We added knees during the transition from the very first design to the final one specifically to maximize bastard energy 😈

Sadness Starter 😒

The sadness starter went through… a few iterations before we got to a final design. And even now, colors might change! Who knows 🀷

I had a few very different ideas for this starter, but the one we ended up with is very much based on axolotls! If you didn’t know, axolotls are amphibians, more specifically neotenic salamanders. Neoteny means that the animals undergo sexual maturation without undergoing metamorphosis!

Axolotls make excellent laboratory subjects due to their regenerative abilities, and are widespread in the pet trade due to how easily they breed in captivity! They are also only native to Lake Xochmilco and Lake Chalco in Mexico, and are currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s threatened species list πŸ˜”. Unfortunately, conservation efforts are somewhat difficult, due to pollution of their natural environments and the introduction of predatory fish which feed on young axolotls.

Ending Notes!

So yeah! Sorry to end on that somewhat somber note 😟 There are still 5 other starters to go through, and most of those have a little more ~folklore~ than these ones did! I hope you enjoyed this regardless, and thank you very much for reading! πŸ‘‹

Sera OUT

Inspiration for The Phantom Keeper

Hey! I’m CJ. I’m the main programmer and game designer here at Pine Drake! I’ll probably focus more about the design stuff in my posts, talkin about why we make the decisions we do for our games. Also, any grammatical errors that have ever been in our games have been my fault, so – you’ve been warned.

If you ask anyone I know, they’ll tell you my favorite game is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. It was one of my first games as a kid, and it’s a game I come back to and replay at least once a year, if not more. As for Claire, her favorite game series is PokΓ©mon. So when we formed Pine Drake, we knew that at some point we wanted to make a game that combined those two ideas together. After a lot of back and forth, workshopping some ideas, we finally arrived at The Phantom Keeper. One of the big focuses when designing this game was how to merge the two ideas together, trying to keep the best of both of them, and then giving them our own twist.

A sneak peek at our battle system (with bad programmer UI)

From Paper Mario, our favorite aspects were definitely the combat and the dialogue. The combat is a pretty straightforward turn-based setup with a few twists that made it really compelling. The big things that we wanted to maintain was the idea of using smaller numbers, and the action commands.

By using smaller numbers for things like damage, health, etc., there’s a level of clarity that allows you to strategize even more. You can know that an attack will do exactly 4 damage, and that the opponent has exactly 6 health, and plan around that. In contrast, a lot of other RPG’s have what I call “Magic Numbers” – various stats for attack and defense that aren’t super clear how they calculate damage, how they stack up against your opponents, what’s a lot and what’s a little. That clarity from smaller numbers is one of my favorite parts of the combat. It means that you can plan out your moves much more easily without needing to pull out a calculator.

As for the action commands, they are a great way to make the combat more engaging. I find that in a lot of RPG’s, at least in the battles against common enemies, you can just button mash for the regular attack until the battle is done. Action commands give you something to do with every battle, and added chance for success or failure that you can control. It also feels a bit more immersive, like you’re the one attacking that enemy, instead of just giving the order.

From PokΓ©mon, the main bits that we wanted to keep was the monster collection – and all the aspects associated with it. By naming and training the creatures you capture, it forms an extra bond that a lot of people clearly enjoy. Sure, being able to pick who fights for you is fun, but it’s also important that you can pick their moves, give them items to buff them, and name them after various types of cheese.

We also love the idea of type matchups. At it’s base, it’s just a game of rock paper scissors, but it adds this reward for knowledge, both for which types are good against which other types, and what type is associated with a creature. It also encourages having more than just one partner for the entire game and to catch and train new friends (or feel extra pride at beating scissors with only paper!).

So, with all those things listed, we got to work on how to combine these ideas, and what we could add to it. That’s a lot of the work we are doing right now; finding a way to join these ideas together, and presenting them in a way that feels both nostalgic and brand new. One of the big things that we are trying to make entirely different from these games is the setting – but how we settled on the setting is probably worth another blog post on its own! (Maybe my next post, who knows)

A Pro’s and Con’s List for what we like from these games.

So yeah! That’s a very long-winded explanation of the two main sources of inspiration for our game, why we liked them, and what parts of them we want to preserve. We’re very excited to make our own version of our favorite games, and we hope that others are too πŸ™‚

What are Phantoms?

Hi there! Y’all know me, I’m Claire, I do 3D art and narrative design things for Pine Drake Games! Today I wanted to get into the story of The Phantom Keeper and the circumstances surrounding the game. That way you can have more context when checking out our updates! Hope you enjoy!

In the universe of The Phantom Keeper, every person is made up of two different parts – a Soul and a Phantom. A Soul is exactly what you’d expect it to be; a culmination of your being, representing your thoughts and opinions and how you view the world, as unique as your fingerprint. A Phantom works in tandem with your Soul as a companion, and it drives all of your emotions. Your Phantom controls how you react to the world around you, how you deal with hardship, and how you are perceived by others. Your Soul is your identity – your Phantom is your gut instincts. Make sense?

When a person dies, the Soul and the Phantom are separated. Unable to follow the Soul or stay on Earth, the Phantom finds themselves in a different place. This world has many names – The Phantom Realm, the Great Filter, even Purgatory – but most refer to it as Akeron. Here, the Phantoms spend the rest of eternity, lost and alone without their Soul to guide them.

A few Kindred Phantom concepts (done by the lovely Sera!)

Nobody knows where Souls go when they die. It isn’t supposed to be Akeron. But yet, every once in a long while, a Soul ends up there anyway. No one knows how. Perhaps it’s fate, divine intervention, or just a complete accident. Regardless, these Souls trapped in Akeron have found each other, and built up small communities in this strange world. That’s where you come in!

It’s you!

You play as a Soul who finds themselves in Akeron. Against all odds, you are able to meet up with your Kindred – the Phantom who guided you in life. This type of encounter is incredibly rare, and it leaves some to believe that you are destined to become a Keeper. Keepers are wandering nomads who keep the peace in Akeron by harnessing the power of Phantoms. They catch and train them, and also utilize the strength of Phantom emotions that Souls themselves lack. There hasn’t been a new Keeper in centuries, and most of them have gone into hiding for mysterious reasons. But with mysterious kidnappings and missing Souls on the rise, a new Keeper in town might be exactly what Akeron needs!

Hope you guys enjoyed this little world-building dump! Feel free to leave questions in the comments (although some things may remain a mystery for now!) or start a conversation on our awesome discord server! Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

Sera Tiem + Player Character!

πŸ‘‹ Hiya! I’m Sera, the 2D artist at Pine Drake Games! I did all of the character portraits, concept art, and some of the UI in Apotheker, and I’m now working on concept art for The Phantom Keeper! I also do character commissions (mostly DnD)!

❗ There’s going to be a lot of exclamation points (and emojis) in this, just warning you. ❗

Anyways! In these posts I’m going to be chatting about the environment, creature, and character concept art going into The Phantom Keeper! So I figured I would start off with the first character you see in the game–yourself!

The player character was the first concept we wanted to nail down, since the rest of the game’s look could kind of be generated around their aesthetic. We wanted them to be gender neutral, and be the blank slate sort of character that players could identify with (huge inspirations were Journey and Hollow Knight). It was also important for us to aim for a somewhat neutral color palette that would work well with the different colored auras of the phantoms (more on that in a later post, probably). So! Other than that, there wasn’t actually a lot of direction regarding the PC. ❓ Were they tall? Short? Skinny? Round? ❓ Who knows! So I made a huge sheet of potential places to start:

From here, we decided that we liked (if I recall correctly, it’s been a bit) 8, 9, 12, 13, and 18 out of this set. So I kept going with a few more rounds until we came to our final design:

Things we were looking for in terms of shape:

  • Legs somewhat free to move (so animation wasn’t terrible) 🦡
    • This ended up being accomplished by having a sorta stiff, triangular-profiled coat
  • Long, flowy bits that would make them visually interesting 🧣
    • This ended up being the hood, sleeves, and scarf
  • Androgynous kinda body (which, lemme just say, any body can be androgynous? But we wanted something that people wouldn’t immediately interpret as either feminine or masculine. Just wanted to clear that up real quick) πŸ‘€
    • Mostly covered, and fairly angular / stylized limbs and face!

So yeah! That was pretty much the process behind the player character and how their design came about! Our concept art process might not be what every studio does, but it works for our tiny team. I like just throwing out a bunch of ideas, and then going through them with everyone, choosing what works and what doesn’t from each design before moving forward with another round of designs based on that feedback. I do miss the axolotl masks from the very first round though… maybe they’ll come back with an NPC later πŸ‘€

Thanks for reading (esp if you made it this far??? Wow???)! In the future, I’ll be talking more about the creature designs, which should be loads of fun! They’re pretty much all based on cryptids, monsters from folklore, literature, or mythology, so that should be a blast πŸ˜€


Welcome to the Dev Blog!

Hey everyone!

Soooo yeah. We’re making a dev blog! We wanted to keep you all updated on the current progress of our new game, The Phantom Keeper, and this seemed like the best way to do it!

We’ve been doing a lot of work on nailing the overall look and feel, as well as making sure that there is a game to play! We’re excited to share more with you in the coming weeks about what we’ve been working on. Blog posts will be more personal than some of our other announcements, and each team member is going to have free reign to talk about what they’re excited about for the project.

If you’re interested in staying up to date, you can sign up for email notifications for our blog! This way you’ll never miss a post. If you’re on our mailing list, you’re getting these already, so no worries. We also encourage you to leave comments and questions at the bottom of posts – we love hearing from y’all!

Until next time! πŸ™‚