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A look into the origins of myself as an indie game developer, Panmorphia and the art style behind it.

Lydia Kovalenko

February 1, 2016

6 Min Read

Short games bio: I, like many others, grew up playing point & click puzzle adventures such as the Monkey Island and Kings Quest series. I discovered WorldsAway in my teens around 1998, a 2D Virtual World community that was running on an engine created by LucasArts in the 80s. There I had the wonderful opportunity to do a little bit of everything, I hosted games, created and produced art when they introduced the member art program, built scenes for the world, joined the creator team for new worlds (Second Kingdom and Datylus), oversaw the events in the role of Thememeister (games, roleplaying and quests) for the new world (Second Kingdom) and eventually worked as a World manager (Second Kingdom and Datylus).

Creators meeting in Second Kingdom. My avatar is in the upper row, second from the left.

Every weekend as part of our event schedule, we had small point & click adventures or Quests as we called them. This combination of playing games, overseeing quests by our staff and members, and filling the schedule with Quests of my own, when needed, was a great learning experience. It was a front row seat at observing what our members responded to and which quests they enjoyed the most. I still remember very fondly the incredible rush of seeing people be so happy playing them - just as much as I enjoyed playing games growing up. 

Fast forward to quite a few years later and two degrees in Architecture, it was 2013. Work was tapering off due to the then recent economic crisis in Cyprus. I had been itching to get back into games for years. Having recently become aware of tools such as Corona SDK & GameSalad that helped non-programmers such as myself make games, I began to toy with the idea of making my own point and click puzzle / adventure game.

It wasn't until I went on a trip to Tzelefos Bridge in May of 2013 and came across this tree that the urge solidified, and I was inspired to create Panmorphia. 

The tree that inspired Panmorphia

Over the next couple of months, I travelled around Cyprus taking photos and refining the Game Design. I discovered a lot of places that I hadn't even dreamed they existed on the island.

It definitely was an adventure in itself.

Places in Cyprus that are featured in the game.

The technique I used for that art is something called Digital Matte Painting and there are many wonderful tutorials online. For me it was basically taking many photos, and then manipulating and blending all of them together in Photoshop to stitch the scene that I had in mind. Once I was happy with the overall composition, I applied many filters and effects to tie it all together and also give it a more saturated and warmer look.

In the game you are playing as a sentinel that is called to the land of Panmorphia. Your ability is to manipulate the four Aristotelian elements and transform yourself into the animal that best represents each element. Human for Fire, Cat for Earth, Bird for Air and Fish for Water. By having these transformations I created a multi-layered view of Panmorphia. As a cat you are shrinking so everything appears bigger, as a bird you are able to fly and reach parts that are not reachable in other forms, and as a fish you are underwater!

My design process has always been very relaxed, evolving both the design and art as I go along, by instinctively trying to get to a point of what feels right. I had a loose plan of how I wanted the game to flow and what the four areas would be like. Sometimes it was a hunt for a specific location such as a cliff or an ancient sanctuary, and other times by not being rigid in my art direction plans, I was able to weave into the game amazing places that I had no idea existed.

This was the very first scene I did. I experimented with a lot of techniques on it. After I reached a result I was happy with, I felt a lot more confident about being able to create the art for the game.

As I created more scenes, and improved my style and technique, I came back to it and gave it a much cleaner and crisper look!

I have to stress that it's important to take a few days to experiment with different art styles until you have a general idea of what you're going for. It'll save a lot of time further down the line!

Some scenes were a lot more complicated than others, such as the one below going from...

...to this underwater scene.

In the case of creating the puzzles, I turned to AutoCAD to create the base of what I wanted a puzzle to look like, and then I finished it in Photoshop. It was interesting to blend the two different art styles together, but I'm quite happy with the end result.

For the Night scenes, it was a matter of adding a few filters to give everything a blue glow. It was a happy accident when I discovered this effect mid production. I liked it so much that I went back and changed all the cat scenes into night ones.

I wanted the night sky to be bright and colourful and so I tried a few approaches with results I didn't like. In the end, I ended up finding a constellation map and using a brush in Photoshop, individually marking all the different star sizes and positions. This definitely gave it a more natural look.

Panmorphia was released on iOS, Google Play and Amazon App Store last year. I had some limitations both in the available platforms and performance with my previous engine (GameSalad) and so I took the time to learn Unity. While I felt a bit limited in the end with GameSalad, I can't express how big of a help it was in teaching me the basics of how to code a game. It definitely made the transition to Unity ten times easier.

After the dust settles with the release of Panmorphia for the PC / Mac / Linux (31st ofJanuary), I am eager to fully begin working on the sequel to Panmorphia, which will take place inside a castle. I am taking a slightly different approach with the game design there and I'm excited to be able to experiment once again and evolve my art style further!

Panmorphia for the PC / Mac / Linux is available on:
Itch.io: http://lkmad.itch.io/panmorphia 
Mac App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/panmorphia/id1073365835?mt=12

It'll also be available on Steam, once it passes through Greenlight:  http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=507156089

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