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From Giant Redwoods to Coke Classic: How We Designed 10 of the Most Popular Dragons in War Dragons

This blog will detail the process and inspiration behind ten of the most popular dragon designs in War Dragons.

Brian Steffel, Blogger

November 2, 2015

26 Min Read

Remember when you were a kid in school and your notebooks would be filled to the brim with doodles of superheroes, monsters and dragons? That’s kind of been my job lately. I’ve been working on War Dragons, Pocket Gems’ first 3D game. While developing it, our team designed hundreds of different kinds of dragons that you can play as -- about 90 of which are currently in the game.


The dragons range from fun and fantastical to dark and deadly. With such a large volume of them in the game, we are always challenged to make them feel unique from one another. To do this, we have to determine a few things first: the dragon's class, personality and the lore behind the dragon. From there, we look at a lot of different images of lizards, birds, dinosaurs and high fantasy art from around the world so we can nail the perfect look for each dragon. This post will explain how we created some of the most popular dragons in the game (in no particular order).*


*footage pulled directly from game




Name: Dactyl

Class: Hunter

Type: Reanimated Wyvern

Tier: Purple, Rare

Abilities: Havoc, Ballista Resist


Dactyl is one of our undead dragon designs and his look is pure evil. He is all teeth, bones and spikes. Because he is a "plague carrier" dragon that spreads disease, we wanted to be sure his look reflected this, so we gave him a sickly green color and covered him with insect-like spikes and barbs. We also gave him open wounds to drive home the disease feel. If Dactyl was a horsemen of the apocalypse, he’d be pestilence.


When we started creating War Dragons' look, we first built a few base skeletons that we call rigs. Using just a handful of rigs, we were able to design all of the dragons in the game. This drastically reduced our total design time and freed up our team to do work on some of the more fun parts of creating dragons.


Back to Dactyl… to achieve Dactyl’s evil look, we looked to our rigs first to help guide any visual constraints. From here, we created several black and white rough drafts to quickly determine the silhouette we wanted. After playing with the concept and determining the general design, we moved on to some of the details that finesse Dactyl’s look — like his tattered wings and torn flesh.


Using the program Zbrush, we then created a 3D sculpture of Dactyl, bringing our concept to life. At this point, Dactyl’s model has been fully formed, minus the textures and colors that will really set him apart. From here, we can really start getting down to the details by retopping the model adding textures -- such as the scars and tears on his skin. Once the full model has been created with textures, it’s time to ensure the brightness and hue choices create are appropriate for the look, and do final art fixes and color corrections.

When we have the final model we go to rig and animation, which is usually a pretty smooth process as we use one of our five existing rigs and binding bones. When the animation is complete, we submit the dragon to our playtesters, high five and move on to the next dragon!




Name: Arborious

Class: Warrior

Type: Earth Avatar

Tier: Purple, Epic

Abilities: Rejuvenate, Stoneskin Shield, Ballista Resist


When you first see Arborius, it’s very clear that he’s basically a giant tree that can fly and shoot fire. When designing Arborius, we wanted to create a dragon whose ties to nature went past the color scheme, so we toyed around with a lot of different configurations of living trees, vines and leaves before deciding on Arborius' current look. He’s kind of like a big reptilian Ent.


Additionally, Arborius is a warrior dragon which means he can take a lot of damage. Being based in San Francisco, this reminded us of the giant sturdy redwoods of Northern California: they’re ancient, powerful and permanent. We wanted to find a way to tie that same feeling to a dragon and Arborius is what we came up with, so we started designing.


Once we determined to go with the redwood and terrestrial look, we created our black and white rough silhouettes to determine the general shape we wanted Arborious to be. We then did several color passes to get a better idea of the color scheme we wanted to go with.


Once we had the general concept in mind, we went to Zbrush to create to begin sculpting Arborious. When his overall form had been created, we retopped the model and added texture, which added the fine details like his leafy wings and vine-esque complex. After we check that the colors and hues are appropriate to the silhouette, we begin rigging and animation. When we are happy with the final product, we take it to our playtesters.


Now that we’ve gone through the process of creating the dragons, I want to walk you through some of our other favorites in the game and where the concepts for their designs came from.






Name: Kinnara

Class: Sorcerer

Type: Summoner Dragon

Tier: Red, Epic

Abilities: Chain lightning, Summon Warrior, Storm Resist


When we first started designing dragons for this game, we were keenly aware that if we stuck too closely to any one dragon archetype, all of our dragons would feel repetitive and boring. To avoid this, we tried to pull inspiration from dragons across all types of lore.


Kinnara was our first attempt at a softer, friendlier dragon. There’s some dragons that you see and you fully expect them to happily burn your house down before flying off into the sunset. Other dragons, like Kinnara, you can imagine giving you a piggy back ride to work or helping you move. Kinnara calls to mind friendlier dragons such as Falcor from The Neverending Story or Puff the Magic Dragon.


Kinnara was originally designed to be green like a tropical lizard, but we ultimately decide on making her coloring pink to make her feel more welcoming and friendly. We also thought she would look more unique with bright plumage, like a peacock. She ultimately became the model for other dragons like Garuda and Luminark, the latter of which uses the original green color scheme.





Name: Ettin

Class: Hunter

Type: Great Undead Wyvern

Tier: Green, Legendary

Abilities: Healing Mark, Cloak, Self Destruct, Cannon Resist


We knew early on that we wanted to try and incorporate as many fantasy and fiction elements into our dragon designs as possible. One area that really excited us was the undead, specifically zombies. We have a handful of dragons that appear zombified, skeletal or otherwise creepy in some way. Ettin was our first zombie.


Ettin has a classic zombie design. At first glance he looks relatively normal, but upon further inspection you can see small bites and chomps in his torso and tail, exposing the bone below. Through tattered wings, you can also see that the majority of his rib cage is exposed.


Ettin is probably the most subdued of our undead dragons. We wanted to balance the inherent horror that zombies have with the ingrained nobility that comes with dragons, so he’s mostly in tact. He’s actually kind of a tragic figure if you think about: a once-regal beast that’s been turned to a creature of pure darkness.






Name: Draco

Class: Warrior

Type: Fire Dragon

Tier: Red, Common

Abilities: Rejuvenate, Explosive Shield


It’s hard to beat an original.


Draco is a very special dragon to us because he was one of our first designs over two years ago. Draco went through about four iterations before he became the dragon that you see in the game today.


Draco is the Coke Classic. He’s a Ford Mustang. He was always meant to be the poster child of War Dragons: an iconic red dragon design that was instantly recognizable. From the spikes on his back to his scaly wings, he’s a no-frills old school dragon.


For this reason, he’s also one of the first dragons that you can play in the game. We wanted a way to instantly convey the gameplay and tone of War Dragons to players. Draco’s attacks and abilities are easy to grasp but you still feel like badass when you’re using them.





Name: Kelsis

Class: Warrior

Type: Bombardment Dragon

Tier: Blue, Epic

Abilities: Battle Cry, Stoneskin Shield, Canon Resist


Kelsis is a bit like Draco on steroids. If you beat up Draco and take his lunch money at school, Kelsis is the one who you’ll be hearing from to get it back. Like Draco, we wanted Kelsis to be a classic red dragon type of creature, but Kelsis was designed to be heavier and more muscular. He doesn’t skip leg day.


When designing dragons, it helps to imagine what they would be doing on the battlefield. Some dragons you can imagine casting spells and battling troops. Others, you can visualize assaulting fortress walls and battering down well-fortified castles. Kelsis definitely falls in the latter category.


Since Kelsis is an epic dragon, we also wanted to make sure and give him some interesting characteristics to set him apart. That’s why we decided to give him a pair of pretty gnarly-looking horns. It’s an easy way to convey to players that this diabolical beast is not to be taken lightly.






Name: Darja

Class: Sorcerer

Type: Iron Chaneller

Tier: Orange, Epic

Abilities: Chain Lightning, Reverse Projectiles, Summon Warrior, Storm Resist


Remember that little mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans? Did you ever wonder what it would look like if it was humongous dragon laying waste to battlefields? That’s kind of an accurate way to describe Darja. Conceptually, we envisioned she was created by a society that was jealous of the player's mystical bond with their dragons.


Darja is a metal dragon, one of the rarest breeds. She is meant to look like a magically animated suit of armor. While we were going for a metallic look, we knew we didn’t want her to appear polished or shiny. We were going for more Edward Scissorhands than T-1000. As such, Darja appears like a sort of steampunk monster that was cobbled together from scrap metal and other found materials.






Name: Numen

Class: Hunter

Type: Wasteland Stalker

Tier: Blue, Epic

Abilities: Cloak, Death Gaze, Cannon Resist


One of the more obvious sources of inspiration for dragons that’s grounded in reality is dinosaurs -- pterodactyls are probably the closest thing to real dragons that have ever existed. We wanted to take this one step further and imagine what a T-rex might look in dragon form. Thus, Numen was born (or hatched).


Numen has a slightly different silhouette than the other dragons and more of a prehistoric feel to her. If you look at her back markings, head shape and feet, it’s not hard to imagine her bursting through a cage in Jurassic park.


In line with the jurassic feel, it only made sense to have Numen be a hunter. Her abilities are a lethal mix of stealth and targeted destruction.


Hold on to your butts….





Name: Hugin

Class: Warrior

Type: Great Southern Dragon

Tier: Green, Legendary

Abilities: Explosive Shield, Rejuvenate, Wind Wall, Lightning Resist


Don’t let the name fool you, this dragon is definitely not cuddly.


The inspiration for Hugin came from the idea of a thunderstorm at night. If you look closely, you might notice that there is a pulsing energy just below his dark scales, much like lightning illuminating a dark storm cloud.


If Numen is (somewhat) grounded in reality, then Hugin is on the opposite end of that spectrum. Everything about him conveys fantastical terror. From his abundance of horny scales to his glowing white eyes.


As a Great Southern Dragon, we also wanted to imbue Hugin with a bit of regality. His size, stature and expression were all meant to strike the right balance of majesty and menace. If you squint, it’s not hard to imagine his protruding horns as a crown.





Name: Bolt

Class: Hunter

Type: Tomb Wyvern

Tier: Blue, Rare

Abilities: Death Gaze, Trebuchet Resist


From Castlevania to Diablo, animated skeletons have always had a rich history in the world of games. We wanted to make sure a skeleton made it into War Dragons, so we created Bolt- the third undead dragon on this list.


Bolt kind of looks like one of those sun-bleached cow skulls you might encounter when crossing the desert. Attached to this skull is a shambling mass of clavicles and phalanges.


When were first designing Bolt, our instinct was to make him more bulky so he would have a similar shape and size to the rest of the dragons. We then realized that it would make more sense to give him thin, bird-like bones, which make him more agile in the air.


What we ended up with was one of the more unique dragon designs in the game. He may not have any flesh, but he’s still a credible threat in the skies of battle.


We enjoyed our time creating all the dragons in War Dragons, and hope you enjoyed learning how we made them. Thanks for reading!

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