A couple of months ago, a demo version of The Tales of Bayun, a narrative adventure game (visual novel) based on Slavic folklore, was released on Steam. We asked the developers of Flyin Dogs to share their experiences, key characters, and inspirations. Volunteered to tell about the game Anatoly Glyga (art director), Timur Akhmetov (character artist) and Anya Kovalevskaya (environment artist).
The game world is based on Slavic folklore, fairy tales and legends, but life in it is not at all easy. Grief and joy, despair and hope, light and darkness – everything was mixed up and intertwined into a strong ball. Do not tear with your teeth, do not cut with a knife. The team faced a difficult task: to create the most accurate graphical embodiment of the philosophy and atmosphere of the invented game universe.
They also drew inspiration from painting – in the works of Vasnetsov, Shishkin, Repin, Levitan, Frank Frazetta, Brom; and in films – from Soviet adaptations of fairy tales (“Kashchei the Immortal”, “Humpbacked Horse”, “Ilya Muromets” and others) to more modern films (“Scary Tales”, “The Brothers Grimm”, “Game of Thrones”, works by Alberto Mielgo); and in games – Elden Ring, Kingdom Come, The Witcher, quests from Daedalic Entertainment. The music, from The Mill and Theodor Bastard to Dio and WASP, also played a huge role in creating a suitable working mood.
The resulting illustrations should show two sides of the world – the dullness and gloom of everyday life, and the bright, exciting, enchanting magic of outlandish creatures, powerful fairy-tale characters and significant events.
When working on characters it was necessary not only to rethink and modernize the famous heroes of fairy tales and epics, but also to create new images for them. Recognizable, but at the same time unfamiliar, ambiguous, ideally fitting into the concept of this difficult world of gray morality and moral dilemmas.
At the very beginning of the game, we meet the sister of the protagonist Radmila. Her image may seem repulsive and ugly, but how else can a child be deprived of parental warmth and affection? Poverty and hunger left their imprint on the girl: a sickly skin tone, sunken cheeks, bags under her eyes. The clothes are rather dilapidated, in some places holes and tears are visible. Hands are rough, from an early age, Rada had to help her parents with the housework and take care of her brother. But the neatly tied red ribbon and beautiful emerald belt show her femininity and desire to look beautiful.
A little further, the game introduces us to Mistress of the Copper Mountain – a character known to readers from the Ural tales of Bazhov and his Soviet adaptations. The image stands out noticeably against the background of unsightly and grimy children. The hostess is tall, stately, imperious. Shades of green predominate in the clothes, precious stones shine on the belt and in the headdress. She appears as a being of a higher order, the earthly incarnation of a real deity, free from the shackles of norms and rules that restrain mortals.
The next character to focus on is Proclus. The only friend of the protagonist, boyar. He is a kind man, but with cunning, he occupies not the last place in Velikograd. Proclus could achieve a lot in life, but he appreciates comfort and simple human joys: delicious food, strong drink and less work. However, this lover of circuses and bread clings tightly to his place of bread near the prince. It turned out to be a kind of fat cat who will find an approach to everyone, but will not miss his own either.
An expensive caftan, metal buttons for show, a friendly grin, but a tenacious and attentive look – this is how Proclus appears before the players
Rather late sketches of Proclus and his final version, which was included in the game. The Boyarin obviously gained in mass, and the cup lost its precious stones – it is still very far from the princely title!
Life Crow not as simple and pleasant as the existence of Proclus. He is in charge of the mines, where people day by day extract precious stones and ore. The work is not easy, and Raven has gone from the bottom to an important and honorable position. Hard physical labor crippled his health, but a shrewd mind and loyalty to his patron provided the character with work, food and a roof over his head. However, the sparkle in his eyes has long faded, hidden by stone dust and the dirt of everyday routine.
Raven no longer needs to wield a pick in the mine, but old habits are difficult to get rid of – a hammer and a chisel hang on a belt
Interim sketches of the character. Pay attention to the shape of the top of the cane, does it remind anyone?
Another difficult task is the creation of the environment. The plot unfolds in different parts of the fantasy world, the characters now and then move from place to place. Naturally, locations should reflect specific game situations and match the overall tone and atmosphere of the project. Let’s try to illustrate with a specific example.
Princely chambers of Velikograd. The place where the most important decisions are made. The main building material is different types of wood, because the city is located in the middle of dense forests. Strong logs are built to last, and skillful carving emphasizes the status of the owner. A wide window offers a panoramic view of the entire city, because the ruler must be aware of what is happening in his domain. The table is littered with scrolls, maps, documents – a lot of work, but they are moving slowly. A sumptuous throne made of dark wood and red silks perched in a corner, from where it is convenient to survey the entire chamber.
A bag of gold coins on the table, though not large, but filled to the brim. With this, you can live comfortably for more than one year … or become a victim of robbers in the nearest undergrowth
Palace of Kamnegrad It perfectly reflects its name and is almost entirely built of stone, only the internal floors are made of wood. The center of the composition is a powerful but at the same time elegant furnace, suitable for both space heating and forging. Kamnegrad is famous for its craftsmen – miners, stone carvers, jewelers. Near the stove there is a layer of rock interspersed with malachite and a figurine of a lizard. The window is closed with bars, and you won’t understand right off the bat whether it opens or serves as a reminder of the illusory nature of the ruler’s freedom. All the details carry a certain semantic load, but the purpose of some players will understand only after going through the story to the end.
Willy-nilly, the eye clings to the carpet, right? But not so long ago, similar beauties hung in everyone’s apartment!
The last thing we will talk about today is both the most difficult and the most interesting aspect of the visual component. Work on dynamic scenes. Modern visual novels often show static or slightly animated characters opposite each other, and all actions are described by text. This saves both time and energy.
In The Tales of Bayun, we decided to try and provide the most significant actions with a series of illustrations. You can see them already in the demo. For example, the fight scene between the Mistress of the Copper Mountain and Poloz. Working on such episodes is similar to working on a comic book: you need to understand the main idea, think over the composition, figure out the storyboard. Here is an example of a rough sketch of part of the scene:
In fact, in the presented fragment there are about 10 frames, but no one likes long vertical pictures
After the approval of all key personnel, they are further developed. And, for example, from this sketch:
The end result is something like this:
Then the animator will conjure over the resulting material, but that’s a completely different story.
To sum it all up, the job of a game artist is not an easy one. But damn interesting! Constant creative searches do not let you get bored, and to see how the created images are filled with life and become an important element of a solid and thoughtful story is an incomparable pleasure.
At The Tales of Bayun, we really take pride in the work of the artists. And we are very glad that their skill helped to make the story of Bayun the cat a reality. Thank you for your attention, and may good luck be with you!