ARAE: Land of Virtue

We don’t know if you guys follow us on social media… if you don’t, you should go take a look at our latest posts. We just revealed the cover of our videogame next to the title.

The final name is “Arae: Land of Virtue”. When thinking about the naming, we realized everything was related to our main character, so we wanted people to know her before the launch and to not forget her name, that explains why her name, Arae, is the first thing we find in the title.

When it comes to the “Land of Virtue” part, we can’t say much yet because it has to do with the story of the game and we don’t like adventures with spoilers. For now, all we can say is that virtues and vices will be very important for the clans inside the game.

From our point of view the name sounds pretty epic, which is exactly what we wanted as a result. That is when we realized that we needed a cover as epic as the title. And in the title, the typography of the name was also going to be very important.

When we started brainstorming, we started to discuss one thing: what’s more relevant when people think about our game, Arae or the adventure that she will be immersed in? We all ended up agreeing on the fact that the key of the game was going to be the adventure itself and how the players would want to dive into it next to Arae.

That explains why in the cover you can’t see Arae’s face, she is already facing the adventure and she is inviting you to follow her.

She is definitely ready…but… are you?

Development in video games

When we stop and analyze the game, what catches our attention first is the design of objects and characters and also the game-play, but how does all of that work? Thanks to the developers.

The users can only see the final product since they can’t actually see everything that is happening before the launch of the game, but if they saw the hard work that is behind every action they would be amazed.

Explaining it in an easy way, the developer’s job is to make the design ideas playable. The design team determines what needs to happen and the programming team makes it happen, integrating the art, generating the components and making it all fit perfectly so the player can control the character and have things updated according to all the events.

That means that when the player presses the jump button, we have to make the character jump and when he gets hit, his life is lowered.

As we can see, it’s actually very important that the developers know everything about the game-design because if not, maybe the actions they made possible wouldn’t be used and that would be a waste of time.

We also want to stand out the importance of fixing bugs. When making a video game and coding it, bugs are very frequent. Bugs are errors that lead to unexpected results, not fitting with the final result you wanted to achieve.

In our team, the main person in charge of all this is Adrián, our senior developer, so let’s chat with him to learn a bit more about the development behind the game.

Hey Adrian! Is it easy to bear in mind what the rest of the teams do, especially game-design, when you do all the coding? How do you manage to make everything fit in perfectly?

A: Hi! It is a complicated task, but luckily in the team the relationship between design and programming is very good. Thanks to the fact that we talk whenever there is any doubt and we try to keep the documentation updated, we are quite synchronized between us and also with the rest of the team, which allows us to have a much more relaxed mind and let the development flow.

Getting everything to fit perfectly is an iterative task in which things come up and change until we reach the desired result. From programming we usually say that Design is the source of all our problems and at the same time our reason to exist.

When it comes to bugs, what do you do to fix them? Do you follow some specific steps or do you just try again and again until you find out what is wrong and then you solve it?

A: When we detect a bug, the first thing to do is to find “the guilty one”. The game code is divided into a multitude of files that are responsible for small functionalities, such as the character jumping, a platform moving or an enemy attacking. Once we have located the script where the bug is occurring, we use a debugging tool and additional code to check what is happening and why. This is the most difficult process and it is not uncommon that it can take hours because many times you think you have found the problem, you fix it and it continues to malfunction. The important thing is not to give up (or opt for a temporary solution or design change).

As a curiosity, each programmer has a particular way of managing this frustration over the hours, in my case I usually express aloud to the program that I do not know what is wrong and as time goes by I sound more desperate, as if a baby would not stop crying and you run out of ideas.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start in the development world? Tell us the best and the worst thing about it.

A: My advice to someone who wants to get started is to figure out which of all the things to do on the programming team is the one you enjoy the most and specialize in it.

The best thing about the development world is the amount of fun things you can do, however, almost every day things get complicated and you need a high frustration tolerance.

Saona Studios from the roots

We always talk about our game, but we never talk about the studio. We think it’s time that you guys get to know the real Saona Studios, the human side of video game production.

It’s not easy to start your own business in an industry with so much competition like the video game one. Leaving that aside, if you are a creative person and you start having a lot of interest in this world, for your first steps all you need is a good story, good graphics, and a bit of money to invest in your project, after that you can start thinking on how to create a community.

There is one thing that isn’t mandatory but in Saona Studios we consider it one of the most important things: having a team.

Maybe some people do not need it because they are good at everything and they like to go solo, we think that is great and very hard, but we prefer to have a team full of diversity, because that way there are more ideas, and when you start a project from the roots, you need all the ideas you can get, doesn’t matter how crazy they sound.

So in our studio, we have a team of 10 people at the moment, we work at an office (although because of Covid we have been working via online as well), and we have different departments: art, development, game design and marketing. We think it’s very useful to have it this way because it lets us have our work very organized and makes the feed-back easier.

Another essential thing for us is having good and honest values. We strongly believe that having very good values can make a difference. The same way you try to buy your clothes from a brand you feel identified with, we want you to buy a video game from a studio you feel identified with.

Let’s chat with the CEOs, Flavio Muñoz and Juanjo Olivares to understand everything a bit better.

Hey! When did you guys realize you wanted to create your own studio to make your own video game?

F: Well, playing video games has always been part of our life. We have always shown some sort of obsession with the industry: listening to gaming podcasts, watching gaming shows and of course playing a lot. 

On the other hand, thanks to our background and our other jobs, we were able to look at the industry through different eyes. Videogames are moving fast and new challenging trends are under development right now. Streaming and new ways to monetize titles are things in process and nobody really knows how the industry will be in a few years from now. 

Starting a studio and not just being a part of these new trends, but establishing them in some way is a real challenge, but one where the rewards are so big that it makes sense to at least give it a try.

What’s the hardest thing about leading a team?

J: In a team full of diversity and different profiles, the hardest thing is putting everything together. Let us explain this: art wants everything to look good, development wants everything to work well, game-play wants to make sure the game is worth playing, and marketing wants to have content to share with the community. So, at the end of the day, the hard thing is to make a final product that adjusts to a calendar, a budget and to quality standards, always bearing in mind the team’s personal interests. 

Do you think it’s easy to be successful inside the video game industry?

F: We don’t think so. If you analize how many indie studios fail every year we are definitely on the wrong side of the equation. 

Although, there is always a “but”. If you make something attractive: sky’s the limit.

Long story short, from our point of view, it’s a combination of fun gameplay, good storytelling, and compelling art. Through our review of the industry we have noticed how a lot of studios make many mistakes in these three areas and how they push for the release of a game that is not attractive to end users. The key is to think about what customers would like without fully knowing it yet.

What goes through your mind when things don’t go as planned and how do you manage to not give up on your project?

J: Honestly, we never think about giving up because we do this not as a necessity, but as a vocation. It’s never been our main job, we do it as an extra and that is why we always give it our 100%, we want something very creative and beautiful to come out of our effort in this project. 

What made you decide that you wanted a girl and not a boy as a main character?

F: Hahaha honestly it was a decision of the whole team, not fully ours. Your focus as a narrator should be the plot, not the genre of the character. It’s very important you can show an evolution in the main character, with human fears and some wishes. You need to make it real, it doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a boy but you need to be sure it connects with the audience. 

Any tips for all the indie studios that follow you on social media?

J: Truth being told, we are the ones giving the first steps in the industry, so we probably need more tips than a lot of studios, so any type of suggestion is very welcome. But from what we have learned until now, we recommend to surround yourself with a multidisciplinary team and not to fall into any prototype oriented only to one part of the game, you need to invest in all sections, not only in the development one, for example. 

 

Music in video games

What happens to a movie without good actors? Even if the script is amazing, the result isn’t good. The same thing happens to a video game without a good soundtrack. It just doesn’t work as well.

Developers that have a video game with a good story usually want you to dive into the storytelling they create, and the music helps making that happen. Music is very useful to connect emotionally with someone and that is what a lot of studios want with the potential players of their game, to stablish an emotional connection that makes them want to know more and more every single day.

It’s not easy to select the songs that fit perfectly with each scene. If the music is good but it doesn’t go along with what the characters are going through in that moment, it doesn’t make sense to use it.

We realized that the soundtrack is part of the game and because of that we decided to talk to some of our incredible followers that are working inside that part of the industry. Let’s chat with @gamelody, an account that does music for videogames professionally, to try to understand this better.

Hey @gamelody! Can you guys tell us how you feel when you create music for videogames?

G: Hi! For us doing the soundtrack of a videogame is amazing, besides being part of a team with which to exchange ideas you also help to shape the world they are creating. We also learn a lot in the process, because if you are asked to create music for a scary game you are immersed in horror music for months, analyzing, creating and listening to it all the time and little by little you learn about each style or theme. But above all we like the part of adapting to the idea that the director has and try to stick to it as best as possible, although sometimes it is not easy to decipher what he wants musically

What inspires you??

G: Within that immersive work, there are periods of: I’ve got it! But we cannot depend on them if we want to meet the deadlines, since they usually happen when we are composing. But when we do manage to make it happen and we make possible in two days what would usually take one whole week, it is very fulfilling and rewarding.

We also put aside the games we usually play and in our free time we play other games related to the theme in question, which is always a good thing.

Marketing as a key point

What happens to a product that lands in the market with no previous information about it? That nobody knows what it is but they don’t even care. When you have a product it is important to let people know that you have it and to be clear about what makes it special. The same thing happens with videogames, everyday some random studio can be developing a different video game but the key is the thing that makes them completely unique. And apart from having that unique asset, you have to know how to sell it, you have to make people want it, your goal is to make your potential buyers follow all the updates of the launch of your video game and fall in love with what you are sharing. 

It is all about creating a community before finishing the game, it doesn’t make sense to start creating the community once you already have the product done, it has to be from the beginning. It is important that you gain followers on social media and keep them informed of the whole project, and it is also significant to get the press and some small streamers talking about your game so it starts sounding familiar to your audience. 

Another relevant detail is the following: sell the game, not the studio. When you are an indie studio like us, it is very common to try to sell the studio more than the game you are creating, but that is not the right move, if your game is successful, then people will start knowing about your studio. 

Like Vladimir Lenin once said, “it is necessary sometimes to take one step backward to take two steps forward”. 

To learn more about all this let’s talk to Monica Moreno, our Marketing Analyst and Community Manager.

Hey Monica! Tell us what is the most important thing about selling an indie game?

For me the most important thing is being realistic. It is easier to speculate once you already have a community built or a reputation that makes your video game stand out from minute one. But when you are an indie, that’s not given to you, in order for that to happen you have to work very hard and create a lot of content, that way, step by step, people will start noticing you and they will pay attention to your updates. The key is being constant and interacting a lot with the community. Asking for feed-back can be a good way to do this. 

If it’s not much to ask, what strategy do you follow on social media?

At the moment, we are focusing almost all our attention on Instagram and Twitter, the first one to define a clear visual style and content and the second one to interact more, since the videogame community is more active on this last one. We try to post content almost everyday to remind our followers that we are there, working hard behind the screen from monday to friday. Our main strategy is creating content about the weekly posts on our blog and about the characters of our game, always showing the fanbase how we are constantly making progress.

Is it a must that the marketing person knows about videogames?

It is ideal, but it is not a must. If a person who doesn’t really play video games starts handling all the communication from the studio it will be necessary for that person to study the competition and the strategies that are used inside the videogame industry. You don’t have to be a pro, but you do need to know the basics. It wouldn’t make sense to sell something without knowing the basics of what you’re selling.

Some advice for someone who wants to be a part of the video game marketing and advertising world?

Be creative, get used to having ideas thrown away and remember that a community can’t be created from one day to another. Having a good organic community takes time, but is definitely worth it.

How we bring assets to life

Some might think that once the artists have the final concept of any element or character from the game, there’s no further complication. But it’s not as easy as having a new drawing and just letting it be inside the game hoping it goes along with the whole level-design.

There has to be someone who does this, an environment artist, a person with a 360° vision of the game, capable of knowing exactly where to put each element for the final scene to make sense. A person that having A and B is capable of getting C as a result. Some would call it a “game-builder”.

This is a hard task because deep down you can’t avoid thinking that having different elements and not knowing how to combine them can lead to an unfinished project.

In our studio, the person in charge of creating all these game environments, is not the game designer, it is one of the artists from the team. This is because it actually does not include adding playable mechanics, it’s more about connecting the content that is already created with the game itself. Long story short: it’s all about bringing the game to life.

How does someone do this? From our experience, the best option is to use Unity, which is a game engine that helps the game devs power all their ideas and created concepts. Using this tool is extremely powerful for indies like us because it makes it possible to compete with some big projects that were also developed using this professional program.

To understand this process let’s chat with Carmen Villa, the one responsible for this part of the process in Saona Studios, a young artist with an amazing talent.

Hey Carmen! Can you explain what really goes on in your mind when you receive a group of assets and you have to create a new environment?

C: First of all, I think about how they are going to be set. Before the artists of the team work on the assets final art, we make a sketch of how the level design is going to be visually translated into what we see on the screen. I use this sketch as a reference in order to create our environment. Many changes are made in the process in order to have the best version of our world design!

How do you get inspired? 

C: As I mentioned before, we sketch the final look of the level design before jumping into Unity. There is a whole process behind it in which the artists create several concept art pieces for each part of our game. When I feel a bit lost and need some inspiration, I just go back to the concepts of that zone. Usually I also talk to my teammates and we figure out together what fits best.

From your point of view, how should an environment artist be as a person?

C: Detail-oriented, creative and skilled for drawing and composition.

The key of our game art

In Saona Studios we like being different, that’s why we have moved away from conventional art in video games such as pixel art, vector art, cel shading art and monochromatic art.

In our game we are going for a traditional illustration. For that reason, in the team we don’t have graphic designers to perform this task, instead we have artists.

We honestly think that the game artists from Saona Studios have one of the most rewarding jobs, because they bring objects and characters to life in the way they imagine them. 

Our team is formed by very creative and talented people, and that is why, after thinking about it, we realised that it would be an amazing opportunity for you guys to learn from our lead artist, Ramón Escalera. So here is a short interview we were able to arrange with him!

Hey Ramón! Could you tell us a little bit about your day to day tasks?

R: My day-to-day work consists of bringing the impressive narrative, design and programming work to an artistic level according to the quality of the final product we are looking for. It’s a long but rewarding task.

In your opinion, what makes traditional art special?

R: Well, I think that all ways of artistically representing a target are good, and that there is no type of art more special than another. Although of course, as a traditional illustrator and animator, I feel a predilection for a more traditional and perhaps less “digital” finishing. Although we work with modern and digital methods, the team’s goal is to convey visual affection to the project, creating worlds and characters much richer and with a much greater visual depth that other techniques do not allow us.

Do you think the type of art is relevant inside the game you are developing?

R: Of course, as I have explained before, there are many visual styles that adapt phenomenally to many games. But when it comes to telling a deeper story it is necessary to go a step further, to give personality to the world we have created, to bring to life the characters that populate it, creating a much richer universe, and all this with a single purpose: we want the player to feel part of it, to identify and empathize with the inhabitants of this universe, to enjoy the joys of our protagonist, to suffer her misfortunes, and all this is unthinkable without an art that surrounds everything, a visual style that makes you fall in love and enjoy every moment of the game.

Any advice for people interested in traditional art?

R: Patience, lots and lots of patience, and never lose hope. It’s a tough world, especially at the beginning, but it is very rewarding in the long run. You don’t need any special talent, just persistence and time.

Level-design as part of the game

 

For those who might not know, level-design is the part of the game development where the video game/level designer creates the different stages of the game. 

Inside our studio, this is not done by the art team, which is focused on drawing backgrounds and characters. It is done by one person: Andrea, our lead game designer. Her job is quite complicated because apart from doing the level design, it is important for her to keep an eye on the art team to make sure everything is going as planned all the time. 

So we can all understand a bit better what happens behind the screen, let’s ask Andrea a few questions…

¿What’s it like to be the only game designer on the team?

A: It’s a big challenge, to say the least. I have to come up with new ideas everyday, knowing that most of them are not going to be used in the final product. This is something you should get used to if you want to become a game/level designer and even more if you are the only one working on it, because during the testing you will realise that not everything works and that is where you will really find out your failures and successes. 

¿What do you actually do? Explain the process.

A: Since I hold the position as Game and Level Designer at the same time, first I have to come up with the mechanics and rules that are going to be the core of our game and once that is settled in stone then I can start creating the levels.

First of all, I create a quick draft on paper and test it, and once I see that actually works (following the rules that I previously mentioned), I make a clean concept and stick it in one of the walls (you should see the “before and after” once you do this, it’s quite a change).

Then it’s time to create a simple prototype in Unity with some boxes and tiles in order to test it, here is where the major changes occur. I like to call this stage the experimentation phase, since most of what you did in paper is going to be changed and “thrown away”. This is the phase in the development that will make you crazy since you are going to repeat it a thousand times, but hey, look at the bright side, you will know your own maps perfectly.

During this phase is where the designer and programmer need to be on the same page, since they are going to need feedback from one another constantly and that will allow the prototype to be as smooth as it can.

Once you iterated as much as you could and are happy with the results, it’s time for the art department to jump in and start decorating the scenarios.

The last phase would include things such as making sure there is as little bugs as possible, making sure your design intention/layout is clear to the players and that the difficulty is correctly balanced.

¿How long does it take to get a level done?

A: It depends on the duration of the level, the amount of actions that you are allowed to do in that level and a bunch of other aspects that I mentioned before but let’s say it takes me a week to settle everything in paper, two weeks to move it and do the first test in Unity and then the rest of the time is all about refining what you previously created. Obviously this changes if you have to start everything all over again or if there is a major change in the game-play of the level.

¿What would you say to someone who wants to start doing level-design? Give us some advice. 

A: I will tell you what my teacher and colleagues told me: “Play as much as you can” and by playing I don’t mean only videogames, I mean any kind of game, you can learn or come up with a new mechanic by playing hide and seek with your friends, it’s a constant learning process that I personally love. 

Be ruthless, and even mean, when you are trying to understand how a level or game works, look for any bug or inconsistency that you can find and figure out different ways to solve the “problem”. You can do this with games that you have played, but it’s even better to do it with your own games or ideas, since this will help you refine your skills, and more importantly your games.

Gender equality inside the video game industry

In Saona Studios we want to break the stereotype of video games being just for teenage boys. We think age does not matter, but what’s more important, we consider gender should not even be discussed. We don’t only think women have the same right as men to play video games, we also think they have the same talent to make them.

That is why half of our team are men and the other half are women. The female roles are the following: the two marketing analysts, the lead game designer and two of our jr. artists.

Also, regarding the fact that women are almost half of the video game players and they are still underrepresented as main characters in the mainstream games, we decided to turn the tide and call an end to this. That is why we’re going to have a female main character: ARAE.

"It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals."

Emma Watson

From sketches to final art


The same way that we´re into the behind the scenes of good movies, we thought it would be a good idea to show the sketches behind the final art of our video game. Sometimes when we´re playing video games we forget to stop and think about all the hard work that is behind every detail. We talked to Ramon, our 2D lead artist, and he explained the process step by step.

First of all, he told us about the importance of creating a good mood board, which is going to be the visual representation that determines the path we want to follow, the general concept of our project. This “collage” helps us choose the style or concept we like the most.

In second place, we would start with the sketches. This step is all about drawing lines and getting a visual representation of the idea we have in our head thanks to our mood boards.

And finally we would have the final step, the one that brings the scene to life. Here we would add all the shadows and details, and find the best combination of colors.

On this post you can swipe from left to right and viceversa to see the evolution of Ramon´s sketch.

We want you to see the process from begining to end.

Ask us any question and we will be happy to help.

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