Let’s kick-off the summer with a great collection of topics! Our amazing Art Lead, Lotta Sörensen is here to talk about the work that goes into creating magical horses. Our talented Content Game Designer Linnéa Thimrén shares her experience in creating her first piece of content for Star Stable. Followed by our incredible Community Manager, Michaela Aicardi, writing about our Brand Ambassador Program. Ending this first Summer blog, is our skilled Programmer Lead, Yvonne Schudeck, with a new Player Character update.
By Lotta Sörensen – Art Lead
Hello again, lead character/creature artist here! This time I will talk about magical horses.
Magical horses are a way for our artists to express ourselves in ways we don’t get to with normal horses and to create the fantasy horse of our dreams. Personally, I like doing opposites, such as good and evil, light and dark. This is the theme of my two favourite creations: “Ayla and Umbra” and “Shadowshield and Snowdancer.”
We start with an idea.
For Shadowshield and Snowdancer, I wanted snow to meet the darkness of the night. You know this contrast well if you live in a northern country. I also took inspiration from Yin and Yang, combining that with old Christmas decorations. I wanted the horses to fit into the winter village but also to work all year round so I didn’t want them to be super Christmassy.
Here we throw out ideas with colours and patterns as quick sketches rather than full illustrations. When something catches our eye, we repeat the process by combining those details. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted from the winter horses so it didn’t take too many iterations to find what I liked.
For Ayla and Umbra it took a bit longer as we were two artists concepting. I like this method a lot since two people’s ideas are usually more creative than one.
When we’re happy with the concept we start painting the horse texture. Some new details are added and some details turn out to not work out in the game. The finished product is never 1:1 with the concept. We also come up with a non-magical coat that matches the design.
My First Content
By Linnéa Thimrén – Content Game Designer
Hello everyone! My name is Linnéa and I’m a new member of the design team working on Star Stable Online. If you ever wondered who puts together all the quests and races, and made sure it all works, it’s us designers! I just released my first piece of content in the game, the new quest chain about Professor Hayden in Hollow Woods and the writing of a book about horses, and I would love to walk you through my experience creating it. So please, lend me your ears. Or eyes, I suppose. But at least definitely your attention!
Every designer has a different approach as to how they come up with, and make, content, but I usually start with a question. The question varies and can be everything from “how do we make this race more interesting?” to “what should the focus of this festival be?”. For me, since I want to learn as much about the game mechanics as possible, the first question I asked was “what can I do that touches upon many aspects of the game, but still feels fun?”. And then “what character do our players want to see more of?”, and so on and so forth… I also played the game a lot and talked to our other designers to make sure that what I made would fit the tone of the game and resonate with you, the players!
The editor is the software we use to implement content into the game. It’s what we use to add basically everything besides pure code, and it’s as old as the game and just as quirky. The help of other designers was invaluable when learning how to wrangle it, and they handled all my “how do I…?” questions like real champions!
To make sure everything works together and functions properly I started with a very barebone version of the quest chain, with a lot of placeholders, before fleshing it all out into its proper shape. You can think of it as a first sketch that’s then used to make the finished product. This is a great way to get feedback on the flow of the chain and the content, without having to throw away a lot of work if you have to change things!
When I had got things working it was time to make things work well. You can build a house out of planks taped together with duct tape, but you should probably use nails to make sure it lasts longer and is more stable. To do this I talked to, and got feedback from, people from all areas of the game: sound, UI (user interface), art, and more! We also have dedicated writers who help out with the text for the quests, and who make sure the text is sent for translation to all 14 languages the game is available in!
When everything is working and finished it is time for testing, testing, testing. Designers play through the chain together and QA (quality assurance) work their magic and go through every detail of what I’ve made, and when they deem the quest chain good and stable enough it is ready to be set free, released into the game and into your hands as players.
I hope you’ve enjoyed tagging along for this short journey, and that you’ve learned something new. I certainly did while making this quest chain! The game is huge, and so are the possibilities for what we can make in it, so I’m excited for what I’ll get to create in the future.
I’ll see you around, StarFam, and who knows, maybe one of you will be the next designer we welcome into the team?
What is an Ambassador?
By Michaela Aicardi – Community Manager
Hello! I’m Michaela, also known as Game Master Michaela, and I am the Community Manager and the one in charge of our Brand Ambassador Program at SSO! I am here to write about what an Ambassador is, what they do and how you can become one.
What is a Brand Ambassador and how do I recognize one?
Brand Ambassadors are regular players in the Star Stable Online community who stand out as influencers and role models, they spread positive energy, and they take the time to help other players. Ambassadors do not get paid to be in the program, but they do get benefits in the form of Star Coins, gifts to use for giveaways and they get to see sneak peeks ahead of time.
We encourage an open dialogue with full transparency both ways and we also encourage our Ambassadors to give honest reviews of the updates or features that are released.
You can identify an ambassador in-game by the Ambassador badge on their horse’s bridle or by the special clothing and tack they wear. The special Ambassador outfits are showcased by some of our active Ambassadors in the images throughout this text!
Ambassador Evangeline Kingborn
Ambassador Siri Snowing
What does a Brand Ambassador do?
Ambassadors for Star Stable get to do different things. They can help us with beta testing features before they are released, host giveaways with items that we provide such as notebooks, books or gift boxes, and they can collect feedback from their community regarding different topics to share with the game team.
Our Ambassadors get to take part of updates and share their feedback with us before we make any announcements. For example, I send out a monthly email to the Ambassadors that gives them insight into what is coming up the next month, kind of like the roadmap that we share with all of you, but with more details! We also have a chat server where we have all of the Ambassadors together with employees of Star Stable gathered. We use this server to easily share thoughts and ideas with the Ambassadors and in return they share their insights and any feedback with us. We also have a monthly Ambassador talk over voice chat where we go a little bit more in depth about different things that are coming up. All of the details are for their eyes only at that point – one of the perks of the role!. You can ask them what they think might come in the future, but they have the tough job of keeping things secret, too!
Ambassador Rosemary Wolfworth
Ambassador Ivy Cherrypie
Our Ambassadors are quick to share feedback and help out when we need more information. A great example of this is the riding hall revamp. During pre-production, we watched so many videos and investigated feedback from the community about the area, thinking we understood exactly what things were needed. We were so excited for you all to see it, but it turns out that we had not understood entirely. When looking into how to correct our mistakes, our Ambassadors helped immensely with collecting and sharing the insights we needed. All of that information helped us understand more in-depth what it was that was actually missing so we could fix it.
How do I become a Brand Ambassador?
I choose and invite players into the Ambassador program based on my own research, as well as recommendations that I receive from players, other members of the Star Stable team, and sometimes even our Ambassadors. I always do my best to investigate each option, to ensure we have the right group of people!
Right now applications are not open, but they will open again in the future! We will share information on how to apply in our news and on our social media pages again when it’s time.
*Please note that sending in an application does not mean that you or the player you refer will automatically be added to the program.
Once the applications open up again I will look for Ambassadors in regions that we currently don’t have anyone representing. We want to have Ambassadors in as many regions as possible to have a better connection with players from all around the world, and one way to achieve this is with the help of our Ambassadors.
Ambassador Evelina Westfall
Ambassador Alicia Shadowbaker
Player Character Update
By Yvonne Schudeck – Tech Lead
For June and July, the new Player character section will focus more on technical aspects and gameplay. For that occasion we’re thrilled to leave Yvonne the space to present herself and her amazing work she’s done during the past months.
Hello lovelies, I’m Yvonne, technical lead for gameplay, and one of the gameplay programmers working with making the updated player character work in the game. While the team are updating the art assets, additional features related to player customization are also being developed (like body shapes). And while implementing these new options in the game, making it possible for players to customize their character, we also want to take the opportunity to improve the underlying solution for how character appearance is handled in the game. Instead of simply making the new character work with the old and more limiting systems, we want to start fresh and refactor the existing code solution to make it easier to work with and easier to expand with new features in the future.
Refactoring existing live systems can pose many different challenges. With character appearance, we need to consider all of the already existing character appearance data stored in the database for each player (owned make-up and hair, worn make-up and hair, eyes and so on). The change to a new underlying solution should be seamless to the players, as if nothing really changed at all. But what players might not see, is that suddenly, us developers might have opened many locked doors that will allow us to expand and explore more features in the future, with ease.
A first step on refactoring appearance change logic, is to separate the head shape, skin color and make-up. Why, you might ask? For the old character these three different parts of the head appearance are combined together into one “head item”, and each head item has a unique texture (336 variations to be exact). An example of why this becomes very inflexible is if we would want to add new make-up to the current character, then the artist would have to create a new make-up texture for every available skin color. And if we would want to expand our range of skin colors the artists would have to, for each skin color, create a new texture for each existing make-up variation. This is not only time-consuming but also bad from a performance point of view (more texture to load in memory). By separating the different parts (head shape, skin color and make-up) we can enable the possibility to produce more content in a more flexible and less time-consuming way.
Isn’t it amazing?! Next month Scott Clary will present his work as a technical animator on the project. Stay tuned!
Hope you enjoyed all of the wonderful writing! Stay tuned for next month’s blog! Now enjoy a refreshing beverage and soak in all the sun! Happy summer!