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Trollvelopment Diary #9

Offerings Fit for the Ancestors

Well, after a long and crazy year, all the offerings for Trolltem Poles are complete. When I started the offerings, I thought it wouldn't take this long, and that I was pretty fast in creating vector art. I am pretty fast, but I didn't think about how long the process would take in addition to all the other art, playtesting, and development that would be required for the game. Now I'm not done with the game completely, I still have about four pieces of art to complete as well as the box cover and hero board rework. Nevertheless, finishing up the offerings is a huge milestone in the game's progress. So let's take a look down memory lane with some of the offerings.

It all started with two serpentine swords

I knew I needed a lot of offerings to reduce the amount of repeat in the cards and make the game interesting to look at. I also knew I wanted to do some crossover and connection to Kingdoms of Immacus. When I did the hero art for D'Dorian Star and Yorri, I made their living swords as separate pieces of art. Since their swords Viperus and Serperus are important elements to the story of Kingdoms of Immacus at large, I wanted to include them in the game. I peeled the swords from their owner's grasps, cleaned up the vector a little bit, and then I was two offerings down. Unfortunately, things were uphill from there.

Lore? What lore?!

World building is very important to me. So much so, that I am making an effort to crossover any elements I can with my games to build the connections between them. My initial hiccup was that Kingdoms of Immacus was very MacGuffin-lite. meaning the story was driven by the character's and their internal motivations, not necessarily surrounded by relics, Dragon Balls, or fetch quests. I've made some minor tweaks to the story with this in mind, but without ephemera, it was hard to have Kingdoms of Immacus-themed offerings to offer the ancestors in Trolltem Poles. Thus, I went and created lore around particular offerings and found ways to integrate them in future projects, so thy are grounded in the world I'm creating. I was so focused on the characters, I really forgot about the items that make up the day-to-day.

Now there are some lore-driven offerings like the living swords, some connecting other games that are in the works *wink* *wink*, and some offerings just for fun like the Cyclopean Eye Drops. This is the approach to all of my game designs now. First and foremost we put the story and the characters of the game in the forefront and then we sprinkle in some fun little Easter Eggs and lore connections. Oh and there are game mechanics as well! Let's not forget about those ;).

My fingers hurt...

Once I got a third of the way through the offerings, I realized how much work I got myself into. It wasn't the offerings alone, but the ancestors, the heroes, the iconography, the card faces and backgrounds - all of it added up to over 60 pieces of art that needed to be tweaked, obsessed over, and refined. What was supposed to be a small card drafting game that I was going to crank out became this art-intensive monster of a game, which is still going.

The biggest issue with the offerings is not the offerings themselves, but the lack of diversity in how I spend my time on the project. Since I was heavily working on Kingdoms when I started Trolltem Poles, I had all the troll ancestors and offerings drawn by the time I was ready to start working on the project. that meant since everything was going to be vector, I would spend the entirety of the project in Illustrator. That's a ton of Illustrator work. part of the joy of game development for me is jumping between all the various aspects of the project from mechanics development to playtesting and art. Since the drawing was done as well as much of the development, it left me to crank and crank in front of the computer on Illustrator for months. I spent a good chunk of time fighting back burnout and started two new game projects during the development of Trolls.

I gave my spirits a little break before the holidays and went back to cranking on the offerings to finish everything before the end of this month, which would be the year mark. I did it! Now it's on to the last few pieces of art.

Lessons learned

The biggest thing I learned while working on the Trolltem Pole offerings is more detailed art, more labor put into each piece, and more time does not equal similar returns. There is a finite amount of time you can put into each piece of art until you reach diminishing returns where each extra hour put into the piece is not going to create more value. This is a little vague, so I'll give an example. When I first started the Kingdoms of Immacus board game, I put so much detail in D'Dorian Star that he would crash my computer. I was putting individual eyelashes on characters, taste buds, pores, all in obscene numbers of vector shapes. There was no way anyone would see this level of detail unless they zoomed in super close to the image. Printers wouldn't pick up the detail and monitors couldn't see it either.

I still run into this problem, but I have gotten better about it. I still approach my art with a detail-first focus, but I stopped putting individual eyelashes lol. Basically, if the detail doesn't add anything at a 2K resolution or can be printed by a printer, I try to opt out of more detail. I'm learning that more detail doesn't mean a nicer picture, and I am fighting the insecurity that led me to that false understanding. I also learned that not everything needs a fancy background. I'm selling the offering, not the background. I did do fancy backgrounds for the ancestors, but that added to the world building. The new standard is if the background doesn't add some world-building benefit, I need to weigh the time and effort in doing the work and then decide if I should do it or not. Overall, I'm happy with how everythign turned out, and I'm proud of the game Trolltem Poles is becoming. I personally feel the troll ancestors would be proud of their offerings.

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