Ember Lab shares an inside look at the creative process behind the designs.
The day is almost here! The free “Anniversary Update” for Kena: Bridge of Spirits will be live on PS4 and PS5 on Tuesday, September 27. We were very excited to see fans’ positive response to the announcement last month, and now we can’t wait for everyone to experience the new content!
To celebrate the release, we wanted to share an inside look at the creative and technical process behind the creation of Kena’s new outfits for the “Anniversary Update.” If you missed our announcement detailing all the other new content, be sure to check it out!
Our approach in developing cosmetics for Kena really boiled down to three main goals. First, it always feels good when an outfit takes some real expertise to obtain. We wanted wearing them to feel like badges of honor. Next, we felt that each one should remind us of the story and characters encountered along the way – constant reminders of who we’ve met and where we’ve been. Lastly, we love having a good variety of options that enable self expression and the ability to switch things up as we go. With these ideas in mind, we got to work!
To make sure all of the outfits represented a real sense of success, we decided to tie them to the Spirit Guide Trials, (another major new addition included in the “Anniversary Update”). As players progress through the main story, new Trials become available at the central Mask Shrine. Only by succeeding at these challenges can players unlock the new outfits. Players who have mastered each of the Trials will ultimately gain access to the full array of outfits, signifying their notable skills.
We next turned to the visual designs. During initial development, we devoted a lot of attention to the design of our cast of characters. We decided these characters provided perfect inspiration for Kena’s outfits. Each new outfit players unlock takes inspiration from a different spirit that Kena helps during her journey, but reworked and uniquely catered to her. This way, even after players have moved on from a particular story, they still get to keep a memento they can wear.
For example, one of the earliest new outfits players can unlock takes inspiration from the village attire worn by the twins Beni & Saiya and their older brother Taro. Later on, other cosmetics become available, like the Archer and Bombmaker outfits inspired by Rusu and Hana. Each one takes details from their inspiration character like Hana’s unique satchel or Rusu’s owl-crested cape. (We won’t spoil all of them.)
These new outfits provided an excellent opportunity for our art team and character artist to shine. Incorporating such a variety of new textures, fabrics, and accouterments while still balancing the designs with Kena’s design really brought out our team’s attention to detail. We’re very happy with the results!
But it’s not just about visual design. Hunter Schmidt, our Animation Director, shares more details about the development of Kena’s cosmetics:
“Of course another big aspect of the new outfits is how they move… and it was an opportunity for our team to get more practice with cloth and physics. We found the most success with bone drivers and Unreal Engine’s Anim Dynamics.
But Kena’s original animations presented some challenges when combined with the layered clothing like we see in these designs. Sometimes, for an exaggerated, stylized effect, the animations push her posture beyond what’s normally possible, with some leaping or twirling at unnatural speeds. Even sitting cross-legged while meditating, resting, or some of the new poses we added in the enhanced Photo Mode were particularly tough.
So while Anim Dynamics and bone drivers offered a good blanket solution for most cases, we wanted to ensure Kena and the new outfits looked good at all times. In these scenarios we selectively animated these details by hand, blending between physics and hand-animation where needed. Old habits die hard.”
Finally, once we’d landed on our outfit designs and worked out the animations, we still wanted to make sure we were providing a good amount of variety. We decided the best way to keep the quality of all the cosmetics high while also getting more versatility was to create special color variants for each base-game outfit.
At first we weren’t sure if this would yield the variety we hoped for, but by really curating the color variations, we ended up with an exciting array of different outfits that allow for a great feeling of diversity and expression. The color variants can be unlocked by completing Bonus Objectives within the Spirit Guide Trials.
We even created an entire outfit exclusively for Deluxe Edition owners! (featured at the top of this blog).
We hope our existing and new players enjoy all the new content included in our “Anniversary Update,” including Kena’s new cosmetics. It has truly been a fantastic first year sharing Kena: Bridge of Spirits with the world.