The world of Vambrace: Cold Soul is dark and frigid. Players must go on expeditions that are a matter of life, but capturing this atmosphere through gameplay is just part of it. The art must be as enthralling and bleak as the high-stake encounters on the surface in the city of Icenaire.
Vambrace: Cold Soul is an upcoming adventure RPG by South Korea-based studio Devesperesso Games. Players take the role of Evelia Lyric. She must gather a band of survivors living below the surface and find a way to defeat the King of Shades and lift the curse over Icenaire.
We talked with Devespresso Lead Artist Minho Kim about Vambrace's appealing hand-drawn style and the challenges he and the team encountered along the way. Check back tomorrow, where we talk to writer and designer Tristan Lee Revan on Vambrace's gameplay.
From The Coma to VambraceLike many artists, Minho draws artistic inspiration from the media he consumed throughout his life, including illustrated tale books. Among other inspirations, these books led him to create his own works of art.
"Since I started draw to visualize my own original stories," said Minho, "I can say that my work was mainly rooted in that experience. I also draw inspiration from great game arts and media from time to time, and have incorporated some of those elements into my style."
Minho and the rest of the team at Devespresso Games put their skills to the test with a remaster of their debut title, The Coma: Recut. He admits that The Coma was a rushed product, so he didn't have as much time to explore and experiment with his style. In the end, his artistic decisions were based on efficiency while adhering to his standard of keeping everything looking as impressive as possible.
"As such, the art was definitely unique," said Minho, "but incorporated some common characteristics people would be drawn to. It’s quite stylized, even at the expense of quality."
With their latest project, Vambrace, he aimed for a more polished look. For him and the rest of the team at Devespresso, Vambrace served as an opportunity to prove themselves, although The Coma: Recut was received well by Steam reviewers.
"A lot of the artistic effort for the game," said Minho, "was done by my hand and those sketches were incorporated directly into the game’s main art. It still follows my basic style though."
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The team started to conjure up Vambrace's art in 2016. Minho admits that he struggled for a while to nail down the look, but things fell into place once he finished the appearance of Evelia Lyric. "I think things really opened up," said Minho, "once I had a final portrait illustration for Lyric, the main character. The game’s look really sprang from that."
Vambrace: Cold Soul - Above and Below GroundThe setting of Vambrace is in two primary areas: above ground and below. The city of Icenaire sits on the cold surface, haunted by evil foes. The only solace from the terrors above is in the underground city of Dalearch. Wherever you are in the game, you'll notice a change in perspective, and thus the visuals accommodate that change.
When you're moving from building to building Dalearch and sometimes on the surface, Vambrace takes a bird's eye view. The decision to do this was capture the world's sense of scale.
"That was mainly inspired by legendary JRPGs from our past - games like FF6 and Chrono Trigger - and it happened naturally," said Minho. "Tristan [Vambrace's writer and designer] was an especially strong proponent for this and loved the final outcome."
Another reason to have this large, overhead view was to give players a strong visualization of the damage and scale of the curse placed upon Icenaire. Minho discussed every detail of this world with the team, to the extent that he would dream of Vambrace's cursed landscape and dark underground.
However, Vambrace's style changes to a notable, side-scrolling adventure during combat, dialogue, and some instances of exploration. This was "one of the foundational concept pillars of the game from the beginning," according to Minho. "The work was smooth, from a design approach, since all the following designs came from that frame of reference." So far, Minho and the team have received favorable feedback to this style after attending expos.
Minho made sure to vary the look of the city of Icenaire. While it's a ruined city covered in ice and snow, it is still a city with different quarters and the like. Minho said:
The most difficult work with the city was working with the weather effects; everything could have just been white and frozen. However, this is an unnatural curse and the Icenaire did not look that way in the past. This means the ruins of the city had to look varied. I approached it from that angle and I think each of the city’s quarters comes to life in their own ways.Ultimately, the process in capturing the world and concept of Vambrace was 15 years in the making. The first iteration began when Minho was young, but it wasn't until Tristan Lee Rivan stepped in that pieces started to fall together. According to Minho, Riven "built a new foundation of lore" with all the races, cultures and nations included in the final product.
"He used a bottom-up approach to world building," said Minho, "to ensure everything fit together in a cohesive manner. All the art was affected by it, and it was a pleasure to be familiar with all sides of the creative process."
Vambrace's Challenges and SuccessOnce development officially began, Minho says that their visual style hadn't evolved much from The Coma. Thanks to more time on the drawing board, he was able to pin down visuals that mixed his original illustrative style and games he previously worked on.
That said, it was a lot of hard work. Minho says:
The sheer capacity of the art that I had to produce was quite overwhelming. I guess the body of work I produced was probably equal to what an art team might make over the course of 1-2 years. I still don’t know how I managed to do it all.Minho is very excited to see players enjoy the role of Evelia Lyric, an individual he put a lot of time and effort to in order to capture the strong character. "It will be exciting to see how players take on her role and navigate through the world we created," said Minho. "The efforts I’ve made for visualizing this world will be rewarded by seeing those experiences."
Vambrace: Cold Soul releases on Steam and GOG on May 28, 2019. It will release on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in Q3 2019.