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Developer Blog: Designing the Celestial Stag

By Julia (nitocris83) | Fri 21 Apr 2017 08:00:00 AM PDT

So, every few module release or so, we have a lockbox.  With a lockbox comes certain expectations for chase rewards—for Neverwinter, that’s largely artifacts and mounts.

These are among the most fun things to work on, because we get to spend a bunch of time on something that isn’t driven so much by the needs of the story or the environment, but on fulfilling a fantasy for the player; creating a shiny new toy that will make players feel cool. Like when you open that box and the new hotness pops out, you get to ride around with the sweetest ride in town.


Traditionally, we start this process with a new model.  For m11, our art lead, Mike Apolis, wanted to take a different approach.  We have a lot of exotic creatures for you to ride on, from horses and unicorns to flail-snails and lions. What could we do to stand out, to find some new ways of doing things, to give players they haven’t seen in Neverwinter before?

The Water Horse we released for the previous Summer Event had been well received, as had Tenser’s Floating Disk.  Could we make a new mount that was primarily derived from FX?

We held a brainstorming meeting for a while, before coming up with a couple ideas we found viable. In the end it came down to two. The first was the Whirlwind mount; I’d done some prototype work on this right after the Water Horse, but it wasn’t where we’d wanted it, and the placeholder animations I had scavenged looked a little silly. But if we were going to make this a real thing, then our animator Ben Norcross would be able to make that shine.

The second was a suggestion by lead game designer Thomas Foss—could we take a creature and make it look like it was filled with stars?

“But Thomas, we already have the starry panther for the Lliira’s Night event. “

“No, not like that— not like there are stars painted on it, like you’re looking through a hole into the night sky.”

Secretly, I’d actually given a lot of thought to that, going back to work on Champions. I’m a big fan of cosmic comic-books full of entities with capes or bodies that look like slices of the universe.

Getting Technical

When you normally look at an object in game, it’s in ‘object space’. It’s a 2d texture, a set of pixels, that we take and wrap around the surface of an object like a Christmas present around a box, to turn a piece of two-dimensional art into something simulated in three dimensions.

A sphere mapped in object space

To get an effect like we want here, we create a material and display it in ‘screen space’—the geometry of the object shows where the material is, but what the material displays depends on the position of your camera.  So when you move, it doesn’t track the motion of your eyes or of the rest of the world. The effect is similar to how an object at extreme distance (for example: the stars) parallaxes, creating the appearance of a window into space.

I had a test prototype mocked up within two hours. It worked pretty well, but it was too flat.


Traditionally, we do two versions of a mount. One epic quality and one legendary quality. This was pretty cool, but how were we going to make it cooler

We didn’t know. So we postponed. Did the Whirlwind first, then came back to tackle the star-mount after having some time to cook. For a while, we talked about doing something crazy with the geometry, a third antler in the middle of its forehead. For a while we thought it might be a visual portal into other dimensions rather than the night sky, and “change channels” when you activated its flourish. Maybe one variant is a horse and the other is a stag? Some external geometry that wasn’t given the same material treatment, like an armored celestial stag? 

Eventually, we settled on making something very much like the stag we’d envisioned as the Epic version, albeit with more color and a spiffy glowing Fresnel outline. 

Then we added something inside as the main differentiator for our Legendary Starfade Stag—transforming the mount from a starfield to a constellation, and making it look like a celestial creature rather than just a window.  I also really liked the idea of having some element—the antlers, or the beard—as distinct from the starfield material to help root the etherealness in a sort of physical reality. Ultimately I pulled the garlands from the seasonal stags, changed their flower textures to look more like a five-pointed star, and multiplied their brightness as high as our character editor would permit. We decided to not make them unlit, so they’d bloom brighter when you step into the light.

We also made the decision to add a lot more color, a shifting background of nebulae that seem to drift slowly, partly to add complexity to the image helping to conceal the exact nature of the screen space material trick. Then we took the footfalls from the Star Panther, and added a more dramatic impact, glowing white hoof imprints and some nice stars falling off as you move. Ben Norcross came up with a gorgeous spinning spawn-in as it comes up from nothing, and I cranked it up with glows and stars.

And then the piece d’ resistance, the flourish, as the celestial creature floats majestically into the heavens, too serene for this –


Power Play

With the mount done, all that was left was to do the power, Call of the Stars. The concept was a rain of stars, to fit the overall stag theme.  With a mechanically simple area-of-effect damage-over-time premise, communicating the effect was easy, and I was free to focus on the pretty.  Unfortunately, I overshot, making an effect that looked great with elements that actually fell with a star-head  and a trail, impacting the ground wherever they impacted. It was great, but it would have melted your client during one of the dragon fights. Ah, well, maybe in a few years…

I had to pull it back, creating a new sprite with both a star and trail painted on it, and then randomizing the impacts across the radius. The result is a blinding wrath from the skies that I hope you’ll be pleased to call down upon your enemies.


Good luck and happy questing, adventurers!

Anthony Damiani
FX Artist

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