One of the central features of the Into The Fray update is a significant rework of the entire Magic Staffs weapon line. We spoke to Art Director Marcus Koch, Senior Animator Alex Pierschel, and FX Artist Daniele Bornino about the ideas and processes that went into this upgrade.
NOTE: Images used in this article were taken from in-progress states and may appear differently in their final state.
What were the main goals of this rework from a visual point of view?
MK: Firstly, we wanted to achieve a clear understanding of what category a staff belongs to, and to better communicate an item’s power level through its appearance and size. We also sought to clearly differentiate between one-handed and two-handed staffs in the item icons and animation, as previously both sets used similar animations. And overall, we wanted to increase the feeling of being a mage, cleric, or druid - of casting spells rather than fighting with melee weapons.
AP: The Magic Staffs are one of the oldest weapon lines in the game, and therefore carried around very old animations from the early days of Albion Online. Our aims were, firstly, to raise all staffs to the same dynamic look and feel of the newer weapons through new animations, and secondly to achieve a visual distinction between one-handed and two-handed staffs through different animation sets.
Could you tell us about how you tried to convey the characteristics of each staff line?
MK: All colors and shapes now clearly show what kind of magic to expect from a staff. For example: Holy Staffs now have a glowing, white circle in the headpiece; Nature Staffs are made of wood and have leaves in their respective tier-level colors; and all faction-based artifact staffs now have the look and feel of the specific faction they belong to.
The animations reinforce the staff’s role - healing spells are much less aggressive than combat spells, which have forceful and fast motions to target enemies.
DB: The role of VFX here is not only to deliver a visual cue to the effect that a staff has in the game, but also to differentiate the staffs from one another: using very different and evocative color palettes, or unique volumes and shapes for each one of them. So for example, dark red and black with smoky, ghostly VFX are emblematic of the cursed staff, while bright and light-driven VFX are more appropriate for the holy line.
AP: The most important task for us as animators was to convincingly visualize the difference between one-handed and two-handed Staffs. We achieved this by making the animations for the one-handed Staff agile and fast, and for the two-handed Staff a little slower but more powerful. The one-handed weapon now fits easily in the character's hand and can be quickly twirled through the air. With the two-handed staff, on the other hand, movements are kept to a minimum and all the character’s energy is focused on its magical powers. They can unleash the magic of the staff with their offhand and hurl it at the opponent, while for stronger spells the staff is used with both hands.
The new staffs have a much more dynamic ‘feel’ to the user with their animations - how did you achieve that?
AP: The dynamic results from the variety of spell animations. We gave the reworked Staffs about four times as many animations as before.
This rework comes not long after the launch of the War Gloves weapon line. Was the experience of working on War Gloves instructive to this project, and how?
DB: With War Gloves we had the opportunity to create something completely new in Albion, both from a gameplay and an aesthetic perspective. I think the biggest takeaway from this experience was a change of attitude that gave us more freedom to invent and create, rather than following predetermined rules on how things should look and feel in a video game.
AP: We learned a lot working on War Gloves. For example, with using multiple autoattack chains with different timing. Also, since War Gloves we've been iterating animations with more effort. We want the animations to be as legible as possible, and to visually communicate player behavior correctly. Of course, we also incorporate feedback from the player community. Each animation should feel high-quality and dynamic and be precisely synchronized with the weapon’s effects. With that in mind, we aim to continue polishing older weapon lines in the future.
For more on the Into The Fray update, see the official update page.