According to the ancient texts, around 5000 years ago, the deranged King Salwa who used to ride in Vimanas (which were speculatively gravity defying flying machines) attacked Dwarka from the sky. Krishna defended the city, and defeated him from the ground. This was a perfect fit to be a game like Space Invaders with Retro Game Mechanics. So the game design came through, but that wasn’t the main inspiration of Krishna Legends.
Visit the temple establishment of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and a feeling of grandness takes over you. It doesn’t matter whether you are an agnostic or religious or cultural, the sheer scale at which a single Idol drives a massive operational city is really a humbling experience. It brings you down to your roots and leaves you asking the question, as humans, have we figured ourselves out yet? This gives life to Balaji’s idol, made up of just stone, and we perceive that to be an actual presence of something bigger than us.
Inspired by this, we traveled more around the country and that made our imaginations run wild. We wanted to share that feeling of epic as well as the richness of the Indian culture with everyone (We talk more deeply about this in a post about Dhantra Studio). This is not in the context of faith, but it’s more in the realm of culture-craziness, “What life must have been in that contemporary era?”. So it was clear where the art style of the game has to come from.
The Art Style
At the time, I was fascinated by traditional Mysore and Tanjore paintings because they are incredibly difficult to make, while I have always adored Madhubani paintings. I tried Mysore painting style a few times and got some understanding of rounded shapes, repeated patterns everywhere, outlines, keeping things symmetric, preferring orthographic instead of perspective, very little to no natural chaos and not overly fit human figures. Madhubani paintings were good to look for colors.
This was a big part away from my VFX background because as VFX Artists we love dramatic perspective angles, and creating controlled chaos with Gaussian distribution.
Some primary features of the traditional art were maintained, but it still needed a modern look. There is symmetry everywhere and everything is made up of patterns. Even the VFX have no chaos whatsoever, they follow the order of a mandala shape. As we became confident that the art style is in good shape now, it was time to in parallel look at what the story can be. We already knew it has to do with Krishna’s city Dwarka under distress.
The epic poem Mahabharat is incredibly long and is full of parallel running branches of stories of various characters. Quite possibly this is the reason people always fail to make a movie on it but tv shows work out well. After the main events of Mahabharat, Krishna has many encounters with variety of baddies (small tho) and one of those encounters is with Salwa. When Krishna had gone for a ceremony, King Salwa decided to use the absence of Krishna as an opportunity to destroy his city Dwarka.
Krishna had a hint that Salwa, while trying to avenge his friend Shishupal, would definitely cause a havoc. Thus he rushed back, but on his return he found his city depleted of beauty. Seeing Dwarka damaged, he promised himself to destroy his enemies. The whole Shishupal business is then talked about during the cut-scenes.
We told the story mainly as word exchanges between Salwa and Krishna, on how peace talks fall apart and lead to war. For most cut-scenes we used programmed location to serve dialogues through an animation system, with occasional special cases. Now that we are talking about development, let’s jump to that section of this creation.
We chose Unity3D for development given the ease of use and publishing. The core loop was built first with wip artwork and was kept extremely tight. We used optimization not just the ones recommended by Unity, such as load balancing between resources by reading the profiler and maintaining least draw calls looking at the Frame Debugger (We had 4 to 6), we even went strong on general programming level of optimizations too. The tight core loop ensured that we will have no bugs (or till now that’s what we believe because nothing came back from the audience), strong performance (the game works 60fps smooth even on old Kitkat devices) and a small download (25mb) and install size (36mb).
While a small package, assets quality is not compromised at all! Every art is strict to scale of a 1080p screen. Everything was drawn on paper and digitally traced until there was a good hand at the decided art style. At a later point, we were creating digitally directly which sped up our asset creation process.
Level Design was split between 2 people. One person will create even levels, another person will create odd. This ensured consecutive variety. And we maintained a formula which told us how many enemies, what type, what concentrations, what patterns, should a level have given a level number. This allowed us to design any level anytime and we need not go in a series. This helped us maintain our sanity because designing levels can be tedious along with being difficult.
We carefully selected Sound Effects and Music to fit our art style. It was not easy to find relevant sound effects. What worked for us was percussion samples from Latin and African countries’ instruments, thanks to zapslat.com. And we found amazing looping music on looperman.com from great artists and we proudly credit them in our game.
Other than Krishna, we added more Vishnu avatars, such as Narsimha, Parsuram, Varaha, Sriram, as well as Krishna’s girlfriend Radha, as playable characters. Krishna in particular is inspired entirely from the Idol of Dwarkadhish Temple (if you were wondering why his eyes are closed).
Our complete production took exactly 4 months, with some minimal passive updates over the next few months. We called the game “DwarkaDheesh” in the beginning but a fan vehemently encouraged us to have better SEO/ASO and thus we changed it mid way to Krishna Legends and we couldn’t be more happier. If you are interested, you can take a look at the Game’s Presskit here.
A Fun Journey
We wanted to start a conversation around bringing this culture into unfitting art forms, maintaining the traditional art styles, serving in a modern contemporary medium. Combine this with our passion and expertise in video game development and viola, Krishna Legends is a first direct product of that. The response that we have gotten from regular gamers as well as culture experts are in lines of what we had in mind and it gives us the confidence that as Dhantra Studio we will be able to do this with more serious and bigger projects in the future.