Catching the Skywhale: Making The Bolarius Cover
The Bolarian Skywhale is perhaps the single most important creature in the entirety of the Bolarius setting. Whales in the art, whales in the mechanics. God is a whale. So naturally, when it came time to design the cover of the entire god-dang book, we had just about only one option. And yet, it was a process. So consider this a bit of a peek behind the game design curtain as we look back on how things came to be.
Everything you are about to see is the hard work of a brilliant illustrator and friend, Velikaya. Velikaya was instrumental in the vision design of Bolarius and created many of the original illustrations depicted in the final guide. I firmly believe that without Velikaya's help, the skywhales of Bolarius never would have taken flight. You can find their social media at the end of this post.
Lets talk about this cover. A depiction of two things - Borbol, and a lone adventurer. For us, this cover was as much a study of what -or who- Borbol actually was as much as it was about putting down art on a page. We had to answer the question of what is God.
1. The Borbol Issue
We knew whatever the cover was going to look like, it would feature the sole God of the setting, Borbol. We also knew whatever Borbol looked like, that was going to be the primary look of the skywhales. So in order for us to start anywhere, we had to start with Borbol itself.
Inspiration from media such as Dishonored and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou nailed down the look of our whales. We wanted them to be otherworldly, with multiple eyes and fins and an almost alien look about them.
Early designs of Borbol featured more angular, aerodynamic features, with a larger focus on sky-bound characteristics.
As development continued, Borbol was adjusted for a more benevolent appearance, with a focus on rounder curves, bulkier fins, and a generally more amiable shape.
In order to preserve the celestial nature of Borbol, we decided to separate them from the innocuous, identical skywhales by giving them a specific trait - a shining blue halo - the idea being Borbol's ability to take the form of any creature would be marked by such a shining crown.
Borbol's Halo needed to be three things. It needed to be instantly recognizable, that anything with it would immediately shout "Borbol" at the viewer. It needed to be celestial and alien, unlike anything else that existed in the world. Finally, it needed to be in sharp contrast to the overall design of Borbol's primary form - the delicate geometry almost odd against the simple shape of a whale.
Early designs of the halo had an almost night sky, aurora-esque theme that focused a lot on the motifs of the sky and the celestial bodies. However, we decided to push things even further, ending up with something that took on a rather unique look that hit the right boxes we were looking for, featuring a more geometrical appearance.
Borbol's final halo looks significantly like the second sketch, and became the de-facto look for the God. Once we had our two pieces - the God and the Halo - we were ready to start looking at how Borbol would appear in the world of Bolarius.
2. Designing a Cover
With a figure as imposing as Borbol, the cover design was spent primarily deciding how to properly depict such a large creature. This became the hardest point of deliberation for us in the entire process, as we struggled to balance the massiveness of Borbol with actual visibility. We knew we needed a point of contrast with the depiction of a single adventurer witnessing this appearance of the divine, so scale became an important consideration.
Much of the process was us staring at different potential whales in different poses, trying to figure out how on earth to fit God in a box of 3508 x 2480 pixels.
In order to ensure we reserved space for the actual title on the cover, we ended up selecting a design that ended up showing less of Borbol - focusing primarily on its head and its multitude of all-seeing eyes. Allowing our adventurer to see his reflection in the eyes of the divine allowed us to depict a realistic example of the breathlessness and awe one would experience when coming face to face with the God of Bolarius.
With a few months of work behind us, we ended up with a finished cover that we were happy with, and this went forward to become the final look of Bolarius. Finally, including some additional flair and text in post gave us the iconic Bolarius cover. It was one of the first images created for the book, and became an anchor for the rest of the art created throughout the rest of the development process.
And so, that was the process behind creating the Bolarius cover - a exploration into the single most important character of the setting, and a foundational step into crafting the world of Bolarius.
As I mentioned before, the Bolarius cover would not have been possible without the time and skill of my good friend Velikaya. Their twitter can be found here. Thank you, Velikaya, for all your help and insight during our creative journey. Bolarius is only as great as it is in thanks to all your care and efforts.