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Koira creator explains how Day of the Devs’ prettiest game came to be

Don't Nod
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

From the moment I saw Koira from Studio Tolima and Don’t Nod during the June 7 Day of the Devs showcase, I knew it was a game I wouldn’t forget. It is unusual for one game to live rent-free in my mind like this when dozens of titles are being shown off every day during this summer showcase season. But because of its crisp animation, musical undertones, and strikingly minimalist, yet vibrant aesthetic, Koira was the biggest standout of June 2024’s Day of the Devs showcase for me.

Koira | A Tale of Friendship Trailer

After discovering Koira, I had to learn more about how Studio Tolima crafts its beautiful animation and what players should expect from Koira from moment to moment. In an email Q&A, Ben Lega, Studio Tolima head and Koira game drector, revealed new information about all of that.

What is Koira?

Lega believes new games need a distinct look and feel to stand out in today’s crowded gaming space, so the visuals are exactly where he started with Koira. While doing so, he also had to work within the constraints of Koira starting as a solo dev project.

“I love 2D hand-drawn animation, but I knew that these can be very time-consuming, especially for detailed characters. So, at the time, I was exploring characters designed in a single, flat shaded color and without an outline,” Lega tells Digital Trends. ” I started by drawing a flat black character on an empty white background. It was a bit out of place, so I erased the base of their feet. And suddenly, it felt like it was part of this world! Lost in the big snowy plane that had become my sheet of paper, only punctuated by a few dead trees and patches of grass that I quickly added. It looked nice, but it felt cold being lonely in this wintry world, so I added a cute, small puppy to cheer him up and a stick to play fetch.”

Koira slides down a mountain.
Don't Nod

That seed of an idea eventually blossomed into Koira, which Studio Tolima and Don’t Nod officially describe as a “musical, hand-drawn” adventure about a forest spirit and puppy traveling to the center of a snowy enchanted forest. Lega tells me players shouldn’t expect Koira to have a lot of puzzles; instead, Koira “uses the interactions with the world to support the story beat at hand” through various gameplay challenges like playing hide-and-seek with the puppy or sneaking around the dangers that lurk in the forest.

While Koira lacks any dialogue, characters in the game can sing musically with instrumental sounds. Using those melodies together can activate things in the forest. Its soundtrack is composed by Reginald Nowe, and Lega says Nowe’s work “inspired the overall mood and atmosphere of the game in the early stages of development.”

An animated adventure

Koira’s visuals are immediately striking and fluidly animated, but also charmingly simple in a way that draws the eye’s attention and brings to mind games like Hauntii and Night in the Woods. Lega admits that creating Koira’s animation is very time-consuming, so the developers have found shortcuts to help with animation while still giving Koira some eye-catching visuals.

“Characters designed with flat shapes is something used a lot in indie games because, on top of the easier animation work, it also allows for a seamless mix of procedural and hand-drawn animation. Pieces of the body can smoothly connect between one another (for example Limbo, Fez, or Rain World). We do the same in Koira, where the main character is a puppet made out of separate pieces which are each individually animated and that can be combined together: the body, the hands, the head, the eyes, the pupil, and the mouth are all separated.”

Koira and the puppy.
Don't Nod

Lega also credits artist Lieve van der Zaan and animator Umi Guillou with further polishing the art and animation to where it is now. Koira is unique in mixing hand-drawn animation with procedural animation, which lets the characters fluidly move between animations to achieve a consistently good look.

“Each of these body parts has to be animated and exported on a separate layer and then carefully stitched back together into the in-game puppets. It’s a very fun and creative process that allows us to gain time by never redrawing twice the same feature movement, as well as making the characters feel even more alive and grounded in reality. We have a lot of animations in the game, and we are now close to 500 separate frames!”

After seeing Koira at Day of the Devs and learning more about how its beautiful animation came to be, I can’t wait until I can go hands-on and see even more. Koira will launch sometime in 2025, but will get a free demo on Steam later this summer.

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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