When I decided that the first game that I would develop for Secret Garden Games would be a roleplaying game inspired by non-European mythologies, I knew that I had my work cut out for me. You see? As far as I know, I am exclusively of European descent. Obviously, I couldn’t very well build a rich and authentic setting by reading Wikipedia and just appropriating someone else’s culture. Even if I could that certainly didn’t mean that I would. Therefore, before taking even my first note for the project, I committed our efforts to finding people of the cultures from which I took inspiration and giving them the space to flesh out our world.
So I took to artist social sites and looked for folks from the Philippines and Indonesia to start forming the vision for Bukana. It was with the utmost of unbelievable luck that I managed to find Ash Ben on Artstation. Hailing from the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, I found his artwork to be a perfect fit for the tone of the setting. Here are just a couple of the pieces that convinced me that he would be a great fit for the project:
As you can see, he is incredibly talented and I reached out to him immediately. If finding Ash was lucky, his response was even more so. He loved our ideas and was excited to work on the project!
So I had to come up with the very first illustration for our new world. I wanted it to show the setting the way that players would see: as an adventurous scene of heroes. I knew that some people who are familiar only with the Eurocentric fantasy games may struggle to imagine what their characters and adventures would look like in a place like Bukana. So we had to make this one really count. I settled on the following art direction; note that I used the real world cultures so that he could have a point of reference:
Ash, I need some action scenes to show players what they can expect their adventures will look like when they play. So here’s what I’d like.
SIDE VIEW of two adventurers being chased over an old ROPE BRIDGE by a swarm of small creatures. The characters are turning behind them to fire off shots, one with a bow the other with magic blasts.
Adventurer 1: Visayan-like male archer. TATTOOS. Pouches and adventuring gear like a coil of rope and bolo knife.
Adventurer 2: Female Ati-like SORCERER (Barang) but not evil. Some headdress and other ORNAMENTATION. But not too much. Many Pouches and anting-anting TALISMANS
Upon further discussion, we decided on duwende as the antagonists. For those unfamiliar with them, they are a subterranean creature from Filipinx myth that resemble gnomes or goblins. In Bukana, they are a bloodline (‘sub-race’) of gnomes that maintain the variable appearance that the different cultures of the Philippines have ascribed to them (you basically build your own with traits). I suggested that this particular warren was nocturnal and mentioned tarsiers as a point of reference. Ash sent me these images:
We loved them all! For this piece, we went with the darker, yellow-eyed buddy second from the left. But we do hope to use the others in future illustrations. With the mound gnomes finished, we moved ahead with the protagonists of our story.
Lo and behold: our heroes! Ash then roughly sketched out the scene for composition.
With only the slightest of tweaks, Ash then worked on character positioning using 3D software. I found this step to be particularly fascinating because I was totally unfamiliar with this technique, but it’s genius… and bizarre-looking.
Then, when all was said and done, we had our finished piece. The very first look at Bukana was an unqualified success! Our intrepid adventurers have yet to be named, but expect to see more of our archer and sorcerer!
Check out the Art of Asher on Artstation.
Owner & Head Designer
Secret Garden Games