In one of the first moments of Absolver, someone hands you a mask. The game — a deep online fighter available now on PC and PS4 — uses this to welcome you into its strange, mysterious world. The mask is a mark. It tells the world you are a prospect, one of many up-and-coming fighters, learning the intricate ways of combat as a way to rise through the ranks and explore the realm of a fallen, but not quite forgotten empire. The mask is a symbol of strength, but it also just looks cool.
Much of the appeal of Absolver is in its almost dauntingly complex fighting mechanics, which let you customize your character into a combatant that best suits your style of play. The idea is that, in the solemn online realm of Adal, each fighter can be distinct. But that doesn’t just mean how they handle themselves in battle. Players can also change how their characters look, as Absolver features a multitude of clothing and gear options. And to help with that, development studio Sloclap enlisted the help of fashion designer Damir Doma.
From the very beginning, the team at Sloclap knew that they wanted players to be able to express themselves in the game, both in terms of how they fight and how they look. In the early stages of development, the team gathered together a range of reference material to help guide the visual style of the game. The walls of their Paris studio were plastered with huge mood boards, featuring images pulled everywhere from fashion to architecture. Their goal was to design a place with a very distinct feel. “We really wanted players to discover a world that is foreign, that can feel sometimes familiar, but can never be linked directly to a specific period of time or space,” says Pierre Tarno, creative lead at Sloclap.
While these references came from a number of different places, one particular name kept recurring during the process: Damir Doma. The Croatian designer has a very particular style, a sort of post-modern twist on fantasy garments, and it turned out to be a great fit for Absolver. Sloclap reached out to the designer to discuss a collaboration, and eventually Doma came to Paris to learn more about the game. This was followed by a trip by Sloclap to Doma’s Milan studio, where they shared more about their vision for Absolver.
“When he came in, we pitched the storyline, and how we were thinking about the world,” explains Tarno. “And the thing that interested him the most was the big mood boards of architectural references. He really related to that, because it’s actually how he works in his own creative process, which is to find inspiration from many different sources, and not necessarily related to fashion or even to garments, and then from there, extract the essence to make pieces.”
Doma’s influence can’t be seen in the game directly; neither he nor his studio designed specific pieces found in the game. Instead, the fashion designer and game studio collaborated on a document that zeroed in on exactly what the fashion in the game should look like. The document starts by setting out some key influences, which include Brutalist architecture, African body art, and specific pieces pulled from Doma’s past designs. It also includes a number of sketches for potential in-game items like masks, robes, and even smaller details like belts and jewelry. Tarno says the document served as an “additional inspiration for equipment pieces.”
Fashion may not seem like an important aspect of a game like Absolver, where players spend most of their time honing complex combat skills. But for Tarno and the team at Sloclap, the way characters dress is just another part of building a believable world. “We don’t just work with references from fashion designers and stuff like that,” Tarno says. “It’s a blend between that, and having defined a very large world. We know that there are 12 provinces, and we did some world-building to think about what cultures are north of Adal, what cultures are south, what’s their political system, how do they live, what do they do, how are they organized.”
In the often insular world of game development, it was also important for the team to collaborate with outside influences. That’s true not just for how the game looks, but also how it sounds, as the studio worked with composer Austin Wintory on the Absolver’s soundtrack. Wu-Tang member the Rza even contributed to the final boss theme, co-composing the song along with Wintory.
“It’s hard work. It’s technical, but it’s also a very creative process,” Tarno says of game development. “And so, I think that any types of creativity benefit from being open-minded, from different influences, from thinking about the creative process itself. Not necessarily to rationalize it, to make it something formal, but more in terms of general culture. Whether it’s the collaboration [with Damir Doma], or working with Austin Wintory, their cultural and creative background is different.”
So even though you might not see an exact replica of a Damir Doma original in Absolver, the designer’s influences are still there. “It opened our minds,” Tarno says of the collaboration.