A glimpse into the mind of Masamune...
I'm Masamune, Art Director at Sky Mavis and the creator of Axie.
I've been looking forward to Parts Evolution for many years and now, launch day is finally here. Even though I'm the one who designed all the axie parts, the combinations that come from our Axie community always bring unexpected surprises. The Growth team sent me a list of questions related to Parts Evolution, but I didn’t really like the format, so I decided to write you this letter instead.
Let’s go back to the beginning…
When we first started concepting the idea for the Axie game—I don’t know about Trung—but I didn't really have much ambition. I just wanted to make games and hoped they would perform well financially. At that point, I simply thought Axie would be similar to Tamagotchi, so I gave axies a round body with tiny limbs.
Axie parts were all randomly designed—I’d think of something, draw it, and produce enough of them for the game. Of course, there was no lore then, that's why there are some very silly parts like sandals. At that time, I just aimed to create a character that was pleasing to the eye in terms of shape and color when combined randomly. I also gave them very random names with my limited English proficiency. However, I didn't expect that everyone would love Axie so much. In order not to disappoint the growing community, and to make Axie more worthy of the title, Best NFT Collection in the World, I redesigned and redrew Axie completely, especially the Special Collection and Mystic axies. These newly drawn axies made their debut in Origins.
Later on, I really put more thought into designing the new Starter axies as well as the Level 2 parts. Drawing doesn't take too much time, it's the thinking that takes the majority of the time. I do all the drawings, first, in my head. When I decide to pick up the pen, the hard work is already done, and, at that point, it's like printing out the results.
Axie parts are designed to ensure diversity in all aspects. There are cute parts, cool parts, fierce parts, and there are weird, silly parts... I always try to keep this ratio as balanced as possible, and divided equally by each class. (At the moment, silly parts may seem a bit dominant, but this will be balanced when the Dusk, Dawn and Mech parts are released).
I always enjoy designing beautiful parts, but I intentionally make "not so beautiful" parts, as well, because if everything is beautiful, then being beautiful will lose its meaning. If people feel a bit disappointed when receiving a not-so-good looking axie, they’ll feel motivated to seek out an axie more preferable to their taste. This will make the axie more valuable to collectors. Regardless, I want axies to have a generally funny look, and for people to feel joy every time they look at them.
It might be hard to believe, but stage 2 parts were originally conceptualized and designed at the same time as stage 1 parts, all of which were completed right after Axie was first released. However, at that time, the Axie team did not have plans to release Level 2 parts, so those designs were never used. Since then, Axie Level 2 parts have been completely redesigned two times—some parts still retain the original idea, some parts have been changed completely. Members of the Art Team contributed to the ideation stage, however I was responsible for most of the designs, and I am also the final renderer of all Axie assets. Many people say that it’s not the Art Director's job, that I should just give direction and delegate the illustrating to the team. However, I'm quite picky, and I always want axies to have the best quality, so I took on all of the work related to Axie's image, trimming each pixel until it was perfect, even if it meant scrapping everything and redrawing 2-3 times.
When designing the Axie Level 2 parts, the most difficult aspect was retaining the characteristics of the part, and maintaining the minimalistic art style, while still achieving an "elevated" feeling. Axie parts are evolved according to many different logics, such as growing larger, or transitioning according to natural evolution (caterpillars become butterflies, buds bloom into flowers). You might also notice some very strange logic that I invented myself when I was running out of ideas. Regardless, adding details was always kept to a minimum, because I didn’t want Axie to become a mess when players upgraded them multiple times.
I’m nearly finished conceptualizing axie parts all the way to the final stage. It’s important to me that the Art team understands the complete development direction of each part.
When playing Pokemon, I always want my Pokemon to have the greatest power, which means evolving them to reach the maximum level. However, not all forms of final evolution were beautiful to me. In those cases, I chose not to let them evolve, and I hold onto the Eviolite item. The same goes for Axie, for some people, the higher evolved form may not satisfy them, especially when they like cute axies. Most evolutions will make Axie cooler, more mature, or more bizarre. Personally, I think every axie part has its own characteristics and value. It is not necessarily true that Level 2 has to be “better” than Level 1 in terms of image. Level 2 is simply a change, an option, a new choice. So, I think, if you are completely happy with any part of your axie, then you don't necessarily have to upgrade them (especially the face).
To be honest, all parts are my favorites, I've erased and redrawn the parts I don't like. For each part, I have a separate mission with unique moves I’ve imagined, but likely may not appear in the game.
Designing parts for Beast and Plant was the easiest because there are so many feasible ideas. That's why I always design Beast first, then Plant. The more difficult ones are Birds and Reptiles, because, in reality, they usually don't have many distinct parts—birds don't have horns or ears, reptiles don't have ears either. In those moments, I really needed to ask for help from my ancestors. Bugs are the most difficult class to design, so I usually save them for last. Insects are not my favorite subject so I don't have much knowledge about them. Making sure they are not hideous while still being cool is truly an art.
With that said, the truly most difficult parts to design are the parts that everyone loves and has the highest expectations for—Mystic parts. Mystic axies originated from a last minute request from Trung. He wanted some axies to have a slightly different look, and with a lower total supply, so that opening an Mystic axie would be extra interesting and exciting. Since it was a last minute request, there wasn't much that could be done, and as a result the Mystic parts were just a different colored version, or with slightly different shape. After the success of Axie, I felt Mystics needed to become more special, and decided to redesign them with a serious and intentional process. Not only their appearance, but their story also needed to be great. I gave the Mystic axies a very important mission: to guard the moon—Atia's heart and the source of power for all axies. That's why Mystics’ design revolve around the theme of the universe, with patterns, textures and colors similar to the god Atia.
In addition, they are equipped with space suits which enable them to live in outer space (unfortunately, many people do not like this suit).
Designing the later stages of Mystic parts was also really difficult, because they are already cool. Plus having to follow the design of the basic part makes the job even more difficult. In the 2D version, the Mystic Level 2 parts may not have a noticeable transformation. My hope is that in the 3D version, with animation and VFX, the Mystic parts can really showcase their value.
Among the stage 2 parts, there is one part that is quite special to me. In the early days of Axie, a community member spoke to me… he said that he really liked fish and especially trout. He wanted to have an axie part inspired by this fish. Of course, adding another axie part was impossible, so I promised him I would use a trout for a Level 2 part. I don't know if that community member still remembers, but I have used trout fish for stage 2 of the Navaga tail. I researched and realized there were many types of trout fish. I wasn't sure which one he liked, so I chose the one I thought was the most beautiful.
In addition to the axie parts, I also plan to release axies with more diverse bodies, so they are able to hold weapons, dance, drive, and most importantly, wear pants. Axies need to have more capabilities in preparation for the development in both breadth and depth of future Axie Infinity games.
Last but not least, I started writing Lore for the world of Axie—about their origins, about special axies, and everything Lunacia. I know that creating well-rounded and beloved characters cannot be based solely on their appearance, but also requires inspiring stories behind them. Parts Evolution is just the beginning for the evolution of Axie, in particular, for the entire world of Lunacia, and for the Axie Infinity franchise, at large. In the coming year, there will be many more interesting things about the world of Axie that will be revealed.
Once again, thank you to everyone who loves and supports Axie Infinity till this day.