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DevLog #1: Kalma (Character Design & Lore)

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Hello there, you who have entered this blog...

Welcome! Today I'll be writing about the progression of designing an important character in my little game "Penang, 1957". That character is called Death, or Kalma (from the term "kalman väki" which means ghostly/deathly folk in Finnish).

As I write and rewrite the story (which finally has some sense of completion), this character changed from becoming a vengeful spirit of a dead brother and instead became a calm but cold character that is finalized. Kalma represents an important character in the game for It gave the main character (MC for short) a curse, opening the MC's eyes to the world of spirits who have grown too attached to the earthly realm.

Throughout the game, you (the player, playing as the MC) will meet Kalma when It comes to collect the souls of spirits who are finally able to detach themselves from the realm of the living - with your partial help as the player. Usually It will not say anything to you, but at certain times It will spare you some thoughts and philosophy on the nature of life and death.

So let us begin!


Inspiration from folklore, embroidery & music

I wouldn't have been interested in Finnish folklore, if I wasn't in love with Finnish music.

Bands like Loituma (famous for Ievan Polkka), and Varttina (a personal favourite) made music that were a staple in my late childhood. The music by these two bands gave me various scenes in my head which would form the foundations of the MC's backstory.

So the first iteration of the character Kalma came in 2019, when I was attempting to write the narrative of the game as an animated script. Back then, Kalma was Death - but instead a vengeful spirit of the MC's brother who was obsessed with the Finnish epic "Kalevala".

So obsessed, he dressed as the hero/demi-god Väinämöinen - and sang and danced in delusion before he died at the hands of Soviet soldiers.

This is a depiction of Väinämöinen.

Overtime, as I rewrote the story - I felt like this bit of storyline didn't fit with the ideas that kept coming to me later, and the inspiration was only surface level. Also, the concept art I created looked more frightening than fanciful and tragic. Now in 2021, with the narrative of the game almost in completion - Kalma has developed into a much different character.

Its design was "re-invented" rather it grew from the good parts of the old concept and improved with new ideas and inspiration. I kept the silhouette similar as well as the idea of having "horns" piercing through Its hat.

When I started re-writing the character, I still didn't know how I was going to re-depict it. I created another bit of concept art as shown below, but I felt like it was too similar and not faithful enough to the Finnish mythos I adored.

So... I began researching further. And came up with this:

Now, this is Kalma (final rendition).

In Finnish mythology, there is an established family of gods who rule the Underworld (Tuonela) - and they themselves are an immense pot of inspiration to create stories from. But I didn't want to write the story on the basis of dealing with gods, but rather with Death itself.

So how did I come up with this design? A lot came from pagan beliefs, and embroidery. The shapes that surround Kalma's cape is a common design in Karelian-Finnish embroidery called käspaikka. The shapes represent maidens holding flowers - which in my little lore, could represent the souls being carried on the back of Death.

Kalma bore the skull of an elk, a sacred animal in Finnish shamanism. The swan that wraps itself around Kalma's neck is called a sielulintu, a bird that carries the souls of people - at birth and at death.

In pagan tradition, this soul-carrying bird is an animal that is tied to individual people. Everyone has their own bird, essentially.

In the narrative of the game, this sielulintu is one with Death, being both a bringer of life and the one to take it away.


Anyway, that's all for an in-depth explanation of what inspired and developed this character design. If you liked this post, be sure to keep updated by signing up on my newsletter - or contacting me on GameJolt (or Discord, mhc#3869).

Thank you!

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