Monsters of the Keyart


Hi Noxcrew Community!

Hope you’ve all had a lovely week, the weather's been a bit wet a wild around here of late, so I hope you’re all keeping safe and warm.

Not a whole lot to report on DvD’s ongoing quest for completion. We had a small scale run through of the whole map and while there is a ton of work to do to get it up to our exacting standards, DvD is running better than we initially thought with Ruby’s animations being particularly lovely. Happy to see it’s moving along nicely!

For this week’s ‘Showcase September’ offering I’ve taken a look at an overlooked aspect of Minecraft map development, a map’s keyart, and discuss how important it can be in getting the themes of your project across to potential players, particularly in a map like Monsters from the Ice.

I hope you find it interesting and I’ll see you next week!


No matter how brilliant a project is, it can all go to waste if you don’t have compelling keyart.

Keyart is the main image used to promote a piece of media and, when done correctly, can capture your attention and tell you what you need to know about a project in one image. Think about the Jaws movie poster. Or Red Dead Redemption’s game cover. In a single picture, keyart can encapsulate the themes of a piece and shows off what is important about it.

While commonly associated with more mainstream forms of media, keyart can also play a big role in the advertising of Minecraft maps. Regardless of where a project is housed, keyart is essential in showing off what’s exciting about the map, be it entities, gameplay, or aesthetics. For creators, thinking about what you want to say through your keyart can help you focus on the main aspects of your project, prompting discussion on what makes it something that players will want to play.

In this peek behind the Noxcrew curtain, I want to take a look at our most recent project, Monsters From The Ice, and show you the development of it’s keyart. By doing so, I want to reveal how keyart can highlight different moods, themes and emotions of a project, depending on what aspect you focus on.

Monsters from the Ice is a multi-layered adventure map that focuses on different genres at different parts throughout its run time. It’s a deep-diving adventure story, pitting a lone hero against an army of enemies but it’s also a tense exploration of an abandoned facility. It has elements of horror, with a looming evil threatening to tear everything apart, but also elements of comedy, with GDL’s bumbling antics causing trouble once again. Artist Skyao had to take all of these contrasting facets of the map into consideration and decide which aspects best represented the story we wanted to tell.

Initially, during the development of MFTI’s first draft, we wanted to tap into the emotional core of the story, the growing sense of dread as the player dives deeper into the depths. Emotion is one of the most important considerations when developing promotional art, especially for story-driven maps, as it highlights, to the player, what sort of experience they are getting into. With Monsters From The Ice, we’d created a story drenched in mystery and tension, namely through the intimidating yet barely glimpsed presence of the Frost Worm and wanted to bring that to the keyart.

We wanted the piece to be bold and striking, something that would pique curiosity but didn’t show too much. Doubling down on building mystery into the keyart, we tried a completely stripped back art style, showing nothing but the Frost Worm, looming out at the viewer from the darkness.

No logos, no title to explain the beast before them.

Skyao experimented with angles and shadows to create a sense of immense scale, as well as one of immovable dread. By filling the whole screen with the monster but hiding most of the details, we hoped to show off its’ incredible size, while leaving people guessing on the beast’s true nature.

Despite this drive to create a scary and suspenseful showcase for Monsters from the Ice, upon reflection, we felt that this darker draft had gone too far in creating a horror aesthetic.While we wanted to invoke dread in our audience, we didn’t want to scare people away, nor for players to think that this was an entirely horror-based experience and ignore the lighter elements of comedy and action found throughout the map.

It also failed to highlight Monsters from the Ice as a part of an established series, which is important when you’re trying to develop a continuing storyline within a series of projects. Without a title linking the map to Monsters of the Deep or the wider GDL universe, it looked like a completely different series, not a continuation of a story that players were following.

So we scrapped the stripped-back design and moved forward with a completely new idea, leaning more towards the action-adventure elements of the story.

The second draft saw the Frost Worm chasing the player character, The Explorer, on a snowmobile, through a frozen wasteland. Initially planned with Alan and Sasha in the driver’s seat to highlight the map as part of the GDL universe, we experimented with this version and tried to create an exciting tone, showing that this map has lots of action throughout the whole experience and a huge monster to fight.

Having the keyart show off part of a chase also helped us set a less ominous tone to the map, with lots of movement throughout the piece to suggest high paced action. To create movement, Skyao painted snow flurries flying off of the snowmobile and the Frost Worm in action, insinuating motion through the once peaceful snowdrifts.

A big consideration during the development of this draft was getting the scale of the Frost Worm just right. We had to make sure it looked menacing without making it look oversized and goofy, yet ensure it wasn’t undersized either, as it risked losing any sense of threat. To get this pinned down properly, we used the base size of a Minecraft player as our starting point, then used that to correctly scale the Frost Worm to make it look intimidating. Setting it further back also helped with this. The worm is relatively big in this version, but, with only a small portion of its full form on display, there’s still a bit of mystery about its exact size.

While the second draft highlighted the adventurous energy of Monsters from the Ice and the sheer scale of the Frost Worm , we felt that, by showing off the worm in direct sunlight, that we had lost some of the mystery surrounding the creature. The almost cartoony style of the keyart had failed to put across any of the tension and dread we had worked so hard to develop within the story, making the map seem more like an Indiana Jones-style romp rather than a slow-burning horror mystery like Dead Space.

So we went back to our original idea, the massive head of the Frost Worm, looming out from the darkness. However, instead of going back to the doom and gloom of the first draft,we decided to change things up a bit and try to make it more in line with what we wanted to say about the map, showing off the map’s darker themes, but also highlighting it as a continuation of a wider, more comedic series, rather than a straightforward horror experience.

To do this, Skyao brightened up the scene a bit, showing off the Frost Worm in all its terrifying glory, but without the gloomy shadows to create an oppressive air. Instead, Skyao let the monster come to the forefront, with the flying drool suggesting a strong, almost deafening roar, to highlight it’s furiosity. Despite brightening the creature and reducing the gloom, there is still a hint of the mystery we sought to cultivate in the first draft, with background becoming slightly more clear as a gloomy cavern, devoid of identifying features beyond the stark ice, insinuating isolation and a journey into the frozen depths. The size of the creature is still obscured by cutting it off at the head, but is hinted at when compared the the cavern wall, rather than completely veiled by darkness.

By having the creature in front of the Noxcrew logo, rather than behind it, it suggests that the monster is wild and untamed, as if a scene was already set up for a different shot, but the Frost Worm has disregarded the layout and forced itself forward in its haste to get at its prey.

The introduction of the logos also help to establish the piece, not only as part of the Noxcrew ‘brand’ but as part of the GDL universe. The text may be different, with icicles dripping off it to suggest a frozen environment, but the repetition of ‘Monsters’ in the title of the map would be familiar to those who have already played the previous map ‘Monsters of the Deep, immediately linking the two in their heads, even if they don’t know how they are related.

I hope you’ve found this peek into the development of Monsters from the Ice’s keyart interesting. Let me know what other projects you'd like me to look into next!

Noctis MoriComment