Category «English»

SOLITUNE

Disclaimer: the game was once known as SOLITUDE, but as this infringed some non-released game's trademark, we changed its name to SOLITUNE.

solitune_titel

Today we release a new Rat King game called SOLITUNE. In the game you are leaving your day-to-day office job to become a shepherd. On your way out you meet a bunch of characters that are tangled up with their own issues. In order to progress you have to free them and hear their story. In exchange for your attention they will follow you further as sheep. It's a very personal and small art game I created over the last month(s) together with Friedrich.

Get it here!

I'm glad we were able to create SOLITUNE. Thanks to the funding of the Kunststiftung Sachsen-Anhalt we could effort to spend time with a non-commercial game idea. Sure, it does cost a capitalist bunch of $2, but it's more of a tip for playing the game. As a developer I was more free to do something personal without having sales numbers or a specific audience in mind.

Why shepherding after all? That's a long story: when you get disappointed with things in your life, you start developing escapist fantasies. I'm sure everyone has at least one idea what they would love to do. Shepherding is not really my secret game industry exit plan. I know it's a hard job. I know you can't go on vacations, or that you have no weekends and have to get up early in the morning.

Through two amazing books I learned quite a lot about being a shepherd. The first one is the very fun and curious "Schlepping Through the Alps" by Sam Apple about the Austrian wandering shepherd Hans Breuer. The second one is the wonderful "A Shepherd's Life" by James Rebanks. Rebanks is a tweeting British shepherd from the Lake District who could easily be the tourist attraction for the region. And he was my starting point to this project. Having those rough-romantic scenes with fluffy herdwicks (the kind of sheep he is attending to) in my timeline between all the indiepocalypse postings felt like an oasis. They remind me of my home village and the local shepherding family. And the sense of calmness that overcomes me when I'm driving by a sheep herd.

Shepherds in Morl near Halle
Shepherds in Morl near Halle

Shepherds are symbols for so many things and emotions: hard, honest work. An existence close to nature. (Can you imagine sheep raised like pigs?) A pure anachronism, to spend your time guiding sheep in times of robots, mass animal farming and automation. Not to forget: the Christian symbol of guidance and help.

On one of our cycling tours we coincidentally met a shepherd with his herd - Martin Winz. Not so coincidentally when you know that the family is responsible for the nature reserve area 'Franzigmark' near Halle. He guided us to the often held shepherding championships in Morl, near Halle. It's a meetup of regional shepherds, visitors and students of the shepherding class - Germany has only two of them and one is located in Halle.

I'm not a big fan of folk festivals, but should you ever have the chance to attend a shepherding contest, go there! Even though we so absolutely looked like outsiders, people were friendly and open to answer all the questions we had. Why do I point this out? Well, shepherding is - probably like every other profession - a bit elitist. The 'fake geek girl' of the computer games industry comes to my mind from my own scene. Here everyone has a shepherd's staff and hat as a symbol of being part of the scene - a trained professional with their own herd and two dogs.

tumblr_ntjqydg9va1ucnxjjo3_1280

Character Design: In Morl I got so much input! I found my game concept growing between the point where I started from - cheesy shepherd romance - to mere simulation, to get all the information I collected showcased somehow. In the end I did something in-between. My shepherd is more of a symbol for guidance and "being on your own" now. And he became female, which is only logical considering that SOLITUNE is a very personal game.

First I planned to have an old, grumpy shepherd, a stereotype I have in mind when thinking about shepherds. The reason is the old shepherd in my village. Though in hindsight he had any right to be like this. We were annoying little kids, destroying old trees by using them for climbing and my dog wasn't well trained at all when we collided with his herd. But that's a whole different story. In Morl I met a class of shepherd apprentices (all of them girls) who made me change the character completely.

schafer_skizzenschaefer_illustrator_s_ohnetransp151119_schaefer

The Others: Another idea I had early on was that the shepherd's herd would consist of humans. He would leave everything behind, also in part because he was annoyed by humans. But when finding lost ones on his way he couldn't help but take them with him. Every character is a stereotype in his own way. Partly I'm annoyed by this kind of people, but I'm sure they are also part of myself. All of them are somehow hidden or occupied and you have to solve a puzzle in every room to free them, and then let them talk. If they always know that they will become a sheep is up to your interpretation. The same goes for the shepherds intentions - I think if his intentions are positive or not are mostly up to you, though I have my own motive in mind, of course.

tumblr_nz7ku4rbv21ucnxjjo1_1280allcharacters

Perspective: In most cases my game ideas are fleshed out pretty quick, but I quarreled with the perspective or point of view for the player. At first I wanted to create an open-world-like scenery, where you can freely roam to explore and find your future sheep. But as so many indie games used this kind of game style or at least I played a lot of them, I decided I wouldn't want to make just another colorful wood exploration game.

My second approach was a third-person view, where you would walk through offices that got weirder. I skipped this one, because you could never really see all the sheep at once or have any sense of progression. I think it was Friedrich's suggestion to keep the same office and only change it slightly by walking in and out. Moreover do we both love the diorama style very much, with the dollhouse overview - which is also perfect to see all your sheep at once.

oldstyle

Programming: The programming was done by Friedrich. He used Unity from the start. Our biggest problem, something you might underestimate with such a small project, was the pathfinding. A number of moving characters that in best case don't run into each other needs a good pathfinding system with dynamic navmeshes and local avoidance and so on. Expecting to need a more flexible system than Unity's in-built one, Friedrich used A* Pathfinding Project by Aaron Greenberg. Unfortunately downloading and implementing an asset seldomly works right out of the box, and this one offers quite a few parameters to tweak.

Music: As for most of our games, Ludwig 'KingLudi' Hanisch created an amazingly atmospheric soundtrack for SOLITUNE, too. We closely developed the mood for every room together. I would tell him what the character or room is about and in return Ludi created a song. You can purchase the complete album via Bandcamp or by adding $2.50 to the game purchase on Itch.io.

jana
Jana and Solitune
ausstellung_fredi_ludi
Friedrich and Ludwig

Ausstellung Kunststiftung

Exhibition: Until January, 15th the game is showcased in the exhibition "Fantitastisch #2" in the Kunststiftung Sachsen-Anhalt. The opening was amazingly colourful and fun, with kids and their family trying out all the books, games, pictures and products exhibited in the rooms of the gallery. I already did so many exhibitions at big trading shows like gamescom, but with the showcase in the gallery with other artists I was really excited. Especially to see how a game would be perceived which wasn't exclusively made for children like some of the other works. In the end, everything went pretty well and it was amazing to watch parents play together with their kids and discuss the game. Mission accomplished! :D

Tell me how you liked the game and what you think about the intentions of SOLITUNE's shepherd!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

TRI – new update

141004_08

We published an update for our game TRI: Of Friendship and Madness! The new version 1.1 got the codename "QuadraticTriangle" and as usual contains some minor bug-fixes and changes to the game. Here are the more important improvements:

  • Added Finnish language for in-game texts
  • Added Polish language for in-game texts
  • Removed warning about not supporting Intel graphics cards, as it was confusing
  • Added bindable key "Menu" - this is what happens when you press ESC to call the pause menu. (The ESC key will always do it, but now you can add another binding.)
  • Removed some wood surface in a location in Chapter 15, to allow coming back to one of the hidden idols by creating triangles

Bug fixes include:

  • Fixed initial resolution fullscreen change
  • Fixed level timer not resetting
  • Fixed Monk talking through the ceiling in Chapter 13
  • Fixed potential bug with some Steam achievements not unlockable
  • Fixed potential bug with not working door in Chapter 12 - needs level restart (minor fix)
  • Fixed bug with quality settings - low shadow settings would also lower quality of characters

If you find any problems with the update, please leave us some feedback and refer to this older announcement on Steam on how to send us relevant crash logs.

If you own TRI on Steam the game should update itself as soon as you restart the client. If you have the game DRM-free on any other store, you will need to download the package again. At the moment, HumbleStore and itch.io already have the latest version, while GOGcom and IndieGameStand will follow soon!

Save

The bpb:game jam 2016

At the first weekend of August 2016 we once again visited Berlin in order to take part in a game jam hosted by the bpb, the Federal Agency for Civic Education. It was a special jam for us, as we were actually invited by the organizers, and the theme was a lot more serious than we're used to: "Flucht und Vertreibung" (Escape and Eviction).  We didn't really know what to expect, other than that travel expenses, hotel and food would all be paid by the German tax payer. (Thank you all!)

The whole event went from Friday till Sunday, with Friday being reserved for an unconference. It started with everybody introducing themselves, which took a lot of time as there were over 50 people! We knew some of the participants already: they were fellow indie developers. Nonetheless the introductions were very interesting, because - and this is another uncommon thing for our jam trips - around half of the people weren't game developers, but came from various fields, mostly pedagogics. The youngest participant was 16 years old, and I dare not to estimate the age of the oldest person in our group.
The only gripe was the pretty low ratio women to men. Unfortunately this is common, but at least it was higher than at most game jams.

20160805_203446

The more interactive part of the unconference were the 'sessions', where people suggested various discussion topics, all in accordance to the main theme, and then do group debates. I suggested "Sprachbarrieren" (language barriers), and thus a few of the participants, including Jana and I, talked about apps for language learning and our experiences with different languages, and how we could use these as gameplay mechanics.

The second session for us was about "Perspektivwechsel" (switching perspective), and here the discussion started with the split-screen camera technique in multiplayer games, but soon got more serious and went from the literal interpretation of perspective to empathy, and how we see others, and games that actually let us "live" different roles; consciously or subconsciously.

Overall these debates prepared us well to get into a more serious mindset, as right afterwards we got instructed to come up with game ideas and discuss them in random groups. I still think the idea of a "Refugee Go", maybe a tad cynical, would be an interesting take on the location-based gaming: the idea was to force the player to literally walk at different places in a real city where they have to fill out virtual forms (in real-time, i.e. with a lot of waiting). The idea was to let players empathize with a refugee in Germany who tries to apply for asylum. As you'd play it with a smartphone only which then demands permanent attention, it would also be a bit like Tamagotchi.

20160807_195854
It was new to Jana and me to not discuss our ideas directly with each other, but alas, Jana was in another group. There she formulated the concept of a card game with instructions on each card for the players, and they'd have to run around and solve the tasks.

In the end we found together again. After a few years of jams we became a solid team and apart from a small collaboration now and then we somehow became unable to try new constellations. ;) Some lively discussions later about what our jam entry should be, we settled for a compromise we were actually both happy with: "Visa Runners", later named "Die Stimmung kippt!" (The mood shifts!).

Visa Runners is the prototype for a multiplayer mobile game with real-world interaction, a bit inspired by Space Team. At the beginning all the players connect their smartphones with each other. Afterwards everyone gets assigned a randomly chosen profile of a refugee-seeking person, with character traits like gender, age, birthplace, skin colour, education, etc.

Visa Runner Profiles
Then the real game begins.

The players have to flee to safe countries and get a visa as fast as possible. The countries are represented by QR codes lying around in the (preferably big) room, on tables and maybe even hanging on the walls. In order to get a visa you have to run to the QR code and scan it with your phone. Then you get a few days of visa - so you need to renew this visa very soon and very often. (A "day" is a second long in our game.) To make it harder players get a day less each time they try to seek refuge in the same country. If you overstayed your visa you need to get a new one as soon as possible, because you lose if you're without shelter for too long.


Yes, the game gets unfair quickly. Intentionally so.

To underline this, every few seconds a tabloid issue appears on one of the phones - usually it's a (mildly) exaggerated headline about refugees or foreigners in general. These headlines affect all players, so the one who sees it has to tell the others (or can choose not to). For example, if there are news about "black men attacking a puppy" all players with the traits "dark skin" or "male" will get minus points in that country (i.e. less days of visa). At some point, a country will refuse visas to certain persons, and those have to flee to other countries.HeadlineThe game ends when only one person is left.

Here's hoping we made a game that captured the theme of the jam. I wish the end result were more functional, but for a prototype it worked pretty well. The funny thing is: when we presented our game, it dawned on us that we didn't even need the prototype, as we were only running around with our Android phones, yelling what we're doing currently. It could have been a theatre play...

The first day of actually programming the game was hell, as I had to download the Android SDK first (to be able to actually build games for smartphones), then try to get a certain plug-in from the Unity Asset Store running. It was very badly documented, and I needed hours to find out how it actually works. But after that we finally got the multiplayer part running, and implementing the gameplay was easy enough. Thankfully the plug-in for the QR code scanning was much less of a hassle.

friedrich_qr
We were very impressed by the games of the other groups, some of them had a team size of five or even more. You can find (German) descriptions of most of the entries at the official wiki - ours is here, even with a downloadable APK.

Overall the first "bpb:game jam" was a success for us, and we think it also was a success as an event. Thanks to the bpb for organizing it! Here's hoping we will be able to take part again next year.

Save

Save