Rat King at the Gamescom 2017

In the last full week of August we not only visited the Gamescom, which is the biggest gaming convention in Europe - we actually went there to showcase our current project, Behind Stars and Under Hills, at the Indie Arena Booth. As Jana is part of the orga team of this 'convention within the convention' we took the opportunity to present the game on 9m² and get some feedback by gamers. (Of course, the 'game' itself still is a prototype, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.)

Behind Stars and Under Hills is very much pre-alpha (which means nothing is set in stone, everything is a placeholder, and anything can change) and won't be finished for at least a year. But it's important to let people see and feel a project early enough, so you don't develop a game eventually nobody wants to play. This is why this time, in contrast to our Gamescom presence 3 years ago (with TRI), we offered sheets of paper and felt-tip pens so players could write down their feedback. Quite an impressive amount of colorful text was produced this way, filled with criticism, wishes and comments.

So, to say it loud and clear: thanks to all our players! While for me just standing around and talking all the time quickly became tiring, and the whole experience was stressful and even annoying sometimes (thanks to loud presentations by some hardware vendor, offering t-shirts to the cheering masses), meeting so many cool, polite and interested gamers was a blast and made up for any inconveniences. Personally I was a bit surprised that most visitors of our booth were delighted by the design of our game and of the dialogs. To be honest, I expected people to be less patient - but here it shows the benefit of being part of a site dedicated to indies only, as the expectations of the visitors coming by are different.

During the five days of Gamescom the most common gripes with the game were the lack of a button for sprinting and a missing (auto-)map. Of course we already planned some kind of map, but are not sure yet how to implement it exactly. We'd like some kind of 'cartography skill', to make the maps more meaningful and part of the gameplay. Or maybe we'll just distribute hand-drawn maps in the game's world, to support the lore and the immersion.

On the other hand, sprinting is a different thing. We never planned to have it, as we actually want to make a "slower" game with a certain atmosphere to convey. (If you remember the development of TRI, you will feel like having a deja vu.) And maybe such a sprint mechanic could even lead to new problems especially for people with short attention spans, where they wouldn't process the environment anymore and just rush through, and find their way even less. So it's possible not the lack of running is the problem, but the amount of backtracking (e.g. having to go back to familiar place because of a quest with an NPC there). Maybe having a map already fixes this particular problem; thus adding maps has a higher priority for us. In any case, something like teleporters between the levels (anchored in the background story) are definitely planned.

A bug found during the gamescom: sometimes an NPC can stand on their head

I regret a bit that I wasn't able (physically and mentally) to play some of the other games, not even at the Indie Arena Booth. Behind Stars and Under Hills is so unfinished, fragile even, that I couldn't bear leaving it alone to the masses for too long. I mean, it was the first time the game was playable for the public!

But of course it never really was alone, as we had help by our wonderful volunteers - here's a shoutout to Björn, Jacky, Ludwig and Max! Not only did they explain the game to interested bystanders and answered questions, or helped players who got stuck, they also handed out flyers and made the whole experience much less of a hassle than it could've been. Here's hoping the Gamescom, loud and chaotic as it was, has been a wonderfully crazy experience for them, too.

Our next plans are to develop Behind Stars and Under Hills further of course, and refine it a bit - for example, the whole storyline still is too hazy so we need to work on it a lot more. More gameplay has to be implemented, more characters created, more levels built... Also coming up is the Poznan Game Arena in October, but it's much too soon, i.e. that we probably won't have much new to show. Still, if you happen to be around, come by and try to find crazy old Willard in our small game demo!

That's all, folks!

Comments 2

  • Hey, it's been a pleasure meeting you, again, and playing BS&UH... sorry, Behind Stars and Under Hills - the should be spelled out completely in order to match the "slow" experience of the game. ;) Since I've been one of those who criticized the slow movement, but I totally get your point, I'd now suggest a different solution:

    Make travelling matter and encourage players to keep their eyes open while getting from one place to another! There's no need for a sprint mechanic if the slow travels are kept interesting in some way. The first time you discover a new path worked fine for me as it is. Walking it the second time (backwards) usually worked fine, as well, because I had to concentrate on finding the way AGAIN. The slow movement only started to bother me if the way (back) was too obvious, that is too easy to find or too well known (i.e. after walking it the 3rd or 4th time). That's when travelling started to feel like a chore, a waste of time and no longer like exploration or interesting in any other way. I'm afraid a map would not fix this issue, but rather make it more severe, because the way becomes even more obvious and players feel even less encouraged to pay attention to their characters' surroundings.

    Looking at other games in which I did NOT mind walking the same way several times (despite being time-consuming), I think constant discovery is the key: Spending a lot of time in the same levels in TRI worked for me, because I've been constantly looking for secrets. Walking the same way again in The Witcher worked for me because the scenery was gorgeous in a different light, and I always smile when spotting some deer in woods. Walking on known paths in Darkest Dungeon was still thrilling, because you never know whether you missed a trap or have a Shambler popping up in front of you.

    So, in order to make travelling (especially backtracking) interesting, while keeping movement slow, you might want to introduce minor changes in the dungeon... these could be merely aesthetic changes, like growing flowers, animals, lighting - or even more relevant changes, like a new hole in the wall, tracks or some item lost by an NPC. All these things (especially the latter) would make looking at the scenery (again) more interesting, avoid boredom and actually encourage processing the environment.

    Phew, I just realized I'm already quite hyped for that game... really looking forward to future development! :)

    • Thank you Manuel, for the comment (and for visiting our booth ;)) - you gave us something to think about!