Category «Game Development»

The Sky of Bronze – The Game

As was promised in the last blog post, here’s a short article about the project we worked on in 2018 (mostly): a turn-based survival game as part of an app about the Nebra sky disk. The sky disk is a bronze circle with 30cm diameter and probably the oldest depiction of the known cosmos. It was found by treasure hunters in 1999, here in Saxony-Anhalt, and is now one of Germany’s most notable archeological discoveries.

The sky disk, as shown in the game

The project was an idea by MotionWorks, a local animation studio known for the Marco Polo series and games, and of course for a lot of other projects. MotionWorks’ plan was to create a mobile app that would teach children and teenagers about the sky disk in a playful manner: with short films, 360° pictures, puzzles, background information - and a game. So they approached us for a commission and we said yes, because educational games are satisfying to make, and because the regional and historical relevance of the topic appealed to us a lot - after all, the sky disk was found close to where we live and work.

As we only created the game and not the remaining parts of the app, we worked in parallel with other local businesses all under MotionWork’s lead. For example, codemacher was responsible for programming the app and making sure that people can use it on-site in Nebra via GPS. I.e., whenever you reach a certain hotspot in Nebra, a new animation would play. The Sisters of Design created the website and even a booklet with a comic, crafting instructions and an Android code for the app. It looks gorgeous and has a goat (the unofficial mascot of the whole endeavor) key ring pendant as a gimmick. MotionWorks themselves animated the clips and invented the story and characters: main characters are the two children Mimo and Leva who serve as guides through the whole app.

We created a game concept about village life and traditions a few thousand years ago, when the sky disk existed for quite some time already and was now worshipped and sacrificed. Thus our game does not really cover the disk (other than using a picture of it here and there), but the Unetice culture, which came around 1,000 years afterwards. This way, our game could reuse graphic assets from the rest of the app, as the animations followed a Unetice family trying to prevent their people’s demise.

Primary goal was writing a concept that would not be yet another color matching game, with bronze stars and moons in place of the jelly beans maybe. Instead we eventually envisioned a survival game on a small grid-based world, strongly inspired by board games, and this level would change constantly both through actions by the player (e.g. uncovering the board tiles, cutting trees, hunting animals) and by random events (e.g. forest fires, flooded lands). The player would walk around to gather resources like wood, meat and fur, and trade these against tools and - most importantly - bronze jewellery. Starting as a pauper, with this bronze players achieve higher and higher ranks: becoming the chieftain is the ultimate goal of the game. Such a high-score system was fitting, as hierarchical structures were established during the bronze age.

The hardest part of the game was to make the workload manageable. For example, we planned to have several mini games which would simulate the gathering of each resource. Only after creating a few prototypes for them it became clear that the amount of mini games had to be cut down to one. Instead of hunting animals with arrows in a “Angry Birds”-like fashion and similar gameplays, we settled for an abstract Minesweeper-inspired game that we could reskin for each activity (fishing, rabbit hunting, tree cutting, etc). Although this sounds like we betrayed our original goal, make no mistake: the mini games are only one part of the sky disk game. The player has to explore the world, plan their path, interact with various traders, sacrifice items to the gods, and so on - all before running out of time.

Just like in the app’s animated movies the protagonists are the Unetice children Mimo and Leva. The player plays one of them, and during the game, every few rounds a randomly chosen event happens. This was done via “collectible” cards featuring short stories describing the world and life back then. To some extent the cards also help to give the player a sense of progress, as they follow the four seasons over the span of one year - the game starts with spring and ends with winter.

Apart from being a cool project overall, it was nice that the app was showcased a bit more officially than usual. Because it has a regional impact (i.e. relevance to the region) it was funded by the county Saxony-Anhalt and by the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, and thus it was presented at the state chancellery in Magdeburg (the capital of our county) and later again at the Ark of Nebra. The Ark is a modern-looking museum serving as starting point for a walking tour to the look-out at the top of the ancient Holy Mountain - where the sky disk was dug out in 1999.

The Ark of Nebra

When the app was completed it was uploaded on Apple’s AppStore and Google’s PlayStore. We'd like to thank MotionWorks for the opportunity to work on this project - it was very interesting to learn about the sky disk after having seen it (or rather a copy of it) in the Landesmuseum already, and a joy to create something meaningful yet fun.

If you want to talk with us (and other enthusiasts) about our games and/or game development in general, visit us at our Discord!

Mondar at the A MAZE 2019

We visited the A MAZE this year, and it was relaxing and fun. After missing it in 2018 (we went to the Reboot in Croatia instead), we were eager to meet fellow German and international developers in Berlin again. For those who don't know the A MAZE, it's a games festival with exhibition, talks, live music and workshops (and probably more). The focus is on art/games, and not on the business side or even the development of games. It's all about personal stories, crazy, mesmerizing and/or glitchy visuals, VR/AR/MR/XR/PR and generally digital weirdness. So, we had a good time.

The A MAZE happened at a new location this year, at the SEZ, a big building reminding Friedrich of his former school which was built in the 70s. While the Urban Spree was always very fitting for the AMAZE in our opinion, the SEZ brought the event together well and was also better suited for this year's cold weather. The venue change was good!

In order to justify our visit a bit, we also brought Mondar's Dungeon with us and showcased it for a few hours at the Open Screens (right next to Sos' Open Sound System). Some people eagerly played the game and gave feedback, and overall we are stoked by the positive reception. Mondar's Dungeon was originally meant as our entry for the 7-Day-Roguelike-Challenge (yes, the same event Pitman Krumb was part of, back in 2011!), but we didn't finish in time and instead worked a bit more on it until it felt complete. The elevator pitch: "Mondar's Dungeon is a roguelike, but with cards." While future updates might still come, it is mostly finished and can be played on itch.io for free!

Our friend Björn was also at the A MAZE. He released his game Murder Machine Mini on Steam two days before, and Friedrich lent his laptop so he could present the game at the Open Screens too. He did, and quite a few people had a good look at this retro shooter.

As mentioned before, the A MAZE also offers talks and workshops, and we attended some of these. For example, while Jana took part in a workshop by Anita Sarkeesian about diversity and representation in games, Friedrich was more interested in the technical side of game creation and attended workshops about ray marching shaders and about stage design in Unity. But our personal highlight were the Hyper Talks, where nine creators each had five minutes for talking about everything, from playing with dogs to creativity burn-out.

It goes without saying - we also talked to friends and friendly people at the venue all the time, discussing games, game design and the weather. Jana took part in a podcast (about game difficulty), over at the Saftladen.

Now what does the future hold for Rat King? Sadly, Behind Stars and Under Hills is on hiatus with an unknown fate. But to keep going, we accept commissioned work - the second half of 2018 was dedicated to the game for an app about the sky disk of Nebra, commissioned by MotionWorks GmbH. This sky disk is probably the oldest still existing depiction of the cosmos - we will write a bit more detailed blog post about the game soon.

Of course Rat King is still indie, thus we create concepts and prototypes for different game ideas floating in our collective rat hive mind. This blog will hopefully be more active again soon!

Behind High Five and Under Gamescom

Hey - long time no read! We're sorry for the lack of updates. (I bet you heard that sentence before.)

After months of finalizing and polishing Behind Stars and Under Hills' prototype, we pitched the project to several publishers. Afterwards we put the game on a temporary hiatus, so we can pursue other projects for now. Behind Stars is still highly active in the back of our brains though - more about that in later posts! Meanwhile, a few atmospheric screenshots from the current state of the game prototype:

To earn some money we currently design and implement a mobile game for local animation studio MotionWorks - it's pretty cool to collaborate with creatives working a few streets away for a change! Unfortunately we can't tell too much about the project yet, but the setting will be the Bronze Age, and the game itself is embedded in an interactive app about the Nebra sky disk. It is co-funded by the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung and the Investitionsbank Sachsen-Anhalt.

In April we visited the Reboot 2018 in Croatia, together with our good friend Björn. The Reboot itself was a very cool 3-day event within a luxurious hotel lobby with lots of games, food and talks! But we were also mesmerized by the beauty of Croatia and Dubrovnik, and the bombed hotels along the coast line...

A short time ago the summer semester of our former art school ended, which always concludes with the annual summer fest together with an exhibition of all the students' works. As our office is part of the incubator Designhaus which is directly tied to the university and thus does an Open Day during the exhibition weekend, we were obliged (and happy!) to also show stuff we made. We decided that Behind Stars and Under Hills would not work for the audience of people mostly interested in the finer arts (and their young kids), so instead we created a small game specifically for the Open Day.

We also were adamant that everybody would be able to play the game. But from former experiences we knew that some visitors even have reservations against using a mouse or keyboard. This is why we got a Makey Makey and made a game you would play with high fives only: High Five Romance Race! Later on we also presented the game at the Talk&Play in Berlin. We can say without shame that this simple endless runner is one of our most popular products now. ;)

Of course we will visit the gamescom this year again - we won't showcase anything this time, which is actually a good thing because it gives us more leisure to have a look at all the great games presented at the Indie Arena Booth. Just today their line-up was revealed, so have a look!

INDIE ARENA BOOTH trailer 2018

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Are you going too? Tell us via Twitter - or even better, join us on our new Discord server and talk directly to us! :)