Introducing: PATOU! Since this year we are working on a new game about family, nostalgia and a big dog that helps you digging out mysterious ruins.
PATOU is a narrative adventure with puzzle elements. Our focus is on exploring surreal dreamscapes and understanding your fluff companion. In the upcoming months we want to share development news and other stories on Patou's own blog.
The game is funded by EFRE and the MDM.
By the way - if you're wondering what happened to the stealth game we were planning last year, don't give your hopes up yet!
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 theNebra 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 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.
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!
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.
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!