Play as the protector of animals, Potnia Theron, and save the life force of creatures from the ever-expanding presence of human settlements.
TOJAM 2021: FEELS LIKE A RERUN
TOJam’s theme for 2021 was “once more with feeling” and like with many game jam themes one can go anywhere with it. I chose to go into the past. What if we could replay history, but feel more for animals?
For the jam, I made a game in which you guide animal spirits to safer places over the course of hundreds of years. You are Potnia Theron, protector of animal spirits. who awakes when animals need guidance and protection.
Whenever humanity builds permanent structures the local animals get pushed out of their natural habitat. It’s Potnia’s role to get those homeless animals to a safer place, away from the growing sprawl of humanity.
Animal spirits follow Potnia Theron in the game to get to safety, unless the animals get killed by human activity of course. As time progresses the obstacles to animals change, starting with snares and ending with vehicles and invisible pollutants.
The game asks: can animals stay safe despite the unsustainable suburban expansion in North America?
Motivation for the game’s theme
TOJam, like most game jams, are best done with a team. I went solo for this jam, which meant that the theme was entirely up to me.
I looked back at game ideas I’ve had in the past and combined one of them with the theme of the jam. The original idea was to create a corridor for humans to travel through as if they’re animals stuck in a preserve corridor. This was directly inspired by a day trip to Mono Cliffs outside of Toronto where I saw the sign pictured below.
The other idea stemmed from growing up in the suburbs where developments are named for what they destroyed (Deer Meadows, Glen Field, Forest Walk, and so on). As a teen I was told a benefit of the suburbs lies in the fact that it’s all nature around us and it’s not polluted like “gross” cities. That was so wrong.
I won’t go into all the reasons why modern car-based suburbs are so problematic so here’s a quick list to other resources:
- Reconfronting sprawl: Still paved with good intentions and asphalt
- There may be an evolutionary reason suburbia feels so miserable
- The Death and Life of Great American…Suburbs?
- Suburbs that don’t Suck – Streetcar Suburbs
So I decided that I would revisit the suburbs “once more with feeling” and make the player protect animals.
The game spans hundreds of years, from “long ago” to 1820 all the way up to 2020 (and beyond!). Players show up at an increasing rate, at first it’s 100 years, then 50 years, then 25, and so on. This captures the increasing rate of environmental damage done to our planet from suburban expansion.
From ambitious experimentation to… walking
On this front, I’ll admit that my experiments failed (or worked, since I got results). I set out to try:
- to make escort missions interesting;
- integrating real-world geographic information;
- trying some new toys from the Unity asset store.
Escort missions are a slog for a few reasons, one such reason is that the NPC being escorted is always a slow idiot who does all the time. Sounds like ducks or rabbits right? I wanted to try making an escort mission that used shortcomings to its advantage. The followers in the game respawn on their own, so follower death only impacts the measurement of success and not failure of the mission.
I spent time making obstacles which eliminate the followers and even building a death counter. These were more of a hassle than something that enhanced the game play. Just like in escort missions.
Using real world data is something I’ve done before with Lethal Strike; this time I wanted to use it on a more human level instead of hundreds of meters in the air. My original thinking was to use actual suburbs from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA); however the tool I used to create the maps lacked the fidelity needed. I compromised by only using real-world topographic data.
So yes, the game is set in the Toronto area using real world map data.
I went too far with the “toys” I got from the Unity asset store, so many that the project size balloon to be too massive to package for HTML5. I thought using existing assets would make up for doing the jam solo, but I think it would have made more sense to just start from scratch next time. Of course, some of the assets are useful for other projects I’m working on.
After all of this experimentation and failed game play outcomes I chose to categorize the game as a walking simulator on Itch.io.
Play the Potnia Theron game now
Playable on Windows or Mac.