Game thinking from Adam Clare

Category: DesignPage 1 of 63

My Game About Animals Surviving Suburban Sprawl

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.

Early development in the game

Early development in the game

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. 

Mono Cliffs sign and map

Mono Cliffs

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:

So I decided that I would revisit the suburbs “once more with feeling” and make the player protect animals.

The start of the 1920 level in the game

The start of the 1920 level in the game

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.
Potnia Theron game level 2009

Potnia Theron game level 2009

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.

Toronto area suburbs

New neighbourhood in the suburbs.

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

Play the Potnia Theron animal protection game by downloading it at Itch.io.

Playable on Windows or Mac.

 

ToJam goat in the game

My Twitter Bots Talk About Escape Rooms & Cryptocurrency

y2kCash Zcoin

Back in the final days of 2017 I decided to create at least one Twitter bot after hearing about the Russian-backed bots. Plus, it was one of the coldest days of the year so staying inside and playing around with Twitter seemed rather appealing. I opened Cheap Bots, Done Quick and began creating some bots. Plus Dave was convincing me it’s a good idea to create bots after making one with Yifat.

So I created two Twitter bots:

@Y2KCash which talks about cryptocurrency, art, and technology.
@EscapeRoomBot which provides automated commentary on escape rooms.

Getting the bots up and running is simple enough and if you need help look there are plenty of online resources. Cheap Bots Down Quick uses Tracery as its language and if you’re new to Tracey there’s no need to fear as Katie Rose created a great guide on Tracery and Twitterbots (and here’s the full documentation).

Getting data

Escape Game Bot

Using the architecture list.

For my bots the hardest part was generating the content and not the code. Terms specific to escape rooms and cryptocurrencies was easy enough, as was some unique sentences I wanted them to say. However, for more general things I needed to look elsewhere.

I figured there’s no point in creating generic lists of objects since inevitably somebody else already has. Sure enough, Darius Kazemi nicely created just that very thing in his Corpora project. “The project is a collection of static corpora (plural of “corpus”) that are potentially useful in the creation of weird internet stuff.” It includes lists of common objects and terms, which proved very useful for my weird internet project.

Adding lists greatly increased the diversity of commentary the bots could espouse. Sometimes the results from the lists are unexpected like this:

I decided to go further and add emoji and hashtags. Emojis were easy enough but hashtags took some figuring out (to add a hashtag in Tracery preface it with “\#” ie) \#hashtag \#escaperoom). Adding emojis to EscapeRoomBot was clearly a smart move as the commentary on escape games including emojis get more impressions. Also, the emoji are just fun to add.

Now go make your own Twitter bots!

Some final thoughts from the bots:

 

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