Game thinking from Adam Clare

Category: ExperimentalPage 1 of 37

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

Dr. Trolley’s Problems are Yours to Solve

Download Dr. Trolley’s Problem on:

Steam (PC/Mac)           Itch.io (PC/Mac*)          App Store (iOS)

Dr. Trolley’s Problem is fully complete and at version 1.0. You can play this gam all about the trolley problem on almost all the important systems, with hopefully more to come. It’s the trolley problem game you’ve been waiting for!Dr. Trolley's Problem

Dr. Trolley’s Problem brings the classic philosophical quandaries of The Trolley Problem to life and asks you to make life or death decisions on the fly. Explore your moral fibre in ways you never imagined (or asked for)!

Dr. Trolley is an infamous robot mad scientist from another dimension which has sequestered you in its simulation to answer the most pressing questions:

Should humans be allowed to drive cars? Or would driving (and most other things) be safer in the hands of Artificial Intelligence?

 

Successes

trolley problem game screenshot

What we found during Early Access and almost a year of lackadaisical testing.

  • The trolley problem situations spurred the conversations we hoped for.
  • People want to be mobile, so the iOS version came from people asking for it.
  • People enjoyed the chance-based situations after a series of serious ones. This was predictable since the inclusion of chance takes mental pressure off of the player.
  • My code is like spaghetti, and yes, it’s far worse than VVVVVV‘s. I consider this point about code a success since my coding as improved to know how bad I was at it 😉

Next Steps

Promotion!

Basically we’re going to try to get it this game in front of as many people as possible. We’d love your help in that process! Tell your friends about the game and share as much as you can on social media.

 

Since a game is never actually done, we’re going to continue to fix bugs. I wish I could release things that are bug free, but that’s basically impossible for me 🙁

*the Itch.io Mac version is suffering from inability to correctly sign the app. Still working on it. The Steam version seems to work.

trolley problem game

If we get enough sales (that’s to say quantifiable interest) we’ll do more:

  • Add thematic situation packs. Situations take time to make and I only want to create more if I know they’ll be played. Thematic situations like political ones require custom art and that adds hard costs (not just time).
  • Android version. I’ve tried and failed due to the bundle size, hopefully this will be released soon.
  • Better, real time, statistics. I’ll admit the game is deceptive and I don’t like that as one of the goals from the get go was to share stats about player decisions. Implementing this turned out to be a nightmare and delayed us releasing the game by half a year. In summary, sending data to an analytics program is easy (ads track you everywhere and you really should get a tracker blocker), showing the collected data back to players is hard. I know that someone reading this is thinking “but that’s so easy and I do that all the time”; but, my coding skills are limited and my patience has run out dealing with multiple analytics services and their limitations.

You made it this far in the post so I know you care 🙂

 

 

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