Rat King is a traversal game about the symbiotic life of a rat king. An alien captured in a facility learns to psychically compel rats, and uses them as a means of escape through the sewers. Gameplay features a bizarre physics based movement, by which each of the rats in your rat king are attracted to a certain type of food. You must bait them and hide distracting foods if you want to navigate the sewers to safety.
Game Designer/Team Leader
Rat King was built for the Artcenter 48 hours Game Jam with a team of eight. The theme of the Jam was 'better together' and so we took an obtuse approach with the concept of a rat king. All assets in the game were created over that 48 hour period, with rapid prototyping, concept and modelling, and even animation happening simultaneously. The game would end up winning the Itch.io Community Choice award.
I don't mind being strange, in fact I really like it. Weird things are fascinating to me, and so if I think of some obtuse approach I'm not one to shy away from it. That's more or less exactly what happened with Rat King, with the 'better together' theme springing to mind after a brainstorming session with the rest of the team. Our artists were in love with the idea, and our designers were onboard as soon as we ironed out the potential mechanics.
We liked the idea of this rat king having an umber of rats attached to it, which would work as a sort of 360 degree chariot. Each rat would be attracted to a certain type of food, and would need to be baited in order to navigate. The telekinetic powers of the alien worked well in order to manipulate objects in the terrain and to strategize about their movement through an area.
Our efforts were divided into three, creating our traversal system, creating a line of sight system, and lastly designing out the level.
The Rat King's traversal system is entirely physics-based, meaning that there aren't tight metrics but much cruder add forces that can cause the player to have imperfect control. We figured that this mechanic was the one the player would have to master, the intrinsic challenge therefor was not in defeating the terrain, but rather defeating the rat king itself. What came out of it was certainly a creepy, yet unique system of traversal.
Line of Sight
We knew that we wanted the rat king to be effected by what it saw, which meant that each of the rats surrounding him would need to have their own cone of vision, as well as a means of identifying trigger objects. In creating this system, we figured we could use it in another way to inverse mechanic, and create further obstacles. This would manifest as the security bots of which there was a smaller floating 'point' type, and a longer patrolling 'line' type which would result in an endgame if the player was caught.
We were under the gun in terms of time, but level design had to be factored in as well. We wanted to provide context for what the hell you were and why you were moving through this sewer. I storyboarded a cinematic intro which my artists produced in record time giving us a very easy point of entry into the game. We tried to teach the player the basics of the rules in the intro area, while keeping them safe -- and as the player moves deeper into the level, the peril of falling and eventually being caught by the robots becomes greater and greater.
My team and I were really distraught during the awards for the Game Jam. After working for some 48 straight we had nothing to show for it, nothing for our prowess to execute an original concept at the level we did. Creativity as it turns out, is not the most valued skill in Game Design, its also a matter of appealability and more importantly: fun. We lost out to a generic 2D platformer with a slight twist, which further the perks of playing it safe. Game Design, above all things, takes time. You can create an interesting mechanic, sure, but to execute well on it? You need time, theory, iteration, and execution. By going for mechanics already thoroughly defined that 2D platformer team had all the time in the world to get the nuances of their experience down... Where as ours was left rough around the edges.
But I am okay with that. After all, in a Game Jam the goal isn't to win prizes but more so make something cool. And when given the freedom to play it safe or go bold with one's weirdness, I'll always take the latter. The silver lining is that we would go on to win the Itch.io Community Choice award, meaning that there were people out there that did appreciate our weird creation.