Role | Lead Designer Duration | 2 Days Tools Used | Unity
Rat King is a top down physics based puzzle game in which the player controls an escaped alien utilizing its telekinetic powers to manipulate the movement of lab rats intertwined in a rat king in order to escape from scientists seeking to reclaim their alien experiment.
This project was created for the Spring 2021 Art Center Game Jam, sponsored by Virtuous Games. The game jam's theme and our primary design constraint was "better together" and the project was awarded the winner of the Itch.io Community's Choice Award.
With the design constraint and theme of "better together" in mind, our team's initial design ideation on a high concept was to combine the frantic and crazed movement of a rat king - a collection of rats intertwined by their tails - with an unified and strategic way in which the player could manipulate this movement to accomplish a goal.
Building upon the idea of lab rats we landed on the final iteration of our design in which the player would control an escaped alien who would act as the link to our rat king. They would utilize telekinetic powers to manipulate objects and traverse with the rats to escape from the scientists seeking to recapture their experiment.
PHYSICS BASED GAMEPLAY
We wanted to center the core gameplay of Rat King around physics based gameplay mechanic in order to capture the frenzied movement and lack of control seen in real life rat kings. This went hand in hand with our alien's telekinetic powers which became the primary means in which the player could maneuver and traverse with their group of rats.
Littered throughout the game's level would be different types of food that would attract and in turn pull the rats in that direction, acting as the way the player would traverse and move towards their goal of escape. Utilizing the alien's telekinetic powers, the player could then pickup and move the aforementioned food to strategically path through the level.
Wanting to add a layer of personality to our rats and another depth of gameplay each rat would have a different food that they would have an affinity towards, in turn having a much stronger pull with that respective type of food. These mechanics allowed us to create interesting and varied gameplay through the placement of the food objects and the design of our level.
As such with any traversal game, the movement and mechanics pertaining to it that allow the player to navigate our level were integral design elements that our game revolved around and the means of movement and traversal in Rat King revolved around controlling the frenzied rat king surrounding you.
Wanting to capture the frenzied movement of a rat king in our game, the player would be pushed and pulled slightly in all various directions, with the first means of manipulating this uncontrolled movement through the use of food objects. The rats in our game would be drawn towards the different foods with some foods drawing certain rats more than others. Each rats favorite food that would create the strongest pull would be signified above the rats head when the according rat was hovered over with the cursor.
These food objects could be picked up and moved with our telekinesis mechanic to string the rats along and move the player in a certain direction. The rat king could also be rotated by the player in order to orient the rats accordingly with the food objects drawing their attention.
Favorite Food Indicator
LEVEL AND ENCOUNTER DESIGN
The threats to the player in Rat King take the form of different robotic contraptions built by the hunting scientists which cause a game loss upon being detected, as well as the level itself in which game loss occurs when the player falls into the toxic water of the sewers.
With juggling the frenzied movement of the rat king being our primary focus of the game, we wanted our enemy contraptions to have relatively simple behavior with these being our implemented enemy types:
Floating Drone - A drone with a static vertical detection light that patrols back and forth
Hunting Dog Drone - A drone that patrols back and forth from set waypoints that can rotate its horizontal detection light
Enemy placements worked in tandem with the level design and placement of food objects to create interesting traversal challenges for the player in which they would have to rapidly juggle game mechanics to avoid enemies and hazards.
Hunting Dog Drone
CHALLENGES AND TAKEAWAYS
As commonly seen in game jams, getting a refined gameplay experience was the biggest challenge that our team and I found following the jam's completion. Design-wise our team was extremely happy with our interpretation of the theme and due to our talented team of artists that we had gratefully had the opportunity to collaborate with, polish on the visual side of things was extremely solid in our eyes.
We wanted to really capture the movement and control of a skittering group of rats, as that gameplay element made up the key theme in our game's high concept, and finding that perfect balance between the crazed uncontrolled movement and player usability was something that I had wished our team had done better on.
Enemy AI and implementation was another facet of the game that I would seek improvement on as in the current state, the enemies remained fairly rudimentary in their behaviors, not fully fulfilling the fantasy of state of the art technological robots with the sole intent of searching for a target.
My contributions to Rat King entailed implementing the telekinesis mechanic and how the player would utilize that to pick up the food objects to manipulate rat movement. I also did the level design for the project which involved creating the level layout and obstacles, the levels lighting pass, and the environmental set dressing. Gameplay wise I also handled the placement of the interactable food objects, and the placement of enemies. I also helped to ideate and design the gameplay mechanics and overarching thematics with the other designers on the team.