New Year in the Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom counts years from the day of the Ark Fantastic marooning on land. This is an event that signalled the end of a great flood and of course holds a big significance in their society and mythology.

The years before the flood are lost to everyone and unmentioned even in the oldest tales, but in art and literature it is usually portrayed and referred to as an idyllic heaven-like state where animals lived in harmony as there was no conflict and everyone knew their place. The game begins in 1883AA (After Ark), which is 1883 years after the flood subsided and the animals founded the Animal Kingdom they live in today.

You can read more about the day of the New Year in the Animal Kingdom in our blogpost about the Day of the Bells here!

Open source game appreciation month: Krita

Hi, I’m Serena, the character artist for Trip the Ark Fantastic.

This week for open source game appreciation month I’d like to write a bit about the tool we use for making the art of our game – Krita. It’s an open source program for painting which can be used in various ways – from portraits to comics to game art. It’s compatible with most graphics tablets and is easy to set up.

Image result for krita logo"

Prior to this project, I haven’t really worked with Krita, and learning it was really no problem. The interface is very easy to learn – which makes it great for beginner artists and animators but also those already working in the industry, since it uses similar UI features as other professional tools.

Krita deliberately focuses on digital art, so it does not have a varied palette of photography tools as PS for example, but it’s for the best – it gives artists what they need most without cluttering the software with unnecessary features – just a professional tool for digital art. 

Personally, I’m in love with the right click pop-up palette which makes my workflow faster and easier and the brush customization option which is really simple to understand even without any knowledge in the area.

Here you can see an early speed paint of an art piece I made in Krita, the portrait of king Leonard the Wise, father of King Lav:

The music is an early draft of the royalist theme made by our composer Fenton Hutson and the portrait frame is part of the UI made by Maksimilijan Gečević.

It’s impressive what independent developers can put together. By building this program and contributing to its code, those developers are giving an opportunity for everyone (regardless of any political or economical constraints) to learn digital art using a full version of professional software – for free.

If you have the opportunity to support Krita, it’s basically the right thing to do, making the whole medium of digital art way more accessible, as well as supporting independent developers who can truly use every penny to make this software better.

Also worth mentioning is that we’re not only end users but also proud sponsors of the Krita Foundation. Are you an aspiring artist? Try it out, it’s free!

The Day of Bells

While the counting of years and the year of the Ark myth is firmly established, the exact date when the Ark was found is based on pure speculation, and therefore the date of the new year is calculated purely based on ceremonial reasons.

Usually, it is the birth-date of the current king, but there are a few instances in recent history when this wasn’t so – during King Michaël, the date of the New Year was set to the discovery of Ark Island (corresponding to our mid-June), and the current New Year coincides with Pride’s Day of Bells.

This day marks the beginning of the Lav rebellion, and is a holiday festivity across the Kingdom, in celebration of Lav’s victory over tyranny and oppression. It corresponds to our own late September.

There are no Santas or Christmas decorations in the Animal Kingdom, however, there is one tradition held for over three decades now – the Day of Bells is celebrated at noon by ringing all the bells in the entire Kingdom, which you will be able to experience yourself in the game (be careful about the volume on your earphones though!)

The Day of the Bells refers to the start of the rebellion when Leopold’s emissary arrived at Pride. Usually, when royalty is at the door, the gate bells ring three times (and twice if it’s nobility, and once if it’s a non-noble delegation). When the bells end their ringing, the gates open. But the beller at Pride knew that something was wrong, that Leopold must have heard of Lav’s quiet plot to overthrow him, and that opening the gate would probably lead to his imprisonment. So he rang once, twice, thrice… And just kept ringing, so the doors never open.

The royal delegation had not expected such a defiance, and, faced with a closed gate, turned back for Blackbark, while Pride armoured up for war. This day is thus considered the start of Lav’s Rebellion, and the beginning of the end of Leopold’s tyranny.

Open source game appreciation month: Godot Game Engine

This week for open source game appreciation month we would like to pay some tribute to our game engine of choice: Godot Game engine!

When comparing Godot to other solutions on the market, one is quick to notice that it is a relatively new engine (first released in 2014) that hasn’t seen any big game releases yet (although it did for example port Deponia to PS4 and iOS). As a result, choosing Godot as our main engine might seem like a daring decision and it is one that has thus seen some critique from others in the game industry. The things that made us fall in love with Godot go hand in hand with benefits that are deeply intertwined with the essence of FOSS (Free and open-source software).

The most logical one of these FOSS-related benefits is of course that any missing feature or, inevitable, bug present in the engine can either be requested from the community or even be implemented/fixed by yours truly. Avoiding any of the abhorrent ticket systems that plague the proprietary game engine landscape (and most proprietary software in general). During development of “Trip the Ark Fantastic” we make full use of these advantages and hope to help Godot grow alongside our project.

As this is but a simple post there is but place for a single one of Godot’s features that we would like put in the spotlight: Tool scripts! Explained in a layman’s fashion, these are scripts that can run inside of the editor without having to run the actual game, facilitating debugging and development tremendously.

An unfinished tech demo of Charles’ home in the burrows as found inside the Godot Editor, updated live with the help of a tool script.

Another, equally important reason for us, is that we actually really like working in Godot as it is, in our opinion, one of the more intuitive engines to prototype and work with that is out there. Godot supplies a wide arrangement of tools such as a mature animation system, fully native 2D support, a python-like custom scripting API, a node and scene system unlike anything found in other game engines and lots of other features that make the engine a joy to work in. But don’t take our word for it, try it out for yourself!

The Lav Rebellion

A score ago, the rebellion ended. Leopold the Lion, also called The Tyrant King, was overthrown by his brother Lav. Like his father Leonard, Lav is a gentle and enlightened monarch, versed in the sciences as well as the nuances of politics. 

The rebellion was led by Lav, a lion, but it was a rebellion that included all castes of society. After years of war, a vast alliance of animals finally reached Blackbark, Leopold’s capital. The capital was well stocked and could endure many years of siege, giving it enough time to regroup and defeat the rebellion. When they were besieged, Leopold had sent all the citizens not in the armed forces out of the city to flee, knowing that Lav would have to take care of them and lose food and other precious resources. Lav decided to send them all to Pride, the hometown of the lions, and enter the city by force, thus ending the war then and there. 

What isn’t common knowledge is that a famous scholar of the time, Herbert the Hedgehog (father of our protagonist Charles) was instrumental in ending the rebellion. It was he who devised a way to enter the city through a back entrance – researching old scripts on Blackbark’s architecture, he found a way to enter the city through the sewage system, and thus enter the cities defenses.

In the ensuing battle Blackbark burned to the ground, and Lav decided that all the animals who left for Pride could just stay there. He opened up these ancestral homelands of the lions to all the animals and declared Pride the new capital of the Animal Kingdom. 

As King, Lav ushered in an age of freedom and reason. This had the adverse effect of making the divides of the kingdom more pronounced. The noble cats gained a political and economic foothold that they are now using to spread word of reform, and the lower castes are even speaking of anarchy. Will the rebel king’s rule end in rebellion as well, or will he find a way to placate unrest? This, and more, will be at stake in the game.

Open source game appreciation month: Ink

It seems it’s open source game appreciation month!

Since that’s the case, we wanted to give a shout out to all the open source tools we use! Of course there are so many, and December only has a few weeks so we decided to focus on three of our most important open source tools – Ink for interactive dialogues, Godot Engine for code, and Krita for art.

This weeks shout out goes to ink, a wonderful markup language for writing interactive fiction. It’s perfect for character dialogues, but we also use it for stage directions during the dialogues and even triggers for characters scene behaviour.

What we love most about it is the fact that it’s easily readable by a writer, even when it has many different options. Check out this snippet for example:

Philippe and André talking about Charles, the player chooses one of the * options that André says.

This is a much more complex example than basic Ink but it also shows its power.

Ignoring the codey part and starting from line 12, you not only see that there after a few starting dialogues there are 3 options to choose from (indicated by * stars) and what the answer is for each of them, but you can also send function calls to the engine running the game.

In our example, the {s(“A”)} and {s(“P”)} functions change the portrait, voice, and animation of the character currently speaking (especially useful in a tavern where a dozen characters interrupt each other constantly!)

The most wonderful fact is that it’s simultaneously human readable and computer readable and when the dialogue writing starts it has almost zero overhead (just text with an occasional symbol here and there to denote some function or something).

This is how it looks in-game:

On the programming side of things, the folks at Inkle studios unfortunately don’t directly provide an integration package for the Godot Game Engine. Luckily the community has our backs and we would like to give a shout out to Frédéric Maquin who has kindly supplied the FOSS community with a direct port for Godot!

The Myth of the Ark

It’s the first #ArkLoreTuesday! We decided to share a bit of game lore with everyone every week, starting today!

The centrepiece of the Animal Kingdom is the myth of the Ark Fantastic. Thousands of years ago, the lions built a sturdy ark that housed all the animals and saved them from a giant flood. 

As the myth goes, the lions built it, the noble cats administered it, the strong animals protected it, the weak ones worked hard on keeping it afloat, and only the untrustworthy vermin had no role but destruction and chaos. 

This myth has provided the mythological basis of the caste system in place in the Animal Kingdom for millennia – the lions on top as kings, the noble cats governing over provinces, the larger animals as guardians of the land, the commoners as hardworking freefolk, and the vermin as slaves and serfs.

This myth has legitimised the role of Lions as Kings for centuries, but as the Animal Kingdom has modernised, fewer and fewer animals believe in it, opting instead for reforming or even breaking the caste system.

The story of “Trip the Ark Fantastic” starts with Lav, the Rebel King, sending Charles, an esteemed scholar, on a journey to find the remnants of this mythic vessel, in a hope to maintain his seat of power.

Here is part of the myth in its modern form:

As the entire land was covered in water, there was only the Ark housing all animals.

The Ark was kept safe by the lions who ruled over all with compassion and much wisdom.

Below them were the great noble cats, they too were wise and benevolent rulers, carrying out the will of the lions for the benefit of all.

Under the noble cats lived the guardians, responsible and loyal animals. For their duties in protecting the Ark they were later given the responsibility of keeping the dry lands safe. 

All the other animals worked hard on keeping the Ark afloat under the diligent instructions of the guardians and for that they enjoyed the privileges of carefree life.

In the crooks and bowels of the Ark lived the vermin, lazy and mistrustful beings. For the good of the Ark, these animals were not allowed to roam free.

It was only due to the leadership and wisdom of the lions that the Ark did not collapse nor fall to anarchy and finally, when the waters receded, the Ark stranded and the animals spilled forth and came across the northern place we now know as the Animal Kingdom.

Our first press release!

Trip the Ark Fantastic – an immersive story-driven scientific adventure set in the Animal Kingdom on the verge of industrial and social revolution.

We have been working for the past few months on something to show everyone, about the project, about the game, about the narrative, themes, graphics, music, and so on. Of course, since this is such a big undertaking, we naturally needed a lot of time. Well, that time is now! We have produced:

  • A very detailed press release explaining the core tenets of the game
  • A very nice teaser trailer detailing the atmosphere of the game
  • A press kit with key art and even some gameplay screenshots
  • Our first social media push

So we’ll just go through all of these, and how / why we made them.

The Press Release

You can check the full press release out as part of our presskit here.

It’s still very difficult for us to explain our game in a short sentence. We’re innovating in many different areas and in the true spirit of gesamtkunstwerk everything is of equal importance to us, so emphasising solely gameplay or story or art would feel unfair. So we need to entice the reader of the press release early on to make them hold on for a little bit longer and read the whole thing.

The idea then was to not start off with the “elevator pitch” or anything similar, but just to put a nice piece of key art with a mysterious quote from the trailer to entice people to read on, then have a very short (brevity is the soul of press releases) list of bullet points about what we feel are the game’s main distinguishing features (story, mechanics, themes, art, music, tech), and then follow it up with a longer explanation of each, a paragraph or two.

We sent it to a list of around 100 media outlets and so far we had some 70-ish visits to the presskit link which I think is a good number, but we’ll see the real results today after the trailer is officially released.

The Teaser Trailer

Obviously, this early in the development process we can’t have a trailer showcasing all (or any) of our innovative gameplay mechanics, but we really wanted to start being vocal about the game as soon as possible so we could get interested people already engaged early on.

Also, putting pictures every #screenshotsaturday seemed a bit underwhelming and we wanted to start with a bang, so we said – why not a very early teaser trailer with some epic voice over and so on? We will publish it and start gathering fans from all over the world.

Of course, we made it first and foremost to be artistically pleasing (lots of dark and mystery) but then we needed to conform the trailer itself to some technological and media standards – e.g. most people on social media watch trailers with the sound turned off and also most people just scroll on if they aren’t engaged in the first 5 seconds.

So for the trailer version that’s on social media we took a cue from modern Hollywood and started off with a short 5 second “pre-trailer” that shows everything including the game name, and then winds down and continues with the slow and atmospheric trailer we envisaged. Also, we baked / encoded subtitles because otherwise all that epic deep voice over is for naught.

When you do something for too long you lose sight of the obvious so we beta tested the trailer to a couple of audiences. Firstly on Reboot Infogamer, a gamer conference in Zagreb a few weeks ago. People there gave us a lot of good feedback which we spent a few weeks implementing. We also showcased the new improved trailer on Slovenian Games Conference in Ljubljana and it was well received. So, naturally, we were emboldened to finalise it and push it to the general public. Hopefully everyone will like it and it will entice people to want to know more about the game.

The Press Kit

So obviously, media and other interested parties need more content than just a trailer. Some key art, screenshots, character art and so on. What is especially lacking in the trailer is gameplay (for obvious reasons), so we produced a gameplay gif, and will release more in the following days (we have to fill up those #ScreenshotSaturdays with something). Here’s the first gameplay gif (obviously not real gameplay but still useful) –

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/628932978340265984/652124183723114496/dialogue50.gif

The press kit itself is built in WordPress but made to resemble the industry standard that everyone uses, for ease of use. Using WordPress has its advantages including the easy addition plugins, a built-in editor etc, etc.

Also part of the press kit are all the people working on the game. Finding the whole team, keeping them cohesive throughout the project (from the beginning of development to release) was important to us, so we are happy that we finally found every member, and just in time for our first press outing.

The Social Media Push

The final part of the puzzle is of course making the whole package available to everyone – putting the trailer on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, maybe even on some subreddits, tumblrs, imgurs and so on, and so forth, and hoping for the best.

Apart from hoping, it’s smart to target certain groups, so we will try to pay some ads and show the game to people who we think might be interested (story-driven fans who like similar works, people who love classical animation, people who love RPGs, and so on). But the result of this is probably for another dev blog.

We would appreciate it if you (dear reader) shared it as well, and maybe even joined our Discord to stay in touch!

For those still reading, here’s the press release in its entirety

5 December 2019, Zagreb – Gamechuck has just released the first trailer for their upcoming role-playing adventure game Trip the Ark Fantastic, the first game from Croatia co-funded with the support of Creative Europe – MEDIA Programme of the European Union.

Trip the Ark Fantastic is planned for release in 2022 on PC/Mac/Linux and consoles, and until then Gamechuck is inviting all interested gamers to follow them via their newsletter, Discord channel, or other social media at arkfantastic.com.

“Under our homes and under our hearths, civilization itself stands on a story. Words tied us all together, and they could unravel the world. 
Find it, Charles; uphold the Myth!”

Features

  • A deep and immersive secondary world set in an Animal Kingdom on the verge of industrial and social revolution, content-rich and filled with intrigue, side-quests and flavor at every step
  • Completely original gameplay mechanics based on the scientific method: research, discuss, experiment, and finally publish arguments in the Animal Kingdom’s papers
  • An exploration of how myths, science, and philosophy can influence society, and how monarchies, democracies, and anarchies view power, authority, and legitimacy of rule
  • Gorgeous art including frame-by-frame animation and vibrant landscapes inspired by the golden age of animation, as well as music inspired by the works of R. Wagner
  • A gesamtkunstwerk approach in which the art, music and gameplay all tie closely to the story of scientific discovery and the role of myths in different types of societies
  • The entire development completely done in open-source technologies, including Godot Engine, Krita, Ink and MuseScore, among others

Story

Trip the Ark Fantastic is a story-driven roleplaying adventure set in the Animal Kingdom on the verge of both industrial and social revolution. The story follows Charles, a hedgehog scholar on a mission by the lion king to save the monarchy, but his decisions could end up helping reformists or even to bring about anarchy.

The story revolves around an ancient myth that forms the basis of the Animal Kingdom’s caste system – the myth of the Ark Fantastic. As the myth goes, the ark was built by lions millennia ago to save all animals from a great flood. The king’s gambit is that, amidst whispers of reform and revolution, a reputable scholar such as Charles proving the existence of the mythical ark might sway animals toward a royalist stance, and thus uphold the monarchy.

Charles is accompanied by the king’s trusted advisor Philippe the Fox and the captain of the royal guard – Andre the Boar. Their task will lead them to the fringes of the Kingdom and beyond, in search of elusive truth.

Gameplay

The player progresses through the game by solving the Kingdom’s various problems and mysteries, but his method of solving them is a scientific one – he publishes compelling arguments in the Animal Kingdom’s scientific papers to prove his theories and disprove those of others. Only arguments with sound logic and solid evidence will have the power to sway public opinion and change the course of history. 

The evidence itself can be found by talking to the local denizens (after learning their language, such as squirrelese), by using scientific equipment (a microscope, or a chemist kit), or, as a true scholar, by “standing on the shoulders of giants” and using evidence from the works of other scholars found in libraries across the Kingdom.

The player’s main challenge will be finding all the relevant evidence and then choosing the right conclusions, which are then published and reviewed by his peers, potentially resulting in a boost to his scholarly reputation.

Additionally, since Charles’ scientific conclusions can have large-scale consequences on the Animal Kingdom and the monarchy in particular, there is a looming moral dilemma over whether the player should publish a certain argument or not.

Themes and inspirations

We draw inspiration for the game from modern fables of classic literature, such as Animal Farm or Watership Down, as well as deep story-driven games from the roleplaying and adventure game genres, and games with unique and experimental gameplay mechanics.

Our goal is to use the game to explore various types of society (monarchy, democracy, anarchy) and to tackle questions such as how rule is legitimized, what role myths play in the shaping of society, and so on.

The animation is drawn frame-by-frame to be reminiscent of early animated classics, and the music takes cues from 19th century romanticism with the use of leitmotifs inspired by Wagner and gesamtkunstwerk opera.

The game is developed using open-source software, such as the painting tool Krita and the Godot game engine. Gamechuck studio is also a sponsor to both Krita and Godot Engine and, in the case of Godot Engine, actively contributes to its development.