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.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Trip the Ark Fantastic is a weird name at first glance. People ask us, reasonably:

What does the name mean? Is it like a title Trip and subtitle Ark Fantastic? But why isn’t there a comma then, or a separation of some kind? Is it even proper English? You should get a proofreader!

– people

In short, the title is word play with the old English idiom “Trip the light fantastic,” a phrase referring to ballroom dancing. The phrase is not heard around much these days, but it has been in circulation in a some form since the 17th century.

While that might explain what the title is referencing, how we decided on the title is a bit harder to untangle. When a creative decision just “feels right,” like it does to us with our title, it can be difficult to reconstruct the thought process that led to it, but that won’t stop us from trying.

If you are interested in how things like this get decided, we’ve prepared a short history of our thought process below. We can just hope that we won’t, as Keats put it, “unweave the rainbow” for you too much, and that the title will retain some of its mystery and charm.

Initial brainstorming

What we did know from the start is that we wanted something poetic and metaphorical, with a layered meaning that enriches and informs the atmosphere of the game world. Something for the “seasoned connoisseur” to appreciate. It was a long process of brainstorming and back-and-forthing with various ideas before we agreed on the final one.

Some ideas we scraped almost immediately were “A Lions Call” (apart from the animal call connotation it made some sense since the game starts with the lion king calling Charles to the court to give him a mission), “The Kings Gambit” (a reference to a risky plan in chess, which is analogous to what the lion king does by sending Charles on this dubious mission), The Ark Papers (as in a body of work about the Ark, with connotations of conspiracy similar to the Pentagon Papers, etc).

Here are more titles we ditched, which, judging by the titles, were at a certain point “favourites”. The picture is cropped to exclude the (even more) cringeworthy titles.

Unfortunately, all these were rather obvious word plays or references and didn’t really evoke the feeling of fantasy, adventure and the pre-modern fable setting we wanted to make.

Grim Fandango and the dance metaphor

Grim Fandango artwork.jpg
To paraphrase Velasco, they’re as good with names as we are with the fog.

An important reference for us were games we thought had great titles, and one of them was definitely the 1998 adventure game Grim Fandango. Needless to say, nobody dances the fandango in the game. It’s a clever metaphor for a large scale adventure the character undergoes. Using a dance to refer to an adventure seems very poetic and fits a game which strives for deeper themes and nuance.

Also, we like how a strong atmosphere was inherent in the wording (“grim” since the game is about dead people, and “fandango” as a Spanish / Portugese / Mexican dance since the game draws inspiration from Mexican mythology and their Day of the Dead festival.)

So in short, the title sounds great, is memorable, the words it uses encapsulate the atmosphere pretty well and has a poetic metaphor of adventure as dancing attached to it, and is even referenced in-game (it is a verse in an in-game song). If we could achieve a similar level of wholeness with our title, we would be very happy indeed.

Light Fantastic as the core inspiration

TLF.cover.jpg
That’s the one where they find the Great Computer in the Skies malfunctioning and the architect says “there’s nothing wrong with the software, it’s just the entire universe that’s gone wrong!”

A great title we also liked was from the second novel of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy series, “The Light Fantastic,” which clearly references the same phrase that our title references.

Several things here work really well, apart from the wordplay itself. First, we found the adjective ‘fantastic’ evokes the atmosphere of fantasy, adventure and wonder. Also, this linguistic inversion of noun and adjective (light fantastic, instead of fantastic light) always gives off an old-timey vibe, and is well suited for pre-modern settings.

Putting the pieces together

After a lot of deliberation, things finally clicked into place and we decided on the name. We took the idiom “Trip the light fantastic” and substituted ‘ark’ for ‘light’, likewise the Mythological Ark (which is the cornerstone of our game) was renamed “The Ark Fantastic” in-game, and the game called “Trip the Ark Fantastic”.

In our view, to those who understand the reference, the title holds connotations of ballroom dancing both as a point of reference for the atmosphere (grounding the work in an era of kings, courts and fancy balls) and also as a metaphor for the whole adventure (in which Charles has to carefully “dance” around various dangerous characters from the lion king to the tiger duke and the anarchic birds, all with their own conflicting agendas and world views).

As an added benefit, it flows nicely off the tongue in a staccato cadence, with the 6 syllables (“feet”) reminiscent of old Greek works written in epic hexameter, which helps ground the work as “out of this world” and make the Ark sound ancient and mythological, which fits the lore in the game.

If you have any comments about the title, or just want to discuss Keats, Milton, and the dactylic hexameter, you are always welcome to our Discord page, as well as our Facebook and Twitter social media accounts.

MEDIA support received!

MEDIA support received!

Our project has just received support from the Creative Europe MEDIA fund of the European union. As such, we are the first project from Croatia to have received this fund. Full details as well as other selected games can be checked on this link:

https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/creative-europe/media/selection-results/support-for-development-european-video-games-2019-call-eacea242018_en

This comes as great news since we put in a lot of effort into writing this grant – meticulous details regarding finance, timetables and similar need to be provided, and only projects which are awarded enough points are eligible to receive the grant.

These are some of the excerpts that the European Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency had to say about the game in its review:

“The application presents a fully story-driven game, where a number of original mechanics are described, such as learning animal languages or carrying out academic research in the library.”

“The proposal highlights very well the innovative aspects of the game, such as learning animal languages and the detective elements of the game.”

As we can soon start working on the project, more constant updates can be expected, and in the meantime we will write in more detail about the team behind the game as well as other things that might interest our fans.

Website released!

Website released!

We finally released the website!

It’s still missing a few art-pieces (that are currently being refined), but we do hope you thoroughly enjoy the current website.

Here are some free wallpapers showcasing several parts of the game’s setting:

  • The first wallpaper shows a nice vista of one of the larger redwood trees in the Redwood Forest, which is a huge forest in which most of the animals live. This particular part of the forest is called the ‘Scurries‘ and is inhabited by a large community of squirrels. During the game, Charles will visit this community and, if the player wills it, help them deal with some of the mysteries surrounding a certain series of burglaries tormenting the poor squirrel inhabitants.

In the distance lies the ‘Aviary‘, an island unreachable by land or sea and home to most of the Kingdom’s birds. The birds maintain relative independence from the King’s laws and debates, in scholarly circles, are still very much ongoing on their exact place in the Ark mythos.

  • In the search for the Ark, Charles, Philippe, and André will have to explore and cross the uncharted jungles of the southern continent. Pushing through the jungle’s impenetrable undergrowth might not always be feasible. Using rivers and other kind of shortcuts to reach far-away places is necessary because supplies are limited.