A Pokemon style RPG with real animals and without the fighting. Tells of nature, technology, a little sadness and a lot of kindness.
A Pokemon style RPG with real animals and without the fighting. Tells of nature, technology, a little sadness and a lot of kindness.
Play the early web-based demo here!
Update: Added a new companion app for phones!
Update: Made a funky trailer!
Stay informed and please help spread the word!
12 Years ago there was a study that found kids knew more about Pokemon than about real animals. This was a problem for conservationists, because it seemed like real life was getting replaced with fantasy creatures. At the same time of course, a lot of animals are on the brink of extinction. So they might have a point. But I'm not here to tell you a sob story, nor do I intend to turn this project into something preachy. It wouldn't hurt to take a look at our surroundings every once in a while though, to marvel at some of the crazy things nature throws at us.
What's the plan? The goal is to bring balance to the force. In other words, to balance out the interest in real animals with the interest in fantasy animals in the minds of our kids (and in ourselves of course).
But first off, let me be clear. This is not some crusade. I've got nothing against Pokemon. I love the games, I like the designs and the cartoons make me laugh. These are all great things. More importantly, I think they found a tiny bit of magic, which is the experience of seeing a new creature for the very first time.
For example, think back to what it was like when you first encountered something you had never seen before. The first time you saw a dog perhaps? Well you'd probably seen it in a book already, and at the time you might have called it something like woof or bowwow. But when it was standing in front of you it was probably pretty big. And hairy. And made loud noises. But when your parents then said: "It's ok, that's a doggie", you probably went: "woofie!" and proceeded to drool as much on the dog as the dog drooled on you.
That's something special. And it's that sense of discovery that I want to build on as well. Pokemon succeeded greatly in this with its design, and the games proved very popular and are well loved. As a result kids around the world learned about all these fantasy creatures. So I think the best way to add something positive to their lives is to provide them a similar experience with real animals.
tl;dr: Create a pokemon like game with real animals to draw attention back to real life.
AnimalAlbum is a videogame where you explore the world and discover a large variety of animals along the way. It takes a very laid back approach to the adventure and lets people do their thing. Obstacles are generally overcome by exploring, talking and gaining insight into connections between characters in the world.
In case you didn't try it out yet, I've prepared a quick web-based demo to illustrate some of the concepts of what I'm working on. It's small and very rough of course with almost no animations, but I hope it gives you an impression of the basic mechanics and where the game will go once I start proper development. It requires flash player, but if you can watch youtube videos you should already be good to go. You can check out the demo here.
The game loosely talks about the themes of nature and technology. There's no epic quest to save the world, people don't pretend to be in the middle ages and talk a little more like they would in real life. Some of my big inspirations next to Pokemon are the Earthbound/Mother series of games, so I'm trying to convey a sense of kindness and also a little bit of sadness in it's world.
As the main character you'll play a robot with the task to go out and observe wildlife, catalog and analyze. And since you're a robot, you'll follow your programming right? But why? And how were you created? Would a robot even care?
tl;dr: Lighthearted and kind story about nature and technology.
AnimalAlbum looks and feels like a role playing game in general, that means walking around the world seen from a top down perspective, exploring areas, looking for animals and running into people. But it's less focused on battles, level grinding and random encounters. AnimalAlbum is more laid back and takes a page from traditional adventure games like Monkey Island or King's Quest which means talking, prodding and actively thinking about connections between characters.
Typically, encounters in role playing games tend to happen randomly and interrupt whatever you were trying to accomplish. You're then forced to deal with them right away and often have to go through a lot of these in order to keep up with the game's difficulty curve.
AnimalAlbum does things differently. It uses a random trigger mechanism. Whenever a trigger happens you'll see some grass rustle or you might hear the sound of an animal, or see a flash of light or things like that. You can just keep walking and keep doing whatever you were doing. But, since these triggers are signs of an animal close by, you can also try to catch a glimpse of it by hitting the space bar. If you're in time, the encounter happens and depending on your reaction speed there might be rarer animals showing up. In case you already know all the animals in the area, or if for some reason you don't want to have an encounter, you can just keep doing your thing without interruption.
Encounters are also different in that they're not about beating other animals up. Instead they're about recognizing what you're dealing with. Like with the first time you saw a dog. So your goal in an encounter is to identify animals. Some of these have you looking at a partial picture of an animal for instance, sometimes you get a list of hints that describe the animal, or you're given an overview of regions where the animal lives. There are a number of variations and they can all be made easier by the player until the answer is obvious. But the reason you might not simply go for the obvious answer straight away is because in lowering the difficulty you also lower the amount of experience points (XP) you could get by answering correctly.
But don't get too hung up on maximizing xp, the game rewards knowledge first and foremost. So if you happen to know a lot about animals, you can jump in and advance pretty quickly. Otherwise, you're guaranteed to pick up little tidbits along the way. Which is exactly what it's all about.
tl;dr: Encounters are initiated by you and are about realizing what you're dealing with.
Real animals, real data, real knowledge
I'm working with the IUCN who manage the red list. This is a list that tries to cover in detail the status of animals in the world, how endangered they are, where they can be found etc. I want to make sure that the data in the game reflects the state of the world, that you do actually learn real things. It won't be 100% accurate of course, but it will be a great starting point and hopefully it will add to the sense of immersion and the depth of the world.
Power of heart
Hearts are not about health in AnimalAlbum, instead they represent connections between characters in the world. They can range from large superficial connections between a lot of people like a taste for pizza, to small intimate things like friendships or romantic involvement. It's up to the player to figure out who is connected to who and in what way.
The conversation system in AnimalAlbum is keyword based. This means that when you walk up to a character and talk to them they might have more than just one thing to say. But you'll have to ask them about that specifically.
When a character knows more, a menu will show with a list of words, and you can ask about any of them. What words show up in the list is determined by the person you're talking to and by who you've talked to before. Because everytime any character mentions something special, the word describing that something special gets lit up and added to the list of things you can ask about. So gradually, as you talk to more people, you can start asking about more things. You don't have to worry about having too many words because if a character doesn't know anything about it, it won't be shown in the menu.
tl;dr: Poke and prod people, figure out who knows what.
There is a world map in AnimalAlbum which is broken up into small levels, much like Super mario world. This is to ensure the game can be played in short bursts as well as in long play sessions. Having a map with levels also allows you to keep an overview of your progress, and allows quick travel and perhaps some other nice extra's like hidden pathways, secret levels and maybe more.
AnimalAlbum can be played cooperatively on the same computer. One player is the leader and plays as the robot while another player plays as an animal. What kind of animal depends on where you are in the adventure because animal helpers will come and go as they please, and sometimes trade places due to other circumstances. Player two can jump in and out of the game at any time, where the computer will take over the role of the animal. It's mostly meant as an easy way for parents or teachers to be able to play along with their kids. This system is very much inspired by the Secret of mana.
The money for this project is to ensure I can keep working on the game full time. I've worn many hats in game development throughout the years and have the necessary skills to do everything myself. That definitely makes it easier to plan and control the project. I do have plenty of connections to other developers and development studio's in case I need a hand or the budget grows really big. Mostly though, any extra money will be spent on bringing the game to more platforms as well as on translation and localization costs, so more people can play the game in their native language.
If this project isn't funded I'll still create the game because I want to offer people the option of a game like this, however it will be much smaller in scope of course. At the moment I'm planning to release the game on Windows (XP and newer) but as I code in the Haxe language, it should be portable to a lot of different platforms without a lot of hassle. As it stands, Mac and Linux would be my first priority if time and money allow. Android, iOS or the consoles also seem possible from what I've experienced and seen from fellow Haxe developers. But so far platforms beyond Windows are not absolutely guaranteed yet. I'm aiming for a spring 2015 release.
tl;dr: Solid foundation, extra money goes to extra platforms and languages.
Rewards will be kept digital. Physical goods bring a lot of costs with them which would raise the funding goal considerably. In addition they also bring a lot of management overhead. With that said though, there's a lot I can do with digital rewards. Because the game is an rpg with a relatively contemporary setting it lends itself pretty well to extra characters for instance.
In the tiers on the right you will see a couple of types of rewards. A number of these are special offers for when you decide to back the project straight away. The rewards here are only available now because your support at this stage helps me out a lot and because the game is still being created. And it's because of this that some of the rewards also enable you to add something to the game and leave your mark. It's the perfect opportunity to add yourself or maybe your pet and later on be surprised when you suddenly encounter them while playing the game. So let's take a look at the main reward tiers:
Wait and see
For those of you who would like to hold off on backing but still want to be updated on progress, this one's for you. Also, if you'd like to buy the game, but don't run Windows, please consider showing everybody by picking one of the platform specific tiers. Maybe you'll get more support, and that makes the release of AnimalAlbum on your platform more likely.
This is the main reward of course. With this you'll get a digital copy of the full game for Windows which will be released around spring 2015. It's very likely that the game will also come to other platforms, in which case you can pick whichever version you like. The game is DRM-Free wherever possible.
When AnimalAlbum gets released officially the price will be higher than now, probably around $12/€10/£8 or $15/€12/£10. I can promise there will never be a sale that drops the price below that of the main game tier. That way you're guaranteed to get the best price right now. I very much appreciate your support this early on.
This is a reward tier designed especially for those who simply want to look through the in-game album at all the animals right away from the start of the game. It does take away some of the surprise when you already know everything but maybe you have your reasons, that's alright. Then this is the reward for you.
To be a bit more specific, in the game you keep an album containing animals. You also encounter animals by exploring, and each time you do they will be added to your album. This reward ensures that you don't need to explore and shows all the animals in your album straight away. It's like starting a Pokemon game with a full pokedex.
A couple of months before the final version of AnimalAlbum is released you can get a digital copy of an early version of the game. This version will be rough and incomplete but you can see how the game is shaping up and be among the first to get to know AnimalAlbum and provide feedback. This is for those of you that want to see how a game comes together.
For those of you who want to make sure a certain animal species gets added to the game, this is the tier for you. You can pick an animal and I will research the details and add it to the game, expanding the total number of animals in the game for everybody. In case you pick an animal that's already in the game, I'll let you pick another of course. And if you'd like, you can also provide the photo of the animal as long as you have permission for it and isn't something obscene. Perhaps you have a cool pet or want to make sure a very rare animal makes it in?
This reward is limited in number because I already have a lot of animals in the game and they take time to add properly. There's also things like translation costs and total file size to keep in mind. With this you also get your name in the credits along with the animal you helped getting added to the game. Before the game is released you'll be asked under what name or pseudonym you want to be credited.
An NPC is a character in the game that isn't controlled by the player. Somebody in a village or on a boat, or in the forest for example. With this reward I'll make a character sprite based on a picture you give me. You do have to have explicit permission from the person in the picture and it cannot be something obscene. The base size of the sprite will be about 40 pixels wide and 60 pixels high and will then be put into the game as one of the characters in the world. Where exactly is determined by me and everybody can then meet them in the game.
If you want to decide on what the character should say then there's also a version of this reward: incl. Text, which will allow you to do that. Maybe you want to do a shoutout to your friends or a loved one, or rant about your pet. Or perhaps some wisdom for other players. This shouldn't be something obscene and there's a maximum of 50 words.
The NPC rewards are limited because creating sprites and making sure they fit with the world takes time. The version including text is even more limited as I need to make sure the flow of dialogue and meetings is tuned well. With either version of this reward you also get your name in the credits along with your character that helped add to the variation in the game. Before the game is released you'll be asked under what name or pseudonym you want to be credited.
This reward adds an extra playable character to the game for everybody. It's also the most work and is therefore the most expensive and the most limited of the rewards. With this I'll make a completely new character based on a picture you give me. You do have to have explicit permission from the person in the picture and it cannot be something obscene. The base size of the sprite will be about 40 pixels wide and 60 pixels high.
For story reasons the character will be artificial or an android, which means he or she looks like a human, but is actually a very sophisticated robot. With this you also get your name in the credits along with your character who provided everybody a new identity to enjoy the game with. Before the game is released you'll be asked under what name or pseudonym you want to be credited.
I'm a software developer traditionally and have worked as a game developer for over 10 years. I grew up in the northern part of the Netherlands and graduated as a B-ICT (computer science) in 2000. I started out doing small webgames and a train simulator for the French railroad, then worked on educational CD-rom games for children, one of which got cancelled while another got its own spin-off TV series. I dabbled in Gameboy, Gameboy Advance and PSP development and did some data visualization for large companies. Throughout the years I've worn plenty of different hats and created many games, though in my last job I've been mostly just a tools guy. My most notable work so far has probably been on a number of the Eidos / Square-Enix videogames like Deus Ex 3 and the Tomb Raider / Lara Croft series.
In 2010 I quit my job to delve into philosophy, neurology and art. I developed numerous concepts and ideas, of which AnimalAlbum was the best starting point. Which is what I'm pouring all of my energy into at this moment.
You can check out some more info on AnimalAlbum or on my various videogame experiments on my website http://www.dromedarydreams.com.
A big fat thank you to all the programmers out there making Haxe a better and stronger open language. Many thanks to the concept artists, go check out their work! Thanks to http://www.freesfx.co.uk for the sound effects used in the trailer. And most of all, thanks to all the photographers, the IUCN and the internet community for making a wealth of information available, making it possible to do research in the first place.
And last but not least, my gratitude to you for checking out this project. Any effort or support you give is very much appreciated. You can follow the progress of the game right here in the updates or on my website which also has an RSS feed. Or on Twitter, or Facebook.
If you think somebody might be interested, maybe they just got kids, or maybe they simply like animals, or work at a school or something, please give them a heads up. I am just one guy, not a marketing team, so word of mouth is very valuable to me. Thanks a lot!
Risks and challenges
Game development usually brings a lot of risks with it, especially when the project is big, the game design is in flux and the team isn't clear on what needs to be created. But as I work by myself and know exactly what is needed, a large part of that risk get eliminated. There will probably be some unexpected issues and bumps along the way, that's normal in any creative process. But the big risk mostly gets reduced to things like me getting hit by a truck, which is very small. But that means I do have to point out that backers are not absolutely guaranteed reward delivery for their contribution.
As far as development is concerned, there exists a traditional guideline for project management that says you can create a project in three ways: Fast, Cheap and Good. But you only get to pick two of them. It's more nuanced than that of course, but it's important to find the right balance. Due to my experience in game and software development I am very familiar with what is called "feature creep" and know when and what to cut. You can see this process very well in my monthly 8-hour experiments which you can find on my website.
The biggest challenge for AnimalAlbum is to optimize the amount of content I can get into the game and have it work well together before the release date. I'm very careful not to end up with large empty areas and actually design my levels around characters to insure proper flow. Another factor in this challenge is that videogame crowdfunding projects have mostly been judged by their ability to deliver by the initial planned release date regardless of scope changes over time, so for that reason I also intend to manage scope and keep the spring 2015 release date.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)