Hi – I’m a game designer at Die Gute Fabrik, a small Indie Studio based in Denmark. We are just about to release our debut on PlayStation Network minis (PS3 and PSP). It’s called “Where is my Heart?”, and it’s about a family of monsters lost in the woods. In the game you have help them find a way back to their home – a mysterious tree with a heart in its branches. The whole story is set in an 8-bit style environment made up of woods, mushroom caves, crystal rock pools, fern fringed creeks and waterfalls.
Nils, our artist, is going to talk more about the concept art and environment design of the game below. As for the game mechanics: the basics play just like a usual platform game, but the world is visually sliced into rectangular fragments (or panels) which are placed on the screen at unexpected locations. With this game mechanic – the messed up way of representation – I attempted to evoke the sensation of being lost. On top of that, the visual slicing also allowed us to add further mechanics to the game. These mechanics make use and build upon the visual confusion caused by the panels. One of these game-play elements is the ‘panel rotation’.
The Rainbow Spirit -one of the monsters- can use this mechanic to its advantage. When the player presses the L and R shoulder buttons of the game controller the Spirit can make the panels spin around the screen center. This allows the Spirit to hop from frame to frame, outside of the physical game world. It’s a bit hard to describe. Looking at the trailer above will fix this – it’s easier to grasp when seen in action. Playing around with the Spirit Rotation was a very satisfying experience to our testers. We spent a lot of effort into making it feel just right. It’ll make the puzzle muscles in your brain as sore as legs after a marathon.
The game is loosely based on an experience I had with my parents three summers ago. We were hiking in the woods near our home. And guess what – we lost our bearings, got really frustrated, and started bickering with each other. That’s the short version of it. The long version entails family issues and the dark sides of personalities. If you’re interested in reading more about the game’s source of inspiration, please go here.
By the way we also had our first review by eurogamer and they gave us 8 out of 10.
I’ll pass on to Nils now, our artist.”
Nils Deneken: Hi, I’m the graphic artist here at Die Gute Fabrik. In 2009, after the first Where is my Heart? prototype was displayed at the Independent Games Festival, Bernhard asked me if I wanted to do the artwork for the game. Already the prototype that Bernhard had submitted to the IGF 2009 had a very distinct art style. Obviously it’s a game that uses pixel graphics and thus refers to games from the creator’s childhood, but it has some aesthetic twists that sets itself apart from the games of yore (and just as much from the games of today).
One visual twist is the representation of the game levels as comic panels. It is one of the basic mechanics of the game which has both a strong influence on the level designs and the visuals of the game. The other distinctive visual element is the bold choice of colors, which is quite unusual for games in general.
While other games tend to use fairly realistic colors to represent their environments, Bernhard chose a strange palette of pastel colors. The grass wasn’t a saturated green, like it is in most game graphics, but a very light green, which seemed to glow almost neon-like in front of the browns and grays of the rocks. The sky was light purple instead of sky-blue and sprinkled with yellow stars that would fade in and out. Then there were the three little monster characters and a big tree with a face, whose emotions were ranging from grumpy to sad. The old tree, the Heartboxes, which the player has to unlock to progress, and Antler Ancestor, which the Brown Monster turns into, seem all to be taken straight from the traditional German fairy tales. The heart boxes remind us of the gingerbread house from Grimm’s “Hänsel und Gretel”, while the Antler is clearly derived from a Bavarian mythical creature called the Wolpertinger. Their representation, however, is more inspired by Japanese anime, games and pictogram culture. The whole strangely coloured mix of Japanese cuteness with German fairytales distinguished it as something very contemporary.
I was excited. It was liberating not having to do world and character concepts from scratch, but to work with the constraints that came with Bernhard’s prototype level concepts, to refine them and build new worlds with that feel and colour palette that he had introduced.
The locations the levels are taking place in are all tied to the overall topic of getting lost in the woods. The environments, even though fantastic with flying platforms and such, are rooted in a moderate climate. They are believable settings for the fiction we created around the three monsters. Besides the forest, I added different kinds of caves to the environments, since they would bring variation to the levels without breaking the overall theme of the game.
Some environment designs required night settings. We decided to have the scenery change into night time, when the Brown Monster transformed into the Antler Ancestor. We aimed for the most satisfying feedback that comes with his transformation, where he would literally step into “the Land of Fireflies”.
When the grey monster transformed, he would open a window into a dark parallel world, the “Land of the Bat”, where he could use different platforms and secret passages, which meant that some levels needed a land-of-the-bat version as well.
The three family characters Bernhard created in his IGF prototype were interesting and had a lot of personality already, but I took the liberty of changing some of them a little to make them more distinguishable from each other and more coherent with the game style at the same time.
For more information about the Artwork of Where is my Heart and other projects, feel free to visit http://gutefabrik.com/.