Portfolio Piece: Baker Cat vs. Hellthy Veggies

BakerCat_Title

Project Length: 5 Weeks (5/4/13 – 6/1/13)
Team: Loud Cat (4 Members)
My Roles: Concept art, Game Mechanics, Character Development, Artwork (Environment, Weapons, Interface)
End Product: Full Game (Android)

BakerCat_download

In late spring 2013, I became a member of Team Loud Cat, which to date has been my most successful team. With little more intent than the decision to make a mobile game, we centered on the idea of a chaotic top-down shooter that broke the mold of fighter jets and roaming tanks. After quickly agreeing that junk food vs. veggies could have mass appeal, we settled on a cat as the protagonist, at least partly to honor our team name. Zach Allen, our programmer, nicknamed the project Baker Cat vs. The Veggies.

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BakerCat_whatis

Baker Cat vs. Hellthy Veggies is the most adorable bullet hell gamers have ever seen. Players take on the role of the Baker Cat, who’s had enough of this ridiculous health food craze and is determined to bring delicious baked goods back into the public spotlight! Employing the use of donuts, cookies, cupcakes, and frosting, Baker Cat progresses through either a farmer’s market or an organic farm to eliminate the veggies — and it’s just as well, because it seems like the vegetables are getting a little out of control…

Both adults and children enjoy this exciting cute-’em-up, which offers a refreshing mix of challenging gameplay, catchy music, and fun characters and environments. Baker Cat is available free for Android via the Google Play Store.

BakerCat_myroles

Game Mechanics

At the start of the project, our mentor had recommended that we play a variety of top-down shooters to both give us ideas about how things work and to identify what’s already on the market in our genre. After several play sessions, the team agreed that a weapon-leveling system, whereby the player continuously upgrades the same weapon, would be the best approach. This was largely because the weapon was also to serve as the health meter; that is, when the player takes a hit, the weapon downgrades, and if the player has the weakest weapon when they take a hit, they lose.

After this principle was put into practice, however, we discovered that the game became way too easy. Once players got the stronger weapons, they almost never got hit, which obliterated the difficulty that bullet hells are known for. I then suggested that the player only receive a temporary upgrade rather than fully leveling up, with the higher-grade weapons randomized. This method worked out perfectly, as it not only balanced out the difficulty, but it also increased the overall chaos (which was a theme the team had been striving for).

In the beginning, I had planned for Baker Cat to have two separate play types: Endless Mode (at the organic farm) and Story Mode (at the farmer’s market). The core gameplay was to remain the same, but the market level was meant to have a boss battle after a set amount of time. This battle was to be against a giant brussels sprout stalk, which would move around the screen and shoot its sprouts at Baker Cat. Due to unfortunate time constraints, this battle had to be cut from the game, resulting in both levels being endless.

Concept Art

After nailing down our initial premise, I brainstormed a range of visual ideas for the game: Enemy designs, protagonist designs, weapons, attack styles, and even the team logo. A huge percentage of the ideas I described went into the final game, and many of the ones that didn’t were still nuanced in some way.

I followed most of my original designs very closely. I had originally planned to create the logo and enemy art in addition to all the other art I put out, but these items were handed off to Mick Dettloff, a first-year student on our team that had found himself struggling to contribute. Since the game’s release, however, player feedback has shown that the clash between the enemy art and the rest of the visual style is unappealing, and I have been asked by Zach to redo the enemy art in a manner closer to my designs and art style for the next update.

Environment Assets

As I had designed the visual aesthetic of the game, I was responsible for almost all of the artwork that appears in the final version. I created all set pieces, weapons, Baker Cat character sprites & splash art (seen in the next section), and most of the interface elements (also below). I was able to produce clean and visually appealing art at a very fast pace, which became essential throughout the project as mechanics shifted and some ideas didn’t work as well in practice as they did on paper.

The vegetables for the farm were actually the first pieces I created, despite the fact that they’re a relatively small detail. I felt this would be a good place to ‘warm up’ and make sure I knew what style I was going for before I headed into more critical artwork. This ended up being a huge benefit to the game, because player feedback has overwhelmingly stated the amount of detail used in the farmer’s market makes the stage feel very alive and fleshed-out. The food stalls were particularly successful in this regard, and they were actually some of the easiest assets to create, as I only had to make each vegetable once and could then simply copy, scale, and rotate it as needed. I would’ve liked to make additional assets for the farm as well, but time constraints forced me to prioritize other items. I plan to flesh out more of the farm in a future game update.

Character Development

Even though Baker Cat doesn’t have any dialogue, I took great care with how the character was presented. More than anything, Zach and I agreed early on that Baker Cat should not have a defined gender, as this was not a game that had any reason to define the character in any particular direction.

I also took great care in selecting Baker Cat’s breed. I realized early on that a bright fur color would make it easier to keep track of the character against the darker backgrounds, but I didn’t want to go with pure white, as white-on-white could make the sprite look like an indistinct blob. I decided to model Baker Cat after a Japanese luck cat; I felt it would be similar enough to a calico to make the breed recognizable, but wouldn’t overwhelm the sprite with competing patterns and colors.

BakerCat_splashsprites

Baker Cat’s tail was originally meant to indicate the strength of the player’s current weapon. Early in development, each weapon was intended to have two upgrades, and with each acquisition, Baker Cat’s tail would get higher. Each of these positions had animations that swayed the tail from side to side, but as the level-up system was never used, these animations never made it into the game.

I decided to give glimpses of personality through the splash art, since the player only views Baker Cat from behind during gameplay. The title screen art, seen in the bottom center, depicts Baker Cat as an adorable kitty that both children and adults would enjoy, but the facial expression indicates Baker Cat’s over-the-top passion for the quest to eradicate vegetables. Likewise, the splash art for the game over screen (bottom left) depicts Baker Cat’s abject satisfaction with what has been accomplished, yet also illustrates the ferocity with which the battle was waged. A common joke among the team was that, had the splatters and smears across Baker Cat’s body been red instead of green, players would think the character was the world’s most adorable psychopath.

The splash image to the far right, in which Baker Cat triumphantly stands on a brussels sprout, was meant to go after completion of the boss battle that never made it into the game (as noted above in the Game Mechanics section). To still make use of the available splash art, however, Zach decided to incorporate this piece into the promotional banner for Baker Cat‘s download page on the Google Play Store.

Weapons

As with the set pieces and character art, I was also responsible for all of the weapons, almost all of which made it into the final version of the game. Each weapon was intended to have a base version and two upgrades, but the upgrade system was eventually cut, resulting in the loss of two of the milk ‘laser’ effects. The team decided to use the strawberry milk (which later became frosting), as the pink stood out the most cleanly against the background and enemies.

BakerCat_weapons

The pop rocks at the left were originally intended to be a weapon of their own in the form of rockets (aka “pop rockets”), but the team felt it was best to limit the weapon variance to four. Still, we liked the idea of the pop rocks, so they became the explosion effect for the cupcake weapons, which were agreed to be the most ‘decadent’ of the weapons available.

Interface Elements

My favorite piece of the interface is the pun I created for the pause screen. Not only did it fit in with the feline theme, but as the player literally uses a cat paw to maneuver Baker Cat around the game, it became even more appropriate. This pun has gone over very well with players, who almost universally chuckle out loud the first time they see it.

Akin to how I was able to tweak the market produce to suit my needs when it came to the set pieces, I was also able to make repeated use of some of the interface elements as well. The health indicator, represented by the donut being eaten, was literally shrunk down into one of the donuts that Baker Cat uses as a base weapon. The three donuts as a group were also copied and scaled in order to create the donut box, which replenishes the player’s life.

Originally, the laser-style weapon was intended to be milk, as indicated by the three cartons to the left. Each flavor of milk was meant to be an upgrade, but when the upgrade system was nixed in favor of randomly selecting a temporary new weapon, we needed to pick just one laser. As noted above, the strawberry milk was selected for visual purposes, but we felt that strawberry milk on its own is peculiar without chocolate and white to go with it. I came up with changing it from milk to frosting, and created a piping bag icon to replace the milk cartons. As an homage, one of the alternate milk carton designs was reused as a sugar bag, which is the pick-up players use to swap weapons.

The baguette, which displays the player’s stats, is also an homage to a prior idea. I had really wanted a baguette sword in the very early stages of development, if just because I like baguettes in general. When the team decided on a shooter, the sword was obviously tossed, but I was able to revive it when Zach asked me to come up with something to show the player’s time and score.

I’m not completely satisfied with the way the How To Play screen came out. While I still like my idea of styling it after a nutrition facts sheet, I wish I’d gone with my initial instinct. Our group mentor pressured me to use pictures instead of text, because “no one reads any of that,” but it created a serious problem with spacing, which made the credits at the bottom difficult to read. Furthermore, player feedback has indicated that the use of pictures isn’t completely clear, and written text has been specifically request in its place. I plan to rectify this with my original vision in the next game update.

As one final footnote, I’d just like to point out that I created the swirls on the candy bomb by hand instead of copying an actual peppermint. Even I was shocked by how well it came out in the end!

BakerCat_post-mortem

As noted in the beginning, this is the most successful team I’ve worked with, but awkwardly enough that mostly comes down to Zach and myself. One of our teammates, Jordan Lang, was rarely present, and didn’t contribute nearly as much as the rest of us (although what he did contribute was very, very good); meanwhile, our other teammate, Mick Dettloff, was always there but struggled to find a way to help out, as he was much farther behind in his schooling than the rest of us. Most of the design and execution came from Zach and myself, and whenever there was a problem with the game, it was usually just the two of us that took care of it. Zach and I make a very strong team, while I would say Jordan makes a good consultant and/or freelancer. Mick, I feel, just simply needed more experience before working on a game like this.

I found myself walking a difficult line, because I really didn’t want to sideline Mick out of an opportunity to work on a solid game. A similar circumstance had happened to me at one point earlier in my schooling, and I refused to put someone else in the same situation. However, I was also constantly aware that, had we been an actual game production studio, Mick either wouldn’t have been hired, or he wouldn’t have stayed on the team long if he’d made it in. I didn’t want the game to suffer, but I wanted to give Mick a chance, so I did my best to mentor him through the enemy art. I provided him with the concepts I’d created and attempted to teach him the art style of the game, but the results came out mixed. The experience was probably good for him, but as noted earlier, fan feedback has demonstrated that the enemy art is a problem that still needs to be corrected.

If nothing else, I’m at least confident that the situation has taught me what I would need to do if I were in an actual management position. Had this been a real-world studio and I had an artist that wasn’t able to match the standards of the project, I’m aware that he would need to be removed. I probably would’ve also been a bit more assertive with Jordan as well, as he never gave us advance notice that he’d be missing, and in fact he was gone so much that we decided to operate as though we were a three-person team just in case he never came through. Jordan did provide us with excellent music and logo choices, but the lack of communication was still a big problem. In a real-world studio situation, that would also need to be rectified.

Even with the setbacks, however, Baker Cat still turned out more outstanding than any of us had hoped, and as of this writing it is still the centerpiece of my game design career. If those two issues are the admission price of a game that turns out this good, I’ll happily buy that ticket.

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Baker Cat vs. Hellthy Veggies and all related characters and assets are © Team Loud Cat, and may not be reproduced without the team’s written permission.

The music in the game is free-for-use music from New Grounds, which was selected by team member Jordan Lang.

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About Leedzie

Leda "Leedzie" Clark is a writer and game designer with a sharp eye for detail and a kooky sense of humor. She's been a nerd as long as she can remember, and always seems to notice the wrong thing first in any given situation.

Posted on November 11, 2013, in Artwork, Consoles, Creative_Writing, Game_Design, Indie Games, Interface, Original Characters, Plot, Portfolio, Video Games, World Building and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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