Spotlight: Gentleman Rat Studio - Critter Cove
Critter Cove is a game that recently came to my attention, I was instantly drawn in by the exploration, art style & customisation. In this game you play as a captain of a ship, exploring the world & trying to find treasure, materials and new character customisations along the way. I caught up with the developer, Gentleman Rat Studio to ask them some questions about this game that personally, I am quite excited by.
BG: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, everything about the Critter Cove seems pretty unique, and so does your studio’s name, how did you (all) come up with the name?
GRS: This is like the most boring story ever. We just thought it had a nice ring to it, immediately formed an imagine in our heads, and was a name that was memorable. Unfortunately, there isn’t any interesting backstory ...maybe we should make one up. I guess now with our in-depth character creation system we can now play as a gentleman rat. Need to make sure that one is in the game! Monocle, cane, rat head...
BG: Your previous releases (Blocktagon & PegGoo Pop) were on mobile, what inspired the switch to PC & (possibly) consoles?
GRS: We started on the mobile mainly because both Christine (artist) and Eli (designer) were most recently working in mobile development and decided to start with some puzzle type games to just get our feet wet. While we are really proud of Blocktagon and PegGoo Pop and think they are pretty good games, there are creative sacrifices a developer need to make in the name of monetization to be successful in the mobile market. For instance on PegGoo Pop we got a review once which the gist of was “great game, totally skill based so you can play the whole game without ever having to spend any money at all”. Which was completely true but also not exactly profitable so we succeeded and failed all at the same time. Ultimately, we decided that those were not the types of games we wanted to make. PC development was just a more natural fit.
BG: The game originally started under a different name, Seeds of Magic and in a 2D format. Did the decision to change the name come with the change of format, the other way around or did these modifications happen separately?
GRS: Seeds of Magic was going to be a Stardew Valley meets fantasy type game. As we started developing it we found ourselves more interested in the interaction between characters and exploring new areas, and less so in the farming/shop management. So over time the game started morphing into being something more similar to Animal Crossing than Stardew.
Around that time Christine, our artist, was expressing a desire to get back into doing 3d which she felt was a more natural fit for her anyways. So we decided to change the focus of the game and the art style at the same time. We knew we wanted two main things: character interaction and exploration. The sea going adventure part was just a really good fit.
A very common theme for how I would describe our development process is organic. We generally start with an idea or concept of what we are trying to accomplish and then start working towards that goal. But along the way the journey can yield unexpected results which sometimes change the ultimate vision for the game. This sometimes leads to some setbacks but ultimately leads to what (hopefully) is a better game.
BG: I would describe the art style as cute and unique, not low poly but not high resolution realistic either, how did you settle on this style?
GRS: It was a combo of factors. We wanted our art style to fun, colorful, and inviting. Also, given the fairly large scope of Critter Cove, we also had to balance the amount of work that only having one artist could realistically do. We think we found a good balance between the quality to showcase the game and the amount of time it takes to create assets. By the way, sometimes limited resources can also give you unexpected results. For instance it led us to develop a modular character generation system which lets us mix and match parts to create any character(s) we want. This maximized the art assets and ended up giving us the ability to play not just human characters but a wide range of fun, crazy characters you build yourself.
BG: When I first saw the underwater gameplay videos, I couldn’t help but reminisce about Subnautica a little bit. Do you draw any inspiration from this game?
GRS: This falls back into our organic development style. We originally only had diving being a minor part of the game (it was one of the many activities you could do) but as we started playing with it we liked it more and more. So much so, that it has become a very central part of gameplay. Just the sheer amount of exploration opportunities that it opened up were really right in line with one of the main things that Critter Cove is all about. The connections with Subnautica were completely unintentional but they are definitely there.
BG: Are there any other games that help to inspire Critter Cove, apart from Animal Crossing?
GRS: I think inspiration can be found in most games within the life sim genres. It is such a diverse and varied genres that I would be surprised if bits and pieces of many different games cannot be found within Critter Cove. Animal Crossing is a big one because we really love the interaction and connections with the NPCs that it offered. Our goal is to try to capture that emotional connection between the NPCs of Critter Cove and the player. Games like Portia and Yonder also come to mind.
BG: Post release, what model are you thinking of going down? DLC, allowing mods, leaving the game as is, seasonal events, a combination of these or a Critter Cove Sequel?
GRS:Yes to all of these (well except for sequel or DLC since it is a bit early to be even talking about either of those things). But ultimately it will be our player base who will tell us what to work on next, both through feedback and through how they are playing the game. Paying attention to how players spend their time in game is a great way to inform us what we should work on next. If they spend more time with the critters and town then time and effort should be spent on growing the social aspects of the game. If they seem to like the exploration aspects, build more of that. We might even find that players are attracted to something we didn’t even expect. Part of organic development is also organic support.
BG: Will the game be multiplayer locally?
GRS: There are no plans on any multiplayer at this moment. We would absolutely love to have mp but being a small team we had to prioritize our efforts and some things just had to be put on the wayside.
BG: Do you have any plans for online play at a later date, or possibly a game with more of an MMO style in the CC universe?
GRS: Much like multiplayer this would be something that would be amazing to do but not something that is on anyone’s radar right now.
BG: With all of the team’s combined experience, what advice would you give to any programmers or artists looking to start their own games or get into/higher up in the industry?
GRS: Pick a very focused concept for your project. Great examples of this are Rolling Hills where you run a sushi restaurant, Marsh Mellow Day Spa etc. These are fun ideas and can be successfully built in a decent amount of time with a small team. By the way, these are from the Wholesome games community which we are a part of and love so check out more at https://twitter.com/_wholesomegames.
Also think about how you are going to market the game or project. Unless it is strictly for fun as a hobby you're going to have to get noticed to be successful. The make it and they will come philosophy only works if you get really, really lucky. So you're not just a developer or an artist but you also must become a marketing guru. Now would love to give you some advice on how that is done but we are still trying to figure that one out ourselves. Get someone at Boolean Games to publish an article for you .
Critter Cove can be found on the below social media sites and you can help support the development of the game through following their pages and sharing their posts.