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Catty and Batty: The Spirit Guide – ChatBot Interview

This time on Chatbot I sat down with Philipp from Muddasheep to talk about their brilliant game Catty and Batty.

Enjoy the interview and their amazingly creative ideas about Catty and Batty right here!

Where did the inspiration for Catty and Batty: The Spirit Guide come from?

My wife and I enjoy playing co-op games together, so I thought it would be a good idea to create a game that we could play locally on the same screen. Catty & Batty are characters I created in dedication to her, so it was only natural to set the game in their world. It was also supposed to be my first commercial game after making several for free. I had to make sure it was something small, fun, and simple, which I knew I could finish.

Were there any specific types of game inspiration for Catty and Batty: The Spirit Guide?

Since my wife and I are fans of tower defence games (going back to when they were still in Warcraft 3 maps), I knew I wanted to create one that can be played by two people with equal abilities. I didn’t want a game in which you had to “kill creeps”, so I arrived at the idea to guide the “enemies” to a certain goal, which played well with the overall theme of Catty & Batty. At a certain point, I realized that guiding spirits shared similarities with Lemmings as well, and I also drew some inspiration from those games.

How have you approached the designing of the levels and increasing difficulty linked to tower defence games?

One of the main problems of tower defence games is that if you lose you have to restart from the beginning. To avert this problem, I decided to not have any “game over” whatsoever. That way I kept frustration levels low. Even if a spirit escaped your “maze”, you would still be able to catch it again. Players could challenge themselves by looking at the resulting time spent and the number of boxes used and try to improve on those numbers, but I made a conscious decision to not make these challenges mandatory in any form (not even for achievements). In fact, some players have suggested that those numbers should only appear at the very end of the game to incentivize an additional playthrough, which is something I will remember for future games.

Overall, I decided that difficulty should not stem from overall timing or total boxes used or from letting spirits escape, but rather from figuring out the mechanics and puzzles of each level. And it needed to be something that both players in front of the monitor could solve together.

When designing the game, how did you tie in the comics for Catty and Batty to create a narrative?

Originally, the comics came in sets of 30 panels, which I drew for Inktober. After prototyping and figuring out that I wanted to let players guide spirits to a goal on every level, it was already informing the story of the game. And staying true to the comics, I wanted there to be 30 levels, at least one new character and several new areas. The narrative informed most of the levels, as I would write the dialogues and then think of a way to make the levels work.

The hand-drawn art style is gorgeous. What was the thinking behind this art style in the game?

Thank you! I have loved drawing comics in this style since I was a child, my biggest inspiration is probably Clever & Smart, as well as Asterix and Obelix, and I remember buying those 500-pages-thick comic books with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the rest of that particular cast. At one point in school, we had to draw with black ink and ever since then I was fascinated with that style and kept drawing that way. When I first heard of Inktober, I knew it was time for me to participate and improve my skills.

How did you initially come up with the ideas for Catty and Batty as characters?

The first time I participated in Inktober, I wanted to create characters for my wife. I don’t particularly remember how, but I recall the exact moment I told her about them. Catty & Batty just sounded like a fun adventure to me, and that was exactly what I was looking for. Catty was easy to create because cats are cats. And Batty turned out to be the driving force behind their adventures, a bit naive, but always positive. And she’s always there for her friends.

How did you manage the implementation of the local couch coop into the game?

It was my third Unity game, so I knew I had to solve the controller issue somehow. After looking around for a bit, I found the Rewired plugin on the asset store. It solved all of my problems: recognizing any controllers at any moment, being able to assign characters/controls to different players, and making it easy to port to consoles. This played a huge factor in the early stages of the game because couch co-op was basically the number one requirement.

How did you approach the variety of lemming-like puzzles in the game from both a design and programming perspective?

Placing boxes and guiding spirits to gates always had to be the core gameplay loop, but I wanted something new for the player to discover on almost every level. Something that was explained in the dialogue and then could be acted upon. I approached it with several brainstorming sessions, thinking hard about what would be fun and easy to implement, both in code and art. Every new mechanic had to be encapsulated (i.e. separate code classes), so that I could move it around inside Unity wherever I wanted, and also remix it for New Game+, where some mechanics are used together on the same map to create a fresh take on them.

The game has over 150 unique animations. How did you handle the animation process for each of these in the game?

Every time I needed an animation I did some quick sketches of how I wanted it to look, then I drew each frame on a piece of paper, scanned it in, and exported each individual image in Affinity Photo. In Unity it’s actually quite easy, you simply drag a collection of images into the scene and it automatically creates an animation for you, which you can adjust as needed. The Animator class has a convenient API, so you can integrate it with the rest of the gameplay elements.

How important was it to create a fully original soundtrack for the game that matches the game's tone and visual style?

Music has always been a mainstay in my games, so it was top priority. As a musician first and foremost, finding fitting compositions for specific scenes is one of the reasons I like making games. It’s just so much fun seeing it all come together at the end of the development process. And music in conjunction with interactive imagery is a powerful concoction in general.

The game is available on both PC and Console. Were there any specific challenges you had to contend with while porting the game to console (specifically how both PlayStation and Xbox have set rules for games that appear on their storefronts)?

I’m very glad my publisher was able to take over the entire porting process. There was one animation in the popup at the end of a level that was a bit too flashy and required to be toned down to avoid triggering epilepsy. Other than that, some of the most challenging parts were upgrading the project to the latest Unity version for Xbox (which resulted in some shaders not working correctly), and performance improvements for Switch. My publisher has a lot of experience getting games through the reviewing process, I don’t think there was too much of an obstacle there.

What have been some of the challenges during the development of the game?

For me personally, the most challenging part was the pause and options menu. It required a lot of small details that you expect to “just work” when playing games, like checkboxes and UI elements like that. It all needed to work with keyboard/mouse and controller too, and I wanted it to be in the same drawn style as the rest of the game, which surely added to the challenge. Apart from that, I remember having difficulties with the early prototype and getting the spirits to move using Unity’s pathfinding system. I could never quite make it work the way I wanted it, and it almost killed the project, until one day I decided to just scrap the whole pathfinding system and write a simple spirit movement script myself. It definitely made the game what it is today.

What’s next in terms of both Catty and Batty: The Spirit Guide and future projects?

Right now I’m working on a game called “Turnament”, which used Catty & Batty as a base project. When that is complete, I want to create another first-person game with puzzle and exploration elements. I do have plans for another Catty & Batty game though, it’s probably going to be a local co-op card game where you have to rebuild a little town. We will see!

You can find Philipp over on Twitter @muddasheep

Catty and Batty on Steam, Itch io.

And their Devlog on Youtube.

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