Lucie Lescuyer from Alblune talked about the gameplay of The Spirit and the Mouse, explained why Unity was used to create the game, and discussed the challenges of creating quadruped character animation.
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Hi, my name is Lucie Lescuyer and I'm part of Alblune, which is composed of just me and Alexandre Stroukoff. We have been working in the gaming industry for more than 10 years in various companies such as Ubisoft, Gameloft, Rovio, etc. We worked on very different types of games from mobile to PC/console during those years, and all this experience is what prompted us to start making our own game.
The Spirit and the Mouse
It all started from a small side project Alexandre was building on the side. You played as a spirit spark on electric wire and interacted with the world to help humans. I joined him on this project after a while, and after a few iterations, we thought it would be better not to be constrained to wires and actually be able to walk everywhere in the level.
The game took a different turn from then on, we wanted to have a very small character capable of walking everywhere with ease and still be small enough not to be noticed by humans, so we decided to make the main character a mouse (we love rodents, we have gerbils as pets). After this, everything evolved fast. The story was inspired by an old tale "The Elves and the Shoemaker", in which tiny elves help a human during the night, without human knowledge, this was the basis for the story, the Kibblins, and the rest.
At this point, we still had many ideas but we carefully scoped the project down. Since the team was only composed of Alexandre and me, and we were not full-time on the game, we knew we had to be careful about the size of the project.
We both have been using Unity for over 10 years, it's the engine we're the most familiar with, and it also has tons of plugins we bought over the years to facilitate development. We knew that with a team of two people we had to rely a lot on external plugins to help us with production, such as collision tools, audio plugins, etc. Even if we had struggles along the way, we don't regret our choice as it made the Nintendo Switch port easy for us as well!
The main appeal of the game is the exploration, we had to make it as fun as possible by making sure to hide secrets, collectibles, and areas challenging to access. We decided from the start to not have a jump mechanic to make the exploration more of a puzzle than skill-based gameplay. Making a platformer in a realistic environment is quite a challenge because you have to try and dress up all the platforms and the level design as objects that make sense with the environment.
Creating a quadruped character was a big challenge for sure! Having a small mouse character so close to the ground only added to it. We did a lot of iterations on the character movement until we got to a point we were satisfied. We tried to make sure to keep the climbing surfaces as straight as possible so the character would only have to climb vertical walls.
So yes, the main challenge was the quadruped nature of the mouse. There are tons of tools and systems that exist for humanoid characters, but with animals, it's much less standardized.
To be fair, with all that was to be done with the game, we didn't have time to focus much on the VFX. Since it was not the main focus of the game, we relied a lot on asset packs (Epic Toon FX was our main choice) and mixed them together to create ours. We did have to tweak some of them a bit, but it was a timesaver.
We went with a traditional third-person game camera (Mario, Zelda, etc.) but had to tweak it a lot to make sure it would work with a character that's so small and close to the ground. This created lots of challenges (we did not solve them all in the end, ha!) and ground collisions, as well as increased motion sickness, just to name a few. The Cinemachine plugin was a huge help for us, all of our cameras used it.
In the end, it took us around 2.5 years to finish the game, which is not a lot considering only one of us was on it full-time, while the other kept a job and was working on the side. We also had external help for the music, some sounds, and of course from our publisher who provided feedback and QA during the development.
Now looking back at the type of game we made, the art and animation were the most time-consuming things to do in the game. Since the whole game revolves around helping humans, each time we wanted to add a quest, it would mean adding new characters, animations, dialogues, creating new minigames and sometimes cinematics!
For now, we're still working on The Spirit and the Mouse, we have a few bugs to fix and other things we cannot share yet, but we are excited about the future! While we're wrapping it up, we are already thinking about our next games, so you can expect new things from us in the future!
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