When I started development for Rat Race I was very optimistic that I could create the game that I had envisioned, despite having fairly limited experience and fairly limited passion. But the harder I tried to make this game happen the more I realised that game design is just not what I want to do, I find it really hard to get excited about and cannot see myself having a career in it. All of that aside, I still think the concept for Rat Race was interesting and I would like to use this Devlog as sort of a master post about all my ideas for the game and to fully describe every aspect of it that I was unable to create.
The Core Concept:
I initially built Rat Race around the idea of a game with an invisible morality code. When I was doing initial research for my overlining theme (which was capitalism and the whole idea of people working themselves to death), there were lots of possible game mechanics that stemmed from that. I thought through a few different ones, one being a slice of life type of game where the player would have to balance work, money, sleep, and leisure. The idea behind this was that the game was supposed to get more and more overwhelming as it progressed, as a commentary on the struggle that existing can be. This line of thinking eventually led me to make up the fundamentals of Rat Race, which is that it’s a task based game where the player is encouraged to blindly follow the instructions of the game, oblivious to the fact that they have a certain amount of free will in the game. To explain that more fully, initially, the player must complete all the tasks on the task list for the first few levels of the game (I only ever planned on making one level as a demo, -which would be the pivotal level, that I will explain later- but the whole game would probably have around 7 or 8 levels) in order to complete them. So for the first 3 levels of the game, the player would have generic tasks that make sense in relation to the occupation (each level is supposed to represent a different career path) and once all the tasks had been completed, the player would be able to exit the level and be able to progress. However, for the level that I tried to bring into existence (the pivotal kitchen level) I planned on putting in some more questionable tasks alongside the usual work tasks:
So upon starting the level, the player should be conditioned to believe that all tasks have to be completed in order to progress, because that’s what the first levels (and also the concept of task based video games) has taught them. However, unbeknownst to the player, once the top 4 tasks have been completed, it will be possible to exit the level. How that would work functionally would be that in each level there will be an exit door that is only interactable to the player once all the tasks are complete, and would display some kind of message about the door not being unlocked until all the tasks are completed. But for the kitchen level (and every level that followed) the door would unlock after the less sinister tasks were completed. This strategy does run the risk of the players finding out by accident that the door is open once the first four tasks are completed if they just happen to interact with it by chance but I don’t see that as a bad thing.
The tasks listed in the kitchen level are fairly vanilla compared to the sort of things demanded of the player in the levels that follow, and that to me is supposed to represent the idea of people doing whatever they can to get ahead of everyone else. I’d planned on having something pretty dramatic on the last level, perhaps murder or something like that. Something else I wanted to implement was the game getting progressively darker visually and audibly as the player continued down their dark path.
It was also important to me that although the game was going to have 2 endings, I didn’t want to define them as the good or bad endings. If the player completes all the tasks and makes it to the end having done some diabolical things, they would win in the way that they were incredibly obedient, ruthless and compliant. They would make a good worker and were willing to do anything to be successful. And as awful as that sounds, that is just the current reality of the world we live in. If the player is able to figure out that they don’t need to do “bad” things to get to the end of the game, they win in the way that they were one of the few people able to escape the rat race, and that they have a lot of independent thought and don’t have to go through life the way that it has been drilled into us for generations.
Something I have tried to make clear over and over again is that I wanted Rat Race to have a very very high level of interactivity, I wanted it to be visibly engaging and for every object to have either some sort of small animation or witty/sarcastic commentary. I wanted to immerse the player in a nice environment where everything was an area of interest, to make up for the lack of mobility. The player can move around either with the mouse or the arrow keys but at the end of the day it was always going to be a point and click game so there was never going to be insane cinematics for the player to experience.
I wasn’t able to execute it, it was a very optimistic goal and I just didn’t have the commitment to the idea to make it happen, maybe if a few years down the line I realise I was meant to be a game designer I will give it another go, but this time around it just didn’t happen. I did manage to get all the backgrounds done though, and it is quite satisfying to see the little rat character run around in the environment.
The Art Style:
I wanted to make the game look as ambiguous as possible when designing the character, backgrounds, and assets. I aspired to make nothing clear to the player except that they had to complete tasks. I really like how all the backgrounds turned out, the goal was to make them generic work backgrounds and I think that’s how it turned out.
I also had plans to give the rat character different hats depending on the level (so they’d have a little chef hat on this one) but that was another thing that never came into fruition. With the character, I wanted to also make them not too definable except that they were a rat. This was firstly because I wanted them to not have a lot of significance, they were created to be a faceless work drone and that’s what I wanted to show. It’s sort of my take on how employers view employees as nothing but numbers, and are quick to replace them when they die. While that was my main intention, it was also so that if people wanted to kind of imprint themselves on the character it would be easier, since they’re not gendered or very customized at all.
I am not a game designer, I am just a person with ideas and no drive, and as much as I wanted to put my heart and soul into creating something playable and fun, I’m just not cut out for it. I’ve had fun coming up with concepts and art for Rat Race, but this is as far as it will go.