We get involved with Rebellion’s 25th anniversary game jam, and find out just what the Sniper Elite 4 studio can create in only three days
Rebellion’s 25th anniversary game jam unleashes a game about cleaning up cat poo on a space station.
Where is it funnier to put the cat s***?” asks Rebellion lead designer Steve Bristow. “The duvet? Or the pillow?” We point to the pillow and an icon for randomly appearing faeces is put in place. It’s already a strange day, and we’ve only just arrived at Rebellion, where the team is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a three-day game jam. Everyone in the office is taking part, and there are T-shirts everywhere emblazoned with the theme, Nate Crowley’s book, 100 Best Video Games (That Never Existed).
Encompassing such bizarre titles as Wetherspoons Fetish Party, Vin Diesel’s Weasel Eagle, and the infamous arcade title known only as ‘The Clown Game’ where players must drip their blood into a container to play, the book is packed with brilliant yet ludicrous games. Rebellion was involved in bringing the illustrations to life, making the book a perfect theme for the game jam. This is where the cat poo comes in. One of more than 15 mini dev crews, Bristow and his team are responsible for Look, Are You Coming In Or Not? This features a man on a space station looking after a furry friend while trying desperately to maintain oxygen levels and stop rogue paws from pressing the self-destruct button. So, er, why choose cat faeces as entertainment?
“This immediately grabbed my attention,” grins Bristow, opening the book to read the description aloud. “‘Balancing the claustrophobic horror of space with the maddening futility of cat ownership.’ I think if a game designer can’t be inspired by that sentence then they need to go and look for another job because the first line I read of this book was that and I was already laughing. But also – and this is the genius of the book – there’s part of you that thinks that it would actually work.”
As game jams go, there’s serious talent at work here. Rebellion is responsible for the Sniper Elite series, the Nazi Zombie Army franchise, VR game Batttlezone, and upcoming mummy co-op shooter Strange Brigade. If teams so desire, they can craft their games in Rebellion’s engine, Asura. Before it even got to that, though, Bristow created a top-down prototype in GameMaker to see how things would play out. “You’ve got various mechanics,” he explains. ”You’ve got oxygen levels and a CO2 scrubber, and you’ve got an air quality bar, food bar, water bar, and an energy bar. You need to maintain your energy bar or your character starts staggering around.”
This is a busy plate spinner even before your feline friend arrives and starts um, dropping the air quality. “The version of the game in the book that Nate conceived is a deliberately pretentiously written meditation on loneliness,” says Bristow. “I think if you say ‘person on spaceship with cat’ you kind of automatically have that. I love that idea.” This is clear in the version the team has gone on to build in the Asura engine. The fans of the space station hum, and the full experience is in first-person with buttons to press and cat faeces to punt
“try to Stop rogue paws from press ing the self-destruct button”
out of the airlock into space. Suddenly we want to play a game that sounded like a joke 15 minutes ago.
Wandering across the office we join Rebellion head of creative, Tim Jones, and head of art, Chris Payton, to look at their project. “We’re working on Work Kitchen Anecdote Bastard, where you’re trying to get your coffee out of the kitchen and to escape the tedious bastard who is pouring loads of anecdotes at you,” grins Jones. “It’s a very British thing where you’re not wanting to upset the person who’s talking to you, even though you really want to get away from them. We kind of wanted to explore ‘what does happen if you really upset this person’ so we’ve taken that to an extreme…” Jones shows me two meters on the screen. One is the unpleasant colleague’s emotional state and the other is your success at escaping the kitchen.
What happens when the talkative colleague snaps? “You can get away but if you wind him up too much, he’ll go into full-on rage, disappear out of the kitchen and back to the office where you’ll have to see how many of your colleagues still remain living,” chuckles Jones. “In this office, banging your head on your desk is the mode of productivity. The fewer people left alive to bang their heads on the desk… the lower the productivity and the lower your score.”
There’s something beautiful and worrying about the situation, but we manage to grin, escape, and grab a quick second with the man who started it all, Nate Crowley. How does it feel to have his creations made real? “It’s really odd to have a whole warehouse full of people making your brain playable,” he smiles. “It’s like a fever dream but a nice one. There’s a lot of people talking about how to make a cat on a space station more irritating, but it’s an honour really.” It turns out that it’s an honour to witness too.
Look, Are You Coming In Or Not? is a game about trying to look after a cat in a space station. Trickier than it sounds…
Crowley’s book came about after he tweeted he would create an imaginary game for every Like.
Coding, design, audio, and even photogrammetry were all done in-house by Rebellion’s developers. The book’s author Nate Crowley was roped in for some audio voice work too.
Work Kitchen Anecdote Bastard: all the awkwardness of a tea break but with more murderous psychopathy.
The team only had three days to build their creations but had all the tools of Rebellion at their disposal.