Starcats is a 4-player, local couch co-operative / competitive game, where players find themselves crashed on a planet with their life support depleting. Inspired by the theory of the Prisoner's Dilemma, Starcats explores the dynamics of what makes friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, work together or against each other in sight of a larger goal. It’s a party game where cooperation is a strategy, not a requirement.
While there are various mechanics at play in Starcats, the main mechanic centers on players’ energy (health) and how it depletes. In Starcats, each player only loses energy when they move or perform an action. Different actions deplete energy at different rates, based off the player’s heart rate at that time. Player’s can opt out of using energy, and in turn slow their heart rate, by choosing to sit down. However, in order for the players to escape the planet on their ship and therefore end the round, they must navigate the map and activate generators. Thus, the game is unable to be played unless players choose to expend their finite amount of energy.
Each player may have a finite amount of energy, but they can gain more by choosing to murder their fellow players. Several factors play into this decision. For instance, in order to kill someone, a player must throw a rock and strike another player. Carrying a rock increases a player’s heart rate, which in turn causes them to lose energy at a faster rate. And not only does murder cause players to inevitably hurt themselves through energy depletion, but by attempting to murder another player, that player is signaling to all others that they are willing to get rid anyone in their way if it means they will win the game.
If a player successfully murders another player, that player is not out of the game yet. Once dead, each player becomes a ghost, and is able to “haunt” living players. When a player is being haunted, their heart rate increases, causing them to expend energy faster. In addition, a player’s movement speed is reduced if they are being haunted, and these effects are only made worse for each additional ghost that is haunting a living player. Ghosts also have unique mechanics, such as a “force pull” ability that can hinder a player’s forward movement or the “possess” ability, which can be used to possess objects around the map or even objects live players are currently trying to use.
Through these energy mechanics and others, Starcats offers an opportunity for players to really find out what motivates their fellow players more; individual or collective success.
In the beginning, Starcats was made to fulfill the course requirements of our Senior Capstone course during our senior year at school. As development continued, and as our class grew accustomed to working with each other, we realized that this was no longer the case. Starcats is, for the majority of us, our first venture into a long-term game development cycle and our first experience with a team in the double digits. But it was also a way for us to challenge ourselves as game designers and determine our respective niches in game design before we leave school.
This is largely the reason why we chose to have the game focus on the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, albeit rather obscurely. We had no want or desire to create a game that was purely aesthetics or cutting-edge mechanics driven. Rather, we wanted to a make a game that was thematic, and allowed the player to learn something about their own nature, just like how we learned about our strengths and weaknesses concerning game design. By allowing the players to choose whether they want to work together or kill each other, without an incentive towards either option, we believe Starcats forces players to address their own motivation, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Not only that, but the game’s development ironically mimics the Prisoner’s Dilemma. During our development, if any of us had acted selfishly or in our own interest rather than the games, we wouldn’t have achieved the level of success that we currently have reached.
As game designers, getting players to perform an action a specific way is one of our hardest challenges. Thus, by leaving the choice purely in the hands of the player, we’re seeing gameplay that is never the same, no matter who is playing.
Luke Grebe – Programmer
Jacob Gruene – Programmer
Matt Heerdegden – Sound Design
Matt Kolakowski – 2D Artist
Brian Rodgers – Programmer
Caleb Sams – Programmer
Trevor Stephansen-Fitzgerald – Programmer
Hannah Evers – 2D Artist
Ryan Vance- Programmer
Quentin Young – Producer
Rhianna Guptill - Character Design and Concept Artist
Gage Melton - Lead Designer
Aidan Kennell - UI Programmer
Brien Jackson - UI/UX Design
Ryan Hughes – Lead Artist
Samantha Concklin – Composer
Joe Sorgea - Lead Programmer
Tanner Akers – Technical Artist