Vulpine preview: armed to the teeth

The games industry’s much like the animal kingdom: it takes tenacity and resilience to survive. Take Vulpine for example: in 2016, indie developer Clockwork Giant put their action-adventure on Kickstarter, only to see it fall short of its minimum goal.

But rather than give up, the team learned from the experience, waited two years, and tried again.

“We were working unhealthy hours for that one,” programmer and studio co-founder Isaac Goodin says of that first crowdfunding attempt. “We were making changes up until an hour before we launched. For our successful campaign in 2018, we spent three months preparing everything at a healthy pace. We actually had the whole thing finished a month before we started the campaign.”

Having garnered a shade over $26,000, the studio has spent the past 18 months or so crafting their open-world game: a multiplayer fantasy positively stuffed with animals of varying shapes and sizes.

In fact, it’s refreshing to see a game without a single humanoid character in sight; instead, Vulpine’s most arresting visual is its furry protagonists’ habit of carrying weapons in their teeth: foxes wield swords, bears wave hammers around. So what’s that all about?

There are three classes of animals, based on their weight and agility, ranging from a nimble rabbit to a lumbering yet powerful bear.

“The first plan for Vulpine was to just have normal animals doing ridiculous things,” Goodin says, “but that changed early on. At some point, one of us joked about them having a sword, and that was it. No debating on the topic, just, ‘Well, of course the animals have swords, how else would they protect themselves?’”

It’s a fair point, particularly when you consider that Vulpine’s world is full of even larger creatures intent on killing you – expect to find colossal pangolins with lashing tails, deer-like beasts with fangs, and giant spiders that can cover great distances with their chunky legs.

To help players out, there are friendly animals dotted around the map who’ll provide supplies and weaponry. Our favourite so far? A one-eyed canine weapons expert called Barksmith.

Like most of the other animals in Vulpine, BarkSmith doesn’t let his lack of opposable thumbs stop him from plucking a hammer from his tool bag and working pieces of metal on a miniature anvil – a process brought to life with some charming animation.

“I use real animals for reference all the time,” Goodin tells us. “We have a development chat filled with GIFs and videos of dogs running, jumping, doing backflips. Animals don’t really swing weapons around, so I have to do some guesswork as to how they would do that.

“To make sure the world is fun to explore, we place hand-crafted areas and events around the map for players to find,” Goodin says.

“As for designing a monster, there’s a lot of thought put into how it will move and interact with the player. They’re all based on real animals, and I take the time to study how those animals move. Even if they’re ten feet tall and doing backflips in our game.”

Although there’ll also be a single-player mode, Vulpine’s main draw will be its multiplayer campaign, which will see up to 32 players teaming up to explore and hunt down monsters. And while Clockwork Giant aren’t planning to make the difficulty level too brutal, diligent resource gathering – and co-operating with other players – will be vital for survival, Goodin says.

“We’ve made it so multiplayer is difficult by default, but players who want less of a challenge or need assistance can ease it by preparing items and weapons beforehand that will make a huge difference. We also encourage them to hunt in groups. We want Vulpine to be challenging, but not frustrating.”

That Vulpine is largely the work of just two developers – Isaac does the programming, while his brother Josiah handles the artwork – makes its scale all the more impressive. Opting for that flat-shaded, low-poly look has helped keep the workload down, while the open world comprises a mixture of procedurally generated areas and hand-crafted sections, Goodin explains.

Giant spiders and a surprisingly athletic pangolin are among the bosses you’ll fight in Vulpine.

“It’s so important to constantly take scope into consideration, especially with a single programmer and artist,” he says. “We’re not a dev team of 1000 people; we can’t make a game as filled to the brim as a large studio. We mitigate this with things like procedural terrain, custom tools for adding content, and reuse of art assets to get the most out of the work we do. Having a single artist make an entire world would be years of work otherwise.”

Not that procedural generation is necessarily a short cut, Goodin’s quick to add. “Procedural terrain is especially hard to develop. It needs to perform well enough to support up to 32 players running around the world, while also computing pathfinding for NPCs, and managing events/content loading.”

Although there’s still more work to be done on Vulpine before it hits Early Access in 2020, the duo are currently putting together a demo that will show off the game’s combat, which they plan to release within the next few months. We’re looking forward to finding out just how deadly a rabbit brandishing a hammer can be.

Genre: Action / adventure
Format: PC
Developer: Clockwork Giant Games
Publisher: Clockwork Giant Games
Release: 2020 (Early Access)

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