November 9, 2023
Games Lift: Bagpack Games keep moving
They've been around for a few years now: Bagpack Games have successfully established themselves in the Hamburg scene. Now they are bringing a real eye-catcher of an idea to the Games Lift Incubator.
Thomas Hedden and Markus Albert are the type of colleagues who finish each other’s anecdotes. Even when their project “We the Valarii” keeps evolving, they remain in harmony. Their project in the Games Lift Incubator revolves around one simple idea: spinning. "We the Valarii” is an unusual coop-adventure. Bagpack Games combine original game mechanics with fascinating but mysterious characters. The titular Valarii are brightly coloured, yet they resemble natural creatures, their limbs reminiscent of roots. Together, they fight a mysterious corruption that chokes their world. Moving around, gathering resources and healing the environment are all triggered by the same kind of interaction.
Thomas Hedden, who does 3D, Tech Art and Animation, explains the origins of their current project. Bagpack cooked up a silly game idea that boiled all tasks down to a simple interaction: rotating a thumbstick. The input method proved surprisingly fun. So, they came up with a new project, but “kept the spin,” programmer and level designer Markus Albert sums up.
On the road together
“We the Valarii” is testament to Albert’s and Hedden’s creativity. The game's visuals may still be “in flux,” as Hedden puts it. But even in its current form, they are striking: The Valarii are unusual characters, but they catch the eye with their expressive and colorful looks. According to Albert, many design aspects still must “find their form.” But so far, “capturing the audience visually” has worked well.
The Valarii were always meant to star in a cooperative adventure game, but the focus has changed. The game concept keeps evolving through discussions in the Incubator’s workshops and in the studio. Now, the game is less about speedy movement and more about entering a mysterious world with interesting problems to solve together. But it all keeps revolving around simple game mechanics that are entertaining in their execution: By rotating the thumbstick or mouse, the Valarii can move and interact with the world.
While this works well in principle already, Bagpack is still working out the details. When they talk about their game, they tend to talk themes and goals rather than losing themselves in the small stuff. Playing it shouldn't be too easy or too difficult, neither trivial nor frustrating. To allow play between different skill levels, everything is tuned to make for a beginner-friendly experience. Playables will demonstrate exactly how spinning works as a game mechanism.
In the right place
The project is in an early phase right now, and many kinks are being worked out. But Bagpack have proven already that they can thrive in make-or-break situations. And they are not just two people. The Co-founders keep collaborating with freelancers and have built a network in Hamburg’s vibrant scene, with plans to grow. Their debut project “Out of Place” was a real eye-catcher, winning both an Epic Mega Grant and a German Developer Award. The project also led Bagpack to build up their own motion capture studio. They took their first steps into the discipline while in the HAW Hamburg’s Games Master course. The university has its own mocap studio.
After graduating, they set up their own. They purchased their own motion-capturing hardware and have continued to build up expertise in the field ever since. By now, Bagpack Games are sought-after professionals in Hamburg. They help indie game studios and cultural projects in the region – one example is Games Lift alum Denise Koch with her project “Monstersongs VR.”
Turning raw motion capture data into character animations is a discipline in its own right, with a workflow completely different to classic animation. It has specific benefits, but it isn’t a shortcut. It still is “a lot of work,” explains Hedden. Then he goes into detail about how he can make characters fly or slide down mountains. The team has also mastered facial mocap. Implementing visually stunning projects is part of Bagpack Games’ ID.