So… What is Rabbit Heart?

Posted in General/holistic with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by salamanderjack

Rabbit Heart is a game concept based around the player/character of a young girl, called Ululu who finds herself lost in a strange world of flying galleons, tentacled monsters and abandoned cities and whose only ally is a semi sentient Exo-Suit that reminds her of the toy rabbit she had lost. Our (Gareth Sleightholme and Paul Starkey) plan is to use this site to host all the artwork (and our growing team of collaborators) produce as we work out the details of the overall visual concept and game content.

We hope to include everything from very rough and scrappy sketches through to fully finished colour renders and maybe even some 3D models and level maps.

We also as part of this research project hope to include our use of the project within our role as Games Design lecturers (at HSAD, UK), and look towards publishing our findings as a “How to…” style book.

Below is a short video showing Ululu walking and climbing we will update this clip every time we make a leap forward in game playability…

HSAD research project banner 001

The Exo-suit – Some new thoughts on the design…

Posted in Character Design, Development Sketches, The Robot Rabbit/ExoSuit with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by salamanderjack

Okay, so one of the main problems I’ve had working up the design for the Rabbit Exo-suit (and the reason why you’ve yet to see it moving around in the engine) is the issue of keeping the suit looking like a rabbit whilst addressing all the practical issues such as the pilot’s chair in the chest, the ability for the rabbit to drop to all fours in a run (something we have kinda gotten to like as an idea),

Rabbit Run


…and also, and most importantly trying to keep something of the shape of the original concept when standing upright.

It’s this dichotomy between the long-limbed-ness of the rabbit skeletal structure, and the human proportions when upright that have caused the issues.

Exo-suit 003

As you can see in some of the sketches above and below, and in actual anatomy images (and I’m clearly not the first person to have this issue to resolve looking at some of the cartoons there) a rabbits rear legs if stretched out as they would be when standing biped-ally upright would probably become around half of the total height of the suit… resulting in a less than aesthetically pleasing, nor more importantly for this “physically intimidating” look.

Exo-suit 001

To I began to experiment with different ideas, I looked at gorilla anatomy, thinking the barrel-like chest and belly of the great ape is right on the money as far as accommodating that space for a pilot, plus of course there is that running style.

Exo-suit 002

Once you begin to take the anatomy upright, however, it all falls apart again.

Exo-suit 2b

Finally these sketches above appeared… Much more successful. Mostly the movement of the suit’s hips/pelvis to a position more “up and behind” the lower extremity of the pilot’s sphere, the creatures knee bent crouch and the long flat foot are still a little odd, but it appears that if I can solve the foot ankle area, and that bent knee when upright (probably by shortening the thigh “bone”) I might well have nailed the overall look of the suit.

Though it looks likely I’ll have to make a physical maquette in order to get the proportions to work fully. Watch this space.


It’s going to be interesting to see some of our students thoughts on this area of the design too.


New tests in UE4 – pt 1

Posted in Functionality, Interaction with tags , , on October 17, 2014 by salamanderjack

Paul’s been playing again, this time in the new UE4 Engine.

Which can be seen as a yes to the notion we will be rebuilding the game in the new engine… go, go Paul.

…more on these developments next week.

The Exo-Suit – A Collaborative Brief.

Posted in Design Development, Student As Producer, The Robot Rabbit/ExoSuit on October 17, 2014 by salamanderjack
The ethos of Student As Producer is invested in allowing the student to positively and non-passively contribute to ongoing research projects being developed by the staff at the school and beyond, this includes the Rabbit Heart game project.
This mini-brief looks at allowing students to further the development of this ongoing research project, whilst taking “ownership” of that contribution. Furthering not only the overall project, but the students self-development as a researcher/creative, examining existing attitudes to teaching and learning pedagogies and the relationship of student and learning institution/project value.

Regarding the Exo-suit:

Within the Rabbit Heart game concept “The Exo-Suit is part vehicle, part sanctuary, part weapon, and part new friend/familiar to the primary character of Ululu.

This sentient mecha is one half of the developing player/character for a significant part of the game concept.

The in-game/diegetic rationale for the suit is that it has been created as a working military advance exploration suit by the “secondary culture” that is evident in the tutorial level of the game. This culture has tapped into the primary “Ancients” culture artefacts and environment, which has provided esoteric power opportunities, advanced technology, which has been hybridised and adapted for the suits, and the aesthetics which has been drawn from the ancient sculpture and archaeology of the primary culture evident in the caves and beach/bridge/dock areas of the tutorial level.

Regarding Gameplay:

The Exo-suit (one of a numerous battalion in storage in the tutorial levels caves) is activated only if the player (playing as Ululu) finds and adds to their inventory the pilots headgear (a lightweight flying helmet with goggles) and takes it to the exo-suit storage area, subsequently triggering the suit to “come to life”, and so begin the bonding experience with the new pilot.

Much like the development of relationships between dog-handlers and their dogs and/or cavalry soldiers and their mounts, the diegetic AI in the exo-suit requires nurturing.

The player will have at times to leave the suit to enter areas to small for the suit to follow, this “abandonment” will; need to be monitored with the player as if left too long, the bond between the suit will weaken and the suit may leave, returning (auto-pilot) to cave where it was discovered. Thus the “empathy” and the bond must be encouraged between the player and their NPC sidekick, at present the idea of returning to the mechas side and touching it will be enough to maintain the bond, as the game develops this bond grows stronger allowing the pilot to leave the suit for longer periods.

When playing as Ululu, we run in 3rd person, over the shoulder mode with suit behind or to the side of us, or perhaps running ahead if the terrain is difficult.

If in the suit, we see a 1st person point of view as Ululu might see it including her reflection in the blast door visor/screen.

Regarding the Aesthetics & Contents/Inventory of the Exo-Suit:

Various incarnations of the suit have shown an armoured samurai warrior aesthetic (including large samurai sword), with the pilot’s cockpit in the chest, the blast doors of which open to allow access. A large almost seam-punk engine sits behind the pilot’s cockpit and in many visuals spouts exhaust fumes. The articulated headpiece of the exo-suit is themed to resemble a rabbit, with large control surfaces resembling ears.

The suit itself has smaller control surfaces across its armour that suggest possible diagnostic checks (useful for idle animations perhaps) and subtle hidden accessories not seen when we first encounter it.

This is to be the case. As the game progresses the Rabbit will become more aggressive looking. With more weaponised areas of the suit being revealed.

The rear limbs of the exo-suit are animal shaped.

i.e. in the case of the “rear” legs the upper part of a rabbit’s body parallels a human leg structure with upper thigh joined to hip at one end and knee joint at the other end, and with “a lower thigh” leading from knee to heel in place of the human shin and calf. The rabbits’s heel doesn’t always touch the ground, however; it is represented by the hock joint and the human foot becomes the rabbits’s rear pastern, and what would be just the human toes are his rear paws.

Visual 01Visual 02Visual 03 – Animation Test

This may make it move differently to a regular biped. In fact, we had discussed having it move on all fours when moving at speed over open ground, which again might effect its over all anatomy (longer front limbs for example).

The Brief:

You are asked to develop, alongside and in consultation with Paul and myself any element, concept, function, or animation of, or related to the rabbit exo-suit you wish.

This might include:

1 – 3D/2D concept development – variations on the existing design showing the key elements and functions of the suit, always presented with a scale showing Ululu where possible. This might also include interior/exterior texture/material tests, graphics, interior design details etc.

2 – Animations/animation rigs for/of the whole suit, or parts of the suit. This might include head and shoulders, the blast doors for the cockpit, the legs/limbs of the suit or areas with moving control surfaces. Idles, or player functional movement will also be useful even if just in rig form with no surface detail (inc. simple blocked out test animations). How does the exo-suit run, fight, or fall? How does the rabbit behave when on its own (as seen from afar by Ululu and the player)

3 – The environment area that the exo-suit resides in prior to Ululu’s triggering of its motion.


4 – The view from within the suit, i.e. the HUD through which we see the world in fight mode.

5 – Weapon tests. Experiments that involve the exo-suit’s weaponry interactions, either when used by or against the suit. Simple block-out models can be used rather than fully rendered materials.

6 – the animation, triggers and individual motions involved in a nine year old girl accessing or exiting the exo-suit (considering the height issues, that cockpit could well be 25/30 feet off the ground for instance).

7 – Specific Concept Art scenarios – To be negotiated based on existing ideas, please refer to Paul and Gareth.

8 – Diegetic iterations of the rabbit suits, or potions of those suits, that may be part developed within the cave and science facilities left behind by the secondary culture.

9 – …finally, negotiated content development. If you have an idea relating to the exo-suit not encompassed by the outlines above, we are open to discussion.

ALL ELEMENTS OF EXISTING DESIGN ARE OPEN FOR NEGOTIATION OR REAPPRAISAL, we are happy to discuss/negotiate within reason, we won’t for example be turning the major aesthetic theme of the suit, from a rabbit to a lion for example.

All research strands must be presented as a mini-proposal on your blogs prior to any approval from us or commencement on your part.

Once approved by the staff, you may get started.

Ululu… Stumbling in the dark… Learning/Experiencing… then Leaping into Action.

Posted in Character Design, Functionality, Gameplay, Ululu on January 23, 2014 by salamanderjack

Just a quick note/reminder (for myself) on a further gameplay element that would be great to implement, relating to Learnt Motion/Muscle Memory, Avoidance of Action/Experience.


In the early part of the game as you run your avatar/Ululu through the terrain  she would occasionally need to stop (hands on knees, panting, energy/health levels dropping,

Out of breath

…which would build back up as she rests), and from time-to-time even stumble… even perhaps falling on her face when running too fast.

Faw Down

Steadily, with more running and “brave” jumping, the player would notice the development of more “Parkour” type skills when moving through the world.

Flying Leap

However, over-reliance on the Exosuit in the early levels of the game and perhaps avoiding leaps and difficult climbing challenges, turning back and using simpler footbridges etc, would cause a lack of improvement and so hinder progress in later levels.

Later when the female warrior (see early development work) version of herself begins to appear, the athleticism, mobility of Ululu as an avatar also improves again.

– GS

HUD / Interface Design for the Exosuit – pt. 1

Posted in Functionality, GUI/HUD with tags , , on January 8, 2014 by salamanderjack

These sketches and mock-ups are looking at the HUD design that would be in play when controlling the Rabbit Exo-suit.

We wanted to have some connection maintained with the character of Ululu, despite wanting to move to first person in this mode.

I* had really loved the cut-in Iron Man footage of Stark’s dealing with the GUI/Hud of the IM suits, and following discussions way back with Paul in which we wondered if it might be possible to implement some sort of reflected HUD that included a reflection of the characters facial reactions – *GS.

Ululu being a kid would have great exaggerated reactions to being hit with enemy fire,

x Rabbit Heart HUD 002

…to being scared when in a tight spot,

…or to being puzzled when investigating or using the zoom view.

x Rabbit Heart HUD 001jpg

For the HUD itself I looked at the graphics somehow emulating (in shape) the head of the rabbit. Incorporating particular functions within the head of the rabbit and manifesting them on the screen.

For example the “ears” of the rabbit which act like control surfaces or antenna could be used in the HUD as the control and feedback for the scanner/sensory pulse (like a cross between a radar/enemy map/Batman detective vision).

…and the zoom facility and weapons targeting could be positioned at the eye of the rabbit.

Mock up of HUD

Other graphic displays, could include weapons available (including those yet to unlock), historical files on artefacts and areas of the island and even the changing connection between the pilot (player, ie. Ululu) and the Exo-suit.

To mock up a more finished version of this idea we’ll be looking at developing some 3D assets and playing a little in after effects.

…another Gate – The City Gate

Posted in Design Development, Development Sketches, Environments, Game Art with tags , , , on April 3, 2013 by salamanderjack

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’d like the game to be punctuated by gates/portals which represent the edges of levels/zones or the start of some new task adventure possibility.

This one was inspired by David Roberts as always but with this kind of building on the outsides and upper ledges…

0 The Shanty Arch

You’ll have to forgive the execution, but I doodled this out on the coach on the way back from London last weekend (with some later quick tweaks in PhotoShop).


Rand Miller on Back Story and World Building Histories.

Posted in Functionality, Gameplay, Some Thoughts... with tags , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by salamanderjack

We started our design work and realized that we would need to have even more story and history than would be revealed in the game itself. It seemed having that depth was just as important as what the explorer would actually see.”

—Rand Miller, on developing Myst‘s fictional history

 (Stern, Gloria (1994-08-23). “Through the Myst”.

Yet we have to be careful not to forget it is a game… the player needs room to move.

Too much linearity, too much hands on the shoulder guidance of the player will stop it being about “choice“*. At that point we might as well be writing a novel instead.


*and just for balance.