Lino Slahuschek, the sole developer of Ratz Instagib 2.0 (opens in new tab), was modest when we spoke over Skype yesterday. Speaking in English might have contributed to his short and sweet answers—Slahuschek is from Austria—but I sensed that Ratz is a genuine passion project for him. It began as an experiment.
"I thought I would like to try to make a little shooter in Unity in a week or so, just to try it out, how network and stuff works, but I couldn't stop," said Slahuschek. "And it evolved into the webgame after some months, and then got greenlit [on Steam], and the big idea of releasing on Steam came to me, and I redid the whole game."
I like the game he's made: Ratz is an arena shooter stripped to the essentials, with one-hit kills and one hitscan weapon for everyone. There's no question of where the inspiration came from: when I asked, Slahuschek said impassively, "Yes, Unreal Tournament." He made Ratz to recreate the experience of his favorite UT instagib server. I'm personally a huge fan of UT2K4 instagib, so Ratz immediately appealed to me.
Other people like the game, too—the reviews on Steam are 'very positive'—but the number of concurrent players in Ratz at has dwindled since it launched. I think it's fair to say that maintaining a healthy player population is the biggest problem multiplayer shooters face on PC, and it's not just smaller games like Ratz. Evolve's concurrents (opens in new tab) are often sub-1000 lately, which is minuscule considering how heavily the game was marketed and how well it was initially received.
So, Ratz is a bit quiet (opens in new tab) these days, and Slahuschek and his publisher, Rising Star Games, are trying to pull players back in. How do you do that? "Items, I guess," said Slahuschek, chuckling. It's about "giving the players something to work for," added Rising Star Game's Samuel Elphick, who was also on the call.
Taking a cue from Team Fortress 2, the latest update adds cosmetic items which have a random chance of dropping every so many hours of multiplayer play. (Slahuschek told me how many hours that was, but wanted it to be a mystery.) The items are tradeable on the Steam Marketplace.
The update (opens in new tab) also makes changes to the Freeztag mode, and adds the chance to draw one of two 'golden tickets,' which win you a signed Mad Catz Tournament Edition R.A.T. mouse.
Further down the line, Slahuschek plans to add more maps and translations before leaving Early Access. I asked him if there was any hope for community-made maps—something I think is near-vital for the long-term success of multiplayer shooters—and he was interested in the idea, but said it wouldn't be easy.
"It would be nice, but the way the maps are done ... this wouldn't be possible with a map maker," said Slahuschek. "So the custom maps by users would look a lot different. If I could figure out a way to make it look good with a map editor, then yes, but they would be a lot different—very different—to the normal maps."
"I really want a map editor now," said Elphick.
"I could do something like Minecraft," Slahuschek continued, considering the idea. "Like you put a lot of boxes around and form the maps. This could be possible but I don't know how it would look."
So, that might not happen soon, if at all, but Slahuschek says Ratz will continue to be supported and updated after it leaves Early Access. "It has a lot of potential, I think, and right now it is successful for me," he said. "It's my first game. I don't know how much bigger it can get—I think a lot."
Rising Star Games contacted me last month and asked if Slahuschek could add a PC Gamer item to the game. Hey, why not? Just type 'pcgamer' (one word) quickly on the main menu screen to unlock it.