We've both had a very busy year here at Laser Dog HQ. We released PKTBALL (iOS/Android), HoPiKo (XboxOne/PS4), discovered the wonders of Spelunky (OMG WHAT A GAME) and most recently, I (Rob) became a dad a matter of days ago. I think I just wanted an excuse to write that down! (I'm actually writing this post by my wife's hospital bed as they both sleep peacefully) ❤️❤️❤️
Both PKTBALL and HoPiKo were really full-on projects. They took a long time to finish and we were kinda working against the clock the entire time to make sure we could keep the business running. While both projects were a lot of fun, we've both been really eager to work on a small/side project.
During the submission process for HoPiKo on console (quite a long process), we decided that we'd do a really small, fun and simple game and try finish it in a couple of weeks. This was really important for us as;
- We used to often have "new game day Fridays". We basically had a game jam every week to see what new ideas we could come up with. This was really good fun and was also very re-energising! We hadn't had chance to do one of these all year.
- We wanted to do a not-so-serious game after the long porting process of HoPiKo. While HoPiKo isn't 100% serious, we felt the need to just "go nuts" and make something a bit wacky :D
- I was going to have a new addition to the family at any point and it'd be great to get a game published before I had some time off! This was a very new and fun kind of deadline!
Concept - Where it began
The gameplay idea behind Don't Grind is very simple. It's basically "keep-em-ups" but with buzz saws, lasers and rockets. We also threw in anthropomorphised characters with fear in their eyes and lot's of cartoon gore.
We knew right from the first prototype that we wanted gore and screaming in the game, but found it very important to make it funny rather than horrifying. We made sure that the "blood" was mostly not red coloured (it's only red if the object is red itself), and that there are no real-life animals involved. All of the characters are regular objects with a face. And from bananas to slices of bread, all the characters can be pulverised in a comedic way, not a gruesome way! Well, it's kinda gruesome when their eyes pop out of their head and splatter on the screen.
Early Development - No need to prototype
With most of our games, our initial prototypes are made with simple shapes to get the gameplay working as soon as possible. With Don't Grind, the concept was so simple that we decided to set the project up properly right away. So we created the spritesheets and started building the scene as we worked on the gameplay.
Characters - Injecting life into inanimate objects
It's important with a game like Don't Grind to feel connected with what is going on. We really wanted to bring the characters to life but avoid the whole "grinding up cute cats and dogs", so we chose to use inanimate objects. There have been thousands of games where you put animals in blenders and stuff since way back in the early days of flash, and we didn't want to make one of those.
To bring life to the characters ("Grindables" from here onwards), we firstly gave them a dynamic face. To portray emotions (well, just "fear" really) we gave them eyebrows, shaking eyes and a mouth with various expressions.
The Grindable will detect which danger is closest and focus on it. The eyes will look towards the nearest blade for example. The closer the object, the more the eyes grow and shake. The angle of the eyebrows also increase the closer they get. This is demonstrated in the below dev-build used to test the facial expressions.
Separating the face into individual components, rather than using sprite based animations gave us the freedom to have many different face types and a wide range of movement, with a very small footprint in texture memory.
Design - Look and feel
I think Simon has created a really great look for Don't Grind. It's fun, bright and simple. The colour scheme during gameplay is based on the current time of day, so there's always a bit of variation. Progress is highlighted by sky colour changes and keen eyes might even spot plane vapour trails travelling across the sky. These are a VERY (Simon!) subtle suggestion of how long the player has been playing.
Sound - Recording the Grindable's voices
We recorded the voices ourselves in our office with the help of some of our friends and family. It's possibly the funniest time we've had recording vocals. It was completely ridiciculous and deafeningly loud! We then added pitch effects to make the characters feel smaller.
Below is a sample of the "raw" vocals we recorded, before any effects are added.
Music - Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune
During the initial stages of development, we had the Wii Shop music on repeat. This really helped us feel the tone of the game, and only drove us slightly crazy.
Whilst I was walking to the shop one day, I made up a silly song in my head that I immediately recorded on my phone when I got back to the house and sent it straight to Simon. It was such a stupid little song and my voice is so terrible, that it felt like it could work really well. This is the actual recording I sent to Simon, recorded on my phone:
We quickly agreed that this could be our first game with a theme tune. Excited, I rerecorded/sequenced the instrumentation in Logic Pro X, adding strings, drums and glockenspiels. It's important to note that I DO NOT SING. To record the vocals, I bought a 6 pack of beer, took my vocal mic home and locked myself in a room, got a little drunk and "sang". Auto tune may have been used a bit ;) The entire recording ended up being shifted up a step and sped up by 10bpm. This was to just make it feel more lively.
And, because I cannot resist making chiptunes, I made a 8bit version that plays every now and again instead of the "standard" version.
Pricing - Cleanium strikes back
We wanted to make Don't Grind's pricing, like the gameplay, as simple as possible. We believe we've done the smallest and cleanest possible implementation of "Freemium" or "Cleanium". The game is entirely free to play, but adverts are shown every now and then during non-gameplay critical moments. The adverts can be removed by a single in-app purchase. We think this is a fair way of monetising a mobile game of this kind, as the whole game is there to play. If you want to support us (or hate adverts), you can purchase the IAP and the game is yours forever.
The Grindables are unlocked by playing the game and beating certain targets and challenges. There are also some "special" Grindables that can be unlocked in secret ways that we reveal over time. Some of these have already been discovered in the beta version! Gotta catch 'em all!
Sequences - Carefully designed death traps
I created a basic system for creating "sequences" and rating them in terms of difficulty. This could be a single saw coming out of the screen, or several rockets shooting at the player. Simon made hundreds of these sequences, and got really creative with them. He noted that he took inspiration from Futurama's "lower horn remover":
The difficulty system is totally dynamic for each game. The better you are playing in that particular game, the harder the game will be, but in turn, the more points will be available for you to pick up. It balances out so that new players and experienced players should have the same level of challenge, tailored to their ability. This way, you can still pass your phone to a friend that's never played it before, and they will have a fair experience based on their own gameplay.
Release - By the skin of our teeth
We met our target of making the full game in just a couple of weeks. We finished entirely, and then as all of our projects go, we polished it for a further two months. Even though the whole development took around 3 months, we still think of it as our two week game 😁
We're very proud of the end result. It's a fully mobile feeling "pick up and play" short burst of wackiness. It's also the exact game we imagined when we started the project. That doesn't happen often with us! Games normally morph into something quite different.
We're also pleased and amazed that we made our deadline. Infact, my daughter was born only two days after we finished the game. Perfect timing!!
Don't Grind will be available on the 24th of November on the Appstore and Google Play store.
What about the PKTBALL update?!?!
We know, we know! We've actually been working on an exciting update to PKTBALL alongside Don't Grind. We did plan to release Don't Grind and the PKTBALL update at the same time; Unfortunately the update has been taking longer than we expected. We'll keep working on the update when we can, and we'll get it out ASAP. It'll be worth it, we promise :)