How the design of Grab the Bottle changed during early development
Grab the Bottle was supposed to be just a tiny small game, with only a few months of development time. As often is the case, the game swole from a simple concept to a much more complex beast.
Everything started with an idea our CEO had one night. Would it be possible to make a game about reaching your hand towards the back of fridge? Or what about if you could just stretch your arm and reach all the way to the fridge instead of getting up and walking there? He drew (a very beautiful) concept picture and told about the idea to everyone. Here's the pic:
The idea was simple, yet original: You would control an hand which has an infinite arm behind. The goal would be to navigate through the level and grab a bottle of refresments waiting at the end. He also had in mind an idea about multiplayer, where players would compete on who grabs the bottle first. This was the starting point and we decided to roll with it.
At first the idea was to focus on the gameplay, maybe reuse same backgrounds on multiple levels: our artists could focus on drawing the obstacles you would need to avoid and not so much work would be needed to put in making complex setpieces. Then someone had the idea of expanding the single player.
As we started brainstorming on the idea, we quickly figured out there would be enough depth for a longer game and the game could tell a story of the main character all the way from cradle to grave. Then the gameplay started evolving: to have a longer game, we would need something more interesting than just avoiding collision. First came the idea of having to collect something on the way to the bottle, so the player would need to choose the route to navigate based on where these collectibles were. Then the idea of actually grabbing more than just bottles - you could grab objects and drop them. The game went from being a mixture of Snake and Operation, to being more about puzzles and physics - mixed with some amounts of Snake. A beast of its own kind.
We decided to go with a pop art / comic -style graphics for the game. It would look cool, but would take more time than using pixel art for example. New concept art was drawn of the idea:
And here is a screenshot of the final level, featuring more complex puzzles than in the concept:
Now that we had more complex gameplay and a longer story mode, we figured out that keeping the original scope of the game would be difficult. To fight against the monster that was rapidly increasing development time, we decided to fully focus on the single player mode and leave the multiplayer as a secondary mode that would be released later.
As the single player became focus, we thought we would also have the setpieces and locations of the levels be as imaginative and varied as possible. That meant lots of extra work for artists. We had also originally planned to tell the story with comics. This idea was kept, but we decided to back down greatly on the amount of comics to keep the production time and quality in check.
All of this has taken a lot of time and effort from our small team, but the game is nearing completion very quickly. We've been on Steam Early Access for a while and the final release is just around the corner. The project has taught us a lot about managing scope: a very valuable lesson for indie developer indeed.