Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Grabbles.
Hi, I’m Brad Murphy. Like most people working in small independent studios, I cross many disciplines, but mostly I’m a co-owner, developer, and game designer.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
It all started with some QBasic back in middle school. Like most things learned in middle school, it was soon forgotten until after college when I moved in with an old friend, Zeb Long. Some of the visuals he was working on intrigued me so we formed Noble Whale Studios and have been working together ever since.
Where did the idea for Grabbles come from?
Long story short, Paperboy. Short story long, it started out as a Paperboy clone that needed a little something extra. So for no real reason, we added some weird arms that trail behind the player that you could whip into things. As a game, it failed miserably, but we liked the flailing arm mechanic so we repurposed it into a platformer style game and made the arms sticky so they could be used to swing around. At this point, the player still had no direct control over the arms, they could only be influenced indirectly by jumping and moving around with the character. This was also not very fun, so instead we tried the opposite, allowing the player to control only the arms and foregoing the traditional running and jumping mechanics entirely. This seemed to have some potential, so we put a few rough levels together and our friends really seemed to enjoy it. All of this happened over the course of just a few days, after which the core mechanics were more or less in place.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Grabbles?
Our previous game “Poo Monkeys” was pretty much doomed to failure from the start, but we stuck with it for far too long. When we finally got started on a new project we took the time to play around making tons of completely different prototypes before settling on one idea. Because of this we ended up with a much stronger core mechanic and we had a lot of fun doing it. Rapid prototyping is my favorite way to spend the day and it is well worth the time to pop out a bunch of games because one of those might just stick.
In its current form, how close is Grabbles to your initial vision?
It is very close to the original vision. The biggest difference is probably the ability to swing just a little bit to give it that tiny bit of control that the game very much needed. The original concept for the game was multiplayer only. We realized it was fun traversing the levels by yourself so we figured it would be a smart idea to implement a way to play without the social interaction and internet connection required for multiplayer. We didn’t add this single player campaign mode until a few months into development. Since being implemented, the single player campaign has grown to include a detailed story taking place throughout a variety of alien environments, and is now one of the strongest points of the game.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Grabbles and if you faced a similar challenge.
One thousand times this. We’ve spent way too many hours playing the game while making the game. Players originally had no control over their swing so they had to have the angle just perfect to get anywhere. People were dying 100 times and taking 30 minutes to complete a level while we would not die and finish it in a minute. We are now constantly checking on the average time it takes people to get through the levels to make sure they aren’t far off from the 3-5 minute mark. We also record games as they are being played so that we can see exactly where players struggle and adjust the levels accordingly.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Grabbles would run on the various PC system configurations?
The Unity engine makes it way too easy to run on almost everything. The only thing we have to remember is monitor resolution but it’s a fairly simple thing to keep in mind.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Grabbles.
The level design is made with flow in mind. We want to encourage the player to be continuously moving forward. Both new players and returning players should be able to flow smoothly through the levels, just at different speeds and death counts.
The entire grabble world has an organic, natural feel to it and we try to bring this across in the music and sound effects, focusing mainly on acoustic instruments. We’ve partnered with North Avenue Studios for most of the audio work and recently spent some time out at the studio working with them on foley for some of the more unique Grabble sounds. The art style is also very natural, but at the same time alien. We are working with a few different artists to bring the world to life and leveraging their different styles to create some truly distinct environments for players to explore.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Assembling a team and keeping everyone working hard on a $0 budget.
How did you go about funding Grabbles and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Fortunately, I have a job where I have way too much free time and I spend it all working on Grabbles. Zeb had a bit of survival money saved up from his previous job that allowed him to focus fulltime on the game. We are also lucky enough to have friends in every discipline helping us out. We also use a lot of free, open-source software so the costs are pretty low for everything else. The emotional support of our family and friends is what keeps us going. If all of our friends and family told us they didn’t like the game and refused to play more than a minute, the game probably would have ended right there.
Tell us about the process of submitting Grabbles to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We are still in the alpha demo phase of development and while the core of the game is done we still have many levels to design, art to make, and sound to produce. We are on indiedb though and a few other free distribute sites and haven’t really encountered any issues so far.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
We have researched similar titles but still don’t have a launch price. The Kickstarter early pre-order price will probably be 10 dollars.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Grabbles?
Too many games are being sold before they even have gameplay footage to show. I see great concepts with amazing art and that’s fine with proven people and proven studios but with indies you have no idea if they have the capabilities to make the game. I’ve always been under the impression that if I can’t see the gameplay then I don’t know anything about the title and in turn don’t even care about the title. Having a playable demo takes it one step further and proves that you have something fun to play. As an indie studio we don’t have the budget to hire artists to make us a flashy trailer so we stick with what we know best, making a good game.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Grabbles from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We don’t have much of a social presence right now but we get instant feedback through our game analytics. We record everyone who plays the game and we can sift through the stats to see how long they played, how many times they died, and much more. The best part is being able to play back the recordings and watch them go through the levels. We use this same system to allow players to race against the fastest times from the leaderboard.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Grabbles professionally?
We take all of the opinions of our players seriously because as much as we love our game, we have to make sure that others love it too. Whether or not it is a professional reviewer or someone on youtube, assuming it’s not a troll, they all have opinions that deserve our attention.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
The best feature of most of those bundles appears to be the publicity. If you can get into a bundle with a big name game, you have a guaranteed amount of people who are going to play your game. Even being apart of a bundle that previously had a big name in it can be big. I love the “Pay What You Want” pricing model on a personal level because hey, cheap games. It seems to work just like a sale in that people who would have normally passed your game up are now playing your game and maybe giving you a little cash for it. It seems to be a win / win for everyone.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I find it humorous that the ability to play a single player game offline is now a selling point. I think most studios are starting to realize that making your game harder to play for paying customers is the wrong approach. Stopping the consumer from going to a pirate site is more important than making the game uncrackable. Make the game available without having to sign up for an account and put it at a reasonable price. If Adobe can’t keep thousands of dollars of software like Creative Suite 6 out of pirate hands I don’t think the little guys stand much of a chance anyway.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of Grabbles?
Free advertising? Yeah, we’ll take some of that. Post our videos anywhere you want and feel free to monetize the heck out of them.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
As a consumer, I always hate it when DLC it is available on day one of launch. I understand though that it helps cover costs because selling a game at sixty dollars is already a hard sell and ten extra dollars from even 5% of purchasers can go a long way. I don’t have any problem with DLC as a general concept, but I do miss when it was called an “expansion” and came with more than a single new hat.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Grabbles?
I would love to see some mods for Grabbles. The best game would have a million developers so that every idea can be tried. Mods allow the community to get involved and we know from games like DoTA that it’s a great idea to make it easy. I couldn’t imagine a better outcome from Grabbles than if someone took it and used it to make an even better game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
First of all, if you aren’t using a game engine, you are insane. We started out not using one and we wasted a large amount of time reinventing the wheel. I can’t recommend Unity enough. I make full multiplayer networked game prototypes in a day.
Another piece of advice: you probably have a lot of friends who like to play games and I bet some of them would like to help you make them. One of them probably calls themselves an audio whiz, that’s your sound engineer. Some like to draw and paint, those are your artists. As long as you know how to code a little bit, you have yourself a game studio. Start small, make as many games as possible and see what works and what doesn’t.