Grow Up

05 sept. 2016
Interview par

A conversation with Reflections

In 2015, for the release of Grow Home, we interviewed Pete Young, its game producer. Today, to accompany the arrival of Grow Up, it's the turn of Jack Couvela and Dale Scullion (respectively art director and game designer) to play the game of questions and answers. It's a promise, next year we'll ask other members of the Reflections team!

"We were a tiny core team of just eight and Grow Home was our baby."

Let's begin with a quick look back. Talk to us a bit about the reception of Grow Home, one year later.

Jack Couvela (art director)I’ve worked at Reflections on huge games such as Driver and The Crew, and we’ve also been working on the likes of Tom Clancy's The Division and Watch_Dogs 2, but the release of Grow Home was the most exciting and personal moment for me. We were a tiny core team of just eight and Grow Home was our baby. We’d all been able to have such a huge impact on every aspect of the game that it was very personal; we just wanted people to love it as much as we did.

It was intentionally nothing like Reflections had made before – we wanted to really surprise people with what else we could do. The very first announcement and teaser trailer were released in 2015, during a quiet February just two weeks before our launch day on Steam. Everyone picked up the story but the teaser gave little away apart from the art direction and a hint at the tone of the game. It got a lot of interest and started people guessing, but thankfully players didn’t have a long wait to get their hands on Grow Home.

As the first digital only game we’d released, it was amazing to see people playing live on Twitch before we even cut the cake and cracked open the beers on launch day! The reaction was amazing, with 97% positive user reviews on Steam and great reviews from the biggest games websites.

Another first for us was how popular Grow Home was for Let’s Play videos. Our little game was getting seen by millions of people, which was incredible for our visibility. We quickly started plans for a port to PS4 and took part in the first ever PlayStation Plus Vote to Play. The great word of mouth and huge visibility from the PC version helped us win that vote, meaning by September 2015, the game was available completely free to millions of PlayStation Plus members. We couldn’t have hoped for more exposure; it was an incredible experience.
 

"We didn’t originally plan to make a follow up."

Is that what motivated you to extend BUD's adventures or did you already want to continue developing this universe?

Jack Couvela (art director)We didn’t originally plan to make a follow up but we felt there was so much potential for growth and so much love for BUD and MOM as characters that we just couldn’t help but dream up a second adventure. It was important to us that we brought something very new to this game, building on smaller features and ideas in Grow Home that people really liked.

BUD’s climbing mechanic is very special and unique to the character but many players really loved the more airborne features in Grow Home. BUD’s jetpack, the glide leaf and a handful of plants that help launch BUD into the air and catch him when he falls were all very popular. You get a very Zen-like, relaxing experiencing just gliding around, admiring your personalised Star Plant creation. So in Grow Up, we gave BUD a huge new sky, wrapped around an entire planet to explore, full of new plants and toys that he uses to traverse this bigger space.

Everyone fell in love with BUD thanks largely to his relationship with MOM. Her maternal, encouraging comments really helped to define his innocent, child-like robotic charm. So what better motivation for a new adventure than starting the game by smashing MOM to pieces and stranding her on a lonely moon?! This gave us the chance to introduce a brand new character called POD, who we like to think is BUD’s nervous younger sister, giving the player a whole new perspective on this new, planetary playground.

The E3 2016 announcement of Grow Up

"It was surreal seeing Grow Up at E3 sandwiched between some of Ubisoft’s biggest titles."

What are your memories of the E3 2016 announcement of Grow Up? More generally, how do you handle this communication aspect, you who are more on the creative side (as opposed to the marketing side that takes over once the project is launched)?

Dale Scullion (game designer)It was an absolute pleasure to bring BUD back into the limelight and great to bring him and Grow Up to E3! It was brilliant yet surreal seeing Grow Up on the big screen sandwiched between some of Ubisoft’s biggest titles. It was such a big event for Reflections too, only the second time in the past five years that we've had the opportunity to show off our own project on the E3 stage.

BUD is a very lovable, charming little robot! He got an awesome reception and I think this is a testament to his character. The announcement most certainly surprised our fans so it was great that they didn’t have to wait too long to get their hands on the new adventure.

Jack Couvela - art director

"We didn’t want to tell the same story in terms of character abilities."

In Grow Up, you're pushing farther the original concept with an open world but also with new skills for BUD. Can you say a few words about this?

Dale Scullion (game designer)We focused our vision on a planetary playground full of surprises, so of course this new adventure meant BUD had some new skills to learn! We wanted players to feel a strong sense of mastery over his movement while maintaining the charm of his character. Grow Home players had an awesome time growing the Star Plant and upgrading the jetpack but we didn’t want to tell the same story in terms of character abilities. So we gave players abilities such as the ball and power glider to offer more agility. The ability to combine these skills means players can master BUD's movement and all of this is complemented by BUD's core climbing ability meaning he can fly, boost or fling himself into any situation and deal with it.

In addition to this, we also wanted to evolve the ability for players to leave their mark on the world with even the simplest of actions. This is where the Floradex 3000 comes into play. This new ability allows BUD to copy and plant any of the alien plants he finds to overcome challenges or simply just for the fun of it! But not only that, the planet also has a bigger variety of Star Plants – four in fact, each with their own growth patterns for BUD to master. So whether it’s planting a Champoline to reach a new platform or growing a Star Plant to a whole new island, you’re always making your mark on the planet below.

POD, BUD's "little sister"

"Nothing suited his stumbling movement better than that original set of unconnected boxes."

On the visual inspiration front, you had spoken to us about origami for example. For the rest, BUD feels a bit like Rayman, and even Tonic Trouble. Tell us about the genesis of this character.

Jack Couvela (art director)The character that eventually became BUD started as an idea for quickly prototyping new games. One of our programmers thought if he could create a character that didn’t rely on pre-defined animation, it could be versatile enough to try out all kinds of different concepts. So with a set of joints, springs and a sense of balance, he created a simple boxy character called Walkster – because he could walk!

When developing Grow Home, we tried lots of character design ideas but nothing suited his stumbling movement better than that original set of very simple, unconnected boxes. I wanted the mechanical shapes of MOM and BUD to feel alien compared to the organic terrain and plant life on the planet, so I decided that BUD and all his equipment would be made of quads, while everything organic was made of triangles.

BUD’s robot design features, such as the giant bolts holding his jaw in place, came from trying to convey the huge sense of scale in the game and the giant plants all around him. I wanted to make him feel very small, like a toy. There’s a long history of classic robot design from the 1950s to more recent characters that all influenced his final look.

Dale Scullion - game designer

"BUD may need some recovery time to get over his latest escapade."

To conclude, could you give us your vision of the future, for BUD of course but also for Reflections? Apart from your participation in the development of Wildlands and The Division, are you working on other projects?

Dale Scullion (game designer)BUD may need some recovery time to get over his latest escapade – it’s been a total blast working on his new adventure! Our team is always keen to create unique gameplay experiences for players, after all that was the original intention for our little robot. At Reflections, we’ve got some really exciting projects in the pipeline and we can’t wait to share more information with you on these – stay tuned for more details in the coming months!