Oct 17, 2017 Last Updated 12:52 PM, Oct 17, 2017

Growbot Interview with Wasabi Games

Published in Editorial
Read 225 times
Rate this item
(0 votes)

This interview has been edited and condensed.

An atmospheric adventure called Growbot takes shape under the watchful eye of Lisa at Wabisabi Games. Classic point-and-click gameplay twines around puzzles like a clever vine. It’s all part of Lisa’s vision of integrating a diverse, dreamy score with biopunk illustrations and a picture book feel.


>> How did Growbot start? What inspired you to create it?

Originally, I started Growbot as a game pitch called Zen Bot. It was a game about exploring alternative states of consciousness, and the methods by which we induce them through meditation, shamanic drumming, and chemical substances, such as peyote and psilocybin. It was to be based on scientific research and I pitched it to the Wellcome Trust. My application was unsuccessful, but I still wanted to continue with the game. It changed hugely in the months that followed, becoming narrative and fantasy-driven, and [finally] turning into Growbot.

>> How has your vision for Growbot changed over the course of development?

The constraints of my knowledge have shaped development. Growbot is the first game I've made in Unity, and as I've learned more about what's possible within the software, that's led me to be more ambitious with the design of puzzles, the composition of scenes, and so on. For example, the early areas of the game all fit within a single screen, whereas later areas sprawl out and offer the player choice of which direction they want to move in. This ends up working OK because the early sections gently introduce people to the game, but it was also a function of introducing myself to the development tools.

I've also been working on it part-time over a longer period, and that's allowed ideas to gestate and become more involved in a way that they wouldn't have done if I had been forced to meet tighter deadlines. I think the narrative is richer as a result, with character backstories and the ecosystem of the space station fitting together more intricately for the extra thought.

Nara's World

>> You play as a robot, take care of plants, and struggle against an infestation of crystals. That's a more complex web of life than I'm used to seeing. How do you blend the mechanical aspects of a space station with nature, and then make players feel the crystals don't belong?

I wanted the space station to feel alive, and for everything within it to have a function. I like bio-punk, in which biology and technology are entangled. In Growbot, the mechanical has been directly constructed out of nature - pipes are plant roots, flowers are an energy source, and so on. Within this world, many of the creatures are instrumental in the interactions between machinery, or have machine-like purposes themselves. For example, Star Belly is a stellarator, a type of fusion reactor.

The crystals belong to the world, but they can be perceived of as a virus, multiplying and wreaking havoc as they spread. The cause behind the crystals in the game is more sinister and Nara must resolve this whilst adapting to the ongoing impact of the crystals.

>> What can you tell us about our own little Growbot, as a character?
The player controls a Growbot called Nara. She's new to the station, and I wanted her to be relatable and infused with a quiet confidence. I feel like there is a pressure to be bold and loud, and there's still often a focus on making game characters interesting by making them spiky or over-the-top. In one sense, I wanted Nara to be more ordinary, while still achieving things she didn't know she could.

>> What's your favorite place in this fantastic ecosystem we explore?

Hm, that’s a hard one. I try to create visually stimulating environments which contrast from each other, so that the player never gets bored with one type of environment or colour palette. Right now, I'm most excited about the areas that I haven't created yet. I've started sketching ideas for engineering, which is the part of the station the player visits last. It's set among the root systems of the station — both in the sense of containing the most important items of machinery and literal plant roots. I look forward especially to creating and designing the buffer stream — an area set inside the digital space where characters go when they've entered a transporter.

>> What are the transporters? How do you represent digital space and splice it into the station's biopunk theme?

So far, I've been trying to imagine how the effects of being inside a buffer stream might reflect onto mechanics. The station is fueled by a giant power flower, with its roots running like cables throughout the station. I was visualizing the teleporters as being formed out of flower buds, but I hadn't considered that the biopunk nature of the station could spill into the buffer stream design. Thank you for the inspiration! :)


>> How would you describe the art style of Growbot? Would a comparison to Hayao Miyazaki be out of place?

That would be very flattering! :) I love Miyazaki’s worlds and it would be awesome if I could capture some of the enchantment that he does.

I think 'picture book' is the clearest term to describe the work. It's detailed and child-friendly. I've worked in the picture book industry previously and that experience has naturally seeped into the game's creation.

>> What makes a good picture book?

Ah, that's super hard. I'm going to go with: its ability to make you feel like you've discovered hidden treasure. That's how I feel when I find a picture book I love. I'm pretty sure that's what I see on the face of my eighteen month old son when we look at his favourite book, The Island (Brian Wildsmith). It's a couple of words per page and the illustrations are great. It's about a leopard, goat, and monkey on a raft out at sea. They dock with an island which begins to sink before rising, revealing itself to, in fact, be a hippo.

>> What can we expect from Growbot's music and sound effects? How did you select your composer, Jessica Fichot?

Jessica’s music hit the perfect emotional chord for me as soon as I heard it. She has a strong ability for both gameplay and cinematic music, and the tracks she's created so far elevate both cutscenes and general play. It's subtle when it needs to be, melodic when it needs to be, and as detailed and dreamy as I'm trying to make the artwork.

I grew up in the 80s watching cartoons like Ulysses 31, Cities of Gold and the Moomins. I love the sound effects in these shows and wanted to try and recreate some of the strange electronic pops, pings and shoops in Growbot.

>> I see text in some of Growbot'spuzzle screens, but no dialogue so far. Star Belly's speech isn't wordy, either. Will this change, or are you going for an experience that minimizes language? What role should language, or the absence thereof, play in Growbot?

There are a number of conversations, but I was careful to keep these clear and concise. When I was younger, I would want to use three adjectives to describe something because I was scared of not communicating my idea, whereas I've learned over time that it's better to find the one right word for what you're trying to say [EN: So much this]. I also never used to think about the reader, and that they will bring their own mind and imagination to the text. I love Tove Jansson's writing in the Moomins books. It’s powerful in part because it's simple. She allows you to use your imagination, where too much information breaks flow.

>> How long is Growbot? Are we meant to finish our journey in one sitting?

I anticipate it will be about four hours long, give or take a little time depending on the play style of the player. I want to create a game experience where the goal isn't to rush to the end but to linger in the world and explore the details. That’s what I love doing when I read and create children’s books.  

>> What kind of experience do you want players to have with Growbot, and how do you assemble all the parts of Growbot into that experience?

I want it to be simple, relaxing, and a little unsettled. I don’t want to dictate the player's experience too much. I hope the game is thoughtful. I suppose I want adults to experience some childlike magic, but it's hard to put the game together towards that overall goal. A lot more of my time is thinking about the moment to moment experience: does a particular puzzle make sense? Is the UI intuitive or annoying? Is it fun? It's less about assembling the parts towards a singular experience and more about simply trying to make each part as good as I can, and trusting that the whole will take care of itself.

>> What do you mean by "a little unsettled?"

I want the game-world to feel meaningful. If it's one tone throughout, then it feels as though the player's reaction can only fall within a limited emotional range. They'll stop seeking answers because the world will feel flat. I'm aiming for the type of unsettled feeling you find in the Moomins, wherein the sense of threat drives the characters to explore and grow (their understanding of their world). I hope the unsettled elements within the game encourage the player to dive deeper into the narrative and, in the process, find more meaning.

Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.

Related items

  • Inmates Review

    Inmates grabs you right off the bat and starts yelling in your face: you are screaming and afraid, but at the end of it all, you’ll probably tell your friends that they need to come over and get yelled at, too. Besides the game world being well designed, and the sounds making you check over your shoulder every few minutes, the creativity, the puzzles, and the story offer an experience that is to die for.

  • Darkestville Castle Review

    Even those who don’t normally play point-and-clicks can enjoy Darkestville Castle, but only the die-hard devotees of the genre will be able to persevere past the inevitable and frequent bouts of frustration from struggling through convoluted puzzles. An intriguing story and captivating art style round off this puzzling puzzler.

  • Pankapu Review

    Too Kind Studios set out with very specific goals and they hit every wicket. Pankapu is an action-platformer successfully fused with roleplay elements. Sidescrolling collides with thoughtful storytelling, while carefully curated levels coalesce with nonlinear exploration; Pankapu the Dreamkeeper is an artful balance between retro favorites and contemporary design.

  • Taleworlds Explains New Feature Of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

    Every Thursday, TaleWorlds publish a new post tackling things such as why there is no release date for Bannerlod yet, how modding will be or introducing different members of the team and their work. TaleWorlds, developers of the Mount & Blade series, published today a new entry in its Steam dev blog explaining Influence, a new feature of the single-player campaign of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord.

  • Assassin's Creed: Origins

    Ancient Egypt, a land of majesty and intrigue, is disappearing in a ruthless fight for power. Unveil dark secrets and forgotten myths as you go back to the one founding moment: The Origins of the Assassin’s Brotherhood.

  • The Journey Down: Chapter Three Review

    The Journey Down: Chapter Three is the sort of title that leaves me saddened by its completion, but eager to see what the crew at SkyGoblin will do next. The Journey Down feels like a love letter to the genre, and its legacy – there are elements of LucasArts, Sierra On-Line, and other industry giants present here. But it manages to stand alone as a memorable trilogy that only improved with each new chapter. It is a worthy addition to any puzzle-loving, soundtrack-blasting, humor-embracing point-&-click fan's library, and Chapter Three is a conclusion to the tale that's just what the doctor ordered.

  • HOB Review

    Hob is made for gamers who love to explore, tinker, and problem-solve. Combat is present, but not as a central element. Gameplay consists, by a considerable margin more, of looking for ways to inventively raise, lower, move, open up, or interact with the environment. While, some puzzles are clumsy puzzles, each has a logical solution – though it reaching this point might require a temporal investment.

  • Last Day of June Review

    Last Day of June is unique and story-driven, suited for those who appreciate a slower-paced journey. The reward is an artful experience that stands a chance of resonating with your heart.

More in this category: Lust For Darkness Preview »

Latest Indie Reviews

The Indie Scene, Under Review.

Latest on Twitch

Watch it live on twitch.tv/opnoobsonline.

Latest Shows

Children of the …

The OPN interview with Jason Kim, Cardboard Utopia. Children of Zodiarcs is a story-driven, tactical RPG set in the fantasy realm of Lumus; a world divided by affluence and poverty...

Utomik Interview

The OPN interview with Frank Meijer. Utomik is the no-nonsense unlimited play gaming subscription that offers a growing library of games from over 20 leading publishers. Gamers can...

Out Soon

PC Gaming Incoming

Solace Crafting …

Solace Crafting may have its glitches, but it is still in the very early stages and has incredible amounts of promise already. It makes a place for itself in the genre, giving a mi...

Project Nimbus R…

Project Nimbus has a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but that’s only because the climax revealed in Early Access set the bar so high, both in terms of gameplay and story. Those awai...

The Norwood Suit…

The experience of The Norwood Suite is incredibly unique, each design choice, be it of the musical or visual arts, very much reflects Cosmo D's style. The world in which you play f...

The Walking Vege…

With many weapons, unlocks, and even co-op play,  The Walking Vegetables has a high chance you will replay it over, and over... and over. It’s a great game all-around, especially i...