Until last year, I had been toiling away in obscurity on a game about exploration, mystery, and animals for four years. After announcing Animal Well on PlayStation Blog and then showing it at Day of the Devs during Summer Game Fest, I’m still toiling away, but in somewhat less obscurity. When Dunkey announced that his new indie games publishing label Bigmode would be publishing my passion project, something only my parents and close friends knew about, it went to the top of many people’s most anticipated games lists.
It’s time to give a status update on how the game is coming along and introduce it properly to people who have only recently learned about its existence, including (and especially) those learning about it for the first time while reading this post.
Today I’m excited to share a new look at Animal Well with a trailer showcasing some exciting gameplay moments. In the new video, keep an eye out for the updated hanging vines, which now swing in a satisfying way as you push through them. You can also catch a glimpse of one of the many unconventional ways the game’s items can be used, as well as more examples of how you can interact with the well’s animals. These elements are some of the most defining features of Animal Well, as many surprising animal interactions and item uses are in the game.
An origin story
In a way, it feels like all the scattered interests and hobbies I’ve pursued throughout my life was contributing to the skills necessary to release this game. I enjoyed building things, drawing, and playing piano as a child. I envisioned myself growing up as a cartoonist or a veterinarian. In high school I explored filmmaking and animation while becoming increasingly interested in computers. I later went to film school, but I began learning to code in my spare time. Various interests came and went, but the one that remained consistent through it all was a deep fascination with video games. They were utter magic to me, and I loved them as far back as I can remember. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized all my hobbies were just an attempt to understand some individual aspect of their creation. I was zoomed in on the details, unaware of the larger picture.
Holiday 2006 I had saved up enough money from working at Blockbuster video and managed to find a PS3 during launch. Here is its box posed in various places around my parents’ house
After finding this clarity, I quickly realized that games were incredibly difficult to make alone. I spent the next ten years working at various game studios learning as much as possible about the process. Animal Well is my attempt to fully understand what it takes to make a game from start to finish: from a flashing cursor in a blank IDE window to a complete game. I also made the task extra challenging for myself by forgoing the use of any middleware or off the shelf engines. Not that there’s anything wrong with games that use those tools. It’s just that if I did, I would still have a lot of unanswered questions.
What is an Animal Well anyway?
Animal Well is all about exploring a mysterious world. You hatch from a flower and are left to make sense of your surroundings in whichever way you see fit. The world exists for the benefit of the many creatures that live in it, whether they be dogs, mice, kangaroos, capybaras, or chinchillas. It’s not that you’re not welcome there. It’s just that they were here first. Some of the animals can be quite friendly, and others hostile. None of them are your enemies, and none are your friends. They respond to their environment in ways that make sense to them. You may have to work with them or work your way around them to get where you want to go.
You may discover some items you use can help navigate the world. You may find some hidden passageways and secret paths that open up entirely new areas to explore. There will be puzzles to solve and platforming challenges to overcome along the way, with some not immediately obvious.
How development is going
It’s been great. I’ve made more progress on adding content to the game in the last year than in the previous two before that. My engine and level editor have mainly been complete for a while (though I keep adding features as I think of new things I want it to do), so adding content has been fast. One of my biggest design goals is ensuring that every part of the game is intentional and doesn’t feel tacked on or bloated. As much as I’m adding new content, I keep going back and iterating on the existing content—thinking through what items a player might have when they reach a certain point, which entrances to the room they might come in, and the overall difficulty curve from start to finish. Build, build, build, polish, polish, polish.
I recognize that many players will approach the game with different expectations. Some will want to play through the game and get to the end. This group will want to have a great time in every new room they encounter. Others will want to take their time and explore every nook and cranny. They’ll poke around looking for secrets and delight in looking at all the details hidden in the rooms to see if they can find something that someone else might blithely walk past. And others will obsess about the relationships among certain rooms and what details in one might tell you about another. This group will try to squeeze out every last drop of the game. As I design the game, I’m keeping all three audiences in mind to ensure each one gets out of Animal Well what they’re expecting, and hopefully more.
I’m not quite ready to announce a release date yet but assure everyone I’m hard at work making Animal Well the best it can be. I hope everyone agrees that it’s been worth the wait.