Posted by Rob Signorelli on March 24, 2024

The Isle of Misfit Ideas

Grumble Games News

Later this week, I’ll press the “Publish” button - and that will officially launch Spell Defense and Grumble Games. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the dozens of people playing through my first foray into indie video game development. While there’s no shortage of articles I could write about everything I put in the game - this article focuses more on the things that I didn’t.

Here are a few ideas that didn’t make the cut, and a little insight into why Spell Defense is they way it is. Some of these seemed like good ideas at the time, but as development marched on, they felt out of place. Some, I think, are still good ideas, but at some point you have to stop tinkering and start releasing. Others are just terrible ideas, and I’m ashamed I entertained them in the first place!

Experience and Level-Ups

As you progress through Spell Defense’s campaign, you’ll unlock new characters that can help your wizard in battle. Originally, I had planned to add an experience system so that your party members could gain levels. After all… it’s a fantasy setting with wizards. You have to have leveling up, right? I checked the by-laws and it turns out that it’s actually okay to leave that out. As development moved forward, I felt like it wasn’t going to add anything terribly interesting to the game. It was just a number you could watch go up, so it never saw the light of day even though I’d built level management into the original scaffolding of the unit code.

Activated Abilities For Heroes

Every hero that joins your party comes with a passive ability that will aid you in your quest. In an early build of the game, however, they had abilities you’d have to explicitly activate. For instance, Archissa’s ability was to throw her daggers at all enemies on the screen. As I play-tested, it just seemed like too much. There’s already a mental lift trying to split your attention between your characters, your spells, and finding words. It was just one more thing to manage, and took away from the fun. I still wanted there to be a meaningful difference between the characters besides ranged vs melee, so passive abilities were born.

A Much More Complicated Story

If you’ve played the game, you’ll notice that before each level there is a short paragraph giving you the next snippet of story or character interaction. The tone is fairly light and filled with plenty of dad-level humor. It was not always so. My first draft was much darker and a whole lot longer. Each level had two or three paragraphs of exposition; an allegory about an evil that was destroying libraries and sources of knowledge in the realm. And as a result, people were turning into mindless, hateful zombies.

It was… awful.

Aside from the total lack of quality storytelling, it was just too long. Spell Defense is a mobile game that will log a significant number of player-hours on the toilet. Nobody is playing this game for a story to hold them over until George R. R. Martin drops his next novel. So… I dropped the dark, lengthy exposition and went for shorter bursts of quips and fart-jokes with a more basic story to drive the player from location to location.

Level Hazards

During some early play-testing, I noticed that I didn’t have to do much with the units even on later levels. As long as I was casting spells and making words, I could breeze through the level. To shake things up on the battlefield, I prototyped some level hazards. The Ruby Forest had a strong wind effect that blew every now and then which would slowly push your units towards the right side of the screen (i.e. towards danger). While I really liked this idea, I was running low on time. I needed to put the keyboard down and release the game. I wanted different hazards for each unique area, and that would have taken a fair bit of time I didn’t have.

For now, larger enemies will randomly strike with a “knockback” effect that bumps your units backwards a few feet and stuns them for two seconds. It’s subtle, but just enough that you can’t get too comfortable during the later levels of the game. I still like this idea and perhaps a future update can include these.

Endless Mode

I’m still somewhat torn on this idea. Once you beat the game, I wanted to unlock a special endless mode that just throws more and more tougher enemies at you. Eventually, you’ll be overrun and you can challenge yourself to see how long you can survive. Just as you’d see in other mobile games, you could see where you stand on a global leaderboard or just try to beat your previous best.

Much like the level hazards, I shelved this idea for now because I wanted to get a finished game into your hands sometime before our Sun turns into a red giant and engulfs the Earth.

Watch An Ad For a Level Boost

You know the deal… want some extra mana or a damage buff during the next level? Watch a 30 second ad, and you’ll gain superpowers to make the next level easier to beat. I’m honestly ashamed I even considered this. I wrote the code to pop up the dialog to confirm whether you wanted to watch the ad or not and then immediately deleted it all.

I must just be one of those F#@%! Idiots the former Unity CEO was talking about. When you play a Grumble game, I want you to be playing the game… not watching ads. Games are supposed to be fun, and ads are the antithesis of fun. That’s why the only monetization in the game is sets of optional spells. If you enjoy the otherwise completely free game, throw me a few dollars and unlock a bit more fun.

For those of you that actually play the game, hopefully you still find hours of entertainment spelling words and blasting monsters with the countless ideas that actually made the cut. Perhaps knowing what I left out of the game makes you appreciate what I left in a bit more, and if not… it’s the internet… I’m sure you’ll let me know what choices you disagree with ;)