It started as an experiment – a fun “toy” for a tiny group of developers. But as the intimate eight-person team at Ubisoft Reflections continued to fiddle with their creation, they started to see a unique charm and personality blossoming. It drew them in. So they kept tweaking and they kept building until they had a game – one inspired by the likes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the adorable animated film Wall-E.
The tiny team initially launched the game internally for the staff of Ubisoft to enjoy. From there, it spread like wildfire until it reached the desktops of top management, who jumped on board with the decision to officially launch this experimental project. What started as an idea for a new tool exploring procedural animation, grew into something much bigger – something with a story to tell.
Welcome to Grow Home, a new game coming to PC on February 4.
Journey to the Stars
Grow Home is the story of BUD, a Botanical Utility Droid sent on a mission across the galaxy to seek out a new species of flora to help oxygenate his home world. He finds the perfect specimen in the Star Plant. “We think of the Star Plant like a giant beanstalk,” says Producer Pete Young. “BUD’s mission is to grow it to maturity and harvest the seeds it produces. The plant ends up being a towering two-kilometer-high bridge from the ground to his space ship.”
Taking control of BUD, you’ll help the plant grow as you climb your way to the top. Along the way you’ll find yourself traveling through a series of floating islands and crafting your own playground in the sky. As you ride branching vines through the air, you’ll be shaping your own unique world, exploring new locations, and encountering strange plants and animals.
“It’s a living thing, so growing and steering it is quite a wild ride, but the shape it takes is all up to you,” Young explains.
How’s It Work?
Grow Home is best experienced using a game pad, which will give you the deepest connection to the gameplay mechanics. “We’ve mapped the hand controls to the left and right triggers and this gives a very physical connection to the grabbing and the climbing,” says Young. “It really elevates the experience.”
Using BUD’s hands, you’ll push, pull, and grab onto objects, as well as climb the massive Star Plant that will become your path through the sky. As you climb higher and higher, you’ll encounter offshoot branches that you can ride to various floating islands scattered throughout the sky. This entire process is physics-based and procedurally animated, so everything you do and see is able to adapt to any part of the environment. “We’ve created such an organic and irregular world that traditional animation would have a very hard time coping,” Young tells us.
Ubisoft has experimented with procedural animation before, but never with this degree of freedom of movement. Games like Trials are physics-based and procedurally animated, but the gameplay unfolds on tracks and courses instead of in a fully open 3D world. You can’t roam freely. “Because BUD doesn’t have predefined animations and can travel in this 3D space, we are able to experience a much broader range of action,” Young explains.
Each of BUD’s hands is controlled individually, and he can grab onto literally anything. “This brings a unique feel to how you interact with the world, especially the climbing which can be very physical and perilous – you get a real sense of vertigo and you’re acutely aware of the long drop below you.”
Of course, as you make your way toward the sky, you may want a little help getting around faster (and safer). That’s where tools like the teleportation pads and flower parachutes come in. Locate teleportation pads in the world and activate them to quickly move around the world. As you climb to more dangerous heights, falling becomes a more frightening possibility. With the flower parachute, you can slow your descent and use the extra time to latch onto the Star Plant or one of the floating islands and stop yourself from splattering all over the ground far below you. You can also jump on giant leaves that are spread around the Star Plant and its branches, and propel yourself much higher into the air than a standard jump.
Made With Love
With the creation of games like Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War, teams within Ubisoft are being given more freedom to try new things and pursue passion projects. Though it’s on an even smaller scale than either of those games, Grow Home is the latest example of this attitude.
“We wanted to challenge how we make games at Ubisoft Reflections,” says Young. “We’ve got a track record of developing massive AAA games and a strong technical heritage, but we’re also a lot more than that.” Grow Home was a chance for the team to experiment on a much smaller scale than the studio is used to, with some challenging restraints.
The team itself is composed of developers with a mix of experience, ranging from recent graduates to veterans. “Each member of the team possesses a broad range of skills but the ethos to help out in whatever way we can,” Young tells us proudly. “I think we’ve created a beautiful and intriguing world that invites you to climb that next ledge and see what new surprises you’ll find.”