One of the most popular talks of last year's GDC was called The Failure Workshop, a panel which delved into the pitfalls indie developers find themselves in when things don't quite go according to plan. The panel returned this year with a new collection of failures from known indie devs Klei Entertainment, Enemy Airship, Colin Northway and SuperGiant Games. While there were plenty of missteps discussed, SuperGiant's focus on a major feature that never made it into Bastion was perhaps the most fascinating, given that we can all now see hints of the feature in the final product.
Amir Rao, the design lead on Bastion, revealed that the game originally had a pretty significant herbology feature.
"When you think about what Bastion has, it has a couple main features. A reactive narrator ... a rich, hand-painted, 2D art style and this finesse-based combat. On top of that it was going to have an expansive, rich gardening feature," said Rao.
In the final version of the game, players can purchase weapon and ability upgrades in stores located around the Bastion. Originally those upgrades were all unlocked through planting.
"We wanted to take that [plantlng] aesthetic in other games like Harvest Moon and Viva Piñata and apply it to an action RPG. We had very limited success with that," said Rao.
The original intent was for players to go out into the world and discover seeds that they would then bring back into the Bastion. Those seeds would be planted, and the number of planters you had determined how many seeds you could be growing at any one time.
In order to make the plants grow, players had to spend cores, which acted like fertilizer. Eventually they'd have a fully grown plant which would bear fruit. Upon picking the fruit, players would have to make a binary upgrade choice (like more damage or more range for a weapon).
The feature was engrained into the development of Bastion for a year and was only removed shortly before the game's first debut at PAX in 2010. Before that happened, though, the team at SuperGiant recorded some narrator dialog to introduce the concept of planting, which Rao played for the audience. It was one of the few improvised recording sessions the game had.
So why did planting get the axe? Apparently it was just a matter of keeping things simple.
"We were trying to make this one thing be anything," said Rao. "You know what people understand a lot better than planting? A menu."
Instead of a complex, abstract planting system, SuperGiant just added menus to all of the houses on The Bastion which held all the upgrades. It was easier for players to understand than herbology, and ended up having the exact same functionality.
Not to say that SuperGiant isn't going to fall into the same pitfall in the future. For their next game, Rao mentioned he's been thinking about the concepts behind baking.