Hi there. My name is Mohammad Dabiri (@SizzlinMo) and I am a coder on I am Bread, or as my son prefers to call it The Bread is Alive. And boy has this game taken on a life of its own.
As I write these words I bear witness to the awe inspiring spectacle of Murillo “Shaddap” Titon-de-Souza as he calmly and meticulously attempts to dock a slice of bread with a toaster in outer space.
How did we get here I ask myself?
This wasn’t in the pitch document. Come to think of it there was no pitch document. What we had was Loaf Toast, a working albeit primitive game made in 48 hours by two guys fuelled by insomnia and a burning question – How would bread move? oh and also pizza, there was probably pizza involved.
Those 48 hours are the game jam and for just about every game we make here at Bossa Studios they are either the fleeting moment of existence for what could have been or the seedlings and cornerstones of inspiration for an epic journey yet to come. They are our moment of truth.
It is ironic then that they are also a huge lie.
On the face of it it’s easy to look at the game jam game and be tempted to say “hey, you guys did this in a couple of days? Just think what you could do with a couple of weeks of dev time. That should be enough time for a finished game right?” Although at the end of a game jam you will end up with games that resemble a close to finished product this could not be further from the truth. The sheer nature of the beast makes cutting corners and hacking things together a necessity. And then we come to design. As with all disciplines of design they exist to act as a tool in solving a problem. In a game jam the problem is simple and lean. Follow the rabbit hole and see where it takes you. Not so much of a problem as an expedition I think you might agree. So design during a jam, at least in my experience, happens at the micro level; where mechanics live and controls are tweaked to some degree of haphazard satisfaction.
A shippable product however has very different set of problems to solve. We need to think carefully about players motivations and attention, pacing, play time, replay value, art style, audio and much more. It’s tempting to try and solve these problems in an idealised hypothetical design. But for a game so damn weird it can be incredibly difficult to make judgement calls on features a long way down the line before you’ve figured out what the meat of the game is. Before it’s character has taken shape.
So we set about getting to know the little fella. As a game jam game Loaf Toast let you control a slice of bread as it meandered awkwardly around a rather large apartment. Tom and Luke who had worked on LoafToast were invested in another major project so at this point a prototype team consisting of myself, Andy, Charles and Iain and Vince took up the project. We quickly set about brainstorming and building around Loaf Toast being careful to maintain what was great about it. Not building towards a final product but with a tighter focus – get the game into people’s hands as quickly as possible. The deadline – two weeks. It was quite clear given the limited time we were given that we would not be able to add more levels at this stage. The objective of the game therefore changed from Become Toast to the more abstract Become Delicious. We also worked on a bunch of stuff like adding win/lose conditions to the game, refining the controls, a new more fun-packed apartment with working props, adding UI and audio and generally creating a vertical slice of a level in the game.
The result was the very first incarnation of I am Bread.
Not a bad start. A million or so Youtube views in the first few days told us the project was going in the right direction. At this point we were faced with a big decision. Release the prototype we were working on or keep the momentum we had and keep growing the game into a full product. We decided that getting the game into players hands was still a high priority so we starting prepping to release the game on Steam Early Access. It also meant that we had to go back to the drawing board in terms of scope. Now we did have time to do more levels and the game started taking shape.
So began the most hectic phase in the projects lifetime – this was I am Bread’s puberty. In a short space of time the game took on an entirely new form, due in large part to the return of Luke, the designer on LoafToast to the project. The objective of the game changed back to Become Toast and before we knew it the story elements started to take shape. The story helped form the backbone for the levels and gave the game a much needed sense of structure. These levels were quite different from the playful and open-ended exploration-based levels we had been working on previously – these buggers were brutal. I’ve got to be honest. Not everyone was sure this would work. Whether players would be so infuriated that they would give up or if the constant failure to even climb a simple kitchen counter would only help fuel the desire to acquire that golden coat of toast even more.
Now that our bread was all grown up and out in the wild we took a step back and watched as players banged their heads and controllers against the wall in agony in the pursuit of becoming toast. Watching someone play I am Bread is an experience in and of itself. The countless Lets Play and Youtube videos of the game are testament to that. And it’s all rather gruelling viewing… until they actually manage to become toast. Seeing the sheer euphoria on players faces finally told us that the risk was worth it. That this crazy idea actually does work and that Luke “Not a Sadist” Williams is actually not a complete sadist.
But that wasn’t the end. We had decided early on that we would be adding more to the game. Feedback from players had told us that new bread types were in great demand. There are a lot of bread types to choose from and it doesn’t make sense to toast a lot of them so they weren’t a good fit for the story levels. Undeterred we began to talk about adding game modes that would allow each bread type to stand out and become its own character. You may be familiar with a few of them but Zero-G mode is a new one (In case you were wondering the G does not stand for Gluten). It came about after a bug some people experienced in the initial Early Access release of the game which caused gravity to be disabled and the bread, as well as the rest of the level to begin to float around. This was mesmerizing to watch and ever since we have wanted to find a way to introduce it to the game proper. The mode is still in development and we are exploring different options for how it should play and control. But it’s refreshing to see such a major change in direction this late in the project.
There is one element I really want to mention in all of this and it’s something that is easy to overlook when looking at a game from the outside. Someone actually let us make this insane thing. I am Bread would not be possible if not for the trust and faith put into us, the developers, by senior staff at the company. Vince in particular, Bossa’s COO, let us work in a free-form way which was in complete contrast with the previous projects we worked on. This is probably the greatest aspect of working at Bossa for me. There is no dogma, no fixed process that is adhered to regardless of the game and the people making it. Our games are a reflection of the people who make them. And if it wasn’t for this fact and the incredibly hard work of everyone at Bossa Studios I don’t think we could have pulled it off.
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