Animal Well's solo dev casually reveals that the breakout metroidvania left 'at least twice as many rooms that are in the game' on the cutting room floor

Animal Well
(Image credit: Bigmode)

Goodness, hasn't Animal Well done… well? Launching to almost universal acclaim, the breakout metroidvania looks like it's teed itself up to become the next Hollow Knight. The game was funded by Bigmode, an outfit created by popular YouTuber Dunkey to, quote, "publish some of the very best games out there". 

At the time there was plenty of cynicism, but I'll be damned—he really did simply publish a game that's good, not bad.  

The game's success, though, is primarily down to Animal Well's maestro of a solo dev Billy Basso who made the dang thing. As if making Animal Well wasn't impressive enough, he also revealed in an interview with our friends over at Edge magazine (as part of their most recent issue) that he had a lot of rooms during the design phase that didn't make it down the well.

"I think designing a Metroidvania is a lot harder than designing, say, a linear platformer where you can load the stages," Basso tells Edge. "Just putting the new rooms into the map is the first step, and then it needs to go through probably five or six iterations of just playing through it and trying it … I will come up with a new item that has implications for the whole map, and I’ll have to do a whole pass through everything."

Building out these rooms is a "super-iterative" process, Basso explains, before nonchalantly revealing (with the same air of a prodigy author casually pointing to a bin full of manuscripts) that he'd "designed at least twice as many rooms that are in the game. The main map is like 16 by 16—256. So I would say I probably designed over 500 rooms while making this game that have either been cut or altered beyond recognition."

Granted, it's probably a mark of Basso's skill as a developer that he knew what needed to go—not every idea is a good one, and there are sometimes even good ideas that just don't work as part of the whole—but that's still an impressive amount of darlings to kill. 

It's something even more experienced, larger teams understand well—like Larian Studios, for example, who scrapped a whole mechanic where you'd fight your way out of the fugue plane after every death just because it wasn't quite clicking. If it ain't working, don't fix it: just get rid.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.