The iPhone has no lack of crappy, derivative games. Making button mashers or autorunning games is easy because those are nice, established formulas. Coloring inside the lines is commonplace because it works. Wading through the crap is definitely the sucky part of doing these App Attacks.

Then I found Grimm.

Fron the moment the app starts, everything is different. The world is drawn in lines and shades of black with select objects highlighted with bright colors. The Victorian setting and Winterbotton-esque style are undeniably cool. The game is set in a surreal reflection of England and does a great job of being creepy as hell. Puzzle solving and combat are also based on firing the baby from the carriage, which is... odd.

As you can gather, the atmosphere of Grimm is fantastic. There's not much plot to grace the world (more on that below), but the minimalist story narrates in rhyming couplets the story of a mother who leaves her baby behind at a train station. From there you control the carriage as it journeys to find Mother and escape the ominous Mr. Grimm.

The journey is a bizarre one. I awakened gods, escaped dream worlds, killed "false mother," fought a pack of homicidal balloons, and trekked over countless mountains of skulls. Imagery like this simultaneously repulses and entrances you. Before accidently wiping out my iPod's data, I had over 70 screenshots of the surreal world of Grimm.

Unfortunately that world is also the biggest offender. Level design tends to be on the side of boring and derivative. Understand that when you're asked to launch the baby to pull down a platform, you'll do it ad nauseum for the rest of the game. Grimm unfortunately abuses its mechanics to no end. All the enemies are the same, just with different sprites. The worst part is that all the puzzles are superficial at best. You're never asked to apply what you've learned, only regurgitate it. I got frustrated a lot.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. The simple touch and tilt controls are perfect, especially the invaluable brake button. The camera also does a particularly good job of framing your lonely carriage and the obstacles ahead.

After beating the game, I was somewhat conflicted over whether the creepy atmosphere outweighed the stale level design. But after considering the whole package, I'd say Grimm was worth it. The app can get frustrating, but this is one adventure that is simply too unique to be missed.


EDIT: The first major update for Grimm has been released, and it definitely solves a lot of the original problems. The baby can now be fired from the carriage while in motion, and counts as an instant kill. The motion itself and the carriage's animations have all been sped up as well.

The new changes do a good job of making Grimm feel a lot smoother and more fun to play. I felt like a lot of the outer frustrations were eliminated and the excellent controls made even better.

However, this update still does not solve the core problem that Grimm faces: the puzzles are still to shallow. The level design and the puzzles haven't changed one bit, and that rankles quite a bit.


With the magic of the Internet and borderline stalking, I was able to hunt down (and taser) the man behind the madness that is Grimm, David Pietrandrea. He foolishly agreed to answer my inane questions and thus became the first developer to answer for his crimes to App Attack.

What exactly were your duties in Grimm?

I must admit, it's pretty much a one-man operation here at ROBOX Studios.  I partner with freelance programmers, artists, and other development studios on a project-to-project basis.  For Grimm specifically: I independently produced it, created the game art, provided creative direction and design, music / sound effects, and any other odds and ends.  I'm exhausted just writing that.

In general, how was the development of Grimm?

It was a long process, mostly due to being a first time developer for iOS.  In total, it took about a year and a half, with a few stops and starts in there.  I give a lot of credit to Hecticus Software, the development team I brought on for programming duties.  They were extremely valuable as collaborators throughout the process.  The entire experience helped me to streamline my process going forward as I plan my next project and to learn a lot of lessons along the way.

Being a big fan of Sin City, I was immediately drawn to the artwork. What were some of your influences for Grimm's unique style?

My main influence was the work of Edward Gorey.  I've always been a huge fan of his, both of his artistic style and the tone of his writing, which is always dark, surreal, and creepy.  There's a feeling of mystery in all his work, something lurking just under the surface and out of reach of the reader.  Other than that, I tried to inject my own humor and style into it, creating a "classic" feel that hopefully felt literary.

Going back to the art, discuss the process of creating the world of Grimm.

People don't believe me, but all the artwork was created in Flash.  I came from a web game background and am used to illustrating and animating in Flash.  The benefit is that everything is scalable and you can always export at a higher resolution.  This has proved helpful as screen resolutions increase.  I often brought artwork into Photoshop to add subtle effects and details.  As for the overall design, it really evolved as I progressed.  There were probably ten version of Mr. Grimm before I picked the final one, and I added new details to all the graphics until the very final build.  The carriage in the game, surprisingly, is the very first version I ever drew.  It just seemed right the first time.

What kind of vibe were you aiming for?

In a word: weird.  I love games that are little oddities, something that feels different.  When I thought of the idea it seemed so simple, but I didn't think anyone had done something like it before.  The baby and carriage dynamic seemed basic but interesting.  I also love Victorian and Steampunk style and wanted to inject as much of that into it as I could.

It would seem that a lot of the obstacles were repeated. What was the reasoning behind this?

I have to blame this on budget and schedule.  There were a lot more interactions I had planned but it just wasn't feasible after a certain point.  You reach the point when you realize you have to stop or you'll be working on it for the rest of your life!  That said, we're currently wrapping up our first major update.  We've added more speed to the game and fine-tuned many elements.  It should be submitted to the App Store in the next week or so.

The enemies each have unique and really creepy forms, but why are they all defeated in the same way?

Again, I must blame budget and schedule.  I thought of having different modes of attack but it wasn't possible.  On the other hand, I also envisioned a Mario Brothers style of simple enemies with the same "AI" but different appearances.  It was difficult to balance the two styles.

Was there anything you didn't get to put in the game?

Oh, there was plenty of stuff.  I would have loved to make almost every element interactive.  I envisioned dogs and cast running around, extra enemies and puzzles.  My programmers would have mutinied and the game never would have been finished.  I'd be sitting in a basement somewhere pasting images of the game on the wall...

Grimm isn't much for direct exposition. Was there any message you were trying to indirectly hint at?

It was fun for me to imply a story without directly setting it up.  My hope was that the player would sort of fill in the gaps of the story, or come up with their own feeling about it.  In games in particular, I like it when the story is vague and open to interpretation.  It takes on a life of its own.  I had no direct message but wanted a sense of melancholy by the end of the game, a feeling that would linger after you played it.

What has the response to Grimm been like, critically and commercially?

For my first iOS game I couldn't be more pleased by the response.  It was featured by Apple in the New and Noteworthy section and cracked the Top 30 for all Paid Apps.  That was a huge thrill for me.  Many reviewers have been very enthusiastic about it, particularly the style of the game.  I get a good amount of email from people who enjoy it which is extremely flattering and affirming.

Is there any chance we'll see a sequel?

I would love to make a sequel and have plenty of ideas for one!  I think it's a matter of gauging the success of this one and seeing if it justifies a second act.  Mr. Grimm is by no means finished with his mischief.  I've also thought of ways I can play in the same world as Grimm but do something completely different.  Maybe use this as a stylistic starting point to jump into other game styles and concepts.

Off topic, what are your views on piracy as an iOS dev? Any app can be pirated with a jailbreak, even yours.

It almost becomes a badge of honor when your learn that your app has been jailbroken.  Fortunately the jailbreak community is relatively small compared to the iOS community as a whole.  I used to have a more causal attitude about digital piracy, but now that I produce my own work, my views have shifted.  To be honest, for a small studio or artist, piracy could potentially make it impossible to continue working.  It's simple economics.  If you don't make a profit from a game, you quite literally cannot continue making them.  It's unfortunate that smaller creative outfits are sometimes marginalized by this and are unable to produce more work.  I think gamers can miss out on some really innovative new ideas this way.  Thankfully, most people don't pirate apps.

Has piracy been a major issue for you?

I couldn't really say.  I hope not!  But I know a jailbroken version of Grimm is floating around out there.  It originated in Russia, I believe.  I flew over there but couldn't track it down!

I tried to download Grimm on my old first gen iPod Touch and found that it only runs on later models. What was the reason behind excluding those earlier generations?

I have to blame the art for this.  The price of all the detail was the "weight" of the game.  I worked furiously creating all the artwork for it but we were left with a really heavy game due to all that design.  It was unfortunate to limit the devices it could run on but became necessary to unsure the best experience for customers.  It's the nature of the beast as the technology is evolving so rapidly.

Apple: evil corporate giant, or greedy corporate giant?

Alright, I must come clean, I definitely lean towards Apple-fanyboyism.  But I do try to be fair and objective.  No doubt they are a corporate giant but, at the risk of doing PR for them, I would say they've really nurtured a strong environment for developers.  iOS development has been a very positive experience for me and, to date, it's really one of the only major players in mobile downloads that is viable from an economics standpoint.  I'd love to develop for Android soon but, at this time, the majority of Android-users don't pay for downloads.  This is perfectly understandable but doesn't leave much room for development on that platform right now.  This will definitely change, I think.

Why is there so much creepy laughter?

The creepy laughter is coming from Mr. Grimm.  Well, from me actually.  I couldn't find the perfect laugh for him so I ended up recording it myself.  My goal was to make Mr. Grimm a shadowy presence, always around but without a clear motive.  The laugh seemed like a good way to identify him without over-explaining.  I didn't want him to have a voice, per se, or any dialogue.  I wanted the player to question who this bizarre figure was and what he was trying to do.

Do you support the use of babies as weapons? It'll be a pretty big issue come 2012.

This has, surprisingly, become quite a big issue.  While I would never advocate the violent use of a baby, the fact remains there are some situations where only a "weapon baby" will be of assistance.  At the risk of Child Services paying me a visit, I believe babies are perfectly launch-able weapons.

Thanks. Obviously, a few of those aren't serious.

No problem, and thanks again for the great questions!