How Little Briar Rose turned from competition entry into a full-fledged game

11 months ago by Willie Clark

It all started with a contest.

Little Briar Rose -- a stained-glass styled point and click game that released on November 17 for mobile platforms and December 2 on Steam -- was originally made for the 2014 Indie Game Maker Contest. As participants, the team had one month to create a complete game.

Developed by Italy's two-person Elf Games Works, Little Briar Rose is the studio's debut title.  Piero Dotti (game design and development) and Fabiola Allegrone (game design and graphics) have been making games with RPG Maker since their teen days, a program they used again for the initial version of Little Briar Rose. The point-and-click title ended up taking third place in the non-RPG category of the IGMC.

Given the month crunch time, the pair decided to take a similar approach to work they had done in the past and dove into a fairy tale for inspiration. Little Briar Rose pulls from the Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Dotti explained how the Grimm tale differs from the contemporary Disney Sleeping Beauty version there's no hero. The curse simply runs out of time. It doesn't end because of a prince. And there's no big battle, either. 

Instead, many princes attempted to stop the curse, only to fail in the trying. So it is as well if you die in Little Briar Rose: each time players start over as a new prince. Tossing aside the "epicness" of Disney's tale, they brought the tone in line with the Grimm version and threw in a dash of a "comic mood," Allegrone says.

Instead of dragons or battling -- "The story is not serious," Dotti says --  Little Briar Rose tasks players with attending to the needs of the in-game tribes. That's not to say that there aren't some references to the house that Mickey built: The princess is indeed named Aurora and one of the princes is a very similarly dressed Phillip.

"The reference we put inside was more like a play for us, a game for us," Allegrone says. "Though, when you work on a game the best thing you can do is enjoy it ... we hope this brings some fun to the game in the end, but we didn't really make a big plan about it."

The retail version of Little Briar Rose released last winter improved upon the pair's initial idea and contest entry: The game is longer, and has improved art. They also fleshed out the story, and additional minigames were added in, as well.

It did however retain the same unique stained-glass-art style, a style that had its roots in not Sleeping Beauty, but another Disney classic. During the brainstorming process, the team came to the stained-glass intro of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. They  were trying "to find a style that would fit that idea of a fairy tale," Allegrone says, and ended up mixing together Beauty and the Beast with other styles including gothic stained glass, Art Nouveau, comics, and The Legend of Zelda.

Although this glass-themed art style may be pretty to look at, there was a possible pitfall Allergone and Dotti had to watch out for: In the same way that looking at actual stained glass for too long can cause eye confusion, the game's art style could also have made the game hard to look at. It took the developers many attempts to hone in on a final style that was vibrant, but not taxing on players.

When creating this art, Allegronestarts off with an initial sketch. Then, she'll clean up the sketch, adding in black lines. It's only after that that she divides each area into the fragmented segments that resemble stained glass.

"The general rule for these segmentation is to be coherent with the element structure," Allegrone said in a later email to Zam. "For example, an arm would be divided on the wrist and the elbow, so that you can still recognize it as an arm even if divided."

Adding in the colors was the fastest part of the process, and Allegrone used flat color, while also changing hues for bigger areas. Then she'd add light and shadow sources, and a marble texture to finish the aesthetic. Most maps took Allegrone a day to complete in such fashion.

"All of this gives the magic," Allegrone says. "It's not really that hard."

And since its release, Little Briar Rose has continued to grow. The developers released two game mods through Steam Workshop. By using this channel, they can release more experimental and optional game changes through sanctioned mods, without interfering with the vanilla game. For winter, they gave Little Briar Rose a Christmas mod, which added snow, winter-themed maps, and some NPC differences, and they also released Mighty Princess --  a gender swap mod that has the princess take the role of hero and save the sleeping prince -- as well.