The first pitch for Gruntz was put together by a talented designer and good friend of mine named Nick Newhard. Nick was also the lead designer and programmer on the original Blood.
He said, “What if we had these cute gooey-like characters who could go on races and could use items and toys to help out during the race?”
When pre-production actually began, Nick was busy working on other projects. Therefore, it was just me doing all the design and all the programming for Gruntz. Since I’ve always been a big fan of puzzle games, I first started playing around with a Warcraft 2 overhead-style presentation. You could click the Gruntz and order them to move to a location. You could also use the mouse to scroll the screen in any direction.
Then, I added switches and puzzles. The goal was to find a special Warp Stone piece hidden on each level and reach the exit with it. There were enemies you could battle if you had a better weapon than they did. If not, you could give them a toy which would distract them allowing you to sneak past.
The game was coming together pretty well, and people around the office were really enjoying it!
Since the game was Gruntz, of course we had to call the items Toolz and Toyz. This led me down a dark path where everything plural in the game had to end in Z. After writing the entire 30+ page instruction manual in this fashion, plural words ending in S looked incorrect to me. It took monthz of behavioral therapy to stop myself from almost sending silly looking sentencez and phrasez in my e-mailz.
The core gameplay was looking and feeling good. So I added some secret collectibles and a system to create more Gruntz by using Goo Puddlez from dead Gruntz – baking them in Grunt Ovenz. Then came Megaphonez which offered some predictability over what Toolz and Toyz you would get next.
My original idea was that Gruntz would look cute but would have huge attitudes (tudez?) This was inspired by South Park, and I wanted the Gruntz to have some laugh-out-loud voice lines.
I wrote every line of dialogue in the game, pulling heavily from pop culture references at the time. I ran the lines by other folks at Monolith for feedback. Normally they would say, “Yeah, it’s just not that funny, man.” This either sent me back to the drawing board or helped me realize certain people wouldn’t know funny even if it hit them in the face. (I’m looking at the guy who thought “Gruntzketball” wasn’t funny —- yeah, ok maybe he was right)
Puzzle games like Gruntz are made or broken in their level design. Fortunately I had an amazingly talented level designer named Brennon Reid who definitely “got it” and was a joy to work with.
While balancing the difficulty and progression of the single player campaign, we also wanted to have a multiplayer mode. We tried a few things, and the version that ended up feeling the best was a 2-4 player battle royale. You could eliminate other players by infiltrating their fortz with a single Grunt. The other players, of course, would try to prevent this by building up defensez.
So the game was done and ready to go with a Teen ESRB rating due to the humor. However, our marketer felt strongly we should change it to E for everyone and go family-friendly. This would require us to remove all racy or potentially offensive humor.
So first I tried putting BLEEPs in place of all the offensive words, but this wasn’t enough so I eventually pulled every offensive line from the game… which this leads me to something almost nobody knows about Gruntz: The original lines (and their bleep-counterparts) still exist.
I set the game up so that if a file containing additional voice lines should ever be added to the Gruntz folder, the game would add them to the pool of lines that could play for each action. My intent was to eventually offer this as a free download for players who wanted an “aged-up experience”, but the file was never released. And I may or may not still have this file today in my archivez. 😉
Gruntz was released in 1999 and received an 8.6 Metacritic user score. The game was not marketed widely in the USA, but it was published by Micriods in Europe and performed extremely well there, including making the cover a popular French gaming magazine PC Team where the game was given a 96 out of 100 rating.
One last unique thing about Gruntz is that we released a level editor with the game. Because of this, there is a cult of several hundred players who are still playing the game and are still creating new levels for it even now, over 20 years later! Here’s a link to the largest Gruntz forum that is still active today.
Here’s what I did on Claw.