Today’s ‘Casual Monday’ feature is an interview with PixelJam, creators of such classic flash games as Ratmaze, Dinorun and Gamma Bros. Read on to find out their history, their tips for game devs and what’s on their horizon.
Gamer Limit: Can you give us a bit of background about PixelJam, how it came to be and who does what?
Rich: Miles and I were living together in Chicago at a point in time and I was working with Pixel art characters and he was learning a lot about Flash Actionscript programming. I think we had both talked about how cool it would be to make old-school style games ourselves. Our friend Mark DeNardo was also making loads of cool original chip-tune music at the time and thins just fell into place. we tried out hand at making a game and eventually Gamma Bros and Ratmaze were created. we started other projects before that, but never finished them. They were very important learning experiences though and I created a lot of pixel character and objects in the beginning that wind up being in our current games little by little.
GL: Why did you decide to use Pixel Art for your games?
Rich: I/we wanted to make retro-style games. It was pretty obvious from the beginning. and it was also a good choice for flash games in general. I’m sure Miles can talk about that part of it.
Miles: Yeah, pixel art is just really easy to deal with in flash. I renders much faster than vector-based artwork and is easy to edit if necessary. The type of games we want to make just make sense with this style anyway. I can’t imagine it being any other way.
GL: How do you get ideas for your games? and does the feedback you get from your users affect how you will make future games?
Rich: the games ideas just spring up now and then. we write them down and sketch what were seeing. it’s nice that way. I appreciate other peoples comments and suggestions about our games, and it’s interesting to hear what people think we should be making, but really we’re just gonna do what seems right and most exciting to us. we welcome good ideas though and hearing about how something in our games isn’t working so well or is frustrating. I’d like our games to not add to people’s frustration in their lives, if anything. I’m more in it for the spreading of joy and good times.
GL: Each game is becoming increasingly impressive , presumably the development time required is vastly increasing as well, is it problematic trying to keep the games within a feasible scope?
Miles: The dev time for the games is actually going down, as we are getting more and more efficient at what we do. We are also starting to hire help, which is huge considering it was just rich and I for years. Not we can focus more on the game design and quality rather than all the nuts and bolts.
Rich: Well, we are doing our best to cut down development times, and it also depends on the game scope too. the games we release will vary in size and complexity, but for now we’re aiming to do a number of shorter games with faster development times, and also we’ve begun working on Gamma Bros 2, which we will let take as long as it needs. It will probably be our most ambitious project so far, so we think maybe a year might be needed for it, but we’ll be working on smaller games at the same time. We’ve also got some more people helping now (programmers, another pixel artist) so we’ll be able to make much faster progress on games.
GL: Do you have any plans to release your games for WiiWare, PSN or on the XBLA?
Rich: No plans but we are very open to it. we are still essentially 2 people that make up Pixeljam, and Mark DeNardo who is a contractor and has been with us since the beginning, and we have few more now to help keep things moving forward, but we haven’t had the time or resources to look into any console downloads yet. maybe someone will help us out with that. I’d definitely like to see Gamma Bros 2 on one of the consoles as a download, since we can actually make a multiplayer version that can handle the speed of the game for multiple players. that would be great. who knows though.
GL: Dinorun was your first game to have online multiplayer featured, is this going to be a trend featured in your following games?
Rich: I’d like it to be that way, multiplayer in most of our games, but it’s not up to me really. it’s up to what kind of time and resources we have, and it also depends on the game. some games would work well and some games wouldn’t. Hopefully we will have more multiplayer games in the future.
Miles: I think we will, but it will really depend on the project. Some games just make sense for multiplayer.
GL: Back in 2006 it was posted in the PixelJam blog “Gamma Bros 2 and 3 are really going to be awesome.”, are these games still in development, if so do you have a planned release date?
Rich: no planned release dates. we’ve been working on Gamma Bros 2 though. We’ve got lots of ideas, and we keep scaling it back and back while focusing more attention on the richness of the experience. we’ve started making graphics for it too. for this one, I’m going to be handling all the characters & objects & animations, while another really great pixel artist we’ve started to work with will be producing the environments. I’ll be involved in that as well, but more in terms of directing. We’re still working out the style for the environments now. it’s a tricky balance between the minimal simplicity of the GB universe and making it look really nice. we’re getting closer though.
GL: Can you give us any information on your next game?
Rich: We just finished one for Adult Swim called Pizza City, and it ought to be on adultswim.com in early May [editor: note, it's up now]. They are even making a tv commercial for it that will run on Adult Swim between their shows! that will be cool to see.
We’ve also pitched another series of smaller games to Adult Swim that it seems like they are into, so we’ll be working on those with a few different people. And for internal games, aside for Gamma Bros 2, the rest are somewhat secret.
Miles : we are also starting to branch out into non-pixel based games, but under a different name…
GL: Finally for developers wanting to get into the Flash Game Development scene do you have any tips or advice?
Rich: You mean independent flash programmers and artists? I’d recommend starting with simple ideas, do prototypes of game play with placeholder graphics before getting to detailed to make sure the game is fun at its core, keep the scope of the project down, be willing to scrap it and move on/try again if that seems like the right choice & be glad you learned from experience. there’s always learning going on. Also, if it’s more than one person, I’d recommend really learning to communicate well with the other person/people. Being honest and clear about how things are going, how people are feeling, etc will help avoid a lot of potential problems and ruined relationships. Also, it’s really a good idea to not expect what you are working on to make you any money. Doing it for the sake of doing it, and because you love it is a great way to go about it. People might make money, but if that becomes the primary focus, I don’t know how to advise anyone with that. We never would have kept making games if we thought we needed to be making money from our first games. We gave it all away, pretty much, knowing we needed to build up a fan base first. It took us about 4 and a half years to finally start being able to support ourselves with this.
Miles: I think rich summed it up. Start small, stay realistic, know and be true to yourself. I dont think we could give any better advice than that.
GL: Thank you for the interview.
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