Spotlight: Pixelman

Spotlight: Pixelman

Part of the reason I have spent so much time building, rebuoilding and trying desparately to grow IndieHangover is that I find the stories of indie development so fascinating. Maybe it’s playing of my own desire to follow that path, but the tales, often wracked with hurdles and struggles are inspiring to me, and capture my attention, and I hope I can help spread them.

Enter PIXELMAN:

 

PIXELMAN is a retro styled, action-filled, high-score chaser, where you control the title character in his mission to rescue the citizens of Pixville from the evil Baron Von Pixel and his contraptions.

PIXELMAN isn’t ground-breakingly unique in terms of it’s gameplay or aesthetics, but it’s very well done. The simple controls handle beautifully, the pixel art is detailed, colorful and varied, and the unique twists that are added to the genre are welcome and fun.
However, I think that one of the most interesting things about PIXELMAN is, at least for me, the game’s 7 year history and struggle with Flappy Bird.  This has all been documented in an extensive gamasutra blog post by Matias Kindermann, the game’s developer, and I encourage you to go read the full thing here, but there’s a couple choice bits I want to draw attention to:


PIXELMAN Alpha build 0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.1 – 06/29/2011

Making that proof of concept taught me a lot of things:

1) Drawing assets that actually work in a game and look good is super time-consuming.

2) Real pixel art is way harder than it looks (by real I mean no cheating, no animation programs, no diagonal pixels. Just drawing pixel by pixel). 

3) If there are no obstacles at the top of the screen, the player has no reason to go down. That’s why they made Helicopter Game inside a cave! (This seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time I was absorbed in the whole process rather than focused on the design itself).

4) Game design is a full time job and you can’t just pull ideas out of your butt and make them into a fun game.

5) GAMEMAKER IS NOT MAGICAL. IT’S HARD, AND YOU STILL NEED TO THINK LIKE A PROGRAMMER TO MAKE GOOD USE OF IT.

 

This is all solid advice, and the third point about level design was a total “oh yeah!” moment for me. Matias’ solutions to this problem in the game are not only inventive with this fact in mind, but also make the game much more active and engaging in my opinion.

After talking about the unique problem of Flappy Birds, Matias ends the piece will a list of phenomenal advice for people starting out on their journey into game development:

Don’t aim too high on your first try! Plan a small game and finish it. You’ll have more chances of doing something better in the future.

Don’t trust your instincts on how long it’s going to take you to finish the game. You’re going to be wrong, every single time, even after you’re experienced, you’ll never get it right.

Don’t let “Feature Creep” get to you! Design your game with clear goals, then when you’re about to move from alpha to beta, show the game to people you trust. Get a good feel of what it’s missing and what needs clear improvement.

Make a new list of goals and features the game really needs AND STICK TO IT. If you think of a super cool new feature after that point, add it to a vanity list, and decide later on whether it’s worth it to actually implement it or not. (There’s always NAME-OF-YOUR-GAME #2 in the future).

Don’t set a release date until you’re actually testing what you think is the final build (it’s not going to be the final build, trust me).

Don’t put a release date on your trailer, use “Coming Soon” (or similar) or you’re going to regret it later.

Don’t test your game alone! You’re never going to find all the bugs on your own.

If a YouTuber/Twitch Streamer plays your game during Early Access, watch the whole video. They will play the game in ways you haven’t even imagined. They will get into places you think are impossible to get into, and they will probably break your game. But that’s good! Learn from it, improve your game based on those videos. That doesn’t mean that you need to turn your Tower Defense game into a MMORPG because they said so. Just keep your eyes open and take notes, think long and hard about why they’re not “getting it” or not enjoying the parts you thought everyone would enjoy. Also people can be wrong, so don’t take everything at heart ; )

Check every key request you’ll get! Don’t give away free keys to scammers (read my post about that HERE).

Don’t jump into every bundle you get offered to be a part of.

Don’t sign with the first publisher that contacts you.

Don’t quit your “bills-paying” job unless you’re already making enough money out of your games.

Again, I encourage you to go check out the full blog post on Gamasutra. Give it a read and learn why PIXELMAN is NOT a Flappy Bird Clone, even if at first glance it may look like one.

If you’re interested in playing PIXELMAN, you can find it on Steam.

 

You can check out our Indie Dev Interviews to learn more about the stories behind a whole host of other indie games, as well as the motivations of the people that make them. Comment, like and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you find them interesting and want more!

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Written by
Editor-in-Chief of IndieHangover.com. With a soft spot for epics, sagas and tales of all types, Jacob approaches games as ways to tell stories. He's particularly interested in indie games because of the freedom they have to tell different stories, often in more interesting and innovative ways than Triple A titles.