Pixel Escape started life at LeedsHack, going from idea to playable game in 24 hours. The game combines running, jumping and platform-drawing with a retro aesthetic that evokes the likes of Bit.Trip Runner and Kirby’s Canvas Curse.
It’s a challenging experience, but crucially has that ‘one more go’ factor that should ensure it finds a devoted audience. We spoke to Pixel Escape’s creators, Eugene Griskov and Jonny Blackburn, about the process of developing a 24 hour hack into a full game.
Pixel Escape started life at LeedsHack. Was this the first game hack you have been to? And how did you start working together?
This was the first game jam that we attended together as a team. We’re both developers at a company called Dubit, where we make virtual worlds for children, so it was an exciting change to collaborate on something different and that we could call ours.
How does the hack format help spark ideas for a game?
The hack format is amazing for generating ideas and it’s always astonishing to see how much can be accomplished in such a short time frame. Because you are under such a great time constraint you have to distil your ideas until they are simple enough to make in 24 hours. This usually means taking away all the parts of a game that distract you from the core mechanic, leaving you with this raw, uncluttered and unpolished demo. But straight away you’ll be able to see whether the game has potential.
At what point did you decide to develop Pixel Escape further, and what prompted the decision?
After recovering from the game jam we showed it to friends and family and all the feedback was very positive – everyone loved the game, even though it was not finished and very buggy. After some extra brainstorming and play testing, we had a good enough idea of what needed to be done to get it to a polished state, at the time we thought it would only take about a month to complete (how wrong we were). Pixel Escape felt like the perfect game to start our indie careers.
How do you divide your development responsibilities, do you have particular areas or is it more collaborative?
Jonny found a hidden talent for pixel art at this game jam. Believe it or not Pixel Escape is his first attempt at doing pixel art. He also designed all the levels, so if you keep dying, blame him! Eugene has a background in software development, so he did most of the programming. The rest we try to do together; brainstorming new ideas, UI design, PR and the million other little things that go into game development. That list is a lot longer than either of us could have imagined. We also have to mention Pontus Andersson (@Pice8bit), he was awesome enough to let us use his music.
Pixel Escape is consciously retro, were there any particular inspirations in either art style or game play?
We both love retro games and Pixel Escape was our chance to try bring back some nostalgia of the ‘good old days’. Everything we love: games, movies, cartoons has an influence on our work. Some of the inspirations for Pixel Escape are obvious like Super Meat Boy, which is a great game with a perfect difficulty curve and style. But the list a lot longer than most people think, to name a few; Adventure Time, Sonic, Rayman: Origins, Bit.Trip Runner, Darwinia, Canabalt, and I Wanna Be The Guy. There are more subtle influences and some that are so subtle that even we have probably missed them.
The combination of running, jumping and drawing gives the player a lot to think about; how do you approach balancing challenging game-play with fun?
We think that challenging game-play can be fun for both casual and hardcore games, if it’s been executed correctly. You have to minimise annoyances caused by bad level design, clunky controls or an unresponsive UI. For instance we knew that players were going to die over and over, so we didn’t add any big death cut scenes or annoying menus. We had lots of great example to learn from, but it was still a challenge to get it just right. The easiest and possibly the best way to try balance to game-play is to get a friend to have a go and watch them play it.
You showed Pixel Escape at the eToo games event. How did that come about and what did you learn from the response?
eToo was an incredible experience, it’s still hard to believe that we were part of it. We heard about it through Twitter (where else?), fired off an email and a few days later they emailed back inviting us down. We rushed to get a mobile version ready, make a poster, business cards, arrange travel, getting a coach at 2am to London and then 1am the next day back is just as fun as it sounds. But we can’t complain at how tired we were when the organisers managed to put the whole thing together in 3 weeks and it was still amazing.
We’ll definitely be going back next time, either showcasing or just to see other people’s games. To say we learned a lot from eToo would be an understatement, the amount of information you get from watching people play your game is invaluable. Especially when those people haven’t played or even seen your game before. It was also great to talk to other indie developers and share the magic of making games, views on the industry and tips.
What is your release plan for the game?
It’s actually almost finished, right now we’re about to start looking for sponsors to publish the browser version (*cough* it’ll be free *cough*) and working on the mobile versions, both iOS and Android. Follow us on twitter (@pixelescape) to keep up to date withour progress and find out when the game is released.
You can now play Pixel Escape on browser here.