A Steamy Halloween in Dino Land And A Dash Of Gasoline On Our Slowburn

Hello all! It’s time to talk about Dino Run again, and as usual there is LOTS to talk about…

Dino Run on Steam
After getting the game greenlit over 2 years ago, we FINALLY released Dino Run on STEAM. It’s worth noting that getting accepted to Steam was one of the major factors in our decision to start making updates to it in the first place, so it seems natural that Steamworks was a major focus of our first crowdfunding milestone.


Also we’ll be taking some of the Steam sales and putting them back into the crowdfunding campaign. Is it weird that we’re funding our own campaign? Well, it’s a horrible idea on Kickstarter/Indiegogo but in our case it’s a win/win situation for everyone: we made some extra money on Steam and we want to use it to help the campaign along. The alternative is to keep all the Steam sales for ourselves and not use them to improve the game, and that just seems… wrong. So, there you go.

Halloween Update
After we delivered on Milestone #1 we had some time before Milestone #2 was funded, and a growing feeling that the dinos really wanted some holiday-themed action. So, we used our own funds and made a major update to the game, adding a new HALLOWEEN HELLRUN Challenge and 5 new Multiplayer Zones to race in based on those same challenge levels. We also added some *spooky* new hats to unlock for beating the challenge on various difficulty levels.


This update is currently live on all version of the game (Steam / Humble) so check it out!

A Dash Of Gasoline From Dojo.com
One of the perks of rolling our own crowdfunding campaign is being able to allow other people or organizations to get involved in ways that typical campaigns aren’t built for. There’s a common reaction to high-priced reward tiers in crowdfunding, and it’s usually “yeah right, who’s actually going to do that”. Well, when the reward tier is “we’ll throw you a party at your house”, it’s a natural reaction! But if the reward is an actual partnership that benefits everyone involved in multiple ways, then it’s actually something worth getting involved in…


And so we announce our very first partner, DOJO. Bryce Fitzsimmons, aka the “main dude” at Dojo has been friends with us for a long time, and he even helped us make 2 games you haven’t even seen yet! (But now you have… HERE and HERE). He’s an all-around awesome guy with great ideas, and soon all those folks who just don’t have the bones to throw down for Dino Run DX will be able to play a free version of the game on Dojo.com that’s *quite nice*, if we do say so ourselves…

So, what’s next for us? Well, we’re going to start on Milestone #2 in earnest. It’s going to be the first update to the game that really expands what’s possible with the Dino Run universe, and we can’t wait to see what everyone will do with it. Hold on to your butts…


by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Dino Run Crowdfunding: Updates, Insights And Feeding The Slow Burn

It may seem odd that our first major update for Dino Run is over 2 weeks after the initial launch. In a typical crowdfunding campaign this would probably mean one of two things: either we exceeded our goal by 1000% and are currently experiencing “overwhelming success panic”, or we raised so little that we’ve already given up.

Fortunately for us, neither of these scenarios are the case. We’re hovering around $7,500, which is halfway to our second milestone and still very far away from our final goal. Are we concerned that we’re only 15% of the way there? Not at all… if we can keep delivering content at about the same rate that we can raise money to fund that content, that’s a very ideal situation.


A different way to describe what we’re doing is slow burn crowdfunding. Since we’re not rushed to make a certain goal by a certain time, this allows us more time to promote the game, the campaign, and the platform in general. One big bummer about the failed Dino Run 2 campaign was that we had lots of great insights on how to promote it…. after it was all over. Now we get to implement every idea we have, and we aren’t rushed to get them done before time runs out.

Another advantage of taking things slow is that there is room to experiment, fail, pivot, and in general just find the best way forward. Dino Run 2 felt like we were constantly loading the cannons with whatever we could find and shooting them randomly into space, hoping to hit something. It was all about the DREAM and not the REALITY… not exactly the best plan for success. Real success in reality usually comes with keen observation, iteration, refinement and reflection. Those things cannot be rushed.

Speaking of reflection, here are some insights we’ve had at the 2 week mark:

– We should have padded the estimate for the initial milestone delivery a bit more. The first few weeks of the campaign required more emphasis on spreading the word and getting the initial version of DX out the door than we we initially estimated.

– The “Street Team” is incredibly powerful and needs more attention. We have about 700 people who are willing to help us promote the game and right now the only interaction we’ve had with them is occasional emails that say “Please Retweet This!” or “Tell Your Friends!”. There is some obvious under-utilization going on here, but once again the nice thing about the slow burn is that we have time to fully explore the possibilities of such a thing.

– Our crowdfunding platform is pretty great, but could be a lot better. We have to manually manage the street team and higher reward tiers using spreadsheets and google forms when it could easily be automated and managed internally. Our dashboard is about as bare-bones as you can imagine, and could use a healthy dose of structure and style. We’ve been taking a lot of notes on how to evolve it and have an enormous “phase 2” task list that will prepare the platform for others to use it. (Perhaps we should make that task list it’s own roadmap and make it public!)

– Dino Run is the type of game that people enjoy experiencing together, and we should keep this in mind when promoting the campaign. Our marketing efforts so far have been the equivalent of shouting “Look At This!” over and over… we should be doing hangouts with other players in the chatroom, organizing fan art contests, running tournaments and engaging with fans at every opportunity. We tend to be the type of developers who keep their head down for weeks and then suddenly jump up with something to say, only to put their head down again for a month. That’s not going to work for this campaign. We need to be engaging with the community and developing the game at the same time.

So, what’s next?

Obviously the top priority is getting milestone #1 completed and in the hands of the people that funded it. By then we will probably be pretty close to having milestone #2 funded, but if it’s not we’ll at least have enough money to get started on it. Another priority is getting creative with our marketing efforts and finding new ways to reach all the older fans of the game. It’s been played about 100 million times and only a *tiny* fraction of those people have visited our campaign page…. we’ve got our work cut out for us for sure.

As we stated before though, we’ve got time to do it right. We don’t have to figure everything out inside a 30 day stego stampede. We can slowly sharpen our spears around the bonfire, get a good night’s sleep and climb the peak the next day to plot out the best strategy for survival and success.


by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Changing the Game: Evolving Dino Run and Crowdfunding

In 2010, Pixeljam raised $11,000 on Kickstarter for the game Glorkian Warrior. Five years later we delivered it. The long version of that story can be read HERE. The short version is that we rebuilt and re-imagined the game three times, went on a rollercoaster ride of expanding and diminishing goals, and emerged relatively unscathed but a bit cynical about crowdfunding in general.

That cynicism did not deter us from launching a second, much more ambitious Kickstarter campaign in 2013, before we had even delivered the first one. This campaign was for Dino Run 2, and its failure was one of the best things that has happened to our company.

But before we get to the fallout and aftermath of Dino Run 2, let’s rewind the clock a bit…


In mid-2013 Pixeljam was at a crossroads with where to put its time and energy. Glorkian Warrior was far from done, but we didn’t have the funds to complete it the way we wanted. We also didn’t have any small game ideas we liked enough to pursue. A sequel to Dino Run was something we had always wanted to create, but we knew it would take large amounts of time and money to do it right.

Here’s a question: suppose it’s 2013… what do you do when you have a great idea that you know people will love, but don’t have enough money to complete it? Do you work on it little by little in your spare time until you have something to show people and get some buzz going about it, possibly attracting a publisher or private investor?

No, the correct (or at least popular) answer is that you put all of your time and money into a marketing spectacle for your idea, think for fifteen minutes about how much it will cost to complete, make a promo video with a budget that could probably fund the idea’s prototype, launch it on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and spend the next thirty days in a manic hybrid of excitement, depression, hope and exhaustion.

If you don’t make your goal, that whole effort is mostly wasted. You could have spent all of that time and money just working on your idea.

If you do make that goal, now you’ve got an even bigger problem: you have to actually produce what you said you would, within the budget you asked for, and deliver it by the time you estimated. And you’ve got a few thousand internet strangers who expect you to do just that.



By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of articles about crowdfunding projects gone horribly wrong. If not, check out this, this or this. These of course are extreme cases… they’re rare, but they guide the current perception of crowdfunding: backer beware.

There are plenty of people out there with great ideas, and a lot of them are not prepared for the sudden opportunity and responsibility of a successful campaign. Their stories serve as warnings to others looking to do the same, but the allure of big money for a great idea is too attractive. And so, creators and developers continue to queue up to try their luck.

Reading through the comments of such articles, words like “scam” and “fraud” get thrown around a lot. We’d gamble to say that none of these folks intended to scam anyone out of money, they simply had no idea what they had signed up for, freaked when it came time to report to their backers, and didn’t manage expectations properly from the beginning.

And just how DO you manage expectations for a group of 1000+ people? Working with publishers and investors is a breeze compared to dealing with a faceless mob. Publishers are usually understanding and supportive because they’ve been down that road dozens of times with other people. They KNOW that software development is unpredictable, and it always takes much longer than you think it will. And often you just simply fail. Does the general crowdfunding public know that? Do they care? *Should* they care?


Back to the story of Dino Run 2, and the decision to take on the risk of crowdfunding another game: we launched the campaign, it failed, we were bummed for a while, we got over it and moved on. Sobered from our unsuccessful gamble, we stopped dreaming big and got practical. We forged a new direction and focused on simply completing the work we had already taken on. First on our list was to release Glorkian Warrior and make good on what we promised so long ago. Next up was getting all of our existing games on new platforms. Surprisingly, it all paid off better than chasing dreams ever did.

Still, we couldn’t stop thinking about crowdfunding and wondering: why is it like this? Why did it produce so many spectacular wrecks? Why couldn’t anyone just get real in their campaign and announce to the world “We don’t know how much money we need and we don’t know how long it will take, but please give us money for this great idea.”

People can’t say that because it doesn’t sell. And you need to sell, right? You don’t have an actual product to sell yet so you have to sell your idea, and potential funders don’t want to hear about all the things that can go wrong while you are manifesting your idea into reality. But in reality things rarely go as planned, even for the seasoned creator.

The average person understands all of this to a degree, but the psychology changes when the average person gives you their money, no matter how much. Once real dollars get involved it all becomes much more personal and complicated. Success is no longer hoped for, but expected.

There are plenty of success stories in the crowdfunding storybook, but the general perception is that the current model too often leads to either disappointment or disaster.


And now to the present day. Pixeljam has decided to launch yet another crowdfunding campaign, this time to make some updates to the original Dino Run. We *could* do another all-or-nothing campaign and go down that bumpy road again, or we could just roll our own and tailor it to be exactly how we need it. To do this, we need to ask ourselves…

Do we need a hyped-up story that sells everyone on our idea? No, we have something people can already play.

Do we need to create a sense of urgency with an all-or-nothing funding model and gamble that what we ask for is enough to complete the work? No, we’ll improve the game according to what we raise, no matter how large or small.

Are we going to spend the 30 days after launch in a feverish marketing haze promising things that we may not be able to deliver, coming up with stunt after stunt in a desperate attempt to reach a semi-arbitrary budget figure? No, we’ll just be working on the game, knowing as we go how much of our work is already funded.

Will our supporters wait in the dark until we decide to grace them with sporadic updates? No, we’ll supply a detailed roadmap of our development plan complete with task-by-task breakdowns of each milestone. Each task will have a time estimate and we’ll report how long they actually take as we complete them. If things take longer than we think, everyone will be able to see why… no excuses necessary.

So, let’s do it.

It’s inevitable that in any new endeavor things will not always go according to plan. That fact should not deter the public from funding creators to transform their ideas into reality. This campaign is about more than just funding updates to Dino Run… it’s about taking a small step towards transforming crowdfunding.


by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Retro Unicorn Attack: Feel The Magic

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games (almost) each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

Before the production of Potatoman Seeks The Troof, Rich had made a mockup of an 8-bit-style Robot Unicorn Attack:


We sat on the image for about a year, and then suddenly it just seemed like a good time to show it to them… and what do you know, we got the green light to make an actual game out of it!

It’s worth noting that remaking an existing game is about 1000% easier than making a new game from scratch. This was our first remake and it was simply amazing how stress-free the whole process was. No need to iterate on game mechanics or design, no need to worry about scope creep, it was all there for us to (de)make over again.


The final art style, obviously superior to the original sketch.

Of course, we did eventually find a way to scope creep the whole thing, and we later released a “Challenge Edition” with some bonus levels that were never in the original. We just can’t leave well enough alone, it seems.

One of the highlights of this project was the opportunity to remake Erasure’s “Always” as well. Mark DeNardo and I worked together on the track and produced what I think is the definitive Commodore 64 version, kicking the snot out of all those other Commodore covers of Erasure that you see on the internet all the time.



by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Captain Commander: Communication Breakdown

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

We were really happy with the way Corporate Climber came out. It had a been a long time since we released a game we felt that good about, so of course it made sense to follow it up with another game that had two words in its title, both of which started with “C”.


Rich’s original sketch.

If Corporate Climber was my baby, Commander was definitely Rich’s. He handled all of the art direction, most of the production, all of the level design and most of the dialogue, which I particularly love. It’s easy to miss, but there’s a heap of miscommunication constantly running along the bottom of the screen. Capt. Commander’s translator is jammed, and it often results in a glorious butchering of the English language:


It’s hard to believe but this was the first game we made that actually had Bosses. Some of Rich’s sketches, most of which made it into the game:


This project in particular didn’t really have too many challenges besides our old nemesis: TIME. We had to cut the scope short towards the end, removing 2 levels that would have been fine additions… but you know, when the rent man comes a knockin’, you gotta ship your super retro space run ‘n gunner. Right?


Observe the final battle in space, and surprise attack on Earth!

We love this game. We’d like to make a sequel one day, perhaps in 16 bits? Either that or even more authentically 2600. I’m sure a 16 bit sequel would be more successful, but sometimes you just have to go broke to pursue your passion.

That just might be our daily mantra.



by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Corporate Climber: To The Depths

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

Looking back on it now, we had lost our way during and after Hipster Kickball. I think we got so wrapped up in *producing* that we failed to step back and check that our body of work all fell in line with our original “manifesto”. And exactly what WAS that? Good question. We knew what it was, but I don’t think we ever wrote it out explicitly. Games like Mountain Maniac and Sausage Factory definitely fit in with what we originally aimed to achieve with Pixeljam, but unfortunately we could not say the same thing about *everything* we had made.

Our next game had to be different… something more in line with our original vision. We threw ideas around for a bit and finally decided on a sketch I had made about a man working his way up the corporate ladder:


For this project we hired Martin Wain to code the game in the Flixel framework. Rich and I created the level designs and Martin painstakingly recreated them in a tool he coded himself.

Here is the entire tower design. Get ready for it…


Most people may not know this, but the game is FILLED with secrets… some easy to find, and some are so obscure and complex that only a tiny fraction of players will ever see them. We loved this sort of thing, so we kind of went overboard.

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(Did you now you can get married? And married NAKED?)

I personally think this game is Rich’s masterpiece. He’s definitely created more iconic characters (like the yellow raptor or mountain maniac), but every time I look at one of the game’s stills I get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that Pixeljam actually created something like this.

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Hipster Kickball: Feel The Irony

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

Hipster Kickball was by the far the largest for-hire project Pixeljam had taken on. We had always wanted to make a sports-themed game, and kickball seemed like a good contender since the AI involved seemed manageable and at the time there was sort of a kickball revival going on, particularly in the more “self-aware” pockets of various cities.


Making this game was incredibly fun and also extremely painful. It would be nice to end on a positive note, so lets tackle the not-fun stuff first:

We were aware that we would need to spend a lot of time on the AI to get it right, but we had no idea what a monster it would be. When you create your own original game mechanic you have some wiggle room on the logic that controls how that world acts, since it’s YOUR world and no one really knows how it’s supposed to work except you. However, when you have to re-create the rules of an extremely well known sport, there is no room to wiggle!

We wiggled for a very long time, and well after the game launch as well. UGG.

Okay, so the fun part: coming up with all the characters types, dialogue and animations. Social satire is a lot of fun, especially when there are equal parts hipster and hippie deep inside of you… and by YOU I mean ME.


This was also the first time we worked with Jeffrey Nielson, who would later be the lead artist on our Dino Run 2 campaign. Jeffrey and Graham did an amazing job with the huge amount of animation the game required, producing some of my favorite animated gifs from any of our games:

pagan_taunt trucker_taunt waster_taunt rasta_taunt natural_taunt jimi_taunt hiphop_taunt

Would we want to create another sports simulator? Probably not… but I’m glad we got to do it at least once.



by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Potatoman: Seek First The Troof

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

Around the middle of 2012, Pixeljam fell into what seemed like a real slump. We had been making games for hire for 4 or 5 years, funneling that money into internal projects that seemed like they would never end. I personally needed a break, and decided to shake things up a bit by taking some time off to work on a much smaller-scoped game. I would complete it in a week, I told myself…

But what kind of game would I make? We were pretty comfortable with platformers, having worked on Glorkian Warrior for so long already. I ripped out the engine and made it a simple left-to-right affair. But who would star in this game, and what would he do?

I turned to Rich’s extensive library of character doodles to find the perfect protagonist. It didn’t take long before I found him… Potatoman:


He had this look about him… unassuming, yet determined… a naive sort of longing for something bigger than himself. He’s searching for truth!

No, he’s seeking the TROOF.

And so, Potatoman Seeks The Troof was born. I held true to my “game in a week” promise and had almost the whole thing working from beginning to end (with my own background graphics) in about 5 days. Yup, I was done! And yet… it didn’t seem quite right.

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My original artwork for the game. Yup, I went to college for this…

I asked Rich to redo my graphics, and he produced what you see in the final game. That added another couple months to development. During that I redid the ending a couple times. It was originally am upwards-vertically-scrolling gauntlet of near-impossible challenges that ended in an eternally black screen. Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.48.06 AM

The original final level.

Was I really that nihilistic though? Not really. We opted for the less difficult but more surreal world that is currently level 5. This added another few weeks to get it just right. But how to end it?

About a week or two before the release deadline (The Mayan Apocalypse, by the way), the starfield was Potatoman’s final destination. It felt okay, but was a bit too nebulous and left too many things unanswered.


We got the idea for the farm scene from the trailer that Don Thacker had made for the game. Yes, he would return to the farm, because he’s really just a Potato… thats all he ever was. He would root into the ground, the sun would set and that would be it.

But somehow it just didn’t seem right. Rich and I were 3 days away from release, crunching hard, very exhausted. In a brief restful moment Rich expressed his disappointment that the game ended with our little spud just disappearing into the earth. What could we do about it though? We HAD to be finished.

Somehow, against all odds, we managed to squeeze in the final Final FINAL scene, the moment when the purpose of Potatoman’s life is revealed.

You can’t stop nature, you know?



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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Mountain Maniac: Don’t Try This At Home

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

The last in the collection of 8-bit rejects was Mountain Maniac. The idea here was “enraged mountain man boulder pachinko with pinball physics and explosions”. Sounds awesome doesn’t it? This one is still one our very favorites.


Rich’s original concept sketch

I’m also going to talk about its sequel, Mountain Maniac Xmas, killing two birds with one telepathically-controlled boulder. Some memories from development:

-I was pushing for the original to be zoomed way out so you could see a lot of the chain reactions the boulder caused. Rich insisted that we zoom in to give the game more urgency and speed. We ended up zooming in, and I think that was the right decision. You don’t really have tons of control over the boulder, and not being able to see much around you adds to the feeling of helplessness and chaos.


We’ve all wanted to do this, right? RIGHT?.

-Rich handled the art direction and a lot of the production, but Graham Lackey created a lot of additional sprites.


All maniacs have to face the law (or a SWAT team) eventually.

-The Xmas version contained our first-ever cutscene, in which we see the troubling story of why the Mountain Maniac so desperately needs revenge upon Santa Claus and his entire Christmas village. Really Santa, you had it coming.


-Mark DeNardo created the memorable music for the title screen, but I got to cut my teeth on game music with a suite of minor-key Christmas Classics. I REALLY loved doing this… check back here in a day or so for some samples!


This doesn’t end well.

-Adult Swim also produced a fantastic commercial for the game:


by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Turbo Granny : …. ?

This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a semi-chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE.

The next game in the 8 bit rejects collection was Turbo Granny. I really don’t have much to say about this one, mainly because I just don’t remember much about its development. Maybe I’ve blocked it out, who knows.

I recall that we wanted to create a game like River Raid or Spy Hunter. The design is a lot like Dino Run actually… a bunch of randomly combined “screen chunks” make up the course, but unlike the games that it was based on, you have to double back and do the course backwards.


The toughest part of development was getting the police chase just right. Believe it or not, the AI for this guy was some of the most advanced we had come up with yet. Not to say it’s really that deep compared to other games, but most of our games up to this point were pretty simple in that department. However this would be a breeze compared to Hipster Kickball, which came a bit later.


I hate to say it, but sometimes when I’m listing our games for people, I leave this one out. I don’t think it’s particularly bad, but it just doesn’t have that certain *something* that we wanted all of our endeavors to have.

(Thanks to Ted Martens for his awesome box art!)


by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment