A True Fan Tale of Dino Run


Hey Pixeljammers, gather round the fire… It’s time you knew about the Dino Run legacy and where that legacy is headed. As the trusty Firekeeper I must be the one to tell this story.

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Miles and Rich & finished Dino Run in 2007, and it amassed a huge following. As of today it’s been played over 100 million times! An exploratory platformer with catchy pre-historic 8-bit music by Mark Denardo, it captured people’s hearts with fast paced adventure, involving the plight of a lovable velociraptor trying to escape extinction.

Being fairly new to the games world, they had paying jobs and made games only in their spare time. There was not much thought of monetizing on the concept of Dino Run. They offered a set of hats and colors (customizations!) for the dino to wear for anyone who donated any amount to help support Pixeljam and this was the one breach into getting money back for their game. In the 2007 gaming world there wasn’t a precedent for this sort of thing just yet.

Dino Run was their fourth game and It took seven months to make. After Dino Run, Miles and Rich began making games for publishers and later released an upgraded version, Dino Run SE, with even more hats and color schemes. They went on to create many more games (now totaling 20); they attended game conferences like GDC, Indiecade, IGF, and Pax. Gamma Bros was an IGF nominee for Best Web Game in 2008. They had their minds opened to the wider movement of independent developers…. artists, coders, and musicians. They saw the rise and fall of many companies in their time, yet kept on making the games they knew they should: pixel graphics a la Atari & NES (8-bit).

Of all the people they met over these six years, there are two that are ready to take the torch of the Dino Run legacy: Jeffrey Nielson and Don Thacker.

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Now you may ask: are they passing on their game? The answer is no, Pixeljam is as it always has been with Rich and Miles at the helm. Rich came up with the concept for Dino Run and drew every bit of pixel art for the game. Rich will be creative director ensuring every pixel is scrutinized, though he will no longer be the lead artist.

Enter Jeffrey Nielson. As a small child he spent eight hour shifts in his parent’s dance studio, pushing pixels around in MS Paint. He started making games at 15 with his cousins. He’s worked at several games companies. Jeffrey was an accomplished pixel artist even before he started working at a mega game studio in 2011. By this time he had spent countless hours multiplayer racing in Dino Run. He sent Dino Run fan art to Miles & Rich who enjoyed his style, and hired him on doing projects. Working for Pixeljam was a dream come true, so when the opportunity to join the team arose in late 2012, Jeffrey jumped on the chance. He moved to Asheville, North Carolina to be with the majority of the team and work in close development.

This is the true tale of Dino Run 2. Jeffrey is taking on art direction for the game he always wanted to make. A fan story ready to take hold of that dream, but he’s not the only fan that joined the team.

Enter Don Thacker. Don is an insanely passionately coder. He knows multiple coding syntaxes, has beaten Mega Man at least 1000 times, and has his own film company. He was amazed by the simple and unique gameplay of Dino Run when he started playing in 2008, and knew that eventually he wanted to be involved.

The art of Dino Run 2 must be more than pixel art, the coding itself must be art as well. Dino Run uses procedurally generated levels and environments. Dino Run 2 keeps this dynamic experience and brings true cross platform multiplayer racing that is infinitely replayable. How replayable? Think The Binding of Isaac meets Tetris (you remember those days in grade school playing tetris on your calculator, you couldn’t put it down). Every game is different, every level binds bits and pieces and mathmagically meshes them together to create physics occurrences that even planned level design couldn’t come up with. With Dino Run 2 this means a completely new engine. The idea of Dino Run was always bigger than what was possible in 2007.

Not only is Dino Run 2 going to be fitted to the new Unity 2D Engine, it’s going to take the physics obstacles that existed in Dino Run and add multitudes of new layers. Sure, you could ride some boulders and try to avoid some meteor strikes in Dino Run, but destroy walls with a Pachycephalosaurus to find an underground tunnel…?! Knock over a boulder that rolls and hits a tree and knocks a flying dino into the air that then picks you up and carries you over an obstacle?! Rube Goldberg is turning over in his grave to give a thumbs up! There are layers of landscape to interact with you couldn’t interact with before; a Triceratops could knock over a tree, or a convenience store, he’s not picky. Don will be, because it all has to work together. These layers are new to the Dino Run legacy.

I have heard people say they could make this game with much less, but they ignore: the complexities and intricate layers present with the physics puzzles, the cross-platform multiplayer racing, upgradable character elements, legions of layers of parallax, hand-crafted animations done with old-school pixel art principals, richly layered landscapes with a myriad of color schemes; and many other yet unknown layers of complexity and value.

The value of this game is not so evident to someone that hasn’t spent hours playing Pixeljam games. We have struggled with fully communicating this over the course of the last month. It’s evident to our extensive fan base. You may have seen them posting on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Dinosaur Blogs, and any other place they think will be helpful. It’s clear to the other indie developers making great games; these are the ones we’ve included in our updates, in our extra art assets. Rich & Miles know the ins and outs of making classic games, those details that enrich the experience. They know it’s the little things that enhance every game, the secrets and hidden elements that dedicated players find.

These enhancements are not welcome to be cut to make a cheaper game. Pixeljam has a high code of gaming honor when it comes to the details. We’re not pumping out games without thought of their meaning or purpose. Games are art to this team and they always will be. To publish this game on our own just as the first was means we are not taking money up front from a publisher ,who will take the majority of profits after the game is finished, leaving us unable to give this game a longer shelf life.

What this means is that if we are able to fund this game with Kickstarter, then we can do what we want with the game. Don has talked about what he wants to do with the code base, he’s said it on Twitch.Tv, he’s talked about it with the team. This game isn’t meant to be made and then we wash our hands of it; that’s the thing that a lot of people glossing over this project miss. It will be extendable.

How far can Dino Run go? We want to make this game and then support it…. for a long time. We want to add on new eras, new maps, racing levels and challenges. You want dinosaurs with lasers attached to their heads? Of course you do! Who doesn’t?!

We will roll everything we love about retro AND modern games, with the urgency of that boulder scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark into a highly repayable classic. We don’t want to nickel and dime everyone with hundreds of in app purchases… we want to make this game outlive it’s initial funding. Dinosaurs will survive extinction, it must be so!

Save the Dinosaurs, think of the children, and eat your vegetables.

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by AD Bakke Tags: ,