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”.

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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:

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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:

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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?

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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.

PLAY CAPTAIN COMMANDER HERE.
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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:

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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…

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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.

YOU CAN PLAY CORPORATE CLIMBER HERE.
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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.

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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.

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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:

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

PLAY HIPSTER KICKBALL HERE.

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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:

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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.

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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?

GET POTATOMAN ON STEAM.

GET POTATOMAN ON iOS.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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-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!

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This doesn’t end well.


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


AND…… PLAY THE GAME HERE.
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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.

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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.

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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.


YOU CAN PLAY IT HERE.
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(Thanks to Ted Martens for his awesome box art!)

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Creamwolf: Hide Your Kids


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.

Creamwolf was one of the ‘8 bit rejects’ we were creating for Adult Swim, and our first collaboration with another designer: Mark Essen, aka Messhof. Mark had given us a lot of ideas for games, and the one that stood out to us the most was a somewhat deranged tale about a werewolf that sold ice cream.

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This game was a lot of firsts for us. We were experimenting with a new way of rendering pixels to the screen that allowed for more possibilities with visual effects. Mark DeNardo made a dynamic soundtrack that reacted to the action on the screen, and the other first was the addition of blood and horror!

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I often wondered “would I let my kids see this?”. Well, I have 3 kids now, and it will probably still be years before any of them are allowed to see it, let alone play it. Actually the game probably won’t even work when they are old enough for it, so no problems there.

I think Creamwolf is definitely one of our most polarizing games. There were a few people that REALLY loved it, most didn’t know what to think of it and and I even heard that some children were genuinely terrified by it. Mission… accomplished?

PLAY CREAMWOLF RIGHT…… HERE
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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Dino Run: Hit The Ground Running


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.

Rich and I could probably write about Dino Run for days. There really is so much to say about how it started, how we managed to complete it, and how it still remains somewhat relevant today… but in the interest of brevity I’ll try to focus on what I think are the most important details.

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Dino Run’s inception took place during a road trip Rich was taking to burning man in 2007. Just another simple sketch in a notebook…

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Most new ideas are exciting for a moment and then blow away like dust in the wind, but these particular sketches stayed with us long after their creation. The little raptor’s determination to outrun the impossible appealed to us on multiple levels… we KNEW it was special, and we knew we had to at least make an attempt to prototype it.

We got pretty far in a short amount of time. Nailing the physics was the hardest part… I had to roll them myself, which in retrospect was a good idea. A lot of weird things happen in the game that a more modern and robust engine simply can’t handle without a good (and dangerous) hacking.

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(Just LOOK at those physics!)


After a couple months of intense work, we thought we were almost done. We sent it out for beta testing to a new and eager fanbase, and from their feedback we realized that we were in fact NOT done… maybe around the halfway mark. Thanks testers!

The last few months of development were pretty hellish for me. I think I had something that might resemble a nervous breakdown, though it was probably more like severe physical burnout from working 14 hour days for weeks on end. I was banging my head against the multiplayer code for quite a while, and was convinced what I was trying to do wasn’t actually possible.

I don’t recall how, but I managed to pull it all together. Let me clarify… I managed to hack and band-aid the code so that it just *barely* worked. And the myriad of little glitches that resulted from my hacky code are one of the main reasons people still enjoy and talk about the game. Serendipity, I suppose.

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(Realtime multiplayer racing over organic terrain… don’t try this at home.)


When the game was released, things really started to take off for us. We managed to secure enough licenses and donations to actually PAY ourselves for the first time ever. We might have even become millionaires, had we not made one major oversight in the “monetization strategy”… my girlfriend (who is now my wife), a writer with zero interest in gaming, suggested that we charge money for each hat. Here is what the conversation went like (not really, but you get the idea).

HER : “You should charge a little money for each hat, kind of like an in-game store”
ME : “Are you serious? Who would pay money inside the game for a virtual hat”?

YUP. My wife invented the in-app-purchase, and yet she remains uncredited to this very day.

Actually, it was her idea to put hats on the dinos in the first place. Rich and I didn’t think it would look right, putting modern looking hats on what was at the time a very pure prehistoric simulation. But, you can’t stop fate, and after Rich tried it out we were sold. The game would have LOTS of hats. But we definitely would NOT be selling them outright. Instead we decided on something much more altruistic: donate what you want and we’ll give you a code to unlock the hats. Of course, the code was *exactly the same* for everyone, so you can imagine what happened there.

Oh well.

In the years to come, we would see runner games take off in ways we never imagined. We certainly won’t claim to have invented the genre (it had been done before we did it), but we’d like to think that Dino Run does have its little place in gaming history.

FOLLOW THE BRAND-NEW DINO RUN TWITTER ACCOUNT (@DOOMSURF)
PLAY DINO RUN (FREE VERSION) HERE
PURCHASE DINO RUN SE (EXPANDED MAC/PC VERSION) HERE
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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Sausage Factory: Meat To The Beat


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.

After Pizza City we worked out a deal with Adult Swim to make 4 new games of much smaller scope. We were permitted to come up with whatever we wanted, which was a first for a contract job. Exciting times!

We finally came up with the idea of 4 games connected loosely by a fake storyline, best described in the following video:

Making 4 small games at once gave us the opportunity for each of us to play lead designer. Rich’s idea was Mountain Maniac, Turbo Granny was… I honestly have no idea where that one came from, we worked with Messhof to create Creamwolf, and my baby was Sausage Factory.

Puzzle and rhythm games had always interested me, but I never imagined how challenging it would be to fuse them together. A lot of the heavy lifting on the logic side was handled by Wayne Marsh, which allowed me to focus more on level design, dialogue and management of the other 3 projects in development.

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(The challenge of the game lies in being able to plan ahead, very quickly!)


Most of the visual design was handled by Graham Lackey, an extremely talented pixel artist who freed Rich up to devote most of his time to his project. Mark Denardo of course tackled the soundtrack, a mischievous, Rube-Goldberg-esque romp that is still one of my favorite chiptune tracks all of time.

It’s worth noting that getting 1-3 extra friends to play with you on the same keyboard is REALLY fun. It instantly turns it into a party game, and helps tone down the game’s difficulty level as well.

I’m not actually sure if it’s a *great* game, but it did turn out pretty much exactly how I wanted it to. Good enough for me!

PLAY SAUSAGE FACTORY HERE
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Thanks to Josh Larson for making the awesome box art!

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Cookie Party 2: Things Get Weird


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.

After Dino Run was released, we started receiving offers to make games for hire. It was an intriguing proposition, and the idea of steady income while we worked was attractive… Dino Run was only partially paying the bills at the time. Furthermore, we were getting some REALLY interesting offers, and the one we simply couldn’t refuse was to make a game for Comedy Central’s Sarah Silverman Program.

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Our task was to make an action/platformer based on a fake commercial for a fake game based on a fake TV Show inside one of the real episodes. HUH? You can see part of the actual episode here. The commercial itself is a bit more elusive. If you find it, let us know!

Since we had an actual budget, we hired a contractor to help us make the level editor and some of the game logic. Things progressed pretty well until we hit the same problem that would haunt us for years to come: making too big of a game. Or another way of looking at: underestimating how far the money would actually carry us.

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The definite highlight of this one was working with the Sarah Silverman team to create some original voice-overs for the game. They delivered a lot of great material, and some of it was downright OBSCENE. It would have been fun to put them in, but we had instructions to keep it rated PG-13. I guess the producers and voice actors were just having too much fun, or perhaps were not given the memo about what was acceptable.

Ultimately the game fell short of what we wanted it to be, but that’s par for the course with us. There’s only so much you can actually do when the budget and schedule is finite. Somehow it would take us a very long time to learn this lesson…

Comedy Central has removed all of the browser games they created, it seems… HOWEVER, we’ve uploaded a version for everyone to play HERE.

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment