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

Pizza City: Open World Problems


This article is part of Pixeljam’s 10 Year Anniversary MEGAMONTH, and we’re doing a chronological retrospective on every one of our games each day of the week. You can read them all HERE. Today we’re jumping ahead a few games, and will return to semi-normal order on Tuesday.

After we released Dino Run and our first game-for-hire Cookie Party 2, we were approached by Adult Swim about making a game for their site. The guys at AS were, and continue to this day to be some of the coolest people to work with in the industry. Ask any indie dev the same question and they’ll probably tell you the same thing. Anyway enough butt-kissing… they basically gave us an idea to run with (delivering pizza) and we… ran with it. Probably a little too far, but sometimes you have to bite off more than you can chew in order to know what you’re actually capable of.

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HEY! That’s the not the right title. We had to change it at the last minute since there was another game called HOT PIZZA.


The basic idea was a 2600 version of Grand Theft Auto, but without any killing. Okay there’s plenty of killing, but only if you’re a bad driver. It was our first open-world game, and Rich kept encouraging me to keep the map small and simple. But of course it’s always a good idea to ignore sound advice and learn things the hard way. It was just so FUN to build the world, populating it with strange little neighborhoods, goofy characters and storylines. It got the better of me and we ended up with something like this:

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YUP. It’s a big world out there.


Adult Swim gave us a nice budget to work on the game, and of course we burned through it like nobody’s business. A good rule of thumb is: if you are exploring a new genre, bake in a lot of extra time to learn the ropes. All of our games were fairly linear up to this point, and we spent a lot of time towards the end just making sure it all held together. When you can go anywhere at any point during the game, and set things in motion that affect the whole world… well, you can imagine how it gets complex real quick.

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Uncle tony helps you keep track of it all.


My favorite part of working on this game was writing dialogue for all the characters Rich came up with. It was the first time we actually added dialogue to any of our games, and while I doubt we’ll win any awards for it, I’m pretty proud of the quirky atmosphere we set.

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A sampling of the characters from the game.


The whole project probably would have benefitted from being smaller and a bit more focused, but we learned a lot and I’m happy it’s in the world.

Check out the title track by Mark DeNardo.

PLAY THE GAME RIGHT…. HERE:
PC1

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Ratmaze 2: For The Love Of Cheese


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

After launching Gamma Bros, we toyed around with some prototypes that never took off, including a particular favorite of mine called Outrageous Robot Battle, or ORB for short.

ORB

ORB didn’t really have what it took to make it to the finish line, and I vaguely recall us floundering a bit at the time, wondering how we would keep momentum up and income steady.

It wasn’t long before we were contacted by Crazy Monkey Games, and worked out a deal to make a sequel to Ratmaze. We always wanted the original to have a bit more excitement and activity, and we jumped at the chance to rework it.

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Ratmaze 2 is definitely a lot more frenetic than the original… you only have a limited amount of time to collect everything, and it’s all complicated by the little tasks you have to complete in each room. Mark DeNardo’s track NINO heightened the intensity of it all, sometimes past the acceptable comfort zone of flash gaming. COOL!

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(The fantastic dimension of cheese)


This game is definitely worth playing to the very end… if you manage to collect all the cheese in time, you’ll be transported to what can only be described as an alternate universe completely composed of enormous cheeses. If you manage to eat everything there before time runs out… well, you’ll have to see it for yourself. Nailing this final scene was extremely gratifying for us all, and was one of the rare moments when we felt like our vision was adequately represented in the final product. How often can you say that?


CLICK HERE TO PLAY RATMAZE 2 ratmazeScreen02 2

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Gamma Bros: It Gets Real


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

With our first shipped game behind us, we returned to Gamma Bros with renewed enthusiasm. Rich was hard at work on the myriad of space beasts and ships the game would require, Mark was making great progress on music, and I was busy coding the systems that would determine the various formations and matrixes.

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(Rich’s designs for the most of the game’s enemies. And a lot that never made it!)


This game’s creation process was unique for us (even to this day) in the fact that we had a lot of the gameplay down before we put any of Rich’s artwork in. We certainly had plenty to use, but for some reason we wanted to make sure the game was fun even when the graphics were just colored squares. In that way, we ran with weights on our ankles for months… and when we finally took them off and added the almost-final graphics in all at once, the effect was exhilarating. All at once our future presented itself to us, all those months of coding and pixeling had come together in that very moment. It was meant to be!

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With Gamma Bros we really tried to explore some concepts we thought were very much missing from games… brotherly love, interracial harmony, and the willingness to risk it all just to make it home to their loved ones. Buzz and Zap had to go through this ordeal every single day… this was their commute after all. We wanted to show a little slice of their daily life and present the epic space struggle like it was no big deal, since really it was actually no big deal to these guys… they did this for a living.

Did they die every day as well? Perhaps… they existed in some sort of eternal game space: they knew they were immortal but they fought to stay alive anyway. I mean, why not? If some awful space bat is trying to rip you to shreds, you might as well fight back even if the ultimate outcome is meaningless. These guys reveled in the ambiguousness of their life and routine. That’s my take on it anyway, Rich may have other ideas. 🙂

After the game was completed, we did what any naive game developer would have done: we gave it away for free with smiles on our faces. We had a donation link in there, sort of hidden of course, but people would find it and shower us with goodwill cash, right? RIGHT?

Well, things didn’t work out exactly as we planned, but that didn’t deter us from moving forward. We created an online version and uploaded it to newgrounds.com and got a great response there… and then we were blown away when the game was nominated for “Best Web Game” (The category existed only for a short time) for the 2007 IGF. Holy crap! Actual recognition from the industry!

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(The Bros on a big screen at the 2007 IGF)


We loved every minute of the IGF, and it solidified our resolve to make this our full time jobs, pay or no pay. We didn’t win the prize (it went to a very deserving “Samarost”), but whatever… we knew we had something that people were responding positively to, and we knew if we stuck with it long enough, we would make it.

Did we actually make it? That remains to be seen. 10 years later we’ve had no major successes nor company-folding defeats. Something keeps us going though… maybe it’s habit, or maybe it’s the eternal spark we saw in the single-pixel eyes of Buzz and Zap.

YOU CAN PLAY GAMMA BROS FOR FREE BY CLICKING HERE

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Ratmaze – The first completed game


Welcome to day 2 (or maybe 3) of Pixeljam’s 10 year anniversary MEGAMONTH. Today I’ll be waxing nostalgic on our first finished game : RATMAZE.

From the ashes of GAME 01 emerged a new project (Gamma Bros) starring the “wind bosses”, who got promoted from minor antagonist to leading role. We worked on this game diligently for half a year, getting by on just enough contract work (and support from significant others) to keep us afloat.

I don’t think Rich or myself had ever put in that much time on a single project before, and we longed to just finish and release *something* to see if we were crazy or not for taking on this new life goal.

Rich had been making sketches of random characters and critters since the very beginning, and often we’d just look at them and imagine what kind of world they might exist in. The RAT was always one of our favorites, with his expressive hip-swinging run and longing stare when he perked up to look around. We imagined him doing what he was born to do of course… run a maze hunting cheese.

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So we decided we’d take a few weeks off of Gamma Bros and create RATMAZE.

I stripped out the content from GAME 01, leaving the room-exploration and collision detection in place. Everything was severely minimized… the look of the rooms (solid colored shapes), the major events (collect cheese) and the opponents (none). The only thing working against you was the timer which brought an impending sense of urgency, even though it counted up instead of down. The cherry on top was Mark DeNardo and Anthony Koerber’s backing track POULENC, still one my personal favorites to this day.

We were pretty surprised how fast the whole thing came together… amazingly enough we actually COULD finish a game, if we only reduced it down to the bare essentials.

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(Original design – you can see there are a few details that didn’t make it)


Ratmaze is either a stupidly simple maze runner or very deep meditation on the basic facts of life. Maybe it’s both… who knows.


YOU CAN PLAY RATMAZE BY CLICKING HERE ratmazeScreen01


HINT: Press shift to make the rat move fast 🙂

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Pixeljam’s 10 year anniversary!


It’s hard to imagine that it was 10 years ago this month that we first entertained the idea of making games. But, yes, it’s actually true, and somehow we are still here, doing what we intended to do with our lives exactly a decade ago. Amazing!

At the time it seemed that there were “big budget” games, “shareware” games, and what we were doing seemed like some new and exciting third category. Of course it had already been labeled “indie”, but I’m pretty sure we were not aware of that. There was a lot we were not aware of actually, and we were fueled as much by ignorance as we were a sincere passion and enthusiasm to bring forth some sort of revival of the style that still defines us today.

The first few months were pretty exciting, kind of like a honeymoon without a marriage. Most of it was spent honing the look and feel of a re-invention of one of our favorite 2600 titles, “Adventure”. Rich polished the design while I used my flash programming skills to make a dot move around a maze and collect keys. I think it sounds silly but it really felt revolutionary:

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The simple gratification of opening that door pushed us forward. From there we started work on what we call “GAME 01″… a love letter to all things pixelated, an ambitious hybrid of robotron, zelda, and a dozen other retro favorites, all with a zen/whimsical style that we’re still trying to explore and advance in the games we create today.

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GAME 01 doesn’t have any particular story or goal, and it wasn’t designed to have one either. You are GUY, and you are in the world to simply exist, experience, explore, discover and battle with an impressive array of incredibly weird and more-detailed-than-they-need-to-be characters. The world map didnt SEEM overly large, but as we would learn over and over again through the next 10 years, just because you can fit the entire design of a game on a single page, it doesnt mean you can actually get it done on time 🙂

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Now that I look at it, it really does seem like a pretty massive game. Each room was meticulously detailed with scripted encounters, secrets, unqiue special effects, battles, treasure, etc, and we didnt design the rooms until we put them in the game. We found that it took a few days to get each room right, and if you do the math, you’ll find that we had quite a long road ahead of us…

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(Here is what we actually completed… sort of.)

So, we abandoned the project (at the time we said we’d come back to it later) and decided to make a game that existed inside a single room. We figured we might as well use some characters from GAME 01, and the “wind bosses” seemed like they were asking for something more from life than controlling a complex choreograghy of doom:

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We also threw in “little dude” or “dude” as he would later be called…

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and his worm-like sidekick “pooper”.

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These 4 characters of course formed GAMMA BROS, which will be discussed in a few days time. For now, please enjoy, for the first time EVER, a recorded playthrough of what we managed to complete from GAME 01:

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment

Potatoman launched on STEAM


We’re pleased to announce that Potatoman Seeks The Troof is now available on STEAM!

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Click here to view the app on the Steam Store.

We’ve made some major updates to this version, including:
– Brand new rendering engine with smoother gameplay, more vibrant colors and true fullscreen mode
– Controller support
– Steam achievements
– Improved ending sequence
– Alternate color palettes for each level on subsequent playthroughs

If you already have a copy of the game, contact us at pixeljamgames@gmail.com to get your free Steam Key.

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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment