The PixelJunk series has taken the PlayStation Network by storm, with unique concepts feeding the addictive gaming need of the PlayStation massive.
I talk to Q-Games founder Dylan Cuthbert about their upcoming game PixelJunk Eden, in addition to Trophies, future projects and how they manage to pump out such great games at an astounding rate.
Patrick: Hello Dylan, thanks for answering some of our questions. Can you talk a little bit about the overall design philosophy for the Pixeljunk series?
Dylan: PixelJunk series 1 was created to let us go back and make the kind of games we wanted to make before 3d made it’s appearance, but at the same time to use modern technology to do things we couldn’t do back then. One technology is Full-HD and HDMI which might not seem it but is a huge enabler of PixelJunk – HDMI gives us proper colours at last, and Full-HD gives us no pixilation with extremely high clarity of image. All of our games have been designed to appeal to this – you might see a lot of games that run in 1080p but the graphics still look like flash games, this is because they aren’t taking 1080p and running with it properly. 1080p gives you *resolution* which is detail, so developers are going to have to learn to not be afraid of that.
Patrick: How would you classify Pixeljunk Eden? Is it a relaxing casual game, a challenging hardcore game, or a combination of both?
Dylan: PixelJunk Eden is a relaxing game which is challenging at the same time. I think we’ve somehow magically struck the perfect balance, but that of course is up to you all to decide.
Remember that Mario Bros. 1 was a “casual” game that probably billions of people have played and enjoyed, but at the same time it was incredibly challenging, but because of the amazing attention to detail in the controls for that game you can still play it now and have a ton of fun. This is what we’ve aimed for with Eden’s core dynamics. We think people will play this game over and over again, simply because it feels fun all the time. I’ve probably played it the most and I still boot up a different level each day and have a blast. There’s just something intrinsically “feel-good” about it.
Patrick: How do you balance the relaxing and challenging aspects of the game? Can you play entirely one way or the other (without a time limit, for example?)
Dylan: Early on we didn’t have the “oscillator” gauge that acts as your time limit, but that caused the game to lack tension (even slight tension). One important design decision was to limit the max of the oscillator so the player doesn’t just have to keep collecting the tuning crystals – ie. you collect a few to be safe for a few minutes, then you bound around, then you search out a few more crystals etc., it adds a really good rhythm to the play and gets the player to go to different areas of the stage he might not have gone to otherwise. The tuning crystals are kind of like the coins in a Mario game and the game is balanced so you don’t have to collect them all.
For people who just want to dope out without time they can play around on the title screen which is, of course, your garden of Eden, from which you tune into other gardens.
Patrick: How would you describe the visual style and audio design for Eden?
Dylan: Mmm… “minimalist avant-garde” perhaps? There’s probably a little art-deco in there too.
Patrick: How many levels are in the game? Are there any unlockable bonus modes?
Dylan: There are 10 gardens, each of which is fairly huge. You kind of expand each one with each play as the no. of Spectra you have to collect increases and your home garden (the title screens) grows and lets you get to other stages. For a good player there’s at least fifteen hours of gameplay I think. The difficulty slope is tuned pretty nicely and we’ve had several comments from online sites with preview copies reflecting this.
I can’t tell you about unlockable stuff, you’re going to have to find out for yourselves. ;)
Patrick: What are some of the ways you introduce new challenges to the player? We played one level where the gravity continually shifts– are there other surprises like that to be found?
Dylan: Yes, the gravity stage is my personal favourite, it’s something I’ve wanted to put in a game since I was about ten years old. Games are abstract so the current trend towards realism is frustrating, we need more games like Portal for example. Anyway, we have a no. of other cool gimmicks in there, and they are introduced to the player over the course of playing the game, so I shouldn’t reveal them too much as it is more fun to be surprised by them.
Patrick: Will Eden receive bonus levels, like Monsters did a few months back?
If it’s popular then yes, most definitely, we want to give fans what they want if we can (and it helps us fund future games.)
Patrick: Will Eden support custom soundtracks? Moreover, will PixelJunk Monsters support custom soundtracks as was shown in the Playstation.Blog demonstration of Firmware update 2.40?
Dylan: Custom soundtracks are a bit difficult to implement when we’ve gone out of our way to tie our design and music together to this extent. I’m not sure this whole custom soundtrack thing is good for the artistic integrity of a game, however the answer to this question is neither yes nor no.
Patrick: Is there a story to tie together the action in Eden?
Dylan: Your garden of Eden has been laid waste by the pollen prowlers and the Spectra energy you need for your garden has been scattered far and wide. Tune into these other garden’s dimensions and find your Spectra to grow your garden back to its former glory!
Patrick: What kind of natural environments inspired you while working on this game?
Dylan: Well truth be told, the first illustrative sketch Baiyon drew was of a very colourful jungle with little creatures everywhere. We slowly whittled that down into the solid gameplay that Eden has now, adding physics and pixel-perfect collision detection, and the whole plants growing thing on the way.
Patrick: We understand that Eden will support trophies. How many trophies will there be, and are there some incredibly tough Gold medals to grab?
Dylan: That info isn’t officially available yet, but if you look online you will see that someone has already leaked it and as far as I can see that info is correct. The total “exp” you will get from the trophies is the same as other PSN games but we haven’t any gold trophies, this is to let us have a few more bronze trophies. We wanted a few extra weird challenges for everyone. There is one silver trophy though.
For more information on Eden’s trophies, please visit Dylan’s entry on the Official Playstation Blog.
Patrick: Will you be rolling out a trophies patch for PixelJunk Monsters?
Dylan: We are looking into it, but there are a no. of technical problems to overcome. Hopefully we’ll overcome them and get trophies into Monsters as soon as we can.
Patrick: What’s next for PixelJunk? Is Dungeons on track for release in another 6 months?
Dylan: There are no dates set yet for future PixelJunk titles and I really want to start series 2 as soon as I can. That being said, we are definitely working on more! All I can say is visit pixeljunk.jp from time to time.
Patrick: Will Dungeons be in a similar 2D style as the previous games?
Dylan: Dungeons isn’t officially announced yet, and perhaps we will release a game before that one gets finished, who knows. We like to keep all our options open, and even something that seems as obvious as to what it is as “Dungeons” is, might not end up being what people expect it to be. ;-)
Whatever these games become though, you can rest-assured they will be as innovative and fun as we can possibly make them.
Patrick: You appear to be popping out PSN games very efficiently. You must be running a tight ship. How big is your team, and what advice would you give other PSN/XBL developers who might like to meet a release schedule as productive as yours?
Dylan: Why dilly-dally eh? Games used to be made at this rate back in the 1980s and with less people, so there must be ways to get back to that level of production and we are in the process of re-discovering them again.
It makes the whole game-making process addictive to developers again if they can make stuff and then see people playing it within the same year. If you make the process addictive again you are going to get better and more interesting games as a natural result. This is why indy games have become so good the past few years. That, and avenues such as PSN and XBLA are available to release the games on now. It lets us make smaller games with variable price points.
Patrick: Many people won’t know that Q-Games also created the Earth Music Visualizer and the wavy cloth background for the PS3, can you talk a little bit about how these came about?
Dylan: We have always had a close relationship with Sony, and we’ve developed lots of tech. for them over the years, a lot of which hasn’t seen the light of day. The Earth visualiser (and the main visualiser, as well as the cloth background) are the results of that collaboration. We also have tech examples in the PSP SDK (stained-glass and focus-blur) and our demos were showing off the PSP at its debut at E3 2004. (Harmonic City and Duck in a bath)
Talking of duck-in-a-bath, we had nothing to do with the PS3 demo or game but I originally made the PS2 duck-bath technical demonstration which was rendered with curved surfaces!
Patrick: Do you have any plans for similar visualisers, or an update to the current ones? Such as a more music reactive behaviour for the Earth visualiser. How about a PixelJunk Eden music visualiser?
Dylan: We have no plans at the moment – we are too busy on other stuff, and of course PixelJunk now, but you never know in the future something might come up.
Patrick: Thanks very much for your time. One last question: How much will PixelJunk Eden cost and when can we buy it!?
Dylan: It is out simultaneously worldwide on July 31st – in the US it will be under 10 bucks, and in the EU it will be under 8 euros I think. In Japan it will be 900 yen, so roughly the same price across all territories.
And there’s more good news. A PixelJunk Eden demo will be released on the US PlayStation Store tonight! Ooh, that made me feel like Jack Tretton at E3. If you’re a European who’s not savvy enough to create a US PSN account, a demo will release on the Euro PlayStation Store alongside the full game next week.
For our hands-on impressions of PixelJunk Eden please jump over to Andrew Podolsky’s Preview.