Pixeljam Games was co-founded by myself and Richard Grillotti in 2006. At the time, we were roommates in a small Chicago apartment just living the typical nerd-bachelor lifestyle. I was paying the bills doing contract flash animation, and Rich was a freelance photographer and designer. The idea for us making games together came after Rich had created a series of super minimal pixel models for a local art/fashion show. After the event, we decided these simple yet intriguing characters needed their own games.
The Birth of GUY
GUY was the male translation of one of Rich’s earlier female characters. He seemed like a well-rounded fellow, ready to tackle any challenge we threw at him. I spent a good portion of 2006 learning to program games, just so Guy could have his own special adventure… but our ambitions for him were too great, and we soon realized that we needed to focus on something smaller and more attainable in scope.
We took two boss characters (Buzz and Zap) from Guy’s game and gave them their own space shooter, which later became GAMMA BROS. At this time we also added Mark DeNardo to the team, doing all of the game’s sound effects and music.
Gamma Bros got us an award nomination and some tickets to the 2007 IGF, initiating us into the indie game scene, which at the time was not nearly as vibrant as it is now. In fact, we didn’t even know it existed until we went to GDC and met a bunch of other amazing people doing the exact same thing! Super charged with positive energy, we decided to make this our full-time job.
Keep on Runnin’
We toyed with a few prototypes after Gamma Bros, but nothing stuck. Then during a road trip that Rich and I were on, he made a fun little doodle in his sketch pad that would later become our most well known game: Dino Run.
The game took about 7 months to make, and — to this day — has been played online about 100 million times. We like Dino Run so much that we are currently Kickstarting its sequel! The campaign is also part of OUYA’s Free the Games Fund.
The Adult Swim Days
After Dino Run, we spent a few years making games for Adult Swim. The guys at AS are great, very indie friendly, and basically gave us free reign to run with any crazy ideas we had. I think our best games from that period are Mountain Maniac and Corporate Climber. All the while, we were itching to start back on our own games, and this is how Potatoman was born.
The Potatoman character was created by Rich quite a while before the game was made… just one of those quick sketches he came up with and set aside. He’s one of my favorite video game characters of all time, mainly because he’s so unassuming. He looks like he has a real purpose, but has not yet discovered it. He’s a bit naive, but dedicated to his life’s work and quite athletic as well! I think the entire game manifested itself into reality just from a single image.
We created the game in flash/actionscript, but targeted Mac, PC and Linux (self-executables). This was something new for us, as we had been making browser-based games for so long, with the exception of Dino Run SE. A few months after the game’s release, we talked to Kellee Santiago about the possibility of bringing the game to OUYA.
Flash doesn’t run so well on Android, mainly because it renders all it’s graphics through the CPU, which would choke even the most powerful mobile device. So we used the Startling Framework to render all the game’s visuals through the GPU instead.
The process took between 2 to 3 weeks, and the results we great! We got the game running at a smooth framerate really quickly. The bulk of the work was mainly just fixing bugs introduced by the conversion and implementing some IAP. The conversion also gave me an opportunity to redo the game’s final “starfield” sequence, which I always thought was kind of lackluster in the original.
Working with OUYA has been great. They have the agility and responsiveness of a small indie team, and the support we’ve seen from them and their community has been awesome.
Pixeljam’s Present and Future
Recently our team has grown to 6 people: Don Thacker (Programming and Video), Jeffrey Nielson (Art Direction), Alex Bakke (Community Manager), in addition to the original team of Rich, Mark and myself.
We’re working on a few games now that will see release in early 2014. First, there’s Glorkian Warrior: Trials Of Glork, a platformer / schmup hybrid, and collaboration with cartoonist James Kochalka. It will be launched on iOS, Android and OUYA — with eventual ports to Mac and PC.
We’re also working on an update to the original Dino Run, which will be released on Steam. Beyond that, we’re considering launching Potatoman on iOS. There are a few other things in the works, as always, but nothing that we can reveal just yet :)