Pixeljam

Pixeljam is the spot for those of us who lived through the 80’s hooked to our Nintendos or other early generation systems, had tantrums when the controllers were confiscated and maybe had a few seizures from staring at the screen for too long. Rich and Miles have gone back and revisited the concepts of some of their favorite 8-bit games and done the unthinkable… made them better, thanks to the wonders of Flash animation! Check out their award winning games like Rat Maze, Rat Maze 2, Dino Dash and Gamma Bros at www.pixeljam.com. Not restricted to gaming, Pixeljam hosts a full-on pixel art gallery as well.

“I dream of pixel forms, and they float around my head and I see them everywhere. It’s not so bad.”

Format: What gave you the idea to create your own 8-bit flash games? Were you tired of clunky old Atari and C-64 emulators?
Miles: Both Rich and I are children of the 80’s, and I think that pretty much formed our idea of what a great game needs to have. We have both had game ideas our entire life, and this just seemed like the natural thing to do.

Rich: Well, I do get tired of clunky emulators. Probably the most disappointing has been the not-so-well emulated Atari 2600 games on those plug & play joysticks. I was all excited to play Adventure one day and found a purple dragon, clunky controls, graphical looseness, I think even the sound was off. Thankfully, I still have my old Atari 2600, which still works amazingly well.

Format: Your work is not limited to games, you also founded the Pixeljam Gallery. What got you started on your fascination with 8 bit graphics?
Rich: Well, being that blocky graphics were the only option I had as a child, it was quite enough to satisfy me. Even now, just looking at pixel art in any form sort of touches that warm and fuzzy part of my being. It’s always been a fantasy to make my own games. I do have game ideas for present day console capabilities, but once I started playing around with creating pixel art characters and objects it all fell into place very naturally. I really love being able to pick up making games from that phase of video game history. There was something so pure and simple about classic games.

I feel very much that as technical evolution takes place, some great phases get sort of rushed through to move on to the next step, leaving so much untapped potential. I’m glad to be able to pick up where these 8-bit (and earlier) games left off … I want to go further down that path that was mostly abandoned, but at the same time, returning to it with present day gaming sensibility and also taking advantage of options that weren’t available back then, such as using as the processing power of today’s computers, the depth of current programming languages, using many or as little colors as I choose, etc. There have been a lot of lessons learned over the years just from playing games… I love having the option to pause when I need to, and adjust the sound & music volumes for a game, and online multiplayer possibilities are exciting.

Format: A lot of flash games, as well as the traditional 8-bit games you are emulating, tend to loop and repeat themselves after you get to a certain level. Do yours have an end-sequence?
Miles: All of our games have end sequences… some are just harder to get to than others. I prefer not to play games that go on forever, but it does create a certain mystique around the game, and questions like ‘how long do I have to play this thing in order to see the end?’ often pop up. Montezuma’s Revenge comes to mind. Does that game ever end? If so, I think I’d pay to see the end screen.

Rich: Haha. Yeah, where’s the cheat option to see that! I definitely agree that it’s great to have a reward/s to shoot for when playing a game. Even a simple little acknowledgment is appreciated; it’s amazing what we’ll settle for. I guess I’m a fan of supplying a reward for greater performance. I’m not opposed to games that go on indefinitely, but at some point those tend to make me wonder ‘why am I spending my time doing this?’

Format: You might classify the music in your games as ‘chiptunes’. Do you sample or create your own beats?
Miles: Our friend Mark DeNardo creates all of our soundtracks on a
Gameboy or PSP emulating a Gameboy, so there are no samples, it’s all authentic chiptune goodness.

Rich: There are also some non-chiptune sounds that make it into our music and sound FX, but as long as the spirit of retro games is dominant and present, I’m okay with it. No need to be rigid to a fault, although there will be some games in the future where I’d like to really stay exclusive to old school sound possibilities and color limitations as well. But I’ll always be open to the programming doing all it can to make the game work and be fun.

Format: How do you feel about the style coming in to the mainstream with bands like Crystal Castles?
Rich: It’s all great! I love video game inspired music. I love what people are doing & how styles & genres start to merge and become something fresh and exciting. It’s a big celebration of all this classic gaming goodness. I look forward to what springs up next.

Miles: I don’t have a feeling either way, since I have been almost completely cut off from anything resembling modern musical entertainment. This is due to the enormous amount of work it takes to make games. Although I did see a band recently called the Minibosses. Hearing the original Contra soundtrack played in a rock/metal fashion was an almost spiritual experience for some reason.

Format: The intro to Gamma Bros. immediately reminded me of the original SpaceQuest Game by Sierrasoft. Do you have any plans to bring back the old-school adventure style?
Rich: Oh yeah. Definitely! My time creating Pixeljam games will not feel complete unless we make a real solid action/adventure game and some sort of Pixeljam RPG as well. We have some characters and ideas already patiently waiting on the bench for their chance at their own game. Ninjas, wizards, robots. Even some ideas we’ve got for Gamma Bros 3 are adventure game-esque.

Miles: Yes, but maybe not in the traditional sense. Adventure games are my favorite genre, but we have held off on making any because they take so long, and we have been operating with extremely limited resources for quite a while now. I think in 2009 we will finally start making the games we really want to, and that is very exciting to us.

Format: Dino Run actually has a very surprising and diverse level of game play. How much time do you put in to the average game?
Miles: Both Gamma Bros and Dino Run took us about 6-7 months to make, but the Ratmaze games only took about a month each. We also have just as many abandoned prototypes and projects as we do games, if not more. Hopefully some of these things will finally take form.

Format: Do you ever feel like you might have a seizure from staring at pixels too long?
Rich: Yes, maybe not a seizure, but sometimes I work myself so hard and long to get something done right that I feel kinda sick. I dream of pixel forms, and they float around my head and I see them everywhere. It’s not so bad.

Miles: Often at the peak of game development, I will actually see the entire world in pixels, and everything I look at will suddenly appear in my head as a pixeljam-style version of it. This is not necessarily a good thing, particularly in the case of spending time with my wife during more stressful workweeks.

Format: What do you when you’re not making flash games?
Miles: I make music and hang out with my wife, enjoy nature and try to relax.

Rich: I like being in nature, hanging out with friends, relaxing, cooking and eating; sitting still. I enjoy travel quite a bit. Usually I take small road trips whenever possible, but I’d love to do some world traveling. I play games sometimes too, every so often. I’m not much of a gamer any more now that I make them. I don’t have any of the latest systems either. I’m usually a generation behind at least.

Format: What games can we expect in the future?
Miles: A few weeks ago Rich and I actually wrote down all of the projects currently on the table, which means we have prototypes, concept art, or really good ideas for them. Realistically, only a few are ever going to get made, but the ones I would probably bank on are a sequel to Gamma Bros, a slow paced action puzzle game about a frog, an action RPG starring a wizard, and possibly a game about bees. That’s about as far as I can see right now. We could easily spend the rest of our lives doing this and never make a dent in the list of games we want to make, since the list grows all the time. I guess that’s the nature of technology and imagination, one is always going to be steps ahead of the other.

Rich: Expect nothing! I mean, who knows. I don’t know what to expect myself. We want to make more games for sure, and hopefully finish a few that we started but had to put the brakes on. I have a strong desire to make an awesome ninja action adventure game in the next few years. I’d also like to do a number of super-minimal micro games, things with abstract blocky colors and shapes with simple, fun objectives. It would be nice to explore some Atari 2600 style pixel art a bit further and there might be something along those lines coming up in spring 2009. I’m not opposed to getting onto the virtual consoles, iPhone etc, wherever game wind up these days. I get ideas for games that take advantage of the Wii too. We’ll need some real help if we’re going to get involved in any of that. I’d also like to make some more abstract pixel animations series’ too, eventually

More Info: http://www.pixeljam.com/

Jesse Ship
I'm currently Managing Editor of this little web mag here.
Jesse Ship

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5 comments

  1. I thought my page hadn’t fully loaded and even then I was waiting for all the pics to come into focus… but it’s cool… but what I’m really waiting for is Magic Eye to come back! keep doin ya’ll thing

  2. Pixel jam has an unmatchable charm :D
    I love the graphics, sfx, music and overall creativity! I hope there’s an easier way to donate!

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