Indie Focus: Pixel Boarder

Our second look at a key indie game.

In our first Indie Focus we spoke to the guy behind quirky Xbox Indie Games platformer Tobe’s Vertical Adventure, and discussed the game, art and sales.   For our second in the series we chat to Pixel Friends, the team behind the wonderfully pixely Pixel Boarder, topical (just in time for the Winter Olympics) and utterly brilliant to boot.

I started by asking Pixel Friends what the inspiration was for the game.  “The gameplay was inspired by the great “Ski Stunt Simulator”, a game with similar physics-based controls,” was the reply. “I wanted to take that general idea of gameplay, and find a way to adapt the control scheme to a modern game console controller.”

In a similar way to Tobe’s’, Pixel Boarder concentrates on a retro-esque pixel art look.  “Being a lifelong gamer, of course I love the pixel art style,” said our interviewee when asked about the aesthetics of the game.

“With Pixel Boarder I was trying to take those extremely low-res sprites from old-school games, and use modern rendering techniques like shadows and lighting to make a sort of hybrid between old and new. I think it turned out pretty unique, it’s one of the parts of the game I’m most proud of.”

In terms of sales, the game has sold around 1,000 copies.  “Since this is my first game on the Xbox Live Indie Games service, I don’t have much of a reference point,” we’re told.  “But based on other published numbers, the game is doing… OK.  ”  I asked what the conversion rate was from the demo to the full game.  “10%,” said the spokesperson.

“Being included in the “IGN Picks” section of the marketplace has helped people discover the game I think.”

I asked him what he was working on next, after Pixel Boarder, but it appears his first game is still his focus.  “Right now I’m working on an update to Pixel Boarder,” we’re told, “that will fix a few bugs and also add a few new courses. After that, I have a few ideas floating around, but not yet decided on what my next XBLIG game will be.”

Something we always ask is whether the independent studio thinks Microsoft is doing enough to publicise the Indie Games service.  “I think they’ve made a lot of changes since the original launch that have definitely helped,” said Pixel Friends. “Lately the quality of the games being released on the service has also really shot up, so hopefully Microsoft will take notice, and do even more to make the service as enticing to indie developers as the App Store!”

“There are a lot of great games on the Indie channel right now, and if a compilation disc came out, I think it could really help people learn that these games exist, just a few button presses into the marketplace. I think a lot of Xbox Live players still don’t know about it.”

It seems that our interviewee is keen to work on the PS3, though.  “I have a PS3 as well as my Xbox 360, and would love the chance to develop for PS3 as well,” he said. “Xbox has a very protected online system that only allows Indie games to connect to other players in multiplayer sessions over Xbox live, there is no direct internet access allowed.”

How does the PS3 differ, I ask.  “Sony’s more open attitude to network features might mean games could take advantage of more online-connected features, which would be interesting from a development perspective.”

In terms of other games, Pixel Friends recommends readers take a look at CarnyVale, Fishing Girl, The Arkedo series (particularly Pixel), Gerbil Physics, Cubism, RC-AirSim and Grapple Buggy (when it comes out).  Common choices – I’d personally agree with Fishing Girl and the Arkedo games – they’re utterly fabulous.  But back to Pixel Boarder.

“Many people find the controls a big difficult or frustrating at first,” said Pixel Friends, “but give it some time, and it’ll “click”. Once it dos, the game becomes quite addictive, and the freedom that the controls give you makes things much more interesting.”

It’s worth mentioning the great music in closing, too.  “If you like chiptunes or old-school videogame music, give the trial a download just to hear the soundtrack and support the great musicians who lent their songs to the game,” suggested Pixel Friends. “The credits screen gives info and URLs for each artist as well.”

Indeed do – Pixel Boarder is 240 points from the Xbox Live Indie Games section on the Marketplace, or you can click here to download it from Xbox.com.

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