In the final Independent Games Summit lecture of Monday, Kyoto, Japan-based Q Games' Dylan Cuthbert discussed the PixelJunk series for the PS3's PlayStation Network, some of the only true 'indie' titles not funded by Sony on the service.
He revealed the four games in the series - PixelJunk Racers, PixelJunk Monsters, both already released - and coming soon, and confirmed for the first time - PixelJunk Eden and PixelJunk Dungeons. He then explained the thinking behind the series - simple, straightforward titles with three key elements - simplicity, familiarity, and originality, and also running in HD, at 1080p and 60hz.
Cuthbert then explains just why the company decided to make these titles as well as continuing to work on titles such as StarFox DS or on high-end PS3 operating system tweaks. He put it simply: "Seizing back control from the bland merchants and restoring power to where it belongs" - in the hands of creators.
He then gave the example of Sony's Ape Escape 2001, which started as a flocking algorithm concept for a game - but after the first half of the game, the marketing department decided to replace all the original characters as apes from the Ape Escape series - and then mandated that yellow pants appear on the monkey in a yellow desert level. This lack of creative freedom caused Cuthbert to leave Sony and start Q Games.
Interestingly, Cuthbert suggests that 3D games look great at 1080p, but full-HD 2D looks absolutely amazing, because of the pixel by pixel fidelity. In addition, there's a lot of screen real estate - as many as 17 screenshots of old '80s games onto one 1080p screen. This is his reasoning behind making the PixelJunk series HD and 2D.
So why PixelJunk? Cuthbert decided that they wanted a brand for their indie output, thus calling each title PixelJunk in the series, and letting consumers identify that each dissimilar design was made by the same 'brand'.
So, what of the constraints? The PixelJunk series is set to be created by 5 or less people in 6 months or less - any game design they came up with must fit this requirement. In addition, the concepts needed to be 2D in terms of design - though he revealed that Series 2 of PixelJunk will be unique ways of using 3D in games. Later in the session, he revealed that Series 2 would "...maybe take some of the old 3D looks and bring them up to the full HD kind of style."
How about the tech? PixelJunk uses a scripting language called GameMonkey, and Cuthbert mentioned that StarFox for Super Nintendo - which he co-created - even used a custom scripting language. He noted that GameMonkey used quick iteration for tweaking, goodbye to long compile/link times, safe (no memory corruption), and C-like - but with Lua-like flexibility.
Cuthbert showed an early sketch for PixelJunk Dungeons, the fourth game in the series, depicted as a top-down dungeon crawler, showcasing some potential visual styles for the upcoming post-Eden title.
He then explained the scheduling for the PixelJunk games released so far and in development - Racers development began in February 2007, and it was released in September. Monsters began in April 2007 and was released in December, and Eden began in June 2007.
In concluding, Cuthbert pointed out that the PixelJunk series is self-published in Japan, and published by SCEA/SCEE in the rest of the world. In self-publishing, he discovered that advertising is expensive, but you can get perks sometimes - he got a free week's advert in Famitsu.
He pointed out that viral marketing works - but had an interesting point on game demos. He claimed that a lot of people who had no intention of buying the game downloading the demo, and then potentially complaining about it.
He noted that on PixelJunk Racers, he was "very disheartened" by people who played the demo for short amounts of time and then slated it - suggesting that if you build up you "own little army" of supporters - and also revealed that the titles are doing well - PixelJunk Racers has broken even, and Monsters "is doing much better than that... it's already sold more than Racers."
As an ending point, Cuthbert then showed a video for PixelJunk Eden, the next in the series, and a spectacularly abstract physics-based game where you collect pollen and birth flowers as a small blob - with plenty of primary colors and combo effects.
The Q Games co-founder suggested that the title was "kind of like an organic Mario, in a way" - and its psychedelic visuals went down very well with the audience.