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Postmortem: Q-Games' Pixeljunk 4am
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Postmortem: Q-Games' Pixeljunk 4am

April 3, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

3. Renaming from lifelike to 4am

Around July 2011, we realized we had a completely different beast than we'd started with. There was an internal and external need to redefine the project and leave behind any associations to the old one. We couldn't have known how much of an effect renaming to 4am would have, though. In the initial meetings a lot of names were thrown around that came very close (PixelJunk: Acid, PixelJunk: Groove) but once it was said, 4am caught on almost instantly. It encapsulated the identity that we in the office had all come to attribute to the game, and it was the only one we could agree on that would convey that identity to people outside as well.

4am best captured the atmosphere of a club in the early hours of the morning. The name change didn't just throw off the shackles of old design ideas and tech for us; it gave everyone a common word to congregate around. It's also just plain fun to say.

4. A Radio Station on PSN

4am broadcasts all performances live around the world using the PlayStation Network. There is also a Free Viewer available for download, which allows anyone to stream current live performances even if they don't own the game itself. It is essentially a free Visualizer-powered radio station available to anyone with a PS3, where the performers create the content.

Needless to say, this was some uncharted territory both for us and for Sony. Sony's Title User Storage (TUS) service came to the rescue, helping us avoid P2P networking by storing a buffer of each broadcast per user on their servers.

Unlike regular streaming services (UStream, for example), we wanted 4am to be live without interruption, so we couldn't allow for any buffer latency to occur. This meant that the data sent across the network needed to be heavily packed.

4am currently creates an initial one-time-only buffer on load, so if the network connection drops packets during a performer's playback, the buffer shrinks permanently. Fortunately, we managed to keep the network data packet size to a minimum, which meant 4am has an almost-negligible rate of packet loss.

The Free Viewer contains all the same assets as the full version, so we only have to send the Move's motion data (gyro and accelerometer) to effectively call all the same functions on the local client, meaning that viewers' PS3s are actually replaying the performer's Move motion data in order to replicate the performance, not simply streaming a video.

We wanted 4am to be viewable to all PS3 owners, with thousands of people concurrently streaming live performances, and a P2P network setup simply would not have been able to handle that kind of load. It's also nice to know that our unorthodox use of the TUS didn't overload Sony's servers.

5. Support Your Stars

PixelJunk 4am was designed to encourage "performance" in every sense of the word, but we only realized what we'd really made once the live beta started. The live beta was an online stage where players could perform. As people started playing with the live beta, they began to post videos and personal streams of themselves performing in 4am to build their own followings.

We were humbled to see that players were already enjoying themselves with just the featureless beta, and once we released it, the social effect was compounded. One feature shining through is the auto-shuffle attract mode: While on the main menu, 4am will seek current live streams in the background and put up a random person playing live as a menu background.

This attract mode also adds to the head count for that performer's crowd. A stable of other features (Facebook, Twitter, hometown, local time, avatar display) were also designed to let players stamp their own identity on an event; identity really lets performers make the 4am events their own. Since we've launched and gone live, some performers are amassing crowds with thousands of people in the audience. Most people will go their whole lives and never be able to play in front of a live audience of that capacity. I'm thrilled people are experiencing that.

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