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Q-Time For Q-Games

May 31, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Dylan Cuthbert programmed a 3D game for the original Game Boy -- and in doing so, caught the attention of Nintendo and was flown to its Kyoto headquarters to demonstrate the title. That meeting lead to a partnership which produced the original Super Nintendo Star Fox game. This was first 3D game published by Nintendo on one of its home console platforms.

These days, Cuthbert works out of Kyoto, where he has lived for years. He heads up the studio he founded, Q-Games, which works primarily with Nintendo and Sony. Not only do they develop games, but they also develop back-end tools and system interfaces.

They're best known, however, for the PixelJunk series, a line of downloadable games exclusive to PlayStation Network which have amassed a large fanbase since the platform's launch. The latest game to be released was PixelJunk Shooter.

Gamasutra recently had a chance to speak to Cuthbert about the history of the company, his work with Sony and Nintendo, and the thinking and technology behind the popular downloadable game series.

How many PixelJunk games are there so far?

Dylan Cuthbert: Four. PixelJunk Shooter is the fourth one. But we also released Encore extensions, as well. So in total there are six actual games out there, in effect.

Now that you've been doing it for awhile, how do you feel about PixelJunk? Is is a strategy for you? Is it something you enjoy doing the best?

DC: Yeah, it gives us a lot of range to try and push ourselves to make different games every time, and I think that's really cool. We don't get stuck in making one type of game, and so, when we're thinking about the next game to make, we try and make something completely different again.

You launched PixelJunk as a series. Did that really help to elevate it in people's minds -- they can look forward to the next PixelJunk game?

DC: That was the point when I first made the series. I didn't want to make separate games and have each one kind of disappear without anything linking them together. Even though the games are different, because it's the same people making them, obviously the tastes are kind of the same -- not the visual taste, but the game aesthetics.

I think it was really important to us to kind of link all together; it's important for the fans, as well, so that, when we release another PixelJunk game, they'll know roughly what they'll be getting: a quirky title, something a bit different; something that they won't expect.

There was a lot of excitement for Shooter, I think, just by virtue of it being a PixelJunk game, that you probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

DC: Yeah, I think so. I mean, that's the good thing; it means that people are learning what to expect or at least anticipate that the game will have a certain seal of quality to it.

I think that's cool. Our next game, as well -- of course, we can never let anybody down now, so we have to try really hard to keep the quality up and keep it going.

PixelJunk Shooter

You ran a naming contest for Shooter, and it ended up quite a prosaic name in the end.

DC: Yeah, we got about ten thousand entries and about four thousand different names to choose from. We listed them all up, and in fact the most popular name was Elements; but we couldn't choose that really because, for one thing, we couldn't choose a name beginning with an E. We decided afterwards that, if the name begins with an E, than it's the same as PixelJunk Eden, so we need to now name all of our games with a different letter at the beginning.

So that was one reason, but the other reason was Elements sounded a little bit too... I dunno, a little bit too much like a puzzle game; we wanted more of an action sound. Shooter had like ten or twenty votes for it, so we thought, "That's not too bad. Let's use that one." Basically, the whole team went through all the lists of all the names and started sorting them and put votes in; eventually we picked the right one for the game.

You guys are sticking pretty much to 2D gameplay.

DC: That's for Series 1, yeah. For Series 2, we're going to go for the weird 3D stuff, I think.

Is it mostly an aesthetic choice, or is it in terms of ramping up production?

DC: No, it's aesthetic; we wanted to do pure 2D, and so that's what we did with this series.

I think it's actually great that the download platforms have really allowed 2D to resurge, and I think everyone's realizing that. Not only are people realizing that we missed it, but you hear designers talking about the advantages of it, which I can't imagine that people talked about in the last 10 years.

DC: Yeah, yeah. No, that's what I really enjoy. It's not just PSN and XBLA; I think it's the fact that we have full HDTVs and HDMI. The visual quality of 2D now is so much higher than it was 10 years ago, and I think that that makes a big difference. It's allowed 2D to resurge, I think, so that people realize, "Oh! You can actually get really pretty pictures."

The funny thing is, particularly with Eden, using Baiyon's art, it was a 2D game that presented an aesthetic that would not previously have happened in a 2D game -- wouldn't have been possible.

DC: Yeah. There's a lot of technology in that game. And just all the physics of the plants and the way they grow and even the collision detection between the plants and the main player is actually quite complicated because it's all very pixel-perfect.

And the clean, crisp graphic design aesthetic, which I don't think could have happened very easily...

DC: It's very difficult to do, yeah. It's all clean and anti-aliased, and just looks really nice.

It actually felt really fresh; even though it's a 2D game.

DC: I think that's what's cool. We can reapply all the modern technology to the old 2D format and do a lot more with it.

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