VGB Feature: They Bleed Pixels Post-Launch Interview with Spooky Squid’s Miguel Sternberg

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Released on Steam in late August, They Bleed Pixels is the Lovecraftian brain child of Spooky Squid Games, a gothic precision platforming beat-’em-up that showers players with pixelated blood and hardcore challenge.

Now that They Bleed Pixels has launched, after a couple years in development and a platform switch from Xbox Live Indie Games to PC, Spooky Squid founder, pixel artist and game designer Miguel Sternberg was kind enough to set aside some time to tell us more about the game’s creation and where it’s headed next.

For those of you who have not yet played the game, we have another special treat. Spooky Squid has hooked us up with three Steam download codes for They Bleed Pixels, and we’re giving them away. All’s you gotta do is drop a comment on this page, and then on Friday, October 19 three lucky winners will be chosen at random. Read, enjoy, comment, and possibly win an indie instant classic!

VGBlogger: What has the reception to They Bleed Pixels been like since its launch? Has it been as successful as you had hoped for thus far?

Miguel Sternberg: The reception has been really positive and sales have been pretty solid so far. One of really pleasant surprise has been the reception from the twitch.tv and YouTube let’s play communities. It’s been really fun watching so many folks play through and comment on the game.

VGB: Prior to release, They Bleed Pixels was switched from Xbox Live Indie Games to Steam. What about the XBLIG market has changed since first beginning development to cause the platform shift?

MS: When we started on the project there were some positive signs that XBLIG might be coming into it’s own. A few games had been modest financial successes and there was the potential it could grow. However during production we saw a slow decline. Then the Minecraft clones blew up and dominated the top sales slots. Because Microsoft doesn’t really do anything to curate the XBLIG shop and help people find quality games that ended up being the final nail in the coffin. There’s pretty much no way to break through that wall of clones filling the top slots.

In the meantime Steam just keeps growing, and more and more console style games like Super Meatboy, Jamestown and others have found an audience through it. At some point it just became obvious we should make the switch.

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VGB: Was PSN ever a consideration at any point during development?

MS: Since we were locked into XNA pretty early on, PSN really wasn’t an option since XNA only deploys to PC and XBOX. That said I wouldn’t rule it out for the future since we’ll be starting to port the game to Mac and Linux soon and that will open up other potential platforms as well. I’d love to see a PS3 and Vita version personally.

VGB: What are your thoughts on the current indie scene in general? Do you see the console digital download markets being profitable enough to support indies or is PC still the go-to destination for small studios to get their games into players’ hands?

MS: The assumptions in that question are actually kinda reversed. A few years ago it was really important to hit XBLA or PSN. Those were the primary markets for commercial indie games in terms of sales and PC was always a secondary market. However I feel like in the last year or two that’s shifted and you’ve seen some games do much better on Steam then they did on XBLA. There is still a certain prestige to having a game on a console but I think that’s shifting as well.

VGB: Now that the game has been released, what does the future hold for They Bleed Pixels and what’s next for Spooky Squid? Are there any plans to release on other PC digital download services and have you had a chance to reevaluate the viability of doing a conversion to XBLIG (or any other platform)?

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MS: For they Bleed Pixels we have the aforementioned ports to Mac and Linux planned as well as releasing some free bonus levels. Once the ports are done we’ll decide whether we want to do a larger expansion for TBP (we have some great ideas for this already) or start on the next big Spooky Squid game.

I also have a smaller iOS game I’ve been thinking about that we might put out between major releases.

VGB: Reflecting back now that the game is complete, what was the biggest challenge you faced during development?

MS: I’d have to say the biggest challenge has been financial. Over the two years it was in development we basically financed the game on a mix of savings, personal loans from family and contract work. We were also lucky enough to get some investment from a few successful indie game devs near the end of development and that helped us make the jump from XBLIG to PC.

We’re hardly unique in this though, I think most indie devs face the same sort of challenges financing their first games.

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VGB: From concept to completion, how well do you think you achieved the original vision you had when first beginning development on They Bleed Pixels? Were there any ideas you really wanted to implement but were forced to cut or couldn’t get to function properly?

MS: We had a lot of random ideas in the original document that didn’t make it in. Most of them because they just weren’t a good fit once we discovered what the core of the game was. For instance we had this idea where she could summon blood creatures to fight with her when fully powered. While cool, that feature would have ended up being a distraction from the core mechanics and would have resulted in a weaker less focused game.

There are some ideas, particularly for new enemy types, that we had during production but didn’t have the time to implement by the time they occurred to us. Those might find there way into DLC sometime down the road.

VGB: Bonus levels in the game feature crossover themes from other indie games. How did these partnerships come about and are there any plans to put more of these bonus levels together post launch? Is there any intention to add to the game in general?

MS: We basically just asked friends if they were interested. There’s a really big indie game community here in Toronto. In terms of future guest levels the only one we have planned right now is the already announced exp. level from Mathew Kumar. However that may change in the future!

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VGB: The earned checkpoint system is one of the game’s more unique features. How did the idea for this come about? Have you secretly (or openly) hated the traditional scripted checkpoint method and thus decided to use this game to finally show that there are alternatives?

MS: It actually came out of a dissatisfaction I have with typical power ups. We wanted a reward for engaging in combat and using a variety of moves to defeat enemies. However it was important to us that it wouldn’t end up undermining the core combat mechanics the way most power ups do. So we were asking friends for ideas and Mathew Kumar suggested the checkpoint idea. I loved the idea and so we experimented with it and found a way to make it work.

After working with our earned checkpoint system I would definitely encourage more designers to experiment with integrating checkpoints and saving more closely with gameplay. It’s definitely an area that’s been under explored.

VGB: What level of difficulty were you aiming for? Did you set out to make a truly brutal old-school experience for us masochistic gamers or would you say the challenge is balanced for all skill levels?

MS: They Bleed Pixels is quite hard. But not necessarily in the way those older masochistic games were. We’re not out to steal quarters, so it’s more tough but fair rather then straight up mean for meanness sake.

I feel like difficulty is under appreciated in a lot of modern game design. Difficulty does potentially add frustration, but it also asks players to fully engage and understand a game’s systems. I’ve played a lot of games with really interesting mechanics that I could just ignore because the game never asked me to use them. Difficulty encourages mastery and gaining a full understanding of a game’s systems.

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VGB: Pixel art games have really caught on with the indie gaming community, even among players who didn’t grow up when this style of graphics was cutting edge and thus have no nostalgic connection. As you see it, what is it about the pixelated style that seems to appeal to such a wide range of gamers?

MS: I think it’s just a really attractive art style when done well. It’s colourful, it has a simple iconic clarity that communicates well. What’s not to like?

VGB: Is there anything else you would like gamers to know about They Bleed Pixels? The mic is yours to make a sales pitch!

MS: I’m all sales pitched out! They Bleed Pixels is available on Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/211260/

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!