Dead Pixels is one of those indie co-op gems that serves as an example for why this feature got started on Co-Optimus. Six months after Dead Pixels made its debut on the Xbox Live Indie Games scene, the 8-bit styled zombie shooter found its way onto Desura and eventually Steam. That is a quite a successful run for a small game that, as one-man development team John Common put it, "had pretty much a budget of near nothing." To get a little further insight into some of Dead Pixels' success, the road it traveled, and the man behind it all, we recently spoke with John about the game and what's next for his development studio, CSR Studios.
Co-Optimus: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into game development.
John Common: My Name is John Common, I’m from rural Scotland, and I’m the one man team behind CSR-Studios and Dead Pixels. I do pretty much everything, from marketing and editing trailers to games design, programming and art. I got into games development because it was something I wanted to do, and I hoped it would lead to something, or at least give my CV a boost.
Co-Optimus: Dead Pixels was your first game to have seen a major surge in popularity and has been out for a little over a year now; first on Xbox Live Indie Games, then Desura on the PC, and recently on Steam. All told, how long was the game’s development cycle? How did you manage to sustain its development/handle the costs?
John: Dead Pixels was actually my 4th released game, it’s just no one remembers the flops. There’s also been 4-6 unfinished or unreleased games that few people know about.
Development on Dead Pixels started in February 2011, about 7 months before the release on Xbox. After that it became hard to track how much time went into development, and what went into things like working on marketing, the website and other things. At this point I estimate it’s taken 13-14 months to get the game where it is now. When it came to money, Dead Pixels had pretty much a budget of near nothing. Anything I couldn’t do myself I would try to get for free or as close to free as possible. During development I was constantly reminded of the Steve Martin and Eddie Murphie film, "Bowfinger," where a director is trying to make a film on as little money as possible.
Co-Optimus: From a big picture view, what do you feel you got right with the game? What about what went wrong during its development? Are there certain things you wish you could go back and completely change?
John: I think what I really done right was taking in feedback from playtesters and adjusting the game so it was what they wanted, as well as fitting my vision for what the game should be. A lot of things like the speed the player walks at were tweaked multiple times during testing to get it at just the right speed where both I and playtesters were happy. I think If I had made the game without playtesting it would not be the hit it has became.
The thing that went really wrong for me was probably managing my time after the xbox release. I ended up pushing myself way too hard trying to add more content, and this lead to a lot of stress and some depression. This meant that some of my work I put out at that time wasn’t as good as it should have been. I still haven’t found the perfect balance between work and rest, but hopefully it’s something I will crack in the near future.
If I could go back and change anything I probably would have coded the game with online coop in mind. It’s the number one asked for feature on both PC and Xbox, and because of the way the game was coded, it’s just not possible to add it in without rewriting the whole game.