Co-Optimus: When the game was first released, it only had the campaign mode with promises of additional content, which you delivered, should sales of the game hit certain levels. Was your plan from the start to get this game out there and see what kind of reaction it would get; a sort of test case game? Did you have another plan in place for what to do next?
John: Basically, the reason I decided to do it that way was that after spending 7 months working on it, I was beginning to worry that I had became too close to the game, and couldn’t see that it was a bad game. It’s something that happens all the time to developers, but I was coming up with more ideas, and I decided to not work on them until I knew if the game would be a flop. I remember the first goal was 3,000 sales, and I hit that in a few days. The second goal was to get 10,000 sales which was my lifetime sales target. It’s funny to think the game has now over 60,000 sales on Xbox and it still gets an average of 100 a day over a year after release, but back then I just hoped to get 10,000 before people forgot about it.
Co-Optimus: What was involved with the game’s transition to those other (i.e., Steam and Desura) digital platforms and how did it happen? Were the sales on XBLIG good enough to make something like that easier, or did you know you’d move to the PC no matter what?
John: The coding wasn’t too painful. Dead Pixels was coded with the XNA framework so it could already run on PC. Most of my time went into adding support for 3rd party pads and mouse control of menus. It was time consuming, but not particularly hard.
When it came to getting on Desura and in the Indie Royale, I didn’t need to do much. I was basically contacted by them, and the process was pretty easy. Getting the game setup on their services wasn’t too hard either.
Getting on Steam was a much slower process. I applied to the old system around May. I basically gave them sales numbers for the xbox version, links to reviews (including the Co-Optimus review) and a beta copy of the game. I submitted this about a month before the PC release in the hopes that would be enough time, but the release came and went and I still hadn’t heard back. I decided to email them to check if their silence meant they weren’t interested, and was told the game was still in their review process.
Around July I finally heard back with their acceptance. After that there were quite a few delays due to Valve’s switch to the Greenlight application process. People often joke about Valve Time, I kind of feel like I experienced it as I applied in May and it was December when the game finally launched. It meant I had to work on other things while waiting, and then return to the game once things got moving again.
Co-Optimus: Looking at the game itself, how did you achieve that film grain effect? It’s a really nice touch that invokes the classic zombie films of the 70s.
John: It started off as an experiment. I added a little film grain, because I felt my sprites at the time were too plain. I then decided to take it further after watching a documentary on grindhouses and exploitation films. So I then added pixilated scratches that were placed randomly on the screen, and the vertical scratches. I also made it a little darker at the edges to make it look like a projection. It looked good at that but still wasn’t quite right. After watching some old films I tried adding a slight green tint to the finished image, and that completed it. Originally I was worried it would annoy people, so I included the option to turn it off, but so far I’ve only had one person tell me they used that option.
Co-Optimus: Speaking of the classic zombie films, I lost count of the number of nods, winks, and other tips of the hat to not only zombie movies but zombie video games as well. Did any of these influence the overall design of the game, or did you just want to make a little shout out to them all? Anything that was a specific source of inspiration for you?
John: It was kind of 50/50. The gameplay, and art style was heavily influenced by films and zombie games. I don’t think the game would be the same way if I wasn’t a fan of zombie films. When it comes to nods to zombie media, I’m the kind of person that loves references. Some of my favorite comedies are the ones like Spaced that are filled with references to movies and TV shows. I think it’s just down to the fact that I’ve watched a lot of TV growing up, so I get more references than most people. So because I had full control of Dead Pixels, I decided to fill it full of references, just because I could. I really like when someone points out a reference that no one else has mentioned, and I love looking through the thread on the Dead Pixels Steam forum that lists the references people think they have found.
I think the thing that got the most obvious references and inspired the gameplay the most was the Resident Evil series of games. I’m a big fan of the original Resident Evil, and I felt if I was including references to zombie games, Resident Evil had to have a big place within my game. Nearly all the guns within Dead Pixels are named after Resident Evil characters from the first game, and there is a bit of an order to the names. It’s probably the reference most people get as all players read the names of the guns to know which gun they just found.