Developer Interview: PixelJunk SideScroller
I had the pleasure recently of being able to interview Ariel Angelotti, a Assistant Producer over at Q-Games. I was looking to see how the next game in one of my favorite series is progressing. With it being out in a few weeks, now is as good a time as ever to delve into the world of PixelJunk SideScroller.
Q: The game has a rather interesting backstory, Sidescroller being the game the miners from Shooter/Shooter2 play in their pods. How did this idea come about?
After we’d established the basic gameplay mechanics and realized we had shmup gold on our hands, Dylan Cuthbert (President and Founder of Q-Games) came up with the world concept for PixelJunk SideScroller.
The basic gist of the story is this: you are the pilot of the ship in Shooter 1 and 2. You have escaped countless treacheries, but now that you’ve successfully carried out your mission, you’re being called back home. What’s a lonely pilot to do on the long journey back to Earth? Why, play PixelJunk SideScroller, the game on your cockpit’s console, of course!
This game within a game concept drove us to experiment with the world in fun ways. For instance, the cathode ray tube overlay effect the game has will make your TV look like it walked out of the 50s, but don’t worry, the game it still offers full 1080p and runs in 60 frames per second. Oh, and while I won’t give any spoilers away, I will say something MAY be wreaking havoc on the digital world with which you’ve been having so much fun whiling away the hours.
Q: It seems that Q-Games has spent a lot of time in the PixelJunk Shooter Universe. What makes the team wanting to keep coming back to it?
When production on Shooter 2 was wrapping up, we became enamored with the secret level (“The Road to Dawn”) you can unlock after collecting all of the treasure. This sidescrolling shooter with old-school, wireframe charm was created as a sort of “alternate universe,” but it was so much fun we were inspired to make a whole game out of it. It’s nice having the freedom to make the games we’re inspired to make. I think it’s this drive that helps make the PixelJunk games so special, because we really do care about the games we’re making.
Q: Are there any games that the team looked back on and thought, that would be a good mechanic to use in SideScroller?
We wanted to revisit old-school classics like R-Type and Gradius, and while we certainly drew inspiration from them, we gave SideScroller a flavor all its own. Sure, you’ll still be able to switch between weapons and power your arsenal up like you could in these classic shmups, but the fun fluid mechanics you saw in the Shooter-verse will make an appearance in interesting ways. That being said, SideScroller is a complete departure from Shooter 1 and 2. It is very much a shooting game; there are no puzzles here. There will be bullets, laser beams, and missiles flying every which way, but adding magma to the mayhem will make for a new experience even for the veteran shooter maniac.
Q: Bosses are something I would say the Shooter series is known for, what can we expect from the ones in Sidescroller?
Expect a lot of bullets. And laser beams. SideScroller certainly has its fair share of spectacular boss fights, but I won’t give away any spoilers. Except… you should expect the E.R.S. Pinita Colada (the whale-like ship in Shooter 1) to make an appearance. The poor thing’s been feeling a little under the weather lately.
Q: Music is another thing PixelJunk games are known for, is High Frequency Bandwidth back to provide music this time around?
High Frequency Bandwidth’s Dom Beken and Alex Paterson have again joined the ranks to create another killer PixelJunk soundtrack. The initial idea was to hand pick our favorite Shooter 1 and 2 tracks, after which Alex and Dom would remix them. What we ended up with weren’t simple “remixes,” though. Using some sort of alchemical magic, Alex and Dom were able to reinvent their music in beautiful ways. While you can still call the SideScroller music “remixes,” what you hear in the soundtrack are closer to “hints” of the Shooter 1 and 2 music. I was a big fan of the Shooter 1 and 2 music (on sale as the HFB: PixelJunked on iTunes and the North American PSN), but if anything, I feel Alex and Dom have surpassed their previous scores, taking the music in a new and interesting direction.
Q: How does the weapon upgrading work? Do you have a favorite weapon to use?
SideScroller has three weapons you can switch between to help you make it through the game: a machine gun, a laser beam, and some bouncing bombs (they sound cute, but they’re deadly). You start each level with all weapons at level 1, but you can collect power ups by defeating certain enemies. Collecting a power up will upgrade the weapon you currently have equipped by one level, and there are five levels total.
I like switching between all the weapons as I play. My main weapon is my machine gun, great for flying enemies. I’ll switch to my laser for more precise, pinpoint attacks against strong enemies or flying enemies that are lined up one after the other. The laser can pierce through multiple enemies, so those guys are asking for it! Then, I’ll switch to the bombs for enemies that are clinging to ceilings and floors. Bombs bounce along walls, so those guys won’t see what’s coming.
But that’s just me. One of the great things about the weapons system in SideScroller is you can play how you want! You won’t be required to use a certain weapon to defeat a specific enemy, so if you want to take The Bomb Challenge and go through the game using just the bomb weapon, you can do that! Changing which weapon(s) you’ll use to progress through the game will bring a different flavor to the experience, so have fun experimenting!
Q: Some people think the PixelJunk games are rather difficult. Has there been anything done or added in SideScroller to help them out?
We’ve implemented a robust difficulty system so players will be able to choose how they want to play. There are four difficulty modes total ranging from Casual to Brutal. There are a lot of core gamers who’ve never played a shmup. If you are one of those people, Normal difficulty is for you. Is Normal kicking your butt? Try Casual. Are you experienced with the genre? Hard is for you. Hard difficulty mode boasts new enemies, higher enemy HP, and enemy bullets fly at you a lot faster than Normal mode. Let’s not forget our old friend Brutal mode, which is there for those of us who just don’t get that heart-thumping thrill from playing the game on Hard anymore.
SideScroller also features a handy checkpoint system. If you make a mistake and your ship ends up getting blown to bits, you will respawn at a nearby checkpoint. Better yet, you’ll keep all the weapon power ups you’ve collected up until the time you initially cleared that checkpoint. The checkpoint system is a handy feature that will be sure to prevent any hair pulling out of frustration. However, keep an eye on your remaining lives. If you run out, it’s game over. You’ll be able to start from the checkpoint, but your score will reset and your power ups will cease to be!
Q: I noticed there is local multiplayer, does the difficulty scale when in co-op?
Yes. Enemy HP is increased when playing the game co-op, but that’s not to say it will become more difficult while playing with a friend, family member, or significant other. PixelJunk games have always had great couch co-op, and PixelJunk SideScroller is no exception.
Q: Anything else you would like our readers to know about the game?
PixelJunk SideScroller will be released on October 25th in North America and November 2nd in Europe, so take a pencil to your calendars, put on your shooting hat, and buckle yourself in your cockpit, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
I want to thank Ariel for taking the time to answer our questions. See everyone on the leaderboards 🙂