Piepacker thrives to add more and more great games to its catalogue. This week, we integrated three new NES indies which will convince anyone who doubted it that great games today don’t necessarily come in HD.
In honor of Piepacker’s Pixel Summer, we have asked the games’ creators to tell us more about their creative process while developing a game for a retro console. If you ever wanted to know how a game character goes from crayon on paper to your computer screen, this article is made for you. These creators are all fresh talents who developed their first video games for the NES and their stories are worth a read.
The stars of the week on Piepacker are three homebrews developed for the NES in the past year:
- Kubo 3 was developed and designed by Seiji, 8 years old, with the help of his father’s guidance and expertise;
- Doodle World is Nate Peters’s first game and his universe was inspired by one of his young daughter’s drawings;
- Flea!, Lowtech’s first game, features the cutest little bloodsucking bugs, all in pixel art.
Kubo 3 by SJGames
Seiji lives in France and was 7 years old when Kubo 3 came out. It took two early versions and almost a year of work during “holidays and rainy afternoons,” but, with the help of his programming savvy father, Dale Coop, SJGames successfully produced his first game. Seiji is inspired by “games he plays on the Switch and the NES, as well as movies he watches and the traveling he has done with his family.”
Believe it or not, Kubo started as a hand-drawn cowboy ready for any battle!
To turn him into a video game character, however, was tricky. The drawing had to be reproduced using pixel art. That was Seiji’s first task and he soon realized that his character could not display his own skin color on the screen. Indeed, the NES can only display four colour palettes at a time, so one needs to be careful that all the colours used in a frame are part of the limited set available. It didn’t stop Seiji who wasn’t discouraged but inspired! His cowboy became a cubic turtle, and since turtles live in water, “eau” in French, the character was named Kubo and his adventures finally started.
Already, technical constraints have influenced the artistic direction of the game. As is the case for any artistic endeavor, the creative process that goes behind a game must go beyond aesthetic and storytelling concerns to encompass the constraints of the medium used. In this case, each character has been designed pixel by pixel, and the game was put together frame by frame from beginning to end. Seiji drew on paper the atmosphere and monsters of each level before drawing them all in pixel art on his computer. The story unravels as the player discovers amazingly diverse backgrounds and creatures. For every single character, Seiji decided on all characteristics, from the design to the pattern and the weak point and added them to the game. He learned to use the symmetry of his characters to save computing space and how to draw sprites and animate them. His father’s help proved useful in implementing Seiji’s most complex ideas in the code.
Dale Coop grew up playing on the NES and started video game creation with his son as an activity to pass the time. Four years later, his son’s imagination, guided by his programming skills, a complete world you can now discover and show to your friends on Piepacker.
Join KUBO in this new adventure that will take you to the four corners of the world in search of the sacred crystals to free the inhabitants kidnapped by the infamous Moglar! Journey through the underworld, the graveyard, the underwater world and the skies. Collect items… There will be many monsters and bosses on your way, before the final battle in your enemy’s castle!
Doodle World by Nate Peters and Araceli
Nate Peters was looking for inspiration for his first ever game on NES, when he saw a doodle drawn by his young daughter, Araceli… They went to work and started a Kickstarter campaign. It was funded in 12 hours and the game was successfully produced!
He didn’t need more than Araceli’s passion for drawing to take up the challenge of creating a whole universe from her art. “Her doodles have been brought to life in this highly stylized NES game,” he said.
The main character, Doodle, came first. But the game is a series of incredible worlds containing several characters and backgrounds. Nate Peters “tried to emulate the look of crayon-colored pictures on notebook paper, while adhering to the limitations of the NES.”
Here again, technological constraints have guided the design of the game. Working on a game in pixel art and working on a game in pixel art for the NES are two different things.
This is reflected in the final style of the game which shows the ingenuity necessary to the creation of a world with very limited resources. Yet, these constraints can be used as a positive creative push for game makers. What strikes the eye in Doodle World are all the little details in the background that create the feeling of walking through a different world. “In the final design, slight coloring “mistakes” were added to give it a more natural coloring appearance,” Peters explained. With this simple trick, Doodle’s universe manages to link an art form (coloring), to its medium (eraser bosses to defeat) through a game.
Araceli’s art successfully gained a new dimension by being integrated into the game with as many of her original drawings’ characteristics as possible. Although it was a difficult task, Peters declared: “the final look worked out really well and I am looking forward to making more games in the Doodle-verse!”
Doodle World offers a beautiful journey in a completely unique set of worlds. The game also has an innovative “Kids Mode” that makes it accessible to all! It’s the perfect platformer to introduce younger players to retro gaming.
The evil King Eraser and his office supply minions have stolen the magical crayon used to create Doodle’s amazing world! Play as Doodle and travel across the world to defeat King Eraser and his minions. Along the way you will encounter numerous office supply enemies and eraser bosses.
Flea! by Lowtech
Alastair Low is based in the UK and has founded his own game studio, Lowtech, in order to produce fun dyslexia-friendly games. Flea! came to be thanks to a collective effort : it was funded on Kickstarter, and members of the retro loving community contributed heavily to the code, including Dale Coop and Nate Peters.
Alastair Low designed the entire game by converting his own detailed drawings into pixel art.
All the characters of the game are insects or parasites, since everything you encounter must live on the “beast”. And humour is never far for Low who said: “I used to travel a lot on trains and liked using sketchbooks, just exploring flea or parasite based puns and seeing how they could fit into the universe.”
Each character is portrayed in amazing detail and is wackier than the last. Even though some details had to be left out, “like the small front arms of Henry, the main flea”, Low managed to render engaging jumps and movements with very limited space on the texture. To overcome this limitation, Low has had to think about how to “utilize the same elements of a single animation, flipping it or recoloring it for different uses.”
The main focus of the game being the jumping of the flea, the beautiful character art was refined with precision to give a readable game to the pixel. “A fan pointed out that it would be good for the flea to show direction somehow,” the creator remembers. “I was reluctant to add separate sprites for looking right and left where there was only 2 pixels of a difference but it really made the character feel more alive and was a nice piece of polish.” For Low, gameplay was the primary driver and the design followed what would be most comfortable for the player.
The colour of the flea was also modified to fit the game design during development: he was originally drawn in a darker brown shade. Yet, the last levels used a darker palette than the first ones. When testing the game, Low realized his flea was not easily seen when the background grew darker. He decided to change the colour of the flea to make it easier to spot in the harder levels. “Working on the old system is quite restrictive on the number of colors for characters,” he said. “You have to get creative with placements of seams swapping and palettes.”
Low is “quite pleased with how the fleadom fighters turned out in Flea! as they all have unique headband colors and animations.” Be sure to keep up with the jumping bug long enough to discover all of his enemies. (You can use Pieapcker’s homemade save system!)
This hard as nails platformer has you traverse inside and outside a great beast. You are Henry the flea and you never stop jumping which only adds to the challenge ahead. Meet interesting characters and learn about the beast.
One thing we’ve learned from talking to these game makers is that creativity is necessary at each step of the process and you should be flexible. Each creator’s sensibility develops into a particular universe. Both the technical limitations and the gameplay will impact the characteristics of the entire pixel made world. With ingenuity, designs can be optimized to fit an even more complex experience into a minimal format. In the end, it’s not just about drawing well with pixels, it’s also about making sure the design will fit with the experience of playing the game on a NES.
Today’s indie scene is filled with creators who have the capacity to produce incredible effects through the limited use of pixel art offered by the system they are working with. All three homebrews now on Piepacker are perfect for speedrunning and already have a community of fans you can measure up to. But they are also carefully designed pieces of art that a player can take time to appreciate and discover.
Piepacker is a great place to introduce your friends to new games like these. We’re really happy to help share the work of talented game creators driven by passion. The art of creating modern retro games is still evolving! We hope the community of retro lovers can keep growing if we keep collaborating and talking about projects such as Kubo 3, Doodle World and Flea!
It might be hard to gather all your friends around a vintage NES but you can always gather virtually around cool retro games through Piepacker 💜