Among other things, Kunal Majmudar is Pixel Noir‘s very busy Business Manager & Audio Composer; with the game scheduled to release next year, NerdQ’s Erik Meyer acted the patsy, and Kunal gave us a sit-down.
Erik Meyer: Pixel Noir brings together a number of different things: 8-bit-style graphics, a hard-boiled detective story, Lovecraftian supernatural elements, and a JRPG interface. Describe how these work together in your vision of the game; what do you feel this particular blend does for the player experience?
Kunal Majmudar: For me personally, I find that it hits all the right buttons to be both nostalgic and immersive. I see a lot of SNES-era turn-based RPG in Pixel Noir, but also a ton of immersion and a unique setting and witty dialogue to boot. We’ve had a lot of a people come up to us at events or reach out through social media and say that it reminds them of games like Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VII, Earthbound, and Shadowrun. I couldn’t really ask for better praise 🙂
EM: Progress for indie studios frequently has substantial hurdles; a first Kickstarter campaign didn’t meet its goal, but a second one did by leaps and bounds. Describe the challenges, what was the process like, and what did you learn from that part of the game dev journey?
KM: Oh for sure; there are tons of hurdles to cross and development funding is simply the first one, but there are other things to consider as well…making sure your concept is sound, pulling together a quality team, creating a prototype to playtest the idea, marketing your game, securing platform partnerships, etc. I would say that my experience with Kickstarter has been about learning how to pitch—and really how to tell a compelling story through marketing. It was a great learning experience for us and we actually have a presentation that encapsulates the lessons we learned and hopefully can pass along to others. As far as the process itself, grueling is a word that is right and at the same time doesn’t really explain just how much coffee was drunk, how we were on no sleep for multiple days at a time, and how broke we were by that point in the process, lol.
EM: The turn-based combat provides a retro feel, but every combat system has its quirks; note different options, what do you take as influence, and what does Pixel Noir add to the genre, in terms of mechanics?
KM: Yeah, great question. For combat, we took inspiration from 2 games primarily: Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. We decided to work in the timed hit mechanics from Super Mario RPG—we love how it keeps the player more engaged in battle (not to mention, it’s fun!). We also decided to keep combat in the overworld view, much like Chrono Trigger did, since we feel that it keeps the immersion better than going to a new screen for battles. Beyond that, in order to keep combat feeling fun and familiar, we kept to the traditional turn-based RPG model for the most part.
EM: The team working on the game makes for a long list; describe coordination at SWDTech Games. How do you ensure that the initial concepts stay pure as artists, writers, story editors, creative directors, and others contribute?
KM: Our Creative Director, Len Stuart, gives the artists a lot of freedom to make their own artistic choices. He manages the work and ensures that the various elements come together in a cohesive way. We may edit little things here and there to keep things from falling into chaos, but there hasn’t ever been a moment where we wanted to scrap a creative asset entirely. We believe if our team has the passion for the project and the inspiration to make great things for it, we can work with it 99% of the time!
EM: Developers vary regarding process, but what came first, the story, lore, and art of the game or the framework you desired to work within? Did you set out to make a noir game and settle upon an 8-bit-styled game, or did you start with pixel art and then come up with the setting and plot?
KM: We did set out to make a film noir game mixed with traditional RPG tropes and elements. We really didn’t settle for anything as we focused creatively on games we grew up playing and loving as big RPG fans. For Pixel Noir, the art style came first since Len created the environmental/UI art and planning. We quickly learned that most of the elements that come together to make Pixel Noir needed to be made in tandem with each other. For example: When we finish the art for an area of town, we then pass it to our writer who then writes a plot script for the area. Len then tweaks the environments, sprites, and level design to ensure the script fits snugly with the game. There are even times when he tweaks some of the NPC personalities or entire stylistic traits in a section of town to fit the story better.
KM: For us, that was probably when we released our pre-alpha demo. Even though it didn’t have all the core features of the full game, it had enough of the key features for us to feel like we could finally visualize how the game would conceptually look and feel. It was a great moment that came after years of talking through and fine-tuning our conceptual designs.
EM: Describe the noir genre as you see it; what pitfalls have you worked to avoid, and what makes the characters living in such a world compelling?
KM: In this setting and style, I think we needed to ensure that we don’t fall prey to the tropes that noir works can fall into—especially with melodramatic moments. Instead, since we are aware of these tropes, we tend to play with them in-game in fun, often silly ways. I think it adds to the charm of the game and, hopefully, players find that the art, story, and music are all stylistically on point for the genre and come together in a unique way.
EM: Finally, describe the things that have fallen to the cutting-room floor, the pieces that didn’t quite fit, that had to get cut out. A single game can’t do everything; what have been the tough content decisions?
KM: Yes, we’ve had quite a bit of de-scoping, even if you look from our first to our second Kickstarter campaign. Some elements that didn’t make it were the dynamic lighting. We would’ve loved to get it in, but the cost to do so was prohibitive and so we removed it from our second Kickstarter. Another great one we would’ve loved to have had is procedural sidequest cases based on real-world time. Essentially, you’d be able to visit your office at any time and have a chance to see a new client walk in the door or call on the phone. And the types of clients you’d get at 1:00 AM are different from those that you’d get at 1:00 PM. We had to reduce scope to keep the game manageable for us. There were tons more, but those were a couple of our faves. Maybe you’ll see them in future games!