home_coded: Interview with Giant Box Games

Indie duo Giant Box Games has been making waves on the PC scene recently with their top-down action RPG / shooter Pixel Boy, which is currently running on Steam’s Green Light. With its oldschool game mechanics, stylish visuals and funky soundtrack, Pixel Boy is shaping up to be a real contender, so we took some time to chat to the game’s two developers: a young local coder and designer by the name of Dominic (who’s very-much van die plaas), and Canadian artist David.

When and how was Giant Box Games formed?

Dominic Obojkovits & David Nickerson: David and I met over a collaboration site on the Unity Forum where Dominic had lied about his age stating he was 20 or 21 when he was actually only 16 at the time. He had a few working prototypes but not the age nor experience to back it up yet to interest many professionals with which to start a project. Once having the opportunity to show that he could program at a demanding level we worked together on a few iPhone Apps and various other projects before we had conceptualized PixelBoy. The total development of PixelBoy has been nine months so far, quite literally our first child together.

Tell us about the games you grew up playing, and the games that you’re passionate about nowadays. Which of those games has influenced Pixel Boy?

Dom: I played a lot of RPGs when I was young; my early favorites were Warcraft 3, StarCraft and Diablo. Big passions of mine currently are Dota 2, Starcraft II, and Local South African indie game Desktop Dungeons. One of the biggest influences on the code side for Pixel Boy was Diablo with basic similarities in the randomly generated environments, and the custom stats system.

Dave: I was a huge Nintendo fanboy as a kid, starting with the NES some early favourites were A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Mega man 2. It’s almost unfair the games I am leaving out but I will try to keep it to a few of my most beloved titles. Some Super Nintendo favourites are Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, and The legend of Zelda: A link to the Past. I also grew up playing a ton of PC games but some of my most memorable are Warcraft II, Half-Life, Maniac Mansion, Sim City, and Wolfenstein 3D. My most current games I have been playing are Dota 2, League of Legends, Terraria, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Any game I mentioned plus a lot more I left out could easily have had influence on Pixel Boy.

Most design comes from an experience I enjoyed in past games I played and then putting a new spin on it or improving on the old concept or way of doing something. This is also the method that seemingly brings out the most unique ideas. If you are just trying to create something incredibly fresh and innovative from nothing it is going to be a lot harder than working off a basic game scope and letting it evolve into something bigger and better.

How has feedback been from the public since you’ve put the alpha of Pixel Boy out there?

Dom & Dave: Feedback has been amazing; it was so nice to get such a huge amount of people being generally positive towards the release of the game. We even started a suggestions page on our Green Light and are implementing some of the ideas. We don’t have a demo released yet so a lot of people haven’t had the chance to get their hands on it, but we are confident the beta release to the public will share the same interest and hopefully similar positive comments and feedback. If you include Total Biscuit as part of the public then even better 😉

What do you do when you’re not making games?

Dave: I spend my free time playing ice hockey, long boarding, and of course playing games! I haven’t been able to do any of my regular hobbies aside from gaming lately since a car accident, so all I have been up to recently is working on Pixel Boy, playing a few games and going to physiotherapy a few times a week.

Dom: As of right now I am studying for my IEB final exams which end on November 28th. I also play a lot of games with my friends and like any 18 year old I enjoy partying and socializing. Boxing and mountain biking are my non-game related hobbies.

How long have you been making games, and which game making tools have you used in the past?

Dom: I have been attempting to make games since I was 9 (attempting, not necessarily succeeding). My first game development tool was the Warcraft III map editor; however I just used it to create very basic maps with linear stories and some fun aspects. As I grew older I dabbled in creating games without programming, this didn’t work out too well, however it did give me some experience with 3D environments and spatial awareness which came in handy later. I started working with Unity in 2007 but didn’t fully understand the functionality. In 2009 I started IT at my school I took a private accelerated course with my teacher 1 year before anyone could actually start IT. I effectively finished the Matric requirements for IT by grade 10 and used the rest of my IT time to experiment with coding new things and ideas. It was here when I picked up Unity again and started working on the original iPhone apps, this was also when I met David Nickerson for the first time. By early 2011 I had released my first iPhone app Asteroid-Dodger. The game took me one week to finish from conceptualization to App submission.

Dave: I have always had a huge passion for video games. I grew up in Vancouver, where I still live. And back in high school I used to do 3D animation, because my brother had a copy of 3D Studio Max. This was when I was in Grade 8 and 9.  I took a huge interest in Pixar and all animated films at the time, and I hadn’t really considered games at that point.  I was into the art side of animation and I just loved messing around with 3D software.

It was actually closer to the end of high school that I realized I should put those two passions together because I loved playing video games and I used to actually design some stuff when I was even younger.  So instead of going to a visual effects studio, which was originally what I was going to do, I changed to game design and went to the Art Institute for two years and got my diploma in game art and design.  Then shortly after that I got hired as a contract on Grand Theft Auto IV, and I did environment art.

After GTA, I moved on to several smaller projects, including making child development software, and working from start-up at a company called Atomic Robot which was composed of ex-Need for Speed developers from EA, eventually working on Days of Thunder for Paramount Pictures.

Is game creation where you see your future?

Dom: Most definitely, but not exclusively.

Dave: I couldn’t see myself doing anything else outside of game development, games are definitely where it’s at for me and I don’t see it changing anytime in the future.

The music is obviously a big draw card for people; what was the process of conceptualizing the tracks and working with the artist?

Dom & Dave: Pyramid has been nothing but a pleasure to work with. We only gave him loose instructions as to what we wanted the music to be like and let him have his own creative freedom, which has turned out to be a massive success at this point. The standard at which the music stands is the standard that we hope to achieve for the finished game. We originally had been using Pyramid tracks as a temporary place holder for environment music very early on in development. Later on in the project we contacted him hoping for a reply and found that he loved the concept for the game and offered to produce an original soundtrack for us.

Any secret features about Pixel Boy you’d care to share with us? Co-op play? Horde mode?

Dave: There will be a lot of different modes in Pixel Boy – most of them multiplayer-related like Battle Royal, vs. mode and more, we will be releasing more content even after the games release. Some possible future ideas are a MOBA-like lane mode, where each player plays a role on the team and gains coins/levels to buy items and select stats to work together and capture the other team’s base. For single player the town will have all of the houses unlocked, with different things inside each house. For example in the large house there will be a monster museum that will have a statue for every monster that you have encountered and it will give information on each monster’s strengths and weaknesses with certain stats like kill death ratio for that monster type, most often used Power Ups and more.

Dom: Secret features? Only for NAG 😉 I am currently finishing off the last bits of network code for the 2-8 Player co-op experience. Horde mode is a definite and early stages of development are already in place for that. There are currently five major bosses in the game. We are adding an armour crafting system where players can mine ore deposits and use the mined ore to craft armour. Armour bonuses will work similar to an extra HP bar with passive buffs and AOE. We are also adding a power-up tiered system where players would be able to use gems which enemies drop on power ups to craft more powerful versions of those power ups. If the tiered system works well we could be looking at 15,000 different gun combinations. Also we will be adding different modes like hardcore mode where players will have to start over completely if they die.