While growing up, did you ever sketch out your own game worlds and ideas, only to find yourself stumped about how to actually bring them to life? Robin Rath, the founder of the software company Roundthird, has launched a Kickstarter for “Pixel Press,” an app that aims to automatically bring games from graph paper to smartphones with the push of a button. Rath took the time to talk to us about Pixel Press. Read on for more.
Slide to Play: You mention that the Pixel Press project was born from memories of designing your own NES-style game levels. Can you name a game or two that you particularly loved designing levels for, and tell us why?
Robin Rath: The levels we designed were a mash-up of all of the cool elements we experienced as gamers in the 1980s. Our first platformers were Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Kid Icarus, Contra & Ninja Gaiden – so the characters we were designing for were pretty much the most versatile, awesome heroes you could imagine. What we ended up creating was pretty straightforward but, in our head, it was the ultimate platformer experience!
STP: Video games are often demonized as the antithesis of schoolwork and the act of learning. I get the impression that Pixel Press is building itself as a tool for learning. Is it your hope that Pixel Press will inspire kids to embrace programming while exercising their creative side? Do you think it has a place alongside the typical textbook?
Rath: We are building Pixel Press primarily as a creative platform that will require you to learn fundamentals along the way, including logical design and architecture, motor skills, quality assurance (aka testing), graphics, and music composition – inherently, patience and teamwork. We’re hoping that our tool will inspire the most motivated creators to eventually branch out and learn to program so they can build even more diverse and unique experiences.
Kids are going to gravitate to games and tablets whether parents and teachers like it or not. There is an opportunity in the classroom to inspire real-world learning and, at the same time, motivate students to explore various disciplines by tying them to games and technology. Pixel Press and similar products can play a huge part in classrooms.
STP: What are some retro level design tips that you think should carry over to anyone who designs his or her own levels with Pixel Press?
Rath: Most video game designers (and designers of anything that involves interfacing with a computer) recommend hand-sketching the experience first – so that’s a key element of Pixel Press. By drawing it, you can really push yourself creatively early in the design process.
Level designers should also focus on gradually increasing the challenge of the level from start to finish, keeping it fun, and pushing the limit every time. The fifth level will be much better than the first because users should have learned how to better leverage the system by then.
STP: One of your stretch goals aims to let users upload their own graphics and sound to their games. Given that developers utilize games to show off their character and monster ideas, why has Roundthird made this customization a stretch goal rather than a basic inclusion?
Rath: Making Pixel Press an extremely fluid and user-friendly experience is our top priority; getting the drawing mechanics right was Priority One (and where most of our resources will go early on in the project). When we do build the customer-facing graphics and upload feature, we’ll have a single person focusing on making that experience great too. When we analyzed our budget, it just made sense to compartmentalize it. In reality, we’ll be building the graphics and music upload tools for ourselves early on so our designers can test level designs. Assuming this doesn’t make it in on day one, it should be coming out not too long after release – but again we want to build it properly and give it the focus it deserves.
STP: If your Kickstarter isn’t successful, will you consider an outside investor, or maybe some other means of funding to keep the project alive?
Rath: We’re focused on bringing Pixel Press to market regardless of our Kickstarter success but it’s true that we can progress much more quickly if the project gets funded. Kickstarter will help us get the project off the ground faster and allow us to implement user-generated graphics and sound sooner for example — instead of spending time seeking outside funding and worrying about investor relations. We want to be able to focus on the product 24/7, seven days a week, and make it the best it can possibly be.