Retromite Interview

Why go with pixel art over hand-drawn assets for RobotRiot – purely an aesthetic decision to capture a retro feel, or did you enjoy technical advantages in this as well?

Gregg: This was mostly an aesthetic decision, as we’re both great lovers of high quality pixel art. From a technical standpoint, there are certainly benefits in going with well-designed pixel art. For instance, pretty much all the sprite and tile work in RobotRiot would fit into indexed/palette mode images.

This could be a huge memory savings, as loading a 4-bit or 8-bit image into video RAM should consume a lot less memory than a 16-bit or 32-bit one. Unfortunately, this advantage actually doesn’t really exist on iOS or even Xbox. Neither platform supports indexed textures, and so everything gets loaded up as 16-bit. However, if we ever decided to port RobotRiot to the DS or PSP, we could take advantage of this and save considerably on memory.

With so many retro entries on the App Store, a lot of gamers have probably come to think of pixel art as the easy go-to solution for small-scale indie projects. But when it comes to 16- or 32-bit era pixel art in particular, do you feel it’s a riskier proposition than hand-drawn art, from a time and resource management perspective? Why or why not?

Kawe: There’s quite a long list of things to consider when it comes to producing art assets. Advantages of pixel art, to me, are: readability on small screens, ease of achieving consistency due to limited palettes and shapes, and rather short production cycles. The most important point for us, however, is that we simply like the crispness and the vibes we get from what is the purest digital art form!

Has the advent of Retina display and its high resolution size affected the artist’s considerations when it comes to creating pixel art? E.g., did you end up having to upscale the sprites or otherwise treat them differently during the design process than you’d have to if the game were being released, say, fifteen years ago?

Gregg: It certainly has affected things, and in a number of different respects. Simply producing detailed pixel art assets for higher resolutions takes considerably more time. As for scaling, we certainly do scale for Retina, iPad, and Xbox to handle the higher resolutions. Scaling is actually a bit of a pain, because you often have to fight against some design decisions made by platform holders.

Usually most of these platforms have some type of auto scaling, that unfortunately tends to use linear filtering with no option to control or disable it, and this wreaks havoc on crisp pixel art! So instead, I need to figure out workable solutions for scaling, either manually upsizing assets and packaging them, or usually performing pixel doubling programmatically, but doing it in a way in which no filtering is applied.

What are your plans for RobotRiot after release? Anything particular in mind for updates?

Kawe:  That depends to some degree on the performance of the game, but we’re currently planning new ships and levels. A Vegas-style gambling/strip-joint with Robot-Mobsters comes to mind. As well as a lot more dedicated levels that offer pixel-perfect jumping and 10 Bosses in a row. So basically all those things nobody else is going to touch, plus some disturbing extras.

Fascinatingly, a little exercise in 3D image display popped up on your YouTube channel recently. Should we take this as an indication that Retromite will produce 3D games soon, or do you plan to stick with 2D for the foreseeable future?

Kawe: 3D is an option, but certainly requires more time and resource. And honestly, it really looks crappy on mobile devices with resolutions below WVGA.

Gregg: We’re both big fans of turn-based strategy and tactics games, and this is something we are certainly looking into doing, with 3D seeming like the winning choice for this type of game at the moment. So we are certainly looking at potentially doing some 3D games in the future, yet I believe 2D will always be something we are doing, and our immediate future projects will be 2D based.

And that’s a wrap! Big thanks to Gregg and Kawe for giving us an in-depth look at Retromite’s direction and development process. Remember to check back with iFanzine for a day-one review of RobotRiot when it goes live on September 29, and check out Retromite’s dev blog in the meantime.