In-De Spotlight: PixelMetal

Here at WASDuk we love a good Indie game so every month we’ll be shining a spotlight on Independent Game Developers, this month we give you the very awesome Nick Robalik, developing under the name PixelMetal in New York. 


Why not introduce yourself/your team?

Sure thing. My name is Nick Robalik and I’m an indie game developer located in NYC, currently operating under the company name PixelMetal. PixelMetal. At this point, is mostly just me with the occasional collaborator on various aspects of game development.

Why did you decide to go into Indie games developing?

Mostly a love of games. I know, it’s a short answer, but it’s the main reason. Making something that makes people happy doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me.

How many games have you developed so far?

Under the company title PixelMetal, Sombrero will be the first. Altogether, probably eight or nine since the mid ‘90’s, some of which was contract art/sound work for pre-smartphone mobiles. That early mobile phone work was a lot of fun, it ended up being a bit like classic arcade or console work because of their limitations.

What is your favourite platform for developing games for?

Most of the game-related development work I’ve done has been on PC, which also has the fewest number of limitations, so I’ll go with PC. The fact that just about anyone with computer knowledge can put together a PC powerful enough to run most games for around $400US, less than the cost of a less powerful console, is pretty awesome.

Actually, that was how I figured out the minimum target specs for Sombrero. I just set a low budget pretty close to what purchasing a barely mid-range laptop would cost and put together a machine for less than $400 that can run it at 1080p/60fps. Sombrero is all 2D but it’s got a lot going on, and it’s mostly dependent upon the GPU. So a computer that isn’t especially fast but has a decent video card should have no trouble handling it.

gameplay_joneshillAre there any specific processes you go through when brainstorming ideas for new games?

I do a lot of sketching of various elements before I settle on a specific design. I find that a lot of ideas that sound good don’t necessarily translate into good ideas for games, so I try to work through as much as I can away from the computer before I even think about doing any coding.

If it all still makes sense after working through it on paper, then I’ll code up a really quick test of the basic gameplay to make sure the mechanics are fun in practice, just boxes moving around on screen. If it’s fun, I’ll start in on actual coding and art. I’m of the opinion that if the best idea has bad gameplay, you’re not concentrating on the most important part.

From where do you draw your inspiration?

Mostly from the things I enjoy. I try to stay away from anything too topical; fads are a big thing in indie games – in games in general, really – and I’d prefer to work on games with a longer shelf life. Hopefully.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently I’m working on Sombrero, a local multiplayer platformer with a bit of a Spaghetti Western look & feel to it. Some cheesy 1950’s sci-fi also sneaks in, mostly because I’m a fan. Also, putting a tentacle-faced alien in a cowboy hat sounded pretty entertaining.

menu_playerselectWhat lessons have you learned while developing your games?

The actual development part. I’ve always been on the visual side of things. While I’ve done Flash, some Unity3D and some basic Javascript coding, as well as a good amount of web-based development, I’m not a full-time programmer. Luckily the experience that I did have with some development made it easier to get up to speed.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Man, the coding. Learning to code was definitely the hardest part.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

That’s a tough one. Obviously I’m pouring my heart and soul into Sombrero right now, so I really hope that it turns out to be my greatest accomplishment.

That said, it’s a video game. It’s not as though I’m curing cancer here. I just want people to have fun playing my game.

What has been your favourite part of developing video games?

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the extremely diverse audience that makes up the gaming community.

Where do you hope to see yourself/your team in ten years?

On a tropical island with a skull-shaped volcano. Robotic minions may be present. Also, henchpersons.

gameplay_southernruins_01What do you think is the biggest issue facing the video game industry today?

Innovation. There’s too many sequels out there riding on the reputation of previous sequels. I’d really like to see more new ideas in AAA games and less clingy self-important cliques in indie games. I also strongly doubt that VR is going to do as much as people are betting it will, but I guess we’ll see… I think VR is a neat idea, but I wonder if it’s fad that’s not going to catch on with a wide audience. All I see is another 3D TV debacle. I guess that’s the normal cycle though, some people just want to latch onto the next “big thing.”

I’m going to soapbox a bit here and say that games are an art form and it needs more original ideas that are designed to appeal to all different kinds of people. That said, all games don’t have to appeal to everyone at the same time, all the time. Diversity of opinion is a net positive, and games can provide an avenue to interact with a variety of people and opinions, and speaking to people with different opinions is a way to learn about ourselves, other people and how to better understand them.

Let’s not keep pretending everyone thinking the same way is a good thing. That just leads to stagnation, and we’d all be better off if we looked at what we have in common more than how we’re different from each other.

Okay, I think that’s out of my system now.

What is your favourite video game?

I have no idea. At this point I’ve played too many to have an absolute favorite. There’s too many good game genres out there for me to pick one that’s better than any other.

Some of my classic arcade favorites are Tempest, Smash TV (or any other Jarvis game) and Tapper. Classic PC I’d have to say Prince of Persia, King’s Quest and DOOM. I think they were all pretty ground-breaking for their time. Then there’s consoles and more modern PC stuff…Bioshock, Fallout 3, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth…there’s just too many good games out there, it would probably take me another hour to fully answer this. Don’t even get me started on SNES or Dreamcast…

Lately I’ve been enjoying Shovel Knight, running around stabbing orcs in the face in Shadows of Mordor even though I completed the game some time ago, and a small little indie game called The Next Penelope that’s this sort of weird 2D top-down racing/combat game…kind of F-Zero combined with Death Rally and Contra bosses…I don’t really know a better way to explain that, but it’s been Greenlit on Steam and people should check it out. No, I don’t know the developer :).

joneshill_SombreroWhat is your earliest gaming memory?

Pac-Man on the woodgrain Atari 2600, and I remember thinking it was terrible. Or slightly before that I remember playing and enjoying Zork and some roguelike (maybe even Rogue) on an old IBM PC Jr, but the timing is all pretty fuzzy after 30 years.

Is there a game you wish you’d been on the production team for?

Hmm… DOOM would’ve been fun to work on. There were a lot of firsts on that project. Or maybe M.U.L.E., an early multiplayer game with its own impressive set of firsts.

If you weren’t developing games you would be…?

By day I work on the interactive design/direction side of things in the advertising industry, so I’m already doing pretty much the only other thing I’m good at. Overall it’s not really that much different than game development in terms of what needs to happen to get a cool project done.

You can keep up to date with Nick and Sombrero through his website, Facebook, Twitter or even this new fangled Tumblr we’ve been hearing so much about.

You can read our preview of Sombrero here.

If you are an Indie developer and want to be featured IN-DE-Spotlight then drop us a line at or via our Twitter account @wasduk1


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