TA Interview with Twisted Pixel

By litepink,
Twisted Pixel has won the hearts of gamers with their previously released Xbox LIVE Arcade titles: The Maw, https://www.trueachievements.com/Splosion-Man-xbox-360.htm, https://www.trueachievements.com/Comic-Jumper-xbox-360.htm, https://www.trueachievements.com/Ms-Splosion-Man-xbox-3....htm, and now have struck gold once more with the retail Kinect game https://www.trueachievements.com/The-Gunstringer-xbox-3....htm. Humorous delivery and unique game concepts are just some of the things that set Twisted Pixel apart. They’re also famous for throwing in all sorts of goodies and extras into their games; avatar awards, free DLC, concept art, the works.

I had the pleasure of subjecting Dan Teasdale, Lead Designer at Twisted Pixel, to some questions about their studio, the industry, their passion for making games, and some achievement talk as well. If you have any interest in https://www.trueachievements.com/The-Gunstringer-xbox-3....htm, and more particularly the Strings of Steel achievement we covered awhile back, you'll really want to pay close attention.

Dive into the mind of Dan and Twisted Pixel Games:

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TrueAchievements - What is your title and what do you do at Twisted Pixel?

My name is Dan Teasdale, and I’m a lead designer here at Twisted Pixel. My job involves taking all of the taco-fuelled insanity that we come up with as a group and turning that into gameplay mechanics, story, levels, direction, and all that kind of designery stuff that games need to exist.

Being an independent studio has its advantages and disadvantages. How do you suppose Twisted Pixel has managed to get where it’s at today, being totally independent?

Honestly, I have no idea. I think the whole thing is some kind of The Producers-esque get rich quick plan. Instead of making an unlikable play, Josh, Mike, and Frank pitch crazy game ideas that publishers are meant to hate. The joke’s on them, though - turns out people like characters and humor in their games!

Since Twisted Pixel is in the business of making video games, you’re all obviously eccentric billionaires. What is it like working at Twisted Pixel and how do you feel it differs from other studios?

The big thing is just a general trust in everyone you’re working with and a lack of bureaucracy. In a big company, it’s easy to get into the mindset that certain decisions are “above your pay grade”, and just shrug off fixing those problems with your game. After all, that’s probably someone else’s department!

Since we’re an indie company filled with ex-eccentric billionaires that squandered their money on Pets.com shares, there’s no pay grade or department rivalry to speak of. Everyone is pretty much doing everything possible to make awesome games, from coming up with cool ideas right down to shipping out merch out of our combination warehouse/games room/QA room/second meeting room.

Your company has developed a reputation for not only making great games, but for being focused on the consumers and fans. In particular, you guys have a reputation of listening to customer feedback, and there’s also the free DLC, gamerpics, themes, giveaways, etc. While Twisted Pixel appears to have both great games and fan loyalty, why do you feel the latter is so important?

A lot of this is just based around us wanting to make games that we’d play, and doing things that we’d love to see games do when we play them. I mean, we all started making games because we love games, not because we wanted to be billionaires.

Is the customer appreciation actually a grand corporate scheme or something simpler?

You got us, it’s a “grand corporate scheme”! We would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you! Back to exploiting Sarbanes-Oxley to crush our competitors, I guess.

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The infamous story behind the concept of The Gunstringer is that Twisted Pixel was to meet with Microsoft to pitch a game idea for Kinect, but then realized in-between that it wouldn’t work. Instead of cancelling dinner, you guys went ahead anyways, without a clue as to what you’re supposed to pitch. During the dinner your Chief Creative Officer Josh Bear saw a painting of a skeleton in a cowboy hat, which inspired the idea for The Gunstringer. The idea was conjured up and presented on the spot. Microsoft loved it and off it went.

My question, what is the normal process for coming up with a new game idea, assuming that this isn’t how Twisted Pixel normally operates?

If you replace Microsoft people with all of us hanging out, then yeah, it’s a pretty usual way for us to pitch high level game concepts. Usually we’ll grab lunch and throw out crazy ideas, then see which of them we’re really excited about after the food coma sets in.

The real challenge comes after we’ve pitched it to a publisher and they’ve picked it up. Turning “it’d be hilarious if you were a guy who only explodes and lives in a world of glass” into an actual game once you’re signed is way scarier than coming up with cool ideas over lunch.

Any plans to bring this original idea to fruition, perhaps if Kinect tracking become even more accurate in the future?

Maybe! We have a bunch of cool ideas like that that are way ahead of their time, like laser controllers or a word processor that can handle bullet points correctly. If the technology came along to support them, I think we’d be all over trying to convince someone to give us money to make our crazy future ideas.

The Gunstringer went from an Xbox LIVE Arcade title to a full out retail game. Does this mark a new direction for Twisted Pixel, moving beyond downloadable distribution, or was this a one-time deal?

Both! Going retail for The Gunstringer was something that was a once-in-a-lifetime deal for us. Being able to spend some extra time to polish up the game for a wider audience was great, but at the same time I think we’re most comfortable building crazy ideas for the kinds of people who like buying Xbox LIVE Arcade games.

While we’re focusing on XBLA, if the opportunity came up to take a game retail and it made sense, we’d definitely consider it. At the end of the day, it’s whatever the best fit for the game is.

Let’s talk achievements. Based off the tiles, descriptions, and requirements, it sure looks like Twisted Pixel puts thought into these. Are these something that are being thought about during development, or do you go back when the game is finished and decide what players should be rewarded for?

I have a not-so-secret love of achievements and achievement design, so I’m glad people are liking what we’ve done with The Gunstringer.

My process on this stuff is actually a mix of both of those models. I’ll start off budgeting out the general split of how many achievements we’re giving to different “buckets” of gameplay styles, like progression, metagame play, exploration and emergence, hardcore targeted stuff, and so on. Then, I’ll slot in the ones we know we’ll definitely have (like our level achievements, or Strings of Steel), and leave some holes for cool things that we discover while we’re playing the game.

Things like No Insurance (piloting a paddleboat through mines without hitting any) and Tin Marksman (find all of the tin cans in the prologue and shoot them) are all pretty good examples of achievements we thought about once we’d finished all the other content in the game - it’d be scary to do that for 50 achievements, but slipping in a half dozen unique cases is usually manageable with only a minimal amount of programmer grousing.

Some Twisted Pixel games have a history of difficult achievements, such as Best of the Best (Ms. Splosion Man) and Strings of Steel. Are you catering to the hardcore gamer here or just looking to punish people?

See, I think Best of the Best is hard, but not "Strings of Steel" hard - it’s just a progression achievement that’s tough, but you can do on your own terms. The thing about Strings of Steel is that you have to prove to the game that you’re dedicated and a superfan to get it. Not just beating levels, but do it in a single run, and reset the game if you fail.

An aside: My most favorite achievement on my profile is Kilopiece Colossus from Puzzle Arcade. It’s nowhere near my #1 game, but the achievement has the most ridiculous premise ever - beat a puzzle on classic mode, which are essentially just pieces on a table that you have to hunt through and slot together. Also, make it the biggest size ever. By the way, beat it on Expert, so that you have to manually turn over hundreds of virtual puzzle pieces that fell face side down. Do all of this with an analog stick on a controller that moves a cursor representing your hand.

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I spent just under 24 hours of my life building a virtual jigsaw puzzle of some puppies in a basket. I went insane at 5 hours. My co-workers avoided me around 14 hours to avoid puzzle-based conversation. Do you know how hard it is to match blurred green pieces, or white fur?

It was worth every goddamn second I spent with that 5 minute music loop burying itself into my brain. I would have done it even harder if it had “in one session” in the achievement text too. I want gamers to feel as proud as I do about spending an entire day of my life assembling a pretend puzzle with two puppies on it in the most difficult and ridiculous way possible. To achieve that, things like Strings of Steel exist.

Any pointers for the aforementioned Strings of Steel?

If there’s one level you need to nail before starting your Strings of Steel run, it’s the Kite Dragon battle in the Samurai play. Make sure you can perfect that before getting too deep in.

Also, pay very careful attention to the wording of that achievement. Note that it says “Don’t die”, not “Don’t restart”. That plus the “Xbox Pause!” voice command will probably help tremendously if you’re having serious trouble.

Are there plans for more content for The Gunstringer? Or for any other Twisted Pixel games for that matter?

We’ve worked up some nice surprises that you’ll be able to check out in The Gunstringer over the coming months. Much like how "The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles" was our take on ‘90s FMV games like Mad Dog McCree, we also have some takes on other game classics that we’ll be unveiling soon.

As for downloadable content in our other games, I can’t confirm or deny plans for Comic Jumper DLC. I also can’t confirm or deny that said DLC bridges the first game’s story into an unannounced fishing controller based prequel. For all Comic Jumper DLC related matters, I believe Mike Henry’s twitter feed (@mikehasnoluck) covers all your answers.

How about the future? Are there any other games from Twisted Pixel currently in the works that you can elaborate on?

Get this: I have the pitch document for one of our next games open in the window RIGHT NEXT TO THIS INTERVIEW. You’re so close to finding out what it is yet so, so far.

Secretly, parents love some of their children more than others. What is your favorite Twisted Pixel title and why?

It’s Splosion Man for me. I was pretty happily employed elsewhere when I finished Splosion Man. After finishing it and seeing the credits, I remember saying to my co-op buddy “You know, if I ever had to work somewhere else, it’d probably be Twisted Pixel”. Thanks to some well placed bribes and a passable fake American accent, now I am!

I think everyone else is split between The Maw and Splosion Man, except for Josh who won’t stop pitching games for his Comic Jumper trilogy that he planned out in 8th grade. An example: There’s an entire spinoff game that’s a Free to Play Facebook version of Punch-Out, but you pay to make Smiley beat up his 8th grade sports coach. Every time you purchase a microtransation, an alert pops up on his computer to alert him to laugh maniacally in order to cover up his usual weeping.

Any closing thoughts?

Man, that’s some pressure for a final question! Unfortunately in the age of Twitter, I just dump out all my thoughts onto my twitter feed (@deliciousbees), so I no longer have any thoughts just hanging around waiting for a situation such as this. Technology, am I right?

There you have it! We’d like to thank Dan for sharing his time with us and giving us some entertaining answers, as well as some achievement pointers.

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The wonderful folks at Twisted Pixel have kindly provided a couple of Ms. Splosion Man related codes for us to give away to some lucky community members. Tune in tomorrow for details!