[Interview] Pixelnicks – Eagle Island

Written by Alex Laybourne

Eagle Island is a new game just released on the Nintendo Switch. A much-anticipated title funded through Kickstarter, it hits the shelves this week.

I was lucky enough to get the time to sit down with the development team over at Pixelnicks to discuss the game and everything that went into its creation.

Enjoy the interview, and don’t forget to grab your copy of the game.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

Hi – I’m Nick! I’ve always had a passion for retro games and, in more recent years, indie games. When I’m not gaming, I’m really into rollercoasters and love finding new theme parks to visit. You might see this shine through in Eagle Island!

 How did you get into game development? 

I discovered a piece of software called Multimedia Fusion in my teenage years and spent hours every day tinkering with it. As I grew older, I learned all about web development and got into programming – PHP and javascript. At some point, I discovered the XNA framework and taught myself C#, and I attempted to make a simple roller coaster simulator. This took years, but I learned a lot even if the project ultimately fell apart. 

What was your favorite game growing up and why? 

I loved a lot of games. I was lucky to have a big SNES and N64 library, but I think my favorite was definitely A Link to the Past. I found it easy to get lost in the game’s world and play it over and over again. Nintendo did an amazing job of cramming in so much content while keeping the game really simple to play – that’s definitely had a big impact on me. 

Eagle Island is your first major project, correct? 

It’s the first game I’ve actually had the competence to complete! There’s a lot of different skills to learn when making a game, especially if you’re working without a team. I’ve got two incomplete projects in my past – a Metroidvania from my teens and the roller coaster game whilst I was learning XNA and C#. They were both valuable experiences, and I learned everything I needed to make Eagle Island

How long has it taken you to make? 

I get asked this a lot and it’s really hard to answer. It’s taken around four years, however during the first two years I would work on it sporadically, sometimes not touching it for months. The final stages of the game seemed to take forever! I thought the game was finished and ready back in December 2018, but I was so, so wrong! 

Can you share a bit of your journey with us? 

I knew from the start that I wanted to make a roguelite, but it went through a lot of changes. In its very early phase, the player controlled a spaceship – this made the procedural generation relatively simple, as it didn’t need to calculate player jump heights to ensure it was possible to beat the levels. I soon decided to make a greater challenge for myself by changing the spaceship into a platforming character – a generic warrior with a sword. It was clear I needed something unique, so I started prototyping different attack styles, finding inspiration in Super Mario Bros 2 and Yoshi’s Island. I loved the egg-throwing mechanic from Yoshi’s Island and tweaked it to make it my own. It had to allow for faster-paced gameplay. From there, Koji, your main sidekick, was born, and I just worked towards building the story and world of Eagle Island! 

What do you know now that you wish you knew back then? 

The most valuable thing I know now is what the structure of a complete game looks like. There was a lot of guesswork along the way, and I had to go back and rework parts of the game to tie it together into one complete product. 

How many people have been involved in the project? 

I’m the designer, programmer, and lead artist, but it’s far from a one-man project! I’ve worked with a lot of people along the way, collaborating on tasks that would’ve taken me too much time or simply more advanced than my skill level! I’ve worked with two concept artists, a backdrop artist, two boss character artists, and four other artists to fill gaps elsewhere! I’ve also worked with the game publisher team over at Screenwave Media, the game’s composer and a writer who helped me put the story into words. That’s not to mention over 1000 Kickstarter backers who helped support the project two years ago!

What made you decide to create a game that has specific settings for different player styles (Speedrunning, Metroidvania, story mode)?

With a procedurally generated game, it can be a lot easier to create these different modes. It just requires a tweak to the algorithms rather than designing whole new levels or features. 

The game was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. How was that experience, and would you do it again?

It was really stressful. Many games on Kickstarter get funded in the first week, but Eagle Island only just made its goal in the final few days. It’s not an experience I’d want to endure again in the future! 

How much extra pressure was placed on you as a result of the Kickstarter commitments? 

There’s a lot of pressure. It’s really important to keep the game in line with the original vision laid out in the Kickstarter campaign, there’s no way to change ideas. 

Are there really 75 billion different possible level combinations? 

Each level has 2,147,483,647 layouts. There are 19 levels in Story Mode and 16 levels in Rogue Mode – making 75 billion levels. Many procedurally generated games mix together premade room layouts, but Eagle Island actually carves out unique rooms every time – you’ll never see the same location twice. On top of the 75 billion layouts, there’s also a new Weekly Speedrun level to try every week! 

With so many different combinations and possibilities, could you ever really ‘complete’ the game? 

It’s certainly impossible to complete every level layout, but it’s ok, the game counts a level as beaten when you complete any unique run. 

The game looks stunning. The aesthetic is amazing. What made you choose this particular art style above anything else? 

I love old Super Nintendo games, especially those with pixel art. The art style stems from all my old favorites. I added a modern lighting system to give the game a unique look and enhance the atmosphere – something the Super Nintendo would never be able to do. There’s also the option to render the game with an HD effect instead of pixel art!

There is a lot of post-game content, what was the line of thought behind adding so much, as opposed to increasing the length of the base campaign? 

I wanted the game to be accessible, first and foremost. There are several points where the player can stop playing and it still feels like they’ve beaten the game. The credits first roll when then player beats the “end boss,” but it makes it clear they’ve only hit about 50% completion and throws them straight back into the overworld. Some players might prefer to stop at this point, but I hope most keep playing to 100%! There’s also Rogue Mode and Weekly Speedrun modes to unlock. 

The combat system in the game is unique and offers a great challenge to those playing it. Do you have an interest in falconry outside of the scope of this game? 

I’m more interested now than what I used to be, but judging by how I interpret falconry in Eagle Island, it’s probably best I steer clear of it! 

For me, this game screams Limited Run. Do you have any plans to reach out for a physical release anywhere? 

I’d definitely love to see a physical release of the game. We’ll have a look to see what options are available for us after launch! 

Do you have any other projects in the works or are you still fully focused on Eagle Island? 

I have a few ideas in my head for future projects, but right now I’m focusing on supporting Eagle Island after it launches. 

For those that have not checked it out yet, why should people buy Eagle Island? 

It’s a great alternative to the other roguelites by lending a unique narrative experience and steering clear of the typical ‘gun and sword’ playstyle. It’s also a great introduction to the genre with optional difficulty settings and a plethora of accessibility options!

Eagle Island is a great addition to the Nintendo Switch library. Keep your eyes peeled for our review of the game which will be coming soon. Thank you to Pixelnicks for finding the time during their launch period to answer our questions. And make sure to check out their website and follow them on Twitter.

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