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The Story of an Unusual Game Studio

The Story of an Unusual Game Studio

By the end of the 20th century...

Pixel Cows was founded by two cousins, Gabriel and JP (short for “João Pedro”). Almost two decades ago, Gabriel was a nerdy teenager who loved creating games in QBasic and Klik & Play. His younger cousin, JP, was getting just old enough to read, and he was fascinated with the idea of typing in a bunch of magic words on a black screen, pressing F8 and watching code become a game.

Fast forward 10 years, and JP and Gabriel still made games together. Keep in mind that this was before awesome indie games started popping up everywhere around 2008, so up until that moment, we thought that only Nintendo, Blizzard and the likes could distribute their games to a vast amount of people. We didn’t care. We made games because we loved it, not to make money, so distributing them by email to our friends was more than enough. Some of these guys are reading this email right now - hello, guys!

The Bird Game: People exchanged their high score ghosts by email!
Why Cows?

All of a sudden, some alternative, insanely good games like World of Goo, Braid and Super Meat Boy started finding their way into our homes through digital distribution, and we were like “Wooooah, we should make stuff like that!”

By the end of 2008 we started calling ourselves “Pixel Cows”. Yeah, the name is weird. We often got asked “Why cows?" We wanted to say something about ourselves when we picked this name. Calling ourselves the pixel cows meant we didn’t take ourselves too seriously, and also that we were committed to a ‘no compromise’ idea. We wouldn't become more ‘commercial’. We would stay weird and experimental and keep doing what we love to do. Like a game about chicken racing to become gods (literally).

Do you see some good candidates for gods in there? We do.

"A Pixel Cows Game"

Over the following 4 years we worked on bigger projects that were once again being distributed by email to a small, loyal fanbase who liked our style. They were more like highly polished experiments than games. Still, every now and then we'd get an email saying: “hey, this one really feels like a Pixel Cows game!”. A “Pixel Cows game”? Apparently, people thought of our games as hardcore action with emotional stories and some sort of intellectual or transcendental mind bending meaning. Jeez, now that was specific! Is there a public for that? I HAVE NO IDEA.

Tiny Shard - The prototypical "Pixel Cows game"

A couple followers thought we should sell those games. We disagreed. You see, for us, making games was never an attempt to make money, so we were never drawn to the idea of "becoming more commercial". We thought we'd have to stop doing things our way and become more "standard", and that was a deal breaker for us. So we kept making free stuff instead, with our newfound passion for game jams drastically boosting our skills of “wrapping it up and releasing it”.

Dissonance - Won two awards and our first cash prize
The Journey of Eko

But you know, the human mind has this incredible ability to take someone else’s idea and think of it as its own, and so one day we thought: “Hey, what if we just make bigger versions of the games we like to make, without worrying to make it more commercial?”. Well, that we could do! So we started working on a few prototypes of an idea we'd been brainstorming for a while.

Around that time, we met the amazing Chris Wonfor - better known as Cleffer Notes! If you wanna know how absurdly underrated raw talent for videogame music sounds like, make sure to check his channel. We kinda stole one of Chris’ tracks for a trailer we developed for Eko’s Procedural Adventures and somehow he kinda liked it, and we became huge friends. Chris is not always with us, as his talent is usually requested on many other projects, but make no mistake: we absolutely consider him a part of Pixel Cows!

Unfortunately, even though Eko was turning out really fun, we hit a technological dead end, so we moved on to work on other stuff. By this time we quit our jobs, as we figured it was a matter of time until we built something that we considered good enough to be sold. We got really active in the local gamedev community, and kept doing events, collabs and other stuff. We worked a little bit with our friends at Joymasher and developed Odallus’ scrolling / camera system. We also provided coaching for beginner game developers (for free), as a way of giving back to the dev community that was being so awesome with us.

The Kickstarter That Never Was

The Journey of Eko Kickstarter

It’s worth mentioning we even planned a Kickstarter campaign to fully develop The Journey of Eko. We can’t lie here: making Eko is our dream. We always envisioned this world about a boy with a red scarf exploring a mysterious land of forgotten civilizations, that plays a bit like Donkey Kong with a sword and feels like Morrowind meets Legend of Zelda. We will make this game one day, but Kickstarter was not the way to go, for a bunch of reasons I won’t discuss here for the sake of brevity. At that point, we decided it was not the time to make a “Pixel Cows game” into a commercial product - not yet!

Doing What We Do Best

The original Last Dive

Time goes by, we keep working and participating in game jams every once in a while. In 2014, we participated in Ludum Dare with this weird little adventure about a man in a diving suit stranded on the bottom of the ocean. It had this unusual movement mechanic in which you moved like an astronaut on the moon, featuring what is by far the strangest, most personal story we had ever written for a game. It was also a ridiculously ambitious game for the context it was made, that made us sleep nonstop for two days after finishing it. Sheer exhaustion and brain burn made it difficult for us to evaluate if it was any good, then feedback started coming from the Ludum Dare community:

“This is so freaking awesome I don't even have words to express my feelings for this game. That story was just so deep I almost cried ( no kidding )! This is the greatest game I've played in months!”

wow I'm not sure it gets any better then this!

This game was great!! That ending... T_T

This game is perfect in every angle buddy.

What a relief! We kept working on other prototypes and did some contract work to make ends meet, but Last Dive got a special place in our hearts. At that time we also created the Lotus Engine and Lotus Maker within Unity 3D. Those are custom proprietary tools we developed and that we use every day.

The Lotus Maker in action!

A New Year, A New Resolution

Then comes December, 2015, and we knew it was time for Pixel Cows to grow.

Our latest contract work was delivered. The Lotus Engine was advanced and rock-solid after being used in several projects. We were eager to finally create a fully featured Pixel Cows game.

Gameplay of Last Dive's Remake

Remaking Last Dive was a natural choice. It’s a game we love, and it has solid, innovative gameplay and a great story. We really believe in iteration and absurd levels of polish (something that just couldn’t happen in the original due to the extreme time constraint), so this time we are aiming high and making sure our remake is everything the original was, just much better!

To help with that, in January 2016 we recruited Bruno. With a solid background in motion graphics and coming from two interesting gamedev experiences in England, Bruno joined our ranks as community manager. He’s the voice behind our communication (this update being the odd exception), and the go-to man for video editing. Since then, his role has grown to help in many other areas, such as art production, sound design and even web programming!

The Present

It’s been 20 years since everything started and almost 8 since we call ourselves Pixel Cows, and even though our studio nowadays feels more like a tech company than a garage operation, we still hold our founding values to heart. We are not in this for easy money. We will not launch a game until we are completely satisfied with its quality. We will not make our stories shallower just to appeal to more people. We will never forget that games are art, and deserve to be created and appreciated as such. Games are art, and you can't rush art! We will never forget that games matter. We are crazy perfectionists. We are not overly conventional. We are weird, and we don’t care. We are Pixel Cows, and we are proud of it!

*dries tear and kinda feels like William Wallace before battle*

Now, truth be told: none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for you. None of it. You, loyal fans, both the ones from the times of our prototypes distributed by email and the new followers alike. You are the driving force behind our story - and we will never forget that either.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for being awesome!