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(Check out our preview of PixelMetal’s game in-progress, Sombero, here!)

First things first, introduce yourself and tell us a little about your involvement with the development of Sombrero?

Hey there! My Name is Nick Robalik and I’m from a small game company located in New York City called PixelMetal. Sombrero is the local multiplayer game currently being worked on at PixelMetal.

How does the Sombrero team function? I’ve noticed you have Bubble Pipe Media doing the soundtrack but is seems like the design side is just you.

There isn’t really a team. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Other than the soundtrack, which as you mentioned is being handled by Nathaniel Chambers of Bubble Pipe Media, it’s just me and my multiple personalities handling design, animation, development, and sound effects.

I have a contracted PR rep named Scott Meaney who helps me with reaching out to Let’s Players, various gaming press outlets, etc. He gets paid to remind me that I have a product to shill. Er…tell people about because they might like it. He also reminds me that sometimes it might be better if I just kept my mouth shut, which I’m still working on…sort of… I hired him because he was the only PR person who played the game before introducing himself and trying to sell me on hiring him. And he gave good gameplay feedback.

What part of the game are you most proud of so far?

pixel 9a83cb5a8fb2de3d6cda3a3a1f6611d93eee1de3The warm reception Sombrero has received at the gaming events I’ve taken it to. That’s a great, positive reaction from real, actual gamers.  For me, that’s the most important sign that I’m doing something right and that maybe I’m creating something to be proud of once it’s finished and out in the marketplace for people to enjoy with their friends.

If I had to pick a specific part of the game, I’ve been very happy with where the art and animation is ending up, especially as the project nears completion. I’m also enormously happy with the work that Nathaniel has done on the soundtrack. He’s the one who should feel proud of that. It’s awesome and will eventually be available as a purchase separate from the game, for those who’d like their own personal spaghetti western soundtrack as they’re moseying on down the street.

I’ve asked a couple of developers about this before but what has your experience with industry bodies like the IGDA been?

I haven’t had much direct contact with the IGDA as an organization in at least a decade. I haven’t been to any kind of IGDA-run event since GDC 2003. I don’t really understand the need for the IGDA in this day and age with social media allowing even the smallest developers to reach out directly to each other and their potential audiences. We’re experiencing an unprecedented level of access and personal communication. I feel that this is a much more worthwhile approach to community.

There are lots of little references in your game, where do you draw most inspiration from?

Old Spaghetti Western flicks. 1950s B-movie science fiction with guys in rubber monster suits. Classic Warner Bros. cartoons and, of course, other games. For Sombrero specifically, books on American Old West, Central, South American history, and those awful fake documentaries on the “History” and “Learning” channels on ridiculous ideas like ancient aliens that I keep finding myself watching.

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What advice do you have for people who want to make their first inroads into game development?

Start small. Don’t expect your first projects to set the world on fire – though of course they always could – and don’t blame gamers for not liking your game if it doesn’t catch on. Not even if you’ve managed to receive positive coverage from some of the gaming press. Above all, if making games is what you really want to do, don’t give up; practice makes perfect, as does paying attention to what it is gamers are saying in terms of what they want and how you can better appeal to them in your own unique way.

What has been the most challenging part of developing Sombrero?

Learning to be a developer! While I’ve done web development and the occasional small application in the past, whenever I’ve worked on games I’ve worked on them with a team and others have handled the programming. For Sombrero I wanted to try to do everything myself – or at least try to – and so getting back in touch with my code side has been a learning experience.

How important do you feel is games media to the potential success of independent games? Do you feel more able to connect directly with fans?

The “traditional” larger websites will always be one way to get the word out but If we’re being realistic, and look at what the hard data says gamers are paying attention to, it’s enthusiast press that are publishing in-depth articles on the games their audiences are interested in, along with those who do a lot of Let’s Play videos on YouTube. The goals of enthusiastic amateurs tend to be more in line with my own in terms of games: find/make fun games, let people know about them who may enjoy playing them.

It’s a much simpler formula dealing with enthusiast press, there’s a lot less misplaced ego in that subsection of gaming press, and I’m happy to interact directly with fans when Sombrero is being shown at an event. They always provide the best game-related feedback and most are not afraid to share their opinions.

Sombrero has a large focus on local multiplayer in a time when many games are shying away from even having that option; do you think local multiplayer is being overlooked in modern gaming?  

As near as I can tell there’s more games, thanks to the smaller developers, that are helping to reinvigorate the idea of local multiplayer. There’s something to be said for sitting next to the people you’re competing against, and it’s not something that online play has been able to replicate so far. There’s a reason large tournaments for even games that are online-only don’t happen virtually.

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How do you feel about Steam’s new return policy, as a developer does it make you worried?

It’s awesome. I think the refund window should actually be even longer than 2 hours of gameplay time. What’s good for consumers is good for developers in the long run. It also has the potential to help weed out a lot of the shovelware and Early Access abuse on Steam.

Any developers complaining about it are worried they’ll see their games judged on their merits as a game, and I consider that a good thing.

Who would win in a fight between a cowboy, a ninja and a pirate?

I think the answer to that depends upon the location of the fight!

Sombrero has quite a distinctive spaghetti western aesthetic. How hard is it to make 2d games stand out in a crowded market?

I can only answer for myself on this, but I think that the biggest hurdle indie developers are facing these days in terms of style is overcoming the urge to make their game look like another successful game. Copying an existing product is the low-hanging fruit of game development. The best thing to do, I think, is to look for the kind of people who are interested in creating a product that looks a bit more unique and can stand on its own visual style instead of piggybacking popular products.

That being said, I might have it a bit easier on the visual side because I’m a designer by trade and have spent most of my life doing illustration, animation and interactive design stuff.

I think it’s possible to make a commercial product that still lets the personality of its creators shine through. Because of this, I try to take influence from the titles I enjoy, a lot of little thing things, but try to merge and mold them into a unique concept. Something that will hopefully appeal to others. That’s what I’m trying to do with Sombrero, at least. Fingers crossed.

Last of all, where can people find you and where can we find more information on your projects? Let shilling commence.

< // SHILLBOT ACTIVATED // >

To find out overall information on PixelMetal – a pretentious way to say “me” – people can go to and bookmark http://pixelmetal.com

To get right to the goods on Sombrero, people should head on over to http://sombrerogame.com

For those who like to stay up-to-date through social media, follow the PixelMetal Facebook page where I post Sombrero updates at http://facebook.com/PixelMetal

If anyone would like to yell at me directly to tell me why I’m wrong about something, they can harass me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pixelmetal

< // SHILLBOT SUBROUTINES COMPLETE, SHUTTING DOWN // >

(Disclaimer: The author and editorial staff are friendly on Twitter with Nick Robalik. Images via PixelMetal LLC/Sombrerogame.com)

 

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.