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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.