Pinokl Games: “We Treat Pixel Art Like a Greek Mosaic”

Party Hard first anniversary was on August 25th. We talked to its developers, the Ukrainian company Pinokl Games, about the history of the project and the release on Steam. The whole team took part in this interview.

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Image Credit: Party Hard

Hi! First of all, let me congratulate you with the anniversary of Party Hard release. Before we start talking about the game, tell me a few words about yourself.

Hi, thanks!

Pinokl Games is a small indie studio. We developed several games for social networks that gained more than 15M installs in total.

One of the most successful our projects is Real Steel. This game was installed by more than 2M players only in vk.com. Also, we had several mobile projects before we started developing for Steam and gaming consoles.

At the moment we are Ocean’s Twelve:).

As far as I know the idea of Party Hard came to you during Games Jam. How did it happen? Did you watch too much horror movies like “Friday the 13th” and decided to create something like that?

Yeah, that was savage:) We took part in Games Jam and Ludum Dare to pull ourselves together and get some experience. We wanted to make something new, unusual and free from boundaries and analytics. We were ready to have fun, distract ourselves from reality and create something really crazy.

The theme of the Jam was “Indie vs PewDiePie” so it was quite easy to come up with several nice concepts. Of course, our way to Party Hard as it is today wasn’t a walk in a park, but it was worthy.

We ate pizza and drank beer while discussing some ideas like: “Let’s make a pixel art game!”.

Also, we switched roles and our programmer was drawing, the designer was working with the sounds, the producer was coding and so on. From the very beginning, it was nothing but fun for us. What could possibly come out from this was a different question. We just put all ideas together and started working.

As it usually happens on Games Jams, we spent three nights coding and drinking coffee. As a result, we got tons of positive emotions and a new game about a murderer who tries to kill everyone at a party.

1

Why did you decide to work with pixel art? Was there any other variants?

One of our developers, Alexander Ponomariov, was working on some pixel art projects before so he was in charge for the graphical aspects of the game. Also, we can tell from our experience that pixel art is quite popular among participants of different indie contests. At least it’s much easier to draw when you’re short of time.

Don’t you feel a bit tired from pixel art today? Also what other styles you’d like to try?

We treat pixel art like a Greek mosaic, which is valued and pleasant to look at. It’s always beautiful and we can’t get tired of it.

The entry level of pixel art games is very low and, unfortunately, many developers use that. A lot of projects of low quality appeared which couldn’t help but influence players’ attitude towards pixel art, but still, it’s a universal style for those who can use it wisely.

Of course, we would be happy to work with 3D, such kind of development requires longer terms and wider audience. In nearest future, you are sure to see something interesting from us in 3D.

2

Let’s get back to Party Hard. How much time did you spend on the first version of the game? How many variants of gameplay have you excluded before this one, what other mechanics have you tried?

We spent 3 days if we’re talking about that laggy flash version of the game.

We noticed public interest and hurried to make a better version.

It took a month to port the game to Unity. It was one playable level, which we presented on Casual Connect 2015 in Amsterdam. We won Indie Prize Award at Indie Showcase and met our future publisher TinyBuild.

When we were supported by fans, press, and youtubers with millions of views, we understood that we had to keep on working! Together with TinyBuild we started development of the game for Steam. From the very beginning, we wanted to make a slow tactical game with elements of puzzle, which you can finish only after the right succession of actions. But after sending the build to streamers we noticed that the audience instead of slow tactical gameplay preferred unexpected situations, like UFO, a murderer of a cop, a horse in the middle of a house etc. So players wanted to have crazy fun so we decided to give it to them. It worked out in the end.

It took more than six months. A year ago, on the 25th of August we launched the game! We are happy with what we’ve got, Steam is an amazing platform!

As far as I know, the game quickly formed a dedicated community. And there was a viral success. Were you ready for it?

As I have already mentioned, we didn’t plan to make it a full-scale project. There was even a moment when we thought not to share the build. We couldn’t imagine such a great release. Thanks to players, streamers and the audience for making us develop the full version! For now Party Hard is doing well.

3

How painful was the transition from the first version to the one that you released (what was added, what was canceled)?

The transition itself was easy. We were already familiar with Unity at that time, and it was easy to remake the extended version of the demo.

We only borrowed assets from the original flash game to base our work on.

We abandoned all features that didn’t give the desired result in a time frame. Following this rule, we didn’t miss an opportunity to add little details if they didn’t require a lot of time. And it wasn’t a problem to spend a bit more time on important aspects.

Did you use the same tool for the first and the second version? I mean engine, project management tools and so on. Which one do you usually use?

As I have already said, the first Flash version of the game was made quick and dirty during the contest. Then we switched to Unity.

All tasks were in Trello or even directly in Telegram. It turned out to be very convenient for inside communications. Also when your team is very small it’s much easier to arrange a meeting.

4

I’m going to ask you a question, which I’m sure many people who are involved in the Jams are interested in. What should those who successfully passed the Jam do to make a full product based on the draft?

By the way, we didn’t win the Jam, but we got a lot of feedback, reviews, and fans.

Such hackathons help to evaluate features and mechanics with lightning speed. It helps to negotiate, to look for new ways of implementing. For example, to permanently send builds, we had a week of Jam almost every month. It was necessary to build quickly, to fix or to shut down something that didn’t work the way we wanted. So, first of all, Jams develop the ability to make quick decisions.

By the way, what was the most difficult for the team on the way from “we are making a game in 72 hours” to “we are making a game for a great release on Steam”?

We planned to make everything greater, faster and more beautiful than in the Jam version. Since the game was a kind of a sandbox, we organized everything neatly and thought about all kinds of situations, when even in the heart of the chaos experienced players could find their way out and turn the course of events in their favor.

If we take into account that the game changed its direction during the development, based on feedback from streamers, I think, the most difficult task was to maintain the integrity of the game.

5

The Jam version of the game received 2M views on YouTube within 72 hours. We can say that it was a big success. Was there any fear not to meet the expectations of that loyal audience?

At first, we were mostly worried because of the theme of the game: a murderer, homicides. But we weren’t afraid to abandon hopes of our audience. At least we had one!

We worked with our fans and viewers all the way. They felt important and influenced the project a lot.

Were there any fears that the provocative theme of the game could somehow have a negative impact on sales or raise questions from Steam? The game is a simulator of a psychopath made with a humorous touch. By the way, what rating did it get?

There is no strict rating policy on Steam. For example, GamesCom gave it 16+ after we removed all the blood.

There were some negative reviews from critics. But because of the pixel design, and, as you said, humorous tone, the game ceased to be so dark. Players do not associate what is happening on the screen with the real world. This article very clearly describes the difference between our game and Hatred.

It’s a premium project. Usually, this type of games launches and gets abandoned because it’s not free-to-play. However, you released patches and new levels for it. How much does it affect sales?

At the moment the sales of the game are at the same level they were on the second month after the launch. Moreover, updates stimulate sales on Xbox One / PS4. You can see the online chart on the picture below. It shows great work of TinyBuild!

6

And we think that it’s not the limit. We hope to take a milestone of 1000 players online. And after that, we’ll make the second part.

Was there any additional work with the community? How did you present a new pack to players?

We are a small team, but we try to inform our community. A lot of problems our players can solve by themselves, we get involved only when our help is necessary.

We try to engage ourselves in a dialogue with annoyed players and collect feedback. It helps us to understand what we should fix and where to move the game further.

As for our plans, we are sharing them mainly on events like PAX or E3 with press and streamers.

After the release of the project, you have been working with Twitch. Can you tell us about your partnership?

We integrated Twitch in the game. We didn’t integrate streaming, it is still possible to use other programs for it. What we did is the implementation of a chat, with the help of it the audience could influence the progress of the streamer.

Players could vote for all sorts of events, they could help or to interfere with the player. Now we are preparing a big update, which adds more of these things (even an ability to control characters). In addition to this, each spectator will have his own account, the ability to collect points and spend them in any stream.

7

Did you watch streams of your game? Did you take any notes?

Yes, we have analyzed many hours of streams, and some of them we reviewed several times.

First of all, we were interested in bugs and some misses such as locations where the players don’t understand what’s going on or when our characters don’t behave as they should.

We decided to leave some bugs because it’s fun. For example, hens can pick a player to death if they have seen a murder (originally we wanted them to be passive observers).

T-shirts with the game appeared on Amazon, as well as the soundtrack on YouTube. What was the aim of these activities?

Fans really like such little things and we like to please our players. It doesn’t take much time to make, and people are grateful. For us, it is just a joy.

8

The game has a level editor since April. Why did you decide to implement this feature? How did this affect sales?

The idea of the editor appeared almost immediately after the launch. As soon as we saw loads of players wishing it, we immediately went to work. And, apparently, we did not miss: our online rose, the community had so much fun with new levels. Sometimes players create really good and complete levels. In future, we plan to feature these levels by adding them in the additional top category, like Editors choice.

Don’t you think that the level editor should be there from the start?

In general, this kind of an update is an excellent opportunity to remind about the game. Plus, the project can be featured and it’s a good reason for us to show players that we support our product after the launch. We believe that if you can add something later without harming the game, it is the best way to do it.

And the last question is about your new project Party Hard Tycoon. I’m sure we will have a new interview soon. But for now, I’d like to know what this game is about and what inspired you. Wasn’t it the level editor in Party Hard?

Yes and no.

The thing is that many of our players expected a tycoon because of the design.

Also some of our colleagues like this genre a lot.

Plus, we noticed that such kind of games has a huge demand on Steam, but the offer is limited. We realized that we made the right choice when we presented it at GamesCon Cologne 2016 and received great feedback!

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