An Interview with PixelMetal's Nick Robalik

09/24/2014 - 11:00 | By: Bryan Heraghty

Indie games have seen a growing spotlight in the industry over the years, thanks in part to the open relationship indie developers hold with fans and the community through blogging, Twitter, etc. One such developer, Nick Robalik of PixelMetal, spoke with me (Bryan Heraghty) on his new game: Sombrero, as well as whatever else we felt like talking about!
Describe who you are and what your job at PixelMetal is, for our readers.
My name is Nick Robalik, and I'm the sole developer/designer/artist/animator at PixelMetal, and I'm currently building our first game to be released under the PixelMetal banner, Sombrero.
TR: Describe Sombrero! In your own words what kind of game and style is it?
PM: Sombrero is a fast-paced, Spaghetti-Western themed competitive multiplayer platformer. On release it will be local multiplayer-only, though I'll be looking into adding online multiplayer after the initial release. Others have compared it favorably to Smash Bros., a comparison I'll happily take.
Jones Hill Cemetary

TR: Where did the idea for Sombrero come from? Did the aesthetic of the game come as development progressed or did you know from the beginning you were going for the spaghetti western feel? I love old western films like the Dollars Trilogy and Sundance Kid. Did these or any other films inspire the game?

PM: I''m a big fan of spaghetti westerns; the overly-dramatic, somewhat operatic nature of them has always appealed to me. My maternal grandfather was a big fan as well, being from Italy and all, and that's probably where I picked it up from. There's definitely some influence from the Dollars Trilogy, as well as other westerns of that type, in both the visuals and the music, which is heavily influenced by Ennio Marricone's work on Sergio Leone's more famous westerns.

There's also a bit of 1950's sci-fi influence which shows a bit in some of the characters - like Jim from Cleveland, who's clearly an alien - and that will show in some of the upcoming levels. Sombrero started out as more strictly western, but the more I've been working on it the more other influences are starting to pop up to add a bit of variety. Overall, though, it's very spaghetti western-influenced.

TR: What do you feel makes Sombrero stand out form other multiplayer games?

PM: One of the more obvious differences is the art style, which looks more like hi-res illustration than pixel art, The animation is a bit more towards television cartoons, as opposed to sprites, meaning everything animates very smoothly and there's transitions between different player character animations. For example when going from idle to running, the character quickly transitions to the run animation - no jittery jumps here.


Gameplay-wise, compared to other games in the newly-popular couch multiplayer genre, It's significantly more fast-paced and hectic, with multiple game modes so players get the most bang for their buck. At the recent Boston Festival of Indie Games I was showing "Loot Mode," where plays have to run around collecting bags of money while capturing campsites that act as value multipliers for the bags of money, meaning the more campsites you hold, the more the bags of money are worth. There's also going to be a standard deathmatch mode, a capture the flag-type mode, and another mode I still need a good name for, kind of a reverse-tag mode, where players try to hold a single bag of money longer than anyone else during a match, which is dropped when they're shot, and whoever hold the bag of money the longest wins. And of course, team play will also be present for some fun 2 on 2 matches. Again, the Smash Bros. comparison seems most apt.

TR: Tell us about the Pixel metal team. How did you guys start? Did you all know each other before forming the studio? How many of you are there?

PM: Technically, PixelMetal (one word) is just me, Nick Robalik. I've known me for around 36 years :). I'm handling all of the design/art/animation/development work myself. I've worked on games large & small over the years since around 1994, though never as my full-time job - I work in another industry that's also very heavy on art, design & interactivity. Funnily enough, I'm one of the few people from my group of college friends, where we all went to school for 3D animation & audio engineering, who didn't end up going straight into game development. It took me awhile to finally get to it. The wonderful music in Sombrero is being done by Nathaniel Chamber of Bubble Pipe Media, a terrific composer who's great at genre-hopping between musical styles.

TR: What are your thoughts on the gaming industry right now? Do you think we need more indie developers? Any thoughts on #GamerGate? Speak you mind, whatever you want to talk about!

PM: The industry is in a weird place right now. We've got the usual AAA titles that keep the multi-billion dollar games industry alive that seem a bit distracted with trying to one-up each other in terms of A/V presentation but are built on a foundation of pretty bog-standard gameplay. On the other end, we have some indies who think the only games that qualify as "indie" are games that are both not very good games with a very specific viewpoint and don't necessarily look all that great either - and are probably developed by one of their friends.


This "art games" crowd don't seem to understand that all kinds of games can be and, I would argue, ARE art, even if they're not games they particularly care for personally. I think they'd do well to loosen up a little bit and just enjoy playing games, instead of saying games aren't that important in the same breath with which they promote themselves as game designers.

On the AAA side, I wish they'd put some of that oodles of money they throw at this internationally-enjoyed hobby to work out some new, interesting gameplay ideas. I think stuff like Mirror's Edge was a step in the right direction, and I'd like to see a bit more of that kind of thinking.

As for #GamerGate specifically, I'll be straightforward on that: I've been involved since day 1 and I wholeheartedly support those who play games, and those who self-identify as and who are derided for being "gamers." They're an incredibly diverse bunch, from all walks of life, of all races, genders and sexual preferences, and so long as they enjoy playing games, large or small, they're always going to be the people I care about because they're the people who are going to be playing my games. Gamers certainly deserve my attention more than a small group of self-appointed cultural referees and their not-journalists-but-blogger friends who are unable to understand that others representing a significantly more inclusive worldview than what they themselves possess and promote are not bad people and are not the enemy. Gamers, myself included, are their paycheck.


The shifting of blame to the customer in the current controversy is patently unconscionable and shows that this small group is running scared, as they try to shift the blame onto their audience as well as the AAA publishers and games that advertise on their sites, not quite understanding that if they're getting pressure from these AAA folks that it is, and if they want to be considered journalists, part of their job to push back against that. They can't blame the corrupting influence for corruption, but it's fair blame them - those that accept it without a second thought - because it means they'll get a free game, console, party invite or business-class flight somewhere. Those same folks are throwing around some pretty terrible words and putting up some very inflammatory one-sided and poorly-researched articles, as well as trying to control the conversation online by silencing dissenting voices - of which there are far more than those who agree with them. It's not going to end well, and some people are probably going to lose their jobs over it, which is both sad and not due to the fault of anyone but themselves.

TR: Any chance of a 2014 release date?

PM: Probably not. We're coming up on the holiday sales season and the advertising/marketing/PR budget put forth on a single upcoming AAA game dwarfs the kind of money I can make in 30 years. I'm looking at an early 2015 release when those larger publishers are done throwing a small country's GDP at consumers to encourage them to buy their specific brand of murder simulator (full disclosure: I've been enjoying Titanfall on PC far more than I ever expected to, as it's not my usual cup of tea in terms of game genre).

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Staff Writer

Avid shooter and platformer fan. Coffee is the only power up I need. In the spare time I have I will listen to more podcasts than has scientifically been deemed healthy.

Hit me up on Twitter if you ever want to chat with me about games, tech, or whatever.