I was standing outside the afterparty of Playcrafting's Fall Expo smoking a cigarette and looking around to see if there were any devs I had missed. I saw two men standing next to an awful lot of luggage and had a hunch that one of them was a game developer, especially considering that one of the pieces of equipment they were carrying was a projector screen.
The man with the project was Nick "PixelMetal" Robalik. Standing next to Pixelmetal was Scott Meaney, a PR agent who is so affable that his surname is deeply ironic. I walked up to them and struck up a conversation while they waited for their Lyft to show up. Thankfully we were in the middle of Manhattan and that afforded me more than enough time to have a quick chat with him about the game he was showcasing. (As an aside, TechRaptor has interviewed Pixelmetal before and it's certainly worth a read.)
Pixelmetal was showing off Sombrero, a Spaghetti-Westernesque four player deathmatch game. I caught glimpses of the gameplay during the event but didn't manage to make it over to Pixelmetal. Thankfully, Pixelmetal put some gameplay footage online and I thought the game looked pretty fun from what I saw. Here's the same video that I got most of my impression of the game from; our interview begins right below it!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp_n-YallXI
TechRaptor: Start with your name, the company you work for, and the game you were showing at Playcrafting.
Nick Robalik: Sure. My name is Nick Robalik. The game I was showing at [Playcrafting's Fall Expo] was Sombrero. And I'm from the company Pixelmetal.
TR: [In the conversation we had] before I started recording you were saying you work in marketing [and that's how you met your PR guy.] Why hire a PR guy especially if you have experience [in that area] and can do that yourself?
NR: Well, two reasons. One of the reasons is definitely to offset the workload. It's hard to- 'cause I'm the only developer and I'm doing all the art and all the animation and all the sound effects. I have a sound guy named Nathaniel Chambers that's doing the soundtrack. He's composing all the music. But I'm doing everything else myself. So I just don't have enough time necessarily to, like, every day shoot people e-mails and like hunt around and all that stuff. My experience [is in] the design side of things and Scott [Meaney's] a good talker.
TR: Dealing with people is an art. [I heard you were a very vocal person on Twitter from some people, would you care to elaborate on that?]
NR: It definitely is, and I have this issue with saying what I think. I'm very much of the opinion that everyone has a right to their opinion. No matter whether I agree with that opinion or not. And that for some reason has become controversial. Living by someone else's opinion is a terrible way to live.
Scott Meaney: It's fine! There's just a quality product and game here that I feel like we could be talking about.
TR: Do you think there is anything that immediately comes to mind if I said, "Is there something that you said on Twitter that you think is incredibly stupid and you wish you could take it back?"
NR: [unhesitantly] No.
SM: Nope! I'm safe!
TR: Let me rephrase. I have the feeling that the contention you took with that question was the "and you wish you could take it back" part. Do you feel that there's anything that you said that was incredibly stupid [in] online social media, stuff like that?
NR: Probably on a daily basis, yes.
TR: But you would never take it back? Just let it out there?
NR: Nope. It's all... it's a joke. People take themselves too seriously. I say something stupid, it's probably on purpose. 95% of the time it's on purpose.
TR: I guess that's all the Twitter [stuff] out of the way. How about talking about your actual product you were showing off so Scott stops looking like he's gonna have a heart attack?
SM: I'm good! I'm good. I've gotten very used to this.
TR: Do you get hazard pay for working with him?
SM: This isn't bad. This is fine.
TR: Okay, when I came to this event I tried to come in as blind as possible. I did cursory research. I [looked at Sombrero] and [my first impression was that it] looks like [a] Mexican-themed Samurai Gun. How accurate is that basic first impression that I have.
TR: Are you familiar with Samurai Gun?
NR: Yes, I've played it. Kind of. It's the same...
TR: Same general idea, multiplayer deathmatch?
NR: It's the same genre. The scale is much larger. Samurai Gun [is] a single screen. Sombrero is not. Sombrero is more like a Super Smash Bros. in that sense. The stages are a bit larger.
TR: Yeah, I noticed you brought a projector with you. You needed the screen real estate (from what I saw).
NR: There's very few people who are willing to drag a giant projection screen to these events. So it makes it stand out in the room.
TR: The one overaching theme I'm getting of you as a person is stubbornness. How accurate would you say that is?
NR: Highly. That's highly accurate.
TR: [Your game] is essentially like a deathmatch kind of thing? Do you have AI?
NR: It's only human players. There will be a sort of single player component. Not in the sense that there's bots running around but more of a training thing where the enemies are more... [more like a platformer.]
TR: So it's essentially intended to be purely a multiplayer experience in the framework you were showing off [tonight]. Deathmatch.
NR: Yeah, there's... deathmatch. There's... there's four diferrent game modes. There's Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. [There's also] Hauling the Loot that's more about running around grabbing bags of money, getting score multipliers to make the money worth more. There's a lot of power-ups in [Sombrero] which seperates it a lot from something like Samurai Gun.
TR: Do you have the option to turn power-ups off so people can go full "Fox [Only], No Items, Final Destination"?
NR: Um... that's not a bad idea. It should be generally flexible in terms of the gameplay. People being able to set stage length, how many rounds are in a single match, that kind of stuff. I haven't actually thought about turning power-ups off.
TR: Let me ask you something relating to that. [What] I said there is a meme in the Smash Bros. [tournament] community where [some] tournament rules are so overly restrictive the joke is only the character Fox, only the level Final Destination, no items because they take it super seriously. If in the world where, say, your game got wildly popular enough that it would become a touranment sensation - would you prefer that they had a pure experience and restricted it like that or would you prefer they played the game as designed even if it was mildly unbalanced? Noncommital, of course - [I'm just talking about] as you feel about [Sombrero] now.
NR: For the most part I think people should be able to play it how they want to. That's why I'm putting a lot of the options in that I'm trying to put in.
TR: So if they did do like a really restrictive tournament format you wouldn't necessarily have a problem with it?
NR: No, I don't see why I would. People are playing the game. That's cool. That's the whole point of making it - it's for people to play it. If they want to play it a different way then... that [isn't] 100% intended that's fine. Now I don't know that it would be as fun with power-ups turned off. But if people like to play it that way...
TR: Tournaments are serious business. It's not about fun, didn't you know?
NR: I guess that's true. I mean, if they want to play it that way I can't stop them. They've already bought the game. It's up to them. As far as I'm concerned it's like their thing now.
TR: Speaking of buying the game, roughly how long do you think until you're gonna be launching.
NR: I think I'm gonna finish it by the end of . I had hoped to get it out over the summer [of 2015] but, I, uh...
TR: Doesn't always work out that way, yeah.
NR: Well, I was working at a job that I ended up working very late on most nights. Until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. I'd get home and I would just be too tired so I'd normally work on it maybe one or two days over the weekend and then. [I'm now] working somewhere else and I get to go out the door at 5 so I've been able able to really crunch on it a lot.
TR: So you're doing this all in your free time in addition to working a full-time job?
TR: What kind of price point are you going to be [aiming for]?
NR: Initially, of course, because it's a thing indie developers have to do - it'll be on sale for less than the full price. Full price is gonna be somewhere in the neighborhood of $15.
TR: I don't if necessary indie developers... 'cause lots of games, even like big games, they usually do 10% off [at launch] nowadays. It's starting to become more and more common.
NR: That's true. You're right.
TR: The Witcher 3 was 10% off at launch.
NR: You know, I didn't notice. You're right. I just... bought it. [laughs]
TR: What platforms are you looking to get it on?
NR: Initially it's gonna be Windows, OSX, and Linux. The bigger flavors of Linux. Probably Debian 'cause that's what the Steambox runs on. SteamOS. And then after that, Xbox One. There's no need to... this is gonna piss some Linux people, but like...
TR: Because there's a lot of them.
NR: They all have their favorite flavor of Linux. The only flavors that I'm concerned about are those that which I can sell it through Steam.
TR: Are you gonna get on any other platforms besides Steam? GOG, maybe?
NR: GOG... maybe.
TR: Are you going to sell it independently [on your own website or something similar]?
NR: Yeah, yeah. There'll be sales directly through the site as well. Steam's just the obvious one because there's some fun integration stuff you can do with Steam.
TR: They also have 70% of the market or something like that so you'd be insane not to put it on Steam.
NR: Right. Exactly.
TR: Are you going to shoot for [other] consoles at all [besides Xbox One]?
NR: That's the only one I've thought about so far.
TR: What did you code it in? Complete custom job? Did you use an existing framework?
NR: I used a game engine called Construct 2 as the basis of it. There's a lot of customization - all the actual game is all custom - but it's a good starting point. 'cause I didn't want to start from scratch. Because I work on the design side I'm not like... I'm not a full-time programmer. I needed to start somewhere above zero.
TR: Okay, fair point. [Anything else you want to say?]
NR: I'll be getting [Sombrero] out on Greenlight hopefully soon. It's mostly set up. I've done a bunch of games since...
SM: When was it, the mid '90s?
NR: Yeah, and then I took a break for about ten years... where...
TR: How old are you if you don't mind my asking?
NR: I'm 37.
TR: Wow, you don't look 37.
NR: Good. I'll take that.
TR: Maybe pissing off people on the Internet keeps you looking young.
NR: It's quite possible. I've had a lot of practice doing so on pre-Internet dial-up bulletin boards.
TR: Ah, so there you go.
NR: I'm still fluent in leetspeak. I'm not sure if I should be embarassed by that or not.
TR: Probably a little bit embarassed.
TR: Thanks for your time!
I'd like to thank Pixelmetal and Scott Meaney for spending nearly an hour with my chain smoking and conversing on a Manhattan sidewalk. Pixelmetal is definitely an interesting character and a genuinely affable and fun guy to be around.
Sombrero looks like the sort of game that would be great to break out when you have a bunch of people over. It seems easy enough to pick up and I'll definitely be keeping it on my radar.