I love video games, but haven’t made any. Until today. When I first heard about Pixel Press a few months ago, the idea caught my attention. As the name suggests, Pixel Press is like a digital printing press, giving everyone with an iPad the ability to create their own platformer game.
I met Pixel Press’ co-founder, Robin Rath, and other staff at a tech job fair in February. When Robin shared his desire to create a video game with programmers, they found a way to make it happen. By creating their proprietary technology, they’re able to use an iPad camera as a liaison between lines on paper and interactive elements that you can arrange any way you want.
Here’s how it works. You sketch out your game, using the key provided in the sketch guide. Download the custom graph paper here. After you’ve got a general layout, take a photo of your graph paper with your iPad camera. Upload it. Pixel Press then transforms your sketch into the game elements (coins, terrain, spikes, etc.) using its proprietary technology.
If I’ve made it sound easy, shame on me. Computers can’t see. Under the hood, all letters have numeric values that programs transform into visual symbols for the benefits of us humans. After uploading your photo, you will probably need to utilize the in-app features to correct mistakes. No computer will have 100 percent accuracy in detecting symbols across ages and different hand-writing. However, Pixel Press saves each recognized character in order to get better over time.
I chose to skip the graph paper completely and create my game entirely in my iPad. At first, this was a frustrating experience. The sketch guide is two clicks away, but short-term memory alone wasn’t enough for me. Like anything in life, it takes practice. It took me a while to get warmed up, too.
For a lack of a better phrase, I had writer’s block. Eventually, I decided I wanted my first level to have a floor that was all spikes, except one super coin that would be hard to get to. I ended up with two power ups instead. The instant testing allowed me to make sure I wasn’t making it so hard it wasn’t fun. I really wanted my game to be hard. Click here to check it out. You can also opt to “play” rather than “create” choosing from dozens of games created by others.
My husband once gave me solid advice for platformer games: don’t move until you can see where you want to land. I made it a rule that I had to give that option to people playing my game. I quickly discovered that I’d spread my elements too far apart. The proportions are challenging, because in the sketchbook, you have a broad view of your level. But until you start testing, you have no idea which portion of screen is visible to the player. What made sense in the sketch screen didn’t work as well when I went to play.
In order to move my elements closer together I had to completely redraw them. The drawing tools are pretty good, so this didn’t take too long. And despite years of Photoshop and Illustrator teaching me to avoid the pencil tool, the pencil tool in Pixel Press is quick and accurate.
But a drag-and-drop mode would be even better, so I could simply select already-constructed elements, move them to a new location and override anything I’d already drawn on that square. Even better still, would be some kind of visual overlay in the sketch mode that gave me the players field of vision. This was an issue both horizontally and vertically.
Right now, I see the control as the biggest issue. The jumps are too high and fast compared with moving across the terrain. I had to change some of my game because the control simply wasn’t there. Hopefully, it will improve with time.
The Floors app is free but adding enemies and custom power-ups cost $.99 and $1.99 respectively. I think it’s worth the three dollar investment to have more control. What’s a platformer game without enemies? I wish I received more selection or my investment, such as enemies that could fly, hang on monkey bars or shoot things. To be fair, it was half the price of the power-ups, which has a lot of variety. And when I consider the money spent against the hours of entertainment, Pixel Press is right up there with Netflix. For me, that’s saying something.
When I talked to Robin last he mentioned his desire to someday make it possible for players to incorporate their own artwork and graphics. As an artist, I look forward to being able to add my own visual touch to the already beautiful graphics. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I look forward to making an Albert Einstein avatar to star in one of my games. With a Mad Scientist theme! Without Pixel Press, I wouldn’t even be thinking about which Nobel Prize winners belonged in my future games.
If you enjoy platformer games, I highly suggest downloading Pixel Press floors. It takes time and effort to get comfortable using it, but it’s worth it. Currently, Pixel Press is only available on iOS, but they have plans to take it to Android soon. While they haven’t publicized a price, the app store description implies that Pixel Press floors might not be free forever. Click here to learn more about Pixel Press and here to download it from iTunes.
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