The tale of Pixal

Eight years ago, back on November 2007, I started a project. I wanted to do something different than I used to do back then.

I worked on the project for about 3 years investing about 700 development hours and learning a lot in the process, but the project never went public.


I can think on two reasons why it happened:

I never had a clear idea on what the game was going to be

I started the project thinking on doing something pretty simple so you could create a virtual character and buy clothing for it.


Then, for some reason, I added combat to the mix, probably because I just have something with Fantasy medieval combat.


But I actually think that choice was ok. Developing a doll-dresser was not very exciting in the end. The combat model evolved becoming complex and interesting, and I put a tournament in place where people could participate. By then I was using the open source graphics from Dungeon Crawl.


By the end of year 2, the game was actually pretty fun, or so it seemed based on playtester’s feedback. You could create a group of pixals, make them participate on a tournament and buy equipment for them. Fights were based on a deck of skills you had, where you earned new cards as you leveled up. Good players got weekly medals, new equipment was spawned daily on the stores. Denzi, one of biggest contributors to the pixel art of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup had joined the team and provided a slew of awesome pixel art. (hint: Most of it is being reused for Ananias today) Everybody was happy.


However, fueled by player feedback and some books I had read on the subject of virtual worlds, I wanted more.

It all begun with the idea of providing alternate activities other than fighting; I toyed with the idea of the city where the fights took place, and now there were other buildings where the pixals could work for money. The idea started evolving to the point where I wanted to create an entire world where expeditions of pixals could explore the world, build settlements, trade stuff. A virtual economy, a world browser.


I failed.

Not only was the world browser a huge undertaking, I also didn’t actually know how to make exploring the world an interesting adventure…. I had people creating a huge 3 levels map for the world which I never ended up using. I added a zoom feature, including random cavern generation for the detailed terrain and a rudimentary system for placing tiles into the world, which would eventually become buildings. I then tried adding guilds (?). None of that made exploring the world fun.

If I had had a clear goal on what the game was going to be, I could have released on 2009, at least as an initial version; developing the world browser was not needed to have a working game, and actually unleashed a ton of risks into the project which actually happened. Which brings me to the next point…

I underestimated the effort.

Developing the world browser was just too much for me… just from the technical perspective back then we didn’t have widespread and readily available tools for bidirectional interaction with the server from a browser (such as modern websockets), but that was only part of the problem, I also lacked the skills required on game design and world building to create a compelling experience and an interesting world.

I tried to work around this by planning, separating things into modules, estimating, organizing stuff. But in the end I hit a point where no matter how I tried to look at the project, I could see no way forward.

Eventually, I ran out of energy and abandoned the project, just to pursue a second one which would suffer a very similar fate…

…but that’s a story for another day.

From time to time, I feel the urge of rolling all the world browser thing back, and do a public release of just the tournament… but times have changed, there’s much more competition now… maybe no one would care.

3 thoughts on “The tale of Pixal

  1. As long as you learned new skills you didn’t fail. You tried – and (f**k Yoda) – trying is extremely important to the neurology of learning and innovation. There is try. And you did.

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