Hold onto your squeegees - we're diving into another sparkling Pixel Spotlight interview! This time, we're scrubbing up next to Matt Hackett, the pixel-polishing powerhouse behind "Pixel Washer" and author of the squeaky-clean guide "How to Make a Video Game All By Yourself"! So, grab your digital sponge and get ready to suds up some juicy development secrets!
How was this game born?
The idea for Pixel Washer arrived in the shower. That’s when some of the best ideas happen, so I keep around water-proof notebooks.
I’ve been stockpiling pixel art for years, so a project like this was inevitable. There are amazing artists like Gutty Kreum, LimeZu, and Kenney who have created volumes of pixel art for game devs like me to use in their games.
Sometimes I’ll just gaze lovingly at these sprites piling up in my folders. It’s really amazing pixel art, and incredibly thorough! There are campgrounds, airports, boxing gyms, hospitals, construction sites, parks, cities, and the list goes on. They’re soooooooo pretty and I’ve been looking for excuses to use as many of these assets as possible. Pixel Washer turned out to be the perfect home for all of this pixel art.
What was development like?
To create the levels in Pixel Washer, I’m using an open source map editor called Tiled. It’s cross-platform and a joy to use. I’d been looking for a project to leverage this program for years, but most of my ideas lean towards procedural generation, where a map editor isn’t always necessary. So far making the levels by hand in Pixel Washer has been relaxing, almost therapeutic.
What did you learn about yourself through this game?
I think I’ve finally discovered that I can be happy working on a simple game. There’s a long history of overcomplication in many of the games I’ve designed. Large, complex systems are what I crave to make, but they’re so incredibly difficult to finish!
Another project of mine (Witchmore) suffered from overcomplication and direction issues. I think being recently burned by this has given me a brand new outlook on the value of simplicity.
Usually simple games like Pixel Washer don’t appeal to me creatively. But the challenge of creating a lean game with excellent washing mechanics (and not much else!) has been just what I needed. It turns out, making an extremely simple game is still extremely difficult! It’s just hard in other ways.
What makes this game special?
Pixel Washer highlights some of the amazing, unknown pixel art that’s hidden out there. Unless you’re a pixel art collector like me, I can almost guarantee that you’ll uncover some brand new pixels from an amazing pixel artist that you might not ever have seen otherwise.
There’s a lovely natural history museum in Pixel Washer where you power wash dinosaur bones and paintings, but Pixel Washer itself is sort of like a museum! A museum of independent pixel art.
There’s also something deeply satisfying about uncovering the lovely sprites. It just feels right. When I see a screen full of dirty pixels, I feel compelled to wash ‘em up.
To me personally Pixel Washer is special because it relates to my earliest video game experiences. It’s a low-resolution pixel art game, similar to classic Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega Genesis games. These are the games that I grew up playing, so working on a game in the same vein feels warm and comfortable to me.
How does sound play a role in the game?
Sound was one of the first tasks I tackled, since it’s so important to the experience of power washing. To make the power washing sound good, there are three sounds that play: a “wash start” sound, a looping “power washing” sound, and a “wash stop” sound.
There’s also a recent update that lets me choose which looping “power washing” sound to play for any given texture. Using this, I can make washing “glass” pixels sound different than washing “metal” or “wooden” pixels. The great part is that the game continues working as it did, but now I have the option of adding new washing sounds to any texture. So as I get more time to tweak the game, I can now vary the texture sounds, making the game even better.
Lastly, I redid the audio system using a technology called Web Audio API, which is a low-level web-based technology. It’s really cool! It supports “nodes” which are like serial busses that allow developers to channel sounds together. Using this, I was able to add a volume slider specific for the washing sound. When all you’re doing is power washing, I think it’s important to make it satisfying & extra configurable.
What games influenced this one the most?
Everything I make is probably influenced a little by The Legend of Zelda (NES). Walking around the environments in Pixel Washer also feels influenced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), The Ignition Factor (SNES), and the Phantasy Star games on Master System and Sega Genesis. I’m a fan of Vlambeer so there’s probably also a little Nuclear Throne in there!
Although I haven’t played Power Wash Simulator, I think the comparison is inevitable, and I welcome it! It looks amazing. I’ve been meaning to play it, but I’m also cautious of avoiding too much influence in my games.
Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Always! One that comes to mind is accidentally creating a multi-verse situation. There was a bug where, when implementing the loading of levels, the game wasn’t clearing the previous world state. This made the levels stack upon themselves, creating collision chaos and multiple player pigs in the game world.
I’m pleased to report that the game code recovered “gracefully” and didn’t crash. The multiple pigs were fun to play! They all moved around based on your input, but only one would wash at a time. It made me want to add a co-op mode to the game (maybe someday, but, as I like to say when finishing something, “Save it for the sequel!”).
Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
I guess I feel like older gameplay mechanics are alive and well in new games! Whenever I move a high-resolution, 3D character around the screen I just think to myself “this is Gauntlet”. Or “this is Mario”. Modern games are built upon the groundwork that classic games laid, and I feel that when I play them.
Indies also lovingly experiment with older gameplay mechanics for fun or game jams, which inevitably end up on Itch. This platform has become a goldmine for players looking for classic or unusual gameplay.
What's your favorite memory as a gamer?
There was this glorious time during the brief period between Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 where a handful of friends and I were obsessed with achievement hunting on Xbox. Every Sunday we’d gather, ideally with a team of 4, and try our hand at the impossibly hard Expert Mode.
We tried & died over & over again, with no luck. Then finally we began sacrificing ourselves to get just one friend to the exit, so they could get the achievement, while the rest of us were overcome by the zombies. Using this method we eventually all earned the incredibly difficult achievements and had a lotta fun together. Ahhh I miss those days!
Who will enjoy this game the most?
Players who enjoy cute pixel art and are looking for a relaxed experience. Pixel Washer is a chill game: casual, nonviolent, and has no required challenge outside of patience and dedication.
Anyone who enjoys coloring books or scratching off lottery tickets may enjoy Pixel Washer, as the mechanics are similar.
It’s a great game for when you’ve only got 10 minutes of time to play, or when you want to unwind and power wash the night away.
Bottom line why must someone play this game?
You must play if you’re an appreciator of fine independent pixel art, sourced from artists all over the web. Or if you’re looking for a way to relax. Or if you like pigs!
How do you want this game to be remembered?
The game itself is quite simple, but I hope it’ll be remembered for nailing the core mechanic, highlighting underappreciated pixel art, and telling a heart-warming story about family.
More, More, MORE!!! New pixel art is being cranked out every day, and there’s almost no end to the new levels I could add to Pixel Washer. Once that cools down I’ll circle back to Witchmore, my game about crafting black magic.
Anything else you'd like to add? Promote?
I was in highschool when Playstation was released. At the time, it felt like 3D games were going to replace 2D games entirely. There was a period in my life when I thought pixel art games were doomed to become extinct. Obviously we’re way past that now, but I still remember that period of time, and am grateful & excited to see pixel art games surviving & thriving!
If Pixel Washer sounds fun to you, please add it to your wishlist on Steam (or as I say, “washlist” it!). I draw comics based on development & marketing research (ya know, for fun!), and my research has shown that about 10% of folks who wishlist a game could buy it in the first week. That’s a big help to an independent game developer like me!
Interested in making your own games? My solo game dev book How to Make a Video Game All By Yourself is out now on paperback, and my YouTube channel Valadria is packed with free tutorials, devlogs, and podcasts. See you out there in the games world!