Junk in the Trunk
Games made for the PlayStation Network (and the Xbox Live Arcade, and WiiWare) are supposed to be quick and easy, kind of like snacks you munch between bigger meals of Halo Burgers and Super Smash Potatoes, but something funny happened when Sony released PixelJunk Monsters, a tower defense game for the PlayStation 3. It became as big an obsession for some gamers as the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. It was such a hit that Sony is releasing PixelJunk Monsters Encore, an expansion pack for the game, in late April -- though as we learned when we spoke to Senior Producer Deborah Mars and Associate Producer Matt Morton recently, it wasn't just obsessive fans that brought about Encore.
Crispy Gamer: For those who are unfamiliar with it, what is the PixelJunk series?
Deborah Mars: PixelJunk is a series from Q-Games in Kyoto, Japan, which is headed up by Dylan Cuthbert. Dylan wanted to make a series of games that used the power of the PS3, but that were still 2-D. When we first met with them, they actually had 20 different cards with 20 different ideas on them. One of the first we saw was this slot car game, which became PixelJunk Racers, while another, a tower defense game, turned into PixelJunk Monsters. Dylan always liked those games and wanted to make an RTS, so they came up with the idea of doing one where you actually have a playable character you get to control.
Crispy Gamer: So how did Encore come about?
Mars: When it was originally released, Monsters had 20 maps. But the response to the game was so great, and the team kept getting requests for more, so they decided to Encore, which has 15 new maps, five new audio tracks and a new island, and if you clear all of the stages, including the ones on the new island, something really special happens -- though we can't say what.
Matt Morton: Though the biggest push to do Encore actually came from Dylan's wife. She's not a gamer, but she picked up Monsters and was pretty soon in the top 20 on the leaderboards, so she kept asking him when there would be more maps.
Mars: Dylan likes to joke that Encore saved his marriage.
Crispy Gamer: Does that mean if she threatens to leave him, he'll make more maps?
Mars: Oh man, he's going to kill us. He's going to be like, "There's nothing wrong with my marriage!"
Crispy Gamer: Could there be a second expansion?
Mars: We are definitely listening to what the fans want, and will take that into consideration, but the team is currently moving forward on the third game in the PixelJunk one series --
Crispy Gamer: Wait, what do you mean by, "PixelJunk one series?"
Mars: Yeah, let me explain that. There are a number of games in the first series of PixelJunk games, though we're not saying how many, and they'll all be 2-D. PixelJunk two series will not be 2-D.
Crispy Gamer: So what other games in the PixelJunk series are in the works? A financial RPG called PixelJunk Bonds? A dancing game called PixelJunk in the Trunk?
Morton: Ha! I like those.
Mars: Actually, Dylan gave a talk at GDC this year, and showed a little preview of the third game, a platformer called PixelJunk Eden.
Crispy Gamer: Is there a thematic or story connection between these games?
Morton: No, there's nothing that strings from game to game. They're games that Dylan was planning on doing early in his career; it just happened that he came into game design at the beginning of the move to 3-D, so he had to let these ideas sit a while. Now he's going back and making these 2-D games he's always wanted to make.
Mars: Though what does pull the PixelJunk one series together is pushing the use of 1080p and making sure the games look absolutely beautiful.
Crispy Gamer: Given that it the original PixelJunk Monsters was a PSN download, and thus not that expensive, will Encore be super-cheap, like $2? Will there be a combo where you can buy both it and the original together?
Mars: The price point on Encore hasn't been finalized yet, but you will need Monsters to play it. They also haven't announced whether there will be a bundle of the two.
Crispy Gamer: Does Encore fix any mistakes or bugs in Monsters?
Morton: We've actually changed a couple things around with the balancing. On the original, there were three towers. On the new island, there's a fourth, the ice tower, and there's also a reduction in the cost of the Tesla tower.
Crispy Gamer: Is there anything you considered putting into Encore, but decided to instead hold for PixelJunk Monsters 2: Electric Boogaloo?
Mars: There actually hasn't been any talk of doing a sequel.
Morton: Though just the fact that there's an expansion pack for Monsters is interesting unto itself because none of the PixelJunk games were ever planned to have sequels or be turned into franchises, they were just games that Dylan wanted to do.
Crispy Gamer: Does that mean that, because there weren't plans to do an expansion, doing one was difficult from a technical standpoint?
Mars: Absolutely not. The way the team is set up, and the way the tech works, it was very easy for them to go in and make new maps, and it was easy for them to make the expansion work right, as well.
Crispy Gamer: Finally, for people who haven't connected their PS3 to the Internet, has there been any talk of someday releasing a bunch of the PixelJunk games?
Mars: Since the initial talk with Q-Games, we've talked about doing a bundle once the first couple games in the series were done, so that's definitely something we're planning.